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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie




The last chapter dealt with the person of the Mediator; this one will begin the explanation of his work as the Redeemer. At the very outset it is worthy of notice that the Catechisms and the Confession unfold the great work of the Redeemer according to very different plans. The same well-defined doctrine is presented in both, but that doctrine is opened on differenct lines, and according to diverse structural principles. In the Confession the statement is general, and is based mainly on the idea of mediation, and of what the Mediator suffered and secured. In the Catechisms the subject is unfolded under the guidance of the idea of the three offices which Christ executes as our Redeemer. He is at once prophet, priest, and king. The Confession, again, alludes in only a brief way to the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, while the Catechisms, especially the Larger, give much space to these facts in the work of the Redeemer. It will be noted, also, that there is no definite discussion of what isknown as the doctrine of the atonement, under the heading of that term. There is, of course, a very clearly-defined doctrine of atonement presented in the Standards, both as to its nature and design, but its factors are assumed and incidentally unfolded, rather than formally discussed. These differences in the treatment of the work of Christ as our Redeemer in the Catechisms and the Confession make it rather difficult to gather together what they have to say upon this great theme. Perhaps the ends of orderly and compact discussion can be nest secured by first presenting the general view which the Confession gives, and then unfolding the scope of the three offices of the Redeemer, as they are stated in the Catechisms. Then, the whole may very properly be concluded by exhibiting the factors which enter into the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, especially as given in the Catechisms. Todo all this will require at least three chapters.

I. A General Statement of the Mediator's Work.

Several particulars are to be mentioned under this general view, in order to give an outline of it.

1. The office of mediator and surety Christ did most willingly undertake. And it was necessary that he should voluntarily engage to enter upon theis work, even as he was called and appointed to it by the Father. For it is in the very fact that he voluntarily entered upon his work, and willingly completed it, that the whole virtue and value of his obedience and sacrifice consist. Had he been driven to this work, or had he obeyed as a slave and died against his will, the real efficacy of his work would have been entirely destroyed.

2. Then Jesus Christ was fully qualified for his mediatorial work, not only in his person, as was seen in the preceding chapter, but also in the relations which he assumed, and in the experiences to which he submitted. That he might, as Mediator, redeem those who were under the penalty of the law, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it. He also observed the ceremonial law; he kept the moral law, both in its letter and spirit; and he fulfilled, both negatively and positively, the legal conditions of the covenant of grace. He entered precisely into that covenant place under the law at which the first Adam failed to render the obedience required, and was condemned to suffer the penalty incurred. Hence emerge the two great branches of his work. He obeyed the law whose precept had not been carried out by the first Adam, and thereby he purchased for his people a title to the reward of that obedience. He also endured the penalty which, by transgression, the first Adam had incurred forh himself and his posterity, so that by his one sacrifice of himself a just basis is provided for the removal of that penalty, and the remission of the punishment which it entailed. In this twofold way he perfectly fulfilled the law in the threefold sense above noted. He obeyed the precept of the law, he suffered the penalty of the law, and he met the covenant conditions of the law.

3. In doing this he served as a sacrifice, and as Mediator he was made perfect by the things which he suffered. At this point the Confession recites, in a manner something like that in which the Catechisms describe the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, the painful things which he experienced. He endured sore torments immediately in his soul, and he was subjected to most painful sufferings in his body. He was crucified, and did really and truly die on the cross. He was buried in a borrowed tomb, and remained under the power of death for a season; yet his body did not undergo dissolution, or see corruption. Then, on the third day he rose from the dead, and his resurrection body was not only real, but it was the same which was his prior to the crucifixion. He afterwards ascended into heaven in the selfsame body, which was, no doubt, glorified to fit it for its heavenly state. Having ascended into heaven, he took his seat at the right hand of his Father, in the place of honor and authority, and there entered upon his work of mediatorial intercession. Then, finally, in due time he shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world. In all these things there is a careful recital of scriptural facts and teaching, and no mere theory of the nature of these facts is propounded. The meaning of these facts is more fully presented in the next paragraph.

4. This perfect obedience which Christ rendered, and the sacrifice of himself which he voluntarily made in offering himself up to God through the eternal Spirit, has fully satisfied the justice of the Father. Here it is distinctly announced that the sacrifice of Christ was an offering to satisfy the justice of the Father. This means that it was penal and vicarious in its nature. The result of this satisfaction to the justice of the Father is twofold. He secured, by purchase, reconciliation for his people, so that God is reconciled and his wrath is propitiated. Christ has also purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father has given unto him. These two classes of benefits are connected with the two aspects of Christ's work already alluded to in this chapter. By suffering the penalty of the law he procured reconciliation, and by obeying the precept of the law he purchased the inheritance. The plain and simple way in which, on a sure scriptural basis, without needless speculation, the satisfaction of Christ is presented in the Standards, deserves much praise, and merits careful study.

