The Confession of Faith Article 26: Christ’s Intercession
We have now come to the last article dealing with the doctrine of deliverance. This article emphasizes the great importance and perfectness of Christ's intercession, making any intercession of the saints superfluous. In Dutch the title of this article is, "Of the Only Intercession of Christ", giving emphasis to this immediately. Until the glory of Christ becomes known to its full extent, it is not possible to explain this article completely.
Our article first tells us that it is Christ Who is the Mediator between God and man; He is the Person who must bring two parties together. Christ stands between God the Father, Who maintains the Divine justice, and the sinner worthy of condemnation, who has been elected by God from eternity. The exalted Mediator is the Intercessor for His church, pleading upon His merits. Without Him no communion between God and man is possible.
Under the Old Testament this was typified by the High Priest, who went into the Most Holy Place with blood in order to make reconciliation for the people's sin. It had to be repeated every year, until that time when the veil of the temple was rent. When Christ was upon earth, He gave Himself as a ransom for His people, but now, being in heaven, He comes with His own blood as the Intercessor before the Father. Calvin says that He takes action for His people as Judah did for Benjamin and as Paul unto Philemon for Onesimus. It is not a mere request by Christ, such as we ought to make in humble prayer, but gloriously, as the great High Priest representing His people, He requires it on the basis of His perfect satisfaction. Of this the High Priests of Israel were only a type when they bore the names of the tribes on the breastplate and shoulders.
This article reads: "We believe that we have no access unto God, but alone through the only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, Who therefore became man, having united in one person the divine and human natures, that we men might have access to the Divine Majesty, which access would otherwise be barred against us." When Christ had finished His Mediatorial and High Priestly labor here on earth, He continues it as Intercessor for His children at the right hand of the Father. (Romans 8:34) "Who is he that condemneth? 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." Hebrews 7:24 & 25 ends, "He ever liveth to make intercession for them." In 1 John 2:1 there is written: "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." His intercession is founded on justice, so that all accusers must be silent, and it contains everything which the Church needs for time and eternity.
The Confession has made it clear in Articles 18 and 19 that the Mediator is God and man. Our present article says that this magnitude should not affright us, because it would then lead to the same error as that of Rome, namely, a seeking of intercession in the saints. Rome does make a difference between the worshipping of God and the calling upon the saints. They say that God only may be worshipped, but that the saints may be called upon to pray for us. They, of course, appeal to God's Word for this error, as there is always a text which can be twisted in such a way as to be used in defence of error. They point to the woman of Canaan who cried unto the Lord Jesus for help, but He did not answer. Then the disciples came and besought Him. Also Paul asked the believers to pray for him. In the same way, they say, it is possible and advisable, but also necessary, to call upon the saints as "under-mediators" before Christ. Therefore the Council of Trent in 1543 affirmed that the saints, who reign with Christ, pray to God for men, that it is good and necessary to call humbly unto them and always supplicate for their intercession, help and assistance, and that they are wicked who teach the opposite.
The basis upon which they defend themselves in this is briefly as follows:
- On earth a person doesn't have immediate access to the King, but a courtier is needed for this. It is the same in heaven.
- Meekness is pleasing to the Lord. When man feels himself a great sinner, he will also feel himself unworthy to go directly to the Lord in prayer; therefore our prayers should be directed to the saints who are loved by the Lord, in whom there is no sin, and who will be heard by Him.
- Christ said, "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends." Therefore the calling upon the saints cannot be displeasing to the Lord.
- The devout persons of the Old Testament have always used the names of the patriarchs in their prayers. (Genesis 32:9, Exodus 32:12, Psalm 132:1).
- As the angel (Acts 10) knew about the gifts of Cornelius, they are likewise known by the saints.
These are the main reasons given by Rome for their doctrine regarding the invocation of saints. The virgin Mary also has a very special place with them, since she received this honor already in the mother of promises (Genesis 3:15). They say that Mary, as the second Eve, represents the whole human race and has become the Queen of heaven and the mediatrix of all gifts of grace. The above points and beliefs are rejected by our reformed fathers as being contrary to God's Word.
Luther expected this doctrine of honoring the saints would collapse of itself rather quickly, and for this reason he did not immediately assail this enemy so severely. He was of the opinion that the weak should be subjected gradually and not immediately disarranged. His desire was to first give the reasons why this honoring of the saints as it had been previously taught was no longer necessary, and at the same time he wanted to maintain a reverence for the saints. Herein Luther was mistaken, because it remains one of the many sins of Rome.
