Christ's Priestly Office
Question: How does Christ execute the office of a priest?
Answer: In his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.
'Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself' (Heb. 9:26).
What are the parts of Christ's priestly office?
Christ's priestly office has two parts: his satisfaction and intercession.
1. His Satisfaction; and this consists of two branches.  His active obedience. 'He fulfilled all righteousness' (Matt. 3:15). Christ did everything which the law required; his holy life was a perfect commentary upon the law of God; and he obeyed the law for us.
 His passive obedience. Our guilt being transferred and imputed to him, he suffered the penalty which was due to us; he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. The paschal lamb slain was a type of Christ who was offered up in sacrifice for us. Sin could not be done away without blood. 'Without blood is no remission' (Heb. 9:22). Christ was not only a lamb without spot, but a lamb slain.
Why was it requisite there should be a priest?
There needed a priest to be an umpire, to mediate between a guilty creature and a holy God.
How could Christ suffer, being God?
Christ suffered only in the human nature.
But if only Christ's humanity suffered, how could this suffering satisfy for sin?
The human nature being united to the divine, the human nature suffered, the divine satisfied. Christ's Godhead supported the human nature that it did not faint, and gave virtue to his sufferings. The altar sanctifies the thing offered on it (Matt. 23:19). The altar of Christ's divine nature sanctified the sacrifice of his death, and made it of infinite value.
Wherein does the greatness of Christ's sufferings appear?
(1) In the sufferings of his body. He suffered truly, not in appearance only. The apostle calls it mors crucis, the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8). Cicero, when speaking of this kind of death, says, quid dicam in crucem tollere? [How can I describe being raised up on a cross?] Though he was a great orator he wanted words to express it. The thoughts of this made Christ sweat great drops of blood in the garden (Luke 22:44). It was an ignominious, painful, cursed death. Christ suffered in all his senses. His eyes beheld two sad objects, his enemies insulting, and his mother weeping. His ears were filled with the revilings of the people. 'He saved others, himself he cannot save' (Matt. 27:42). His smell was offended when their spittle fell upon his face. His taste; when they gave him gall and vinegar to drink. His feeling; when his head suffered with thorns, his hands and feet with the nails. Totum pro vulnere corpus [His whole body one great wound]; now was this white lily dyed with purple colour.
(2) In the sufferings of his soul. He was pressed in the wine-press of his Father's wrath. This caused that vociferation and outcry on the cross, 'My God, my God,' cur deseruisti? Christ suffered a double eclipse upon the cross, an eclipse of the sun, and an eclipse of the light of God's countenance. How bitter was this agony! The evangelists use three words to express it. 'He began to be amazed.' 'He began to be faint.' 'To be exceeding sorrowful' (Mark 14:33; Matt 26:38). Christ felt the pains of hell in his soul, though not locally, yet equivalently.
Why did Christ suffer?
Surely not for any desert of his own. 'The Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself,' it was for us (Dan. 9:26; Is. 53:6). Unus peccat, alius plectitur [one man sins, another takes the punishment]; he suffered, that he might satisfy God's justice for us. We, by our sins, had infinitely wronged God; and, could we have shed rivers of tears, offered up millions of holocausts and burnt-offerings, we could never have pacified an angry Deity; therefore Christ must die, that God's justice may be satisfied.
It is hotly debated among divines, whether God could have forgiven sin freely without a sacrifice. Not to dispute what God could have done, when he was resolved to have the law satisfied, and to have man saved in a way of justice as well as mercy; it was necessary that Christ should lay down his life as a sacrifice.
(1) To fulfil the predictions of Scripture. 'Thus it behoved Christ to suffer' (Luke 24:46).
(2) To bring us into favour with God. It is one thing for a traitor to be pardoned, and another thing to be made a favourite. Christ's blood is not only called a sacrifice, whereby God is appeased, but a propitiation, whereby God becomes gracious and friendly to us. Christ is our mercyseat, from which God gives answers of peace to us.
(3) Christ died, that he might make good his last will and testament with his blood. There were many legacies which Christ bequeathed to believers, which had been all null and void had he not died, and by his death confirmed the will (Heb. 9:16). A testament is in force after men are dead; the mission of the Spirit, the promises, those legacies, were not in force till Christ's death; but Christ by his blood has sealed them, and believers may lay claim to them.
