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Works of Dr. John Tillotson, Late Archbishop of Canterbury. Vol. 04.
« Prev Sermon LXXII. Christ Jesus the Only Mediator… Next »

SERMON LXXII.

CHRIST JESUS THE ONLY MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND MEN.

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all.—1 Tim. ii. 5, 6.

IN the two former discourses upon this text, I have treated on the second proposition 1 laid down from these words: viz. that there is but “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In treating of this proposition, I shewed,

First, That it is agreeable to Scripture.

Secondly, That it is agreeable to one great end and design of the Christian religion, and of our Saviour’s coming into the world, which was, to destroy idolatry out of it.

Thirdly, That, from the nature and reason of the thing, there can be but one mediator or intercessor in heaven with God for sinners; and that he can be no other than Jesus Christ.

Fourthly, I shewed how contrary to this doctrine the doctrine and practice of the church of Rome is, in their invocation of angels and the blessed Virgin, and the saints, and making use of their mediation and intercession with God for sinners.

This I endeavoured to do, by shewing first, How contrary this is to the doctrine of the Scriptures. Secondly, How contrary to the doctrine and practice of the church, for several of the first ages of it. And thus far I have gone.

I proceed now, in the third place, to answer the chief pretences and excuses which are made by those of the church of Rome for this doctrine and practice.

As, 1. That they only say, that it is lawful to pray to angels and saints; but do not enjoin and require it. To this I answer two things:

(1.) In saying that it is lawful to pray to saints and angels (if they went no farther) they say that which they can never make good; because prayer is an act of religious worship, and peculiar and proper to God only, and therefore cannot be given to any creature, angel or saint. This I have proved from Scripture, where our Saviour commands us, when we pray, to say, “Our Father, which art in heaven;” that is, to direct and address our prayers to God only. And St. Paul likewise forbids the worshipping angels, by invocating of them, and making use of them as mediators between God and us, in his Epistle to the Colossians; which Theodoret expressly interprets concerning the invocation of angels, and applying ourselves to them, as mediators and intercessors with God in heaven for us. And the council of Laodicea declares this practice to be idolatry. Besides that, the ancient fathers of the Christian church, for above three hundred years, never spake of praying to any but God only; and do expressly condemn the invocation of angels, much more of the saints, who are inferior to them; and therefore, they always define prayer to be an address to God, a conversing and discoursing with God; which would be a false definition of prayer, if it were lawful to pray to any but to God only. All which considered, one may justly wonder at the confidence of some men, who would have it taken for granted, without any proof that the invocation of saints and angels is lawful.

(2.) If it were true, that it is lawful to pray to angels and saints; it is not true, that the church of Rome does only declare it to be lawful, but does not require and enjoin it, as some of their late writers pretend.

With what face can this be said, when there are so many prayers to angels and saints, and especially to the blessed Virgin, in the public offices of their church, in which all are supposed to join, as much as in the prayers which are put up to God by the priest? It is true, indeed, the people understand neither; but they are present at both, and join in both alike; that is, as much as men can be said to join in that which they do not understand; as that church supposeth people may do, and receive great edification also, by joining with the priest in a service which they do not understand. But how they can be edified by what they do not understand, I must confess myself as little able to understand as they do their prayers. But whether they understand them or not, it is certain that if the people have any part in the public prayers of the church, they are bound to pray to angels and saints.

And if the Creed of Pope Pius IV. framed by virtue of an order of the council of Trent, be of any authority with them, one of the articles of it is, that “I do firmly hold, that the saints, which reign together with Christ, are to be worshipped and invocated, and that they do offer up prayers to God for us.” And this Creed all the governors of cathedrals and superior churches, and all who hold any dignity, or benefice, with cure of souls from them, are bound solemnly to make profession of, and swear to, and carefully to cause it to be held, and taught, and preached by all that are under their charge: so that they are to teach the people, that the saints, which reign together with Christ, are to be worshipped and prayed to. And, therefore, unless people are not bound to do that which they are to be taught it is their duty to do, they are, by virtue of this article, required to worship and pray to saints. And if the public office of their church be the public worship, and Pope Pius’s Creed the public faith of the Romish church, no man can be either of the faith or in the communion of that church, who does not only hold it lawful, but his duty, to worship the saints in heaven, and to pray to them, and accordingly does join in the worship of them and prayers to them, as much as in any other part of Divine service.

