Some obscurity seems to hang over the doctrine of Christ’s intercession in the minds of some saints, which I feel it would be profitable to seek to dispel.
Some (and it is a common case) put it in the wrong place, viz., as the means of obtaining righteousness and peace, and thus enfeeble (and that because they are ignorant of) the true character of redemption; others, seeing that this is perfect and complete, set intercession aside as incompatible with that perfectness, as if it enfeebled or denied it.
Both are wrong, and both mistake the nature of Christ’s intercession. Christ’s intercession is not the means of obtaining righteousness and peace. It is mischievous to use it to this end; and it does, so used, hinder the apprehension of our being made the righteousness of God in Christ. It is mischievous too to deny its use when we do know Christ as our perfect righteousness. The doing so makes that righteousness to be a cold and heartless security, destroying the deep and softening sense of His constant love to us, and our dependence on the daily exercise of that love.
The former class, not assured of God’s perfect love in righteousness, go to Christ to get Him to undertake their cause and go to God for them, and, so to speak, settle matters. They really (though they would not say so) see love in Christ and judgment in God; and go to Christ to move God to compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. It is very natural we should go through this state, particularly with the current teaching; but it is not really christian ground. God’s love is the source of all our blessings, and of the hopes of our salvation; and that love is fully exercised in righteousness, because of Christ’s work and glorifying of God. Grace reigns through righteousness: we are the righteousness of God in Christ; we have not to seek it. Christ is our righteousness always and constantly. It is as perfect as it is constant and perpetual; and as constant and perpetual as it is perfect. God has been—is— perfectly glorified in this respect; and His love goes forth freely and righteously on the Christian as on Christ Himself. It is a settled position before God, a standing and relationship which does not change. The intercession of Christ is founded upon it. How far the act which completed this ground of our place before God was the aa of the priest, I will consider when speaking of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
But then it is equally true that we are poor, feeble, and often failing creatures upon earth; our place, our only place with God, is in the light as He is, through the divine righteousness I have spoken of, and acceptance in it there. Our actual place is in a world of temptation, in an unredeemed body, a feeble and dependent being, failing too, in a world where grace is needed, mercy and grace to help in time of need. And the best affections are drawn out by daily wants, daily confidence, and a daily sense of the Lord’s faithfulness; not by the sense that we are safe, though that be the groundwork and basis of the other, needed to it and of itself drawing out thanksgiving and praise. But it is evident dependence, and all connected with it is not drawn out by being perfect, and always infallibly so. If I lose this last, my fears are servile; my looking to Christ is only to be safe, when God is a righteous judge. If I lose the other, I am content with being safe. It is my highest attainment, and I never possess it after all, and the best affections and graces He dormant.
Let us now consider what intercession really is, what place it takes in the christian system. There are two characters which the intercession of our Lord takes—priesthood with God, and advocacy with the Father. In both He appears before God or the Father for us that we may receive needed blessing; but the former is more general. He is before God, so that we draw near and can do so. He makes withal intercession for our need. As Advocate with the Father, it is more restoration of communion.
But here some preliminary difiiculties have to be met. There are those who deny the force of the word intercession as implying active intercession or intervention for us; they say that ejntugcavnw merely means His personal presence or appearance there for us. But this is not so. The word ejntugcavnw is used for active intervention or intercession. So, in scripture, He ever lives to do it. Surely not He ever lives to be present simply between God and us. So in Romans 8, “Who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” And in the same chapter, what is said of the Holy Ghost clearly shews that this word is used in the plain ordinary sense of intercessory pleading for us. He makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. The Holy Ghost does not appear (ejntugcavnw) in the presence of God for us at all, but He intercedes, pleads in us, with groans which cannot be uttered. This use of ejntugcavnw cannot then be controverted.
