Definite Atonement and Christ’s Intercession (Owen)

One of the major biblical reasons why I believe and teach the doctrine of limited atonement (better: definite atonement) has to do with Jesus’ work of salvation.  Specifically, the Bible teaches that Jesus’ obedience, suffering, and death is very much connected to his resurrection, ascension, and intercession (Is. 53:12b, Rom. 8:33-34).  Those for whom Jesus obeyed, suffered, and died are the same ones for whom he rose, ascended, and intercedes.  John Owen made this argument in The Death of Death, where he says that Christ’s oblation and his intercession are intimately connected:

“…They are both alike intended for the obtaining and accomplishing the same entire and complete end proposed, that is, the effectual bringing of many sons to glory, for the praise of God’s grace.  …The object of the one is of no larger extent than the object of the other.  In other words, Christ intercedes on behalf of the ones he offered himself for, and only those, as he says himself in John 17:19.

…The sole end why Christ procured anything by his death was that it might be applied to them for whom it was so procured.  The sum is, that the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ are one entire means for the producing of the same effect, the very end of the oblation being that all those things which are bestowed by the intercession of Christ, and without whose application it should certainly fail of the end proposed in it….”

We cannot say that Christ died for all and only intercedes for some, since Paul said that Christ who died for us also intercedes for us (Rom. 8:33-34).  Again, here’s Owen:

“That he died for all and intercedeth only for some will scarcely be squared to this text, especially considering the foundation of all this, which is (verse 32) the love of God which moved him to give up Christ do death for us all; upon which the apostle infers a kind of impossibility in not giving us all good things in him;  which how it can be reconciled with their opinion who affirm that he gave his Son for millions to whom he will give neither grace nor glory, I cannot see.

The extent of Christ’s atonement matches the extent of his intercession.  His atonement is limited to the elect, as is his intercession.  It’s not theological nitpicking; this has to do with the glorious work of Christ!  We never want to detract or subtract from Christ’s work.  Furthermore, it is a great comfort to know that Jesus definitely died for me and now definitely intercedes for me! He left nothing undone in the work of redemption.  So I can rest comfortably in his finished work.

The above quotes (edited for readability and length) are found in Owen’s The Death of Death, p. 68-70.

Shane Lems

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Prayer, Intercession, and Perseverance

The Christian's Reasonable Service, 4 Volumes Sometimes it’s hard to pray.  Sometimes Christians find themselves in a spiritual funk in which they can barely breathe out a prayer to God.  I’ve had it before where all I could really say was a weak, “Help me, God!”  It’s never fun or easy to go through these times in life; they are not good times!

Thankfully Jesus never stops interceding for us even when we stop calling upon him for a time.  Though we should pray as much as possible, our salvation doesn’t depend upon our works or our prayers – it depends upon Christ’s work and prayers!  In other words, Christ’s intercession goes hand in hand with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (e.g. see Lk 22.31-32).  Wilhelmus a Brakel (d. 1711) put it this way (note especially the second paragraph):

“…The intercession of Christ renders much support in prayer. If one considers and believes 1) that every prayer, every sigh, and the lifting up of the soul heavenward for God’s Spirit and grace is a fruit of His intercession, whereby each believer receives the Holy Spirit (John 14:16); 2) that He brings every motion of the soul and the expression of one’s desires before the throne, presents it to His Father, and 3) that all this transpires in His Name, in reference to His merits and by His Spirit; 4) that on the basis of His merits these prayers can rightfully be heard, and furthermore 5) that He makes their desires His own, adding His incense to them, thus making their prayer pleasing to Him — if all this is considered and believed, this will greatly stimulate prayer. It will cause us to pray attentively, fervently, and boldly. It yields confidence that our prayer, however feeble, is pleasing, is received, and will be heard” (numbers added – spl).

