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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

John 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-13

John

THE INTERCESSOR

John 17:1 - John 17:19.

We may well despair of doing justice to the deep thoughts of this prayer, which volumes would not exhaust. Who is worthy to speak or to write about such sacred words? Perhaps we may best gain some glimpses of their great and holy sublimity by trying to gather their teaching round the centres of the three petitions, ‘glorify’ [John 17:1, John 17:5], ‘keep’ [John 17:11], and ‘sanctify’ [John 17:17].

I. In John 17:1 - John 17:5, Jesus prays for Himself, that He may be restored to His pre-incarnate glory; but yet the prayer desires not so much that glory as affecting Himself, as His being fitted thereby for completing His work of manifesting the Father. There are three main points in these verses-the petition, its purpose, and its grounds.

As to the first, the repetition of the request in John 17:1 - John 17:5 is significant, especially if we note that in the former the language is impersonal, ‘Thy Son,’ and continues so till John 17:4, where ‘I’ and ‘Me’ appear. In John 17:1 - John 17:3, then, the prayer rests upon the ideal relations of Father and Son, realised in Jesus, while in John 17:4 - John 17:5 the personal element is emphatically presented. The two petitions are in their scope identical. The ‘glorifying’ in the former is more fully explained in the latter as being that which He possessed in that ineffable fellowship with the Father, not merely before incarnation, but before creation. In His manhood He possessed and manifested the ‘glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’; but that glory, lustrous though it was, was pale, and humiliation compared with the light inaccessible, which shone around the Eternal Word in the bosom of the Father. Yet He who prayed was the same Person who had walked in that light before time was, and now in human flesh asked for what no mere manhood could bear. The first form of the petition implies that such a partaking in the uncreated glory of the Father is the natural prerogative of One who is ‘the Son,’ while the second implies that it is the appropriate recompense of the earthly life and character of the man Jesus. John 17:4, where

The petition not only reveals the conscious divinity of the Son, but also His willing acceptance of the Cross; for the glorifying sought is that reached through death, resurrection, and ascension, and that introductory clause, ‘the hour is come,’ points to the impending sufferings as the first step in the answer to the petition. The Crucifixion is always thus treated in this Gospel, as being both the lowest humiliation and the ‘lifting up’ of the Son; and here He is reaching out His hand, as it were, to draw His sufferings nearer. So willingly and desiringly did this Isaac climb the mount of sacrifice. Both elements of the great saying in the Epistle to the Hebrews are here: ‘For the joy that was set before Him, [He] endured the Cross.’

The purpose of the petition is to be noted; namely, the Son’s glorifying of the Father. No taint of selfishness corrupted His prayer. Not for Himself, but for men, did He desire His glory. He sought return to that serene and lofty seat, and the elevation of His limited manhood to the throne, not because He was wearied of earth or impatient of weakness, sorrows, or limitations, but that He might more fully manifest by that Glory, the Father’s name. To make the Father known is to make the Father glorious; for He is all fair and lovely. That revelation of divine perfection, majesty, and sweetness was the end of Christ’s earthly life, and is the end of His heavenly divine activity. He needs to reassume the prerogatives of which He needed to divest Himself, and both necessities have one end. He had to lay aside His garments and assume the form of a servant, that He might make God known; but, that revelation being complete, He must take His garments and sit down again, before He can go on to tell all the meaning of what He has ‘done unto us.’

The ground of the petition is twofold. John 17:2 represent the glory sought for, as the completion of the Son’s mission and task. Already He had been endowed with ‘authority over all flesh,’ for the purpose of bestowing eternal life; and that eternal life stands in the knowledge of God, which is the same as the knowledge of Christ. The present gift to the Son and its purpose are thus precisely parallel with the further gift desired, and that is the necessary carrying out of this. The authority and office of the incarnate Christ demand the glory of, and consequent further manifestation by, the glorified Christ. The life which He comes to give is a life which flows from the revelation that He makes of the Father, received, not as mere intellectual knowledge, but as loving acquaintance.

The second ground for the petition is in John 17:4, the actual perfect fulfilment by the Son of that mission. What untroubled consciousness of sinless obedience and transparent shining through His life of the Father’s likeness and will He must have had, who could thus assert His complete realisation of that Father’s revealing purpose, as the ground of His deserving and desiring participation in the divine glory! Surely such words are either the acme of self-righteousness or the self-revealing speech of the Son of God.

II. With John 17:6 we pass to the more immediate reference to the disciples, and the context from thence to John 17:15 may be regarded as all clustered round the second petition ‘keep’ {John 17:11}.

That central request is preceded and followed by considerations of the disciples’ relation to Christ and to the world, which may be regarded as its grounds. The whole context preceding the petition may be summed up in two grounds for the prayer-the former set forth at length, and the latter summarily; the one being the genuine, though incomplete discipleship of the men for whom Christ prays [John 17:6 - John 17:10], and the latter their desolate condition without Jesus [John 17:11].

It is beautiful to see how our Lord here credits the disciples with genuine grasp, both in heart and head, of His teaching. He had shortly before had to say, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?’ and soon ‘they all forsook Him and fled.’ But beneath misconception and inadequate apprehension there lived faith and love; and He saw ‘the full corn in the ear,’ when only the green ‘blade’ was visible, pushing itself above the surface. We may take comfort from this generous estimate of imperfect disciples. If He did not tend, instead of quenching, ‘dimly burning wicks,’ where would He have ‘lights in the world?’

John 17:6 lays down the beginning of discipleship as threefold: Christ’s act in revealing; the Father’s, in giving men to Jesus; and men’s, in keeping the Father’s word. ‘Thy word’ is the whole revelation by Christ, which is, as this Gospel so often repeats, not His own, but the Father’s. These three facts underlying discipleship are pleas for the petition to follow; for unless the feeble disciples are ‘kept’ in the name, as in a fortress, Christ’s work of revelation is neutralised, the Father’s gift to Him made of none effect, and the incipient disciples will not ‘keep’ His word. The plea is, in effect, ‘Forsake not the works of thine own hands’; and, like all Christ’s prayers, it has a promise in its depths, since God does not begin what He will not finish; and it has a warning, too, that we cannot keep ourselves unless a stronger Hand keeps us.

John 17:7 - John 17:8 carry on the portraiture of discipleship, and thence draw fresh pleas. The blessed result of accepting Christ’s revelation is a knowledge, built on happy experience, and, like the acquaintance of heart with heart, issuing in the firm conviction that Christ’s words and deeds are from God. Why does He say, ‘All things whatsoever Thou hast given,’ instead of simply ‘that I have’ or ‘declare’? Probably it is the natural expression of His consciousness, the lowly utterance of His obedience, claiming nothing as His own, and yet claiming all, while the subsequent clause ‘are of Thee’ expresses the disciples’ conviction. In like fashion our Lord, in verse 8, declares that His words, in their manifoldness {contrast John 17:6, ‘Thy word’}, were all received by Him from the Father, and accepted by the disciples, with the result that they came, as before, to ‘know’ by inward acquaintance with Him as a person, and so to have the divinity of His Person certified by experience, and further came to ‘believe’ that God had sent Him, which was a conviction arrived at by faith. So knowledge, which is personal experience and acquaintance, and faith, which rises to the heights of the Father’s purpose, come from the humble acceptance of the Christ declaring the Father’s name. First faith, then knowledge, and then a fuller faith built on it, and that faith in its turn passing into knowledge [John 17:25]-these are the blessings belonging to the growth of true discipleship, and are discerned by the loving eye of Jesus in very imperfect followers.

