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SERMON XIV.

THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST THE STRENGTH OF
OUR PRAYERS.

HEBREWS vii. 24, 25.

“This Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

THE Church on earth, in its mysterious probation, is waiting without the veil, until the day of Christ’s coming, while He, in the presence of God, is carrying on the work He began on earth. He is gone up on high to accomplish His mediatorial office in our behalf. When He ascended into heaven, He began His intercession with the Father. “This Man,” says St. Paul, that is, the Man Jesus Christ, who in our very manhood ascended up above all thrones, dominions, and powers; above cherubim and seraphim; above the nine orders of angels; above all created spirits, to the throne of the Eternal, 256and to the right hand of God;—“this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.”

He is the one true Priest, of whom all priests that came before Him were but shadows, faint and fleeting, dying and succeeding the son to the father from generation to generation: but He being eternal, hath a true and eternal priesthood. He is not Priest only but Sacrifice, the one true oblation offered by Himself unto the Father,—a sacrifice, like Himself, almighty and eternal.

The fulfilment of His office as High Priest required that He should appear for us in the presence of God. In the Law this was foreshadowed by typical acts once every year. On the great day of atonement, the High Priest took the blood of the sacrifice, and entered in, alone, within the veil to sprinkle it before the mercy-seat, and to intercede for the sins of the people. Our Lord, by His death and ascension, fulfilled these types; for after He had shed His own blood for us, He went within the veil, that is, into heaven itself. He is gone up to stand before the true mercy-seat, in the true temple of God. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”144144   Heb. ix. 24. 257And as He passed through the veil of the heavens into the holy place, so He has opened for us a way; “a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.”145145   Heb. x. 20. By which St. Paul means, that His incarnation is an avenue or path for us to God; that through His flesh we have a way and a plea by which to draw nigh to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God. There is in the Divine presence a Man to whom we are united, through whom we may approach the throne of God. This is what our Lord meant when He said, “I am the Way;” that is, by His incarnation, by our union with Him, and by the gift of His merits to us.

The types of the law further shew us that He is gone into heaven to intercede in our behalf, that is, to stand between God and man as an Advocate and a Mediator. His office of Intercessor is so full of divine mysteries of grace, that to understand it as we ought, we must, under the guidance of His truth and Spirit, dwell for a while upon the depth of its meaning.

He intercedes for us chiefly in two ways.

1. First, by the exhibition of Himself, in His Divine manhood, pierced for us, raised, and glorified. His five blessed and holy wounds are each 258one a mighty intercession in our behalf. The glorious tokens of His Cross and Passion, exhibited before the throne of God, plead for us perpetually. The one great atonement, the one great sacrifice, offered with shedding of blood once upon the Cross, and now offered perpetually, is a continuing sacrifice. His very presence in heaven is in itself an intercession for us. His sacrifice on the Cross, though perfected by suffering of death only once in time, is in its power eternal. Therefore it stands a divine fact, ever present and prevailing, the foundation and life of the redeemed world—before the throne of God.

2. But further, we are told in holy Scripture that He intercedes, that is, that He prays for us. This is a vast mystery, of inscrutable depth. As God, He hears our prayers; as our Intercessor, He prays in our behalf.

How are these things to be reconciled? And how are we to understand that He who is God Himself can pray? Is not prayer a mark of inferiority, and a sign of humiliation? How can He who is co-equal with the Father and with the Holy Ghost be any way inferior? or how can He bear any mark of humiliation in His glory? To pray, is the token of need and of infirmity; at least, of a desire which the intercessor cannot grant himself. 259How, then, can He who expressly promised, “If ye shall ask any thing in My name, I will do it,” intercede by way of prayer? Is it not altogether beneath the glory of the Word made flesh? Is it not the office of a merely human, and not a divine advocate?

