« Prev CHAPTER IX. Next »
227

CHAPTER IX.

THE INTERCESSION WHICH WAS AN ELEMENT IN THE ATONEMENT CONSIDERED AS PRAYER.

IN recognising at the outset a need-be for the atonement, I sought to separate between what is sound and true in the feelings of awakened sinners, and what is to be referred to their remaining spiritual darkness. At the same time I have desired that we should be in the position of learning from the atonement itself why it was needed, as well as how it has accomplished that for which it was needed. The error which in its grossest form has amounted to representing the Son as by the atonement exercising an influence over the Father to make Him gracious towards us, (but which, even when such a thought as this would be disclaimed, has still led to seeking in the atonement a ground of confidence towards God distinct from what it has revealed as the mind of God towards man,) has become very manifest in the light of the nature of the atonement as a fulfilling of the purpose of the Son, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God,"--His ''declaring of the Father's Name." In the light of that will as fulfilled,--that Name as declared, our faith has been raised to the Eternal Will itself thus revealed, to the Unchanging Name thus declared: as the Apostle speaks of those that believe in Christ as those ''who by Him do believe in God, who raised Him from the dead, and gave Him glory; that our faith and hope might be in God." I Peter 1:21. Yet it seems to me that in this high spiritual region some of the difficulties which we experience in all our deeper meditations on the ways of God, are more realised when 228 we are fully delivered from the error to which I have now referred than they were before. I say this, contemplating especially the aspect of the atonement as a dealing of the Son with the Father on our behalf--a mediation, an intercession. I have spoken of the nature and ground of this intercession--its combination with the confession of our sins, and its relation to our Lord's own consciousness in humanity--His experience of sonship in humanity--His experience of abiding in humanity in the Father's favour. But a more close consideration of what is implied in intercession as intercession seems called for--a more close consideration, that is, of the hope for man in which the Son of God made His soul an offering for sin, as that hope was a hope in God, sustained by faith and prayer.

We are so much in the way of looking on the work of Christ as the acting out of a pre-arranged plan, that its character as a natural progress and development, in which one thing arises out of another, and is really caused by that other, is with difficulty realised. Yet we must get deliverance from this temptation,--the painful temptation to think of Christ's work as almost a scenic representation,--otherwise we never can have the consciousness of getting the true knowledge of eternal realities from the atonement. All light of life for us disappears from the life of Christ unless that life be to us a life indeed, and not the mere acting of an assigned part. Unless we realise that in very truth Christ loved us as He did Himself, we cannot understand how near an approach to a personal feeling there has been in His feeling of our sins, and of our misery as sinners. Unless we realise that His love to Himself and to us was the love of one who loved the Father with all His heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, we cannot understand the nature of the burden which our sins were to

229

Him, what it was to His heart that we were to the Father rebellious children, or how certainly nothing could satisfy His heart as a redemption for us, but that we should come to follow God as dear children in the fellowship of His own sonship. Unless we contemplate His sense of our sin, and His desire to accomplish for us this great salvation, as livingly working in Him and practically influencing Him, we cannot understand how truly He made His soul an offering for sin, when, receiving into Himself the full sense of the divine condemnation of sin. He dealt on behalf of man with the ultimate and absolute root of judgment in God, presenting the expiation of the due confession of sin, and in so doing at once opening for the divine forgiveness a channel in which it could freely flow to us,--and for us a way in which we could approach God. And, finally, unless we apprehend the encouraging considerations by which the love of Christ was sustained in making this expiatory offering,--unless we have present to our minds His faith in the deep yearnings of the Father's heart over men His offspring, joined with His own conscious experience in humanity, which testified that these yearnings could be satisfied--unless we conceive to ourselves how naturally and necessarily these thoughts took the form of prayer, laying hold of that hope for man which was in God,--unless, as it were, we hear the intercession thus made for man, and see the grounds on which it proceeds, we cannot understand what is made known to us of the Name of God by the success of this pleading on our behalf,--we cannot see how this appeal to the heart of the Father becomes in being responded to the full revelation of the Father to us, and that in proportion as we apprehend the nature and grounds of that intercession, and realise that it has been perfectly responded to, we know the grace wherein 230 we stand;--what that faith in God is to which we are called, what the grounds are on which we are to put our trust in Him. Faith must make us present to the work of our redemption, in its progress as well as in its result, so that the love which is working for us--the difficulties which that love encounters--the way in which it deals with them--the salvation which it accomplishes--all may shed their light on our spirits and be to us the light of life.