2. Another pretence for this doctrine and practice is, that the saints in heaven do pray for us, and what is this but to be mediators and intercessors with God for us? And, if so, why may we not pray to them, to intercede with God for us? To this I answer four things:—

(1.) We do not deny that the saints in heaven pray for us that are here upon earth, because they may do so, for any thing we know; but that they do so, is more than can be proved, either by clear testimony of Scripture, or by any convincing argument from reason, and therefore no doctrine or practice can be safely grounded upon it.

(2.) Though it were certain, that the saints in heaven do pray for us; yet they are not mediators and intercessors, properly so called: for all intercession, strictly and properly so called, is in virtue of a sacrifice offered by him that intercedes; and therefore he only, by whom expiation of sin is made upon earth, can be properly an intercessor with God in heaven; but this, no angel or saint hath done, nor can do.

And (as I have shewed in some of the former discourses) it is the plain scope of a great part of the Epistle to the Hebrews to prove this very thing, that under the gospel we have an High Priest that lives for ever, “and appears in the presence of God for us,” in the virtue of that blood which he shed, and that sacrifice which he offered upon the cross for the expiation of sin:” and that by this High Priest only we have access, with freedom and confidence to the “throne of grace,” and by him do offer up all our prayers and thanksgivings, and all other acts of religious worship, to God: and this the apostle shews was typified, in an imperfect manner, by the Jewish high priest under the law, who was but one, and none but he only could enter into the holy of holies, with the blood of the sacrifices that were slain and burnt without, by which blood he made an atonement and interceded for the people;” and, though every priest might pray for the people, and the people for one another, which is a kind of intercession; yet that peculiar kind of intercession, which was performed by the high priest in the holy of holies, in virtue of the sacrifice that was slain without, could not be made, but by the high priest only. By all which was typified our High Priest under the gospel, who only hath made expiation of sin, by the sacrifice of himself, and is entered into heaven, to “appear in the presence of God for us,” where he lives for ever to make intercession for us, in virtue of that blood, which was shed for the expiation of sin, and which can only be presented to God by him that shed it. And this is properly intercession, like that of the high priest under the law for the people of Israel; and this kind of intercession can be made by none in heaven for us, but only by “the High Priest of our profession, Jesus the Son of God,” and by none else can we offer up our prayers and services to God; and, consequently, we cannot address ourselves to any other, angels or saints, as mediators with God for us.

(3.) Supposing it certain, that the saints do pray for us; yet we may not address solemn prayer to them to pray for us, because prayer and solemn in vocation is a part of that religious worship which is peculiar to God.

(4.) Supposing it not only certain, that the saints in heaven do pray for us, but likewise that they might be proper mediators and intercessors with God, for us; yet we ought not to pray to them, because they cannot hear us, as I shall have occasion to shew fully by and by.

Another of their pretences or excuses for this practice is, that praying to saints to pray for us, is no more than what we do to good men upon earth, when we desire them to pray for us. So the late expounder of the catholic faith, namely, the Bishop of Meaux, tells us, that “they pray to the saints in heaven, in the same order of brotherly society with which we intreat our brethren upon earth to pray for us.”

But that this is not a true representation, either of their doctrine or practice in this matter, will appear by these following considerations:

(1.) That they pray to the angels and saints in heaven with the same solemn circumstances of religious worship that they pray to God himself, in the same place, and in the same humble posture, and in the same religious offices and services, in which they pray to God; which surely is never done by any to their “brethren upon earth.”