In John 17:9 Jesus assumes the great office of Intercessor. ‘I pray for them’ is not so much prayer as His solemn presentation of Himself before the Father as the High-priest of His people. It marks an epoch in His work. The task of bringing God to man is substantially complete. That of bringing men by supplication to God is now to begin. It is the revelation of the permanent office of the departed Lord. Moses on the Mount holds up the rod, and Israel prevails [Exodus 17:9]. The limitation of this prayer to the disciples applies only to the special occasion, and has no bearing on the sweep of His redeeming purpose or the desires of His all-pitying heart. The reasons for His intercession follow in John 17:9 - John 17:11. The disciples are the Father’s, and continue so even when ‘given’ to Christ, in accordance with the community of possession, which oneness of nature and perfectness of love establish between the Father and the Son. God cannot but care for those who are His. The Son cannot but pray for those who are His. Their having recognised Him for what He was binds Him to pray for them. He is glorified in disciples, and if we show forth His character, He will be our Advocate. The last reason for His prayer is the loneliness of the disciples and their exposure in the world without Him. His departure impelled Him to Intercede, both as being a leaving them defenceless and as being an entrance into the heavenly state of communion with the Father.

In the petition itself [John 17:11], observe the invocation ‘Holy Father!’ with special reference to the prayer for preservation from the corruption of the world. God’s holiness is the pledge that He will make us holy, since He is ‘Father’ as well. Observe the substance of the request, that the disciples should be kept, as in a fortress, within the enclosing circle of the name which God has given to Jesus. The name is the manifestation of the divine nature. It was given to Jesus, inasmuch as He, ‘the Word,’ had from the beginning the office of revealing God; and that which was spoken of the Angel of the Covenant is true in highest reality of Jesus: ‘My name is in Him.’ ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe.’

Observe the issue of this keeping; namely, the unity of believers. The depths of that saying are beyond us, but we can at least see thus far-that the true bond of unity is the name in which all who are one are kept; that the pattern of the true unity of believers is the ineffable union of Father and Son, which is oneness of will and nature, along with distinctness of persons; and that therefore this purpose goes far deeper than outward unity of organisation.

Then follow other pleas, which are principally drawn from Christ’s relation to the disciples, now ending; whereas the former ones were chiefly deduced from the disciples’ relation to Him. He can no more do what He has done, and commits it to the Father. Happy we if we can leave our unfinished tasks to be taken up by God, and trust those whom we leave undefended to be shielded by Him! ‘I kept’ is, in the Greek, expressive of continuous, repeated action, while ‘I guarded’ gives the single issue of the many acts of keeping. Jesus keeps His disciples now as He did then, by sedulous, patient, reiterated acts, so that they are safe from evil. But note where He kept them-’in Thy name.’ That is our place of safety, a sure defence and inexpugnable fortress. One, indeed, was lost; but that was not any slur on Christ’s keeping, but resulted from his own evil nature, as being ‘a son of loss’ {if we may so preserve the affinity of the words in the Greek}, and from the divine decree from of old. Sharply defined and closely united are the two apparent contradictories of man’s free choice of destruction and God’s foreknowledge. Christ saw them in harmony, and we shall do so one day.

Then the flow of the prayer recurs to former thoughts. Going away so soon, He yearned to leave them sharers of His own emotions in the prospect of His departure to the Father, and therefore He had admitted them {and us} to hear this sacred outpouring of His desires. If we laid to heart the blessed revelations of this disclosure of Christ’s heart, and followed Him with faithful gaze as He ascends to the Father, and realised our share in that triumph, our empty vessels would be filled by some of that same joy which was His. Earthly joy can never be full; Christian joy should never be anything less than full.

Then follows a final glance at the disciples’ relation to the world, to which they are alien because they are of kindred to Him. This is the ground for the repetition of the prayer ‘keep’, with the difference that formerly it was ‘keep in Thy name,’ and now it is ‘from the evil.’ It is good to gaze first on our defence, the ‘munitions of rocks’ where we lie safely, and then we can venture to face the thought of ‘the evil,’ from which that keeps us, whether it be personal or abstract.

III. John 17:16 - John 17:19 give the final petition for the immediate circle of disciples, with its grounds.

The position of alienation from the world, in which the disciples stand by reason of their assimilation to Jesus, is repeated here. It was the reason for the former prayer, ‘keep’; it is the reason for the new petition, ‘sanctify.’ Keeping comes first, and then sanctifying, or consecration. Security from evil is given that we may be wholly devoted to the service of God. The evil in the world is the great hindrance to that. The likeness to Jesus is the great ground of hope that we shall be truly consecrated. We are kept ‘in the name’; we are consecrated ‘in the truth,’ which is the revelation made by Jesus, and in a very deep sense is Himself. That truth is, as it were, the element in which the believer lives, and by abiding in which his real consecration is possible.

Christ’s prayer for us should be our aim and deepest desire for ourselves, and His declaration of the condition of its fulfilment should prescribe our firm adhesion to, and constant abiding in, the truth as revealed and embodied in Him, as the only means by which we can attain the consecration which is at once, as the closing verses of the passage tell us, the means by which we may fulfil the purpose for which we are sent into the world, and the path on which we reach complete assimilation to His perfect self-surrender. All Christians are sent into the world by Jesus, as Jesus was sent by the Father. We have the charge to glorify Him. We have the presence of the Sender with us, the sent. We are inspired with His Spirit. We cannot do His work without that entire consecration which shall copy His devotion to the Father and eager swiftness to do His will. How can such ennobling and exalted consecration be ours? There is but one way. He has ‘consecrated Himself,’ and by union with Him through faith, our selfishness may be subdued, and the Spirit of Christ may dwell in our hearts, to make us ‘living sacrifices, consecrated and acceptable to God.’ Then shall we be truly ‘consecrated,’ and then only, when we can say, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ That is the end of Christ’s consecration of Himself-the prayer which He prayed for His disciples-and should be the aim which every disciple earnestly pursues.


Verses 14-16

John

THE INTERCESSOR

‘THE LORD THEE KEEPS’

John 17:14 - John 17:16.

We have here a petition imbedded in a reiterated statement of the disciples’ isolated position when left in a hostile world without Christ’s sheltering presence. We cannot fathom the depth of the mystery of the praying Christ, but we may be sure of this, that His prayers were always in harmony with the Father’s will, were, in fact, the expression of that will, and were therefore promises and prophecies. What He prays the Father for His disciples He gives to His disciples. Once only had He to say, ‘If it be possible’; at all other times He prayed as sure that ‘Thou hearest Me always,’ and in this very prayer He speaks in a tone of strange authority, when He prays for all believers in future ages, and says: ‘I will that, where I am, they also may be with Me.’ In this High-priestly prayer, offered when Gethsemane was almost in sight, and the Judgment Hall and Calvary were near, our Lord’s tender interest in His disciples fills His mind, and even in its earlier portion, which is in form a series of petitions for Himself, it is in essence a prayer for them, whilst this central section which concerns the Apostles, and the closing section which casts the mantle of His love and care over all who hereafter shall ‘believe on Me through their word,’ witnesses to the sublime completeness of His self-oblivion. Gethsemane heard His prayer for Himself; here He prays for His people, and the calm serenity and confident assurance of this prayer, set against the agitation of that other, receives and gives emphasis by the contrast.

Our text falls into two parts, the enclosing circle of the repeated statement of the disciples’ isolation in an alien world, and the enclosed jewel of the all-sufficient prayer which guarantees their protection. We shall best make its comfort and cheer our own by dealing with these two successively.

