Home > Systematic Theology > Duty of Believing in Jesus Christ: Offices of Christ: Priest- Book Fifth- Chapter 3- Section 2

Duty of Believing in Jesus Christ: Offices of Christ: Priest- Book Fifth- Chapter 3- Section 2

Book Fifth

CHAPTER III.

SECTION II.–PRIEST.

JESUS CHRIST, AS PRIEST, MADE AN EFFICACIOUS SACRIFICE FOR THE SINS OF HIS PEOPLE, INTERCEDES FOR THEM AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, AND BLESSES THEM WITH ALL SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS.[15]

A prophet approaches men with revelations from God; but a priest approaches God in behalf of men. His chief business is to offer sacrifice, and make intercession. Priests have existed in the various religions of the heathen world; but in the forms of worship instituted by divine authority for observance of the Hebrew nation, we find the most instructive exposition of the priestly office. The Epistle of the Hebrews explains the design of this institution, and sets forth the Levitical priests as types of Christ in his priesthood. It is there stated to be the duty of the priest to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.[16]

The text last quoted refers to two kinds of offerings which the priest presented: one for thanksgiving, the other for propitiation. Various offerings were prescribed as expressions of gratitude for mercies received, and others to make atonement for sins. Christians make their offerings of praise and thanksgiving through Christ, as their high priest; but the only atoning sacrifice is the offering which he made of himself, when he gave his life a ransom for us.[17]

All propitiatory sacrifices involve the idea of substitution. The animal offered represented the offerer, and bore his sins, which were confessed, over its head.[18] So Christ bore our sins,[19] our iniquities being laid on him. With reference to the use of lambs in sacrifice, he is called “the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.”[20] The idea of substitution is clearly conveyed in such passages as these: “For a good man some would dare to die; but God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[21] “He who knew no sin was made sin for us.”[22]

Those who deny the divinity of Christ, deny also the doctrine of his vicarious sacrifice. When he is said in Scripture to die for us, they understand the import of the language to be, that he died for our benefit; but they exclude the idea of his suffering in our stead, bearing the penalty due to our sins, that we might be released from it. He is supposed to have died for our benefit, in that he gave us an example of patience and resignation in suffering, confirmed the doctrine that he taught, and, by rising from the dead, established the truth of the soul’s immortality, and the resurrection of the body. These several benefits, all will admit, are derived from the death and resurrection of Christ: but they do not fully come up to the import of the strong language which the Scriptures employ in relation to this subject. The ancient martyrs generally set us a noble example of patience and resignation in suffering and death. Many of them exhibited a fortitude and triumph in the prospect of their dying agonies, not seen in the example of our Redeemer. In the garden, his soul was exceedingly sorrowful in the prospect of his sufferings, and he thrice prayed that the cup might pass from him; and, on the cross, though he was all submissive to his Father, and yielded his spirit at last into his Father’s hands, yet he exhibited none of the joyful exultation which has often shone forth in the martyr’s last moments, but he seemed oppressed, shrouded in gloom, and mourning the withdrawal of his Father’s presence. All this may be accounted for, if we consider that his death had been merely to set us an example, it might be said, with greater propriety, that Peter, Paul, and other Christian martyrs, died for us: but Paul will not admit this; for he says, in a manner which implies a strong denial, “Was Paul crucified for you?”[23]

The sincerity of the ancient Christians was demonstrated by their readiness to suffer and die, rather than renounce the faith which they professed. Christ’s death may be said to confirm his sincerity in the same way; but if this is what is meant by his dying for us, Stephen, James, Peter, and Paul died for us in this sense. But though the death of Jesus may be understood to establish his sincerity for the confirmation of his doctrine, he was accustomed to refer, for this purpose, not to his death, but to his miraculous works and his resurrection. It was his resurrection also, rather than his death, which established the truth of the soul’s immortality and of the resurrection of the body. If, therefore, these confirmations of truth for our benefit are what is intended by Christ’s dying for us, it would be more correct to say, that he wrought miracles and rose from the dead for us. But his death has so prominent a place in the Scriptures, as that to which we are indebted for eternal life, that we are compelled to seek for a higher sense of the phrase, “Christ died for us.”

