“Look and Live!”

by Glenn Conjurske

My readers have lately been reminded that this is the gospel which was preached to C. H. Spurgeon, on the day in which he found peace with God. Many others have preached the same gospel, and doubtless many have been converted under it. That many are converted by an antinomian gospel we have never doubted. This, however, proves nothing of its truth, for where one is converted, a dozen or a hundred are deceived. When I was an ungodly lad in a Baptist church, I never heard the whole gospel. Nobody ever preached repentance to me, yet I repented, for my own conscience preached repentance to me every day. So do the consciences of other sinners, thus often supplying the necessary truth which is omitted or denied by the preacher. There is nothing mysterious in this.

That the message “Look and live” was blessed to the soul of C. H. Spurgeon, to bring him to peace with God, is a fact of history. But then it should be recalled that at the time when he heard it, he had been living for months on such books as Baxter’s Call and Alleine’s Alarm, which taught him unequivocally that he must forsake every sin to be saved. He had long since done so, yet he found no peace with God. Repentance he had, but not the faith of the gospel. “Look and live,” therefore, just suited his case. But to preach the same message to the careless and impenitent is the surest way to guarantee that they shall remain careless and impenitent. To the penitent man who is earnestly seeking an entrance into the kingdom of God, we might say with good effect, “You have nothing to do but step inside,” but to preach such a message to the man who has his back to the door, and is daily proceeding farther from God in his pursuit of the pleasures of the far country, is the surest way to confirm him in his ungodliness, and so to secure his damnation—-though we may deceive him into thinking himself saved.

Now as to the doctrine itself, that we have nothing to do but “look and live,” we have not the slightest hesitation in pronouncing it false—-a damning perversion of the saving Gospel of God. The doctrine is based on a type—-that of the brazen serpent—-and it stands directly against a great host of the explicit doctrinal statements of the Bible. We have pointed out before in these pages that types are often abused. A type is a picture, or illustration. Illustrations are seldom perfect. There is usually something in the type which fails to correspond to the doctrine, and something in the doctrine which cannot be pictured by the type, so that though many of the types of Scripture are very striking, they cannot be required to go on all fours, nor can they be supposed to illustrate any more than some facet of the corresponding doctrine. When a type is made too much of, it ceases to illustrate its doctrine, and proceeds rather to overturn it.

For these reasons, one-sided theologians tend to be very selective in their use of types. They emphasize those types which illustrate the particular facet of the doctrine to which they are devoted themselves, while they ignore the other types. And so it happens in the present day, when most of the church is steeped in an extreme doctrine of grace, while it fears and shuns everything which savors of human responsibility, that the type of the brazen serpent is very popular, for it magnifies the grace of God to the guilty, and contains very little of human responsibility. There is nothing of purging the house of leaven, nothing even of applying the blood to the door posts of the house, nothing of abiding within the house in order to partake of the benefit of the shed blood, but merely “look and live.” It is a rather telling indication of the state of modern theology, that this type should be so loved, while the others are so ignored.

In the present paper I propose to do two things. First, to look at the Bible’s application of the type of the brazen serpent, and then to look at the Bible’s doctrine of “look and live.”

The type of the brazen serpent is applied in the Gospel of John. There we read, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). We observe in the first place that the Lord does not say, “that whosoever looketh to him,” but speaks rather of believing in him. Even believing is something more than looking. We are not so sure that every Israelite who but saw the brazen serpent was healed. We suppose the Scripture implies a purposeful looking, and perhaps even implies a look of faith. We will not insist upon the latter, however. What we do insist upon is that the Israelites were to literally look upon the serpent, while in the application of the type it must be only figuratively that we look to the Lord—-for we cannot see him with our bodily eyes. Now the Lord interprets the figure, by putting “believe” in the place of “look.” What exactly is meant by “believe” has been debated for centuries, but this much we may say with confidence, that the Lord certainly cannot have meant to imply a mere belief, of a shallow or intellectual sort, for that notion is overturned in the near context, both preceding and following. But a couple of paragraphs earlier, at the end of John 2, we read, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” He looked for something more than mere belief, and such a statement as this, immediately preceding the Lord’s application of the type, is certainly sufficient to disallow those shallow and easy notions of faith which prevail in the church today. Proceeding forward, to the end of John 3, we read, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that submitteth not to the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” The faith to which the Lord applies the type of the brazen serpent is a faith which supposes repentance and submission. He certainly looked for something more than mere belief.

My readers will of course perceive that I have altered the common translation in quoting John 3:36. I have indeed, for though “believeth” appears twice in the common version, there are two diverse words in the original, and they are not mere synonyms. The Revised Version renders the place, “he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life,” and Darby, “he that is not subject to the Son.”

But I turn to other passages of Scripture, which explicitly preach salvation by looking unto the Lord. And first, Zechariah 12:10-14. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; all the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.”

Now the merest child may see that this looking unto him is not the glib and easy thing which is commonly supposed by our modern evangelists. It is accompanied with godly sorrow of the deepest sort—-a great mourning, and that not the work of an hour or a day, but such as separates all the families of the land, all domestic and conjugal activities ceasing, while every man mourns his own sins. This—-though it is not so stated here—-is certainly that godly sorrow which works repentance unto salvation. This is that sorrow which works carefulness and clearing of themselves from their former ways. And here is the plain Bible doctrine of salvation by looking unto him.

Once more, and very explicitly, in Isaiah 45:22-25. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” Here is justification and salvation, by looking unto the Lord, but it is perfectly plain that there is nothing of the glib, easy modern gospel in it. Those who have been against the Lord shall be ashamed. This is conviction of sin—-a thing absolutely necessary to the salvation of a soul, and yet the very thing which is conspicuously absent in much of modern evangelism. The great mourning of Zechariah 12 is passed by, and I have been present at gospel meetings, and seen sinners walking the aisle to be saved, talking and laughing, obviously without one iota of shame or godly sorrow.

But conviction will save no man. If sorrow does not work repentance, it leaves the soul yet in its sins. But how speaks Isaiah? “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow.” This is submission—-that unreserved and unconditional surrender of the soul to God which all the great evangelists of history have preached as the necessary condition of salvation. Isaiah preached it also, and yet not Isaiah, but God, who swore by himself that it must be so. Sinners have but two alternatives. They may submit themselves to God now by their own choice, and so receive his mercy and salvation, or be compelled to it when they face him on the throne of judgement, when the day of mercy is past.

Here then is the plain meaning of “Look unto me, and be ye saved.” Here is God’s own exposition of the matter. We look to him with shame for the past, and submission for the future. Anything less than this is not the gospel of God, but the invention of man.

Glenn Conjurske