(4) He died that he might purchase for us glorious mansions; therefore heaven is called not only a promised, but a 'purchased possession' (Eph. 1:14). Christ died for our preferment; he suffered that we might reign; he hung upon the cross that we might sit upon the throne. Heaven was shut, &c. crux Christi, clavis Paradisi: the cross of Christ is the ladder by which we ascend to heaven. His crucifixion is our coronation.
Use one: In the bloody sacrifice of Christ, see the horrid nature of sin. Sin, it is true, is odious as it banished Adam out of paradise, and threw the angels into hell; but that which most of all makes it appear horrid is this, that it made Christ veil his glory, and lose his blood. We should look upon sin with indignation, and pursue it with a holy malice, and shed the blood of those sins which shed Christ's blood. The sight of Caesar's bloody robe incensed the Romans against them that slew him. The sight of Christ's bleeding body should incense us against sin. Let us not parley with it; let not that be our joy, which made Christ a man of sorrow.
Use two: Is Christ our priest sacrificed? See God's mercy and justice displayed. I may say as the apostle, 'Behold the goodness and severity of God' (Rom. 11:22).
(1) The goodness of God in providing a sacrifice. Had not Christ suffered upon the cross, we must have lain in hell for ever, satisfying God's justice.
(2) The severity of God. Though it were his own Son, the Son of his love, and our sins were but imputed to him, yet God did not spare him, but his wrath did flame against him (Rom. 8:32). If God was thus severe to his own Son, how dreadful will he be one day to his enemies! Such as die in wilful impenitence, must feel the same wrath as Christ did; and because they cannot bear it at once, therefore they must endure it for ever.
Use three: Is Christ our priest, who was sacrificed for us? Then see the endeared affection of Christ to us sinners. 'The cross,' says Augustine, 'was a pulpit, in which Christ preached his love to the world.' That Christ should die, was more than if all the angels had been turned to dust; and especially that Christ should die as a malefactor, having the weight of all men's sins laid upon him, and that he should die for his enemies (Rom. 5:10). The balm-tree weeps out its precious balm, to heal those that cut and mangle it; so Christ shed his blood, to heal those that crucified him. He died freely. It is called the offering of the body of Jesus (Heb. 10:10). Though his sufferings were so great, that they made him sigh, and weep, and bleed; yet they could not make him repent. 'He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied' (Is. 53:11). Christ had hard travail upon the cross, yet he does not repent of it, but thinks his sweat and blood well bestowed, because he sees redemption brought forth to the world. Oh infinite, amazing love of Christ! a love that passeth knowledge! that neither man nor angel can parallel (Eph. 3:19). How should we be affected with this love! If Saul was so affected with David's kindness in sparing his life, how should we be affected with Christ's kindness in parting with his life for us! At Christ's death and passion, the very stones cleave asunder, 'The rocks rent' (Matt. 27:51). Not to be affected with Christ's love in dying, is to have hearts harder than rocks.
Use four: Is Christ our sacrifice? Then see the excellence of his sacrifice.
(1) It is perfect. 'By one offering, he hath perfected them that are sanctified' (Heb. 10:14). Therefore, how impious are the Papists, in joining their merits and the prayers of saints with Christ's sacrifice! They offer him up daily in the mass, as if Christ's sacrifice on the cross were imperfect. This is a blasphemy against Christ's priestly office.
(2) Christ's sacrifice is meritorious. He not only died for our example, but to merit salvation. The person who suffered being God as well as man, put virtue into his sufferings; and our sins were expiated, and God appeased. No sooner did the messengers say, 'Uriah is dead,' but David's anger was pacified (2 Sam. 11:21). No sooner did Christ die, but God's anger was pacified.
(3) This sacrifice is beneficial. Out of the dead lion Samson had honey. It procures justification of our persons, acceptance of our service, access to God with boldness, and entrance into the holy place of heaven (Heb. 10:19). Per latus Christi patescit nobis in coelum [Through the side of Christ a way to Heaven lies open to us]. Israel passed through the Red sea to Canaan; so through the red sea of Christ's blood, we enter into the heavenly Canaan.