The humble disciple of Jesus, who is willing to learn, as a little child, in what sense his Lord and Master died for him, needs only to read with attention the passages of Scripture which have been quoted, and which fully establish the doctrine, that Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This doctrine is essential to Christianity. It is the grand peculiarity of the Christian scheme. Hence Paul determined to know nothing but “Christ crucified,”[24] to glory in nothing but “the cross of Christ.”[25] The gospel was the preaching of Christ crucified.[26] It was a stumbling block to the self-righteous Jews, and foolishness to the philosophical Greeks; but to those who received it to the salvation of their souls, it was Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God.[27] It was not Christ transfigured on Mount Tabor; not Christ stilling the tempest, the raising the dead; not Christ rising triumphantly from the grave, and ascending gloriously, amidst shouts of attendant angels, to his throne in the highest heavens: but Christ on the cross, expiring in darkness and woe, that the first preachers of the Gospel delighted to exhibit to the faith of their hearers. This was their Gospel; its centre, and its glory. It was faith in this Gospel that controlled the hearts of their converts, and made them ready to die for him who had, by this death, procured for them eternal life. In this faith they exclaimed, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[28] To this they referred when they said, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”[29]

The doctrine of Christ’s atoning sacrifice explains the Old Testament dispensation. To what purpose were its victims brought to the altar, and the rites of its worship all stained with blood? Was God really pleased with the slaughter of animals, and the smell of their sacrifice? Paul has explained, that these were a shadow of good things to come;[30] but the body is of Christ. As mere types of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, they are intelligible. This they prefigured. “Christ also hath loved us, and given himself for us; an offering and a sacrifice to God of sweet smelling savor;”[31] and it was only because of their reference to this sacrifice, that the sacrifices of the preceding times were acceptable to the Lord.

The general prevalence of sacrifices, in the religions of the world, is a fact which it is difficult to account for. If it be supposed to arise from principles implanted in human nature, it will furnish a strong argument to prove that human nature has ever felt, and must feel, the necessity for such a sacrifice as is made by the death of Christ. If the prevalence of sacrifices be accounted for by tracing them to an ancient institution, given to our race by revelation from God, an argument, still stronger in favor of our doctrine, is furnished by the fact. It appears, from this view of the subject, that the institution is not only more ancient than the laws of Moses, but has come down from the time when Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.[32] As this sacrifice, like all subsequent ones which were offered by faith, had reference to the sacrifice of Christ, the whole institution of sacrifice bears testimony to it.

The sacrifice of Christ, which is the object of Christian faith on earth, will be the song of glorified saints in heaven. The Lamb, in the midst of the throne, will appear in their view, not as once honored and powerful, but as having been made a sacrifice, “a lamb that had been slain.”[33] He was once the victim on the sacrificial altar, but he will be the object of adoration in the everlasting song, “Unto him that loved us,”[34] & c.

When the birth of Jesus was announced by the angel, it was said, “His name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”[35] This was the grand design of his coming into the world: “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”[36] To effect this salvation, a sacrifice was demanded; and, that he might make the required sacrifice, it was necessary that he should assume human nature: “When he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not but a body hast thou prepared me.”[37] “It was necessary that this man have somewhat to offer.”[38] His humanity was the victim laid on the altar, for which reason it is said, “He bore our sins in his own body, on the tree.”[39] “The Captain of our salvation must be made perfect through suffering;”[40] and he must, therefore, have a nature capable of suffering: “For this cause, he was made lower than the angels, that, for the suffering of death, he might be crowned with glory and honor.”[41] There is, doubtless, also a peculiar fitness in the arrangement, by which the Redeemer is the near-kinsman of the redeemed; and the sacrifice made in the nature that had sinned. Had the Son of God undertaken the salvation of angels, there would have been a fitness in his taking on him the nature of angels: but as he came to save men, he took on him human nature, and was made in all points like his brethren.[42]