Nor has the boldness been wanting, strange as it may seem, which takes the Epistle to the Hebrews from Christians and applies it to the Jewish remnant. Now there are statements which may reach out to their profit and blessing, the branches of a fruitful tree reaching over the wall. But the epistle is addressed to Christians. Allow me (an argument in itself sufficient; for it is an address, not a prophecy), to ask, to whom was it then and there addressed—I mean when it was written—to Christians or not? No one can hesitate for a moment. It was to Christians. There was no Jewish remnant then, save Christians, to address it to. This blunder has arisen from the epistle’s not taking church ground (that is, the union of the saint with Christ). It does not do that. It looks at the saints as on earth, and Christ as in heaven for them, apart from them, in God’s presence individually for them; not as sitting in heavenly places, but as tried, exercised, proved in the desert. But it was addressed to the then holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling then, Christ being the Apostle and High Priest of their profession. This applied only to Christians then, nor indeed ever directly to any others. God was bringing many sons to glory, and Christ is the captain or leader of their salvation. We may see this distinctly all through the epistle. It refers to those who were then made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted the heavenly gift; they had then ministered to the saints—then taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance. I suppose those of whom this was then true were the Christians. That is, Christians, and they only, were directly addressed. Their hope was within the veil; Christ was entered there, as forerunner of the writer3and of those to whom it was addressed. Was the writer not a Christian? They were then drawing nigh to God, I suppose, as believers, that is, Christians; and a High Priest made higher than the heavens became them because they went there in spirit.
The whole of die ninth chapter supposes a then eternal redemption, an eternal inheritance, heavenly things themselves, and Christ’s then appearing in heaven, when the epistle was written, for those to whom it was then addressed. Their consciences were purged; the Jewish remnant’s will not be till they see Christ appearing again. Christ is sitting continuously at the right hand of God, and the way into the holiest was open for them then by the new and living way. They were to hold fast the beginning of their profession without wavering. They were believers; that is, those who had access into the holiest of all.
The whole epistle then proceeds on the ground that those addressed in it were believers then—had a known part in heavenly places; that it was their calling. It was not the case of some who might get there, being killed, but heaven is the calling of all addressed. That is, they were Christians, Jewish Christians no doubt, but Christians. And such only are addressed, even if it reaches out in its language to those who are spared on earth; for there remains a rest for them.
It is really an incredible thing that any can read the epistle and not see that it is addressed to Christians. I do not mean that they may profit by what was addressed to others, as we may by the Old Testament, but that it was addressed to Christians, and only to Christians; only to persons then called to heaven, and who had it as their profession to be so. I freely admit it is not the Church, as such: we should lose the whole value of it, and of the Church, were it so; because the Church is united to Christ in heaven, and here Christians are not so viewed; and the epistle would have no place, because it teaches what Christ is for us in heaven while we are walking in conflict on the earth. Here our earthly condition becomes the occasion of heavenly grace. It is our heavenly calling, not our being there in union with Christ. But heavenly grace to us in an earthly condition, while called to heaven, leads to the knowledge of the love, tenderness, sympathy, failiifulness, interest in all our state and circumstances, which are found in Christ (which our perfection in Him does not). It leads to dependence, confidence in Him, counting on His faithfulness, apprehension of the interest which He takes in us every moment, and a looking to the time when we shall see Him as He is, which our being in Him in heaven does not.
As regards the passage in John’s Epistle, and that in Romans, it is applicable to Christians beyond all cavil or question. Fellowship with the Father and the Son is the part assuredly of Christians; and Romans S needs no comment or argument on the subject. If 1 John 2:2 were applied to any but Christians, it would apply to unbelievers, which is a false view of intercession altogether. Advocacy then is founded on Jesus Christ the righteous being the Advocate, and His being the propitiation for our sins. This, a divine and perfect righteousness, and the perfect propitiation for our sins, have put us in the light as God is, to walk there; and as we fail, if any man sin—that righteousness and propitiation being ever before God, there is—can be—no thought of imputation (it is impossible, the sins have been borne and righteousness subsists); yet sins are not to be suffered in those whom God loves; and hence, in virtue of His work and being our righteousness before God, Christ intercedes for us and the soul is restored.
