Wednesday, May 23, 2007

James Durham on the Intercession of Christ

There is much encouragment in this sermon by James Durham on the text Isaiah 53:12. And made intercession for the transgressors.

Encouragement for the individual
Durham shows how "Disposition for duty, and help in the performance of duty, flows from his intercession. It is this that makes us pray, and that gives us boldness in prayer, and in other duties, that there is such an high priest over the house of God (as it is, Heb. 10:19-21). It is this that gives us ground of approaching to God, and to expect a hearing; and (as it is, Luke 13:7-8), it is his digging and pains, that makes the barren fig tree fruitful."

He goes on to say: "It flows from this, that our prayers are heard, though there be much infirmity in them, and that they are not cast back in our faces as dung, but are made savory to God, it is through the efficacy of his intercession. We have a type of this [in] Rev. 8:4-5, where John sees an angel come and stand at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it up with the prayers of all saints, and the smoke of the incense which came up with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God. It was savory and acceptable to God, and made the prayers of all saints acceptable; for the weight of God’s accepting their prayers, is laid on the smoke of his incense. It is he that takes the mangled and half prayers of his people, and presents them to God; and when they would be cast back, as the supplication of an enemy, he as great Master of requests, through the acceptation that he has with God, makes them acceptable. We should have no ground to pray with confidence, nor expectation to be heard, if there were not a golden censer in his hand."

For those oppressed by their sin in holy things and duties - there is this help that "our Lord, by his intercession, takes away the guilt of our holy things; for when we approach to God in worship, there is a carnalness and pollutedness in the best things we do; much irreverence, much unbelief, much [lack] of humility, zeal, sincerity and tenderness; so that all our righteousnesses are but as filthy rags. But the high priest (Ex. 38:28), has on his forehead, Holiness to the Lord; and his office is, to bear the iniquities of the holy things of the children of Israel, that they may be accepted before the Lord; and in this he was a type of Christ, the great high priest going in unto heaven, to make intercession for his people, who bears not only their iniquities, but the iniquity of their holy things. Aaron answers for them as the type, our Lord Jesus as the Anti-type; he being eminently Holiness to the Lord, and having holiness on his forehead, and being so well pleasing to the Father. However our prayers and praises, and other parts of service, be but little worth; yet he makes them acceptable, and procures that they be not rejected, when he is for this end employed and made use of."

Further we ought to consider that "we come never to hear preaching, but we are beholden to it; it being a peculiar fruit of his intercession, that gifts are given to men, and that the gospel is sent through the earth. And if ever any get good of a sermon, it is by virtue of this intercession, seeing he has said that he will pray the Father, and that he will send the Comforter [John 14:16]; and whenever we come to hear preaching, there would be (to say so), a reviving of the thoughts of Christ’s intercession, and a stirring up of ourselves to get the faith of it lively in its exercise."

Encouragement for the Church

In a day of small things the exercised Christian has many fears in relation to the Church. Like Eli, they tremble for the ark of God. Durham shows how these fears are largely incorporated into 4 main fears which are answered in the intercession of Christ.

"1. The first is the fear of a scarcity, or weakness of the public ministry; that being the great gift which he has given for the edifying of his body;and it being a prejudice to the Church, when she has not pastors according to God’s own heart. But compare Ps. 68:18 with Eph. 4:8, 12-14, and we willfind that his intercession answers all that fear. In the Psalm, it is said, Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men; which supposes his seeking of, or making suit for them; or, as the word is, ‘thou hast received gifts in the man,’ that is, being in our nature, he procured them. And, Eph. 4, it is said, He gave gifts to men; and compare these two places with a third, to wit, Acts 1:4 where he bids his apostles tarry at Jerusalem, till he send the promised Spirit; and immediately, after his ascension (as it is, Acts 2), he poured it out, which abode on them, in the likeness of cloven tongues of fire. It is likewise said that that Spirit was not given, for Jesus was not yet glorified (John 11:39). All which show an influence that Christ’s ascension has on the pouring out of the Spirit, and on the gifts given to men, whether ministers or others. There is nothing amongst men readily less cared for, than a ministry; some would have none at all, others would have them of such a stamp, as would please and humor them. But our Lord has received gifts to be given unto men; and he that poured out such gifts on the apostles and others, has what gifts he pleases, and sees needful for his Church’s edification, yet to give. And that he gives such gifts to men, that his people are not praying much for; whence is it, but from his intercession? Therefore, we will find that he delights in this property, as a piece of his spiritual state and grandeur, That he holds the stars in his right hand (Rev. 1:16); such is his respect to them, and his it is to dispose of them.