Use five: (1) Let us apply this blood of Christ. All the virtue of a medicine is in the application; though the medicine be made of the blood of God, it will not heal, unless applied by faith. As fire is to the chemist, so is faith to the Christian; the chemist can do nothing without fire, so there is nothing done without faith. Faith makes Christ's sacrifice ours. 'Christ Jesus my Lord' (Phil. 3:8). It is not gold in the mine that enriches, but gold in the hand. Faith is the hand that receives Christ's golden merits. It is not a cordial in the glass that refreshes the spirit, but a cordial drunk down. Per fidem Christi sanguinem sugimus [By faith we drink the blood of Christ], Cyprian. Faith opens the orifice of Christ's wounds, and, drinks the precious cordial of his blood. Without faith Christ himself will not avail us.
(2) Let us love a bleeding Saviour, and let us show our love to Christ, by being ready to suffer for him. Many rejoice at Christ's suffering for them, but dream not of their suffering for him. Joseph dreamed of his preferment, but not of his imprisonment. Was Christ a sacrifice? Did he bear God's wrath for us? We should bear man's wrath for him. Christ's death was voluntary. 'Lo, I come to do thy will, O God' (Heb. 10:7). 'I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished' (Luke 12:50). Christ calls his sufferings a baptism; he was to be (as it were) baptized in his own blood; and how did he thirst for that time! 'How am I straitened!' Oh then, let us be willing to suffer for Christ! Christ has taken away the venom and sting of the saints' sufferings: there is no wrath in their cup. Our sufferings Christ can make sweet. As there was oil mixed in the peace-offering, so God can mix the oil of gladness with our sufferings. 'The ringing of my chain is sweet music in my ears.' Landrave of Hesse. Life must be parted with shortly; what is it to part with it a little sooner, as a sacrifice to Christ, as a seal of sincerity, and a pledge of thankfulness!
Use six: This sacrifice of Christ's blood may infinitely comfort us. This is the blood of atonement. Christ's cross is cardo salutis [the hinge of our deliverance], Calvin; the hinge and fountain of our comfort. (1) This blood comforts in case of guilt! Oh, says the soul, my sins trouble me, but Christ's blood was shed for the remission of sin (Matt. 26:28). Let us see our sins laid on Christ, and then they are no more ours but his.
(2) In case of pollution. Christ's blood is a healing and cleansing blood. It is healing. 'With his stripes we are healed.' (Isa. 53:5). It is the best weapon-salve, it heals at a distance. Though Christ be in heaven, we may feel the virtue of his blood healing our bloody issue. And it is cleansing. It is therefore compared to fountain-water (Zach.13:1). The word is a glass to show us our spots, and Christ's blood is a fountain to wash them away; it turns leprosy into purity. 'The blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all our sin' (1 John 1:7). There is indeed one spot so black, that Christ's blood does not wash away, viz. the sin against the Holy Ghost. Not but that there is virtue enough in Christ's blood to wash it away; but he who has sinned that sin will not be washed; he contemns Christ's blood, and tramples it under foot (Heb. 10:29). Thus we see what a strong cordial Christ's blood is; it is the anchor-hold of our faith, the spring of our joy, the crown of our desires, and the only support both in life and death. In all our fears, let us comfort ourselves with the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ's blood. Christ died both as a purchaser and as a conqueror: as a purchaser in regard of God, having by his blood obtained our salvation, and as a conqueror in regard of Satan, the cross being his triumphant chariot, wherein he has led hell and death captive.
Use seven: Bless God for this precious sacrifice of Christ's death. 'Bless the Lord, O my soul' (Ps. 103:1). And for what does David bless him? 'Who redeemeth thy life from destruction!' Christ gave himself a sin-offering for us; let us give ourselves a thank-offering to him. If a man redeem another out of debt, will he not be grateful? How deeply do we stand obliged to Christ, who has redeemed us from hell and damnation! 'And they sung a new song, saying Thou art worthy to take the book, and open the seals; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood' (Rev. 5:9). Let our hearts and tongues join in concert to bless God, and let us show thankfulness to Christ by fruitfulness; let us bring forth (as spice trees) the fruits of humility, zeal, and good works. This is to live unto him who died for us (2 Cor. 5:15). The wise men not only worshipped Christ, but presented him with gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). Let us present Christ with the fruits of righteousness, which are unto the glory and praise of God.