How necessary it is in our personal lives that we come to image-breaking. Outwardly we can change, but it is necessary that this happens inwardly under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
We mentioned the great sin of the church of Rome in worshipping or honoring of the saints. For every circumstance they have a saint to help in those certain things. For example, the saint George is the patron of England, while Willibrordius is the patron of Holland, etc. The courtiers have John and Paul as patrons, the physicians have Luke, the engineers have Virgilius, the teachers Cassianus, the hunters Hubertus, the soldiers Mauritius. When they have a throat infection, they are instructed to ask help of saint Blasius; if there is an eye problem, prayer should be made to saint Lucia; if one has a fever, they should pray to saint Apollonia, if expecting a child, to saint Lazarus.
This doctrine is an ignominious dishonoring and denial of Christ as the only and all-sufficient Mediator and Intercessor with the Father. It is so senseless and is everywhere condemned in God's Word. In Isaiah 63:16 we read, "Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not." This is a clear evidence that the saints do not know of us. When John intended to worship the angel, it was forbidden him, and it was said, "worship God". (Revelation 19:10). Angels are ministering spirits, but they are no mediators. See Hebrews 1:14 and Psalm 34:8.
This present article also emphasizes the great love of Christ for his children. This love brought Him on this earth in a way of humiliation, and He became a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. He emptied the cup filled with the wrath of God. How true it is that nobody has more love than he that gives his life for his friends. A greater love than that of Christ is not possible. "If then we should seek for another Mediator, who would be well affected toward us, whom could we find, who loved us more than He, Who laid down His life for us, even when we were His enemies?" This love of Christ surpasses knowledge and is unlimited. Those who may taste something of it will acknowledge that nothing in this world can be compared with it. The love of all the saints together is not equivalent to the love of Christ.
And this is not yet all, since another fact is also mentioned here: "And if we seek for one who has power and majesty, who is there that has so much of both as He Who sits at the right hand of His Father, and Who hath all power in heaven and on earth?" It is true that the power of Christ extends over all things, also persons and angels. He is set above all authorities, as it is written: "and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it." (Colossians 2:15).
When we look at all of these scriptural evidences, we must say it is not necessary for the church to have persons called saints do intercession for them, but also that it is wicked to teach or practice this doctrine which is a dishonoring of the Lord.
"Who will sooner be heard than the only well beloved Son of God?" In many places of God's Word we can find the encouragements for the true Zionites that they have an all-sufficient Mediator and Intercessor, Who will never forsake them. As the Good Shepherd, He goes out to seek the lost sheep. He is also the heavenly Bridegroom, the Head of His church, and He prays for them.
This intercession is really needed by the church, as there are so many enemies who try to destroy the work of the Lord; especially Satan, the mortal enemy, is always busy, trying to undermine the church by world-conformity, by sin, and by our own flesh. If we fight against him in our own strength, we will surely be defeated. It is only by faith that we will be victorious; "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13). Without Him we cannot do anything. Often the enemy has the upper hand in the warfare when a child of God falls in sin, but it is impossible that they can live in sin or die in their sin. No man will pluck His children which the Father has given Him out of His hand.
We can also bring ourselves in darkness when we mistrust the Lord. It is a characteristic of unbelief to distrust the Lord and His work, and to speak of our unworthiness in a wrong way. It is said, "Will such a glorious Person look down upon such a sinful creature as I am? This is impossible!" – Doubt comes into the heart, taking away the comfort, and we forget that He came to seek and to save that which is lost. It is forgotten that for Him there is nothing too wonderful. He did not come for good people, but for sinners.
Others are bothered that they do not have enough self-knowledge, enough knowledge of their sin. Then they too become unbelieving, although we cannot believe when we want. It comes forth from ignorance, from a lack of knowledge of Christ and His Mediatorial work. When faith is not in exercise, we so easily begin to distrust the Lord and become suspicious regarding His work. The father of the lunatic boy cried out, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" He knew his unbelief and it became a burden for him. There is only one way of deliverance and that is to flee to the Lord with his needs and wants. God's people cry so often because of their unbelief and wrestle against it. Time and again they are losers in the battle which is so fearful. Those who have never wept because of the weakness of their faith should examine their lives whether it be a true life or made up of themselves.
