Of the Intercession of Christ our High-priest, being the second Act or Part of his Priestly Office
by John Flavel
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.
Heb. 7: 25
Having dispatched the first part, or act of Christ's priesthood, consisting in his Oblation; we come to the other branch of it, consisting in his Intercession, which is nothing else but the virtual continuation of his offering once made on earth; that being medium reconciliationis, the means of reconciling; this, medium applicationis, the way and means of his applying to us the benefits purchased by it.
This second part, or branch of his priesthood, was typified by the High-priest's entering with the blood of the sacrifice and sweet incense into the holy place: Lev. 16: 12, 13, 14. "And he shall take the censer full of burning coals of fire, from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail. And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not. And he shall take the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy-seat, eastward," &c
Christ's offering himself on earth, answered to the killing of the sacrifice without; and his entering into heaven, there to intercede, was that which answered to the priest's going with blood, and his hands full of incense, within the vail. So that this is a part, yea, a special part of Christ's priesthood; and so necessary to it, that if he had not done this, all his work on earth had signified nothing; nor had he been a priest, i. e. a complete and perfect priest, if he had remained on earth, Heb. 8: 4. because the very design and end of shedding his blood on earth had been frustrated, which was to carry it before the Lord into heaven. So that this is the principal perfective part of the priesthood: he acted the first part on earth, in a state of deep abasement in the form of a servant; but he acts this in glory, whereto he is taken up, that he may fulfil his design in dying, and give the work of our salvation its last completing act. So much is imported in this scripture, which tells us, by reason hereof, he "is able to save to the uttermost," &c.
The words contain an encouragement to believers, to come to God in the way of faith, drawn from the intercession of Christ in heaven for them. In which you may take notice of these principal parts.
1. The quality of the persons here encouraged, who are described by a direct act of faith, as poor recumbents that are going out of themselves to God by faith; but conscious of great unworthiness in themselves, and thence apt to be discouraged.
2. The encouragement propounded to such believers, drawn from the ability of Jesus Christ, in whose name they go to the Father, to save them to the uttermost, i.e. fully, perfectly, completely; for so this emphatical word, "eis to panteles", signifies, the saving us wholly, thoroughly, completely, and altogether; giving our salvation its last act and completion.
The ground or reason of this his saving ability: "Seeing he ever liveth to make intercession;" i.e. he has not only offered up his blood to God upon the tree, as a full price to purchase pardon and grace for believers; but lives in heaven, and that for every to apply unto us, in the way of intercession, all the fruits, blessings, and benefits, that that precious blood of his deserves, and has procured us a price for them. The words thus opened, the point I shall single out, from among many that lie in them, as most suitable to my design and purpose, is this;
Doct. That Jesus our High-priest lives for ever, in the capacity of a potent Intercessor, in heaven for believers.
Here we will enquire, First, What it is for Christ to be an intercessor. Secondly, By what acts he performs that work in heaven. Thirdly, Whence the potency and prevalence of his intercession is. Fourthly, and lastly, How he lives for ever to make intercession for us.
First, What it is for Christ to be an intercessor for us. To intercede in general, is to go betwixt two parties, to intreat, argue, and plead with one for the other. And of this there are two sorts; 1. Ex charitate, ut fratres, that whereby one Christian prays and pleads with God for another, 1 Tim. 2: 1. 2. Ex officio mediatorio, that whereby Christ, as an act of office, presents himself before God to request for us. Betwixt these two is this difference, that the former is performed not in our own, but in another's name; we can tender no request to God immediately, or for our own sake, either for ourselves, or for others: John 16: 23 "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." But the latter, which is proper to Christ, is an intercession with God for us, in his own name, and upon the account of his own proper merit; the one is a private act of charity, the other a public act of office; and so he is our advocate or court friend, as Satan is or accuser or court-adversary. Satan is "ho antidikos", one that charges us before God, 1 Pet. 5: 8. and continually endeavours to make breaches between us and God. Christ is "ho parakletos", our attorney, or advocate, that pleads for us, and continues peace and friendship between us and God, 1 John 2: 2. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And thus to make intercession, is the peculiar and incommunicable prerogative of Jesus Christ, none but he can go in his own name to God. And in that sense we are to understand that place, Ezek. 44: 2, 3. "Then said the Lord unto me, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it, because the Lord the God of Israel has entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the prince, the prince he shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord," &c. The great broad gate, called here the prince's gate, signifies that abundant and direct entrance that Christ had into heaven by his own merits, and in his own name; this, saith the Lord, shall be shut, no man shall enter in by it; all other men must come thither, as it were, by collateral or side doors, which looked all towards the altar, viz. by virtue of the Mediator, and through the benefit of his death imputed to them. And yet, though God has for ever shut up and barred this way to all the children of men, telling us that no man shall ever have access to him in his own name, as Christ the Prince had; how do some, notwithstanding, strive to force open the Prince's gate? So do they, that found the intercession of saints upon their own works and merits, thereby robbing Christ of his peculiar glory; but all that so approach God, approach a devouring fire; Christ only, in the virtue of his blood, thus comes before him, to make intercession for us.