II. His Intercession. 'Who also maketh intercession for us' (Rom. 8:34).
When Aaron entered into the holy place, his bells gave a sound; so Christ having entered into heaven, his intercession makes a melodious sound in the ears of God. Though Christ be exalted to glory, he has not laid aside his bowels of compassion, but is still mindful of his mystic body, as Joseph was mindful of his father and brethren, when he was exalted to the court. 'Who also maketh intercession for us.' To intercede is to make request in behalf of another. Christ is the great Master of requests in heaven. Christus est catholicus Patris Sacerdos [Christ is the universal Priest of the Father]. Tertullian.
What are the qualifications of our intercessor?
(1) He is holy. 'For such an high priest became us, who is holy, undefiled, separated from sinners' (Heb. 7:26). 'Christ knew no sin' (2 Cor. 5:21). He knew sin in its weight, not in the act. It was requisite, that he, who was to do away the sins of others, should himself be without sin. Holiness is one of the precious stones which shine on the breast-plate of our high priest.
(2) He is faithful. 'It behoved him to be like unto his brethren, that he might be a faithful high priest' (Heb. 2:17). Moses was faithful as a servant, Christ as a Son (Heb. 3:5). He does not forget any cause he has to plead, nor does he use any deceit in pleading. An ordinary attorney may leave out some word which might make for the client, or put in a word against him, having received a fee on both sides; but Christ is true to the cause he pleads. We may leave our matters with him, we may trust our lives and souls in his hand.
(3) He never dies. While the office of the priests under the law lived, they themselves died. 'They were not suffered to continue, by reason of death' (Heb. 7:23). But 'Christ ever lives to make intercession' (Heb. 7:25). He has no succession in his priesthood.
Whom does Christ intercede for?
Not for all promiscuously, but for the elect (John 17:9). The efficacy of Christ's prayer reaches no further than the efficacy of his blood; but his blood was shed only for the elect, therefore his prayers reach them only. The high priest went into the sanctuary with the names of the twelve tribes only upon his breast: so Christ goes into heaven with the names of the elect only upon his breast. Christ intercedes for the weakest believers, and for all the sins of believers (John 17:20). In the law there were some sins for which the high priest was neither to offer sacrifice, nor prayer. 'The soul that doeth ought presumptuously shall be cut off' (Num. 15:30). The priest might offer up prayers for sins of ignorance, but not of presumption; but Christ's intercession extends to all the sins of the elect. Of what a bloody colour was David's sin; yet it did not exclude him from Christ's intercession.
What does Christ in the work of intercession?
(1) He presents the merit of his blood to his Father, and, in the virtue of that price paid, pleads for mercy. The high priest was herein a lively type of Christ. Aaron was to do four things. Kill the beasts. Enter with the blood into the holy of holies. Sprinkle the mercy-seat with the blood. Kindle the incense, and with the smoke of it cause a cloud to arise over the mercy-seat; and thus atonement was made (Lev. 16:1-16). Christ our high priest exactly answered to this type. He was offered up in sacrifice, which answers to the priest's killing the bullock; and he is gone up into heaven, which answers to the priest's going into the holy of holies; and he spreads his blood before his Father which answers to the priest's sprinkling the blood upon the mercy-seat; and he prays to his Father, that for his blood's sake, he would be propitious to sinners, which answers to the cloud of incense going up; and through his intercessions God is pacified, which answers to the priest's making atonement.
(2) Christ by his intercession answers all bills of indictment brought in against the elect. Do what they can, sin, and then Satan, accuses believers to God, and conscience accuses them to themselves; but Christ, by his intercession, answers all these accusations. 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? it is Christ that maketh intercession for us' (Rom. 8:33, 34). When Esculus was accused for some impiety, his brother stood up for him, and showed the magistrates how he had lost his hand in the service of the state, and so obtained his pardon: thus, when Satan accuses the saints, or when the justice of God lays anything to their charge, Christ shows his own wounds, and by virtue of his bloody sufferings answers all the demands and challenges of the law, and counterworks Satan's accusations.
