“We believe that we have no access unto God, but alone through the only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, who therefore became man, having united in one person the divine and human natures, that we men might have access to the divine Majesty, which access would otherwise be barred against us. But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between him and us, ought in no wise to affright us by his majesty, or cause us to seek another according to our fancy. For there is no creature either in heaven or on earth who loveth us more than Jesus Christ; who, though he was in the form of God, yet made himself and no reputation, and took upon him the form of a man,’ and of a servant for us, and was made like unto his brethren in all things. If then we should seek for another Mediator, who would be well affected towards us, whom could we find, who loved us more than he, who laid down his life for us even when we were his enemies? And if we seek for one who hath power and majesty, who is there that has so much of both as he who sits at the right hand of his Father, and who hath all power in heaven and on earth? And who will sooner be heard than the own well beloved Son of God? Therefore it was only through distrust that this practice of dishonoring, instead of honoring the saints, was introduced, doing that, which they never have done, nor required, but have on the contrary steadfastly rejected according to their bounden duty, as appears by their writings. Neither must we plead here our unworthiness; for the meaning is not that we should offer our prayers to God on the ground of our own worthiness but only on the ground of the excellency and worthiness of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is become ours by faith. Therefore the apostle, to remove this foolish fear, or rather mistrust from us, justly saith, that Jesus Christ was made like unto his brethren in all things that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted; and further to encourage us, he adds, seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. The same apostle saith, having boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, etc. Likewise, Christ hath an unchangeable priesthood, wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost, that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. What more can be required? since Christ himself saith, I am the way and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me. To what purpose should tie then seek another advocate, since it has pleased God, to give us his own Son as an advocate? Let us not forsake him to take another, or rather to seek after another, without ever being able to find him; for God well knew, when he gave him to us, that we were sinners. Therefore according to the command of Christ, we call upon the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ our own Mediator, as we are taught in the Lord’s prayer; being assured that whatever we ask of the Father in his name will be granted us.”
Article XXVI, The Belgic Confession
In this article the Confession faces the question, how may we approach the presence of God? Or, how may we enter into fellowship with our Father in heaven? The answer given by the Confession is: “. . . alone through the only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, who therefore became man, having united in one person the divine and human natures, that we men might have access to the divine Majesty, which access would otherwise be barred against us. . . . Therefore according to the command of Christ, we call upon the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ our Mediator, as we are taught in the Lord’s prayer; being assured that whatever we ask of the Father in his name will be granted us.” In this fashion and with this beautiful confession our creed concludes its discussion of the work of Jesus Christ in salvation. This rather lengthy article at the same time is directed against the evil practice of Roman Catholicism in praying to saints. While this certainly indicates that the Confession is the child of its times, what it has to say applies with undiminished force and significance for the Reformed believer today. As such the article really contains two subjects: the work of Jesus Christ as our Advocate and Intercessor; and, the prayers which we are commanded to offer to God through Jesus Christ, our Mediator.
The Roman Catholic church taught (and for that matter still teaches) that there are men who have lived here upon the earth who, because of their good works, have arrived at perfection. These saints have an honored place in heaven above the ordinary people of God, for their self-mortification and accumulation of good works. These saints are honored and ought to be honored by us especially by our prayers to them. This is especially true of the Virgin Mary who is the “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God.” But this is also true of the other saints. By praying to Mary and other saints the believer has access to the Father. This is all very necessary according to Rome because of the unworthiness of the believer. The believer is not worthy to appear in the presence of God or the presence of Christ. He may go to neither directly. Rather, he must go to the saints first and seek for their cooperation and influence in petitioning God. The saints will pray for us and intercede for us before God and before Christ.