There are many ministers who say that you should believe, but that is not possible of ourselves. It is a gift of God, as is also the exercise of our faith. "Without Me ye can do nothing." What a blessing it is to be and to feel dependent upon the Lord and to flee with all our needs to Him Who knows exactly what we need. Although it sometimes seems that the Lord has forsaken them, He looks down in mercy upon them at His time to administer to them out of His fulness. That is a blessed people!
Unbelief is often stronger than faith and they then enter into darkness. Again and again we find examples of this in God's Word. Think only of David, who could not believe that the Lord would fulfill the promise that he would be king over Israel. Many others could be added, also those taken from the practice of daily life. It is the experience of God's children that they cannot always believe, but that every time the Lord has to be the first.
We must be careful that we do not glorify unbelief and make it a ground of our belief. In God's people there is a struggle between the old and the new man, but the catechism teaches us that the old man has to go the way of mortification and the resurrection or increase must be found in the new man. Unbelief is sin, because it makes the Lord a liar.
Help against unbelief has to come from on high, from the Lord, Who is able to drive it out. We must then also be careful that we do not blame the Lord for our unbelief and that we do not sit down in false passivity because the Lord has to do it. The weakness of faith causes a heavy conscience and takes away the gladness of heart, so that men go sighing over the world. Although they fear that the Lord will no longer come to such a sinner as they are, yet it is so true as our fathers have written of it: "Therefore the apostle, to remove this foolish fear, or rather mistrust from us, justly saith, that Jesus Christ was made like unto His brethren in all things, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted."
When we see that way in which the Lord had to go, then we must say that nothing was withheld from Him. It is inexpressible what He suffered in soul and body. He knows all the circumstances into which His church comes here upon earth. This is a great comfort, because not only does He know their strife, but He also helps in that strife. Peter had denied the Lord and therefore was unworthy that the Lord would look upon Him again; however, on the evening of Christ's resurrection, we hear that He was seen by Peter. Thomas could not believe unless he could see and feel, and the Lord has given this unto him. When He was to ascend on high and the disciples would miss His corporal presence, He had already promised to be with them to the end of the world.
"Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." Although He is now in glory, we may draw nigh unto Him. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." As the high priest of the Old Testament sacrificed, prayed and blessed, so it is with the only High Priest, Jesus Christ. On the Day of Atonement the sacrifice was brought outside of the camp, but the high priest came with the blood into the Most Holy Place to make satisfaction for the people. Christ likewise brought His sacrifice upon earth, where He was crucified in order to purchase His church. By His passive and active obedience the church is delivered from condemnation and receives a right to eternal life. Now Christ is on the right hand of God the Father; He prays not for the world, but for His people.
In this intercession of Christ lies the salvation of the church, but it is also the protection for them against all the enemies who surround them by day and night. This intercession of Christ is a continual pointing to His satisfaction. As High Priest He brings the incense of our prayer before God and reconciles all the uncleanness. For every Simon who is sifted as wheat He prays that their faith will not fail. He will never hear as did Moses, who was not to speak of a certain thing. Therefore we may freely draw nigh unto the Lord with all temporal and spiritual needs. "The same apostle saith, having boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, etc. Likewise, Christ 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."
In the prayer of Christ all the needs of the church are remembered. On the prayer of Christ their life's strength is renewed. By the prayer of Christ the deliverance of the church is guaranteed. What a wonder to learn that in Christ we may have everything for time and eternity. Our victory is the fruit of His strife, our rest is the fruit of His labor, our sleeping is a fruit of His staying awake.
We may not deny that the prayer of the God-fearing has great value, and it is a blessing when we are remembered in the prayer of God's children. How much more value should we attach to the intercession of the Mediator! The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but the prayer of Christ availeth everything pleasing unto Him. He is the only begotten Son of God, Who saves His people who draw nigh to Him. The clouds make a separation between Christ and His church, but in heaven He labors to the welfare of His children. Once that curtain will be taken away and then will be fulfilled the words, "Where I am, there shall also My servant be." There the summit of happiness will be given to the church, and they will comprehend the fulness of Christ's work on earth and in heaven.
This article adds in conclusion, "What more can be required? since Christ Himself saith, I am the way and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me." May we also learn this way, which is the only way to be saved; all the paths in which we go or try to go will make us ashamed, but not the way in Christ.