I. The disciples’ isolation.

Of course we are to interpret the ‘world’ here in accordance with the ethical usage of that term in this Gospel, according to which it means the aggregate of mankind considered as apart from and alien to God. It is roughly equivalent to the modern phrase, ‘society.’

With that order of things Christ’s real followers are not in accord.

That want of accord depends upon their accord with Jesus.

Every Christian has the ‘mind of Christ’ in him, in the measure of his Christianity. ‘It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master’ But Christian discipleship has a better guarantee for the assimilation of the disciple to his Lord than the ordinary forms of the relation of teacher and taught ever present. There is a participation in the Master’s life, an implantation in the scholar’s spirit of the Teacher’s Spirit. ‘Christ in us’ is not only ‘the hope of glory,’ but the power which makes possible and actual the present possession of a life kindred with, because derived from, and essentially one with, His life.

They whose spirits are touched by the indwelling Christ to the ‘fine issues’ of sympathy with the law of His earthly life cannot but live in the world as aliens, and wander amid its pitfalls with ‘blank misgivings’ and a chill sense that this is not their rest. They are knit to One whose ‘meat and drink’ was to do the will of the Father in heaven, who ‘pleased not Himself,’ whose life was all one long service and sacrifice for men, whose joys were not fed by earthly possessions or delights. How should they have a sense of community of aims with grovelling hearts that cling to wealth or ambition, that are not at peace with God, and have no holdfasts beyond this ‘bank and shoal of time’? A man who has drunk into the spirit of Christ’s life is thereby necessarily thrown out of gear with the world.

Happy is he if his union with Jesus is so deep and close that it is but deepened by his experience of the lack of sympathy between the world and himself! Happy if his consciousness of not being ‘of the world’ but quickens his desire to help the world and glorify his Lord, by bringing His all-sufficiency into its emptiness, and leading it, too, to discern His sweetness and beauty!

But how little the life of the average Christian corresponds to this reiterated utterance of our Lord! Who of us dare venture to take it on our lips and to say that we are ‘not of the world even as He is not of the world’? Is not our relation to that world of which Jesus here speaks a contrast rather than a parallel to His? The ‘prince of this world’ had nothing in Christ, as He himself declared, but He has much in each of us. There are stored up heaps of combustibles in every one of us which catch fire only too swiftly, and burn but too fiercely, when the ‘fiery darts of the wicked’ fall among them. Instead of an instinctive recoil from the view of life characteristic of ‘the world,’ we must confess, if we are honest, that it draws us strongly, and many of us are quite at home with it. Why is this but because we do not habitually live near enough to our Lord to drink in His Spirit? The measure of our discord with the world is the measure of our accord with our Saviour. It is in the degree in which we possess His life that we come to be aliens here, and it is in the degree in which we keep in touch with Jesus, and keep our hearts wide open for the entrance of His Spirit, that we possess His life. A worldly Christian-no uncommon character-is a Christian who has all but shut himself off from the life which Christ breathes into the expectant soul.

II. The disciples’ guarded security.

Jesus encloses His prayer between the two parts of that repeated statement of the disciples’ isolation. It is like some lovely, peaceful plain circled by grim mountains. The isolation is a necessary consequence of the disciples’ previous union with Him. It involves much that is painful to the unrenewed part of their natures, but their Lord’s prayer is more than enough for their security and peace.

‘I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world.’ They are in it by God’s appointment for great purposes, affecting their own characters and affecting the world, with which Christ will not interfere. It is their training ground, their school. The sense of belonging to another order is to be intensified by their experiences in it, and these are to make more vivid the hopes that yearn towards the true home, and to develop the ‘wrestling thews that throw the world.’ The discipline of life is too precious to be tampered with even by a Saviour’s prayer, and He loves His people too wisely to seek to shelter them from its roughness, and to procure for them exemption which would impoverish their characters.

So let us learn the lesson and shape our desires after the pattern of our Lord’s prayer for us, nor blindly seek for that ease which He would not ask for us. False asceticism that shrinks from contact with an alien world, weak running from trials and temptations, selfish desires for exemption from sorrows, are all rebuked by this prayer. Christ’s relation to the world is our pattern, and we are not to seek for pillows in an order of things where He ‘had not where to lay His head.’

But He does ask for His people that they may be kept ‘from evil,’ or from ‘the evil One.’ That prayer is, as we have said, a promise and a prophecy. But the fulfilment of it in each individual disciple hinges on the disciple’s keeping himself in touch with Jesus, whereby the ‘much virtue’ of His prayer will encompass him and keep him safe. We do not discuss the alternative renderings, according to one of which ‘the evil’ is impersonal, and according to the other of which it is concentrated in the personal ‘prince of this world.’ In either case, it is ‘the evil’ against which the disciples are to be guarded, whether it has a personal source or not.

Here, in Christ’s intercession, is the firm ground of our confidence that we may be ‘more than conquerors’ in the life-long fight which we have to wage. The sweet strong old psalm is valid in its assurances to-day for every soul which puts itself under the shadow of Christ’s protecting intercession: ‘The Lord shall keep thee from all evil, He shall keep thy soul.’ We have not ‘to lift up our eyes unto the hills,’ for ‘vainly is help hoped for from the multitude of the mountains,’ but ‘Our help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.’ Therefore we may dwell at peace in the midst of an alien world, having the Father for our Keeper, and the Son, who overcame the world, for our Intercessor, our Pattern and our Hope.

The parallel between Christ and His people applies to their relations to the present order of things: ‘They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.’ It applies to their mission here: ‘As Thou didst send Me into the world, even so sent I them into the world.’ It applies to the future: ‘I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee,’ and in that ‘coming’ lies the guarantee that His servants will, each in his due time, come out from this alien world and pass into the state which is home, because He is there. The prayer that they might be kept from the evil, while remaining in the scene where evil is rampant, is crowned by the prayer: ‘I will that, where I am, they also may be with Me, that they may behold My glory.’


Verses 17-19

John

THE INTERCESSOR

John 17:1 - John 17:19.

We may well despair of doing justice to the deep thoughts of this prayer, which volumes would not exhaust. Who is worthy to speak or to write about such sacred words? Perhaps we may best gain some glimpses of their great and holy sublimity by trying to gather their teaching round the centres of the three petitions, ‘glorify’ [John 17:1, John 17:5], ‘keep’ [John 17:11], and ‘sanctify’ [John 17:17].

I. In John 17:1 - John 17:5, Jesus prays for Himself, that He may be restored to His pre-incarnate glory; but yet the prayer desires not so much that glory as affecting Himself, as His being fitted thereby for completing His work of manifesting the Father. There are three main points in these verses-the petition, its purpose, and its grounds.

As to the first, the repetition of the request in John 17:1 - John 17:5 is significant, especially if we note that in the former the language is impersonal, ‘Thy Son,’ and continues so till John 17:4, where ‘I’ and ‘Me’ appear. In John 17:1 - John 17:3, then, the prayer rests upon the ideal relations of Father and Son, realised in Jesus, while in John 17:4 - John 17:5 the personal element is emphatically presented. The two petitions are in their scope identical. The ‘glorifying’ in the former is more fully explained in the latter as being that which He possessed in that ineffable fellowship with the Father, not merely before incarnation, but before creation. In His manhood He possessed and manifested the ‘glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’; but that glory, lustrous though it was, was pale, and humiliation compared with the light inaccessible, which shone around the Eternal Word in the bosom of the Father. Yet He who prayed was the same Person who had walked in that light before time was, and now in human flesh asked for what no mere manhood could bear. The first form of the petition implies that such a partaking in the uncreated glory of the Father is the natural prerogative of One who is ‘the Son,’ while the second implies that it is the appropriate recompense of the earthly life and character of the man Jesus.