But the faith that makes this history a reality to our spirits, while difficult as to every part of this realisation, is most difficult when we are occupied with that intercession of Christ which is the perfecting element in the atonement,--making it literally an offering. It is not so difficult to realise how to the perfect holiness and love which were in Christ our sins should be so heavy a burden,--nor is it difficult to realise His intercourse with the Father while He bore our sins on His spirit, as that response to the Father's mind concerning them which has now been represented as an expiatory confession of our guilt. We also easily see how the Saviour's own conscious experience in humanity, doing His Father's commandments, and abiding in His love, would both determine the character of the redemption which He would seek for us, and be an element in His hope towards God for us,--a hope which He would cherish in conscious oneness with His Father. But when we consider Christ's hope for man as taking the form of intercession,--and see that His knowledge of the Father's will is so far from suggesting an inactive waiting in the expectation that all will necessarily be as the Father wills, that on the contrary, that knowledge only moves to earnest pleading and entreaty,--the hope cherished seeking to realise itself by laying hold in a way of prayerful trust on that in the heart of the Father by 231 which it is encouraged,--then the difficulty that always haunts us as to the ordinance of prayer--the difficulty, I mean, of the idea of God's interposing prayer between His own loving desire for us and the fulfilment of that desire, instead of fulfilling that desire without waiting to be entreated--this difficulty is felt to be present with our minds in this highest region in which the Son is represented as by prayer, and intense and earnest and agonising prayer, obtaining for us from the Father what the Father has infinitely desired to give--what He has given in giving Him to us as our Redeemer, to whose intercession it is yielded. Here we have the divine love in Christ pleading with the divine love in the Father, and thus obtaining for us that eternal life, which yet in giving the Son to be our Saviour, the Father is truly said to have given. The difficulty is that which haunts us in our own prayers, but it is the same, and no other; and if we are enabled to deal rightly with it as it meets us here, it will be an increase of practical freedom to us in our individual walk with God.

What I have now been attempting has been to see and trace the atonement by its own light, viz., the light of the life which was taking form in it according to the words, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." Proceeding in this way the intercession of Christ has presented itself as a form which His love must naturally take. That it would take the form of desiring for us what His intercession asked for us, was quite clear. But we could not conceive of that desire as cherished in conscious weakness and dependence on the Father, and yet in conscious oneness with the Father, without conceiving of it as uttering itself to the Father in prayer. With all the weight of all our need upon His spirit--bearing our burden--that He should cast 232 this burden upon the Father, appeared the perfection of sonship towards the Father, and brotherhood towards us. And as this intercession seemed a natural form for the love of Christ to take, so did it seem what must be to the Father a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour--and we felt that no aspect of the perfect sonship in humanity which the life of Christ presented to the Father, could be more welcome to the heart of the Father than that of love to men. His brethren, as thus perfected in intercession; especially as being intercession for brethren who also were enemies, making the intercession to be the perfection of forgiving love. This indeed was to God, who is love, a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour from humanity, which must have been infinitely grateful in itself; while as part of the perfection that was in Christ, this intercession was a most excellent part of that promise for humanity in respect of which Christ's perfection is to be contemplated as pleading for humanity. Any father who has ever been privileged to have one child pleading for forgiveness to another child, for an offence which has been unkindness to the interceding child himself, has here some help to his faith in his own experience.

