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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

by
Alexander Whyte


Q.25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?

A. Christ executeth the office of a priest, 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.


the office of a priest — Priest, Lat. Presbyter, an elder, an old man. “Salvation is of the Jews:” so much so, that the very vocabulary of our salvation was once the mother-tongue of God’s ancient people. Jewish words, Jewish ordinances, Jewish experiences, mingle with all our New Testament and Christian facts and doctrines. In the doctrine of the Christian atonement we still think and speak after the manner of the Jews. The figure of a throne, and a lawgiver and judge sitting upon it, with an atoning priest and intercessor standing beside the throne sprinkling the throne and all those who approach it with atoning blood, — all that scenery and nomenclature is taken from the Mosaic ritual. And so divine and necessary is this whole conception, that even when an inspired apostle is labouring to deliver his readers from their bondage to Jewish traditions, he perpetuates that tradition to all coming time. He is compelled to write as a Jew even when he is divinely working his way out of their religious fellowship. There is no book in the Bible more Jewish in its language and modes of thought than the Epistle to the Hebrews, though that epistle is throughout a divinely directed argument to prove that the Jews’ day is past, and that the faith and worship of the Jew is decayed and waxed old and ready to vanish away.

“Sacrifice being of divine appointment, the calling and institution of the priesthood was so likewise. The nature of the priest’s office implied sin. A priest is radically and essentially a mediator or intercessor, and it is only when there is no sin that there is no need of an intercessor. It was not because of the distance of the Creator from the creature as a creature that the necessity for a mediator arose, but because of his distance as a guilty creature” (Stewart).

offering up of himself — “And since, in every sacrifice, four things arc considered, — to whom it is offered, by whom it is offered, whet is offered, and for whom it is offered, — nor is sacrifice due to any save to God alone, therefore our High Priest offered Himself to God for us, at once the Priest and the Sacrifice” (Ambrose). “The very soul of the doctrine of atonement is its substitutionary nature: that taken away, the whole circle of New Testament phraseology — not only in the English translation, but in the original — would require to be fundamentally changed: the language of Scripture is adapted to a vicarious intervention, and to no other” (Pope).

a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice — Lat. sear, sacred, whence sacerdos, a priest; sacrificium, the holy rite of offering a victim. “Sacrifice was the centre of worship before Christ. It was that part of the Hebrew service which above all foreshadowed His love, His atonement and sacrifice, and the reconciliation to God by His blood whose merits it pleaded” (Pusey).

“The honour of God does not permit Him to forgive sinners out of His pity; for thereby not only would the unrighteous be made equal to the righteous, and all order in His kingdom overthrown, but even unrighteousness itself would be put upon a level with God, if, like Him, exempted from the authority of the law” (Ritschl).

“The word satisfaction is the one which for ages has been generally used to designate the special work of Christ in the salvation of men. Its exact etymological equivalent is ‘the doing enough.’ This word has the advantage of being precise, comprehensible, and generally accepted, and should therefore he adhered to” (Hodge). “That satisfaction by which sins are blotted out, so that we are no longer under the curse and the sentence of death, is to be found nowhere else than in the sacrifice of Christ’s death” (Calvin).

Man in himself had ever lack’d the means
Of satisfaction. . . For God more bounty show’d,
Giving Himself to make man capable
Of his return to life, than had the terms
Been mere and unconditional release.
And for his justice, every method else
Were all too scant, had not the Son of God
Humbled Himself to put on mortal flesh.
—Dante.

Die he or justice must: unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.
Say, Heavenly Powers, where shall we find such love,
Which of ye shall be mortal to redeem
Man’s mortal crime, and just th’ unjust to save,
Dwells in all heaven charity so dear?
— Milton.

What Adam did amiss,
Turned to our endless bliss;
O happy sin, which to atone,
Drew Filial God to leave His throne.
—Ken.