The petition not only reveals the conscious divinity of the Son, but also His willing acceptance of the Cross; for the glorifying sought is that reached through death, resurrection, and ascension, and that introductory clause, ‘the hour is come,’ points to the impending sufferings as the first step in the answer to the petition. The Crucifixion is always thus treated in this Gospel, as being both the lowest humiliation and the ‘lifting up’ of the Son; and here He is reaching out His hand, as it were, to draw His sufferings nearer. So willingly and desiringly did this Isaac climb the mount of sacrifice. Both elements of the great saying in the Epistle to the Hebrews are here: ‘For the joy that was set before Him, [He] endured the Cross.’

The purpose of the petition is to be noted; namely, the Son’s glorifying of the Father. No taint of selfishness corrupted His prayer. Not for Himself, but for men, did He desire His glory. He sought return to that serene and lofty seat, and the elevation of His limited manhood to the throne, not because He was wearied of earth or impatient of weakness, sorrows, or limitations, but that He might more fully manifest by that Glory, the Father’s name. To make the Father known is to make the Father glorious; for He is all fair and lovely. That revelation of divine perfection, majesty, and sweetness was the end of Christ’s earthly life, and is the end of His heavenly divine activity. He needs to reassume the prerogatives of which He needed to divest Himself, and both necessities have one end. He had to lay aside His garments and assume the form of a servant, that He might make God known; but, that revelation being complete, He must take His garments and sit down again, before He can go on to tell all the meaning of what He has ‘done unto us.’

The ground of the petition is twofold. John 17:2 represent the glory sought for, as the completion of the Son’s mission and task. Already He had been endowed with ‘authority over all flesh,’ for the purpose of bestowing eternal life; and that eternal life stands in the knowledge of God, which is the same as the knowledge of Christ. The present gift to the Son and its purpose are thus precisely parallel with the further gift desired, and that is the necessary carrying out of this. The authority and office of the incarnate Christ demand the glory of, and consequent further manifestation by, the glorified Christ. The life which He comes to give is a life which flows from the revelation that He makes of the Father, received, not as mere intellectual knowledge, but as loving acquaintance.

The second ground for the petition is in John 17:4, the actual perfect fulfilment by the Son of that mission. What untroubled consciousness of sinless obedience and transparent shining through His life of the Father’s likeness and will He must have had, who could thus assert His complete realisation of that Father’s revealing purpose, as the ground of His deserving and desiring participation in the divine glory! Surely such words are either the acme of self-righteousness or the self-revealing speech of the Son of God.

II. With John 17:6 we pass to the more immediate reference to the disciples, and the context from thence to John 17:15 may be regarded as all clustered round the second petition ‘keep’ {John 17:11}.

That central request is preceded and followed by considerations of the disciples’ relation to Christ and to the world, which may be regarded as its grounds. The whole context preceding the petition may be summed up in two grounds for the prayer-the former set forth at length, and the latter summarily; the one being the genuine, though incomplete discipleship of the men for whom Christ prays [John 17:6 - John 17:10], and the latter their desolate condition without Jesus [John 17:11].

It is beautiful to see how our Lord here credits the disciples with genuine grasp, both in heart and head, of His teaching. He had shortly before had to say, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?’ and soon ‘they all forsook Him and fled.’ But beneath misconception and inadequate apprehension there lived faith and love; and He saw ‘the full corn in the ear,’ when only the green ‘blade’ was visible, pushing itself above the surface. We may take comfort from this generous estimate of imperfect disciples. If He did not tend, instead of quenching, ‘dimly burning wicks,’ where would He have ‘lights in the world?’

John 17:6 lays down the beginning of discipleship as threefold: Christ’s act in revealing; the Father’s, in giving men to Jesus; and men’s, in keeping the Father’s word. ‘Thy word’ is the whole revelation by Christ, which is, as this Gospel so often repeats, not His own, but the Father’s. These three facts underlying discipleship are pleas for the petition to follow; for unless the feeble disciples are ‘kept’ in the name, as in a fortress, Christ’s work of revelation is neutralised, the Father’s gift to Him made of none effect, and the incipient disciples will not ‘keep’ His word. The plea is, in effect, ‘Forsake not the works of thine own hands’; and, like all Christ’s prayers, it has a promise in its depths, since God does not begin what He will not finish; and it has a warning, too, that we cannot keep ourselves unless a stronger Hand keeps us.

John 17:7 - John 17:8 carry on the portraiture of discipleship, and thence draw fresh pleas. The blessed result of accepting Christ’s revelation is a knowledge, built on happy experience, and, like the acquaintance of heart with heart, issuing in the firm conviction that Christ’s words and deeds are from God. Why does He say, ‘All things whatsoever Thou hast given,’ instead of simply ‘that I have’ or ‘declare’? Probably it is the natural expression of His consciousness, the lowly utterance of His obedience, claiming nothing as His own, and yet claiming all, while the subsequent clause ‘are of Thee’ expresses the disciples’ conviction. In like fashion our Lord, in verse 8, declares that His words, in their manifoldness {contrast John 17:6, ‘Thy word’}, were all received by Him from the Father, and accepted by the disciples, with the result that they came, as before, to ‘know’ by inward acquaintance with Him as a person, and so to have the divinity of His Person certified by experience, and further came to ‘believe’ that God had sent Him, which was a conviction arrived at by faith. So knowledge, which is personal experience and acquaintance, and faith, which rises to the heights of the Father’s purpose, come from the humble acceptance of the Christ declaring the Father’s name. First faith, then knowledge, and then a fuller faith built on it, and that faith in its turn passing into knowledge [John 17:25]-these are the blessings belonging to the growth of true discipleship, and are discerned by the loving eye of Jesus in very imperfect followers.

In John 17:9 Jesus assumes the great office of Intercessor. ‘I pray for them’ is not so much prayer as His solemn presentation of Himself before the Father as the High-priest of His people. It marks an epoch in His work. The task of bringing God to man is substantially complete. That of bringing men by supplication to God is now to begin. It is the revelation of the permanent office of the departed Lord. Moses on the Mount holds up the rod, and Israel prevails [Exodus 17:9]. The limitation of this prayer to the disciples applies only to the special occasion, and has no bearing on the sweep of His redeeming purpose or the desires of His all-pitying heart. The reasons for His intercession follow in John 17:9 - John 17:11. The disciples are the Father’s, and continue so even when ‘given’ to Christ, in accordance with the community of possession, which oneness of nature and perfectness of love establish between the Father and the Son. God cannot but care for those who are His. The Son cannot but pray for those who are His. Their having recognised Him for what He was binds Him to pray for them. He is glorified in disciples, and if we show forth His character, He will be our Advocate. The last reason for His prayer is the loneliness of the disciples and their exposure in the world without Him. His departure impelled Him to Intercede, both as being a leaving them defenceless and as being an entrance into the heavenly state of communion with the Father.

In the petition itself [John 17:11], observe the invocation ‘Holy Father!’ with special reference to the prayer for preservation from the corruption of the world. God’s holiness is the pledge that He will make us holy, since He is ‘Father’ as well. Observe the substance of the request, that the disciples should be kept, as in a fortress, within the enclosing circle of the name which God has given to Jesus. The name is the manifestation of the divine nature. It was given to Jesus, inasmuch as He, ‘the Word,’ had from the beginning the office of revealing God; and that which was spoken of the Angel of the Covenant is true in highest reality of Jesus: ‘My name is in Him.’ ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe.’