“Yes, when we are not able to pray, be it due to a negative spiritual frame, or in the hour of death, and contemplate and believe that the Lord Jesus prays for us even then and remains active as the faithful Intercessor who will not neglect our affairs, but will bring them to a certain conclusion, not resting until He has brought us to Himself — this yields much strength, causing us to surrender ourselves in quiet confidence into His hands. Due to His intercession we will be able to say calmly and confidently, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Ps 138:8).

W. a Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1 pages 555-556.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Wandering Mind in Prayer

Sometimes when the Christian prays, his or her mind wanders.  We’ve all had it, no doubt, when we’re praying and our mind ends up thinking about our son’s dentist appointment or our friend’s new mountain bike.  While a wandering mind during prayer isn’t a good thing, we shouldn’t despair because of it.  William Gurnall (d. 1679) gives some consoling thoughts for Christians who are downcast because of frequent wandering in prayer.  I appreciate Gurnall’s tone – it’s not “Try harder, you fool!” but “Don’t be downcast, dear brother or sister.  God is merciful.”   I’ve edited his list to keep in brief and readable.

1) The affliction of your spirit because of your wanderings in prayer should be more comforting to you than discomforting.  Why?  Because even the best saints have acknowledge wandering during prayer.  Take David or Paul for example.  No saint has complete mastery of all his thoughts.

2) Wandering in prayer is a necessary infirmity of your imperfect state.  As long as you are faithful to resist wanderings and mourn for them, they move God to pity you rather than be angry with you.  It is one thing for a child to purposely spoil the work his father has given him to do; it is another when the child fails to do it perfectly because of weakness.  Christ’s favorable answer to his disciples’ drowsiness in prayer was, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

3) Believers’ prayers pass a refining before they come into God’s hands.  Our prayers come to God under the corrector’s hand; Christ intercedes for us.  Our Lord Jesus inspects our prayers and sets right all our broken requests and misplaced petitions.  He washes out our blots with his blood.  What is of his own Spirit’s breathing he presents to the Father, and what our fleshly part added he hides.  This was the sweet gospel truth wrapped up in the priest’s bearing the sins of their holy offerings (Ex 28:38).

4) Though the presence of wanderings in prayer are an affliction to you, yet God will make them of singular use to you. a) To humble you and keep you from pride in prayer, b) to keep you wakeful and circumspect in your Christian course – to remind you that the “good fight of faith” is not yet over, and c) to give you patience and empathy for other Christians who struggle with the same problem(s).

5) In your faithful conflict with wanderings in prayer, you may remind yourself that one day you will no longer wander in prayer.  Slowly in this life you will be sanctified, even in your prayers, but the complete victory will come when Jesus returns.  Therefore maintain the fight…pray, and mourn than you can’t pray any better.  Just remember, victory is coming.

The unedited and unabridged section is found in the 11th part of Gurnall’s lengthy treatise on the Armor of God (Eph. 6) called, The Christian in Complete Armor (on Kindle for just $.99).

shane lems

Comfort In and Through Temptation

What comfort do Christians have in and through temptation?  How does the gospel apply when Satan tempts us?  Thomas Brooks answered these questions brilliantly in his book, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod.  One of the comforts Christians have in and through affliction is Christ’s continual priestly intercession for us.  Below is an edited summary of how Brooks explained this gospel truth.  If Satan has been busy tempting you again lately, read carefully.

“When Satan is tempting you, Christ in the court of glory is interceding for you (Luke 22:31-32).  Satan would have happily been shaking Peter up and down, as wheat is shaken in a fan; but Christ’s intercession frustrates Satan’s designed temptations.  Whenever Satan stands at our side to tempt us, Christ stands at his Father’s side to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25 ‘he ever lives to make intercession.’).

“When Satan puts in his pleas and commences lawsuit upon lawsuit against us, Christ still undertakes our cause; he answers all his pleas, and dismisses Satan’s charges at every point. …When Satan pleads, ‘Lord! here are such and such sins thy children have committed!  Here and here are such duties they have omitted!  Here are such and such mercies they have not improved upon!  Here are such and such sacraments they have slighted!  Here are such and such motions of the Spirit which they have quenched!’ 