Secondly, We will enquire wherein the intercession of Christ in heaven consists, or by what acts he performs his glorious office there. And the scriptures place it in three things:
1. In his presenting himself before the Lord in our names, and upon our accounts. So we read in Heb. 9: 28. "Christ is entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." The apostle manifestly alludes to the High-priest's appearing in the holy of holies, which was the figure of heaven, presenting to the Lord the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, which were on his breast and shoulders, Exod. 28: 9,12, 28, 29. To which the church is supposed to allude in that request, Cant. 8: 6. "Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm." Now the very sight of Christ, our High priest in heaven, prevails exceedingly with God, and turns away his displeasure from us. As when God looks upon the rainbow, which is the sign of the covenant, he remembers the earth in mercy: so when he looks on Christ, his heart must needs be towards us, upon his account; and therefore in Rev. 4: 3, Christ is compared to a rainbow encompassing the throne.
Christ performs his intercession-work in heaven, not by a naked appearing in the presence of God only, but also by presenting his blood, and all his sufferings to God, as a moving plea on our account. Whether he makes any proper oral intercession there, as he did on earth, is not so clear; some incline to it, and think it is countenanced by Zechariah, chap. 1: 12,13. Where Christ our Intercessor presents a proper vocal request to the Father, in the behalf of his people; saying "O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem, and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years? And the Lord answered him with good and comfortable words." And so Acts 2: 23. as soon as he came to heaven, he is said (and that is the first fruits of his intercession) to obtain the promise of the Holy Ghost. But sure I am, an interceding voice is by an usual prosopopeia attributed to his blood; which in Heb. 12: 24. is said "to speak better things than that of Abel." Now Abel's blood and so Christ's, do cry unto God, as the hire of the labourers unjustly detained, or the whole creation, which is in bondage, through our sins, is said to cry and groan in the ears of the Lord, Jam. 5: 4. Rom. 8: 22. not vocally, but efficaciously. A rare illustration of this efficacious intercession of Christ in heaven, we have in that famous story of Amintas, who appeared as an advocate for his brother Aechylus, who was strongly accused, and very likely to be condemned to die. Now Amintas having performed great services, and merited highly of the common-wealth, in whose service one of his hands was cut off in the field; he comes into the court in his brother's behalf, and said nothing, but only lifted up his arm, and shewed them cubitum sine manu, an arm without a hand, which so moved them, that, without a word speaking, they freed his brother immediately. And thus if you look into Rev. 5: 6. you shall see in what posture Christ is represented, visionally there, as standing between God and us; "And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne, and the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders stood a Lamb as it had been slain;" i.e. bearing in his glorified body the marks of death and sacrifice. Those wounds he received for our sins on earth, are, as it were, still fresh bleeding in heaven: a moving and prevailing argument it is with the Father, to give out the mercies he pleads for.
3. And lastly, He presents the prayers of his saints to God, with his merits; and desires that they may for his sake be granted. He causes a cloud of incense to ascend before God with them, Rev. 8: 3. All these were excellently typified out by the going in of the High-priest before the Lord, with the names of the children of Israel on his breast, with the blood of the sacrifice, and his hands full of incense, as the apostle explains them in Heb. 7 and Heb. 9. Thirdly, And that this intercession of Christ is most potent, successful, and prevalent with God, will be evinced, both from the qualification of this our Advocate, from his great interest in the Father, from the nature of the place he useth with God, and from the relation and interest believers have, both in the Father to whom, and the Son by whom this intercession is made.