Observe the issue of this keeping; namely, the unity of believers. The depths of that saying are beyond us, but we can at least see thus far-that the true bond of unity is the name in which all who are one are kept; that the pattern of the true unity of believers is the ineffable union of Father and Son, which is oneness of will and nature, along with distinctness of persons; and that therefore this purpose goes far deeper than outward unity of organisation.

Then follow other pleas, which are principally drawn from Christ’s relation to the disciples, now ending; whereas the former ones were chiefly deduced from the disciples’ relation to Him. He can no more do what He has done, and commits it to the Father. Happy we if we can leave our unfinished tasks to be taken up by God, and trust those whom we leave undefended to be shielded by Him! ‘I kept’ is, in the Greek, expressive of continuous, repeated action, while ‘I guarded’ gives the single issue of the many acts of keeping. Jesus keeps His disciples now as He did then, by sedulous, patient, reiterated acts, so that they are safe from evil. But note where He kept them-’in Thy name.’ That is our place of safety, a sure defence and inexpugnable fortress. One, indeed, was lost; but that was not any slur on Christ’s keeping, but resulted from his own evil nature, as being ‘a son of loss’ {if we may so preserve the affinity of the words in the Greek}, and from the divine decree from of old. Sharply defined and closely united are the two apparent contradictories of man’s free choice of destruction and God’s foreknowledge. Christ saw them in harmony, and we shall do so one day.

Then the flow of the prayer recurs to former thoughts. Going away so soon, He yearned to leave them sharers of His own emotions in the prospect of His departure to the Father, and therefore He had admitted them {and us} to hear this sacred outpouring of His desires. If we laid to heart the blessed revelations of this disclosure of Christ’s heart, and followed Him with faithful gaze as He ascends to the Father, and realised our share in that triumph, our empty vessels would be filled by some of that same joy which was His. Earthly joy can never be full; Christian joy should never be anything less than full.

Then follows a final glance at the disciples’ relation to the world, to which they are alien because they are of kindred to Him. This is the ground for the repetition of the prayer ‘keep’, with the difference that formerly it was ‘keep in Thy name,’ and now it is ‘from the evil.’ It is good to gaze first on our defence, the ‘munitions of rocks’ where we lie safely, and then we can venture to face the thought of ‘the evil,’ from which that keeps us, whether it be personal or abstract.

III. John 17:16 - John 17:19 give the final petition for the immediate circle of disciples, with its grounds.

The position of alienation from the world, in which the disciples stand by reason of their assimilation to Jesus, is repeated here. It was the reason for the former prayer, ‘keep’; it is the reason for the new petition, ‘sanctify.’ Keeping comes first, and then sanctifying, or consecration. Security from evil is given that we may be wholly devoted to the service of God. The evil in the world is the great hindrance to that. The likeness to Jesus is the great ground of hope that we shall be truly consecrated. We are kept ‘in the name’; we are consecrated ‘in the truth,’ which is the revelation made by Jesus, and in a very deep sense is Himself. That truth is, as it were, the element in which the believer lives, and by abiding in which his real consecration is possible.

Christ’s prayer for us should be our aim and deepest desire for ourselves, and His declaration of the condition of its fulfilment should prescribe our firm adhesion to, and constant abiding in, the truth as revealed and embodied in Him, as the only means by which we can attain the consecration which is at once, as the closing verses of the passage tell us, the means by which we may fulfil the purpose for which we are sent into the world, and the path on which we reach complete assimilation to His perfect self-surrender. All Christians are sent into the world by Jesus, as Jesus was sent by the Father. We have the charge to glorify Him. We have the presence of the Sender with us, the sent. We are inspired with His Spirit. We cannot do His work without that entire consecration which shall copy His devotion to the Father and eager swiftness to do His will. How can such ennobling and exalted consecration be ours? There is but one way. He has ‘consecrated Himself,’ and by union with Him through faith, our selfishness may be subdued, and the Spirit of Christ may dwell in our hearts, to make us ‘living sacrifices, consecrated and acceptable to God.’ Then shall we be truly ‘consecrated,’ and then only, when we can say, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ That is the end of Christ’s consecration of Himself-the prayer which He prayed for His disciples-and should be the aim which every disciple earnestly pursues.


Verses 20-23

John

THE HIGH PRIEST’S PRAYER

John 17:20 - John 17:26.

The remainder of this prayer reaches out to all generations of believers to the end. We may incidentally note that it shows that Jesus did not anticipate a speedy end of the history of the world or the Church; and also that it breathes but one desire, that for the Church’s unity, as though He saw what would be its greatest peril. Characteristic, too, of the idealism of this Gospel is it that there is no name for that future community. It is not called ‘church,’ or ‘congregation,’ or the like-it is ‘them also that believe on Me through their word,’ a great spiritual community, held together by common faith in Him whom the Apostles preached. Is not that still the best definition of Christians, and does not such a conception of it correspond better to its true nature than the formal abstraction, ‘the Church’?

We can but touch in the most inadequate fashion the profound words of this section of the prayer which would take volumes to expound fitly. We note that it contains four periods, in each of which something is asked or stated, and then a purpose to be attained by the petition or statement is set forth.

First comes the prayer for unity and what the answer to it will effect [John 17:21]. Now in this verse the unity of believers is principally regarded as resulting from the inclusion, if we may so say, of them all in the ineffable union of the Father and the Son. Jesus prays that ‘they may all be one,’ and also ‘that they also may be in us’ {Rev. Ver.}. And their unity is no mere matter of formal external organisation nor of unanimity of creed, or the like, but it is a deep, vital unity. The pattern of it is the unity of the Father and the Son, and the power that brings it about is the abiding of all believers ‘in us.’ The result of such a manifestation in the world of a multitude of men, in all of whom one life evidently moves, fusing their individualities while retaining their personalities, will be the world’s conviction of the divine mission of Jesus. The world was beginning to feel its convictions moving slowly in that direction, when it exclaimed: ‘Behold how these Christians love one another!’ The alienation of Christians has given barbs and feathers to its arrows of scorn. But it is ‘the unity of the Spirit,’ not that of a, great corporation, that Christ’s prayer desires.

The petitions for what would be given to believers passes for a moment into a statement of what Jesus had already given to them. He had begun the unifying gift, and that made a plea for its perfecting. The ‘glory’ which He had given to these poor bewildered Galilaeans was but in a rudimentary stage; but still, wherever there is faith in Him, there is some communication of His life and Spirit, and some of that veiled and yet radiant glory, ‘full of grace and truth,’ which shone through the covering when the Incarnate Word ‘became flesh.’ It is the Christ-given Christ-likeness in each which knits believers into one. It is Christ in us and we in Christ that fuses us into one, and thereby makes each perfect. And such flashing back of the light of Jesus from a million separate crystals, all glowing with one light and made one in the light, would flash on darkest eyes the lustre of the conviction that God sent Christ, and that God’s love enfolded those Christlike souls even as it enfolded Him.

Again [John 17:24] comes a petition with its result. And here there is no mention of the effect of the answer on the world. For the moment the thoughts of isolation in, and a message to, the world fade away. The partially-possessed ‘glory’ seems to have led on Christ’s thoughts to the calm home of perfection waiting for Him who was ‘not of the world’ and was sent into it, and for the humble ones who had taken Him for Lord. ‘I will that’-that is a strange tone for a prayer. What consciousness on Christ’s part does it involve? The disciples are not now called ‘them that should believe on Me,’ but ‘that which Thou hast given Me,’ the individuals melt into the great whole. They are Christ’s, not merely by their faith or man’s preaching, but by the Father’s gift. And the fact of that gift is used as a plea with Him, to ‘perfect that which concerneth’ them, and to complete the unity of believers with Jesus by bringing them to be ‘with Him’ in His triumphant session at the right hand. To ‘behold’ will be the same as to share His glory, not only that which we beheld when He tabernacled among us, but that which He had in the pouring out on Him of God’s love ‘before the foundation of the world.’ Our dim eyes cannot follow the happy souls as they are lost in the blaze, but we know that they walk in light and are like Him, for they ‘see Him as He is.’