But these difficulties have no reality. They arise from not clearly remembering what and who is our High Priest. He is both God and man: as God, always in glory, the object of worship, the giver of all good: as man, once humbled in the flesh, now glorified. As God, He could never intercede by way of prayer. When it is said that the Holy Ghost “maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered,” it is not spoken of His Divine Person and office, but of His inspirations in us: “The Spirit helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.”146146   Rom. viii. 26. As God, then, the Son does not intercede by prayer. Neither as Man does He pray by any reason of need or humiliation. While He was on earth, He prayed as having infirmity: He prayed not only for us, but even for Himself. “In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death;” and this is doubtless spoken of His prayer in 260the agony at Gethsemane; and though the cup did not pass from Him, “was heard, in that He feared.”147147   Heb. v. 7.

While He humbled Himself, “in the days of His flesh,”Ibid. He prayed as a part of the work He had to do: it was for the accomplishing of the redemption of the world; for the blotting out of the sin of mankind. This prayer of humiliation passed away with the sharpness of the Cross, to which it was related, of which it was the shadow. The prayers which He offered, being yet on earth, were a part of His obedience and suffering, to take away the sin of the world. All this, therefore, is excluded from His intercession now in heaven. When He entered into the holy place, He left all these tokens of infirmity outside the veil.

What, then, remains? There remains yet both His intercession of the High Priest; and as Head of the Church for the body still on earth. And in this there is nothing of humiliation, but all is honour and power; it does not cast a shade upon the glory of His Godhead, unless it be humiliation for the Word to be incarnate, at the right hand of God. His present intercession is a part of His exaltation to the throne of His mediatorial kingdom. But in so high a mystery it will be safer 261to use the words of another: “God could bestow no greater gift on men than to make His Word, by whom He created all things, to be their Head, and to unite them to Him as His members; so that He might be both Son of God and Son of man: as God, one with the Father; as man, one with man: so that, when we speak with God in prayer, we might not separate the Son from Him; and when the Body of the Son prays, He might not separate His Body from Himself; so that He Himself, the Saviour of His Body, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, might be One, who prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our High Priest, He prays in us as our Head, He is prayed to by us as our God.”148148   S. Augustin. Tract, ad Psalm. lxxxv. Petav. De Incarn. lib. xii. c. viii. 10. He prays, then, for us as our Priest and Sacrifice, in His own Name, and by the power of His own atonement; now no more in humiliation, but in glory. Time was when He prayed that His work might be made perfect in His own person, and in itself;149149   St. John xvii. 1. “Father, glorify Thy Son;” now His prayer is, that what He has accomplished may be made perfect in His whole mystical body, and in every member of the same. His intercession is for His whole Church, and for every one of us in 262particular, that the work of His Cross and Passion may be applied to the healing of our souls: that what He wrought for us may be wrought in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, His intercession is continuous and unceasing. It ever has been, and ever shall be, until the last of His members upon earth shall be made perfect: then cometh the end. Until that day, it is the source of all grace. From it all sacraments and mysteries derive their power. The whole work of the incarnation is applied to us by His intercession within the veil. The whole fruit gathered by His Church on earth, is the visible accomplishment of His Divine prayer in the world unseen. It is the strength of our prayers, the stay of our hope, our help in temptation, the source of our perseverance. For consider how great are the perfections of His intercession. It is the prayer of His Divine charity; of that love which brought Him from heaven, and nailed Him upon the Cross. It is also the prayer of perfect knowledge. As God, He knows all our necessities: he knows our spiritual condition with a knowledge which only He can possess. None can know us as He who is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of 263the heart.”150150   Heb. iv. 12. He knows us as our Maker, and our God.

But His intercession has also this further perfection. It is the prayer, not only of Divine love and knowledge, but of perfect human sympathy. “We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”151151   Ib. iv. 15. What as God He could never taste, as Man He tried to the uttermost. He knows us as perfect Man. The mysterious knowledge of personal experience, of personal suffering in human flesh, which He gained on earth, He has still in heaven. Even before the eternal throne He has still a perfect sense of our infirmities, of all the mystery of human sorrow which He learned on earth, from the manger to the Cross. And it is specially in this connexion that St. Paul goes on to encourage us to pray: “Let us, therefore, come boldly,” he says, “unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”152152   Ib. iv. 16. Out of this perfect love, knowledge, and sympathy, He perpetually intercedes for each one of us according to our trial and our day. There can come upon us nothing which has not its counterpart and response in His perfect compassion. While He prays for us, He feels with 264us. To Him we may go as to one who is already pleading for us; and through Him we may draw nigh to God in His perfect merits, which He has given us for our own. They are ours, because they are His; because they are His, therefore He hath given them to us. Such is the mystery of our Lord’s gracious intercession in our behalf. Let us, therefore, see how it bears upon us in our daily life, as an incitement, solace, and support.

