Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

John 17

Verse 2


‘Thou gavest Him authority over all flesh.’

John 17:2 (R.V.)

‘All flesh.’ It is an expression often found in Scripture. It is a phrase which denotes man in his weakness and transitoriness, in contrast to the greatness and unchangeableness of God. The flesh of which all men are partakers has become, by reason of sin, our foe, not our ally. How can we hope to fight on, to conquer?

I. We have One Who has been given ‘authority over all flesh.’—He, too, was tempted in and by the flesh and He conquered. He has in Himself raised and dignified and sanctified the flesh and made it holy. To the cry of agony, ‘Who shall deliver me from this body of sin?’ He has enabled us to answer, ‘I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

II. Do you ask how He obtained this authority?—I answer, by the Incarnation. ‘He was made Man.’ ‘The Word was made flesh.’ ‘Since the children are sharers in flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same.’ ‘He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.’ This authority, claimed and fairly won by our King, is a great reality.

III. It was manifested all through, from the cradle to the Throne.

(a) In His life on earth, in His poverty, in His temptation, in His miracles, in His sinlessness.

(b) In His death. ‘No one taketh My life away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself’; manifested when, after hours of torture, ‘He cried with a loud voice and gave up the Ghost.’

(c) In His grave, for His flesh ‘saw no corruption,’ but He came forth from the grave ‘because it was not possible that He should be holden of it.’

(d) In His Resurrection. ‘I have power to take My life again.’

(e) It is manifested in glory, for still He is clothed in a human body, though spiritual and glorified. Still He gives His Flesh to His people after a heavenly and spiritual manner. Still in Holy Communion our sinful bodies are made clean by His Body.

Let us try and make this truth a reality in ourselves!

Bishop C. J. Ridgeway.


‘The expression “all flesh” seems to denote all mankind. All are not saved, but Christ has power and authority over all. Some confine it to the “elect,” but I cannot see the force of their argument. To my eyes it is like John 3:16, where “world” and “believers” are in contradistinction. So it seems here, “all flesh” and “given ones.”’

Verse 3


‘And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent.’

John 17:3

The truth and the reality of a man’s religion depend on his conception of God. We see this as we study other systems and other religions. If we go to a heathen country and want to know the character of the people there, we immediately begin to try to find out what their conception of God really is. If they have an idea of a bloodthirsty God, you will find that they are a bloodthirsty people. It is necessary that our worship and our service should be reasonable.

I. Reasonable worship required.—God revealed Himself to man in order that man’s worship might be given unto Him. It is impossible for us to reach God, for the finite to grasp the infinite, but it is not impossible for the infinite to grasp the finite, to reach him and to reveal Himself to him. God in His mercy has revealed to us Himself by Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, and it is necessary that we should use our faculties and find out what God has revealed, in order that we might know Him. The very basis of the doctrine of the Trinity is the unity of God. This cannot be adequately illustrated. All illustrations that we may use are weak.

II. The witness of Scripture.—What does the Old Testament and what does the New Testament really teach us with regard to the Trinity? In Genesis 1., ‘In the beginning God.’ Now in the English version we just have one idea of one person in the word, but when we turn to the Hebrew Bible we find that that which was translated ‘God’ in English is Elohim, a word plural in form, but joined with a singular verb, except when referring to false gods; and further down we see, ‘The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,’ and from the original you will find that it might be translated ‘A mighty wind of God.’ Compare the idea with the coming of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were waiting for the promise of the Father. What do we read? That while they were there waiting and praying, suddenly there came from heaven as it were a rushing mighty wind, and filled the place. Then we read a little further down in Genesis 1, ‘And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.’ ‘And God said.’ There we have the Word of God brought out. In John 1 we read, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ What is the Word? Jesus Christ is the eternal Word incarnate, the expression of the Father, and so in these few opening verses of the Bible, in the first words that meet our eyes, we have God the Elohim, then we have the Spirit of God, and then we have the Word of God. Further on we hear God speaking with regard to the creation of man, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ We have the same expression in Genesis 11:7, ‘Let us go down, and there confound their language.’ Then in Isaiah 6:8, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then we might pass on to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26, where ‘The Lord,’ ‘The Lord,’ ‘The Lord’ is thrice mentioned; and finally we turn to Isaiah 6, where the prophet gains a glimpse into heaven, and hears the ‘Holy, holy, holy!’ Why three Holies? These things, although they do not actually prove to us the personality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, yet they all point that way. God reveals to us His great truths gradually. He works in revelation as He works in Nature. In the Old Testament revelation God gradually led on to the fullness of time, when he sent forth His own Son with all might and all power and all healing; and when Christ came there was the fullness of the revelation at His baptism. The Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came out of heaven saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ There we have the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the voice of the Father. Then we turn to John 14, ‘I will pray the Father, and He shall send you another Comforter, even the Spirit of Truth.’ Here we have the distinctions sharp and clear. The Son prays, the Father hears, and the Holy Ghost comes. Then we proceed to the Mount of the Ascension, and as Christ bade His disciples farewell, He said, ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.’ Then, once more, if we look at our text we find that Christ says He came into the world to reveal the Father. Thus we see how full the Scripture is of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

