SERMON LXXV.(from Free
THE INTERCESSION 0F CHRIST.
BY THE REV. HENRY DUNCAN, D.D.,
"Who also maketh intercession for us." - Rom. viii. 34.
THE apostle Paul, in the beginning of his first epistle to the Colossians, after adverting to the divine nature of Christ, and descibing the infinite power which he exercises in heaven and on earth, sums up the whole display of his greatness by declaring, "it pleased the father that in him all fulness should dwell" - a remarkable expression, which he explains and renders still more emphatic by adding, that, through the blood of his cross, Christ has reconciled all things to God, "whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." What mysterious power Jesus, in virtue of his death, exercises over the inhabitants of heaven beyond the redeemed of the family of Adam, it is impossible to tell, and it is not necessary to know. It is enough for us to be assured, that through him alone, can any of the human family find access to the throne of grace, and that none who desire to find that access shall be excluded. Of this fulness do all believers receive, as the evangelist John assures us, and grace for grace. They, like others, were in need of every thing, but he supplies all their spiritual wants; they were spiritually dead, but he died, that, through his death, they might obtain eternal life; they had forfeited the enjoyments of heaven, but he rose again from the grave, and ascended to the right hand of God that he might prepare for them mansions of eternal blessedness in his Fathers house; they continue to sin, but he never fails to present, before the throne of grace, the merits of his own perfect obedience, and to obtain mercy to pardon and grace to help them. "Who," asks Paul, "shall lay any thing to the charg of Gods 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."
It is the last of these blessings, thus emphatically enumerated, which I am now to consider - " who also maketh intercession for us."
An intercessor, in the original sense of the word, signifies simply one who comes between two parties; it is generally however applied to a person coming between an offended party and the offender to plead for a pardon. This is the office exercised by Christ at the right hand of God, as is clearly expressed by the apostle John, when he says," If any man sin, he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" 1 John 2:1.
The first question which naturally ocurrs to anyone who turns his serious attention to this interesting subject is, For whom does Christ intercede? I answer that he intercedes only for the "elect." Christ never intercedes in vain; and therefore all for whom he intercedes must be saved at last. By his death be offers pardon and redemption to all; but those who refuse to accept of this free offer are excluded from every spiritual blessing. By their own act they exclude themselves. For them there is no intercession. In our Lords intercessory prayer, this is distinctly indicated when he says, "I pray not for them which thou has given me."
But theseare already pardoned. By the sacrifice of atonement, they are already rescued from endless woe, and, through the imputed merits of the righteous One, they are justified freely, and adopted into the family of God. Why, then, is an intercessor necessary? If I be a child of God, what is wanting to complete my happiness?
I ask you, my friends, does a child never offend a kind and judicious parent? Does he never stand in need of an affectionate friend to intercede for him? Although I say not that the cases are parallel, yet there Is an analogy here which may help to remove the difficulty. Why should we be surprised, that, after we have become new creatures in Christ Jesus - why should we be surprised, whatever may be our gifts and graces of the redeemed of Christ that a continual intercession is needful for us? my believing brethren, you are not yet free from sin. Your sanctification is not completed. There is still " a law in your members warring against the law of your mind, and bringing you into subjection to the law of sin." Day after day you rebel. Day after day you stand in need of forgiveness; and therefore you stand in need of a continual intercessor.
This doctrine is strikingly taught by our Lord in a symbolical transaction when he was just about to institute the sacrament of the Supper. Immediately before presenting his disciples with this typical representation of his vicarious sufferings, he rose from table and washed their feet. When he came to Peter, that zealous disciple, feeling himself unworthy of such extraordinary condescension, and not understanding the emblematical meaning of the transaction, exclaimed, "Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet." Christs answer was, " If I wash thee, not, thou hast no part in me." Upon which Peter immediately retracted his rash refusal, and, with his characteristic fervour, cried out, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."
Now, observe the Saviours significant remark on this warm-hearted reply, "He that is washed,", that is, "he that has been bathing; needeth not, save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit. As if he had said, "What I am now doing, besides affording you an example of humility, is to be understood as a visible emblem of an important part of the great salvation I am about to accomplish. By my sacrifice on the cross, of which I am about to afford you a standing memorial, your sins shall be forgiven" or rather they shall be washed away in my blood. But still, so long as you live, you will not cease to be guilty of transgressions which require the mercy and pardon of a holy God. These may be compared to the mire of the shore by which the feet are defiled after the body has been washed by bathing. For the removal of these pollutions also, a provision is made in my love, of which I have now given you a representation. I shall obtain forgiveness for them. I shall wash them away by my intercession, and then you shall be clean every whit.
