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Prayer, among men, signifies not only mental desire, but also the use of words in which the desire is expressed. Whether it has the same meaning when it is ascribed to our Intercessor in heaven, we are unable to determine. We are certain that, even upon earth, words are not necessary to inform God of our desires, although, in respect of ourselves and others, they serve a variety of valuable purposes. It is possible, therefore, that they are not employed in the intercession of Christ, and that it is represented as consisting in praying to the Father, solely in accommodation to our ideas and usages, while nothing more is meant than that he desires the salvation of his people, and his desire is known to his Father. But we do not venture to deliver a positive opinion upon a point so obscure, and the determination of which would contribute nothing to our edification.
But although the prayer of Christ, in his present state, is materially the same with that of men, we must separate from our notion of his intercession every adjunct which arises from human infirmity, and conceive of it as different from the prayers which he offered up upon earth, “ with strong crying and tears.' At the same time, we must beware of going to the opposite extreme, as some Divines have done, who talk of his intercession as authoritative. They do not mean that his prayers are commands, peremptory orders that what he asks should be done, but that he speaks as one who has a right to be heard. Yet, although it be true that he has a title to receive the blessings of salvation for his people, because he purchased them with his blood, it would be altogether improper to suppose, that the knowledge of this right gives such a tone to his prayers as would change them into simple volitions. This would be improper, because they are the prayers of one who, whatever is his present dignity, and how great soever is his merit
, still sustains the character of a minister or servant, and because it would destroy the nature of intercession, by substituting for desire an intimation of will. To intercede, is to ask something from another. Now, although our Redeemer does not ask like us, who ought to be humble from a consciousness of unworthiness, yet he undoubtedly continues to feel, and to express, the same reverence for the majesty and authority of his Father, by which he was distinguished upon earth. The passage upon which this view of his intercession is founded, gives countenance to it only as it appears in translations, and particularly in our own : “ Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.”+ Some critics have supposed that the word bes.co, I will, is expressive of authority. It is acknowledged that it does sometimes convey this idea ; but it is only from the circumstances in which it is used that this sense can be inferred; because, in other cases, and, I may add, most frequently, it merely imports simple volition, or desire. When our Lord said to the Syrophenician woman, Jernbarte oulous beness, “ Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,'' I fou can admit the sense only of desiring or wishing. The meaning is evidently the same, when he said to the two sons of Zebedee, zo benets arounow ipere ;.“ What would ye that I should do for you ??? It would be easy to make a large collection of examples. The common interpretation of the word, therefore, should be retained, unless there be a good reason for deviating from it; and in the present case there is none, except the mistaken idea that, by introducing the notion of authority, we shall add dignity to the intercession of Christ, and more clearly discriminate between his prayers and those of sinful men. But critics and commentators should beware of forming doctrines, however plausible, and even although true, from passages and words in which they are not contained. They have committed this error, I apprehend, in the case before us.
They have affixed
* Matt. xv. 28.
Mark x. 36.
an arbitrary sense to the verb 80.c, and, in doing so, have missed their own end; for, in attempting to give a more exalted idea of the intercession of Christ, they have destroyed its nature, as was formerly observed, by representing it, not as prayer, which he himself calls it, but as an authoritative volition. The proper translation of the word is not volo, but velim, in Latin ; and in English, not I will, but I would ; that is, 'I desire that those whom thou hast given me may be with me.'
I shall now point out, in some particulars, the subject of his intercession.
First, He prays that his disciples may be preserved in a state of grace: ** Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me." "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”* The blessing for which he prays is protection, not from the violence of men, but from the evil of sin, or the evil one, “ who, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." One great design of his intercession is, to prevent his followers from being overcome by temptation, from yielding to the terrors and allurements by which their constancy is tried, and to cherish the principle of grace in their souls, exposed as it is to the operation of causes which are hostile to its growth, and threaten its very existence. “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sist you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”+ We learn from the example of Peter, to what length a believer would go, if he were left to himself. In the moment of peril, he denied his Lord ; and, adding profaneness to treachery, he denied him with oaths and imprecations. What restrained him from a total renunciation of his connexion with Christ, and from becoming a final apostate, like Judas ? It was the prayer of our Intercessor which upheld his wavering faith, as his arm had once saved him from sinking in the water, and rekindled the dying flame of love in his breast. It is a consoling truth, that believers cannot fall from a state of grace; but their stability is not owing to their own wisdom, and vigilance, and activity. “ Because I live,” says their Redeemer, “ ye shall live also.”I By seasonable but imperceptible communications of grace, the tendency of their hearts to evil is checked before it has carried them beyond a state of salvation ; their holy dispositions, however faint and languid they may become, are preserved from expiring ; and they live on, amidst fears, and dangers, and failures, till the feeble germ of life burst forth into immortal vigour and luxuriance.