But though all this is felt by us to be natural, and what arises out of the life of love which was in Christ, yet, approaching it not by this path, but by the path of meditation on Christ as the gift of the Father,--meditation on all that interest in us which Christ's love is feeling, and under the power of which it is interceding, as already in the Father and already desiring to impart all that Christ is asking for us--nay, as having really be stowed it in the gift of Christ--the difficulty of which I have spoken suggests itself. We ask, how has this intercession been necessary? We ask, how Christ should have felt it necessary? A Christian philosopher of our own 233 time has said that whereas once he had thought of prayer as the expression of a want of faith in God's goodness, he afterwards came to understand that prayer was the highest expression of faith in God's goodness. Assuredly He who came to make known the goodness of God, and that towards us men it is the highest form of goodness, even fatherliness,--that which on a superficial view might seem most to supersede all asking--all prayer,--leaving room only for thanksgiving and praise--He has been as distinguished by the depth and intensity of His praying to the Father as of His faith in the Father's fatherliness: nor is there any part of His testimony for the Father as He was the witness for God, more marked than His testimony, that God is the hearer and answerer of prayer. In Him we see that knowledge of the Father's will, and confidence in His love, supersede not prayer, but, on the contrary, only move to prayer, giving strength for it--making it the prayer of faith and hope and love--love perfected in thus flowing back to its own fountain. The fact of Christ's "intercession for the transgressors" accords with and confirms what we feel in meditating on the life of love that was in Him, viz., that such intercession was the fitting form for His bearing of our burdens to take, what in the light of the knowledge of the hope that was for us in God it must take; while to give place to the thought of anything dramatic--the acting out of a pre-arranged part, in regard to that recorded intercession (and of which the measure indicated is infinitely beyond what is recorded), would be to lose all sense of life and reality in Christ.

But let us try to approach this great and fundamental fact in the history of our redemption really from God's side. Let us try to realise what we are contemplating when we are rising to the contemplation of that 234 hope for man which was in God antecedent to the atonement; and which the atonement has brought within the reach of our spirits. Let us see the love that man needs as in God before it has come forth in the atonement. Let us see the Fatherly heart as yet unrevealed--waiting to be revealed. Let us contemplate the Son as coming forth to reveal it. Let us distinguish between the purpose to reveal the Father's heart and a purpose to realise any predetermined train of events. Let us see, as that which is to be brought to pass, not certain facts, events, or circumstances thought of merely as such, but a knowledge of the heart of the Father brought within reach of us His offspring,--destroyed by the lack of this knowledge, but to whom this knowledge will be salvation. Let us consider in this view the Son of God in humanity bearing upon His spirit our burden, and dealing with the Father concerning it; let us see all our need made visible to us in Christ's feeling of it, and let us listen to the cry of this need as ascending to the Father from Christ addressing itself to what the Father feels in relation to that need, and let us ask ourselves how but as the answer to that cry could that in the Father which answers that cry have been made known, or our need and that in the Father which meets our need have been revealed to us together? It is the cry of the child that reveals the mother's heart. It is the cry of Sonship in humanity bearing the burden of humanity, confessing its sin, asking for it the good of which the capacity still remained to it, which being responded to by the Father has revealed the Father's heart. Without taking the form of that cry, the mind that was in Christ would have failed by all its other outgoings to declare the Father's name.

There is nothing scenic or dramatic in this. Were such its nature it would be valueless. It would be 235 nothing, and could reveal nothing. But no feeling in the Son, no desire, no prayer, is other than what is natural and inevitable to holy love so placed. The response of the Father is in like manner a real response, and therefore the nature and character of the heart that responds is seen in the nature and character of that to which it responds. As that confession of man's sin is justly due, so the demand for it in God is real as well as His acceptance of it is gracious. As that intercession is a natural form of love in Him that intercedes, the response to that intercession is a natural form for the love addressed to take--its living and real outcoming. To say that what ascends to God from humanity has come from God, that God has Himself in the person of the Son furnished humanity with the pleading that would prevail with Him, that the life of Sonship is already in humanity antecedent to the atonement which it makes--this in no way affects the truth of the atonement as indeed the due and true expiation for sin, nor the truth of the grounds of the Intercessor's pleading as really the grounds on which the grace of God is extended to men.

We may indeed go further back: we may contemplate the mere capacity of redemption that was in humanity as a cry,--a mute cry, but which still entered into the ear and heart of God; we may contemplate the gift of Christ as the divine answer to this cry,--but it is not the less true that when Christ, under our burden and working out our redemption, confesses before the Father the sin of man, and presents to the Father His own righteousness as the divine righteousness for man, and the Father in response grants to men remission of sins and eternal life, that confession which humanity could not have originated but which the Son of God has made in it and for it, and that righteousness 236 which humanity could not itself present, but which the Son of God has presented in it and for it, are the grounds on which God really puts His own acting in the whole history of redemption.