1. First, there is here a great warning for the sinful. What is our great High Priest now praying for? He prays for the perfect overthrow of sin; that all enemies may be put under His feet; that out of God’s kingdom may be cast every thing that offendeth. His perpetual prayer is, the purification of His Church. By virtue of it, every sin, and every unclean spirit, shall be cast into outer darkness; and therefore every sinner, if he will not let go his sin, shall be likewise cast out. If, indeed, he will break off from his sin, it shall be cast out, and he shall abide; but if he will embrace it to his soul, he shall be cast out with it. Every sin of the flesh and of the spirit is doomed to the “lake that burneth with fire.” Christ’s intercession is day and night prevailing against the kingdom of the wicked one. Little by little, one by one, with sure advance though slow, it is thrusting 265out every thing that defileth from the bounds of the kingdom of God. As the sun rises with resistless light, first a few clear beams, then a broad stream of brightness, till it stands in midday splendour; so is the intercession of our Lord. Nothing can withstand it; all the powers of darkness are even now scattering before His face. “He must reign till He hath put all things under His feet,”153153   1 Cor. xv. 25. and the Sun of righteousness be revealed for ever in the kingdom of the Father.

How, let us ask, does this bear on us? And how does His all-prevailing prayer affect our life? If we be earthly, sensual, false-hearted, proud, impure, vain-glorious, all the Divine power of His perpetual intercession is arrayed against us. Awful thought! “Wo unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth.”154154   Isaiah xlv. 9. Let us bear this in mind. Let us remember it when we are tempted, and say, “The intercession of Christ will either separate me from this sin, or cast both me and it out of the kingdom of God. This is the choice before me.” It is a great law like the course of time; stedfast, silent, ever advancing, resistless,—when past, irrevocable. Throughout the whole Church on earth this work of secret purification is accomplishing. In the Divine foresight it is already perfect. In the Divine 266government it is day and night fulfilling. His “fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”155155   St. Matt. iii. 12.

2. But in this there is also great comfort to all faithful Christians. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” Day and night are held up on high the pierced hands, in which is strength and mastery for the whole Church militant on earth. We may take a sure consolation from this in our manifold trials. As, for instance: how great an encouragement is this to those who are cast down with fear lest they should fall away. Some people are severely afflicted by this foreboding. Perhaps all at some time have known what it is. Who is there that cannot look back on seasons compared with which his present state seems to be a declension? After our first repentance, we may remember how deep and lively were our feelings of shame and sorrow. We recollect, perhaps, when we felt as if the memory of our sins could never fade, or lose even a shadow of their appalling dye. They were, in our eyes, as “scarlet,” and “red like crimson.”156156   Isaiah i. 18. And we felt as if the eyes of the whole unseen world were fixed upon us in sorrow; as if the thoughts of all around us were 267dwelling on our detected sinfulness. We hoped to go through life repenting; growing more perfect, and more fervent in compunction, to the end. And what are we now? Or, take, as another example, our first communion. It may be that after long expectation and many fears, you came for the first time to the altar, with an awed and ardent feeling of devotion. You felt as if you had been lifted into a new world, where all thoughts and images, shadows and lights, were realities of heaven. It seemed impossible that the freshness and awakening nearness of these great mysteries of the spirit should ever wear away. And you thought that every communion would deepen these perceptions, keep you from all relapses, and sustain you “from strength to strength” till you should “see the God of gods in Sion.” So we deceive ourselves, till our sloth or our sin falsifies our hopes. In like manner, also, after a first sickness, when you had once looked death near in the face, and gone down ankle-deep into the cold river, you thought that nothing could ever deaden your intense perception of the sinfulness of sin, the vanity of life, the awfulness of dying. How humbled, chastened, trembling, you were in the day when the shadow of death fell upon your heart. You thought, “If I live, this shall be my state for ever. Surely the bitterness of death is past; and I can never go 268 back to an easy fearless life; never again be taken unawares.” How, then, are you now that your heart beats firm, and your strength has returned into its old channels again? Are you not ready to say, “Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me, when His candle shined upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness. As I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle.”157157   Job xxix. 2-4. What, then, is the source of all this conflict and alarm, of this conscious declension and of this enduring hope? If our eyes were open, we should see ourselves to be the subjects of a fearful controversy. We should see the power of Satan striving to wrest us from the intercession of Christ. “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee.”158158   St. Luke xxii. 31. This is both your peril and your safety. What but this are all our trials? When you are watching a dying bed, or bearing secret anxiety, or buffeted with temptations, though you seem all alone, and tost upon the sea, He is in the mountain in prayer, alone, the only and true High Priest interceding for you. You are crying, “Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O God;”159159   Ps. cxxx. 1. and He is interceding either that your 269trial may pass from you, or that you may have strength to endure it unto the end: which we know not; the issue will shew; the day will declare it. Whichever way your sorrow turn, that will be the token what His prayer has been, and what for you is best.