While the fact of the sacrifice depended on the assumption of a nature capable of suffering, the undertaking of the work, the efficacy of the sacrifice, the power to lay down his life, and the power to take it again, depended on the divine nature of Christ. The divine nature, alone, could not be made under the law: and the human nature, alone, could not have originally consented to be made under the law; and would not thereby, had it been possible, have exhibited any humiliation, any voluntary impoverishing of himself, that we might be made rich. The question has sometimes been proposed, how much obedience did the human nature of Jesus Christ owe for itself, and how much did it render for the benefit of others? But this is a useless question, and is asked on a mistaken apprehension of the facts concerning Christ’s assumption of our nature. The man Christ Jesus never had an existence separate form the divine nature. The Word did not enter into flesh previously existing: but “the Word was made flesh.”[43] Had the Word entered into a previously existing man, we might conceive of the obligations which that man had previously owed to the law, and the continuance of those obligations. But the Son of God was made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.[44] As the assumption of human nature was designed for the salvation of his people, all that he did and suffered in that nature, is to be viewed as a part of the great design, and constituting a part of the work.

We are not permitted to suppose that the divine nature of Jesus Christ could, in itself, endure the sufferings necessary to make atonement, or that it did, in the proper sense, suffer with the human nature. We cannot conceive that the perfect blessedness of God can consist with the endurance of suffering, any more than we can conceive the divine immensity shut up within the limits of a human body. Yet we are authorized to conclude, that whatever Jesus did or suffered, does, in some manner, represent to us the mind of God. To think God to be altogether such an one as ourselves,[45] is a gross and sinful view of him, which he resents: but we are, nevertheless, compelled to form our conceptions of his mind from the knowledge which we have of our own. This mode of conception his word authorizes. The pity of a father for his children, is made by God himself the image in which we are to see his pity for those who fear him.[46] Pity, as exercised by human beings, may be a very painful emotion; but, when we attribute it to God, we must conceive of it as possessing all that is excellent in human pity, but without the imperfection of pain. So, the mind of the holy Jesus exhibits to us the mind of God. The pity which he felt, however painful it may have been to his human soul, is an image in which we are permitted to see the compassion of God. Could we have before our contemplation all the affections and emotions that the holy soul of Jesus ever experienced, we might learn therein more of the mind of God than is otherwise discoverable: and if we understood the affections and emotions of which he was the subject in his last hours, we should probably understand, better than in any other way, how the divine perfections were concerned in his atoning sufferings. It is our duty to look to Jesus, who endured the cross,[47] and to study his character, that the same mind may be in us, and we feel the stronger obligation to study with what mind he suffered death; because Paul prayed to have fellowship with his sufferings, and to be conformed to his death.[48]

What, then, were the emotions of Jesus in his last sufferings? When he consented to make the sacrifice in the body prepared for him, he said, “Thy law is within my heart.”[49] He doubtless retained this law in his heart, through his intensest agony, and approved it, even while he was undergoing its dire penalty. In this particular Paul had fellowship with him, for he could say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.”[50] When Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree, it is reasonable to suppose that his human soul had a sense of the great evil of sin; otherwise we cannot understand how it should approve the law under which he was suffering the penalty for sin. Whatever other emotions had a place in his mind, we are authorized to conclude that he had a deep sense of the evil of the sins which he bore, and of the excellence of the law which those sins opposed. While love, stronger than death, identified him with his people, who were under the sentence of the violated law, he loved also that law with all his heart. These contending affections painfully struggled together in his breast. The sins of his people were not offences which he had personally committed; and therefore remorse, in the proper sense, was not an ingredient in his suffering. But an affectionate husband, who loves his wife as his own flesh, would, when grieving for a crime which she has committed, feel nearly the same agony as if he had personally committed it; so, when Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, he felt the sins of the Church as if they had been his own. In this sense of the evil of sin, which was an element in the sufferings of Jesus, it was lawful for Paul to desire fellowship with him. The Scripture teaches that Jesus offered himself to God, through the eternal Spirit.[51] This Spirit produces love to God and his law in the hearts of believers, and gives them a sense of the evil of sin; in both which particulars they have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings. Now, if we suppose that the Spirit, which was given to Christ without measure, opened to his view, when hanging on the cross, the full glory of the divine law which the Church, his bride, had violated; and the full enormity of the sins which his people had committed; what intense agony would these discoveries produce! No agony of the deepest penitence could surpass it. Yet all this Jesus probably felt; and in all this we may well pray to have fellowship with him.