(2.) That in their prayers and thanksgivings, they join the angels and the blessed Virgin and the saints together with God and Christ, as if (to use their own phrase) it were “in the same order of brotherly society,” and as if they were all equally the objects of our invocation and praise; of which, in my last discourse, 1 gave several plain instances; but this also is never done to “our brethren upon earth.”

(3.) That in the Creed of Pope Pius IV. it is expressly said, that “the saints, which reign together with Christ, are to be worshipped and invocated:” but this surely they will not allow to be done to “our brethren upon earth.” And the council of Trent does expressly ground the worship and invocation of saints, upon their reigning with Christ in heaven; and therefore, this worship and invocation of saints must necessarily be something more than “according to the same order of brotherly society, with which we intreat our brethren upon earth to pray for us:” otherwise the reason given by the council of their reigning with Christ in heaven, would be frivolous, if the same thing may be done to “our brethren upon earth.”

(4.) In the public offices of their church, they do not only pray to the saints to pray for them, but they direct their prayers and thanksgivings immediately to them, for all those blessings and benefits which they ask of God, and thank him for. Of which innumerable examples might be given out of their public offices; particularly in the “Office of the blessed Virgin,” they pray to the angels thus: “Deliver us, we beseech you, by your command, from all our sins.”

And the words of the Decree of the council of Trent, [ad eorum orationes, opem, auxiliumque confugere, “to flee to their prayers, aid, and help,”] unless we will make them a mere tautology, must of necessity signify something more than begging of them to pray for us. And, indeed, those words of their aid and help, seem to be added on purpose to give countenance to those direct prayers which are made to the saints, for all spiritual and temporal blessings, and which still remain without any change in their public offices; and unless we will understand them contrary to the plain and obvious sense of those prayers, they must signify something more than praying to the saints to pray for us.

’Tis true, indeed, that the Catechism, which was framed by order of the council of Trent, for the explaining of their doctrines, makes the difference between their prayers to God, and to the saints, to lie in this, that “we say to God, Have mercy on us, or hear our prayers; but to the saints, Pray for us.” But I have shewn before, that this is not the constant form of praying to saints, but that frequently they make direct addresses to them for their help and aid. And this the compilers of the Catechism were sensible of, and therefore they add: “although it be lawful in another manner to ask of the saints themselves, that they would have mercy on us; because they are very merciful.” And is not God so too? And then where is the difference between their prayers to God, and to the saints? If it neither lie in the matter of them, nor in the form, nor in the reason of them; if we pray to them for the same thing, and in the same form, “Have mercy on us,” and our prayers to them be grounded upon the same reason that our prayers to God are, namely, “because they are merciful;” where then is the difference between them?

3. I will mention but one pretence more, which is that, by praying to the saints in heaven, they do not make them gods; and therefore there can be no suspicion or danger of idolatry in the case.

To this I shall answer two things:

(1.) That praying to them in all places, and at all times, and for all sorts of blessings, does suppose them to have the incommunicable perfections of the Divine nature imparted to them, or inherent in them; namely, his omnipotence, and omniscience, and immense presence; and, to whatever being we ascribe these perfections, in so doing we make it God; for prayer to God is no otherwise an acknowledgment of his omnipotence, omniscience, and immense presence, than as we do in all places, and at all times, pray to him for all things; and so they do to the saints, and that not only with vocal but with mental prayer, which the council of Trent allows, and in so doing, necessarily supposeth them to know our hearts, directly contrary to the reason which Solomon gives, why we should put up all our prayers and supplications to God: (1 Kings viii. 39.) “for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.”

