Yesterday, at the church where I pastor, the guest speaker was unable to make it because of inclement weather. Naturally I thought of the events surrounding Spurgeon’s conversion and the text God used to bring him to faith, so I pulled this sermon from my files and preached it. Audio version here.
Just this past week there was an anniversary of sorts. On January 31, 1892, the famous British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon died at the age of 59. During his lifetime, Spurgeon preached enough sermons to fill 63 volumes. The sermons’ 20-25 million words are equivalent to the 27 volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The series stands as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity.
On January 6, 1850 (or 13th, see Lewis Drummond’s case for this date in his Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers), just less than 163 years ago, Charles Haddon Spurgeon experienced salvation on a snowy day in England.
The snow was so bad that the young Spurgeon could not make it to the church he had planned to attend that day. So he turned into a small Primitive Methodist chapel. The minister was snowed in and couldn’t make it there, but that day a lay member of the congregation took as his text Isaiah 45:22 and read, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (AV)
In this short text three important aspects of the gospel message are evident:
1. The Exclusivity of the Gospel Message;
2. The Simplicity of the Gospel Message; and,
3. The Universality of the Gospel Message
I. The Exclusivity of the Gospel Message, “Look unto me!”
This text is a very exclusivistic one. In this text the LORD says, “Look unto ME!” He does not say look anywhere you please, one look is as good as another. No, He declares that “there is none else.” The context of Isaiah 45:16-25 is very clear. Notice the exclusivistic claims there.
The New Testament Parallel to this passage is John 3:14-15 which refers to the account recorded in Numbers 21:4-9 of the children of Israel’s experience in which they were bitten by poisonous snakes. This plight had come upon the children of Israel because of their continuous complaining against Moses and God. After many people had already died from their snake bites, the ones who had been bitten but had not yet died cried out to Moses acknowledging their sin. God then provided a means of healing from the deadly serpent’s bites. It involved the construction of a serpent of brass placed upon a pole (the debatable source for the medical symbol). Anyone who looked upon the serpent on the pole would be healed and escape death.
The serpent symbolized the sin of Israel. Because of the Israelites sin of unbelief God sent the serpents in judgment. The serpent was a reminder of judgment which in turn was a reminder of the sin. Those who looked on the brazen serpent were acknowledging that their sin was the cause of their judgment and death.
Similarly, as Jesus Christ hung on the cross He symbolized God’s judgment upon sin. This was testified in the Old Testament in the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: (23) His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Likewise, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 states that God made Christ “to be sin for us”! This means that God the Father treated His own Son as if He had committed all of our sins!
For he hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
In John 3:15 it is stated that as the wounded who looked upon the brazen serpent were restored to temporary health, so in this case eternal life follows from the faith of the believer on the crucified and exalted Lord. This is the message which Spurgeon heard 163 years ago. He later recalled:
Then the good man followed up his text in this way: — “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!
II. The Simplicity of the Gospel Message, “Look unto me!”
What a simple message! Look and Live! Look to Jesus now and Live! It is a simple message, but not simplistic. They are great depths of truth in the gospel that have occupied the greatest minds in human history, yet there is a simplicity that even a child can understand. As someone said of Scripture there are waters deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child to wade.
Again note the parallel to Numbers 21 and John 3.
To look, to believe, says more than mere cognitive awareness. It includes the recognition of a desperate need (Why else would one look?).
When someone turns to Christ, they are turning away from theirself. They are willing to be transformed. They don’t want to be left in the same state. They want to be changed! Faith and repentance go together!
Listen as Spurgeon describes his first encounter with the simplicity of the gospel:
Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable — miserable in life, and miserable in death, — if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said, — I did not take much notice of it, — I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”
III. The Universality of the Gospel Message, “All the ends of the earth.”
Again, notice the parallels to Numbers 21 and John 3. In Moses’ day the invitation was open to everyone. Any who would look could be spared their violent death. In John 3:15, the text states that “Whoever believes will not perish, but will have everlasting life.”
This is a message that is for everyone of every race, class, gender and background. This the message that young Spurgeon also heard:
The preacher began thus — “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves.
Have you ever looked to Christ alone? Are you still clinging to your righteousness? There must be recognition of your need for healing if you are to look to Christ. Do you realize that you need Christ?
Notice that I didn’t ask if you’re a church member. I didn’t ask if you’re a good neighbor. I didn’t ask if you’re a good father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, child, etc. Have you looked to Jesus?!?!
All of us were bitten by the serpent, the devil, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. As a result the poisonous venom of sin courses through our veins and will eventually lead to eternal separation from God in hell.
There is only one remedy, there is only one antidote! See the man hanging on the cross! See him bleeding and pleading for you! Look to him and you shall live! Look! Look! Look!