“When Satan places those charge against us, divine justice answers: “All this is true, but Christ has appeared on their behalf; he has pleaded their cause, he has fully and fairly answered whatever has been objected and given complete satisfaction to the utmost farthing, so that here is no accusation nor condemnation that can stand in force against them.  ‘Who is he that condemns?  It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.’  Christ’s intercession should be the soul’s anchor-hold in time of temptation.  Jesus is most active for you when Satan is most busy tempting you.”

Without Christ’s continual intercession, we would no doubt be “sifted as wheat” by Satan.  We’d give into temptation at every turn.  But the good news is that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us.  He prays for us, that our faith may not fail.  And because he is the Son of God, the perfect and eternal High Priest who lives forever, his intercession is effective.  We may be greatly tempted, but Christ’s intercession is greater.

The above quote is found in The Works of Thomas Brooks, volume 1, pages 367-368.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

To The Uttermost

Here’s a great mini commentary on Hebrews 7:25 (…consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them).  It’s by John Newton from a letter written on July 9, 1767.

“An awful cause we had to manage in the court of heaven; and, when we expected to be asked what we could say, in order that judgment should not be given and executed speedily against us, we were speechless and without plea. We could not deny the fact [that we were guilty] or offer the least amends. We could neither stand nor flee.”

“But since Jesus has been pleased to take our affairs in hand, how are appearances changed! The law is fulfilled, justice satisfied, and heaven opened to those who were upon the brink of despair and destruction.  And Jesus did not plead for us once only, but he ‘ever lives to make intercession for us.’ Let us then take courage.”

“That word ‘uttermost’ (Heb. 7:25) includes all that can be said. Take an estimate of all our sins, all our temptations, all our difficulties, all our fears, and all our backslidings of every kind, still the word uttermost goes beyond them all. And, since he ever lives to make intercession, since he is the righteous one who is always heard, since his promise and compassions are unchangeable, may his Spirit enable us to apply the conclusion without wavering to our soul’s comfort, that he is indeed able and willing, and determined, to save us even to the uttermost.”

John Newton, The Works of John Newton, vol. 6 p. 66.

rev. shane lems

I Will Pray For You

 I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s explanation of Christ’s ongoing intercession for his people (Heb. 7:25).  We often say, “I’ll pray for you,” but forget to do so because of all sorts of different circumstances.  Jesus, however, never forgets to intercede for his sheep.

“This may be the most thing to know, not how he prayed, although that is important, but that he is at this very moment praying – for us.  Jesus is our master in prayer; he is also our companion in prayer.  He says to us, ‘I’ll pray for you…’ – and does it.  His promise to pray for us is not lost or overlooked in a vast heavenly clutter of petitions and intercessions, confessions and thanksgivings, ascending in a cloud of incense to his altar.  it defeats our imagination to understand how this takes place, but we have it on authority that it does.”

“The letter to the Hebrews elaborates this continuously contemporary praying priesthood of the ascended Jesus.  The text insist that Jesus did not just pray for us once and leave it at that; instead, ‘he always lives to make intercession’ for us (Heb. 7:25).  Jesus prays.  He is praying for us right now.  He was praying for us yesterday.  He will be praying for us tonight as we sleep and tomorrow morning as we wake up.  Jesus praying for us is a current event.”

“You don’t think you know how to pray?  Yes, there is much to learn; meanwhile Jesus is praying for you.  You don’t feel like praying?  Relax, feelings come and go; meanwhile Jesus is praying for you.  You don’t have time to pray?  Jesus doesn’t mind waiting; meanwhile he has plenty of time to pray for you.”

One great aspect of the gospel is that Jesus’ intercession is effectual; those whom he died for are those for whom he also intercedes.  Definite atonement is linked to definite intercession.   Christ’s people have this dual assurance that they will make it through tough times, trials, temptations, and afflictions, just as Peter made it through his, for example (Lk. 22:32).  Remember, Christian, Jesus is praying for you.  And he will not stop doing so.

Here’s the book where the above quotes can be found: Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant, 163-4.

shane lems