Secondly, He prays that their persons and services may be accepted. When they first believed, they were received into the favour of God; but they could not long retain themselves in this happy state. Every day they commit sin; which implies the same moral turpitude, and the same guilt, in the case of a believer as of an unbeliever. Every day, therefore, the fellowship between God and them would be broken, if Christ did not continue to officiate in their name, and obtain, by his intercession, the pardon of their transgressions. His appearance before the throne of God secures, that, although they may ineur the displeasure and chastisement of their heavenly Father, they shall not fall under his curse; that, although the comfortable sense of his love may be suspended, it shall not be utterly taken from them. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."'S Their duties are holy, being performed under the influence of the Spirit of grace ; but they are imperfect. There is often a mixture of improper motives. There is a want of intenseness of feeling and affection. The mind wanders in devotional exercises ; and love is, in some degree, divided between God and the world. But the law requires absolute perfection, and its
• John xvii. 11, 15.
† Luke xxii. 31.
# John xiv. 19.
f 1 Jobn ï. 1
demands are not abated in consequence of the mediation of Christ. Hence, if the best duties of the saints were weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, they would be found not to be of standard weight. If God should act according to justice,—and this is his rule of procedure towards those who presume to approach to him in their own name,-they would be rejected. But this consequence, which would be fatal to the hopes of believers, is prevented by the interposition of our Saviour, who intercedes for their acceptance on the ground of his own merits. What is good in their works, God approves, because it is the effect of his own grace. What is evil he forgives, in consideration of the atonement which he offered for them, who now ministers continually before him. We are commanded to offer to God the sacrifice of praise," and all our sacrifices, “ by him ;"* because they will be pleasing to God only when presented by his Son, who can so powerfully recommend them. The object of his intercession is, that the Holy Spirit may be given, to enable believers to walk in the path of obedience, and so to assist their humble endeavours to serve God that they shall find favour in his sight. We are “ accepted in the Beloved.”
" O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.”+ It has been supposed, with much probability, that the following passage is a figurative description of this part of his intercession, and that he is the angel who is represented as ministering at the altar : “ And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up
before God out of the angel's hand.”'I
In the third place, He answers the charges which are brought against his disciples. Satan is called “ the accuser of the brethren,” and is said “ to accuse them before God day and night."S. These are not words without meaning. We cannot give a distinct account of his proceedings; but it is evident that he does advance charges against the people of God, some of which are false, and require no refutation, as was the charge of hypocrisy against Job; but some also are true, being founded upon the sins which they have actually committed. If their consciences at the same time bear testimony against them, their minds must be in great distress, and they will feel the necessity of an advocate to plead their cause, and to prevent the sentence of condemnation from being pronounced, which they so justly deserve. Such an advocate is Jesus Christ, who replies to every accusation, and assigns valid reasons why his clients should be acquitted. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth ; who is he that condemneth ? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”'ll When Satan stood at the right hand of Joshua, the high priest, to resist him, “ The Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan ; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire ?" And the Angel said, the Angel of the covenant, who is here called Jehovah, " Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment." Lastly, He prays for the eternal happiness of his followers in heaven. “I
I will that they also whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am, to behold my glory.'
Our faithful High Priest will not desist from his work
• Heb. xiii. 15.
| Eph. i. 6. Ps. Ixxxiv. 8, 9. # Rev, viii. 3, 4. $ Ib. xii. 10. | Rom. viii. 33, 34. . Zech. ii. 2, 4.
** John xvii. 24.
till it be finished. As he died, so he lives for his followers, and will continue to intercede for them till they come to the perfect enjoyment of salvation. Having gone into heaven, he will draw them to himself. Every man will follow in his order; and the mansions which he has prepared for them, will be filled with a glorious and happy company, redeemed with his blood, " out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues.” When the righteous die, we lament the loss which the church has sustained by the removal of persons whose wisdom and virtues edified and adorned it, and we regret that they have not been permitted to remain longer upon earth. When our pious friends are taken from us, we are apt to give way to the violence of our feelings, and to mourn as if a sad calamity had befallen them. But should we not consider, that the event which we deplore is to them unspeakable gain, the end of their faith, and the completion of their hope?. They have gone to behold him whom they love, and to rejoice for ever in his presence. Should we not remember that, in this case, the prayers of Christ have prevailed over our wishes and entreaties? For why have they died at this time? Has death come by chance, or by the blind operation of natural causes? Have they fallen without special appointment? Had heaven no concern in what has taken place upon earth? If not a sparrow perishes without the knowledge of God, still less can it be supposed that a good man leaves the world without his call. His death is the answer of the Father to the prayer of his Son. It is the means of introducing into the presence of the Saviour, and into the embraces of his love, his dear disciples, for whom he shed his precious blood. He desires that they should be with him, and this messenger is sent to conduct them to their home. This is the reason that our tears, and sighs, and fervent supplications, were of no avail ; for how could they succeed in opposition to the prayer of the all-powerful Intercessor! This is a pleasing view of the death of believers. It shows us that it is indeed a blessing to them; and, as it is calculated to moderate our sorrow, so it should make us pray for their life, with entire resignation to the will of the Head of the Church.