The last statement [John 17:25 - John 17:26] is not petition but vow, and, to our ears, promise. The contrast of the world and believers appears for the last time. What made the world a ‘world’ was its not knowing God; what made believers isolated in, and having an errand to, the world, was that they ‘knew’ {not merely ‘believed,’ but knew by experience} that Jesus had been sent from God to make known His name. All our knowledge of God comes through Him; it is for us to recognise His divine mission, and then He will unveil, more and more, with blessed continuity of increasing knowledge, the Name, and with growing knowledge of it growing measures of God’s love will be in us, and Jesus Himself will ‘dwell in our hearts by faith’ more completely and more blessedly through an eternity of wider knowledge and more fervent love.


Verse 24

John

THE HIGH PRIEST’S PRAYER

THE FOLDED FLOCK

John 17:24.

This wonderful prayer is {a} for Jesus Himself, {b} for the Apostles, {c} for the whole Church on earth and in heaven.

I. The prayer.

‘I will’ has a strange ring of authority. It is the expression of His love to men, and of His longing for their presence with Him in His glory. Not till they are with Him there, shall He ‘see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.’

We have here a glimpse of the blessed state of the dead in Christ.

{a} Local presence with Christ. His glorified body is somewhere. The value of this thought is that it gives solidity to our ideas of a future life. There they are. We need not dwell on the metaphysical difficulties about locality for disembodied spirits.

If a spirit can be localised in a body, I suppose it can be localised without a body; but passing by all that, we have the hope held out here of a real local presence with the glorified humanity of our Lord. We speak of the dead as gone from us, and we have that idea far more vividly in our minds than that of their having gone to Him. We speak of the ‘departed,’ but we do not think of them as ‘arrived.’ We look down to the narrow grave, but we forget ‘He is not here, He is risen. Why seek ye the living among the dead?’ Ah! if we could only bring home to our hearts the solid prose of the conviction that where Christ is there His servants are, and that not in the diffused ubiquity of His Divine Omnipresence, it would go far to remove the darkness and vague mist which wrap the future, and to set it as it really is before us, as a solid definite reality. We see the sails glide away out into the west as the sun goes down, and we think of them as tossing on a midnight sea, an unfathomable waste. Try to think of them more truly. As in that old miracle, He comes to them walking on the water in the night watch, and if at first they are terrified, His voice brings back hope to the heart that is beginning to stand still, and immediately they are at the land whither they go. Now, as they sink from our sight, they are in port, sails furled and anchor dropped, and green fields round them, even while we watch the sinking masts, and cannot yet rightly tell whether the fading sail has faded wholly.

{b} Communion with Christ.

Our Lord says not only ‘that where I am, they also may be,’ but adds ‘with Me.’ That is not a superfluous addition, but emphasises the thought of a communion which is more intimate and blessed than local presence alone would be.

The communion here is real but imperfect. It is perfected there on our part by the dropping away of flesh and sin, by change of circumstances, by emancipation from cares and toils necessary here, by the development of new powers and surroundings, and on His side by new manifestations.

{c} Vision of His glory.

The crown of this utterance of Christ’s will is ‘that they may behold My glory.’ In an earlier part of this prayer our Lord had spoken of the ‘glory which I had with Thee before the world was.’ But probably the glory ‘given’ is not that of essential Divinity, but that of His mediatorial work. To His people ‘with Him where He is,’ are imparted fuller views of Christ as Saviour, deeper notions of His work, clearer perception of His rule in providence and nature. This is the loftiest employment of the spirits who are perfected and lapped in ‘pleasures for evermore’ by their union with the glorified Jesus.

Surely this is grander than all metaphorical pictures of heaven.

II. The incipient fulfilment now going on.

The prayer has been in process of fulfilment ever since. The dead in Christ have entered on its answer now.

We need not discuss difficulties about the ‘intermediate state,’ for this at all events is true, that to be ‘absent from the body’ is to be ‘present with the Lord.’

A Christian death is an answer to this prayer. True, for Christians as for all, the physical necessity is an imperative law. True, the punitive aspect of death is retained for them. But yet the law is wielded by Christ, and while death remains, its whole aspect is changed. So we may think of those who have departed in His faith and fear as gone in answer to this prayer.

How beautiful that is! Slowly, one by one, they are gathered in, as the stars one by one light up. Place after place is filled.

Thus through the ages the prayer works on, and our dear ones have gone from us, but they have gone to Him. We weep, but they rejoice. To us their departure is the result of an iron law, of a penal necessity, of some secondary cause; but to them it is seen to be the answer to His mighty prayer. They hear His voice and follow Him when He says, ‘Come up hither.’

III. The final fulfilment still future.

The prayer looks forward to a perfect fulfilment. His prayer cannot be vain.

{a} Perfect in degree.

{b} Perfect in extent, when all shall be gathered together and the ‘whole family’ shall be ‘in heaven,’ and Christ’s own word receives its crowning realisation, that ‘of all whom the Father hath given Him He has lost nothing.’

And these are not some handful picked out by a decree which we can neither fathom nor alter, but Christ is given to us all, and if we choose to take Him, then for us He has ascended; and as we watch Him going up the voice comes to us: ‘I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.’


Verse 25

John

THE HIGH PRIEST’S PRAYER

John 17:20 - John 17:26.

The remainder of this prayer reaches out to all generations of believers to the end. We may incidentally note that it shows that Jesus did not anticipate a speedy end of the history of the world or the Church; and also that it breathes but one desire, that for the Church’s unity, as though He saw what would be its greatest peril. Characteristic, too, of the idealism of this Gospel is it that there is no name for that future community. It is not called ‘church,’ or ‘congregation,’ or the like-it is ‘them also that believe on Me through their word,’ a great spiritual community, held together by common faith in Him whom the Apostles preached. Is not that still the best definition of Christians, and does not such a conception of it correspond better to its true nature than the formal abstraction, ‘the Church’?

We can but touch in the most inadequate fashion the profound words of this section of the prayer which would take volumes to expound fitly. We note that it contains four periods, in each of which something is asked or stated, and then a purpose to be attained by the petition or statement is set forth.

First comes the prayer for unity and what the answer to it will effect [John 17:21]. Now in this verse the unity of believers is principally regarded as resulting from the inclusion, if we may so say, of them all in the ineffable union of the Father and the Son. Jesus prays that ‘they may all be one,’ and also ‘that they also may be in us’ {Rev. Ver.}. And their unity is no mere matter of formal external organisation nor of unanimity of creed, or the like, but it is a deep, vital unity. The pattern of it is the unity of the Father and the Son, and the power that brings it about is the abiding of all believers ‘in us.’ The result of such a manifestation in the world of a multitude of men, in all of whom one life evidently moves, fusing their individualities while retaining their personalities, will be the world’s conviction of the divine mission of Jesus. The world was beginning to feel its convictions moving slowly in that direction, when it exclaimed: ‘Behold how these Christians love one another!’ The alienation of Christians has given barbs and feathers to its arrows of scorn. But it is ‘the unity of the Spirit,’ not that of a, great corporation, that Christ’s prayer desires.