III. The offices of the Three Persons.—What are the various offices of the ever-Blessed Trinity? God the Father, if one may reverently say so, propounded the plan for man’s redemption, for man’s salvation. God sent His Son. The Lord Jesus Christ, in obedience to the will of the Father, came. He revealed the Father to us. Then He gave Himself as our sacrifice on Calvary’s Cross, and in Him we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins. Then, having accomplished His work on earth, He rose again from the dead and ascended gloriously into heaven. Now He sits on the right hand of God as our High Priest, and He ever liveth to make intercession for us. The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ.

Do we know God? Do we know God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost? By the power of the Spirit, have we been born again? If we have not known God hitherto, we may know Him to-night—‘Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee.’

Rev. Edward Rhodes.


‘St. Patrick, when he went to Ireland in the early days of Christianity, tried to instruct the poor ignorant people he found in that country from a leaf of the shamrock. “On that one leaf there are three leaves, and that is exactly the position of the Trinity.” It is on that account that the shamrock has become so revered by the people of Ireland, because in the early days they were taught by it to know God. Others have perceived an illustration of the Trinity in man—in his body, in his soul, and in his spirit. The illustration is not of the best, but still it gives us some idea of what we mean when we say, “One in Three, and Three in One.”’

Verse 4


‘I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.’

John 17:4

If we might each choose his own epitaph, who would not choose this if he could? It is plain that before we can say to God that our work is finished we must be able to say it is begun; we must be clear that we have such a work.

I. What, then, is our work?—Undoubtedly it has many parts, and the details are peculiar to each, but, speaking broadly, we may distinguish certain universal elements in it.

(a) First, we may say that our work here is the formation of our character.

(b) We have also each our share in the making of others; and it is perhaps true that while we must keep a clear eye open to our besetting faults, we cure them best in the course of that other work which is not so self-conscious. Such work for others we all have.

(c) Again, there is that work by which we take our place in the commonwealth. This, too, is from God, for ‘the powers that be are ordained of God,’ and this too must be for God.

II. But all work that is real work, so far as it bears on the lives of men, is work in accordance with the Divine will, and brings its blessings.—Even work that may seem but play—the work of amusing the nation—which absorbs at the present day so much skill, if that also is sound in its influence, is work for God.

III. What are the helps and the hindrances?

(a) First, time. Time is both a help and a hindrance. When we are young it stretches before us so endlessly long that there seems nothing that may not be done and won in such length of days; and yet, just because it seems so endless, it slips away without being used, ‘like water that runneth apace.’

(b) And the second help God gives us, which also, if we please, we may convert into a hindrance, is what in one word we call our circumstances, our health or sickness, our riches or poverty, our position in society, our chances. The whole power of circumstances to hinder has been compressed into that one sentence of the Book of Proverbs: ‘The fool saith, There is a lion in the path.’ But experience teaches us that what we in our weakness call adverse circumstances are only God’s medicines to fashion a strong heart in us. We know that the moral order of the world is so contrived that out of danger is begotten courage, and out of difficulty strength and patience, and out of pain fortitude and sympathy, and out of strife victory, and at the last, out of death itself—mourn over it as we may when it happens to others—life, new and uncircumscribed and everlasting.

—Rev. Canon Beeching.


(1) ‘Some of you may recall the story of the monk told by Anatole France, who, before he entered religion, had been an acrobat, and used to shut himself up in the church to tumble before the high altar; his feats of skill being the one thing of his own he had to offer. One feels in reading it that although, no doubt, God accepted his offering, yet it had been true work for God if he had used his talent for the recreation of his brethren.’

