Christ - Our Advocate and Surety
August 9, 2018 | by: Stephen Sprague | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
This article is a revision of a previous blog post I wrote while a student at Westminster. It’s been on my mind a bit lately as I’ve considered the essential role that Christ fills as our advocate and surety (more on surety later) and has placed the biography of Dr. Archibald Alexander at the top of my reading list once again. In case you’ve never heard of Alexander, he was the first professor on staff at Princeton Theological Seminary way back in 1812, and, in fact, when Princeton first met, they held classes in his house! But back to the topic at hand.
Christ as our Advocate:
For the longest time I think I would have answered the question of, “How can I know if I’m truly a Christian if sin is still present in my life?” by answering that one could know that they are saved by the fruit evident in their life (1 John). While this is true, and biblical, it’s not complete. And on its own, I think this answer brings more heartache and inner anguish without actually offering the true hope that is found in Christ to the Christian that is wrestling with this question.
In the early pages of his biography of Alexander, James Garretson recorded Alexander’s struggle with the truth of God’s perfect justice and the reality of his own continuing sinfulness. At one point, Alexander sought counsel from a local pastor whoseresponse was very similar to what I said above. The result in Alexander’s heart was this (Alexander’s words quoted by Garretson):
“From this time I abandoned all persuasion that I had experienced regenerating grace. My desire now was to be brought under such alarming convictions of sin, as I had heard of in the case of others. But that evening, which I spent in the forest, I was greatly distressed on account of my exceeding hardness of heart. I rolled on the ground in anguish of spirit, bewailing my insensibility. The conclusion forced itself upon me that I should certain be lost forever. My mind was calm and thoughts deliberate, and when I came to this result I was nowise agitated, and began to contemplate the justice of God in my condemnation. Yet I felt that I could never entertain any hard thoughts of God, even when suffering under his heavy displeasure.”
The problem with this line of thinking, apart from Christ, is that it focuses all of our hope on our own ability to be mortified of our own sin and grow in righteousness. It’s easy, at least for me, to see how such a focus could lead Alexander to lose all hope that he had been saved. But, by God’s grace, Alexander’s story didn’t end there. Shortly after the previous account, Alexander found counsel from a Rev. James Mitchell. Mitchell’s response to Alexander’s distraught state was much wiser, and got to the heart of the Gospel. Garretson records Alexander and Mitchell’s conversation as the following;
“To this Mr. Mitchell answered, that no certain degree of conviction was prescribed; that the only purpose which conviction could answer was to show us our need of Christ, ‘and this’, added he, ‘you have.’ He then represented Christ as an Advocate before the throne of God, ready to undertake my cause, and able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him. A new view opened before me at this moment. I did feel that I needed a Savior, and I knew Christ as an Advocate was able to save me. This mere probability of salvation, after having given up all hope, was like the dawn of morning on a dark night; it was like life from the dead… I was like a man condemned to die, who is unexpectedly informed that there is a friend who can obtain a reprieve.”
Yes! That’s it! This last bit is what is so refreshing for me. Why? It rests at the heart of the gospel. Christ is our advocate before the Father. He stands on our behalf. It’s not that I haven’t heard or known of Christ as my advocate, or even found great joy and peace in such truth in the past. Rather, it’s that this truth continues to astound me and bring me hope, joy, and peace on such a greater and deeper level as life goes on. Fellow sinner, if you are feeling the weight that comes with the conviction of sin and you want to know how you could be presented as just before a holy God, know this - That we have an advocate in Christ Jesus who stands before the throne of God on behalf of sinners, not presenting as evidence our own righteousness, but HIS righteousness! What good news!
Christ as our Surety:
All this reminds me of the song, “Arise, My Soul, Arise”, the chorus of which reads like this:
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.
In case you need a definition of surety (I did the first time I heard this song), it is: “A person who assumes legal responsibility for the fulfillment of another's debt or obligation and himself becomes liable if the other defaults” or “One who has contracted to be responsible for another, especially one who assumes responsibilities or debts in the event of default.”
In short – God is Holy. I’m a sinner. Christ is my advocate before our Holy God. My righteousness is not my own but Christ’s. My debt is great, yet he has paid it all. “Before the throne my surety stands.”