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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. M. Pendleton
From Christian Doctrines: A Compendium of Theology, 1878
A mediator, as the word is commonly used, is a person who interposes between two parties, and the need of interposition arises from the fact that the parties are at variance. In view of what has been said in preceding chapters, it is without doubt true that God and man are at variance. God is holy, and man is sinful. There cannot be more direct antagonism than that between holiness and sin.
If the person of Christ has been properly described—that is, if he is the God-man—he is perfectly qualified to assume the office of mediator. The reason is that he combines in his person the nature of God and the nature of man. In matters of mere human mediation it is sufficient for men to intercede between men. In every such case the mediator possesses the nature of each party. When God and man are the parties at variance, the mediator must have that relation to both which is exemplified only in the person of Christ. He alone possesses the two-fold constitution in which divine and human elements unite.
There is no being like Christ, and while we cannot comprehend his mysterious person, we can see the necessity of it. It was requisite that he should possess the nature of God, in order that the rights of the divine government might be suitably cared for and vindicated. It was indispensable for him to have the nature of man that he might be capable of human sympathies, human sufferings, and a human death.
Paul says, that "there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5); and while we accept the statement as true in its literal import, it is also true in the sense that this one Mediator alone possesses necessary mediatorial qualifications. He only, as "daysman," can lay one hand on the throne of God to protect its majesty inviolate, while with the other he reaches down to man to raise him from his wretchedness and ruin. There is no mediator but Christ. By a blessed necessity the work of mediation is confined to him alone.
The personal holiness of Christ was essential to his mediatorship. We are therefore told that "such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." Heb. 7:26. It is too plain to require argument that a sinful being could not mediate between a holy God and sinful men. In case of such a thing there would be a complicity with evil that would vitiate all attempts at mediation. The purity of Christ's character was put to the severest test. He was artfully and violently assailed by temptation. Satan, no doubt, exerted all his tempting power, and Christ was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Heb. 4:15. He retained his sinless integrity to the last, saying to his enemies, "Which of you convicteth me of sin?" John 8:46. When he died he suffered, "the just for the unjust." (1 Pet. 3:18) His personal holiness shone bright, even amid the darkness that gathered around his cross.
There is another qualification of a mediator between God and men. I cannot do better than to call it the right of self-disposal. Here we see at once how essential to effective mediation is the divine element in the person of Christ. In the absence of this element the right of self-disposal cannot exist. What creature is at liberty to dispose of himself? His supreme obligation is to God. All that he can do is, on his own personal account, due to God—a fact which makes it impossible for one creature to act in the room of another.
But there was substitution in the mediation of Christ. He came into the world to save sinners, and to save them, he must take their place in law and die in their stead. It is therefore said, that he was "made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." (Gal. 4:4, 5) The language implies that he was originally above law. He was never under it till made under it; and how was it possible for him to be made under it? The answer is that it was possible, because he had the right of self-disposal. There was no coercion in the matter. To compel the innocent to suffer for the guilty would violate every principle of propriety and justice, but Jesus suffered voluntarily. He did so in the exercise of his right of self-disposal—a right vital to his mediatorial work.
There is still a mediatorial qualification to be considered. It is the mediator's capability of death. He must be able to die, and must, therefore, have a nature capable of death. The Son of God before his incarnation had not such a nature. He must, for this reason, assume a nature that could die. As human redemption was his purpose, he assumed human nature—the nature of those to be redeemed by his blood. He became "the man Christ Jesus," but we must remember that never as a man did he exist apart from the divine nature. He became incarnate in order to die. Hence we read:
"And for this cause he is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth." (Heb. 9:15-17)
Here we learn the necessity of the Mediator's death, and the fact is set forth prominently that it was necessary to the pardon of sins committed under the first covenant. If so, it is necessary to the forgiveness of sins in all ages. Dr. Ripley well remarks: "The death of Christ being, by anticipation, efficacious for the pardon and salvation of men during the Mosaic age, its efficacy extended back, beyond doubt, to the very commencement of human transgressions; and thus, it appears, it was designed to cover the whole period of the human race." (Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 112, 113)
Unquestionably, all the people of God, from the days of Abel to the coming of Christ, were saved by virtue of the prospective death of the Mediator, even as all saved since that great event have been saved by the blood shed on Calvary. Through all the centuries of the world's history there has been but one Mediator between God and men, and there will be no other while the world stands. The matter, however, claiming special attention in this connection is the necessity of the Mediator's death.
This necessity made it imperative that the Son of God should assume human nature, in order to perform the work of mediation. In other words, he must have a nature capable of death, and he must actually die. Such a nature the second person in the Godhead took into union with his divine nature, and that Christ died is the central fact of history. In view of the foregoing considerations, it is not only manifest that Christ fills the mediatorial office, but that he is the only being in the universe by whom it can be filled. There is but one Jesus Christ.