And, once more, His intercession for us is a consolation in a heavier trial even than these: I mean, in the distractions and wanderings which break in upon our prayers, and sometimes make us feel as if we were cast out altogether from His presence. Nothing is so heavy to bear as this sense of banishment and separation. At times we feel as if He had “covered Himself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.”160160   Lam. iii. 44. And this He sometimes permits for our chastisement and humiliation; sometimes to try our patience; sometimes to prove our faith. The feeling of cold, dead, sluggish insensibility; the unconsciousness of His presence, or rather, if I may so say, the feeling of His absence; the unreality of our words, specially the most sacred, when we are on our knees before Him; these make us, day by day, turn with thankful trust to His ever-perfect, all-prevailing intercession. I do not mean that we may take this comfort while we indulge or make light of our distractions, but only when they are our sorrow 270and our affliction. Then we may say, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:”161161   1 St. John ii. 1. and may stay our feeble prayers on His which cannot fail.

But beyond this, there are seasons of still greater trial, with which He suffers even those He best loves to be overcast. There are times when you are in doubt or misgiving as to His purpose towards you, or of your own path of duty; when you hardly know what you ought to do, or ask, or will. When you strive to pray, your words outrun your meaning, and seem to ask for things you fear and shrink from; such as greater crosses and denials of your will; things which, when you hear them uttered, you are afraid to have spoken in His sight. At last you are even speechless upon your knees; then take comfort in the thought, “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” You may then say, “What I cannot utter, or discern, He is pleading in my behalf, with a more than human sympathy, with a perfect knowledge, and a Divine compassion. No discernment of mine is enough. I know not what is for my good; I am darkness even to myself. Undertake for me.” We should, indeed, be in an evil case, if we had no Head sustaining us in heaven; if we had to bear alone the whole weight of our own anxieties 271and of our own helpless and erring hearts. There is no time when we more truly feel our own utter weakness than in prayer; for then His presence and our consciousness meet, as it were, with a direct ray; no trust in ourselves, or confidence in others, or dependence upon lights of our own, whether of conscience or of intellect, will endure before Him. We then feel that we are dark, weak, and helpless. All our hope is, to cast ourselves upon Him, and to pray Him to choose, order, overrule, and reveal our way,

From all this let us draw two rules for our practical guidance, and then come to an end.

1. The one is, to make the intercession of our Lord the measure of our prayers. It is expressly said, that “we know not what to pray for as we ought.” We ask amiss, for things hurtful, dangerous, unseasonable. We ask blindly, out of the turbulent emotions of our hearts, and not out of the clear judgment of our consciences. There are in us two wills; a superior, which is the gift of God’s Spirit, revealing what is right; and an inferior and sensitive, which is made up of our own feelings, desires, and fears. The former is given us to be our light and guide. The latter, through our sin or infirmity, is the chief rule by which we pray. How often have we asked for things which afterwards we see, if they had been given us, would 272 have been our destruction. They would have defeated blessings, or precipitated upon us, at a burst, a thousand secret temptations. Happy for us there is interposed a wise and loving will between our prayers and their fulfilment. If we could bring about the accomplishment of all we ask, we should need no other scourge.

