Friday, June 17, 2016

John Owen on Christ as our Heavenly High Priest

Often as Evangelical Protestants we can struggle in understanding the significance of Christ's resurrection, and more so in his ongoing incarnate life in heaven, at the right hand of God. The atoning death is highly meaningful to us, but Jesus' resurrection and ongoing life can seem merely icing on the cake or some such. The letter to the Hebrews spends significant time dwelling on Christ's ongoing work as our High Priest in heaven. Here are some excerpts from John Owen touching on this matter, taken from Volume 5 of the Goold edition of his commentary on Hebrews...
(p520f) “The perpetuity of the priesthood of Christ, as unchangeably exercised in his own person, is a principal part of the glory of that office. His discharge of this office for the church in his own person, throughout all generations, is the glory of it. 1. Hereon depends the church’s preservation and stability. There is neither a ceasing nor any the least intermission of that care and providence, of that interposition with God on its behalf, which are required thereunto. Our high priest is continually ready to appear and put in for us on all occasions. And his abiding for ever manifests the continuance of the same care and love for us that he ever had. The same love wherewith, as our high priest, he laid down his life for us, doth still continue in him. And every one may with the same confidence go unto him with all their concerns, as poor, diseased, and distempered persons went unto him when he was upon earth ; when he never showed greater displeasure than unto those who forbade any to come unto him, whatever their pretences were. 2. Hereon depend the union and communion of the church with itself in all successive generations. For whereas he is their head and high priest, in whom they all centre as unto their union and communion, and hath all their graces and duties in his hand, to present them unto God, they have a relation unto each other, and a concernment in one another. We that are alive in this generation have communion with all those that died in the faith before us ; as shall be declared, if God will, on chap. xii. 22-24. And they were concerned in us, as we are also in the generations that are to come. For all the prayers of the church from first to last are lodged in the hand of the same high priest, who abides for ever; and he returns the prayers of one generation unto another. We enjoy the fruits of the prayers, obedience, and blood of those that went before us; and if we are faithful in our generation, serving the will of God, those shall enjoy the fruits of ours who shall come after us. Our joint interest in this our abiding priest gives a line of communication unto all believers, in all generations. And, 3. The consolation of the church also depends hereon. Do we meet with troubles, trials, difficulties, temptations, and distresses ? hath not the church done so in former ages ? What do we think of those days wherein prisons, tortures, swords, and flames, were the portion of the church all the world over? But did any of them miscarry ? was any one true believer lost for ever ? and did not the whole church prove victorious in the end? Did not Satan rage and the world gnash their teeth to see themselves conquered and their power broken, by the faith, patience, and suffering, of them whom they hated and despised ? And was it by their own wisdom and courage that they were so preserved ? did they overcome merely by their own blood? or were they delivered by their own power? No;  but all their preservation and success, their deliverance and eternal salvation, depended merely on the care and power of their merciful high priest. It was through his blood, “ the blood of the Lamb,” or the efficacy of his sacrifice, that they “overcame” their adversaries, Rev. xii. 11. By the same blood were “their robes washed, and made white,” chap. vii. 14. From thence had they their righteousness in all their sufferings. And by him had the church its triumphant issue out of all its trials. Now, is he not the same that he ever was, vested with the same office? and hath he not the same qualifications of love, compassion, care, and power, for the discharge of it, as he always had? Whence, then, can any just cause of despondence in any trials or temptations arise? We have the same high priest to take care of us, to assist and help us, as they had, who were all of them finally victorious. 4. This gives perpetual efficacy unto his sacrifice, etc.”