2. It is a greatly exercising difficulty to the Church of God, to think of the mighty opposition that is made by enemies; Mahomet, heathens, Antichrist, false brethren, threatening to swallow up the little stock, the Church of Christ, which is like a bush burning with fire, and not consumed. But for this there is a consolation in Christ’s intercession, according to that word (Heb. 10:13), He sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting, till his enemies be made his footstool. He has this for his suit at the Father’s bar, and is backing it. Upon this it followed, and as a fruit of it, that all the first persecutions were broken; on this it has come to pass, that Antichrist’s kingdom is tottering; and it is on this ground, that his bearing-down and utter-breaking will be accomplished. Hence it is most emphatically said (1 Cor 15:24) that he must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet; according to the promise made by Jehovah to him (Ps. 110:1), The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. He cannot be an Intercessor, but his enemies must down. For who, I pray, will be able to stand, when he gives in his complaint against them? Who will plead Antichrist’s and other persecutors’ cause, when he appears against them? And he is so certain of his enemies being made his footstool, that he is waiting till he see it done; he must reign till then, maugre [notwithstanding] all the malice and might of devils and men.

3. It is a difficulty to the Church and people of God, to think on such great confusions as are in the world; there are but a few judicatories that are for Christ; but few governors, higher or lower, that do consult his honor, or regard him; it is others that have the throne and court, and the guiding of things, than friends and favorers of his interest, for most part. But here the consolation lies, that there is a court in heaven that gives out orders, where the Church has an agent constantly lying, where the devil and the world has none; Jesus Christ is the Church’s agent and intercessor there. Daniel has a word to this purpose (Dan. 10:13), The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days, but Michael the chief Prince came to help me. And (Dan. 10:21), There is none in all the court of Persia that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your Prince. The great intercessor was at court, looking that nothing went wrong, seeing that no decree was passed to the prejudice of the people of God, and his work. In the time when they were building the temple, He is said (Zech. 6:13), to build the temple of the Lord, to bear the glory, and to be a Priest, sitting and ruling on his throne; having the government committed to him. What hazard then is there here, when heaven guides all, when the Church has an Agent at the court, to see (as I said), that nothing go wrong, when Michael the Prince is there, and sees all the acts and decrees of the court, and reads them, yea draws them, and looks well that there be nothing in them hurtful to his Church. And O! may we not, and should we not thank God for this?

4. A fourth thing that troubles the Church of God, is the abounding of offences in herself, and the spreading of error, which, like a flood, threatens to drown the Church; and great stormy winds come, that are like to blow down the house of God; offences and stumblings abound, and error, which (I just now said), as a flood is like to drown all. When the devil is put from the throne, and gets not violence acted, he turns about, and falls on another way, and spews out his flood of error, to devour the Woman and her Child; but our Lord has a vote here also. After the persecution of the heathen is over (Rev. 7:1-2), John sees an angel ascending from the east, the great Lordkeeper, or Chancellor of the Father’s council, the supreme Deputy over all under-officers, that has the keeping of the great-seal of the living God, and there is nothing relevant nor valid till it be sealed by him. And mark the time when he appears; it is when the winds are held, and ready to blow, as verse 1, but he cries with a loud voice, Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of God in their fore-heads. ‘Stay,’ he says, ‘a little; ere these winds blow that will take the most part off their feet, ere that delusion go forward; there are some servants of God that must be marked, and put without the reach of the hazard, and the winds shall get leave to blow.’ What reason then of anxiety is there, or could be here, if the solid and lively faith of this intercessor, and advocate, his being in heaven, and thus interceding, were in our hearts?"

My counsel would be to read the whole sermon. There is also an interesting blog developing on Durham's preaching.