the First Week of Advent
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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
The word ἔντευξις, translated ‘intercession’ (1 Timothy 2:1; 1 Timothy 4:5), means literally ‘drawing close to God in free and familiar intercourse.’ But the modern use of the Word, which limits the meaning to prayer for others, need not obliterate the original meaning. It is in proportion as the person praying for others is able to enlarge his own intercourse with God that he can be, like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, able to uphold others.
In the NT human capacity for this work is seen to be immeasurably increased through the example and teaching of the Lord Jesus, and by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, who intercedes ‘with groanings which cannot be uttered’ and ‘according to the will of God’ (Romans 8:26-27). We may expect, therefore, to find that the work of intercession will grow as the Church grows, with great widening of experience and influence. The enlarged teaching of St. Paul in his later letters corresponds with the facts narrated in the Acts, where intercessory services are quoted at all great crises. The apostles and brethren pray for guidance in the appointment of a successor to Judas (Acts 1:24), as when they appoint the Seven (Acts 6:6; cf. Acts 13:3), or pray for the deliverance of St. Peter from prison (Acts 12:5). The farewell prayers with the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:36), and the whole congregation of Tyre (Acts 21:5-6), are typical in all probability of many similar services.
The teaching and the practice of the mother Church in Jerusalem are reflected in the Epistle of James (James 5:14), where the prayers of the elders of the Church on behalf of the sick are definitely enjoined; nor is sickness of the soul forgotten in prayer for forgiveness (James 5:16).
1. The Epistles of St. Paul help our imagination to go further in reproducing the method of intercession in the Apostolic Church. Intercession is continually linked with thanksgiving. Making mention of the Thessalonians in his prayers, he refers to their faith, hope, and love (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3), and their acceptance of his message as the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13), ‘praying exceedingly that he may see their face and may perfect that which is lacking in their faith’ (1 Thessalonians 3:10). So in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 he prays that God may count them worthy of His calling and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in them. In response he asks for their intercession that ‘the word of the Lord may run and be glorified,’ and he himself may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men (2 Thessalonians 3:1 f.). There is a striking phrase in 2 Corinthians 1:11, when he has received the good news from Corinth, and pictures their prayers for his deliverance from peril: ‘Ye also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.’ J. A. Beet (ad loc.) translates ‘from many faces,’ a graphic word-picture of the upturned faces of the whole congregation.
To the Roman Christians, whom he has not yet seen, St. Paul writes that he makes mention of them unceasingly (Romans 1:8-12), praising God for their faith, and praying that he may be enabled to come and impart to them some spiritual gift of grace. They can help him by mutual encouragement.
In Ephesians 1:15 ff., rejoicing, as always, in what is fairest in the character of his friends, he prays that they may have ‘a spirit of wisdom and revelation,’ growth in that knowledge of God which alike proves our efficiency and increases it in our use of His revelation, when our eyes are opened to see the wealth of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the greatness of His power. He speaks from his own experience of knowledge issuing in power.
In his next prayer (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 3:14-19) St. Paul puts the need of Divine power first as ‘a condition of ability to apprehend “the whole range of the sphere in which the Divine wisdom and love find exercise” ’ (Chadwick, p. 290). His social teaching here is noteworthy. Every family is enabled to live its common life in proportion as the individuals live up to their personal ideal. So he prays that Christ may dwell in each heart, for the strength of Christ is conveyed only to those who are fully strong enough to know the love of Christ.
Again, writing to the Colossians (Colossians 1:9 ff.), he prays that they may be ‘endowed with all wisdom to apprehend [God’s] verities and all intelligence to follow His processes, living in the mind of the Spirit-to the end that knowledge may manifest itself in practice’ (J. B. Lightfoot, ad loc). Having this sure grasp of principle, he can dare to pray for them as patient and long-suffering, and always thankful despite discouragement.
In Philippians 1:9-11 he prays that love and knowledge and discernment may inspire them to approve things that are excellent with a pure conscience that offends none, and a life filled with the fruits of righteousness.
Thus the method of St. Paul is exactly parallel to the method of our Lord’s High-Priestly prayer (John 17:9), in which intercession is concentrated first on the needs of those given to Him out of the world. The hope of the future depends on the strengthening of Christian centres before anything is said about those ‘who shall believe through their word.’ The beauty of the Christian life is the irrefragable proof of the truth of Christian teaching; so it is to uphold the ideal of Christian character that St. Paul prays most earnestly. But this does not mean that the corporate intercessions should not take also a wider range. In 1 Timothy 2:1 f. he exhorts that ‘supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men, for kings and all that are in high place,’ a direction which, as we shall see presently in the letter of Clement, was fervently followed in the Church in Rome, from which city he wrote this last Epistle.