Blessed thought, that all our prayers are sifted out by His unerring wisdom. Whatsoever is good He gives us; whatsoever is for our hurt He turns aside; and yet He never refuses us any thing, but to give us something better. Whatsoever He refuses, He will always give Himself—His own presence, help, and strength. Let us, then, pray for ourselves, as He prays for us. Let us ask nothing but what He asks. Nothing, so far as we can, that is contrary to His will. Our best rule is this: to ask the great things of His kingdom, the cleansing of His blood, and the gift of His Spirit. All other things we may leave in His hands; and they shall, as He sees good, be added unto us.

But this need not restrain us from pouring out our own hearts before Him, as He did before His Father: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” We may tell and ask all under this condition. God is indulgent, and loves to give the 273very thing we ask for. To doubt this would dishonour His fatherly compassion. He is not only merciful and loving, but has a divine indulgence, a refined and perfect tenderness in blessing us. He gives us not only what we need, but much more; not only what is enough, but what may make us glad: even in the manner, and in the measure of bestowing His gifts on us, He reveals the tokens of His Fatherly affection.

2. The other rule is, to make His intercession to be the law of our life. We ought to be what He prays we may become. He prays that we may be cleansed and perfected. Strive, then, so to be. Let your life answer to His prayer for you. Bear this in mind all day long, in your daily toils and cares. Let your will be one with His will, and be glad to be disposed of by Him. He will order all things for you. Every thing shall fall into its own place—joys, sorrows, blessings, the rod of chastisement, and the sharpness of the Cross; all shall be but the carrying out of His intercession, and the fulfilment of your own desires. What can cross your will, when it is one with His will, on which all creation hangs, round which all things revolve? “All power in heaven and in earth is given unto”162162   St. Matt. xxviii. 18. our Head; and in Him all is ours, if our will be His. Keep your hearts clear of evil thoughts; for as 274evil choices estrange the will from His will, so evil thoughts cloud the soul, and hide Him from us. Whatever sets us in opposition to Him makes our will an intolerable torment, a foretaste of “the worm that dieth not.” So long as we will one thing and He another, we go on piercing ourselves through and through with a perpetual wound; and His will advances moving on in sanctity and majesty, crushing ours into the dust.

If you will keep your life in harmony with His intercession, you will find the tokens of His prevailing prayer. We are wont to be faint believers in the power of prayer, and therefore we fail either to obtain or to recognise His answers of love. We utter our petitions as children let arrows fly, without aim, or care to find them. If we would keep a watchful note, both of our prayers and of our life, we should find them solving each other as a key and cipher. Both in answers and in refusals, or rather in all answers—for refusals are answers more full of love, perhaps, than all—we should see the accomplishment of our own petitions. Whatsoever you specially desire, ask before the altar. What He does in deed and truth on high, the Church does here in representation and memorial. He offers the one great sacrifice, and prays with perpetual intercession: we spread before Him the memorials of 275His sacrifice, and pray over them in the virtue of His one great oblation. Bring your deepest desires, the unuttered craving of your soul to Him in that blessed sacrament, and persevere in your petition. Though He be long silent, even though He say, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs;”163163   St. Matt. xv. 26. still wait, and persevere. You shall have the desire of your heart, or something better than you can either ask or think. He is standing with the blood of atonement before the mercy-seat. We are worshipping in the outer courts of the eternal temple, awaiting His return. When He comes forth again, it will be to bless the Israel of God. Until then, the prayers of hearts which no man can number, of saints, penitents, and mourners, in all lands, the perpetual intercession of His whole body, as one great waterflood, lifting up its voice on high, ascends through Him, who for us has “entered into that within the veil.” Wherefore let us draw nigh to Him; for He is able “to save to the uttermost” the greatest of sinners from the deepest abyss of sin, with a perfect salvation, even unto the end.

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