"Who also makes intercession for us." –Romans 8:34
"He who might have been placing a vial of wrath in the hand of every angel around His throne, with a commission to pour it out on this rebellious world until it was utterly consumed, is standing at the moment, at the altar of incense, presenting our prayers for mercy, and officiating there as our great High Priest." –Harris
With the contemplation of every new Rock-cleft, the "treasures hidden in Christ" seem to grow upon us, not only in number and variety, but in value and preciousness.
This is specially the case in meditating on the Redeemer as the INTERCESSOR of His Church and people. In that beautiful grouping of the great apostle's "Confidences" in his divine Lord, to which we have more than once adverted, the crowning one is that which heads this chapter--"It is Christ who died; yes, rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God; who also makes intercession for us!" It is when climbing, step by step, he reaches this height of his high argument, that he turns round with the challenge, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"
The intercession of the Savior is based on His atonement. It has been well defined as "the efficacious virtue of the atonement perpetuated by a divine official act." Some theological writers have ingeniously drawn an analogy between creation and providence, atonement and intercession; that just as Providence is the sustaining of the creative work--so that if Christ's continual upholding arm were withdrawn, the outer material world would soon lapse into disorganization--so, the intercession of Jesus is the carrying out, and carrying on, of His propitiatory and mediatorial work--the complement of the great salvation consummated on Calvary.
The Atonement, indeed, is in itself complete; just as this natural creation, (to revert to the analogy), was complete, when it came in all its glorious mechanism from the hands of God, and was pronounced "very good." But in order to perpetuate the benefits of Redemption, and make them available for His people, it is needful for Him, as the High Priest, to continue His priestly office "at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens--a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man." The temple-service of old was the shadow of these sublime heavenly things. The Jewish High Priest, having offered on the great day of Atonement the sacrificial oblation on the altar of burnt-offering, attired himself in a dress of pure white linen--linen robes, and linen belt, and linen mitre, white from head to foot. Thus arrayed, he carried the blood in one hand, and the censer of live coals in the other, into the Most Holy place. Beating some fragrant incense small, he mixes it with the burning coals. A grateful cloud arises--the whole Temple Court is redolent with the perfume, and enveloped in smoke.
Significant type, surely, of Him who has entered through the rent veil of His own crucified body into the Holiest of all; carrying with Him the memorials of His own precious blood-shedding and the fragrant incense of His adorable merits. As the Jewish High Priest sprinkled the blood on the pavement before the mercy-seat, as well as on the mercy-seat; so, our, Divine High Priest sprinkled His blood first on the floor of earth where He shed it, and now He sprinkles it on the throne of heaven. There, with the true incense and fire He pleads. Attired in the white linen vesture of His perfect obedience and righteousness, He confesses His people's sins--He stands between the congregation in the outer court of earth and the Divine Shekinah-glory. The mercy-seat is sprinkled; He waves the fragrant censer--and the whole heavenly house is filled with the odor of the incense.
We dare not, indeed, presume to speculate or dogmatize on the MANNER of this intercession. It is a silent inarticulate speech and pleading. The voice of Abel's blood is represented, by a bold figure, as crying from the ground. That blood, it need not be remarked, was in reality mute. So doubtless is it with our Divine Intercessor. There may be no articulate accents, no audible utterances. He sprinkles no material blood. But this we know, that He has carried with Him to His intercessory throne a glorified body, still bearing the visible marks of earthly humiliation and suffering--the perpetual memorials of His atoning sacrifice--so that that blood may still be said to have a voice before the throne--"The blood of sprinkling which speaks better things than that of Abel." When on earth He poured out His soul "in strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, He was heard in that He feared." In heaven, He pleads in silence; His wounds are His argument; He is heard in that He suffered!
But in this, we are anticipating. We shall proceed, as the most befitting method of illustrating the great truth, to enumerate one or two characteristics of the Savior's intercession.
I. It is a RIGHTEOUS Intercession. This is the attribute which specially suggests itself to the apostle John in his First Epistle, where, under a new figure, he thus speaks of his Lord's intercessory work--"We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." "The Righteous"--a word which refers not so much to the righteousness of the Savior's person, as to the righteousness of His claim in behalf of His people. It is the Divine Advocate appealing to the equity of the Judge--resting His plea on the majesty of justice. An earthly counsel is only the hired and often a dishonest pleader. The righteousness or unrighteousness of the cause he has espoused is no matter to him. His sole object is to gain his client's case; although even in the successful conducting of it before an earthly tribunal, he may have the unuttered conviction of guilt and criminality, and that justice is evaded or perverted. Varied, also, are his appeals to the pity of the jury or the mercy of the judge. Many a cause is determined, not on its merits, but by skillful and adroit pleadings, by dexterous sophistry, or by the wizardry of eloquence!
Not so is it with the Great Intercessor. He pleads not, indeed, the personal innocence of His clients. On the ground of their own merits, they stand, in the sight of heaven, convicted and condemned--destitute of all argument to support their cause. But they are made righteous through the righteousness of Him, their federal Head and Surety-Redeemer. The merits of His obedience and death constitute His plea on their behalf. It is because "He bore the sin of many," that He makes "intercession for the transgressors." In thus, therefore, advocating the cause of His people, it is not the plea of the suppliant imploring mercy--the appeal of an servile petitioner. It is a plea of right. It is the triumphant Conqueror claiming His stipulated reward. It is the Covenant-Surety claiming the fulfillment of the Father's promise.
Addressing His Father in His last intercessory prayer, He appeals to Him in His character of Righteous. "O holy Father," "O righteous Father." All the blessings of the atonement which are to us the free gifts of free grace, are to Him of debt. They are the purchase of His dying love. They come to Him, and through Him to us, as an old writer expresses it, "with the mark of the cross and the print of nails." This Righteous Advocate, standing before the throne, has only to utter His omnipotent formula, "Father, I will!" And all that is within the compass of omnipotence to bestow is His--"Son, You are ever with Me, and all that I have is Yours!"
II. This leads naturally to a second characteristic resulting from the one just mentioned– that is, that it is a PREVAILING Intercession. Jesus is emphatically "the Prince" who has power with God and "prevails." All power has been committed to Him. Him "the Father hears always." They are His own remarkable words in the 16th chapter of John--"In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf."
What does He mean by this? Is it not that the very mention of His all-prevailing name in the Father's ears, will be sufficient to ensure the request of His people being heard and their claims regarded. "Ask in My name." As if He had said, 'It will dispense with the need of My formally pleading on your behalf. It will itself be a passport to the Father's kind regard. So intensely does He love Me for My work's sake and righteousness' sake, that you have only to give utterance to "the name that is above every name," and its music will unlock to you the heart of God.'
How prevailing that name and that plea moreover must be, when we look to the host of petitioners who are warranted to use it. It is a beautiful part of the vision of the pleading covenant-angel in Revelation, with "the censer full of much incense" in his hand, that they are "the prayers of ALL the saints," which, perfumed with His adorable merits, ascend before God's throne and are accepted! It is not merely the pleadings of patriarchs and prophets, apostles and martyrs, men strong in faith giving glory to God. Neither is it the prayers enshrined and intoned in imposing ritual, rising from the great congregation amid ornate temples, and borne on the wings of enchanting music--but the groan, the glance, the tear, the tremulous aspiration of smitten penitents, the veriest lisping of infant tongues; the unlettered petitions morning and evening of the cottage home, where the earthen floor is knelt upon, where the only altar is the altar of the lowly heart, and the sacrifice that of a broken and contrite spirit. It may be affirmed of the Father regarding one and all of these pleadings of the Divine Intercessor, in the prophetic words of the Psalmist, "You have given Him His heart's desire, and have not withheld the request of His lips."
Nor, having Him thus as our prevailing Intercessor, do we stand in need of any other auxiliary, any other advocacy. On the great day of atonement in the Jewish Temple-service of old, no Levite, no subordinate Temple officer was permitted to assist the High Priest, either in the sacrificial offering, or in the subsequent carrying of the blood and incense. No voice within the veil was allowed to be heard, but his. The congregation stood in the outer court. No other footstep dared venture within the holy precincts. There were crowds--thousands on thousands close by. But this solitary priest is unaided, unaccompanied, at that solemn hour. Alone he pled; alone he sprinkled the blood; alone he waved the censer.
In like manner, Christ has entered alone into the holy place, having Himself obtained eternal redemption for us. The solitary Surety on earth, He is the solitary Intercessor above. No other voice pleads with the Father; no other priest or minister, saint or angel, can be of any avail in coming between the sinner and God. As on earth He made the prophetic announcement, "I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there are none with Me" so, standing by the golden Altar above, and stretching down the golden scepter, He, and He only, has the right and prerogative to say, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."
III. It is a PERSONAL Intercession. It is not a mere general advocacy for His Church in its collective capacity--like Aaron rushing between the crowded masses of living and dead when the plague was stopped--but pleading for individual members of that Church with an individual, personal interest, as if each separate case enlisted His sympathy and engrossed His regards. As the High Priest of old wore on his breastplate, gleaming with Urim and Thummin--not the one word Israel--but the separate distinctive names of all its tribes--so also with the Great Antitype. It is not His Church in the aggregate, but the name of each separate believer He has imperishably engraved on His heart. He, the Great SHEPHERD, seated on the heavenly hill and looking down on the earthly pastures, "calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out." He, the great CAPTAIN of Salvation, gazing down on His fighting warriors in the earthly battlefield, is represented as exclaiming, "Him that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white clothing, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father and His holy angels." He, the mighty INTERCESSOR, watching the assaults of the great Accuser of the brethren, is comforting every faint-heart with the old words addressed to a tempted disciple, "Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for YOU that your faith fail not."
How does John (in speaking of Jesus the Intercessor under the title of Advocate), introduce the Divine Pleader's name? Is it, "If His Church, if His people, if His members sin," they may rush in a crowd to the Intercessor on high, and cast their conjoint petitions at His feet or into His censer? No! there is a beautiful individuality--unit by unit in the mighty family of the ransomed have the comfort of it, "If ANY MAN sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." Blessed truth! As in His own impressive parable of the Good Shepherd, He follows the ONE erring wanderer until He finds it--the one stray sheep engrossing all His sympathies, as if He had no thought, no room in His heart but for the ONE.
So also, in His intercessory work. He has a loving regard for each separate child of His redeemed family; He carries the case of each before God. The 144,000 harpists on the sea of glass--the representatives of the Church of the glorified--do not exclude His tender concern in those who are still suppliants in the outer courts. His Infinite wisdom, power, and love, are the Divine guarantees that none can be overlooked; none left unsuccoured. An invisible golden chain links every tempest-tossed vessel to the eternal throne. Zechariah's description of Joshua, the High Priest, is a faithful portraiture of each saint of God to this hour. Satan at his right hand ("the public prosecutor") resisting him; pleading against him; advocating his overthrow. But at his other side stands a Defender mightier than the mightiest--the Divine Angel-Intercessor, saying, "The Lord rebuke you--Is not this (this ONE) a brand plucked out of the fire?" And that personal intercession will never cease, from the hour when the believer is first brought a lowly suppliant to the foot of the cross, until the final petition (unheard by weeping relatives in the death-chamber on earth) ascends from the lips of the Great Intercessor in heaven, "Father, I will, that they also whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory."
IV. It is a MERCIFUL and COMPASSIONATE Intercession. On earth the successful mediator for the oppressed and suffering--the successful philanthropist--is, generally speaking, not the man of stern nerve and iron will; but rather, the possessor of keen and tender sensibilities, who can himself enter into the tale of sorrow; who, it may be, from dear-bought experience, can make the cause of the wretched his own. The most potent advocate of the captive, is he who has himself been familiar with the wrongs he denounces. He who would most successfully plead--indeed, who has most successfully pleaded the cause of the slave, is the man who is the liberated slave himself; who has had personal experience of the cruelty and indignity of the tyrant's scourge.
Jesus is a compassionate Intercessor--"a merciful"--as we have seen Him to be a "faithful High Priest;" for He can enter with liveliest sensibility into all the diversities of His people's experience. Their every pang and sorrow He has Himself endured. "In all their afflictions He was afflicted." What a confidence this merciful character of the Great High Priest gives in approaching His intercessory throne, and soliciting His direction and guidance! Even on earth, what a joy and comfort it is in seasons of difficulty, to resort to a tried and loving friend, in whose tenderness and affection you can place unhesitating reliance! What an ease to unbosom in that brother's ear the difficulty that is harassing you, and solicit his wise and faithful counsel! Jesus is this Blessed resort in all time of your tribulation!
What a privilege, when Providence is dark and duty is perplexing, to repair immediately to this "Wonderful Counselor;" to take your case, as Hezekiah did Rabshakeh's letter, spreading it out before Him in prayer, and saying in simple faith, "I am oppressed, undertake for me." An earthly advocate may ably conduct the cause confided to him, and vindicate or assert disputed rights. But it is not, we repeat, necessarily any more than the work of a hired pleader. He may never have seen his client's face, or claimed his acquaintance, far less his friendship. Not so the Heavenly Advocate. "We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." "He is not ashamed to call us brethren." "I have called you friends." In the Epistle of James, God--"the Lord Almighty"--is said to hear the cry of the defrauded reaper--the common laborer--when he utters the appeal of oppressed and downtrodden poverty. How much more will the cries of His spiritual children enter with acceptance into the ears of their Intercessor! How tenderly will He compassionate, protect, defend, those whom He has redeemed with His own precious blood!
V. Finally. It is an UNCHANGING Intercession. Under the Levitical economy, the intercessor for the nation was removed by death. It was a temporary, hereditary, transmissible priesthood. Ever and always the nation was clothed in sackcloth, as they mourned their departed ecclesiastical head.
Not so Jesus! "This man because He continues ever, has an UNCHANGEABLE PRIESTHOOD." He is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. Many a good and righteous cause on earth has been lost by the death of its advocate. But our Advocate, as He is without beginning of days, is without end of years. As the tinkling bells of the High Priest's vestments were heard by the crowd in the outer court, while he himself was ministering within the veil--the sound conveying to them the assurance that he was still engaged in the solemn act of intercession--so the ear of faith can still catch up the music of these sacred chimes--these silver bells in heaven--"Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!"
The Jewish Hierarch acted as the nation's Intercessor for one day only--once every year--and for only a part of that one day. But, day without night is our Intercessor pleading. He never intermits; His love never cools; His ardor never decays! The true Moses on the Heavenly Rephidim, His hands never grow heavy; for of Him it is sublimely said, "He faints not, neither is weary." Nor, we believe (and as we shall in a subsequent chapter more fully unfold), will He ever entirely abdicate His office as the Divine medium of communion and communion between God and His people. Even in the Church triumphant, "the Son," we read, is "consecrated for evermore." "He ever lives to make intercession for us."
Thus, then, have we endeavored briefly to illustrate some of the characteristics of the Redeemer's Intercession; as a Righteous Intercession; a Prevalent Intercession; a Merciful Intercession; an Unchanging Intercession.
In conclusion, let us seek to receive this great truth, not as a figure of speech, but as a glorious and sublime verity. Not a few are at times tempted to say, 'If Christ were still among us; if He still trod our streets as once He did those of Nazareth and Jerusalem; if He ministered on our shores as once He did on those of Jordan and Gennesaret; if PENITENCE could still creep, as it did of old, unbidden to His feet, to pour out in silent tears its tale of sorrow; if trembling CONVICTION could sneak (Nicodemus like) under the curtain of night to listen to the Heavenly Teacher's loving tones; if SORROW could rush, as once it did, with throbbing emotion, and cry out, "Lord, if You had been here, our brother would not have died;" if I could take my darling child, as once the Jewish mother did, and hurry through the crowd to receive the omnipotent touch and the healing word, all would be different.
But alas! He is invisible. I am told to pray; but in vain I look for that countenance of compassion. In vain I listen at my threshold for that footfall of love! My sick chamber is like John's place of exile, a lonely Patmos--but, unlike him, I behold no one in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. I see no symbol, I hear no voice! I pray, but it is to a Savior-Intercessor I do not see!'
"Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed--blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed." "Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Yes! prayer can still carry you into that glorious and glorified Presence, and the hand of faith can still touch as though He was on earth, the hem of His garment! Jesus of Nazareth still passes by. The spiritually blind and impotent can still breathe the prayer for mercy--for He ever "lives!"
Think for a moment what it would be were that intercession suspended? Or, recurring once more to the analogy with which we started, think what this fair creation of ours would be, were the Divine Providential hand to be withdrawn! All would immediately collapse! Chaos and night would again rise to the ascendant, and the world rock to ruin. And what would be the result to the spiritual world--the Church--were the intercession of its Head intermitted? How would every Asahel become a Ready-to-halt; every warrior's hand drop paralyzed on the battle-field. It is sad to be deprived of the loving sympathy and counsel of the earthly friend we most valued--when distance separates, or coldness estranges; or (saddest of all) when death puts his irrevocable seal on the sweet counsels of the past.
What must it be were we deprived of the prayers and counsels and sympathies of Jesus! See that you forfeit not these by sin. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Oh, saddest of all responses from the Heavenly Oracle is that of this Righteous Intercessor, when He looks down on His faithless people "hastening after another god," and says, "Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into My lips."
God grant that we may know, from personal experience, the blessedness of resorting to to such a Rock-cleft as this--"He shall hide me in His pavilion, in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me, He shall set me up upon a Rock." The Divine Intercessor, the Mighty Pleader before the throne issues the gracious invitation--"Come, My people, enter into your chambers, and shut your doors behind you--hide yourself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." Let it be ours to respond with the ardent aspiration, the votive prayer–"Be to me a protecting rock of safety, where I am always welcome. Give the order to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress." Psalm 71:3