Extracted from The Tree of Promise by Alexander Stewart. (See “Book Notice” , page 281)
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. Hebrews 7:25.
PRIEST is a mediator between God and sinners, to make reconciliation for them. He is the medium of access for prayer, worship, and service; but the blessing comes from the hand of God. The main object of the Mosaic institutions was to set forth the priesthood of Christ. The service by which this was pre-eminently done, was the service of the great day of atonement. It was conducted by the high priest alone, who offered on that day a double victim as the great sin-offering.
The two altars of the tabernacle the altar of sacrifice, and the altar of incense corresponded to the two functions of the priest. The brazen altar of sacrifice was in the open court. The golden altar of incense and intercession was in the sanctuary, but without, not within, the veil. This was partly for the practical reason that it might be accessible to all the priests; for their assistance was needed to maintain the perpetual incense. But it was also a part of the dispensation which intimated that “the way into the holiest was not yet open”. Compare, in this view of it, Johns adaptation [in the Revelation] of the temple furniture and service to Christs dispensation. There is no distinction made between the spiritual and triumphant Church in heaven. Gods throne does not stand in solitary state; it is surrounded by the family of His redeemed children. But in the wilderness the divine throne stood within the veil, though the altar of prayer stood outside. On the day of atonement, however, a stretch was made beyond the limitation of common law, a Pisgah-view of the good to come was obtained, the high priest entered within the veil. Thus, as all the priests were united in, and reduced under, the high priest, the great and sole hierarch, and all the sin-offerings were perfected in subordination to this one great sin-offering; so the daily morning and evening incense was subordinated to, and perfected by, this access to the throne.
Intercession was made by the high priest, who appeared in his official dress to burn incense. How pious soever the priest might be, and however it was right for him to pray, this was not sufficient to serve as official intercession. [Intercession had to be by incense.] The incense was a compound perfume, not to be imitated for any other purpose. This was to keep the Hebrews from profanity; and it intimates that it was a type of that pre-eminent merit and intercession with which no Popish mediators may interfere.
Intercession was also by blood. This intimates the close connection between the two functions and the two altars. The incense was kindled by fire from the brazen altar. (The sin of Nadab and Abihu partly consisted in their using strange fire). The blood sprinkled was that of the sin-offering slain at the brazen altar and burned without the camp. The priest had not one set of clients when confessing sin and slaying the victim in the court, and another when sprinkling it within the veil. There was also but one priest offering one sacrifice, and the two altars were for one object. The work commenced at the one was followed out at the other.
But let us compare the type with the antitype. The apostle says of the priests, that they “serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). The Mosaic institutions were, morally and intrinsically, an unsubstantial shadow. The priest was a mere man offering the blood of beasts. The Holy of Holies was within a tent. The intercession was by incense; and the people were kept austerely at a distance from the scene. The reconciliation was no doubt real so far as it went, but it was only temporal, secular, civil, and political; and the Holy Spirit could not with propriety be given on such a footing.
But while it was evident that the way into the holiest of all was not yet clearly revealed, the high priests entrance within the veil promised a clearer revelation. And nobly has the promise been fulfilled by the coming of the Divine Priest to offer sacrifice, and to make intercession for us in heaven, that we might obtain deliverance from the curse, and nearness to God. Judaism is but a shadow; but then it is a photographic picture depicted by the light of the Holy Spirit.
The great parent mystery in which salvation originated was, that God should have found in His holy nature love towards vile creatures. This love, though free, is not capricious; though immense, is not blind or extravagant. Its whole egress and operation was arranged and agreed upon by the Father and the Son. This arrangement or agreement is what we mean when we speak of the Covenant of Grace. The plan was laid with the most profound wisdom, according to which Gods love is exercised towards sinners to the glory of all His other perfections. This is clearly and admirably brought out by the intercession of Christ. Let us glance at some of the grounds or pleas of that intercession.
The high priest of old commenced his intercession within the sanctuary by the burning of incense with fire from the altar of burnt-offering. The offering was holy, and it was perpetual. So the Saviour, having “loved the Church, and given Himself for it”, “appears”, presents Himself, in the nature in which He demonstrated this love, by the sacrifice of Himself. He appears before the Father in that nature which is the object of His love, the nature of man, which being now joined to the divine nature in Him, He appeals to the Father in behalf of it as His own. The first appeal, therefore, is that to the Fathers love to the Son. This was probably represented by the burning of the incense by the holy perpetual fire of the sacrifice.
