Christ the High Priest by Thomas Watson (1620-1686)Articles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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The work of the High Priest Jesus Christ considered.
Now once in the end of the world has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.—Hebrews 9:26
QUESTION: How does Christ execute the office of a priest? Answer: In His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us. What are the parts of Christ’s priestly office? Christ’s priestly office has two parts: His satisfaction and intercession.
HIS SATISFACTION: This consists of two branches: (1) His active obedience: He fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Christ did everything that the Law required. His holy life was a perfect commentary upon the Law of God; and He obeyed the Law for us. (2) His passive obedience: Our guilt being transferred and imputed to Him, He suffered the penalty that was due to us. He came into the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The paschal lamb slain was a type of Christ Who was offered up in sacrifice for us. Sin could not be done away without blood. Without blood is no remission (Hebrews 9:22). Christ was not only a lamb without spot, but a lamb slain. Why was it requisite there should be a priest? There needed a priest to be an umpire, to mediate between a guilty creature and a holy God. How could Christ suffer, being God? Christ suffered only in the human nature. But if only Christ’s humanity suffered, how could this suffering satisfy for sin? The human nature being united to the divine, the human nature suffered, the divine satisfied. Christ’s Godhead supported the human nature that it did not faint and gave virtue to His sufferings. The altar sanctifies the thing offered on it (Matthew 23:19). The altar of Christ’s divine nature sanctified the sacrifice of His death and made it of infinite value. Wherein does the greatness of Christ’s sufferings appear? (1) In the sufferings of His body. He suffered truly, not in appearance only. The apostle calls it “the death of the cross,” (Phil. 2:8)…The thoughts of this made Christ sweat great drops of blood in the garden (Luke 22:44). It was an ignominious, painful, cursed death. Christ suffered in all His senses. His eyes beheld two sad objects: His enemies insulting and His mother weeping. His ears were filled with the revilings of the people. “He saved others, himself he cannot save,” (Matthew 27:42). His smell was offended when their spittle fell upon His face. His taste, when they gave Him gall and vinegar to drink. His feeling, when His head suffered with thorns, His hands and feet with the nails. His whole body was one great wound; now was this white lily dyed with purple color. (2) In the sufferings of His soul. He was pressed in the wine—the press of His Father’s wrath. This caused that vociferation and outcry on the cross, “My God, my God,” (Matthew 27:46). Christ suffered a double eclipse upon the cross—an eclipse of the sun and an eclipse of the light of God’s countenance. How bitter was this agony!…Christ felt the pains of hell in His soul, though not locally, yet equivalently. Why did Christ suffer? Surely not for any desert of His own. “The Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself,” (Dan 9:26; Isa 53:6)—it was for us…He suffered that He might satisfy God’s justice for us. We, by our sins, had infinitely wronged God; and, could we have shed rivers of tears, offered up millions of holocausts and burnt offerings, we could never have pacified an angry Deity. Therefore, Christ must die that God’s justice may be satisfied. It is hotly debated among divines, whether God could have forgiven sin freely without a sacrifice. Not to dispute what God could have done, when He was resolved to have the Law satisfied and to have man saved in a way of justice as well as mercy, it was necessary that Christ should lay down His life as a sacrifice.
(1) To fulfill the predictions of Scripture: “Thus it behoved Christ to suffer,” (Luke 24:46).
(2) To bring us into favor with God. It is one thing for a traitor to be pardoned, and another thing to be made a favorite. Christ’s blood is not only called a sacrifice, whereby God is appeased, but a propitiation, whereby God becomes gracious and friendly to us. Christ is our mercyseat, from which God gives answers of peace to us.
(3) Christ died that He might make good His last will and testament with His blood. There were many legacies that Christ bequeathed to believers, which had been all null and void had He not died and by His death confirmed the will (Hebrews 9:16). A testament is in force after men are dead: the mission of the Spirit, the promises, those legacies, were not in force until Christ’s death; but Christ by His blood has sealed them, and believers may lay claim to them.
(4) He died that He might purchase for us glorious mansions. Therefore heaven is called not only a promised, but a “purchased possession,” (Ephesians 1:14). Christ died for our preferment; He suffered that we might reign; He hung upon the cross that we might sit upon the throne. Heaven was shut: the cross of Christ is the ladder by which we ascend to heaven. His crucifixion is our coronation. Use one: In the bloody sacrifice of Christ, see the horrid nature of sin. Sin, it is true, is odious as it banished Adam out of paradise and threw the angels into hell. But that which most of all makes it appear horrid is this: it made Christ veil His glory and lose His blood. We should look upon sin with indignation, pursue it with a holy malice, and shed the blood of those sins that shed Christ’s blood…The sight of Christ’s bleeding body should incense us against sin…Let not that be our joy, which made Christ a man of sorrow. Use two: Is Christ our Priest sacrificed? See God’s mercy and justice displayed. I may say as the apostle, “Behold the goodness and severity of God,” (Romans 11:22).
(1) The goodness of God in providing a sacrifice. Had not Christ suffered upon the cross, we must have lain in hell forever, satisfying God’s justice.