All this is sharply condemned by our Confession. It is true that the Confession does not specificallycondemn the whole Romish error of sainthood and the doctrine of good works implied in it. At the same time, however, it makes the telling remark: “And if we seek for one who hath power and majesty, who is there that hath so much of both as he who sits at the right hand of the Father, and who hath all power in heaven and on earth?” In other words, we need not and may not seek for another mediator to bring us to the Father than our Lord Jesus Christ. Concerning the teaching of Rome that prayers to the saints honor them, the article answers that it rather dishonors them, for it is a practice of “doing that which they never have done nor required, but have, on the contrary, steadfastly rejected, according to their bounden duty, as appears from their writings.” Still more, although it is true that the believer who prays and thus enters the sanctuary of God’s presence is and must be deeply conscious of his own unworthiness, this is no reason for him to go to the saints first of all. To do the latter would be to display a false humility, for it would indicate that we really distrust Christ! Thus we confess: “. . . this Mediator, whom the Father hath appointed between him and us, ought in no wise to affright us by his majesty, or cause us to seek another according to our fancy.” Neither ought our unworthiness frighten us from Christ’s presence, for “there is no creature, either in heaven or on earth, who loveth us more than Jesus Christ. . . . If then we should seek for another Mediator, who would be well affected towards us, whom could we find who loved us more than he who laid down his life for us, even when we were his enemies?” We must not, therefore, plead our unworthiness: “. . . for the meaning is not that we should offer our prayers to God on account of our unworthiness, but only on account of the excellence and worthiness of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is become ours by faith.” Finally, this article at least implies that praying to saints has degenerated into idolatry, which indeed in actual fact it has.
Thus Christ is our only Advocate before the face of the Father. He is our only Advocate because He united in one person both the divine and human natures. Only because He is divine and human can He intercede on our behalf before the throne of God. He became our Advocate because of His high priestly work as our Mediator. He was eternally appointed by God as our Mediator. To accomplish this work Christ came into our flesh as our merciful High Priest and gave Himself as the perfect Lamb of God in the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross. Even as the High Priest of the Old Dispensation, Christ carried the blood of atonement into the Most Holy Place of God’s Tabernacle. Only Christ did so by shedding His own blood on the tree of the cross and by arising from the dead and taking, not the blood of a bull or goat, but His own precious blood, to lay it before the face of His Father. (Cf. Hebrews 9:11, 12, 24ff.) On the basis of this perfect sacrifice, our Advocate continually pleads with the Father, asking the Father to bless His people with all the spiritual blessings which God has prepared for them. God answers His prayer by bestowing all these blessings upon Christ, which He in turn pours out upon His church through His Spirit.
Christ is our perfect Mediator and merciful High Priest because He loved us so much that He was willing to go the dark way of the cross for us. He was made like unto us in all things except our sin and, therefore, knows all our infirmities. In all points tempted as we are, Christ as our merciful High Priest is able to succor (come to the aid of) those who are tempted. (cf. Hebrews 2:16-18; Hebrews 4:14-16) Furthermore, our High Priest is exalted in the highest heavens, clothed with power and glory and, therefore, able to give us all that is necessary to our full and complete salvation. (Cf. Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:5-11) We may also be certain that Christ is surely heard of the Father, because He is the only begotten and beloved Son Who has finished all that the Father sent Him into the world to accomplish.
Thus we may confidently pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, our merciful High Priest. Thus the Saviour has instructed us. (Cf. John 15:7, 16) To pray in Jesus’ name means that we base our prayers on His merits. It implies that we are deeply aware of our own sins and unworthiness and that we know that God can never receive us as we are in ourselves. Thus we base our prayers and all our petitions on the fact that Jesus Christ died for us to remove all our sin and guilt and to merit for us the blessings of salvation. Thus Christ prepared the way for us into the Father’s presence. Formerly, in the Old Dispensation of types, the way to God was closed by a veil. But when Jesus died, the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom. And this did not simply mean that the old order of things had passed away, but also that through the rending of the veil which is His flesh, Christ prepared a new and living way for us into the sanctuary of God’s presence.
This means too that even though our prayers are imperfect they are always heard. This is true because Jesus Christ our merciful High Priest makes intercession for us. He purifies our prayers. If we ask for something we should not, He tells the Father not to grant it. If we fail to ask for that which we need He presents our needs to the Father so that we receive all things necessary to bring us to glory.
Finally, this means that we must always pray in faith. To pray in the name of Jesus means we must pray in harmony with His will. (Cf. I John 5:14, 15) WE must pray for grace to live new and godly lives of thankfulness. WE may not impose our carnal wishes upon God. We must pray in the consciousness that we belong in life and in death to our faithful Savior and are, therefore, sons in our Father’s house. And when we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, we know that the Spirit within us prays for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Praying thus and coming thus to the Father in the name of and according to the will of our merciful High Priest, Jesus Christ, we may be absolutely sure that our heavenly Father will give us all things whatsoever we ask. This we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths to the salvation of our souls.