(3) Christ, by his intercession, calls for acquittance. Lord, he says, let the sinner be absolved from guilt; and in this sense he is called an advocate (1 John 2:1). He requires that the sinner be set free in the court. An advocate differs much from an orator; an orator uses rhetoric to persuade and entreat the judge to show mercy to another; but an advocate tells the judge what is law. Thus Christ appears in heaven as an advocate, he represents what is law. When God's justice opens the debt-book, Christ opens the law-book. Lord, says he, thou art a just God, and wilt not be pacified without blood; lo, here the blood is shed, therefore in justice give me a discharge for these distressed creatures. The law being satisfied, the sinner should be acquitted. Upon Christ's plea, God sets his hand to the sinner's pardon.
In what manner does Christ intercede?
(1) Freely. He pleads our cause in heaven, and takes no fee. An ordinary lawyer will have his fee, and sometimes a bribe too; but Christ is not mercenary. How many causes does he plead every day in heaven, and will take nothing! As Christ laid down his life freely, so he intercedes freely (John 10:15, 18).
(2) Feelingly. He is as sensible of our condition as his own. 'We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmity' (Heb. 4:15). As a tender-hearted mother would plead with a judge for a child ready to be condemned. Oh, how would her bowels work! how would her tears trickle down! what weeping rhetoric would she use to the judge for mercy! So the Lord Jesus is full of sympathy and tenderness, that he might be a merciful high priest (Heb. 2:17). Though he has left his passion, yet not his compassion. An ordinary lawyer is not affected with the cause he pleads, nor does he care which way it goes; it is profit that makes him plead, not affection; but Christ intercedes feelingly; and that which makes him intercede with affection is, it is his own cause which he pleads. He has shed his blood to purchase life and salvation for the elect; and if they should not be saved, he would lose his purchase.
(3) Efficaciously. It is a prevailing intercession. Christ never lost any cause he pleaded, he was never non-suited. Christ's intercession must needs be effectual, if we consider,
 The excellency of his person. If the prayer of a saint be so prevalent with God, as Moses' prayer bound God's hand, 'Let me alone' (Ex. 32:10); and Jacob, as a prince, prevailed with God (Gen. 32:28); and Elijah by prayer opened and shut heaven (James 5:17); then what is Christ's prayer! He is the Son of God, the Son in whom he is well pleased (Matt. 3:17). What will not a father grant a son! 'I know that thou hearest me always' (John 11:42). If God could forget that Christ were a Priest, he could not forget that he is a Son.
 Christ prays for nothing but what his Father has a mind to grant. There is but one will between Christ and his Father. Christ prays, 'Sanctify them through thy truth;' and 'This is the will of God, even your sanctification' (1 Thess. 4:3). So then, if Christ prays for nothing but what God the Father has a mind to grant, then he is like to succeed.
 Christ prays for nothing but what he has power to give. What he prays for as he is man, that he has power to give as he is God. 'Father, I will' (John 17:24). Father, there he prays as a man; I will, there he gives as God. It is a great comfort to a believer, when his prayer is weak, and he can hardly pray for himself, that Christ's prayer in heaven is mighty and powerful. Though God may refuse prayer as it comes from us, yet he will not as it comes from Christ.
 Christ's intercession is always ready at hand. The people of God have sins of daily occurrence; and, besides these, they sometimes lapse into great sins, and God is provoked, and his justice is ready to break forth upon them: but Christ's intercession is ready at hand, he daily makes up the breaches between God and them; he presents the merits of his blood to his Father, to pacify him. When the wrath of God began to break out upon Israel, Aaron presently stepped in with his censer, and offered incense, and so the plague was stayed (Num. 16:47). So, no sooner does a child of God offend, and God begin to be angry, but immediately Christ steps in and intercedes. Father, he says, it is my child that has offended; though he has forgotten his duty, thou hast not lost thy bowels. Oh, pity him, and let thy anger be turned away from him. Christ's intercession is ready at hand, and, upon the least failings of the godly, he stands up and makes request for them in heaven.
