2. But this will appear still more clearly from the passages which will be quotes in answer to the second and most popular objection, namely, that even though the saints and angels may pray generally for all Christian people, for the whole estate of Christ’s Church upon earth, yet they know nothing of the wants of any one Christian in particular; they cannot, therefore, intercede for one person more than another; they are ignorant of what is going on amongst us, and cannot therefore hear the prayers which individuals may address to them. Now, first, as to the general fact that “the spirits of just men made perfect,” the saints in glory, have knowledge of some at least of this earth’s doings, we may appeal to the language of St. Paul, who speaks of them as forming a cloud of witnesses over our heads [Hebrews 12:1]; and if they are witnesses, and if we are to take courage from the thought that they are looking on at us, it must be because they really know and take an interest in what we are doing. “I charge thee,” says St. Paul, writing to his beloved son Timothy (i. 21), “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things.” St. Paul calls the elect angels to witness the injunction he lays upon Timothy, just as he calls upon God and our blessed Saviour to witness it. What is the meaning of this, if they could know nothing either of the injunction or of the manner in which it was obeyed? Again, our Lord declares that there is joy in heaven, and in the presence of the angels of God, over a sinner doing penance; it is impossible therefore but that it must be known in heaven by the angels of God when a sinner is doing penance. Then, besides these general statements bearing upon the point before us, holy Scripture contains also particular instances of this knowledge. When Moses and Elias appeared at the transfiguration, they knew and spoke of the decease which our Lord should accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke ix. 31). When Samuel appeared to Saul, he knew what was passing at that time among the people of Israel, and what would take place the next day (1 Sam. xxviii. 16-19). Of, if these instances are objected to as being extraordinary and miraculous occurrences, from which we may not fairly draw any general conclusion as to the powers and privileges of departed souls, let us turn to the Book of Revelation, where surely, if any where in the Bible is given us an insight into heaven, and we are told both what it is like, and who are its inhabitants, and what is their occupation. First, then, we read in that book of mysteries (vi. 9-11) that “the souls of those that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held, cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that swell on the earth?” These blessed martyrs then, though no longer upon the earth, yet knew what was happening there, and knew that their blood had not yet been avenged. By and bye we read about the four and twenty elders who have been already mentioned, that they know that “the nations are angry, and the wrath of God is come, and the time of the dead that they should be judged” (xi. 16-18). They know also that the devil is accusing their brethren before God, and a loud voice declares to them when he is cast down; and that “the brethren have overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony;” and that they have been constant, even to martyrdom (xii. 10,11). So also it is known when Babylon is destroyed, and the saints, “the holy Apostles and Prophets,” are called upon “to rejoice over her, because God had avenged them on her” (xviii. 20). And so on, throughout the whole of that book, the saints and angels–the whole court of heaven–are always represented as looking on upon the affairs of this world, having knowledge of all their variations, taking a lively interest in them, so as to be filled at one time with indignation, at another with joy, according to the character of the several events which they witness.
As to the manner in which this knowledge is conveyed to them, that is altogether a distinct question, into which it is not necessary that we should enter. It is only the fact which intimately concerns us, whether or not the saints and angels are conscious of what is happening here below. When once this fact has been ascertained, we may be content to leave the manner of their obtaining this consciousness, as one of the secret things of God, which are hidden from our eyes. Nevertheless I am tempted to make one or two observations upon it, which may tend to diminish the difficulty that is felt by some Protestants in this matter.
First, then, it is worth while to observe, that it appears from what we read in the Bible that the saints, even while yet living upon earth, have often possessed knowledge of what was passing about them, but which they could not have known by any ordinary means. Thus Eliseus knew what Gehazi had done; and he gave the king of Israel information of all that passed in the Syrian camp; and he knew when the king sent to murder him; and all this knowledge he had, supernaturally indeed, yet at the same time so habitually, that it seemed to him an unusual thing when he did not know what had troubled the Sunamite woman. In like manner Ahias, though he could not see, for his eyes were dim, knew Jeroboam’s wife in her disguise, for God had told him she was coming. St. Peter too could read the consciences of Ananias and Sapphira; and St. Paul could seee the heart of the impotent man, “perceiving that he had faith to be healed.” And in the same way Samuel said to Saul, “I will tell thee all that is in they heart” (1 Sam. ix. 19). Again, Almighty God said of Abraham, “Can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” And on account of this familiar converse with God, he was called the “friend of God.” Of Moses too it was said, “God spoke to him face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend” (Exod. xxxiii. 11). And lastly, our Lord told the Apostles, “Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth. But I have called you friends; because all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you” (John xv. 15). It would seem, then, that a divine communication of knowledge is one distinguishing mark of the divine favour: and can we suppose that Abraham, and Moses, and the Apostles, are less the friends of God now,—less in His favour, and less endowed with supernatural light and intelligence now,—than they were whilst yet they remained upon earth? Since, then, the saints on earth have been gifted with such light, surely there can be no difficulty in believing that they possess such knowledge in heaven, where they are in the immediate presence of God, and see Him “face to face,” and “know even as they are known.”