The general office of Mediator includes the three subordinate offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. There are many passages of Scripture which teach that Christ per-forms the functions of these offices.
1. He is Prophet. "For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you." (Acts 3:22) The point now in hand is the fact that a prophet was to be raised up in fulfilment of the prediction of Moses. The expectation was general among the Jews that such a prophet would come. When, therefore, "the Jews sent priests and Levites" to ask John the Baptist who he was, they inquired, "Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No." (John 1:21)
They evidently meant the prophet of whom Moses spoke, and for whom they were looking. When Jesus came and entered on his ministry, he was recognized as the great prophet, not only by his disciples, but by the people. It is therefore said, "And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." (Matt. 21:10, 11)
It is a very common opinion, if I mistake not, that the chief, if not the exclusive, function of a prophet was prediction—telling beforehand what should come to pass. That the ancient prophets and the New Testament prophets also predicted coming events is true, but they did much more than this. They revealed and interpreted the will of God to men, for he spoke to the fathers by the prophets. If we were to trace the term "prophet" to its origin, we should probably find that it was used at first to denote a messenger speaking in front of a monarch or king, and occupying this position because speaking for the monarch or king. While, therefore, the primary meaning of the Greek preposition pro is in front of, we can easily see that its secondary meaning, in place of, that is, for, was inevitable.
In ancient times "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Pet. 1:21) They spoke for God because God spoke through them. Jesus the great Teacher is in the highest sense the prophet of God. All other prophets were subordinate to him, and indebted to him for their official positions. For this reason it is said, "No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18) We may therefore say that to Christ as prophet the world is indebted for all that it knows of God. As words are used to express ideas, it is probable that the second person of the Trinity was called the WORD, because through him divine revelations have been made to men.
There were gradual disclosures of the will of God from the fall of Adam to the end of the book of Revelation, but they were all under the superintendence of Jehovah-Jesus, the great Prophet. Indeed, it is written in the last chapter of the Bible, "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches." (Rev. 22:16) During the personal ministry of Christ on earth Moses and Elijah rendered to him their devout homage. They appeared with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. Out of all the Old Testament saints there were no two who could more fitly recognize the Prophet of heaven. Their recognition, however, was feeble as compared with the higher recognition expressed in the words that came from the excellent glory: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." (Matt. 17:5)
Christ as Prophet has the seal of the Father's approval. He is the object of the Father's satisfied love, and in the audience of the world the Father says, "Hear ye him." Well may we hear him, for "never man spake like this man." (John 7:46) No man ever spake like him in the authoritative manner of his teaching; in the adaptation of what he said to the common people; in his revelation of the character of God; in his delineation of human nature; in his development of the way of salvation; in the light he poured on the doctrine of the soul's immortality, the resurrection of the body, the bliss of heaven, and the miseries of hell. Whoever spoke like him among sages, philosophers, patriarchs, or prophets? He stands forth in the majesty of unapproachable superiority, extorting from his enemies the reluctant eulogy, "Never man spake like this man." (John 7:46)
Truly we may say there is no teacher, no prophet, like Christ. Happy, thrice happy, are those who reverently hearken to his teachings! They not only find rest to their souls in this life, but will in the life to come be exalted to the enjoyment of eternal glory in heaven. Awful will be the doom of those who turn away from the teachings of Christ. He who hears not this Prophet shall be destroyed. So Moses wrote. Alas! Who can tell how much is implied in the destruction which comes on those who refuse to learn the lessons of salvation as taught by Christ? Good, indeed, were it for them had they never been born!
2. Christ is Priest. The chief functions of his priestly office are atonement and intercession. (Nothing is said on this topic here, as it is treated elsewhere in this book since, as the intelligent reader will know, it has a distinct presentation.)
3. Christ is King. When he stood before Pilate and made what Paul terms "the good confession," he said,
"My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." (John 18:36, 37)
In reading these words we are reminded of what the Saviour said on another occasion: "Judge not according to the appearance." John 7:24. Judgment based on the appearance of things when Jesus was arraigned as an evil-doer would have been fatal to his kingly claims. There was no royal banner around which devoted subjects were rallying and shouting, "O King, live for ever!" The marks of royalty were conspicuously absent.
The "despised Galilean" was insulted by his enemies and forsaken by his friends. Where was his kingdom? In the worldly sense of the term there was none. He, however, referred to a kingdom not of this world, and claimed it as his own. He said, "My kingdom." A kingdom implies subjects, and the loyal subjects of Jesus are those who are "of the truth." This utterance by the illustric.us prisoner at Pilate's bar was enough to relieve the suspicious Roman emperor Tiberius of all apprehension. The subjects of Caesar were not required to be "of the truth."