The petitions for what would be given to believers passes for a moment into a statement of what Jesus had already given to them. He had begun the unifying gift, and that made a plea for its perfecting. The ‘glory’ which He had given to these poor bewildered Galilaeans was but in a rudimentary stage; but still, wherever there is faith in Him, there is some communication of His life and Spirit, and some of that veiled and yet radiant glory, ‘full of grace and truth,’ which shone through the covering when the Incarnate Word ‘became flesh.’ It is the Christ-given Christ-likeness in each which knits believers into one. It is Christ in us and we in Christ that fuses us into one, and thereby makes each perfect. And such flashing back of the light of Jesus from a million separate crystals, all glowing with one light and made one in the light, would flash on darkest eyes the lustre of the conviction that God sent Christ, and that God’s love enfolded those Christlike souls even as it enfolded Him.

Again [John 17:24] comes a petition with its result. And here there is no mention of the effect of the answer on the world. For the moment the thoughts of isolation in, and a message to, the world fade away. The partially-possessed ‘glory’ seems to have led on Christ’s thoughts to the calm home of perfection waiting for Him who was ‘not of the world’ and was sent into it, and for the humble ones who had taken Him for Lord. ‘I will that’-that is a strange tone for a prayer. What consciousness on Christ’s part does it involve? The disciples are not now called ‘them that should believe on Me,’ but ‘that which Thou hast given Me,’ the individuals melt into the great whole. They are Christ’s, not merely by their faith or man’s preaching, but by the Father’s gift. And the fact of that gift is used as a plea with Him, to ‘perfect that which concerneth’ them, and to complete the unity of believers with Jesus by bringing them to be ‘with Him’ in His triumphant session at the right hand. To ‘behold’ will be the same as to share His glory, not only that which we beheld when He tabernacled among us, but that which He had in the pouring out on Him of God’s love ‘before the foundation of the world.’ Our dim eyes cannot follow the happy souls as they are lost in the blaze, but we know that they walk in light and are like Him, for they ‘see Him as He is.’

The last statement [John 17:25 - John 17:26] is not petition but vow, and, to our ears, promise. The contrast of the world and believers appears for the last time. What made the world a ‘world’ was its not knowing God; what made believers isolated in, and having an errand to, the world, was that they ‘knew’ {not merely ‘believed,’ but knew by experience} that Jesus had been sent from God to make known His name. All our knowledge of God comes through Him; it is for us to recognise His divine mission, and then He will unveil, more and more, with blessed continuity of increasing knowledge, the Name, and with growing knowledge of it growing measures of God’s love will be in us, and Jesus Himself will ‘dwell in our hearts by faith’ more completely and more blessedly through an eternity of wider knowledge and more fervent love.


Verse 26

John

THE HIGH PRIEST’S PRAYER

CHRIST’S SUMMARY OF HIS WORK

John 17:26.

This is the solemn and calm close of Christ’s great High-priestly prayer; the very last words that He spoke before Gethsemane and His passion. In it He sums up both the purpose of His life and the petitions of His prayer, and presents the perfect fulfilment of the former as the ground on which He asks the fulfilment of the latter. There is a singular correspondence and contrast between these last words to God and the last words to the disciples, which immediately preceded them. These were, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ In both He sums up His life, in both He is unconscious of flaw, imperfection, or limitation; in both He shares His own possessions among His followers. But His words to men carry a trace of His own conflict and a foreboding of theirs. For Him life had been, and for them it was to be, tribulation and a battle, and the highest thing that He could promise them was victory won by conflict. But from the serene elevation of the prayer all such thoughts disappear. Unbroken calm lies over it. His life has been one continual manifestation of the name of God; and the portion that He promises to His followers is not victory won by strife, but the participation with Himself in the love of God.

Both views are true-true to His experience, true to ours. The difference between them lies in the elevation of the beholder’s eye. Looked at on the outward side, His life and ours must be always a battle and often a sorrow. Looked at from within, His life was an unbroken abiding in the love of God, and a continual impartation of the name of God, and our lives may be an ever growing knowledge of God, leading to and being a fuller and fuller possession of His love, and of a present Christ. So let us ponder these deep words: our Lord’s own summing up of His work and aims; His statement of what we may hope to attain; and the path by which we may attain it. I shall best bring out the whole fullness of their meaning if I simply follow them word by word.

I. Note, first, the backward look of the revealing Son.

‘I have declared Thy name.’

The first thing that strikes one about these words is their boldness. Remember that they are spoken to God, at the close of a life the heights and depths of which they sum up. They are an appeal to God’s righteous judgment of the whole character of the career. Do they breathe the tone that we might expect? Surely the prophet or teacher who has most earnestly tried to make himself a mirror, without spot to darken and without dint to distort the divine ray, will be the first to feel, as he looks back, the imperfections of his repetition of his message. But Jesus Christ, when He looks back over His life, has no flaw, limitation, incompleteness, to record or to confess. As always so here, He is absolutely unconscious of anything in the nature of weakness, error, or sin. As when He looked back upon His life as a conflict, He had no defeats to remember with shame, so here, when He looks upon it as the revelation of God He feels that everything which He has received of the Father He has made known unto men.

And the strange thing is that we admit the claim, and have become so accustomed to regard it as being perfectly legitimate that we forget how enormous it is. He takes an attitude here which in any other man would be repulsive, but in Him is supremely natural. We criticise other people, we outgrow their teachings, we see where their doctrines have deviated from truth by excess or defect, or disproportion; but when He says ‘I have declared Thy name,’ we feel that He says nothing more than the simple facts of His life vindicate and confirm.

Not less remarkable is the implication in these words, not only of the completeness of His message, but of the fullness of His knowledge of God, and its entirely underived nature. So He claims for Himself an altogether special and unique position here: He has learned God from none; He teaches God to all. ‘That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’

Looking a little more closely at these words before us, we have here Christ’s own account of His whole life. The meaning of it all is the revelation of the heart of God. Not by words, of course; not by words only, but far more by deeds. And I would have you ask yourselves this question-If the deeds of a man are a declaration of the name of God, what sort of a man is He who thus declares Him? Must we not feel that if these words, or anything like them, really came from the lips of Jesus Christ, we are here in the presence of something other than a holy life of a simple humanity, which might help men to climb to the apprehension of a God who was perfect love; and that when He says ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,’ we stand before ‘God manifest in the flesh.’

What is that name of God which the revealing Son declares? Not the mere syllables by which we call Him, but the manifested character of the Father. That one name, in the narrower sense of the word, carries the whole revelation that Jesus Christ has to make; for it speaks of tenderness, of kindred, of paternal care, of the transmission of a nature, of the embrace of a divine love. And it delivers men from all their creeping dreads, from all their dark peradventures, from all their stinging fears, from all the paralysing uncertainties which, like clouds, always misty and often thunder-bearing, have shut out the sight of the divine face. If this Christ, in His weakness and humanity, with pity welling from His eyes, and making music of His voice, with the swift help streaming from His fingers-tips to every pain and weariness, and the gracious righteousness that drew little children and did not repel publicans and harlots, is our best image of God, then love is the centre of divinity, and all the rest that we call God is but circumference and fringe of that central brightness.

‘So through the thunder comes a human voice Saying, “O heart I made! a heart beats here.”‘

He has declared God’s name, His last best name of Love.