5. The Confession, further, points out the fact that, although the work of redemption was not actually wrought out in time till after the incarnation, yet that work was in the divine purpose and plan viewed as a fact, so that the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect in all ages and dispensations, even from the beginning of the world. These benefits, prior to the incarnation, were exhibited in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices which revealed Christ, and showed him to be the Seed of the woman who was to bruise the head of the serpent, and that he was the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. By faith the elect in all the ages and dispensations previous to the advent of Christ laid hold of the promises to which the types and sacrifices related, and thus there was communicated to them by the Holy Spirit the proper grace and salvation which these things represented in Christ, the Messiah, who was to come.

6. At this point the Confession emphasizes a fact alluded so in the last chapter. In the work of mediation it is ever to be kept in mind that Christ acts according to both natures. This means, against the doctrine of Rome, that Christ is truly Mediator in both natures. In thus effecting mediatorial work, each nature does that which is proper to itself. Still, by reason of the unity of the person, the qualities and lets which are proper to the one nature are ascribed to the person, even when that person is denominated by titles which pertain to the other nature. "The Son of man which is in heaven" is one passage to illustrate; and "the church of God which he has purchased with his own blood " is another.

7. The last general point to be noted here has reference to the actual application of the benefits of Christ's mediation. As this important topic comes up again for remark, only a brief notice of it is now needed. To al[ those for whom Christ, according to the purpose of electing grace, has purchased redemption, he does in due time certainly and effectually apply and actually communicate this redemption, together with all that it implies. This he does in four important ways: First, by making intercession for them. This is the basis of all. Secondly, by revealing to them in and by he word the mysteries of salvation. This is done by the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, to the end that the elect are spiritually enlightened thereby. Thirdly, by effectually persuading them, by the same Spirit, to repent of sin, and to believe and obey the gospel. This relates to the renewing and sanctifying work of the Spirit in their souls, by which they are made willing to believe and to obey; and, Fourthly, he governs in the hearts of his people, and rules over their lives, by his word and Spirit, and he also overcomes all their enemies by his almighty power and infinite wisdom, his splendid category of benefits will be further expanded in later chapters, but it is of value to have it set down in outline even thus early in the exposition.

II. The Offices of Christ as Mediator.

Strictly speaking, there is only one office, that of Mediator; but the Mediator in that office discharges three functions. Still, as the Catechisms use the term office in the sense of function in this threefold way, it will doubtless be best to follow this familiar usage in the explanations now to be given. The brief statement of the Catechisms is that Jesus Christ, as the Mediator between God and man, and the Redeemer of his people, exercises under all dispensations three offices, that of prophet, that of priest, and that of king. These three offices he occupies, and fulfils their duties both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation. Without further preliminary remark the explanation of these offices is entered on. The rest of this chapter will deal with the prophetic office, and in the next chapter the other two offices will be expounded.

III. Christ the Mediator and Redeemer, as the Prophet of the Covenant of Grace.

The generic idea of a prophet is of one who speaks for God, and from God, to man. His work is to bring a divine message, and this message may be brought in various ways and forms. Prediction is often a part of the message, but it is not the essential element in the mission of the prophet. In the sense of one who speaks for God to men, Jesus Christ is the prophet of the covenant of grace. He is the great teacher sent from God to men, so that whosoever heareth him heareth the Father. In this sense he is the eternal Logos, or Word, and the revealer of the Father. He it is who reveals to sinful men, by the word and Spirit, the will of God for their salvation. As the Mediator of the covenant and the Redeemer of his people he first discharges the office or function of a prophet in this broad sense. This implies several things to be noted.

1. Those to whom this revelation of God's will is first made are stated. The position of the Standards is here plain and unmistakable. It is to the church that he reveals God's will. This, of course, follows from his place and service in the covenant of grace. As Mediator of that covenant he acts for his elect seed, given to him by the Father. This seed is the whole body of the elect, and this constitutes the church in the sense of the invisible church. But, as the visible church stands, with her divinely-ordained laws and appointed ordinances, as the concrete form of the invisible church at any particular age, the visible church is also to be included in the view now taken of that body to which the revelation is made by the prophet of the covenant. To this body God makes known his will in this way, and this same body having received the divine oracles, is also the appointed custodian of them. She is also to be the interpreter of the revealed will of God, and also its exponent and herald to the world. Hence, according to the Standards, God does not reveal his will directly to the world by his Son, Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the covenant, in a general or indiscriminate way, but he reveals that will primarily to the church; and, then, it is the duty and privilege of the church to make it known to the world. Here, in its covenant aspects, emerges the fundamental principle of all forms of missionary effort, both at home and abroad. God, through Christ, by the Spirit, has given the message of life to the church, and the church in turn is to give this saving message to the whole world.

2. The instrument and agent by which this is effected is the word and Spirit of God. In Old Testament times, and in the apostolic age, men, divinely chosen and inspired, received and communicated, by the aid of the Spirit, the will of God; and, under the same divine direction, then reduced to permanent written form as much of the things revealed as divine wisdom deemed necessary for the church in all ages. In all this period the word and Spirit are the instrument and agent of Christ, as the prophet of the covenant.

Since the days of the prophets and apostles, and the completion of the canon of Scripture by them, the word as instrument has remained complete; and in and by this word the Spirit acts in making known to men the will of God for their salvation. The word is the sword of the Spirit, and that sword is wielded by the Spirit. The Spirit also unfolds the meaning of the message contained in the word; but no additional message, other than that contained in the word, is to be looked for, either by the individual or the church. This is an important practical thing to remember, in order to guard against the vagaries of those supposed revelations which men, even in these later days, are supposed to receive. The revelation is completed in the word, which, as was seen in an early chapter, contains all that was needful to direct men in the way of life, salvation, and duty. The Spirit, then, enlightens the mind, and teaches the meaning of the message given in and by the word of Scripture. This is an important position which the Standards hold fast throughout.

3. The Larger Catechism alludes to the various modes by which, in different ages, the prophetic office has been administered by Christ, and the will of God thereby made known. It does not enlarge upon this point, however, so that only a hint or two need now be added. In general, there are two modes of the administration of this office, which may be readily observed in the history of the revelation from God which is given by the prophetic office of Christ.

First, In some cases it is administered immediately. In the Old Testament, instances of this are found in the theophanies, as they are called, wherein God, usually by the angel of the covenant, revealed in various ways some measure of his will to men. In all those cases the pre-incarnate prophet of the covenant was administering this office immediately. So, also, in the New Testament, in the personal teaching of Jesus Christ, there is to be seen another way in which the prophetic office is directly administered. He was the great teacher sent from God, and his utterances were the voice of God.

Secondly, In other cases Christ administered the prophetic office of the covenant mediately. In the Old Testament dispensation the prophets were his messengers. God, by Christ, the true mediatorial prophet of the covenant, was constantly revealing his will to his church and people. So, in the New Testament dispensation, Christ mediately administered his prophetic office by the agency of his apostles, whom he commissioned to speak for him, and to whom he promised the Spirit to lead them into all the truth. All the inspired utterances of the apostles, therefore, were through Christ, the prophet of the covenant, and by the Holy Spirit acting for him through the agency of the apostles. Then, finally, since the canon of Scripture has been completed, and for men now, the administration of the prophetic office is mediate in still a different sense than that which appears in the case of the apostles. It is now through the inspired word alone, and by the Holy Spirit speaking therein, that the will of God, in all that pertains to life and salvation, is made known. In no case is the administration now immediate ; it is mediate, through the word by the Spirit. 4. The extent of the prophetic work of the Mediator is again emphasized here in the Larger Catechism. The whole will of God, in all things pertaining to the edification and sanctification of his people, is unfolded through the prophetic office of Jesus Christ. This is true in regard to the contents of the message which is found in the inspired Scriptures. It is true, also, in regard to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ which the believer possesses. The whole will of God necessary for salvation is found in the Scriptures, and that message brought home to the mind, the heart, and the life by the Spirit, affords all the means necessary for a knowledge of salvation and duty. This being the case, there is no need of any special present-day revelations. The duty and privilege of all men is to search the Scriptures, as the oracles of God, and to pray earnestly for the gracious aids of the Holy Spirit, to make the message clear and saving to their souls.

5. The last point which merits notice in the Standards refers to the period during which Christ continues to discharge this prophetic office. As he is the Mediator of the covenant in all ages, so, as Mediator, he discharges the prophetic office during all these ages. Directly or indirectly, he is the one only true revealer of the Father, and the only divine unfolder of the will of God. He was with the church in the wilderness, as its prophet, priest, and king. Amid all the changes in the mode or manner of administering this office, the fact remains that the abiding relation of the prophetic office is the fixed and unchanging factor. In patriarchal times, in the Abrahamic covenant, in the Mosaic economy, and in the gospel dispensation, the office of the pre-incarnate Logos, second person of the Trinity, either as pre-incarnate Logos or as the theanthropic Redeemer, was to reveal the Father, and to make known the will of God to the church in all the ages. Even now, the Holy Spirit is obtained by men only because the Mediator of the covenant exercises his prophetic office as well as his priestly. By this means Christ, by and through his word and Spirit, is constantly revealing to his church and people those things which make them wise unto salvation. And then his church is in turn commissioned to declare to men the will of God in the message of the gospel. Here, again, in a slightly different way, the great duty of the church, to give the good news of life and salvation to all the nations of the earth, is announced. The Standards, therefore, exhort the church to forget not her true mission among men in the world. She is to be the living mouthpiece of God, through Christ, by the word and Spirit, to the world.

It may be interesting to note an inference which can be properly made at this point, in regard to the nature of the office of the minister of the gospel. It is evident, from what has just been said, that the office of the gospel minister stands closely connected with the prophetic office of Christ. It does not, therefore, stand directly related to the priestly office, so that in no proper sense are the ministers of the gospel to be regarded as priests, nor should they assume any priestly functions. They are but the mouthpieces of the church, as she seeks to declare the message of God to the world. They are the stewards of the manifold mercies of God, and they are to interpret the word and declare the message to the world. Behind all this lies the prophetic office of Christ, and to this office that of the gospel ministry is directly related. Christ alone is the priest at the altar, and his servants are ministers, not priests.

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