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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie




In this chapter the exposition of the offices of Christ as the Redeemer is to be continued. What the Standards teach concerning the priestly and kingly offices is to be explained. Some simple introductory remarks are necessary in order to understand aright the general teaching of the Standards, especially in regard to the priestly work of the Mediator of the covenant of grace. Two such remarks are made.

The first is to the effect that much that was said at the beginning of last chapter, in the general outline of the teaching of the Confession in reference to Christ's mediatorial work, relates directly to the two offices now under consideration. Though the terms priest and king are not there used, the things which they denote are really implied in what the Confession states. Then in the Larger Catechism, the intercessory work of the Redeemer, as a priest, is spoken of at some length, in connection with his exaltation in the fifty-fifth question, as it is also in the eighth chapter of the Confession, from the fifth section onwards. It is worthy of remark, also, that all through what the Larger Catechism has to say in regard to the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, many things which pertain to his priestly and kingly offices are at least indirectly expressed.

The second remark of an introductory nature is to the effect that the space in the Standards which is devoted to the priestly work of Christ seems very limited, when compared with that devoted to this subject in many of the great treatises on theology. In not a few of these treatises much more space is given to the priestly office than is devoted to both the prophetic and kingly offices taken together. In the Shorter Catechism almost the same length of statement is used in regard to each of the offices, while in the Larger Catechism the kingly office has more space assigned to its statement than either the prophetic or priestly. In the Confession, all the offices are so blended together in their statement under the general idea of mediation that no clear line of division appears between them. One thing, however, is evident from the mode of statement given in the Confession, and that is, that what the theologians discuss at great length as the atonement does not receive special or separate treatment in it; and it is a matter which causes some surprise that the term atonement does not formally occur in the Standards. Reconciliation and intercession, redemption and salvation, sacrifice and satisfaction, are the great words which the Standards use to express what the term atonement includes. It may not be going too far to say that the statement of the Confession can scarcely be regarded as so clear and strong as that of the Catechisms. One, indeed, could almost wish that the Confession had laid a little more stress upon this cardinal doctrine.

I. The Priestly Office of the Mediator.

In general, it may be said that the special function of a priest is to act for man to God. If the prophet speaks from God to man, the priest acts for man towards God. The idea of mediation between God and man, which the priest among men represents, is that which appears as the priestly office of Christ is considered. Many things bearing upon this office in a general way were stated at the beginning of last chapter. In the further exposition of this chapter several important particulars, based largely upon the Catechisms, are to be set down in reference to the priestly office. This office has really two great branches, and it may be best to consider these separately under different heads. These may be called the atoning and intercessory phases of Christ's priestly work.

1. The atoning or sacrificial work of Christ, the Mediator, is to be first considered. The Standards in various ways emphasize this phase of Christ's priestly office. At times the sufferings and death of Christ, as the means by which atonement or satisfaction was made, are given great prominence; and at other times the results of this atonement in purchasing redemption, or in making reconciliation, are chiefly dwelt upon. In the explanations now to be made, the contents of the Standards may be summed up under several heads, some of which, on account of their intrinsic importance, may be somewhat expanded.

First, As a mediatorial priest, Jesus Christ is the one who makes the offering which is to secure satisfaction. Being taken from among men, and being appointed by God, the priest is one who officiates on behalf of men. He officiates at the altar, and offers both gifts and sacrifices for men. So in the case of Christ in his priestly office, and as the representative of his elect covenant people at the holy altar of the divine justice, there is a priestly satisfaction made by him for them. And he himself is the divinely-appointed and fully-qualified priest who officiates at this altar.

Secondly, Christ is not only the priest, but he is also the sacrifice. He offered himself once for all. Hence, the remarkable fact appears that he is both the priest who makes the offering, and the sacrificial victim offered. In this respect his priestly service is entirely different from that which appears among men, even in the Jewish dispensation. With them the priest was one thing, and the sacrificial offering was another thing. But in the case of Christ, the offerer and the offering were found united in the same person. He himself as an offering was perfect, or, as the Larger Catechism says, he was without spot before God. This was in accordance with what the law of Moses required, for the sacrificial lamb was to be without spot or blemish. He was the spotless Lamb of God, as an offering laid upon the altar. This means that he was sinless in his humanity. He was faultless in his theanthropic person. He was in this way qualified to be a true sin-offering for sinful men, and so to bear the sins of his people in his own body on the tree.