What are the fruits of Christ's intercession?
(1) Justification. In justification there are two things. Guilt is remitted and righteousness is imputed. 'The Lord our righteousness' (Jer. 33:16). We are reputed not only righteous, as the angels, but as Christ, having his robes put upon us (2 Cor. 5:21). But whence is it that we are justified? It is from Christ's intercession (Rom. 8:33, 34). Lord, says Christ, these are the persons I have died for; look upon them as if they had not sinned, and repute them righteous.
(2) The unction of the Spirit. 'Ye have an unction from the Holy One' (1 John 2:20). This unction or anointing is nothing else but the work of sanctification in the heart, whereby the Spirit makes us partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Such as speak of the philosopher's stone suppose it to have such a property, that when it touches the metal it turns it into gold. Such a property has the Spirit of God upon the soul; when it touches the soul, it puts into it a divine nature; it makes it to be holy and to resemble God. The sanctifying work of the Spirit is the fruit of Christ's intercession. 'The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified' (John 7:39). Christ being glorified, and in heaven, he prays the Father, and the Father sends the Spirit, who pours out the holy anointing upon the elect.
(3) The purification of our holy things. it is Christ's work in heaven, not only to present his own prayers to his Father, but he prays our prayers over again. 'Another angel came, having a golden censer, and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar' (Rev. 8:3). This angel was Christ; he takes the golden censer of his merits, and puts our prayers into this censer, and with the incense of his intercession makes our prayers go up as a sweet perfume in heaven. It is observable in Leviticus 16:16. 'Aaron shall make atonement for the holy place.' This was typical, to show that our holy duties need to have atonement made for them. Our best services, as they come from us, are mixed with corruption, as wine that tastes of the cask. 'They are filthy rags' (Is. 64:6). But Christ purifies and sweetens these services, mixing the sweet odours of his intercession with them; and then God accepts and crowns them. What would become of our duties without a high priest? Christ's intercession is to our prayers, as the fan to the chaff. It winnows it from the corn; so Christ winnows out the chaff which intermixes with our prayers.
(4) Access with boldness unto the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). We have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, let us come boldly to the throne of grace. We have a friend at court that speaks a good word for us, and is following our cause in heaven; let this animate and encourage us in prayer. Do we think it too much boldness for such sinners as we to come for pardon, and that we shall be denied? Surely this is a sinful modesty. Did we indeed come in our own name in prayer it were presumption, but Christ intercedes for us in the force and efficacy of his blood. To be afraid to come to God in prayer is a dishonour to Christ's intercession.
(5) Sending the Comforter. 'I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter' (John 14:16). The comfort of the Spirit is distinct from the anointing. Here is sweet comfort, sweeter than the honey-drops from the comb; it is the manna in the golden pot, it is vinum in pectore; a drop of this heavenly comfort is enough to sweeten a sea of wordly sorrow. It is called the 'earnest of the Spirit.' An earnest assures us of the whole sum (2 Cor. 1:22). The Spirit gives us an earnest of heaven in our hand. Whence is this comforting work of the Spirit? Thank Christ's intercession for it. 'I will pray the Father, and he shall give the Comforter.'
(6) Perseverance in grace. 'Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me' (John 17:11). It is not our prayer, or watchfulness, or grace that keeps us, but it is God's care and maintenance; he holds us, that we do not fall away. Whence is it that God preserves us? It is from Christ's intercession. 'Father, keep them.' The prayer of Christ for Peter, 'I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not' (Luke 22:32), is the copy of his prayer now in heaven. Peter's faith did fail in some degree, when he denied Christ; but Christ prayed that it might not totally fail. The saints persevere in believing, because Christ perseveres in praying.
(7) Absolution at the day of judgment. Christ shall judge the world. 'God has committed all judgment to the Son' (John 5:22). Those for whom Christ has so prayed he will absolve when he sits upon the bench of judicature. Will Christ condemn those for whom he prays? Believers are his spouse, and will he condemn his own spouse?