Some persons, however, not observing this characteristic of so many of God’s most eminent servants, have not scrupled to say, that it is absurd to suppose that He would reveal to the saints the prayers made to them by those whom they have left behind on earth, or reveal to them any other events of the world below, in order that they might pray to Him. And yet a more attentive study of the written Word would have told them of a saint who was once removed from the sight of men for a considerable time, during which he lived a supernatural life in the more immediate presence of God; and that, during that time, God did reveal to him what was passing among His people, and did this (as it seems) for the express purpose that he might intercede for them. For God knew that it would be Moses’ first thought to pray for the children of Israel; and, to try him the more, He charged him not to pray, and offered to raise Moses himself to be the father of a new race. Nevertheless Moses did intercede for them, and “the Lord hearkened unto him” (Deut. ix. 19). Again, in the other instance of a forty days’ fast recorded in the Old Testament, when Elias was overwhelmed with the dreadful state of his people, God made known to him the number of the faithful left in Israel, in order that he might be encouraged to persevere in his labours. And still earlier than either of these instances, at the destruction of Sodom, this seems to have been the purpose wherefore God would not hide it from Abraham, namely, that he might pray for Lot; for it is said afterwards, “God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow.”
You see, then, that there is really no scriptural objection, not only against the general fact that the saints and angels may have an accurate knowledge of what is happening upon earth, but not even against a particular explanation which is often given as to the manner in which this knowledge is communicated to them, viz. by special revelation from Almighty God. On the contrary, you see that both the general fact and the particular explanation of it may be shewn to be in perfect harmony with holy Scripture, if, indeed, we should not rather say that the first is even positively revealed to us there.
3. Equally unfounded in Scripture is the third Protestant objection to the doctrine of the intercession of the saints, viz. that it implies that GOd is not all-gracious and merciful in Himself, and that it encroaches on the office of the One Mediator. For Almighty God is continually represented in holy Scripture as shewing favour for the sake of those who had pleased Him during life and were now deceased; “I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham’s sake” (Gen. xxvi. 24); “I will not do it for David thy father’s sake; but will give one tribe to thy son for David My servant’s sake” (1 Kings xi. 12, 13, 14; xv. 4); “The Lord would not destroy Judah for David His servant’s sake;” I will defend this city, to save it for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake” (2 Kings viii. 19; xix. 34; xx. 6); “He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant” (Ps. cv. 42).
God also allows Himself to be entreated for the sake of His servants departed; in other words, He allows Himself to be entreated “through the merits of the saints.” Thus Moses prayed, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou swearest by Thine own self” (Ex. xxxii. 13). “For Thy servant David’s sake, turn not away the face of Thy anointed” (Ps. cxxxii. 10). This is repeated 2 Chron. vi. 42, where, by the by, it is an instance of its being used in divine worship—”O Lord God, turn not away the face of Thine anointed; remember the mercies of David Thy servant.” So again Elisha said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” (2 Kings ii. 14); and he obtained a miracle in answer to this prayer.
Again, we find many instances in holy Scripture of persons who had incurred the divine displeasure being directed to ask others, God’s chosen servants, to intercede for them, before they could obtain pardon. Abimelech, when threatened with divine vengeance, was told by God that Abraham was “a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live.” And when Abraham prayed, “God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maid-servants” (Gen. xx. 7, 17). In like manner, the three friends of Job were told that God was displeased with them, and they were sent to Job. “My servant Job shall pray for you, for him will I accept” (Job xlii. 8). “So they went, and did according as the Lord commanded them; and the Lord accepted Job: and the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends.”
Nor does this encroach in any way on the function of our Lord, who is the one Mediator, God made man, pleading His own merits, and offering the propitiation made by Himself; for the saints are mediators or intercessors only as men believing in God, and accepted in and through Christ: those before His advent finding favour with God for the sake of His redemption that was to be made, and those since as redeemed and justified in Him; so that holy men are often spoken of in different parts of the Bible as making a propitiation of this character. Thus Aaron, in the plague, “offered the incense; and standing between the dead and the living, made an atonement for the people” (Num. xvi. 47). And Moses tells the people (Deut. ix. 18), “I fell down before the Lord your God for forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread nor drink water because of all your sins which ye sinned…. and the Lord hearkened unto me.” When, therefore, God wished to express the grievousness of the sins of Israel, He told Ezechiel that not even Noah, Daniel, and Job could propitiate Him: “they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness” (Ezech. xiv. 12-21). Yet Noah had saved himself and his family in the destruction of the world, and Job had obtained the pardon of his friends. And again, God said to Jeremiah, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be towards this people” (Jerem. xv. 1). Moses had obtained pardon for the people when God threatened to destroy them, and Samuel obtained their deliverance from the Philistines; yet now the Divine indignation was so great, that even they could not appease it. And several times God told the same prophet, “Pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me, for I will not hear thee” (Jerem. vii. 16); shewing that it is an extraordinary thing when God will not accept the intercession and propitiation of His chosen servants. Almighty God, in the extremity of His anger, forbade His prophets to pray for the people, as if their intercession would have imposed an obligation upon Him to spare the offenders.
Nor is it a proof that God is not all-gracious and bountiful in Himself, that He chooses we should employ the intercession of His saints. On the contrary, it is a remarkable proof of His graciousness and bounty. God requires us to pray to Him. He has made our praying to Him the condition of granting us what we need. He vouchsafes to be moved by our prayers. Nay, He has put us, in a manner, in each other’s power, and has made the bestowal of the graces which He desires to pour down on others depend on our interceding for them; as thus, “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth labourers into His harvest” (Matt. ix. 38). “Pray one for another, that ye may be saved; for the continual prayer of a just man availeth much” (James v. 16). This being so, is it not a special proof of His loving-kindness that He provides for us a whole army of just and holy intercessors, that their prayers may, so to say, compel Him to grant what His divine heart longs to bestow? The Catholic doctrine of the intercession of saints and angels is but an exemplification of this law of His providence, viz. that He grants mercies and blessings in answer to prayer, and that He has special regard to the supplications of His most faithful servants. It does not contradict the Bible, but manifestly agrees with it, and can be seen to be a part of the same system.