This ground of advocacy leads me to speak of the analogous, or really same, foundation of priesthood. On earth He could not be a priest: but there was one work which the high priest did, not in the exercise of his priesthood, properly speaking, which was in the sanctuary, but which laid the foundation for it, in which he was substitute and representative of the people, the foundation of his priestly service proper during the year. This was the sacrifice of the great day of atonement: the blood put upon the mercy-seat; and the sins of the people confessed on the head of the scapegoat. Reconciliation or propitiation was made for the sins of the people. All exercise of priesthood was founded on this, and this the Epistle to the Hebrews refers to, as well as to priesthood. His earthly life fitted Christ for sympathy, though He be now in heaven, and the sacrifice accomplished on earth (in putting away for ever as to guilt the sins He had borne) formed the basis of intercession for daily blessing and access to God by Him. Hence, while clearly stating that if on earth He would not be a priest, we read, Hebrews 2:17,” It behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation [more exactly, propitiation] for the sins of the people.” On this is founded His gracious and constant priesthood and intercession. Imputation of sin to us is become impossible because of Christ’s sacrifice; and His suffering and tempted life enables Him in grace, intelligent of sorrow and trial, to succour them that are tempted. Hence in chapter 4 we Christians are called upon to hold fast our profession,24 “for we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, sin apart.” We have then a Priest with God, and an Advocate with the Father: there in virtue of a sacrifice in which He has once for all borne our sins and appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; there in a perfect acceptance in which we have a part—Jesus Christ the righteous, the propitiation for our sins; able to save to the end those that come to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them; who is even at the right hand of God, set down when He had purged our sins, a great High Priest set down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.
Now this leads us to another point. We do not go to the High Priest; we come to God by Him, to a throne of grace. I do not doubt God’s gracious goodness may have borne with the infirm faith which in trueness of heart has gone to Christ as priest: but it is not the teaching of the word of God. He appears in the presence of God for us, we go to God by Him. There is no uncertainty or exception in scripture as to this. Nor is it consequently on our return or our repentance that He intercedes, but for our infirmities, our need, and our sins. The activity is that of His grace, having that grace—His love and priestly grace towards us, for its source—His work and position with God in righteousness, as we have seen, as its basis.
Our going to Christ thus is a sign that we have never yet learnt God’s love, nor our place and relationship with God in the light as He is in it, to speak according to John; or boldness to enter into the holiest through the rent veil, to speak according to the Hebrews. We have not yet learnt the “no condemnation” for those in Christ, nor separation, of Romans 8.
Priesthood, intercession, and advocacy suppose this. We have our place in heaven; we have been, or are, in danger of being inconsistent with it upon earth. Now God can, on one hand, allow of no sin in those who are in relationship with Him, however accepted they may be. He must have their feet and hearts clean, because they are so; and on the other hand, He exercises them here below. And Christ especially enters into all their sorrows, infirmities, seeking their progress, ministering to their weakness and obtaining mercy, cleansing, and restoration in their faults. This has nothing to do with acceptance, but with consistency with, or restoration to, the actual enjoyment of communion with God in that relationship. Safety is not the end, it is the beginning, of Christianity. Christianity is relationship and communion with God as He is, and our Father, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Priesthood and advocacy maintain, help into, restore this, when our relationship, according to divine righteousness, subsists already, but when we are in a scene of temptation and trial, which tends, through our weakness and by our exercises, in which we are to grow up into it, to interrupt communion.
But it is not we who get our High Priest to move for us, He it is who does it of His own grace. Thus, in a case anticipative no doubt of His priesthood, but in which it is displayed in its principles—the fall of Peter, we have Christ praying for him before he had even committed the sin, praying exactly according to what Peter needed, not that he might not be sifted, but that his faith might not fail and he fall into despair. At the right moment, by Christ’s own grace and action, Peter’s heart is touched, and he weeps bitterly over his fault. But this is the effect, not the cause, of Christ’s action. Afterwards He fully restores his soul. So in His advocacy in John, it is, “If any man sin” (not if any man repent) “we have an advocate with the Father.” So in John 13, where the application is taught (where Christ, already owned Son of God, Son of David, Son of man, now takes His place on high, and shews that He is still our servant to make us clean, to have a part with Him there, as He could not remain with us here), it is His action, not what is sought by the disciples. Clean, as washed by the word, He cleanses their feet (moved by His own grace) from the dirt gathered in the walk.