(p528f) “1. He is able to save also EIS TO PANTELES. The word may have a double sense ; for it may respect the perfection of the work or its duration… Take the word in the first sense, and the meaning is, that he will not effect or work out this or that part of our salvation, do one thing or another that belongs unto it, and leave what remains unto ourselves or others ; but “ he is our Rock, and his work is perfect.” Whatever belongs unto our entire, complete salvation, he is able to effect it. The general notion of the most that are called Christians lies directly against this truth. In the latter sense two things may be intended : (1.) That after an entrance is made into this work, and men begin to be made partakers of deliverance thereby, there may great oppositions be made against it, in temptations, trials, sins, and death, before it be brought unto perfection ; but our Lord Christ, as our faithful high priest, fainteth not in his work, but is able to carry us through all these difficulties, and will do so, until it be finished for ever in heaven. (2.) That this salvation is durable, perpetual, eternal, Isa. xlv. 17. “Salvare in seternum;” to procure “salutem seternam.” But “ favores sunt ampliandi,” and there is nothing hinders but that we may take the words in such a comprehensive sense as to include the meaning of both these interpretations. He is able to save completely as to all parts, fully as to all causes, and for ever in duration.”
(p529) “Whatever hinderances and difficulties lie in the way of the salvation of believers, whatever oppositions do rise against it, the Lord Christ is able, by virtue of his sacerdotal office, and in the exercise of it, to carry the work through them all unto eternal perfection.”
(p531) “The salvation of all sincere gospel worshippers is secured by the actings of the Lord Christ in the discharge of his priestly office.”
(p535f) “But herein lieth the life of the church's consolation, that he continues to live a mediatory life in heaven for us also. It is not, I fear, so considered nor so improved as it ought to be. That Christ died for us, all who own the gospel profess in words; though some so explain their faith, or rather their infidelity, as to deny its proper use, and to evacuate its proper. ends. That so he lived for us here in this world, as that his life was some way or other unto our advantage, at least thus far, that he could not have died if he had not lived before, all men will grant, even those by whom the principal end of this life, namely, to fulfil the law for us, is peremptorily denied; but that Christ now lives a life of glory in heaven, that most men think is for himself alone. But the text speaks to the contrary: “He liveth for ever to make intercession for us.” Neither is this the only end of his present mediatory life in heaven, though this only be here expressed. Should I undertake to show the ends of the present mediatory life of Christ for the church, it would be too great and long a decursion from the text. However, the whole of the work of this life of his may be reduced into these three heads : 1. His immediate actings towards the church itself, which respects his prophetical office. 2. His actings for the church in the world, by virtue and power of his kingly office. 3. His actings with God the Father in their behalf, in the discharge of his sacerdotal office.”
(p538f) “The actual intercession of Christ in heaven, as the second act of his sacerdotal office, is a fundamental article of our faith, and a principal foundation of the church s consolation. So is it asserted to be, 1 John ii. 1, 2. And it is expressed by our apostle as that whereby the death of Christ is made effectual unto us, Rom. viii.34; for it compriseth the whole care and all the actings of Christ, as our high priest, with God in the behalf of the church. This, therefore, is the immediate spring of all gracious communications unto us. For hereby doth he act his own care, love, and compassion; and from thence do we receive all mercy, all supplies of grace and consolation needful unto our duties, temptations, and trials. Hereon depends all our encouragement to make our application unto God, to come with boldness of faith unto the throne of grace, Heb. iv. 15, 16, x. 21, 22. Wherefore, whatever apprehensions we may attain of the manner of it, the thing itself is the centre of our faith, hope, and consolation.”
(p541) “The safest conception and apprehension that we can have of the intercession of Christ, as to the manner of it, is his continual appearance for us in the presence of God, by virtue of his office as the “high priest over the house of God,” representing the efficacy of his oblation, accompanied with tender care, love, and desires for the welfare, supply, deliverance, and salvation of the church. Three things, therefore, concur hereunto : [1.] The presentation of his person before the throne of God on our behalf, Heb. ix. 24. This renders it sacerdotal. His appearance in person for us is required thereunto. [2.] The representation of his death, oblation, and sacrifice for us; which gives power, life, and efficacy unto his intercession. Thence he appears “ in the midst of the throne as a Lamb that had been slain,” Rev. v. 6. Both these are required to make his intercession sacerdotal. But, [3.] Both these do not render it prayer or intercession; for intercession is prayer, 1 Tim. ii. 1, Rom. viii. 26. Wherefore there is in it, moreover, a putting up, a requesting, and offering unto God, of his desires and will for the church, attended with care, love, and compassion, Zech. i. 12.”