Thirdly, As a priest he rendered a perfect obedience to the law of God. This is what is termed Christ's active obedience. By means of this he fulfilled the precept of the law which Adam left unfulfilled, when he failed and fell. In this relation he rendered a perfect obedience, and became entitled to the reward of that obedience on behalf of his people. And all the sufferings and humiliation of his earthly lot, as he kept perfectly the whole law of God as no mere man since the fall could keep it, are to be taken into account in this connection. This phase of the priestly work of Christ is one which is often left too much in the background. It is by means of it that the everlasting inheritance has been purchased, as the positive benefit of redemption. The mere remission of penalty, even where satisfaction has been made, is purely negative, and in the nature of the case cannot bring reward.

Fourthly, As a priest Christ makes a sacrificial atonement for the sins of his people. This is the very core of the work of Christ in his priestly office. It is sometimes called the passive obedience of Christ, and by means of it he rendered satisfaction to the penalty of the law which had been incurred by the whole race through the transgression of Adam. All parts of the Standards give prominence to this point. The Confession says that he offered up a perfect sacrifice of himself once unto God, and thereby fully satisfied the justice of the Father, and purchased reconciliation. The Larger Catechism states that he offered up himself to be a reconciliation for the sins of his people. The word reconciliation is evidently used here in the same scriptural sense as the term atonement in modern theology, and it seems a capital word. The Shorter Catechism to a certain extent modifies the language, but presents the same idea when it asserts that Christ once offered up himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God. This is perhaps the best brief statement of the doctrine to be found anywhere outside the Scriptures. It will be observed that the Catechisms do not distinguish between the active and the passive obedience of Christ, the former meeting the precept of the law, and the latter its penalty under the covenant, as the Confession does when it says that Christ rendered a perfect obedience and sacrifice. The result of the passive obedience, expressed by his sacrifice of himself, is that he purchased reconciliation for his people.

Fifthly, It is clearly the teaching of the Standards that Christ's obedience and sacrifice, in the priestly office, are penal and vicarious. These words are not directly found in the Standards, but they are distinctly implied in all their teaching at this point. The very idea of the priestly office suggests that its service is vicarious, as the priest in it officiates on behalf of others, and answers for the legal liabilities of those whom he represents before God. Then the phrase, "for the sins of his people," which is found so often in the Standards, can only mean the same thing. Very many passages of Scripture fully justify the statements of the Standards upon this subject. And in like manner, the whole status of Christ, as the Mediator of the covenant, as it is presented in the Standards, and according to which he is the legal representative and voluntary substitute of his covenant people, implies that his priestly service is vicarious, and that his sacrifice is not merely an exhibition of unselfish, moral heroism, but a penal offering to the justice of the Father for the sins of his people. As a sacrifice, his atoning death was penal and vicarious, according to the teaching of the Standards; and it is very evident from the proof texts that the Standards do not overstate the truth of Scripture upon this subject.

Sixthly, The closing remark concerning the sacrificial work of Christ is of a somewhat general nature. The priestly work of Christ, as exhibited in the preceding paragraphs, has a twofold bearing upon the results of the mediation which Christ performs between God and man. First, Towards God: the perfect obedience and sacrifice of Christ, having made satisfaction to divine justice, propitiated the wrath of God, and procured his favor. Hence, God is reconciled, and his anger is turned away. It is in this sense that Christ is a propitiation for the sins of his people. Secondly, Towards man: the same obedience and sacrifice of Christ expiates the guilt of the sins of his people. That guilt is met and fully removed by Christ. In this sense Christ is an expiation for the sins of his people. The sacrifice which he offered was offered on their behalf, and, as a result, their guilt was expiated by him, as he bore their sins in his own body on the tree. Hence, by the sacrificial branch of Christ's priestly work, the wrath of God is propitiated, and the guilt of man is expiated. He makes our peace with God, and takes all the guilt of his people away.

2. The intercessory work of the Mediator of the covenant of grace is now to receive some attention. On its own account, and because of the present comfort which this branch of the doctrine brings to the believer, it deserves careful attention. What the Standards say concerning it is scattered through several sections, so that an effort must be made to gather these together in the form of a complete summary at this point. Both Catechisms announce that one important part of the priestly work of Christ is to make continual intercession for his people. The Confession says that Christ sitteth at the right hand of the Father, making intercession ; and, again, that he maketh intercession on behalf of those for whom he hath purchased redemption. But it is in the Larger Catechism that the fullest statement of the intercessory work of Christ, the Mediator, made in the Standards, is to be found. It contains several items of much interest and value.