It is the tendency to deal with God as a fate, and with the accomplishment of the high designs of His grace for man simply as the coming to pass of predetermined events, which is the real source of our difficulty in regard to prayer as a law and power in the kingdom of God, whether we think of it contemplating its place in the history of our redemption as the intercession of Christ, or as an element in our own life of sonship through Christ. In consequence of that tendency, "asking things according to the will of God" comes to sound like asking God to do what He intended to do,--a manner of prayer for which we have no light,--as it is a manner of prayer, indeed, which would be felt to be superseded by that very light as to the future which would make it possible. But God is not revealed to our faith as a fate, neither is His will set before us as a decree of destiny. God is revealed to us as the living God, and His will as the desire and choice of a living heart, which presents to us, not the image or picture of a predetermined course of events, to the predestined flow of which our prayer is to be an Amen, but a moral and spiritual choice in relation to us His offspring, to which our prayer is to respond in what will be in us the cry of a moral and spiritual choice. That knowledge of the Father which the prayer of Christ implied,--the knowledge of the Son who dwelleth in the bosom of the Father, was not the knowledge of a certain future, predestined and sure to be accomplished, but was the knowledge of the unchanging will of the Father concerning man,--a will which in all rebellion is resisted, in all obedience of 237 love is fulfilled. If we are able to see and realise this distinction, we shall see the dealing of the Son with the Father on our behalf as that response to the mind of the Father in relation to us, which in our participation in the spirit of the Son is to be continued and perpetuated in our own prayers. And, it seems to me, that these things mutually illustrate each other to us, I mean our own prayers in the spirit of sonship, and the great original intercession of the Son on behalf of all humanity which was to spread itself through humanity, and which we partake in as a part of the eternal life which we have in the Son of God. For that cry for things according to the Father's will,--that cry for holiness, and truth, and love, which is the cry of Christ's spirit in us, and which is not repressed or discouraged by the knowledge that it is according to the will of God, as if therefore it was superfluous, nay, is only quickened and sustained by that knowledge, may throw light to us upon the infinite intensity of that cry as in Christ on behalf of all humanity,--enabling us to understand that in Him it was infinitely intense just because of His perfect oneness of mind with the Father in regard to what He asked, and perfect knowledge of that will of the Father according to which the cry was. While, on the other hand, nothing is such a help against all temptation to deal with the living God as with a fate, and with His will as a decree,--which we are passively to allow to take its course, instead of putting forth that prayerful trust which is the necessary link between His will for us and its fulfilment in us,--as the believing meditation of the place which prayer had in the work of Christ in accomplishing our redemption.

And it is not merely in order that we may not come short in our realisation of the large place which prayer must have in our personal religion, if, when we attempt 238 to follow God as dear children, we would really walk in the footsteps of the Son of God, that it is so important that we should realise the part which the intercession of Christ has in the atonement. Our doing so is, I would venture to say, even more needed in reference to the nature of our prayers, and that we may be found really praying according to the will of God,--according to the light of the gospel,--according to the knowledge that the true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth, for that the Father seeketh such to worship Him. Small as the amount of prayer is, its usual character is a still sadder subject of thought than its small amount. I mean its being so much a dealing with God simply as a Sovereign Lord, a Governor, and Judge, and so little a dealing with Him as the Father of our spirits. There is much feeling that ''power belongeth to God alone," combined with the encouraging persuasion that ''to Him also belongeth mercy" moving to prayer, and sustaining prayer, which yet is not enlightened and exalted by the knowledge of God as a Father, and the apprehension of our true well being as all embraced in the sonship which we have in Christ. Reader, let me ask you, do you pray as a child of God whose first and nearest relationship is to God your Father,--whose most deeply felt interests are bound up in that relation,--in what lies within the circle of that relation contemplated in itself? do you pray as one to whom the mind of God towards you and your own mind towards Him are the most important elements of existence, and whose other interests in existence are as outer circles around this central interest,--so that you see yourself, and your family, and your friends, and your country, and your race, with the eyes, because with the heart, of one who "loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and 239 strength?" Is this at least your ideal for yourself, what you are seeking to realise,--to realise for its own sake,--not for any consequences of it in time or eternity? for whatever the blessed consequences of its realisation will be, they shall be far, and for ever inferior and secondary to itself.

« Prev CHAPTER IX. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection