“Be punctual in waiting upon God in secret.
This is the life of everything, the only way, and the sure way, of maintaining and renewing your strength.”
“The Son of God who made us was made one of us, and He rules us as our king because as our creator He made us.
He through whom we are ruled is none other than He through whom we were made, and we are called Christians because He is the Christ.
The title ‘Christ’ is derived from chrism, which is used in anointing. Kings and priests used to be anointed, and Christ was anointed as both king and priest.
As king He fought for us, and as priest He offered Himself for us.
When he fought for us He was to all appearances overcome, but in truth He was the victor. He was crucified, and from the cross to which He was fastened He slew the devil, and thus He proved Himself our king.
But in what sense is he a priest? Because he offered himself for us.
Give your priest something He can offer. But what could human beings have found that would serve as a clean victim?
What shall your victim be? What clean sacrifice can a sinner offer? Wicked, impious pretender, whatever you bring is tainted, yet something clean is needed to be offered for you.
Look for something fit within yourself: you will find nothing.
Look among your possessions for an acceptable offering: but God takes no pleasure in rams or he-goats or bulls. They all belong to Him anyway, even if you do not offer them.
Go on, then, offer him a clean sacrifice. But you are a sinner, a wicked person, and your conscience is defiled.
If you were purified first you would, perhaps, be in a position to make a clean offering, but, if you are to be purified, something must be offered on your behalf.
What are you going to offer for yourself, to effect your cleansing? Only if you have first been cleansed will you be able to offer anything clean.
Let a clean priest offer Himself, then, and cleanse you. That is what Christ did.
He found nothing clean in human beings that He could offer on behalf of human beings, so He offered Himself as a clean victim.
How auspicious a victim, how genuine; and how spotless a sacrifice!
What He offered was not something we had given Him; rather did He offer what He took from us, but He offered it in a clean condition.
He took flesh from us, and that was what He offered, but whence did He take it?
From the womb of His virgin mother, so that He might offer it clean for us who were unclean.
He is our king and He is our priest.
Let us rejoice in Him.”
–Saint Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms 121–150, ed. Boniface Ramsey, trans. Maria Boulding, vol. 20, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 20: 584–585. Augustine is riffing on Psalm 149:2.
“You must not expect habits and tempers will be eradicated instantaneously; but by perseverance in prayer, and observation upon the experiences of every day, much may be done in time.
Now and then you will (as is usual in the course of war) lose a battle; but be not discouraged, but rally your forces, and return to the fight.
There is a comfortable word, a leaf of the tree of life, for healing the wounds we receive, in 1 John 2:1.
If the enemy surprises you, and your heart smites you, do not stand astonished as if there was no help, nor give way to sorrow as if there was no hope, nor attempt to heal yourself.
But away immediately to the Throne of Grace, to the great Physician, to the compassionate High Priest, and tell Him all.
Satan knows, that if he can keep us from confession, our wounds will rankle; but do you profit by David’s experience, (Psalm 32:3–5).
When we are simple and open-hearted in abasing ourselves before the Lord, though we have acted foolishly and ungratefully, He will seldom let us remain long without affording us a sense of His compassion.
For He is gracious. He knows our frame. And He knows how to bear with us, even though we can hardly bear with ourselves, or with one another.
The main thing is to have the heart right with God: this will bring us in the end safely through many mistakes and blunders.
But a double mind, a selfish spirit, that would halve things between God and the world, the Lord abhors.
If the Lord is pleased to bless you, He will undoubtedly make you humble; for you cannot be either happy or safe, or have any probable hope of abiding usefulness, without it.
I do not know that I have had anything so much at heart in my connections with you, as to impress you with a sense of the necessity and advantages of an humble frame of spirit: I hope it has not been in vain.
O! to be little in our own eyes! This is the ground-work of every grace.
This leads to a continual dependence upon the Lord Jesus.
This is the spirit which He has promised to bless.
This conciliates us good-will and acceptance amongst men.
For he that abaseth himself is sure to be honoured.
And that this temper is so hard to attain and preserve, is a striking proof of our depravity.
For are we not sinners? Were we not rebels and enemies before we knew the Gospel?
And have we not been unfaithful, backsliding, and unprofitable ever since?
Are we not redeemed by the blood of Jesus?
And can we stand a single moment unless He upholds us?
Have we any thing which we have not received: or have we received any thing which we have not abused?
Why then are dust and ashes proud?
I am glad you have found some spiritual acquaintance in your barren land. I hope you will be helpful to them, and they to you.
You do well to guard against every appearance of evil.
If you are heartily for Jesus, Satan owes you a grudge.
One way or other he will try to cut you out work, and the Lord may suffer him to go to the length of his chain.
But though you are to keep your eye upon him, and expect to hear from him at every step, you need not be slavishly afraid of him.
For Jesus is stronger and wiser than he.
And there is a complete suit of armour provided for all who are engaged on the Lord’s side.
June 7, 1767″
“Be content with being a learner in the school of Christ for some years. The delay will not be lost time.
You will be so much the more acquainted with the Gospel, with your own heart, and with human nature.
The last is a necessary branch of a minister’s knowledge, and can only be acquired by comparing what passes within us, and around us, with what we read in the Word of God.
I am glad to find you have a distaste both for Arminian and Antinomian doctrines. But let not the mistakes of others sit too heavy upon you.
Be thankful for the grace that has made you to differ.
Be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
But beware of engaging in disputes, without evident necessity, and some probable hope of usefulness.
They tend to eat out the life and savor of religion, and to make the soul lean and dry.
Where God has begun a real work of grace, incidental mistakes will be lessened by time and experience.
Where He has not, it is of little signification what sentiments people hold, or whether they call themselves Arminians or Calvinists.
March 7, 1765”
“The highest attainments in this life are very inconsiderable, compared with what should properly result from our relation and obligations to a God of infinite holiness.
The nearer we approach to Him, the more we are sensible of this. While we only hear of God as it were by the ear, we seem to be something.
But when, as in the case of Job, He discovers Himself more sensibly to us, Job’s language becomes ours, and the height of our attainment is, to abhor ourselves in dust and ashes.
I hope I do not write too late to meet you at Bath.
I pray that your health may be benefited by the waters, and your soul comforted by the Lord’s blessing upon the ordinances, and the converse of His children.
If any of the friends you expected to see are still there, to whom we are known, and my name should be mentioned, I beg you to say, we desire to be respectfully remembered to them.
Had I wings, I would fly to Bath while you are there. As it is, I endeavour to be with you in spirit.
There certainly is a real, though secret, a sweet, though mysterious, communion of saints, by virtue of their common union with Jesus.
Feeding upon the same bread, drinking of the same fountain, waiting at the same mercy-seat, and aiming at the same ends, they have fellowship one with another, though at a distance.
Who can tell how often the Holy Spirit, who is equally present with them all, touches the hearts of two or more of his children at the same instant, so as to excite a sympathy of pleasure, prayer, or praise, on each other’s account?
It revives me sometimes in a dull and dark hour to reflect, that the Lord has in mercy given me a place in the hearts of many of His people; and perhaps some of them may be speaking to Him on my behalf, when I have hardly power to utter a word for myself.
For kind services of this sort I persuade myself I am often indebted to you. O that I were enabled more fervently to repay you in the same way!
O! what will heaven be, where there shall be all who love the Lord Jesus, and they only, where all imperfection, and whatever now abates or interrupts their joy in their Lord and in each other, shall cease forever.
There at least I hope to meet you, and spend an eternity with you, in admiring the riches and glory of redeeming love.
October 24, 1775”
“The Gospel reveals one thing needful, the pearl of great price; and supposes, that they who possess this are provided for against all events, and have ground of unshaken hope, and a source of never-failing consolation under every change they can meet with during their pilgrimage state.
When His people are enabled to set their seal to this, not only in theory, when all things go smooth, but practically, when called upon to pass through the fire and water, then His grace is glorified in them and by them.
Then it appears, both to themselves and to others, that they have neither followed cunningly devised fables, nor amused themselves with empty notions.
Then they know in themselves, and it is evidenced to others, that God is with them in truth.
In this view a believer, when in some good measure divested from that narrow selfish disposition which cleaves so close to us by nature, will not only submit to trials, but rejoice in them, notwithstanding the feelings and reluctance of the flesh.
For if I am redeemed from misery by the blood of Jesus.
And if He is now preparing me a mansion near himself, that I may drink of the rivers of pleasure at his right hand forevermore, the question is not (at least ought not to be), ‘How may I pass through life with the least inconvenience?’
But rather, ‘How may my little span of life be made most subservient to the praise and glory of Him who loved me, and gave Himself for me?’ (Galatians 2:20)
Should we, therefore, not account it an honour and a privilege, when the Captain of our salvation assigns us a difficult post? Since He can and does (which no earthly commander can) inspire His soldiers with wisdom, courage, and strength, suitable to their situation. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
I am acquainted with a few who have been led thus into the forefront of the battle: they suffered much; but I have never heard them say they suffered too much; for the Lord stood by them and strengthened them.
Go on, my dear madam: yet a little while Jesus will wipe away all tears from your eyes.
You will see your beloved friend again, and he and you will rejoice together forever.
April 8, 1775″
“It is a comfortable consideration, that He with whom we have to do, our great High Priest, who once put away our sins by the sacrifice of Himself, and now forever appears in the presence of God for us, is not only possessed of sovereign authority and infinite power, but wears our very nature, and feels and exercises in the highest degree those tendernesses and commiserations, which I conceive are essential to humanity in its perfect state.
The whole history of His wonderful life is full of inimitable instances of this kind.
His heart of mercy was moved before His arm was exerted: He condescended to mingle tears with mourners, and wept over distresses which He intended to relieve.
He is still the same in His exalted state; compassions dwell within His heart.
In a way inconceivable to us, but consistent with His supreme dignity and perfection of happiness and glory, He still feels for His people.
When Saul persecuted the members upon earth, the Head complained from heaven; and sooner shall the most tender mother sit insensible and inattentive to the cries and wants of her infant, than the Lord Jesus be an unconcerned spectator of His suffering children.
No, with the eye, and the ear, and the heart of a friend, He attends to their sorrows.
He counts their sighs, He puts their tears in his bottle.
And when our spirits are overwhelmed within us, He knows our path, and He adjusts the time, the measure of our trials, and everything that is necessary for our present support and seasonable deliverance, with the same unerring wisdom and accuracy as He weighed the mountains in scales and hills in a balance, and meted out the heavens with a span.
Still more, besides His benevolent, He has an experimental, sympathy.
He knows our sorrows, not merely as He knows all things, but as one who has been in our situation, and who, though without sin Himself, endured when upon earth inexpressibly more for us than He will ever lay upon us.
He has sanctified poverty, pain, disgrace, temptation, and death, by passing through these states.
And in whatever states His people are, they may by faith have fellowship with Him in their sufferings, and He will by sympathy and love have fellowship and interest with them in theirs.
What then shall we fear, or of what shall we complain, when all our concerns are written upon His heart, and their management, to the very hairs of our head, are under His care and providence, when He pities us more than we can do ourselves, and He has engaged His almighty power to sustain and relieve us?
However, as He is tender, He is wise also: He loves us, but especially with regard to our best interests.
If there were not something in our hearts and our situation that required discipline and medicine, He so delights in our prosperity, that we should never be in heaviness.
The innumerable comforts and mercies with which He enriches even those we call darker days, are sufficient proofs that He does not willingly grieve us.
But when He sees a need-be for chastisement, He will not withhold it because He loves us; on the contrary, that is the very reason why He afflicts.
He will put His silver into the fire to purify it.
But He sits by the furnace as a refiner, to direct the process, and to secure the end He has in view, that we may neither suffer too much nor suffer in vain.
November 29, 1776”
“The Gospel addresses both head and heart; and where it has its proper effect, where it is received as the Word of God, and is closed with the authority and energy of the Holy Spirit, the understanding is enlightened, the affections awakened and engaged, the will brought into subjection, and the whole soul delivered to its impression as wax to the seal.
When this is the case, when the affections do not take the lead, and push forward with a blind impulse, but arise from the principles of Scripture, and are governed by them, the more warmth the better.
Yet in this state of infirmity, nothing is perfect; and our natural temperament and disposition will have more influence upon our religious sensations than we are ordinarily aware.
It is well to know how to make proper allowances and abatements upon this head, in the judgment we form both of ourselves and of others. Many good people are distressed and alternately elated by frames and feelings, which perhaps are more constitutional than properly religious experiences.
I dare not tell you, Madam, what I am; but I can tell you what I wish to be.
The love of God, as manifested in Jesus Christ, is what I would wish to be the abiding object of my contemplation; not merely to speculate upon it as a doctrine, but so to feel it, and my own interest in it, as to have my heart filled with its effects, and transformed into its resemblance; that, with this glorious Exemplar in my view, I may be animated to a spirit of benevolence, love, and compassion, to all around me; that my love may be primarily fixed upon Him who has so loved me, and then, for His sake, diffused to all His children, and to all His creatures.
Then, knowing that much is forgiven to me, I should be prompted to the ready exercise of forgiveness, if I have aught against any.
Then I should be humble, patient, and submissive under all His dispensations; meek, gentle, forbearing, and kind to my fellow-worms.
Then I should be active and diligent in improving all my talents and powers in His service, and for His glory; and live not to myself, but to Him who loved me and gave Himself for me.
September 17, 1776”
“One of the great functions of a priest was to pronounce God’s blessing, or benediction, upon his people. Melchizedek, “the priest of the most high God,” blessed Abraham, the covenantal father of all the faithful (Gen. 14:18–20), and did so as a type of Christ (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:1, 6–7).
The Lord chose the Aaronic priests to bless Israel in his name (Deut. 10:8; 21:5), saying, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Num. 6:22–26).
The core elements of this priestly blessing, “grace” and “peace,” now flow from the Father and the Son to His people, as the greetings in the New Testament Epistles abundantly affirm.
Some theologians have considered blessing to be a distinct third function of priests after sacrifice and intercession. Aaron blessed the people after making sacrifices and again after going into the tabernacle to intercede (Lev. 9:22–23). Other theologians have seen the priestly blessing to be an aspect of intercession.
The blessing was a prayer that invoked God’s name upon His covenant people so that God would bless them (Num. 6:27). “The priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven” (2 Chron. 30:27).
What is clear is that Christ blesses his people as their Priest. Just before Christ ascended into heaven, “he lifted up his hands, and blessed” his disciples (Luke 24:50–51), just as formerly “Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them” (Lev. 9:22). Peter, citing God’s promise to bless all nations by Abraham’s seed, says, “God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:25–26).
God’s blessing through Christ is covenantal. Sinners are under God’s curse for breaking the commandments of his law (Gal. 3:10). In his redeeming sacrifice, Christ received the curse of God’s law, absorbing its full fury in his sufferings while perfectly obeying the law, so that his believing people are delivered from the curse (Gal. 3:13; 4:4). They receive the blessing promised in the covenant with Abraham “through Jesus Christ” by faith (Gal. 3:14).
God’s curse against lawbreakers hangs over all the good things that they receive in this world (Deut. 28:15–19), mingles sorrow into all good (Gen. 3:17–19), and one day will take all good away from unrepentant sinners (Luke 6:24–25; 16:24–25). However, Christians may pray to their Father for their “daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), “that of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.” The ability of believers to enjoy earthly goods with God’s blessing presupposes that he is pleased with them (Eccl. 9:7–9).