Christ is King. I refer not now to the dominion which he, as one of the persons of the Godhead, exercised before his incarnation. There must have been such dominion, for as he made all things he must have ruled all things. I refer to Christ's mediatorial kingdom. As the God-man, all authority is committed to him. This authority he is represented as receiving from the Father. For this reason it is said, "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand." (John 3:35)
The Son was appointed to his mediatorial kingship by the Father, and is therefore inferior to the Father in office, though equal in nature. The official subordination of Christ to the Father makes plain such scriptures as the following:
"Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." (Ps. 2:6)
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36)
"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:9-11)
It will be seen from these passages that Christ, as mediatorial Lord and King, has been exalted to universal dominion. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet." "Then cometh the end," and, according to the teaching of Paul, it seems that Christ is to deliver up his mediatorial kingdom to God the Father, from whom he received it, that God, in his threefold unity, may be all in all. See 1 Cor. 15:24-28. I, of course, admit that there is some obscurity resting on this passage, which I am incompetent to remove.
The phrases "kingdom of Christ," "kingdom of heaven," and "kingdom of God" are used in the Scriptures with some diversity of meaning. Many of the parables of Christ were designed to teach and illustrate important truths concerning his kingdom, but they were not all designed to teach and illustrate the same truths. Sometimes one peculiarity of the kingdom is presented, and sometimes another.
One parable, it may be, refers to the kingdom as embracing Christ's rule over the righteous and wicked; and in another, his dominion over his saints may be specially referred to. A notable instance of his dominion over the good and the bad is seen in the parable of the "Tares and Wheat." In his explanation of this parable Jesus said, "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity." (Matt. 13:41)
There is a sense, then, in which "things that offend" and persons who "do iniquity" are in the kingdom of heaven, but they are to be gathered out by angels on the last day. When, however, Paul refers to deliverance from the power of darkness and translation into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col. 1:13), it is plain that regenerate persons are meant. They alone have been the subjects of such a deliverance and such a translation. When James mentions the heirs of the kingdom which God "hath promised to them who love him" (Chap. 2:5), there seems to be special reference to the kingdom of glory. When the kingdom of God is said to be "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom 14:17), the blessed effects of the reign of God in the soul are signified.
But my purpose does not permit me to enlarge on matters like these. I wish to make prominent the fact that Jesus claims the right to exercise kingly authority over his churches. Such right is implied in the first use of the term "church" in the New Testament: "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18) It will be observed that Christ says "my church." It was to be his property, belonging to him in a sense that justified him in claiming it as his own.
In almost numberless cases in the New Testament the word church is used to describe a local congregation of Christ's baptized disciples, united in the belief of what he has said, and covenanting to do what he has commanded. In the former sense the church of course belongs to Christ, having been bought with his blood. He is her King, and she cheerfully and gladly yields to his authority, rejoicing to own him as Lord. Through endless ages the church, "the sacramental host of God's elect," will recognize Christ as the Author of redemption, and be animated by the spirit of loyal submission and loving obedience to him.
As to local assemblies, called churches in the New Testament, their very organization implies an acknowledgment of Christ's kingly authority. Their right to existence depends on his authority. Those who can rightfully enter into them as members must first be called out of the world. This calling out from the world must ever precede scriptural church membership; and they are called out who obey Christ's command and experience the truth of his promise, " Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." of passages. I do not, therefore, examine this controverted verse. My opinion is that the "Rock" is Christ the Son of the living God. This was the great truth confessed by Peter, which the Father had revealed to him. (Matt. 11:28)
This, however, is not all that the called out" are required to do. Their King and their Lord says, "Take my yoke upon you." (v. 29) The yoke is the symbol of subjection. Christ requires unconditional subjection, and this is professed in the ordinance of baptism which formally draws the line of demarcation between the churches of Christ and the world of the ungodly. This ordinance, of open, public consecration, he himself appointed, for it was he who said to his apostles, "Go ye, therefore, and teach [disciple] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt. 28:19, 20)
Baptism is administered and received upon the authority of Christ. The subjects of baptism are baptized into Christ; and having professed their faith in his name, are to be instructed to do all that he has commanded. The language is very specific: "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The great commission was to be executed first among Jews, who had an almost idolatrous reverence for what Moses had commanded; but Jesus, the King of his churches, said, "teaching them to observe," not what Moses commanded, but "all things whatsoever I have commanded.” The apostles had no discretionary authority, but were strictly required to teach the baptized disciples of Christ to observe all his commands.
The exclusive authority of Christ as King was recognized in the formation of churches, and hence Paul uses the phrase "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16), and takes it for granted that "the church is subject to Christ." (Eph. 5:24) The nature of a church - its membership, its offices, its doctrines, its government, its discipline, its work of evangelization - all was determined by Christ. Every church should regard itself as an executive democracy solemnly appointed to carry into effect the laws of Christ. He is the Lawgiver. The legislation in his kingdom is all his own. He is "Head over all things to the church.”