(p542f) “So great and glorious is the work of saving believers unto the utmost, that it is necessary that the Lord Christ should lead a mediatory life in heaven, for the perfecting and accomplishment of it : “He liveth for ever to make intercession for us.” It is generally acknowledged that sinners could not be saved without the death of Christ ; but that believers could not be saved without the life of Christ following it, is not so much considered. See Rom. v. 10, viii. 34, 35, etc. It is, it may be, thought by some, that when he had declared the name of God, and revealed the whole counsel of his will ; when he had given us the great example of love and holiness in his life ; when he had fulfilled all righteousness, redeemed us by his blood, and made atonement for our sins by the oblation of himself; confirming his truth and acceptation with God in all these things by his resurrection from the dead, wherein he was “ declared to be the Son of God with power;” that he might have now left us to deal for ourselves, and to build our eternal safety on the foundation that he had laid. But, alas! when all this was done, if he had only ascended into his own glory, to enjoy his majesty, honour, and dominion, without continuing his life and office in our behalf, we had been left poor and helpless; so that both we and all our right unto a heavenly inheritance should have been made a prey unto every subtle and powerful adversary. He could, therefore, no otherwise comfort his disciples, when he was leaving this world, but by promising that “he would not leave them orphans” John xiv. 18 ; that is, that he would still continue to act for them, to be their patron, and to exercise the office of a mediator and advocate with the Father for them. Without this he knew they must be orphans ; that is, such as are not able to defend themselves from injuries, nor secure their own right unto their inheritance.”
(p545f) “The intercession of Christ is the great evidence of the continuance of his love and care, his pity and compassion, towards his church. Had he only continued to rule the church as its king and lord, he had manifested his glorious power, his righteousness, and faithfulness. “ The sceptre of his kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness.” But mercy and compassion, love and tenderness, are constantly ascribed unto him as our high priest. See Heb. iv. 15, v. 1, 2. So the great exercise of his sacerdotal office, in laying down his life for us, and expiating our sins by his blood, is still peculiarly ascribed unto his love, Gal ii. 20 ; Eph. v. 2 ; Rev. i. 5. Wherefore these properties of love and compassion belong peculiarly unto the Lord Christ as our high priest. All men, who have any spiritual experience and understanding, will acknowledge how great the concernment of believers is in these things, and how all their consolation in this world depends upon them. He whose soul hath not been refreshed with a due apprehension of the unspeakable love, tenderness, and compassion of Jesus Christ, is a stranger unto the life of faith, and unto all true spiritual consolation. But how shall we know that the Lord Christ is thus tender, loving, and compassionate, that he continueth so to be; or what evidence or testimony have we of it ? It is true he was eminently so when he was upon the earth in the days of his flesh, and when he laid down his life for us. We know not what change may be wrought in nature itself, by his investiture with glory; nor how inconsistent these affections are, which in us cannot be separated from some weakness and sorrow, with his present state and dignity. Nor can any solid satisfaction be received by curious contemplations of the nature of glorified affections. But herein we have an infallible demonstration of it, that he yet continueth in the exercise of that office with respect whereunto all these affections of love, pity, and compassion, are ascribed unto him. As our high priest, DUNATAI SUMPAQHSAI, he is “able to suffer,” to “condole with,” to have “compassion on” his poor tempted ones, Heb. iv. 15. All these affections doth he continually act and exercise in his intercession. From a sense it is of their wants and weaknesses, of their distresses and temptations, of their states and duties, accompanied with inexpressible love and compassion, that he continually intercedes for them. For he doth so, that their sins may be pardoned, their temptations subdued, their sorrows removed, their trials sanctified, and their persons saved; and doing this continually as a high priest, he is in the continual exercise of love, care, pity, and compassion.”

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