This last is but a versification of Augustine’s bold words, Beata culpa.

and reconcile us to God — Reconcile, to restore to friendship those who have become estranged or hostile. Now this is the work of Christ as a priest. He removes the offence, and makes peace between God and the sinner, and hence Paul calls the gospel “the word of reconciliation.” “In vain it is objected that the Scripture saith our Saviour reconciled man to God, but nowhere teacheth that He reconciled God to man; for in the language of the Scripture to reconcile a man to God is in our vulgar language to reconcile God to man, that is, to cause Him who before was angry and offended with him, to be gracious and propitious to him” (Pearson). “The satisfaction for our sins was accomplished on the cross, and it depended upon the eternal pleasure of God, who would be pacified in this way” (Calvin on Romans 9:25). “There was need of reconciling us to God, because by sin we were set at enmity with God (Isaiah 59:2). God had a legal enmity against us, such as a just judge hath against a malefactor, whose person he may love notwithstanding (Matthew 5:25). And we have naturally a real enmity against God, inconsistent with love to Him (Colossians 1:21)” (Boston).

“The office of a priest differed from all other ecclesiastical offices, in that he was to deal with God on behalf of man. Others, from the inspired prophet or apostle to the evangelist, bishop, elder, or deacon, were appointed by God to deal with man. The priest likewise held his office by the command of God; but his office was God-ward, while that of all the others was man-ward” (Stewart). (See Owen, Vindiciae Evangelicae, chap. 29.)

making continual intercession for us. To intercede is to come in between two parties at variance, with a view to their reconciliation. And the Scriptures supply us with abundant consolation concerning the intercession of Christ in our behalf. “ Who is he that condemneth?” is the apostle’s challenge; “ It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” “ Nor must we look upon this as a servile or precarious, but rather as an efficacious and glorious intercession, as of Him to whom all power is given both in heaven and earth” (Pearson). This intercession is perpetual, unconditional, and all-prevailing. It is not carried on by words and pleadings; Christ’s simple presence in our nature at God’s right hand secures for us the fruit of His death. Hence the orthodox schoolmen said His intercession was real, not verbal.

There is a relation or correspondence distinctly traceable in Scripture between the various parts of Christ’s work for us, and the results of that work in us. It is a frequent scriptural distinction to say that as on earth He gave Himself for our sins, so in heaven He makes intercession for our persons. He died for our sins, He intercedes for our souls. The apostle puts it very clearly in Romans: “We are justified by His blood; but being reconciled we are saved by His life.” Our past sins were the cause of His death; our sanctification and full salvation are the end and fruits of His intercession. “Christ’s intercession in heaven, is a kind and powerful remembrance of His people, and of all their concerns, managed with state and majesty : not as a suppliant at the footstool, but as a crowned prince on the throne, at the right band of the Father” (Traill).


Uses.
1. “The essential idea of sin is not, that it is merely a debt or an injury, but that it is a violation of God’s law, and therefore the leading character or aspect in which God ought to be contemplated when we regard Him as dealing with it, is not that of a creditor, or an injured party, who may remit the debt, or forgive the injury, as He chooses, but that of a lawgiver and a judge who has promulgated a just and righteous law, prohibiting sin under pain of death, and who is bound, by a regard to His own perfections, and the interests of holiness throughout the universe, to take care that His own character be fully vindicated, that the honour of His law be maintained, and that His moral government be firmly established; and who, therefore, cannot pardon sin, unless, in some way or other, full and adequate provision be made for securing all those objects” (Cunningham).

2. “It is Christ considered as clothed with His garments of blood, and the qualifications of a mediator and reconciler; it is this that makes Him so desirable by sinners, and a fit object for their faith, which looks out for justification, to prey and seize upon. Paul preached Christ above all, so Christ as crucified above all in Christ” (Goodwin).


QUESTIONS.

1. Derive and explain priest, pontiff, presbyter, pastor, minister.

2.   Quote a definition and description of a priest’s office from the New Testament, end explain Ritschl’s words: His priesthood has more of dissimilarity than of resemblance to the type.

3.   Explain Meyer’s words: His obedientia passiva is active; It is the highest point of his activity.

4. Explain Bunyan’s words: Christ suffered as a common, though a particular person, and as a sinner, though always completely righteous.

5. Christ died not for propositions only to make them true, but for persons. What controversy does this statement bear upon?

6. Make clear the scholastic distinctions between an intercession real and verbal. Did Christ ever intercede for us verbally?

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