The Vicarious Prayer of Christ as the Inner Reality of the Atonement: TFT’s Homoousios

The homoousios reigns supreme in Thomas Torrance’s theology. The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ is sui generis in his theology, in regard to the way he deploys it throughout every loci considered. It is TFT’s hermeneutical key, and is what has drawn me to him like unto no other theologian (not even Barth). In the passage I am going to share from him we see him applying this doctrine to a theology of prayer and intercession vis-à-vis the reconciliation that obtains through Christ’s vicarious life for us. Here we see what a doctrine of vicarious prayer looks like in the theology of Torrance. For me, personally, there is great spiritual depth available in what Torrance explicates in this regard; a doxological component that is the sign of any healthy theology. He writes:

Christ’s human prayer is the innermost heart of his atoning obedience to the Father and of his conversion of humanity to God

All through there was an utterly unbroken life of fellowship in unsullied confidence and trust in the Father, and unrelenting prayer, in which he not only repelled the assaults of darkness but so presented himself before the Father in worship in adoration that he made and perfected the positive self offering of man to God. It is here in Jesus Christ, in this worshipping and praying obedience of the creature to the heavenly Father, that all creation is turned and brought back to God the creator and Father almighty. That is the great palingennesia, the great conversion of humanity to God, which receives its ultimate and eternal answer in the divine satisfaction and good pleasure when God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and for ever affirmed the reconciliation and restored fellowship effected in the obedient life and death of his Son, thus placing it eternally beyond all the assaults of evil and all possibility of undoing. Thus the covenant will of God for fellowship with man was translated into eternal actuality.

Now if Christ’s human prayer is an essential part of his atoning obedience offered to the Father, then it is not only the prayer of the victim but of the priest made on our behalf. Just by being what it was, his own life of petition and clinging dependence upon the Father was a life of intercession to God for us. In his steadfast obedience and life of prayer, Jesus penetrated into our life and recreated the bond between man and God, and therefore also between human beings. It is on that ground, of the recreated bond that he prays for us, intercedes for us, and acts as our mediator, high priest and intercessor, our substitute and representative before God, praying, and offering himself in prayer, standing in for us as our advocate, and pledging us in himself before God — and so he opens up through his flesh a new way to prayer and worship of God.

Or to put it the other way round, as Calvin does so frequently: Christ in his intercession joined to the shedding of his blood prayers that our sins might be pardoned. In and through his passion he bore our word in our name before the Father and prayed for us in our unclean life. Therefore he also puts his own prayer in our unclean mouth that there, on the ground of his obedience and prayer, we may pray with him, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’. As a sign of the recreated bond of the covenant between man and God, and as a sign of the special redemptive form that the covenant will of God took in Israel, Jesus formed round him, as one body with himself, the disciples as the twelve pillars of the new covenant, and it was into their mouths that he put this prayer, ‘Our Father which art in heaven’, teaching them to pray in his name.

Jesus draws us into his own prayer

Then at last, as the prayer life of Jesus pressed towards its climax in Gethsemane he gathered the twelve disciples together at the last supper and formally and solemnly established with them the new covenant in his body and blood. At that supper he interceded for the disciples and for us who would believe on him through their word, and we are allowed to overhear his prayer in John 17. In that prayer, added to his vicarious passion set forth in the supper, he presented himself before the face of the Father and presented us to the Father as included in himself who had come just for this purpose to stand in our place. Then he went forth to Gethsemane and to the cross, where in high priestly intercession and sacrificed he fulfilled in deed and in death the prayer of his whole incarnate life, the prayer of obedience, ‘Not my will, but thine be done,’ and so was obedient unto the death of the cross. Therefore it is that when we in his name celebrate the supper, we also are given to have in our mouth his own prayer, and to pray in echo of his prayer in life and death and eternal intercession, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’, and in that prayer we engage in the fellowship of the new covenant as sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. It is on the ground of this fulfilled covenant from within our alienated will, on the ground of the reconciliation it achieved, that Christ’s victory becomes ours, his payment does away with our debt, his life enables us to be well pleasing to the Father. But it is also on the ground of this bond recreated in him that we are given to share in his prayer of covenant obedience and share in the new covenant inaugurated and established in himself. It is in the name of Jesus, that is, it is in this prayer which Jesus lived out, in sacrifice and petition to the Father, that we are allowed to pray, and so engage in the fulfilled reality and all the fruits of the new covenant as God’s dear children. That is what we do when pray ‘in the name of Jesus’, but it is above all in the heart of the Lord’s supper that we that when we pray ‘Our Father who art in heaven’.[1]

This stuff preaches too well to be the theology of the schoolmen. Oh well.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 119-21.