The Present Ministry of Christ As High Priest and Advocate.
THOUGH, as to our exalted position, we are seated in the heavenlies in Christ, we are yet in a scene where we are subject to temptations, infirmities, and sins; for which our God, blessed be His name! has made ample provision in the Priesthood and Advocacy of Christ. These offices of Christ we must not look upon as one and the same; they are distinct, they are different. Priesthood is between God and His people. Advocacy is between the Father and His children. The one is for us as worshippers, the other is connected with our fellowship with the Father and His Son. The one is preventive, the other restorative. These two distinctions are plainly brought before us in the history of Peter in Luke xxii. 31: "The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat." Satan could enter into a Judas Iscariot, a child of his own, a son of perdition, but he could only sift Peter, a child of God. Satan came and asked leave of the Lord (for this is implied in the word "desire") to sift all the disciples (the word you being in the plural). But the Lord tells Peter in verse 32, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." All God's people must learn what the flesh is, in company with God, like Paul, or in company with the devil, like Peter. In agriculture, the corn being thrashed, the chaff is removed by the fan or winnowing machine. The chaff, denoting professors of religion without Christ, is separated from the wheat at the harvest of the great God; but the wheat has to undergo a further process ere it is fit for use; particles of earth and impurities have to be removed first. This is done through the operation of the sieve. The process is painful. God permits Satan to sift us, to remove frowardness, self-confidence, and boasting, in order that we may be fit for His use.
Peter's was a sad case; he knew Jesus as His Saviour, but he did not know Peter. "Man know thyself!" is an old motto of the ancients; but alas! how little God's children know themselves! The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self must run on parallel lines. The more we know of God, the less we shall boast of anything good or perfect in ourselves. Take the case of Paul. In the year A.D. 59, he wrote to the Corinthians, "I am the least of the apostles." In A.D. 64, he wrote, "I am less than the least of all saints"; and in A.D. 65, at the close of his most eventful and blessed life, "I am," not as I was in my unconverted days, but "I am the chief of sinners." So, the more Paul knew of God, the more he could say, "In me, that is in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing." But Peter, self-confident and boasting, asserted that he was ready to go to prison and to death with Christ. Oh! how lamentably he failed; and finally, after many steps of departure from Him, he cursed and swore (words red-hot from Satan, and spoken from the mouth of a child of God!) that he did not know Jesus. Christ foreshadowing His high-priestly intercession for His people, and foreseeing His poor disciple's danger, warns him, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not"; not that he was not to fail, but that having failed, his faith might not give way. Here was the Lord interceding for Peter before he failed, just as He now prays for us, knowing the constant danger to which we are exposed. Peter did not mind the warning, but fell, but his faith failed not. The Lord had said, "Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me." During the utterance of his last denial, the cock crew. The Lord heard it. Peter heard it. The Lord, in the midst of His enemies and His accusers, thought upon Peter. He turned and looked upon Peter. That look broke his heart. There was no reproach in that look; there was no anger in that look; it was a look of the deepest, tenderest love. Here came in the Advocacy of Christ to restore His fallen, sinful child. Peter remembered the Word which the Lord had said unto him, and thus the backslider was restored in conscience to the joy of God's salvation. The word entered his conscience. This is the application of the water to his feet, and the bitter tears showed how well it was doing its work.
Thus we see that His Priesthood is exercised to sustain us in our path of faith down here, and to prevent our giving way to sin, amidst all the weakness, temptation, and opposition we have to encounter in our way through this world to our home above, giving us liberty to worship God acceptably. His Advocacy is exercised for us when we have been heedless, careless, out of communion, or sinning, in order to restore us to the enjoyment of God's presence and fellowship. I may just say that Priesthood is chiefly found in Hebrews, and Advocacy in John's Gospel and First Epistle. How blessed to know that the Man of Calvary is the Man in the Glory, tender-hearted, loving, sympathizing, occupied continuously on our behalf, and this till He has us with Himself, and like Himself, in the Father's house!
As we said before, the Advocacy of Christ is called into existence by the sins of God's people. How strange that it should be so! When Christ died, all our sins—past, present, and future—were atoned for. When we believed on Him—all our past sins were forgiven. "I write unto you, little children" (the whole family of God), "because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." (1 John ii. 12) "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." So that we have no longer sin on us as a condemning power, though we have sin in us as an attendant evil. "If we" (who are cleansed from all sin) "say we have no sin" (in us), "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It is with this sin in us that we are now about to deal. When we believed as sinners, our relationship to God was changed. We are no longer rebels, enemies, unsaved sinners, but sons and daughters. God can no more tolerate sin in His children than He can in the unconverted; in fact, He hates it more. We must remember that though, as to our standing, we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, yet, as to the actual fact of our condition, we are in the body. We are actually living in a scene where we are subject to fall, backslide, and sin, though children of God. I do not for a moment say we have any right to do any of these, and it is to the shame of any children of God if they do, for we are now not obliged to do wrong, but enabled to do right. God has made perfect provision in order that we may be "more than conquerors through Him that loved us." For this He hath given us two Advocates—one, the Holy Spirit, to act in us; the other, Christ at the right hand of the Father, to act for us. The first, that we may not sin; the other, if we do, to restore us.