First, He appears continually in the human nature before the Father in heaven. He is the God-man in his theanthropic person, having a glorified human nature, still in union with the divine nature, in his Father's presence in heaven. His person, therefore, is well qualified to do the work of intercession. The dignity of his divine nature gives him equality with God, and his human nature gives him a kinship with men that enables him to bring them into his Father's presence with favor and acceptance.

Secondly, As the meritorious ground of his intercession, Christ presents the virtue of his perfect obedience and sacrificial death. This is the condition of the covenant which he fulfilled perfectly, so that he can justly claim the promised covenant reward for his people as well as for himself. In the advocacy which he thus makes as a priestly Mediator he presents the value of the satisfaction which, by his active and passive obedience, he rendered as Mediator of the covenant. By this means he abundantly provides for the virtual justification of all his covenant seed. This might be called federal justification.

Thirdly, In making his intercession, or advocacy, Christ pleads with his Father that the benefits of the redemption which he purchased may be applied to all his people who believe in him. This means that there shall be given to them the Holy Spirit, to renew them and unite them to him, and thus grant to them eternal life, and produce in their hearts and lives all the Christian graces. In like manner he engages to answer all charges or accusations made against them, and to secure their justification and adoption at the and of his Father. By this means the intercession of Christ secures the application of all saving benefits to all believers, and consequently their acceptance with God and assured salvation from sin, both in respect to its guilt and its power.

Fourthly, By his work of intercession Christ also secures for his people peace of conscience, which means that relief from the inward sense of guilt, and the dread thereby engendered, is procured by him. for all his believing people. This inward sense of peace and reconciliation flows from the outward removal of the guilt of sin almost as a matter of course, and this all the more surely when it is remembered that prior to the exercise of the faith which conditions the removal of the guilt of sin in justification, the nature of the believer has been renewed, and has become spiritually alive. Even in the face of daily faults and failures, believers have, through the prevailing intercession of Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the covenant of grace, constant access with holy boldness at a throne of grace, where they may obtain the pardon of their sins, and grace to help in every time of need. And, further, it is only by virtue of the intercession of Christ that believers possess, and may assuredly rejoice in, an abiding sense of the acceptance of their persons and services in the sight of God. This point of view will emerge again when justification is explained, so that it is not dwelt on at length now. Christ intercedes in heaven with the Father, and he procures the Spirit, who intercedes with men on the earth. The former is conducted before God, and the latter is effected in the soul of the believer. Made effective by the intercession of Christ, they bring God and the elect believing seed into peace and harmony. Considerable space has been devoted to the two branches of the priestly office of Christ, because of its transcendent importance and on account of some modern tendencies to make less of it than the Scriptures demand. The Standards are only true to the Scriptures when they lay great stress upon this part of Christ's work of redeeming grace.

II. The Kingly Office of the Mediator.

The kingly office of Christ is now to be taken up and developed with some care. In the great treatises on theology this office of the Mediator is disposed of far too hurriedly, especially when it is to be observed that it has great prominence both in the Scriptures and in the Standards. Thus the elder Hodge devotes one hundred and thirty pages to the exposition of the priestly office, and only thirteen to that of the kingly, while Shedd really gives no proper separate treatment to the kingly office at all. This is not in harmony with the structure of the Standards and the balance of the parts of Christ's work which they exhibit. This exposition will seek to guard against this defect.

Here, too, the Catechisms, especially the Larger, contain very complete statements of the doctrine taught in the Standards upon this point. The fact that Christ discharges the office of a king implies that there is a kingdom, or spiritual commonwealth, of which he is the king or head. This kingdom is the invisible church, strictly speaking; but this will be fully considered later on in the explanation of the Standards, The fact is only pointed out now, and the remark added, that the visible church, in its outward organization, is the concrete expression, for the time being, of that spiritual kingdom of which Christ is the king and head. The particulars here involved are now set down in order.