Need I dwell for one moment on the fact that that name is only declared by this Son? There is no need to deny the presence of manifold other precious sources in men’s experience and lives from which something may be inferred of what God truly is. But all these, rich and manifold as they are, fall into nothingness before the life of Jesus Christ, considered as the making visible of God. For all the rest are partial and incomplete. ‘At sundry times and in divers manners’ God flung forth syllables of the name, and ‘fragments of that mighty voice came rolling down the wind.’ But in Jesus Christ the whole name, in all its syllables, is spoken. Other sources of knowledge are ambiguous, and need the interpretation of Christ’s life and Cross ere they can be construed into a harmonious whole. Life, nature, our inmost being, history, all these sources speak with two voices; and it is only when we hear the deep note that underlies them in the word of Christ that their discord becomes a harmony. Other sources lack authority. They come at the most with a ‘may be.’ He comes with a ‘Verily, verily.’ Other sources speak to the understanding, or the conscience, or to fear. Christ speaks to the heart. Other sources leave the man who accepts them unaffected. Christ’s message penetrates to the transforming and assimilation of the whole being.

So, dear brethren! for all generations, and for this generation most of all, the plain alternative lies between the declaration of the name of God in Jesus Christ and a godless and orphan world. Modern thought will make short work of all other sources of certitude about the character of God, and will leave men alone in the dark. Christ, the historical fact of the life and death of Jesus Christ, is the sole surviving source of certitude, which is blessedness, as to whether there is a God, and what sort of a God He is.

II. Secondly, note here that strange forward look of the dying Man: ‘I have declared Thy name and will declare it.’

And that was said within eight and forty hours of the Cross, which, if He had been a simple human teacher and martyr, would have ended all His activity in the world. But here He is not merely summing up His life, and laying it aside, writing the last sentence, as it were, which gathers up the whole of the completed book, but He is closing the first volume, and in the act of doing so He stretches out His hand to open the second. ‘I will declare it.’ When? How? Did not earthly life, then, put a stop to this Teacher’s activity? Was there still prophetic function to be done after death had sealed His lips? Certainly.

That anticipation, which at once differentiates Him from all the brood of merely human teachers and prophets, even the highest, does indeed include as future, at the moment when He speaks, the swiftly coming and close Cross; but it goes beyond it. How much of Christendom’s knowledge of God depended upon the Passion, on the threshold of which Christ was standing? He, hanging on the Cross in weakness, and dying there amidst the darkness that overspread the land, is a strange Revealer of the omnipotent, infinite, ever-blessed God. But Oh! if we strike Gethsemane and Calvary out of Christ’s manifestation of the Father, how infinitely poorer are we and the world! ‘God commendeth,’ {rather ‘establisheth,’} ‘His love toward us in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ And so as we turn ourselves to the little knoll outside the gate, where the Nazarene carpenter hangs faint and dying, we-wonder of Wonders, and yet certainty of certainties!-have to say, ‘Lo! this is our God; we have waited for Him.’

But that future revelation extends beyond the Cross, and includes resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and the whole history of the Church right onwards through the ages. The difference between the two volumes of revelation-that which includes the work of Christ upon earth, and that which includes His revelation from the heavens-is this, that the first volume contains all the facts, and the second volume contains His interpretation and application of the facts in the understandings and hearts of His people. We have no more facts from which to construe God than these which belong to the earthly life of Jesus Christ, and we never shall have, here at all events. But whilst the first volume to the bottom of the last page is finished and tolerates and needs no additions, day by day, moment by moment, epoch by epoch Christ is bringing His people to a fuller understanding of the significance of the first volume, and writing the second more and more upon their hearts.

So we have an ever-living Christ, still the active Teacher of His Church. Times of unsettlement and revolutionary change and the ‘shaking of the things that are made,’ like the times in which we live, are but times in which the great Teacher is setting some new lesson from the old Book to His slow scholars. There is always a little confusion in the schoolroom when the classes are being rearranged and new books are being put into old hands. The tributary stream, as it rushes in, makes broken water for a moment. Do not let us be afraid when ‘the things that can be shaken’ shake, but let us see in the shaking the attendant of a new curriculum on which the great Teacher is launching His scholars, and let us learn the new lessons of the old Gospel which He is then teaching.

III. Thirdly, note the participation in the Father’s love which is the issue of the knowledge of the Father’s name.

Christ says that His end, an end which is surely attained in the declaration of the divine name, is that ‘the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them.’ We are here touching upon heights too dizzy for free and safe walking, on glories too bright for close and steady gaze. But where Christ has spoken we may reverently follow. Mark, then, that marvellous thought of the identity between the love which was His and the love which is ours. ‘From everlasting’ that divine love lay on the Eternal Word which in the hoary beginning, before the beginning of creatures, ‘was with God, and was God.’ The deepest conception that we can form of the divine nature is of a Being who in Himself carries the Subject and the Object of an eternal love, which we speak of in the deep emblem of ‘the Word,’ and the God with whom He eternally ‘was.’ That love lay upon Christ, without limitation, without reservation, without interruption, finding nothing there from which it recoiled, and nothing there which did not respond to it. No mist, no thunderstorm, ever broke that sunshine, no tempest ever swept across that calm. Continuous, full, perfect was the love that knit the Father to the Son, and continuous, full, and perfect was the consciousness of abiding in that love, which lay like light upon the spirit of Him that said ‘I delight to do Thy will.’ ‘The Father hath not left Me alone.’

And all that love Christ gives to us as deep, as continuous, as unreserved. Our consciousness of God’s love is meant by Christ to be like His own. Alas! alas! is that our experience, Christian people? The sun always shines on the rainless land of Egypt, except for a month or two in the year. The contrast between the unclouded blue and continuous light and heat there, and our murky skies and humid atmosphere, is like the contrast between our broken and feeble consciousness of the shining of the divine love and the uninterrupted glory of light and joy of communion which poured on Christ’s heart. But it is possible for us indefinitely to approximate to such an experience; and the way by which we reach it is that plain and simple one of accepting Christ’s declaration of the Father’s name.

IV. And so, lastly, notice the indwelling Christ who makes our participation in the divine love possible: ‘And I in them.’

One may well say, ‘How can it be that love should be transferred? How can it be that the love of God to me shall be identical with the love of God to Christ?’ There is only one answer. If Christ dwells in me, then God’s love to Him falls upon me by no transference, but by my incorporation into Him. And I would urge that this great truth of the actual indwelling of Christ in the soul is no mere piece of rhetorical exaggeration, nor a wild and enthusiastic way of putting the fact that the influence of His teaching and the beauty of His example can sway us; but it is a plain and absolute truth that the divine Christ can come into and abide in the narrow room of our poor hearts. And if He does this, then ‘he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit’; and the Christ in me receives the sunshine of the divine love. That does not destroy, but heightens, my individuality. I am more and not less myself because ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’

So, dear brethren! it all comes to this-we may each of us, if we will, have Jesus Christ for Guest and Inhabitant in our hearts. If we have, then, since God loves Him, He must love me who have Him within me, and as long as God loves Christ He cannot cease to love me, nor can I cease to be conscious of His love to me, and whatsoever gifts His love bestows upon Jesus, pass over in measure, and partially, to myself. Thus immortality, heaven, glory, all blessedness in heaven and earth, are the fruit and crystallisation, so to speak, of that oneness with Christ which is possible for us. And the conditions are simply that we shall with joyful trust accept His declaration of the Father’s name, and see God manifest in Him; and welcome in our inmost hearts that great Gospel. Then His prayer, and the travail of His soul, will reach their end even in me, and ‘the love wherewith the Father loved the Son shall be in me,’ and the Son Himself shall dwell in my heart.

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on John 17:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/john-17.html.


Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, August 20th, 2017
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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