If the view which we have taken, gives us any just insight into the emotions which rent the holy soul of Jesus, when he hung on the cross for us, it should make us feel, deeply feel, the moral power of that cross. To think as he thought, and feel as he felt, is enough to constrain us to live to him who died for us. No higher motive to holiness can be needed, than that which proceeds from the cross.

The denial of Christ’s divinity, and that of is atonement, consistently accompany each other. We should have little need of a divine person, to fulfil the offices ascribed to Christ, if that of making an efficacious sacrifice for sin be not included. The system in which these two cardinal doctrines are omitted, is another gospel, which Paul, and the first ministers of the Christian religion, knew not; and which cannot meet the necessities of lost men. It is worthy of special remark, that the two positive institutions of Christianity–baptism and the Lord’s supper, refer to these two doctrines, and silently and significantly preach them. In baptism, we devote ourselves to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; acknowledging the divinity and authority of each person in the Godhead: and the divinity of the second person is more especially acknowledged in those brief accounts of baptism, in which persons are said to have been baptised in the name of Christ. In the Lord’s supper, the doctrine of atonement is clearly set forth. “This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”[52] The two ordinances have, from the days of the apostles, been observed by the great body of professing Christians; though their form and use have not been kept pure, as they were originally delivered, and the two doctrines which they set forth, have been maintained in the great body of Christian professors, in all ages; though accompanied with much corruption.

The Scriptures plainly teach that the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ was necessary to render the justification of a sinner consistent with the justice of God. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”[53]

Had it not been absolutely necessary, we cannot account for it, that God should have inflicted such suffering, or even permitted it to fall, on his beloved Son, who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” The death of Christ, if he was not a divine person, was, as we have before shown, the effect of perjury and suicidal prevarication on his part; and if it was not an atoning sacrifice indispensably necessary to satisfy divine justice, it is difficult to show that it was not, on the part of the Father, a display of injustice and cruelty towards the Son of his love. Why was his ear deaf to the thrice-repeated petition, “Let this cup pass from me?” Why had the sorrows of Gethsemane, and the bloody sweat of the agonized, but innocent, sufferer, no effect to move the pity of the Father, to whom Christ had said: “I know that thou hearest me always.”[54] The resigned language of the suffering Jesus, and the condition on which he bases the petition, furnish the answer: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”[55]

What ever views of propriety may be entertained by short-sighted mortals, it is manifestly the teaching of sacred Scripture, that God could not, consistently with his justice, forgive our sins on our mere asking, or even on our penitential acknowledgments. We are required to forgive offences till seventy times seven, when a brother acknowledges his trespass; but sins against God are not private offences , to be remitted in the same manner. A judge who should pardon a criminal, that, according to law, ought to be condemned, and turn him loose on the community, would be false to his sacred office. So God sustains the character of a righteous Judge; and, sooner than disregard the claims of law, and overthrow his moral government, he is willing to plunge the sword of justice into the heart of his beloved Son. And such is the reverence of the Son, for the law of his Father and the claims of justice, that he patiently consents to be led as a lamb to the slaughter, that his death may justify God in forgiving and saving the guilty.

How the death of Christ rendered full satisfaction to divine justice, is a question which we shall have occasion to consider, under the head of Justification.

Those who suppose the doctrine of atonement, have viewed it as inconsistent with justice, that the innocent should suffer for the guilty. Their views, however, are plainly at variance with those which are presented in the Book of God. “He suffered, the just for the unjust.”[56] “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”[57] Even in human affairs, sureties are allowed to pay the debts of others; and, with reference to this well-known arrangement among men, Christ is called the surety of the better covenant.[58] To render such suretyship consistent with justice, his voluntary consent must be given, and he must have had a perfect right to dispose of himself. The right he possessed, because of his divinity; and the consent was given in the covenant of grace which he made with the Father.