What a representation is here of the "fulness" of Christ! No conceivable blessing is awanting. It is not enough that he should give us the purest precepts, and set before us the most perfect example - it is not enough that he should incite us to the performance of these precepts and the imitation of that example by the most generous motives which can animate the heart of man - it is not enough that he should address our very self-love by the most glorious hopes and the most tremendous terrors - it is not enough even that he should die to redeem us from the guilt of original sin, and of those actual transgressions which we have committed in a state of alienation from him, or that he should bestow upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit to guard, to direct, and to bless us. He knows the perverseness of our nature, and, in addition to all these, and to crown them all, he never ceases to appear before the throne of his Father for us, that, in every new sin we commit, he may be our advocate - from every new temptation to which we may be subjected, he may intercede for our deliverance.
It may possibly be expected that I should say something regarding the manner in which the intercession of Christ is performed. But, on a subject so awfully mysterious, there is danger of presumption in prying in the secret things of God. I cannot tell how it may be with others, but for myself I do freely confess that, in approaching such a subject as this, a reverential fear comes over my mind, which overpowers my faculties and rebukes curiosity. While I feel the necessity of endeavouring to be wise tothe full extent of what is written, I am deeply impressed with the impiety of any attempt to be wise above what is written. The intercession of Christ, like every other part of the great scheme of redemption, is a doctrine of pure revelation, with regard to which reason has nothing more to do, after ascertaining the inspiration of the record, than merely to discover what "the Spirit saith to the churches." In such a search what is chiefly required is a simple, candid, and child-like disposition. No untamed imagination - no vain-glorious desire of applause - no pride of human learning, can safely be employed in so sacred an enquiry. These may prove fatal snares to others as well as to their possessors.
Scripture, on such a subject, is its own best interpreter. Let us, therefore, bring together and examine some of the passages of holy writ, in which the intercession is mentioned. In the verse which obtains our text it is simply declared that Christ "makes intecession for us at the right hand of God." In the Epistle to the Hebrews (ix. 24.) the same thing is intimated, where it is said that as our Great High Priest "he has entered into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us." The object of this intercession is declared in the First Epistle of John (ii. 1), to which I have already alluded, where we are told "If any man sin he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;" and the unceasing constancy and irresistible power with which he performs this high office, as well as the character of those who are the objects of it, are expressly stated in the seventh chapter of Hebrews (25th verse) : "He is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." Again, as to the feelings which he brings to this blessed work, it is said in the same Epistle (Heb. iv. 15), "We have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin ;" and again, (Heb. ii. 17), "In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God; for in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted."
This I think is nearly the sum of what we learn from Scripture on this mysterious, but most comfortable doctrine. And what can we desire more for every practical object? It seems unnecessary at present to attempt any nice distinctions as to the different parts assigned to the divine and human natures of Christ in the office of intercession. These are not dwelt on in the revealed word and it is enough to know that in the mysterious union of the two natures of God and man, consists all the efficacy of this, as well as of every other particular in the great scheme of redemption.
But it may be proper to enquire for what our Advocate thus prevailingly pleads? Not that the Creator should breathe into us the breath of natural life. This was breathed into our first parent at his creation, and we inherit it because we are descended from him. What our divine advocate pleads for is, that his heavenly Father should bestow upon us that eternal life, with its unspeakable blessings, which he purchased for his believing people by his death, Listen to a specimen of his intercession on earth, by which you may judge of the nature of his advocacy in heaven. "Holy Father! keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are." "I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." And again, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me." John xvii.
Amazing, unspeakable blessedness, to behold the Redeemers glory to live with him for ever - to love him with his own perfect love. Wonderful union - to be one with each other ! - one with Christ! - one with God! For this our Advocate pleads; and he cannot plead in vain. And this is life - the life which he has purchased for us by his death - the life which he has gone to prepare for us in heaven,
But I must hasten from this delightful theme, as I have another duty yet to perform. Let us now turn our thoughts to the nature of the sentiments which the doctrine of Christs intercession is calculated to cherish in the mind of a believer.
The first and strongest of all is a sentiment of gratitude and affection. This, indeed, is an emotion which every part of the gospel scheme tends powerfully to excite in the renewed heart, but it seems tome that there is not one doctrine of revelation that comes home with a warmer and more melting glow, than the doctrine of the intercession. The act of the Son of Gods incarnation is past - his life of sorrow is past - his atoning agony is past. The believer is already pardoned - he already enjoys the privileges of a child of God; but on this very day and at this very hour Christ appears at the right hand of God interceding for us. The incarnation, the cross, and the atonement, indicate love unspeakable, and the blessings of redemption demand praises which eternity cannot exhaust; but when with the eye of faith we penetrate beyond the vail, and behold what is even now transacting before the throne of the Father for us - when, on the one hand, we see our sins arraigned continually, in all their vileness and deformity, before the bar of eternal justice - those sins which we are never ceasing to commit - the unholy thoughts we have been cherishing - the idle words we have been uttering - the worldly works we have been doing - with the long black catalogue of neglected duties, and heartless observances - of scriptures read but not obeyed of prayers said but not felt - of ordinances celebrated but not improved; and when, on the other hand, we behold our advocate moved with unquenchable love, standing forward to plead for our forgiveness stretching forth those hands in our cause, which were erewhile nailed to the cross in atonement for our sins - exhibiting the very prints of the nails, and claiming for us the reward of his own labours of love; and then, when we see him taking our sins as they rise before the throne, and in the folds of his spotless robe - the robe of his own righteousness covering them from view for ever - when, by the exercise of strong faith, we realise all this, the seatiments to which such amazing grace gives rise, are, I may truly say, more ardent, more intense, more overpowering, than can spring from any other source.
And this leads me to notice another sentiment which the doctrine of the intercession is calculated to cherish - I mean that of humility.
The very necessity of an intercessor indicates the depravity of the human heart. If it be indeed tree, that, notwithstanding all the appeals which the gospel makes to our conscience and aflections, to our hopes and fears, to every generous and every selfish principle of the heart, we still cherish low desires and worldly views, and walk unworthy of the high vocation with which we are called - if it does not suffice that the Son of God for as became man, and expiated our transgressions on the cross, and through the Holy Spirit has opened our hearts to see the wonders of redeeming love - if, after all this, we daily rebel, and require a continual intercessor before the throne of a holy God, there cannot assuredly be a more striking proof not only of Divine mercy, but of human guilt; and if for the one we have cause of gratitude, for the other we have not less canse of humility and penitence. 0! how ought we, under such views, to distrust ourselves, to scrutinize our hearts, and to consider our ways. How strictly should we judge our character - how cautiously should we examine, and how entirely should be cast ourselves on the guidance and direction of him whose grace alone is sufficient for us, and whose strength is made perfect in his peoples weakness. It does not become that man to be vain of his attainments, or confident in his virtues, who hourly sins, and hourly requires the all-prevailing intercession of the Son of God to avert the just wrath of his heavenly Father. Here we are most affectingly taught that pride was not made for man.
Again, if Christs intercession reminds us that we are altogether insufficient of ourselves, it also assures us that there is one to whom we may freely and confidently apply. This doctrine the Apostle emphatically teaches in Hebrews iv. 15, 16. Having assured us, that "We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, but who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," he adds emphatically, " Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." We are weak of ourselves, but we are invited to be strong in him, and in the power of his grace. it is not an angel who pleads for us; it is our own flesh and blood - our elder brother. He has himself experienced the force of temptation, and has a fellowfeeling of our infirmities. He remembers his own sorrows and sufferings, and sympathises with ours. There is not a pang which he suffered, nor a sigh which he heaved, nor a tear which he shed, but fills us with encouragement. There is not an expression of pity or of kindness which escaped him, that is not a ground of comfort. He who wept at the grave of Lazarus, still compassionates the griefs of mortality - he, whose intense agony caused the very blood to burst from his body, regards human misery with commiseration - he who prayed for his murderers, will not fail, in his intercession for his friends, to repeat with still more affectionate urgency that ever memorable prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what thay do."
There is, then, a very peculiar confidence in the mercy of God, inspired by Christs intercession. We cannot doubt of Gods willingness to save us, when we think of the means of salvation which he has so liberally bestowed upon us. Reflection on the incarnation and sufferings of Christ induced an Apostle to say, "If God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things ;" and what additional ground of trust and security do we derive from the assurance, that "he ever liveth to make intercession for us." Or, to reason in the words of the Apostle himself, "if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled shall we be saved by his life."
Brethren ! the intercession of Christ can never fail. Not only is he man to pity us - that man whom "the Father heareth always," but he is also God to execute whatever his pity has planned. His Almighty power is exerted to protect and to bless us. Speaking of his servants, he says, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." And he adds, as an evidence of his power to do this, "I and my Father are one." - - What undoubting confidence then may fill the heart of the believer! Unerring power and wisdom unite with the tenderest compassion and most unwearied love in effecting his salvation. if God be thus for us, who can be against us. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of Gods 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."
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