The second appeal is to the divine faithfulness to the provisions of the covenant, on the ground of His having fulfilled the conditions on which these provisions were suspended. The high priest interceded by the sprinkling of the blood of the sin offering. It behoved the high priest to carry the blood into the sanctuary, because he and the victim were quite distinct objects: Christ is both priest and victim. He entered heaven as a disembodied spirit to show that He was dead, and then returned and resumed His body. He is the Lamb that had been slain from the foundation of the world. His death was not casual; nor was it that of a mere innocent person; neither was it, like death in general, the effect of old age or disease. It was like that of the goat by appointment of God. He was “made sin”, “made a curse”, for a purpose; and therefore He now pleads the fulfilment of that purpose. “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4).
We have seen that the high priest of old interceded by incense and blood. The Saviour intercedes by the meritorious, sweet smelling incense of His own love appealing to His Fathers everlasting love, and by His blood appealing to Gods faithfulness and justice, yea, to all the moral attributes of His nature. But what are the objects of this intercession? They are:
1. The salvation of the people given Him by the Father, and loved by Him. For instance, Saul of Tarsus was under the curse, and a rejecter of the gospel. But the time of his conversion came, and Christ stood up before the Father in his behalf, and the Spirit was sent to convince and regenerate; and he was carried through the duties and trials of his life in answer to the intercession of Christ. He said to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” We are said to be saved “by the life of Christ”.
2. The perpetuity and prosperity of the Church. There are many promises to this effect; as, for instance, those to some of the Seven Churches, and which are recorded in the first three chapters of Revelation.
3. The arrangement of the affairs of the world in subordination to His own kingdom. “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession” (Psl. 2:8). His sceptre and censer control all the affairs of the world.
This affords us an interesting view of the unity, order, and zeal of the Godhead. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” In the smallest affairs of the world, His providence controls. The Spirit is the immediate agent in all things; yet in the execution of every commission, He fulfils the will of Father and Son. All must be craved by the Son as Priest, and performed at His will as King. The Father is not idle. All is asked of Him and granted by Him. All is a dispensation of grace, the forthgoing of eternal sovereign love. Most impressively does the intercession of Christ evince this. Yet when we consider its pleas, how glorifying do they appear to the whole moral character of God! “To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 7:6; Eph. 4:6; Rom. 11:36).
The intercession of Christ is perpetual. This perpetuity was prefigured of old by the constant fire on the brazen altar, by the daily holocaust of sweet savour, and by the perpetual incense, all of which were brought to a point by the burning of incense on the day of atonement. Still this was only a figure. An affecting interruption of these would sometimes be caused by the death of the officiating high priest, as was the case, for instance, at the death of Aaron (Num. 20:22-29). There would then be a crisis in the service, let the wishes of the priest and people be what they may. Death tyrannically interposed, and arrested the whole proceedings. It was but a worldly, temporal dispensation, and the priestly office was transferable from one man to another.
But the difficulty may be stated, Did not Christ also die? Look again at Aaron on the day of atonement. He slew the sin-offering. This was no interruption to that part of the service. It was a step indispensable to his entry within the veil. Such was also the death of Christ, the victim of the great sacrifice. It was a step in the service, not an interruption of the office. Having died as a victim, He arose and entered within the veil. He is a nobler Priest, and He belongs to a more noble dispensation. He lives for ever as the God-man. His is a personal life; but He also lives for ever officially as Priest. And His office is therefore not transferable. He exercises an unchangeable priesthood. As His pleas are of everlasting force, so He ever lives to plead them. His meritorious undying love is constant, fervent, and unchangeable. His fulfilment of the conditions of the covenant is an enduring ground for pleading the promises.
Hence His blessed ability to save to the uttermost. His is not merely power such as that by which He creates or destroys. It is the moral official ability acquired by His official acts His power to save, and that even to the uttermost, completely, fully, and for ever. Enumerate and combine everything that you can conceive to stand in the way of mans salvation, and, if you can, yet add another, it will be but another proof of Christs ability to save; for He can overcome it. The guilt of sin, the justice of God, the power and the ceaseless and merciless wiles and accusations of Satan, the power of man to hurt or seduce, all these He can meet. The curse, with all its benumbing, blinding, perverting effects, the love of backsliding, these His power can deal with. How gloriously does the everlasting love of the ever living Saviour, in the covenant, “well ordered in all things and sure”, and which has been satisfied by His own blood, triumphantly overcome every difficulty.