1. Our intercessor in the heavens is every way able and fit for the work he is engaged in there. Whatever is desirable in an advocate, is in him eminently. It is necessary that he who undertakes to plead the cause of another, especially if it be weighty and intricate, should be wise, faithful, tender-hearted, and one that concerns himself in the success of his business. Our Advocate Christ, wants no wisdom to manage his work; he is the wisdom of God, yea, only wise, Jude 25. There is much folly in the best of our duties, we know not how to press an argument home with God; but Christ has the art of it. Our business is in a wise hand: he is no less faithful than wise, therefore he is called "a faithful High-priest, in things pertaining to God," Heb. 2: 17. He assures us we may safely trust our concerns with him, John 14: 2. "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you;" q. d. Do you think I could deceive you? men may cheat you, but I will not; your own hearts may and daily do deceive you, but so will not I. And for tender heartedness, and sensible feelings for your conditions, there is none like him: Heb. 4: 15. "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, yet without sin." We have not one that cannot sympathise, so it is in the Greek: and on purpose that he might the better sympathise with us, he came as near to our conditions, as the holiness of his nature could permit. He suffered himself to be in all points tempted like as we are, sin only excepted.
And then for his concernment and interest in the success of his suit; he not only reckons, but has really made it his own interest, yea, more his own than it is ours: For now by reason of the mystical union, all our wants and troubles are his, Eph. 1: 23, yea, his own glory and completeness, as Mediator, is deeply interested in it; and therefore we need not doubt but he will use all care and diligence in that work. If you say, so he may, and yet not speed for all that, for it depends upon the Father's grant: True, but then, 2. Consider the great interest he has in the Father, with whom he intercedes. Christ is his dear Son, Col. 1: 13. the beloved of his soul, Eph. 1: 6. Betwixt him and the Father, with whom, when he intercedes, there is an unity, not only of nature, but will; and so he always hears him, John 11: 42. Yea, and he said to his dear Son, when he came first to heaven, "Ask of me, and I will give thee," Psal. 2: 8. Moreover,
He must needs speed in his suit, if you consider the nature of his intercession, which is just and reasonable for the matter, urgent and continual, for the manner of it. The matter of his requesting most equal: what he desires is not desired gratis, or upon terms unbecoming the holiness and righteousness of God to grant; he desires no more but what he has deserved, and given a valuable consideration to the Father for. And so the justice of God does, not only not oppose, but furthers and pleads for the granting, and fulfilling his requests.
Here you must remember, that the Father is under a covenant tie and bond to do what he asks; for Christ having fully performed the work on his part, the mercies he intercedes for, are as due as the hire of the labourer is, when the work is faithfully done. And as the matter is just, so the manner of his intercession is urgent and continual. How importunate a suitor he is, may be gathered from that specimen, given of it in John 17, and for the constancy, of it, my text tells us, "he ever lives to make intercession:" It is his great business in heaven, and he follows it close. And to close all, 4. Consider who they are for whom he makes intercession: The friends of God, the children of God; those that the Father himself loves, and his heart is propense and ready enough to grant the best and greatest of mercies to: which is the meaning of John 15: 26, 27. "The Father himself loveth you." And it must needs be so, for the first corner stone of all these mercies was laid by the Father himself in his most free election. He also delivered his Son for us; and "how shall he not with him freely give us all things?" Rom. 8: 32. So then there can remain no doubt upon a considering heart, but that Christ is a prevalent and successful intercessor in heaven. There only remains one thing more to be satisfied, and that is, Fourthly, In what sense he is to live for ever to make intercession. Shall he then be always at his work? employed in begging new favours for us to eternity? How then shall the people of God be perfect in heaven, if there be need of Christ's intercession to eternity for them?
I answer, by distinguishing the essence and substance of Christ's offices, from the way and manner of administration. In the first sense it is eternal: for his mediatory kingdom, as to the essence of it, is to abide for ever; Christ shall never cease to be a Mediator; the church shall never want a head; for "of his kingdom, there shall be no end," Luke 1: 33. However, Christ, as a Mediator, being employed in a kind of subordinate way, 1 Cor. 3: 23, when he shall have accomplished that design for which he became a Mediator, "Then shall he deliver up the kingdom (in the sense we spake before) to the Father, and so God shall be all in all," 1 Cor. 15: 24. Then shall the divinity of Christ, which was so emptied and obscured in his undertaking this temporary dispensatory kingdom, be more gloriously manifested, by the full possession, use, and enjoyment of that natural, divine, eternal kingdom, which belongs to all the three co-essential and co-equal persons, reigning with the same power, majesty, and glory, in the unity of the Divine Essence, and common acts, in all, and over all, infix nicely and immutably for ever.
And so Christ continues to be our Mediator; and yet that affords no argument that our happiness shall be incomplete, but rather argues the perfection of the church, which thenceforth shall be governed no more as it now is, nor have any farther use of ordinances, but shall be ruled more immediately, gloriously, triumphantly, and ineffably in the world to come. The substance of his Mediatorship is not changed, but the manner of the administration only.
Use 1. Does Christ live for ever in heaven to present his blood to God in the way of intercession for believers? How sad then is their case, that have no interest in Christ's blood; bit instead of pleading for them, it cries to God against then, as the despisers and abusers of it! Every unbeliever despises it: The apostate treads it under foot. He that is an intercessor for some, will be an accuser of others. To be guilty of a man's blood is sad; but to have the blood of Jesus accusing and crying to God against a soul, is unspeakable terrible. Surely when he shall make inquisition for blood, when the day of his vengeance is come, he will make it appear by the judgements he will execute, that this is a sin never to be expiated, but vengeance shall pursue the sinner to the bottom of hell. Oh! what do men and women do, in rejecting the gracious offer of Christ! what, tread upon a Saviour! and cast contempt, by unbelief and hardness of heart, upon their only remedy! I remember I have read of a harlot that killed her child, and said that it smiled upon her when she went to stab it. Sinner, does not Christ smile upon thee in the gospel? And wilt thou, as it were, stab him to the heart by thine infidelity? Wo, and alas for that man, against whom this blood cries in heaven!
Use 2. Doth Christ live for ever to make intercession? Hence let believers fetch relief, and draw encouragement against all the causes and grounds of their fears and troubles; for surely this answers them all.
1. Hence let them be encouraged against all their sinful infirmities, and lamented weaknesses. It is confessed these are sad things; they grieve the Spirit of God, sadden your own hearts, cloud your evidences; but having such a High-priest in heaven, can never be your ruin. 1 John 2: 1, 2. "My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not: and if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." [My little children.] Children, especially little children, when first beginning to take the foot, are apt to stumble at every straw; so are raw, young and unexperienced Christians: but what if they do? Why though it must be far from them to take encouragement so to do from Christ and his intercession, yet if by surprizal they do sin, let them not be utterly discouraged: for we have an Advocate, he stops whatever plea may be brought in against us by the Devil, or the law, and answers all by his satisfaction: he gets out fresh pardons for new sins. And this Advocate is with [the Father:] he does not say with his Father, though that had been a singular support in itself, nor yet with our Father, which is a sweet encouragement singly considered, but with [the Father] which takes in both, to make the encouragement full. Remember, you that are cast down, under the sense of sin, that Jesus, your friend, in the court above, "is able to save to the uttermost." Which is, as one calls it, a reaching word, and extends itself so far, that thou canst not look beyond it. "Let thy soul be set on the highest mount that any creature was ever set on, and enlarged to take in view the most spacious prospect both of sin and misery, and difficulties of being saved, that ever yet any poor humble soul did cast within itself; yea, join to these all the hindrances and objections that the heart of man can invent against itself and salvation: lift up thine eyes, and look to the utmost thou canst see; and Christ, by his intercession, is able to save thee beyond the horizon and utmost compass of thy thoughts, even to the utmost."
2. Hence draw abundant encouragement against all heart- straitenings, and deadness of Spirit in prayer. Thou complainest thy heart is dead, wandering, and contracted in duty: O, but remember Christ's blood speaks, when thou canst not; it can plead for thee, and that powerfully, when thou art not able to speak a word for thyself: to this sense that scripture speaks, Cant. 3: 6. "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh, and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?" The duties of Christians go up many times, as pillars or clouds of smoke from them, more smoke than fire, prayers smoked and sullied with their offensive corruptions; but, remember, Christ perfumes them with myrrh, &c. He, by his intercession, gives them a sweet perfume.
3. Christ's intercession is a singular relief to all that come unto God by him, against all sinful damps and slavish fears from the justice of God. Nothing more promotes the fear of reverence; nothing more suppresseth unbelieving despondencies, and destroys the spirit of bondage. So you find it, Heb. 10: 19, 20, 21. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having a High priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, 'en pleroforia pisteos', in full assurance of faith": or let us come unto God, as a ship comes with full sail into the harbour. O what a direct and full gale of encouragement does this intercession of Christ give to the poor soul that lay a-ground, or was wind-bound before?
4. The intercession of Christ gives admirable satisfaction and encouragement to all that corns to God, against the fears of de setting him again by apostasy. This, my friends, this is your principal security against these matters of fear. With this he relieved Peter, Luke 22: 31, 32. "Simon, (saith Christ) Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not," q. d. Satan will fan thee, not to get out thy chaff, but bolt out thy flour: his temptations are levelled against thy faith; but fear not, my prayer shall break his designs, and secure thy faith against all his attempts upon it. Upon this powerful intercession of Christ, the apostle builds his triumph against all that threatens to bring him, or any of the saints, again into a state of condemnation. And see how he drives on that triumph, from the resurrection, and session of Christ at the Father's right hand; and especially from the work of intercession, which he lives there to perform: Rom. 8: 34, 35. "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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"
5. It gives sweet relief against the defects and wants that yet are in our sanctification. We want a great deal of faith, love, heavenly-mindedness, mortification, knowledge. We are short and wanting in all. There are "husteremata", the remains, or things wanting, as the apostle calls them, 1 Thess. 3: 10. Well, if grace be but yet in its weak beginnings, and infancy in thy soul, this may encourage, that by reason of Christ's intercession, it shall live, grow, and expatiate itself in thy heart. He is not only the author, but the finisher of it, Heb. 12: 2. He is ever begging new and fresh mercies for you in heaven; and will never cease till all your wants be supplied. He saves "eis to panteles", to the uttermost, i.e. as I told you before, to the last, perfective, completing act of salvation. So that this is a fountain of relief against all your fears.
Use 3. Does Christ live for ever to make intercession? Then let those who reap on earth the fruits of that his work in heaven, draw instruction thence about the following duties, to which it leads them as by the hand.
1. Do not forget Christ in an exalted state. You see though he be in all the glory above, at God's right hand, and enthroned king, he does not forget you: he, like Joseph, remembers his brethren in all his glory. But, alas, how oft does advancement make us forget him? As the Lord complains in Hosea 13: 5, 6 "I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought: but when they came into Canaan, according to their pastures, so were they filled: they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me." As if he had said, O my people, you and I were better acquainted in the wilderness, when you were in a low condition, left to my immediate care, living by daily faith. O then you gave me many a sweet visit; but now you are filled, I hear no more of you. Good had it been for same saints, if they had never known prosperity.
2. Let the intercession of Christ in heaven for you, encourage you to constancy in the good ways of God. To this duty it sweetly encourages also, Heb. 4: 14. "seeing then that we have a great High-priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold fast our profession." Here is encouragement to perseverance on a double account. One is, that Jesus, our head, is already in heaven; and if the head be above water, the body cannot drown. The other is from the business he is there employed about, which is his priesthood; he is passed into the heavens, as our great High-priest, to intercede, and therefore we cannot miscarry.
3. Let it encourage you to constancy in prayer: O do not neglect that excellent duty, seeing Christ is there to present all your petitions to God; yea, to perfume as well as present them. So the apostle, Heb. 4: 16. infers from Christ's intercession; "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
4. Hence be encouraged to plead for Christ on earth, who continually pleads for you in heaven. If any accuse you, he is there to plead for you: and if any dishonour him on earth, see that you plead his interest, and defend his honour. Thus you have heard what his intercession is, and what benefits we receive by it. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.
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