And note, further, His intercession is for them in relationship with Him: “I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me;” so for others who should believe through their word. In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is equally clear that Christ is Priest for those in relationship with God: only that is more based on profession or the people, than in Romans or John; still it speaks of us. As regards Christ’s activity for us, there is less as to failure than in John. The great subject is the distinct nature and character of priesthood as contrasted with that with which law was connected, the passing away of that earthly one, and the establishment of the heavenly one. Still there is no thought of going to the priest. We go to God by Him; we come boldly to the throne of grace, in virtue of His being there; but there is no thought of going to Him but of going boldly to God Himself. Nor is there a thought of obtaining righteousness by it, nor any uncertainty as to that. By one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified, and they are sanctified by the offering too. He offered Himself once for all. His priesthood is for tempted ones. He is able to help them, ever living to make intercession for them; He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, having been tempted like us, sin apart. It is help to the sanctified ones (perfected by the offering of Christ once for all) in passing through the wilderness, and He by whom they draw nigh to God. His priesthood is exercised then that we may find mercy and help at the throne of grace.
This need of mercy for individuals is shewn remarkably in the well-known fact that the epistles addressed to individuals speak of it; those addressed to churches do not.
This makes the character of intercession, priesthood, or advocacy very simple for us. They are exercised in favour of those who are in relationship with God, not to put them into it. It is exercised for those who are already the righteousness of God in Christ, sitting in heavenly places in Him. The advocacy is for those whose walk is in the light as God is in the light. Intercession is for those for whom God is—to the charge of whom none can lay anything. It is used for their failure or infirmity in their path here, not to obtain a place in the heavenlies, but when we are there to meet every inconsistency in our walk in the wilderness, help our infirmities there, and enable us, poor and mixed as we are in fact here, to go boldly to a throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need. And thus it is that it keeps alive the sense of dependence and entire confidence at the same time. Were Christ not there, we could not have that confidence in going. Were it a question of obtaining righteousness, it would be one of guilt and acceptance, not of help. Were it going to Christ, it would assume we could not go to God—the very contrary of what Christianity teaches. But it is none of these.
We go boldly to God because Christ is there as our high priest. We have no thought of imputation; but our being the righteousness of God in Him does not make us slight our inconsistencies in the path in which we walk. He takes notice of them, and is our Advocate in virtue of being the righteous one and a propitiation for us. Thus the personal sense of fault is maintained, enhancing, not enfeebling, the sense of grace; and yet our acceptance in righteousness is never touched so as to put us back under law or bring divine righteousness ever into question, or cause our conscious relationship to God to be ever at all weakened. All passes on the ground of these. Yet the holiness of God is kept fully up as regards our conduct, and a full spirit of confession maintained when we fail; our inward estimate of good and evil is kept alive and in growth without a particle of servile fear, and blessed confidence maintained in this very respect.
I have already noticed the difference between the advocacy in respect of restoration and communion with the Father, and the approach to God, and help in our infirmities as men. But on the ground and nature of their exercise they are the same, founded on assumed relationship in righteousness and applicable to our walk in weakness here, when in that. If John shews us the Advocate with the Father when we have sinned, the Hebrews presents us with one who can sympathize with all our infirmities, can be touched with the feeling of them, though, now all power is His in heaven and on earth. He is constantly occupied with our case and state. Hence not only holy judgment of sin is maintained (yet the sense of grace is intact), but confidence in unwearied love which has made itself like its brethren in all things to be a merciful and faithful high priest. Thus the gracious affections of dependence and confidence are maintained and cultivated; and that, not as if we went to the priest in a difficulty, ran off to get help, but in the free blessed care-taking activity of His own love. It is not that He relents when we turn in due humiliation; right feeling is the fruit of His blessed activity in grace.
I know not that I need add more. My object was, not to expatiate on this grace and the fruits of it in us, but to give the scriptural place of priesthood and advocacy, as founded on the establishment of divine righteousness and the accomplishment of propitiation, and the place we have before God by it—not clouding this, but founded on it, and applying itself to reconcile our actual weakness and failure here below with that place; so that neither it should be uncertain in grace, nor any inconsistency with it be borne, though nothing can be imputed; and instead of a cold and heartless certainty of being safe, dependence, confidence, and affection, united to security in Him who is the object of them, till we come where it is no more needed.
24 And note here, as the whole epistle shews, this is in contrast with going back into Judaism; so far is it from being directly applicable to the remnant.