Use one: Of instruction. (1) See here the constancy of Christ's love to the elect. He not only died for them, but intercedes for them in heaven. When Christ has done dying, he has not done loving. He is now at work in heaven for the saints, he carries their names on his breast, and will never leave praying till that prayer be granted. 'Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am' (John 17:24).
(2) See whence it is that the prayers of the saints are so powerful with God. Jacob, as an angel, prevailed with God. Moses' prayer tied God's hands. Precibus suis tanquam inquam vinculis ligatum tenuit Deum [By his prayers, I say, he held God bound as if by chains]; 'Let me alone' (Ex. 32:10). Whence is this? It is Christ's prayer in heaven that makes the saints' prayers so available. Christ's divine nature is the altar on which he offers up our prayers, and so they prevail. Prayer, as it comes from the saints is but weak and languid; but when the arrow of a saint's prayer is put into the bow of Christ's intercession it pierces the throne of grace.
(3) It shows that a Christian when he prays must chiefly fix his eye on Christ's intercession. We are to look up to the mercy-seat, but to hope for mercy through Christ's intercession. We read in Leviticus 16 that Aaron made atonement by the incense as well as by the blood. So we must look to the cloud of incense, viz., the intercession of Christ. Christian, look up to thy Advocate, one to whom God can deny nothing. A word from Christ's mouth is more than if all the angels in heaven were pleading for thee. If a man had a suit depending in the Court of Chancery, and had a skilful lawyer to plead, it would much encourage him. Christ is at the court appearing for us (Heb. 9:24), and he has great power in heaven, which should much encourage us to look up to him, and hope for audience in prayer. We might indeed be afraid to offer our petitions, if we had not Christ to present them.
(4) The sad condition of an unbeliever. He has none in heaven to speak a word for him. 'I pray not for the world' (John 17:9). As good be shut out of heaven as shut out of Christ's prayer. Christ pleads for the saints, as Queen Esther did for the Jews, when they would have been destroyed. 'Let my people be given at my request' (Esther 7:3). When the devil shows the blackness of their sins, Christ shows the redness of his wounds. How sad is the condition of that man for whom Christ will not pray, nay, against whom he will pray! Then Queen Esther petitioned against Haman, and then his face was covered, and he was led away to execution (Esther 7:8). It is sad when the law shall be against the sinner, and conscience, and judge, and no friend to speak a word for him; there is no way, then, but for the jailor to take the prisoner.
(5) If Christ makes intercession, then we have nothing to do with other intercessors. The Church of Rome distinguishes between mediators of redemption and intercession, and says, the angels do not redeem us, but intercede for us, and then pray to them; but Christ only can intercede for us ex officio. God has consecrated him as high priest. 'Thou art a priest for ever' (Heb. 5:6). Christ intercedes vi pretii [by virtue of his merit], in the virtue of his blood; he pleads his merits to his Father; but the angels have no merits to bring to God, and therefore cannot be intercessors for us. Whoever is our advocate must be our propitiation to pacify God. 'We have an advocate with the Father' (1 John 2:1). 'And he is our propitiation' (1 John 1:2). The angels cannot be our propitiation, and not therefore our advocates.
Use two: Of trial. How shall we know that Christ intercedes for us? They have little ground to think Christ prays for them who never pray for themselves. Well, but how shall we know?
(1) If Christ be praying for us, his Spirit is praying in us. 'He hath sent forth his Spirit into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father' (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit helps us with sighs and groans; not only with gifts but groans (Rom. 8:26). We need not climb up the firmament, to see if the sun be there, we may see the beauty of it upon the earth: so we need not go up into heaven to see if Christ be there interceding for us; but let us look into our hearts, if they are quickened and inflamed in prayer, and we can cry, Abba, Father. By this interceding of the Spirit within us we may know Christ is interceding above for us.
(2) If we are given to Christ, then he intercedes for us. 'I pray for them whom thou hast given me' (John 17:9). It is one thing for Christ to be given to us, another thing for us to be given to Christ.
How know you that?