(2.) Bellarmine is so sensible of the dint of this argument, that he is forced to acknowledge the saints which reign with Christ in heaven to be gods by participation (that is, a sort of inferior gods, as the heathen supposed their mediators to be) and that therefore we may fly to their aid and help, as well as to their intercession and prayers. And is this also to pray to the saints in heaven, “in the same order of brotherly society, with which we intreat our brethren upon earth to pray for us?” This methinks is great familiarity, to treat gods by participation, just in the same manner as we do “our brethren upon earth.” Certainly, either Bellarmine hath raised the saints in heaven too high, when he makes them gods by participation; or the Bishop of Meaux hath sunk them too low, when he thinks they are to be treated and addressed to, in the same rank of brotherly society with mortal men here upon earth.

One cannot but think the Decree of the council of Trent to be very obscure and ambiguous, when it can admit of two so very different explications. If the infallible judge of controversies can speak no plainer, I think we had even best stick to the Bible, and hear what God says in his word, and endeavour to understand it as well as we can.

I proceed now to the fourth thing which I proposed, namely, To shew that this practice of their’s, of addressing ourselves to angels and saints, and making use of their mediation, to offer up our prayers and thanksgivings to God, is not only needless, being no where commanded by God; but use less also, and unprofitable.

They are so far from pretending, that it is commanded by God, that several of their later writers would fain make us believe, that it is not enjoined by their councils; but only declared to be lawful, or at most but recommended as profitable. Nor is there any example of praying to saints, either in the Old or New Testament: not in the Old (as they of the church of Rome confess) “because the saints were not then admitted into heaven:” nor in the New, for fear of scandalizing the Jews, and of making the gentiles think they proposed new gods, and new mediators to them, instead of the old; which are the reasons given by their own writers.

And it is needless likewise; because the mediation of Jesus Christ alone is sufficient for us, and more than the intercession of millions of saints and angels. He alone “is able to save to the uttermost all those that come to God by him,” as the apostle to the Hebrews speaks. Hath not he made a clear and full promise to us, that whatever we ask in his name shall be granted us? And have we any reason to doubt, either of his inclination and good will, or of his power and interest to do us good? What need then is there to sue for the favour, or to take in the assistance of any other, even of those who are thought to be most powerful, and the chief ministers and favourites in that heavenly court? After such an assurance that my business will be effectually done there, by that great “advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” why should I apply myself to St. Peter, though he be said to keep the keys of heaven; or to Michael, the archangel, though he be the chief of the ministering spirits; or to the blessed Virgin herself, notwithstanding those glorious titles of the Queen of Heaven, and the Mother of Mercy; which they of the church of Rome are pleased to bestow upon her, without her consent, and as may reasonably be presumed, against her will.

I will put a case, which may help to render this matter a little more plain and sensible to us, so as every man may be able to judge of it. Suppose a king should constitute his son the great master of requests; with this express declaration and assurance, that all petitions, that were addressed to him by his son, should be graciously received and answered: in this case, though every man might use his own discretion, at his own peril, and take what course he pleased, yet I should most certainly prefer all my petitions to the king, in the way which he had so plainly directed, and should trouble never a courtier of them all with my business; for fear the king should think, that I did either distrust his royal word, or despise his son, by my soliciting the aid and help of every little courtier, after I had put my petition into the hands of this great master of requests.

And now I will not distrust any of your understandings so far as to make the application. I will only add, that it is an eternal rule of truth, and which never fails in any case, fristra fit per plura quod fieri potest per pauciora, “it is in vain to at tempt that by more ways and means which may as well and as effectually be done by one;” because this would be perfect loss of time and pains: and therefore they who would send us so far about, as to trouble all the saints and angels in heaven with our petitions, when they cannot deny but that our great Mediator is alone sufficient, do seem to me to send us upon a very sleeveless errand: so that if, with all their skill in fencing, they could defend this practice from being unlawful, yet this one thing is a sufficient objection in reason against it, that it is perfectly needless.