There is a passage which, at first sight, may seem to contradict what has been said concerning the intercession of Christ in the heavenly state : that day ye shall ask in my name : and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you."* But, as in other passages he expressly affirms that he would pray for them, we must attempt to reconcile them with that now quoted; and the task is not difficult. His intention in the words before us was, not to deny that he would intercede for his followers, but to guard them against mistaking the design of his intercession, and thinking that there is some reluctance on the part of his Father to bestow blessings upon them, which his prayers were necessary to overcome. Accordingly, he adds—" For the Father himself loveth you; because ye have loved me, and believed that I came out from God.”+ He would have us know, and remember, that the love of the Father is the source of all spiritual blessings, and that his intercession is necessary only as the channel in which they are conveyed.
The Scripture speaks of the intercession of the Holy Ghost; but we must beware of conceiving of it as if it were of the same nature with the intercession of Christ. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities ; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered.”! The Holy Ghost is not a mediator between us and God, for there is only one, the man Christ Jesus. He intercedes for believers not personally, but by his influences; not without them, but within them. Their prayers are not presented by him to the Father ; but he enables them to intercede for themselves, by teach
John xvi. 26.
f Ib. 27.
* Rom. viii. 26.
ing them what they should pray for, and by exciting them to pray with importunity, and in the exercise of faith.
The intercession of Christ was typified by the entrance of the Jewish high priest into the most holy place, where he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices, and burnt incense before the mercy-seat.
It is not, however, enough to say that such was the procedure under the legal economy, when we are inquiring into the reason of the intercession of our Saviour. It is certain that a type and a prophecy must be fulfilled; but neither the one nor the other is the cause of the event to which it relates. An event does not take place because it was prefigured or foretold ; but the type was instituted and the prediction was delivered, because the event was predetermined. Jesus Christ does not intercede because the high priest of the law went into the holy of holies, after he had offered the anniversary atonement; but the high priest was appointed to appear before the propitiatory, to represent the ascension of our Redeemer, and his ministry in heaven.
The true reason of his intercession appears from some things which have been already said. The imperfection of the services of the saints requires that he should recommend them to God, because in themselves, even although they proceed from a principle of grace, they would not bear a strict examination, and according to the rules of justice would be rejected. There could be no acceptable religion without the intercession of Christ. His sacrifice upon the cross laid the foundation of religion ; but it could not be maintained if he did not continue to mediate, and by the presentation of himself and his merits, to secure the covenant of peace from being broken. The dispensation of grace must be so conducted in every part of it, that the holiness of God shall shine with unclouded splendour. With this view he avoids immediate commerce with men, in the best of whom there are remains of sin. Between himself and them, he has placed our Redeemer, by whom all his perfections have been glorified, that, bestowing every favour upon men, and accepting their services solely for his sake, he may appear in the communications of his grace to be the Holy One, who is “ of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and cannot look upon evil.” Contemplating an awful Being who has published a law which demands perfection, and denounced punishment against every violation of it, the most eminent saints would be alarmed, and say, We cannot serve him. But the interposition of a person nearly related to them, who is a partaker of their nature, and has a feeling of their infirmities, authorises their humble confidence, and revives their expiring hopes. Conscious of defects in their best services, they yet venture to engage in them, because by him they are presented with acceptance to the Father. His intercession is necessary for the glory of God, and the encouragement of his people ; and this is the reason that it constitutes an essential part of his priestly office. “ Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens."'*
It is acknowledged by Christians of all denominations, if Unitarians are excepted, whose claim to the Christian name we do not admit, that our exalted Redeemer intercedes for us in the heavenly sanctuary ; but by a large class of them, a doctrine is maintained which entrenches upon this part of his sacerdotal office. You will perceive that I refer to the church of Rome, which teaches that there are other intercessors with God, namely, angels and glorified saints. 'The council of Trent " commands all bishops and others, who are employed in instructing the people, to teach the faithful, according to the practice of the
• Heb. vii, 25, 26.