It is a strange commentary on this teaching of St. Paul that Josephus should actually ascribe the origin of the war which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem to the refusal of the Jews, at the instigation of Eleazar, to offer prayer for Gentile rulers (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. 17:2).
2. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7:25) there is an important passage on the intercession of the Lord Jesus as our High Priest. ‘In the glorified humanity of the Son of man every true human wish finds perfect and prevailing expression’ (B. F. Westcott, ad loc.). In reliance upon Christ’s advocacy as both social and personal, the writer naturally asks for the prayers of his readers (Hebrews 13:18 f.), and especially that he may be restored to them the sooner.
3. In 1 John (1 John 5:14) intercession is regarded as the expression of perfect boldness in prayer which consciousness of a Divine life brings to believers: ‘The energy of Christian life is from the first social’ (Westcott, ad loc.). Its prevailing power is assured on behalf of all who sin a sin not unto death, sins which flow from human imperfection. In regard to sin which wholly separates from Christ, the Apostle does not forbid, though he cannot enjoin (1 John 5:16).
4. The teaching of the Apostolic Fathers follows the lines already laid down by the NT writers.
(a) Clement goes to the root of the troubles at Corinth when he asks that intercession should be made ‘for them that are in any transgression, that forbearance and humility may be given them’ (Ep. ad Cor. lvi.). And he shows what a prominent place in the eucharistic prayers of the Church was given to intercessions (lix.): ‘Save those among us who are in tribulation; have mercy on the lowly; lift up the fallen; show Thyself unto the needy; heal the ungodly; convert the wanderers of Thy people; feed the hungry; release our prisoners; raise up the meek; comfort the fainthearted. Let all the Gentiles know that Thou art God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son, and we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture.’
The prayer for rulers and governors may also be quoted (lxi.): ‘Grant unto them therefore, O Lord, health, peace, concord, stability, that they may administer the government which Thou hast given them without failure.… Do Thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in Thy sight, that, administering in peace and gentleness with godliness the power which Thou hast given them, they may obtain Thy favour.’
(b) The joy of intercession finds striking expression in Hermas (Mand. x. 3), who teaches our need of cheerfulness and maintains that the intercession of a sad man hath never at any time power to ascend to the altar of God. He paints also in the Parable of the elm and the vine (Sim. ii.) the difficulties of the rich man, who in the things of the Lord is poor, and his confession and intercession with the Lord are very scanty, because he is distracted about his riches. As the vine seeks the support of the elm, let him help the poor man, who is rich in intercession, and gain the support of his prayers.
(c) Turning from the Church in Rome to the Church in Antioch, we find Ignatius on his way to martyrdom asking for intercession in the Eucharist that he may succeed in fighting with wild beasts (Eph. i), and ‘for the rest of mankind (for there is in them a hope of repentance), that they may find God’ (ib. 10). He requests prayer for the Church in Syria in all his letters. ‘For, if the prayer of one and another hath so great force, how much more that of the bishop and of the whole Church’ (ib. 5). To the Romans he writes: ‘Only pray that I may have power within and without’ (ib. 3).
These quotations may suffice to show how thoroughly the practice of intercession was carried out by the primitive Church.
(d) Aristides in his Apology says: ‘I have no doubt that the world stands by reason of the intercession of Christians’ (ch. 16).
(e) In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (a.d. 155), viii., it is recorded how the aged Martyr remembered ‘all who at any time had come in his way, small and great, high and low, and all the Universal Church throughout the world.’
(f) A little later Tertullian wrote these beautiful words (de Orat. 29): ‘[Christian prayer] has no delegated grace to avert any sense of suffering; but it supplies the suffering, and the feeling, and the grieving, with endurance: it amplifies grace by virtue, that faith may know what she obtains from the Lord, understanding what-for God’s name’s sake-she suffers.… Likewise it washes away faults, repels temptations, extinguishes persecutions, consoles the faint-spirited, cheers the high-spirited, escorts travellers, appeases waves, makes robbers stand aghast, nourishes the poor, governs the rich, upraises the fallen, arrests the falling, confirms the standing.’
Literature.-A. J. Worlledge, Prayer, 1902; W. H. Frere and A. L. Illingworth, Sursum Corda, 1905; W. E. Chadwick, The Pastoral Teaching of St. Paul, 1907; see also under Prayer.
A. E. Burn.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Intercession'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​i/intercession.html. 1906-1918.