A part of the priest’s office consisted in making intercession for the people. The high priest did this in a special manner, when he went into the holy of holies. Jesus interceded, when he prayed for Peter that his faith might not fail; and when he poured forth to his Father the beautiful prayer recorded in John xvii. But now, in the holy of holies, the immediate presence of God, he ever liveth to make intercession for us.[59] How that intercession is carried on, we cannot undertake to explain. What his mode of asking is, we know not; but in some mode, he asks, and the heathen are given to him for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession.[60] In some mode, while he sympathises with his suffering followers on earth, he asks grace for them, to help them in their trials and sorrows, and his intercession prevails.

The remaining part of the priest’s office consisted in blessing the people.[61] The high priest did this, on his return from the holy of holies. This, also, our great High Priest will do, in the most public manner, when he shall return from the heavens which he has entered, and meet his people in the great congregation at the last judgment. It is of little importance, whether we refer this act of blessing to the priestly or the kingly office of Christ. It was anciently said, that the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth.[62] Yet we refer Christ’s teaching to his prophetical, rather than to his priestly office. So, though the ancient priests blessed the people, yet, as the priest’s office was to approach God, in behalf of men; rather than to approach men with either revelations or blessings from God; we may consider the blessings conferred on the obedient subjects of Christ’s reign, as the bestowments of his royal munificence; and, therefore, as appertaining to his kingly office. This accords with the language of Scripture: “Then shall the King say: `Come, ye blessed of my Father.'”[63] But all Christ’s offices yield blessings to his people; and were undertaken by him for their sake.

[15] Ps. cx. 4; Zech. vi. 13; Heb. iv. 14, 15; v. 6; vi. 20; vii. 24, 26; viii. 1; ix. 11, 12, 14, 26; x. 12, 14; Isaiah liii. 5, 7, 12; John i. 29; x. 15; 1 Cor. v. 7; Eph. v. 2; 1 Tim. ii. 6; Heb. ix. 26; x. 5; xiii. 12; 1 Pet. ii. 24; iii. 18; 1 John i. 7; Rev. v. 9; vii. 14; Rom. viii. 34; Heb. vii. 25; ix. 24.

[16] Heb. v. 1.

[17] Matt. xx. 28.

[18] Lev. xvi. 21.

[19] 1 Pet. ii. 24.

[20] John i. 29.

[21] Romans v. 8.

[22] 2 Cor. v. 21.

[23] 1 Cor. i. 13.

[24] 1 Cor. ii. 2.

[25] Gal. vi. 14.

[26] 1 Cor. i. 23.

[27] Rom. i. 16.

[28] Gal. vi. 14.

[29] Gal. ii. 20.

[30] Heb. x. 1.

[31] Eph. v. 2.

[32] Heb. xi. 4.

[33] Rev. v. 6.

[34] Rev. i. 5.

[35] Matt. i. 21.

[36] Luke xix. 10.

[37] Heb. x. 5.

[38] Heb. viii. 3.

[39] 1 Pet. ii. 24.

[40] Heb. ii. 10.

[41] Heb. ii. 9.

[42] Heb. ii. 16, 17.

[43] John i. 14.

[44] Gal. iv. 5

[45] Ps. l. 21.

[46] Ps. ciii. 13.

[47] Heb. xii. 2.

[48] Phil. iii. 10.

[49] Ps. xl. 8.

[50] Rom. vii. 22.

[51] Heb. ix. 14.

[52] Matt. xxvi. 28.

[53] Rom. iii. 25, 26.

[54] John xi. 42.

[55] Matt. xxvi. 39.

[56] 1 Pet. iii. 18.

[57] 2 Cor v. 21.

[58] Heb. vii. 22.

[59] Heb. vii. 25.

[60] Ps. ii. 8.

[61] Num. vi. 22–27.

[62] Mal. ii. 7.

[63] Matt. xxv. 34.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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