1. It is as a king that Christ gives the Spirit, as was seen in the explanation of his intercession, to effectually call a people out of the world to be his peculiar people. They are thereby translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son, and delivered from the bondage of Satan to be introduced into the liberty of the children of God. In this way Christ, as mediatorial King, constitutes his own kingdom, and makes his own subjects. All true believers are subjects of this invisible spiritual kingdom, while all professing Christian are the members of the visible form of this kingdom.

2. As a king he also subdues his people unto himself. They are made willing in the day of his power. Having called them by his Spirit, that same Spirit, dwelling in them, brings them into sweet and willing obedience to his holy and righteous will. Having given to them in the Scriptures the laws of the kingdom, they are enabled, by the aid of the Spirit, to obey from the heart these laws, which express the will of God. This experience proceeds through all their life, so that head and heart, will and conscience, words and actions, are brought ever into more complete harmony with his will.

3. As a king he next rules his people as the subjects of his kingdom. This rule or control is exercised with the sceptre of love in the hearts of his people, so that from the heart they submit to his authority in all things. Before him every knee bows and every tongue confesses. In this connection the Standards signalize the important fact, to be enlarged upon afterwards, that Christ as king has given to his people, as his kingdom, certain officers, laws, and censures, by means of which he visibly governs them. These things evidently relate to the visible church in the world, just as the rule of love and grace in the heart pertains to the members of the true invisible church. The visible church has thus had given to it certain officers, who are to rule for Christ in his kingdom. These officers are announced in the Scriptures, and their several duties are prescribed. He has also given them suitable laws, and these are to be found in the Holy Scriptures, which may almost be termed the constitution and statute-book of the kingdom. And, finally, necessary censures are appointed in the Scriptures, and these are to be administered, not by physical or temporal pains or penalties, but by divine sanctions and spiritual penalties, in order to secure propriety of conduct on the part of those who profess to be the subjects of the kingdom of Christ. These three things form the confessional basis for the system of church polity to be afterwards unfolded.

4. Again, as a king Christ defends his people. There are spiritual foes, and they are many, subtle, and strong. From the assaults of these Christ defends his people by his word and Spirit. As a king he corrects his people for their sins, so as to make them more careful in time of temptation, and to cause them to rely more and more upon the gracious support of their king. He also rewards them for their faithful service, and thus cheers them in their conflict with sin and all their foes. He also supports them in all their temptations, and makes his powerful grace sufficient for all their need, for he will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able to stand. So, also, in the season of sorrow and suffering, they will not be overlooked nor forgotten by their king, but will receive strong consolation, seeing that they have fled to him for refuge. This is a very precious doctrine which the Standards thus exhibit so fully.

5. But Christ, as mediatorial king, does still more than this, for even the enemies of his people are under his control, and he powerfully restrains them. Satan is but a creature, and, though he is allowed to tempt believers, yet even he is not free to exercise all his evil designs upon them, for the reason that Christ, as their king, not only stands for their defence, but also restrains and overcomes their enemies. For the individual believer this fact is full of comfort and cheer. At times it may almost seem as if the enemies of the kingdom were going to have things all their own way; but there is divine assurance that the gates of hell shall not prevail against this spiritual kingdom, and that not one of its subjects shall be destroyed. Through Christ, their king, they shall all be more than conquerors in the end.

6. Finally, as king, Christ powerfully orders all things for his own glory, and for the good of his church and people. It is in this respect that he is head over all things to the church, which is his body, and of which body he is the head. Thus he rules over the realm of nature and in the sphere of providence. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. The cattle upon a thousand hills, and the silver and the gold, are his. He orders all the events of providence among men and among the nations of the earth in such a way as to truly further the interests of his kingdom, and at the same time to promote his glory in the world, and to secure the present and eternal welfare of the individual members of his kingdom. And thus it is that all things shall work for the good of his people, since the "all things" are in his hand. He is thus able powerfully to order them all for the good of those who love him, and who are the called according to his purpose. This fact cannot fail to greatly cheer the believer in his earthly pilgrimage.

In this connection it is added, last of all, that, as a king, Christ takes vengeance on those who know not God and obey not the gospel. Thus, the Standards teach that the authority of Christ as the mediatorial king extends, in a judicial way at least, over all his enemies and over the enemies of his kingdom. They shall one day be made to lick the dust, and they shall become his footstool; and he shall be exalted King of kings and Lord of lords, to the glory of God the Father.

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