(2) The severity of God. Though it were His own Son, the Son of His love, and our sins were but imputed to Him, yet God did not spare Him, but His wrath did flame against Him (Romans 8:32). If God was thus severe to His own Son, how dreadful will He be one day to His enemies! Such as die in willful impenitence must feel the same wrath as Christ did; and because they cannot bear it at once, therefore they must endure it forever. Use three: Is Christ our Priest, Who was sacrificed for us? Then see the endeared affection of Christ to us sinners. “The cross,” says Augustine, “was a pulpit, in which Christ preached His love to the world.” That Christ should die was more than if all the angels had been turned to dust; and especially that Christ should die as a malefactor, having the weight of…men’s sins laid upon Him, and that He should die for His enemies (Romans 5:10). The balm-tree weeps out its precious balm to heal those that cut and mangle it; so Christ shed His blood to heal those that crucified Him. He died freely. It is called the offering of the body of Jesus (Hebrews 10:10). Though His sufferings were so great that they made Him sigh, weep, and bleed; yet they could not make Him repent. “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied,” (Isaiah 53:2). Christ had hard travail upon the cross, yet He does not repent of it, but thinks His sweat and blood well bestowed because He sees redemption brought forth to the world. Oh infinite, amazing love of Christ! A love that passeth knowledge!—that neither man nor angel can parallel (Ephesians 3:19). How should we be affected with this love!…At Christ’s death and passion, the very stones cleave asunder, “The rocks rent,” (Matthew 27:51). Not to be affected with Christ’s love in dying is to have hearts harder than rocks. Use four: Is Christ our sacrifice? Then see the excellence of His sacrifice. (1) It is perfect. “By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” (Hebrews 10:14). Therefore, how impious are those who join their merits and the prayers of saints with Christ’s sacrifice! They offer Him up daily in the mass, as if Christ’s sacrifice on the cross were imperfect. This is a blasphemy against Christ’s priestly office.
(2) Christ’s sacrifice is meritorious. He not only died for our example, but to merit salvation. The person Who suffered being God as well as man put virtue into His sufferings; and our sins were expiated and God appeased…No sooner did Christ die, but God’s anger was pacified.
(3) This sacrifice is beneficial…It procures justification of our persons, acceptance of our service, access to God with boldness, and entrance into the holy place of heaven (Hebrews 10:19)…Israel passed through the Red Sea to Canaan; so through the red sea of Christ’s blood, we enter into the heavenly Canaan. Use five: Let us apply this blood of Christ. All the virtue of a medicine is in the application. Though the medicine be made of the blood of God, it will not heal unless applied by faith…Faith makes Christ’s sacrifice ours. “Christ Jesus my Lord,” (Phil. 3:8). It is not gold in the mine that enriches, but gold in the hand. Faith is the hand that receives Christ’s golden merits…Faith opens the orifice of Christ’s wounds and drinks the precious tonic of His blood. Without faith, Christ Himself will not avail us. Use six: This sacrifice of Christ’s blood may infinitely comfort us. This is the blood of atonement. “Christ’s cross is the hinge of our deliverance,” (John Calvin); the hinge and fountain of our comfort.
(1) This blood comforts in case of guilt! “Oh,” says the soul, “my sins trouble me, but Christ’s blood was shed for the remission of sin (Matthew 26:28).” Let us see our sins laid on Christ, and then they are no more ours but His.
(2) In case of pollution. Christ’s blood is a healing and cleansing blood. It is healing. “With his stripes we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5). It is the best weapon-salve —it heals at a distance. Though Christ be in heaven, we may feel the virtue of His blood healing our bloody issue. And it is cleansing. It is therefore compared to fountain-water (Zec 13:1). The word is a mirror to show us our spots, and Christ’s blood is a fountain to wash them away; it turns leprosy into purity. “The blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all our sin,” (1 John 1:7). There is indeed one spot so black that Christ’s blood does not wash away, viz., the sin against the Holy Ghost. Not but that there is virtue enough in Christ’s blood to wash it away; but he who has sinned that sin will not be washed; he contemns Christ’s blood and tramples it under foot (Hebrews 10:29). Thus, we see what a strong tonic Christ’s blood is: it is the anchor-hold of our faith, the spring of our joy, the crown of our desires, and the only support both in life and death. In all our fears, let us comfort ourselves with the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ’s blood. Christ died both as a purchaser and as a conqueror: as a purchaser in regard of God, having by His blood obtained our salvation, and as a conqueror in regard of Satan, the cross being His triumphant chariot, wherein He has led hell and death captive. Use seven: Bless God for this precious sacrifice of Christ’s death. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” (Psalm 103:1). And for what does David bless Him? “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction!” Christ gave Himself a sin offering for us; let us give ourselves a thank-offering to Him. If a man redeems another out of debt, will he not be grateful? Let us present Christ with the fruits of righteousness, which are unto the glory and praise of God.
From A Body of Divinity.
Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686): Nonconformist Puritan preacher and prolific author; actual place and date of birth unknown.