The word Advocate (paracletos) is used in John xiv., when the Lord promised His people another Comforter or Advocate, as well as in 1 John ii. 1. Advocate hardly conveys to us the full and true meaning of the word. It really means one who is called to assist or help another; one who transacts our affairs, looks after our interests; in fact, an agent. Bearing this meaning in view, we may look upon our first Advocate or Comforter, the Lord Jesus, as gone back to Heaven to manage our affairs, and look after our interests with the Father; and He has sent down the Holy Spirit to indwell and look after His interests in us. We are gainers by the Lord's returning to the Father. We have now two Advocates instead of one. The Holy Ghost dwells in the believer as our power over the indwelling evil, which is born of the flesh, and is flesh, so that it may be kept under and brought into subjection, and be as though it did not exist, and nothing but Christ be seen in the believer's life. It cannot be eradicated or exterminated. It can be kept down, and continuous victory be gotten over it. For this, two things are needful; first, the power of an ungrieved Holy Spirit in us, and second, communion with, or abiding in, the Lord.
In that much-misunderstood portion of the Word, 1 John iii. 4-10, we have God considering the two families of the human race; first, those who do—i.e. practice or habitually commit—sin, as children of the devil; and, second, His Own children, who do not make sin a practice. Is a man born of God? He does not do or practice sin. Is the course of his life righteousness and love? He is born of God. Does he abide in Christ? He sinneth not. He gets the victory over it, and it is annulled. "My little children"—the whole family of God—"these things write I unto you, that ye sin not" (1 John ii. 1); that is, do not let this sin in you break out. Remember, the Holy Spirit is in you as your power over it. If He is grieved, the power is gone, the pressure is removed, consequently, the child of God sins in some way or another. We have the Spirit in us that we may not fall; but, blessed be God! We have Christ our Advocate, when we do fall, to pick us up and put us on our feet again, that we may, on our confession, be restored to communion, which was broken, once more. To say "I cannot help sinning" is to deny the foundation of Christianity. To say, "I cannot sin" is a deceit and a delusion, ending in a fall. To say, "I have not sinned" is to make God a liar, and show our ignorance of what sin is. To say, "I need not sin" is to state a blessed Christian privilege.
Now mark the next clause: "If any man (any child of God) sin." In case you are tripped up through carelessness or unwatchfulness, what then? You become a child of the devil, and there is no hope for you unless you are converted over again? No; blessed be God! But if we sin, "we have an Advocate with the Father," the full value of Whose blood is ever before God, and, on the ground of it, He acts for and with us, when sin has come in. The result of His action is that the Holy Spirit awakens our conscience, producing in our souls the sense of failure, and leading us into self-judgment, and true confession of the sin. I say true confession because there is a great deal of confession that is not genuine, not from the heart, merely lip service. It is not lightly and flippantly saying we have sinned, and then returning to our sins again. This is Satan's way of deceiving and hardening the heart. True confession comes from a contrite, broken heart. We may depend on it that when a true-hearted child of God is betrayed into sin, the Holy Spirit will produce in him such a sense of it, that it will lead him into such an intense self-loathing, such an abhorrence of the evil, such thorough self-judgment in the presence of God as that he cannot lightly go and commit this sin again. In Proverbs xxviii. 13, we read, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy."
Again, in 1 John i. 9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just"—on the ground of blood—"to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Here we have the precious fruit of the double Advocacy. If a child of God sin, the blessed Paraclete on high intercedes with the Father—pleads the full merits of His atoning work—prays for the erring one on the ground of having borne the judgment of that very sin. Then the other Paraclete acts on the conscience, produces contrition and confession, and brings the soul back into the light in the sweet sense that the sin is forgiven, the unrighteousness cleansed, and the communion perfectly restored. Before there can be real self-judgment and confession, the Advocate on high must first act.
A child under fear of punishment may go to his father and ask forgiveness, where there was no real heart-work or contrition. If you had a child who did some grievous wrong, or disobeyed you, and that child came to you with a broken heart and contrite spirit, and confessed to you his sin, how would you act? Would you repel him, and say, "I disown you, and turn you from my door"; or, coldly, "Yes, I forgive you this time, but see you don't do it again?” I think not. The tale of sorrow, the flood of tears, the broken heart, would draw deepest love from your heart. You would throw your arms round him and say, "My darling child, I forgive you heartily." And if we act so to our children, how much more does our Heavenly Father, when we have grieved His loving heart and sinned. And when we come to Him humbled and conscience-stricken, from our hearts confessing all, will He not lovingly, ungrudgingly forgive, and cleanse, and restore us? Then the clouds are broken, and once more the sun of our Father's countenance beams into our souls in all its warmth and brightness. And the lesson—bitter as it has been—will not be forgotten or barren of result; for the Lord, in His wisdom and love, makes our very failures contribute to our blessing. We learn to be humble and dependent and to walk softly, having proved the deceitful character of our own hearts, and thus become useful to others. Let us not then trifle anymore with things that would lead us away from God, and out of communion with Him, lest we bring dishonor on His blessed name and damage to His glorious cause.
--From a helpful penny book by Mr. T. Shuldham Henry, entitled:
“Christ FOR Me”, published by J. E. Hawkins.