Therefore, the goodness of all God’s providences toward his elect comes to them through Christ’s intercession (Rom. 8:28, 34). Paul says, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by [or “in”] Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
The core of God’s blessing is justification and the grace of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:8, 14). Owen observed that the work of the Spirit is the “purchased grace” that Christ won by his obedience and sufferings. Christ obtains the Spirit for his people by his intercession: “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). The fullness of the Spirit’s new-covenant ministry depends on the glorification of the Son (7:39). Christ himself sends us the Spirit from the Father’s side (John 16:7).
By these spiritual graces, the reality and efficacy of Christ’s invisible intercession in heaven is demonstrated on earth, for we have received the Holy Spirit and know the fruit of Christ’s intercession in our lives, as Perkins said. The best evidence that Christ prays for us in heaven is the Spirit’s work to make us pray on earth.
The exaltation of our great High Priest signals the fulfillment of the covenant of grace and the inauguration of the last days (Heb. 1:2–3; 9:26). Murray said, “Jesus as high priest is the surety and mediator of the new and better covenant.… The new covenant brings to its consummation the communion which is at the heart of all covenant disclosure from Abraham onwards: ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.’ … The heavenly high priesthood of Christ, means, therefore, that Christ appears in the presence of God … to plead on the basis of what he has accomplished the fulfilment of all the promises.”
Therefore, Christ’s intercession unlocks all grace and glory for his people. In union with Christ, they are blessed by the Father with “all spiritual blessings” (Eph. 1:3).
The intercession of our Lord Jesus is a boundless field full of flowers from which we may draw sweet nectar for our souls. Let us consider some of the riches of knowing our Intercessor by God’s grace.
First, we must allow this doctrine to form in us constant reliance on the exalted Christ. We must run the race set before us, “looking unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:2; cf. Col. 3:1). Brown said that Christ’s intercession glorifies him, for “in this way believers have an immediate dependence on Christ for ever.” Let us look to him for every grace.
Second, Christians may find here strong consolation and hope. Christ’s entrance into heaven as our forerunner confirms the unbreakable promise of God that he will bless his people (Heb. 6:17–20). If Christ’s death reconciled us to God when we were his enemies, much more will his living ministry deliver us from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:10). We can exult in hope.
Third, believers should look to Christ’s intercession for confidence in our justification. Christ was raised for our justification and intercedes to deliver us from condemnation (Rom. 4:25; 8:33–34). His appearing before the face of God confirms that his blood sacrifice has expiated the guilt of our sins once for all (Heb. 9:24). We should assure our consciences with this doctrine.
Fourth, knowing Christ as the Intercessor can encourage quickness to confess sin to God. Rather than remaining silent when God convicts us of sin (Ps. 32:3–5), let us immediately confess our sins with faith in Christ’s propitiation and intercession, for God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9; 2:1–2).
Fifth, the doctrine of Christ’s intercession increases expectation and comfort in prayer. What is more comforting in trials than to go to a friend who knows how we feel and how to help us? Christ sympathizes with us perfectly. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15–16).
Sixth, given that all spiritual blessings come to us through Christ’s intercession, we should learn to exercise trust in Christ for the grace of the Holy Spirit. Let us never separate the Spirit from Jesus Christ, for he is the Spirit of God’s Son (Gal. 4:6). Whether we need the Spirit’s power to mortify sin (Rom. 8:13), his fruit for works of love and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23), or his gifts to serve the church effectively (1 Cor. 12:7, 11), let us drink of his living water by exercising faith in the exalted Christ (John 7:37–39). Believers overcome trials, even unto martyrdom, by “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). Owen said, “The great duty of tempted souls, is to cry out unto the Lord Christ for help and relief.”
Seventh, the more God’s children meditate upon Christ’s intercession, the more they will increase in assurance of ultimate salvation and blessedness. We will be purged of legalistic perfectionism and rest in his perfection. We will learn to recognize all our good desires and good works as fruit of his priestly work. Then we will be able to rejoice and exult, for our Intercessor is able to save us completely (Heb. 7:25).
As long as this Intercessor stretches out His hands of blessing, we may be sure that the true Israel will prevail over its enemies (Ex. 17:8–13).”
–Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 2: Man and Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 2: 1099–1103.