Or if we could imagine any need of this, all addresses to them must be vain and unprofitable, if they do not know our wants, and hear our prayers that are put up to them; which St. Augustine thought they do not know and hear, fatendum est (saith he Lib. de Cura pro mortuis) ne scire quidem mortuos, quid hic agatur; “it must be acknowledged that the dead are ignorant of what is done here.” This was his opinion; but we are certain that they cannot know our wants, nor hear our prayers, at all times and in all places; unless they can either be present every where, which no finite being can be; or else God be pleased in some supernatural way to communicate to them the knowledge of our wants, and of the prayers which we put up to them; which we can never know that he does, unless he hath communicated to us, that he is pleased to do so, of which the Scripture no where gives us the least intimation.

But because they pretend, that the Scripture gives us some hints of this, I shall briefly examine what they say about this matter.

I. That the angels know our condition here below, because they are said to “rejoice at the conversion of a sinner;” and therefore the saints do likewise know our condition, because they shall be like the angels. But this is not said of them till after the resurrection, when we shall have no occasion to pray to them. Besides that, it may well enough be supposed, that God may reveal both to the angels and saints in heaven, the conversion of a sinner, because it may contribute to the increase of their joy and happiness: but will it hence follow, that God reveals to them all other circumstances of our condition, our dangers and temptations and troubles, our sins and our sufferings, the knowledge whereof would no ways contribute to the increase of their happiness? And yet, in order to their intercession with God for us, their knowledge of these things would be most beneficial to us.

II. Because the rich man was concerned in hell for the salvation of his relations on earth, they argue that it is much more probable, that the saints in heaven are concerned for us, and are ready to pray for us; and therefore it is very credible, that some way or other they have the knowledge of our condition and wants, though we cannot certainly tell what that particular way is.

To which I answer,

(1.) That it is a known rule among all divines, that no certain argument can be drawn from the circumstances of a parable, but only from the main scope and intention of it; nor is it so likely that the wicked in hell should have any share in that, which St. Paul tells us is the great virtue of the saints in heaven—I mean charity; and if they have it not, then no argument can be drawn from it. Some of their commentators think, that this motion of the rich man to Abraham concerning his brethren, did not proceed from charity to them, but to himself; lest his torment and punishment should be increased by their coming to hell, by the means of the ill example which he had given them when he was upon earth; and Cardinal Cajetan thinks, that he was concerned for his brethren out of pride and ambition, and because it would be for the honour of his family, to have some of them in that glory (so far above any thing in this world) which he saw Abraham and Lazarus possessed of. This is a reason, which I confess I should not have thought on; and yet perhaps it might be likely enough to enter into the mind of a Cardinal. And I cannot but observe, by the way, that this petition or request, which the rich man in hell made to Abraham, is the only instance we meet with in Scripture, of any thing like a prayer that was put up to any of the saints in heaven.

Well! but suppose that the rich man in hell had this charity for his brethren, and we will easily agree, that the saints in heaven have much more charity, not only for their kindred, but for all men here upon earth; let us now consider the particular way and manner which the great divines of the church of Rome (I mean the schoolmen, who cannot be content to be ignorant of any thing) do assign of the knowledge which the saints in heaven have of the condition and wants of men here below.

They tell us that they know all our prayers and wants in the glass of the Deity, or trinity; which metaphor, of the glass of the Deity, or trinity, if it have any meaning, it must be this, that the saints in heaven beholding the face of God, or the Divine essence, in which the knowledge of all things is contained, they may in that glass see all things that God knows: but then they spoil all this fine speculation again, by telling us, that this glass does not necessarily represent to them all that knowledge which is in the Divine mind; but that it is a kind of voluntary glass, in which the saints are only permitted to see so much as God pleaseth; but how much that is, they cannot tell us. Which amounts to no more than this, that the saints in heaven know as much of our condition here upon earth, as God is pleased to reveal to them: and if this be all, it is as good a reason why we should pray to good men in the East or West Indies, to pray for us and help us, because they also know as much of our necessities, and prayers, as God thinks fit to reveal to them.

But if the saints must have a revelation from God of our prayers, before that they know that we pray to them: then the shortest and surest way both, is to pray to God and not to them; or however (as Bellarmine confesseth) it were very fit to pray to God, before every prayer we make to the saints, that he would be pleased to reveal that prayer to them, that, upon this signal and notice given them by God, they may betake themselves to pray to God for us. But unless it were very clear from Scripture, that God had appointed this method, it is in reason such a way about, as no man would take that could help it: and it seems to me to as little purpose; for why should not a man think God as ready to grant him all his other requests, without the mediation and intercession of saints, as this one request of revealing our prayers and wants to them? And if this way be not thought so convenient, I know but one more, and that is, to pray to the saints to go to God, and beg of him, that he would be pleased to reveal to them our supplications and wants, that they may know what to pray to him for in our behalf; which is just such a wise course, as if a man should write a letter to his friend that cannot read, and in a postscript desire him, that as soon as he hath received it, he would carry it to one that can read, and entreat him to read it to him. So that which way soever we put the case, what course soever we take in this matter, it will be so far from seeming reasonable, that we shall have much ado, and must handle the business very tenderly to hinder it from appearing very ridiculous.

Thus I have examined their chief pretences from Scripture, for the countenancing this doctrine and practice, and have shewn how little, or rather nothing at all, is there to be found for it; and that alone is reason enough against it, though there were nothing in Scripture against it, that there is nothing in Scripture for it: but I have already produced clear proof out of the New Testament, against it. And because they think the least show and probability from Scripture a good argument on their side, I will offer them a probable argument out of the Old Testament, upon which, though I will lay no absolute stress, yet I believe it would puzzle them, upon their principles, to give a clear answer to it; and it is from 2 Kings ii. 9. where Elijah just before he was taken up into heaven, says to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee;” thereby intimating (as one would think) that then was the last opportunity of asking any thing of him: but if Elijah had understood the matter right (as the church of Rome does now) he should rather have directed him to have prayed to him when he was in heaven, where he would have a more powerful interest, and be in a better capacity to do him a kindness. For the reason the church of Rome gives, why they did not pray to the saints under the Old Testament (namely, because they were not then admitted into heaven), will not hold in the case of Elijah, who was taken up into heaven body and soul; and consequently, in as good circumstances to be prayed to as any of the saints and martyrs that have gone to heaven since.

I should now have proceeded in the fifth and last place, to have shewn, that this practice is not only needless and useless, but very dangerous and impious, because contrary to the Christian religion, and greatly derogating from the merit and virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, and from the honour of the only “mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus.” And indeed how can we apply ourselves to any other mediators and intercessors with God in heaven for us, without a gross and apparent contempt of the “high priest of our profession, Jesus the Son of God?” As if we either distrusted his kindness and affection, or his power and interest in heaven, to obtain at God’s hand all those blessings which we stand in need of. The apostle to the Hebrews tells us expressly, that “he is able to save to the utmost all those that come to God by him;” that is, who address their prayers and supplications to God in his name and mediation. But if we will choose other mediators for ourselves, of whom we are not sure that they can either hear or help us, we may fall short of that salvation, which the apostle tells us we are secure of by the mediation of Jesus Christ; “for he is able,” &c.

But this hath been shewn so abundantly in the former part of this discourse, and is so clearly consequent from the whole, that I shall here close my discourse upon the second proposition I laid down from the words of my text, viz. that “there is but one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

As to the third proposition contained in the text, viz. That this “one mediator Jesus Christ, gave himself a ransom for all,” I have treated on that subject particularly on another occasion.22See Sermon XLVII. concerning the Sacrifice and Satisfaction of Christ, Vol. iii. p, 382.

And as to the fourth and last proposition, viz. That the mediation or intercession of Jesus Christ is founded in his redemption of mankind; and because he gave himself a ransom for all, therefore he and he only is qualified to intercede for all men, in virtue of that sacrifice which he offered for the salvation of mankind; I judge nothing more needful to be added to what has fallen in concerning that subject, in my handling the second proposition, in this and the two former sermons.


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