If thou art a believer, then thou art one given to Christ, and he prays for thee. Faith is an act of recumbency. We rest on Christ as the stones in the building rest upon the cornerstone. Faith throws itself into Christ's arms; it says, Christ is my priest, his blood is my sacrifice, his divine nature is my altar, and here I rest. This faith is seen by its effects; it is a refining work and a resigning work. It purifies the heart, there is the refining work; it makes a deed of gift to Christ, it gives up its use, its love to him, there is the resigning work of faith. They who believe are given to Christ, and have a part in his prayer. 'Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word' (John 17:20).
Use three: Of exhortation. It stirs us up to several duties. (1) If Christ appears for us in heaven, then we must appear for him upon earth. Christ is not ashamed to carry our names on his breast, and shall we be ashamed of his truth? Does he plead our cause, and shall we not stand up in his cause? What a mighty argument is this to stand up for the honour of Christ in times of apostasy! Christ is interceding for us. Does he present our names in heaven, and shall not we profess his name on earth?
(2) If Christ lays out all his interest for us at the throne of grace, we must lay out all our interest for him. 'That Christ may be magnified' (Phil. 1:20). Trade your talents for Christ's glory; there is no man but has some talent to trade, one learning, another estate. Oh, trade for Christ's glory: spend and be spent for him. Let your heart study for Christ, your hands work for him, your tongue speak for him. If Christ be an advocate for us in heaven, we must be agents for him on earth, every one in his sphere must act vigorously for him.
(3) Believe in this glorious intercession of Christ; that he now intercedes for us, and that for his sake God will accept us, as in the text, 'Who maketh intercession for us.' If we believe not we dishonour Christ's intercession. If a poor sinner may not go to Christ as his high priest, believing in his intercession, then are we Christians in a worse condition under the gospel than the Jews were under the law? When they had sinned they had their high priest to make atonement; and shall not we have our High Priest? Is not Christ our Aaron, who presents his blood and incense before the mercy seat? Oh look up by faith to Christ's intercession! Christ did not only pray for his disciples and apostles, but for the weakest believer.
(4) Love your Intercessor. 'If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema' (1 Cor. 16:22). Kindness invites love. Had you a friend at court, who, when you were questioned for delinquency or debt, should plead with the judge for you, and bring you off your troubles, would you not love that friend? How often does Satan put in his bills against us in the court! Now Christ is at the judge's hand; he sits at his Father's right hand, ever to plead for us, and to make our peace with God. Oh, how should our hearts be fired with love to Christ! Love him with a sincere and superlative love, above estate and relations. Bernard. Plusquam tua, tuos [more than your possessions, and your family]. Our fire of love should be as fire on the altar, never to go out (Lev. 6:13).
Use four: Of comfort to believers. Christ is at work for you in heaven; he makes intercession for you.
Oh! but I am afraid Christ does not intercede for me. I am a sinner; and for whom does Christ intercede?
'He made intercession for the transgressors' (Is. 53:12). Did Christ open his sides for thee, and will he not open his mouth to plead for thee?
But I have offended my High Priest, by distrusting his blood, abusing his love, grieving his Spirit; and will he ever pray for me?
Which of us may not say so? But, Christian, dost thou mourn for unbelief? Be not discouraged, thou mayest have a part in Christ's prayer. 'The congregation murmured against Aaron;' but though they had sinned against their high priest, Aaron ran in with his censer, and 'stood between the dead and the living' (Num. 16:41, 48). If so much bowels in Aaron, who was but a type of Christ, how much more bowels are in Christ, who will pray for them who have sinned against their High Priest! Did he not pray for them that crucified him, 'Father, forgive them'?
But I am unworthy; what am I, that Christ should intercede for me?
The work of Christ's intercession is a work of free grace. Christ's praying for us is from his pitying us. He looks not at our worthiness, but our wants.
But I am followed with sad temptations.
But though Satan tempts, Christ prays, and Satan shall be vanquished. Thou mayest lose a single battle, but not the victory. Christ prays that thy faith fail not; therefore, Christian, say, 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul?' Christ intercedes. It is man that sins, it is God that prays. The Greek word for advocate signifies comforter. It is a sovereign comfort that Christ makes intercession.