(2) ‘There is a story in Herodotus of an Egyptian king to whom it was foretold that he had but five years to live, and he scornfully replied to the oracle of his envious god that he could make it ten by turning night into day. If that is a fable, it has a moral. But there is a true story told of a great French statesman who, observing that his family had generally died before fifty, made up his mind when he came of age that he must begin at once if he was to accomplish any work for the good of his country. So must each Christian say, “Oh, gentlemen, the time of life is short!”’

Verse 11


‘That they may be one.’

John 17:11

The duty of unity is the hardest duty to fulfil. After all the teaching of the centuries the Lord’s Prayer in text has not been fulfilled. Divisions have become deeper, more permanent, more real. What is the real binding power for drawing men together? There must be—

I. Union with Christ.—To live in Christ is the beginning and the completion of carrying out the Lord’s desire.

II. Charity between man and man.—Charity is the bond of peace. With a spirit of mutual trust each will endeavour to follow his own conscience, and if cause of separation come, will still place a sure confidence in another’s truth and desire for service.

III. Perpetual labour for the truth.—The divisions of Christendom damage the Christian cause. Christ has set before this Church and nation a special opportunity of doing His will. Shall we pass by this glorious call? Our divisions are the saddest spectacle for angels and for Him Who died to save men. Of all the things the Church aims at, peace within herself is now the most necessary.

Archbishop Temple.


‘It would in no way surprise or interest the world, the outsiders, to see professors of a faith all holding precisely the same opinions and adopting precisely the same definitions and externals, living amicably together. They would have no excuse for discord. That which would arrest the attention of outsiders would be the spectacle of professors of the same fundamental belief, widely differing as to details, definitions, dogmas, and external methods, so bound together by the magnitude and reality of their common fundamental belief that they were content to suffer each other to worship precisely according to the preference of each, because they recognised beneath all externals a “unity of the spirit” so profound, so real, so intense, that it transcended all human sects, methods, and denominations. This would be an exhibition that would interest and astonish the outsiders, and their conclusion would be that the fundamental truth which could thus weld together those widely separated by distinctions of creed, method, and sect, must be a reality. It is to this kind of unity, surely, that St. Paul referred when he bid us “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” The fact is that “the Church,” in its essence, is a spiritual and invisible body, existing wholly independent of its external manifestations and methods, which may be national, geographical, almost even climatic, and with regard to which there may be, and ought to be, room for almost unlimited divergence of opinion without any rupture of true spiritual unity. If the Lord Christ were to-morrow visibly to return, after the manner in which some Christians expect Him to return, and call to Himself His Church, His Body, is there any one in his right senses who believes that it is only the particular denomination to which he belongs that the Lord would call? Would it not be that “great multitude which no man can number, of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues” and sects and eras who are united by faith in the Incarnate Lord? And if that would be true in the event expected by some, it is true to-day.’

Verse 15


‘I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.’

John 17:15

But why does Christ leave His people in the world at all? Why not at once remove them, and take them home? That is not God’s way.

I. Christ leaves His own in the world that they may be trained for Him.—Only on earth could they be prepared for heaven; for heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Only on earth could they learn their own weakness and the evil of their own hearts. Only on earth could they walk by faith; therefore earth must come before heaven, the bitter before the sweet, and that will make the sweet the sweeter.

II. Another reason why the Lord leaves His people in the world is, that they may be His witnesses.—What does the world care for the honour of Christ, or the word of Christ, or the love of Christ? ‘Ye shall be witnesses unto Me,’ the Lord Jesus still says to all who believe in Him.

III. Christ prays His Father to keep His people from the Evil One.—And I do not doubt that every true believer will be so ‘kept by the power of God.’ The Good Shepherd says of His people, ‘My sheep shall never perish.’ The strongest oak in the forest may be uprooted by the wind; but the ivy that clings to the rock, never. The weakest child that in its weakness clasps and cleaves to Christ is safe and strong; the giant who proudly walks alone will surely fall away. You may be a feeble folk like the conies; but if you make your home in the Rock of Ages no harm shall happen to you, for you shall be kept safe by the prayers of your Redeemer.

—Rev. F. Harper.


‘“Read me that chapter whereon my soul first cast anchor,” said John Knox on his dying bed. It was the seventeenth chapter of John. I do not wonder; for those chapters or texts which have helped us in difficulty, or comforted in sorrow, or cheered us in darkness, become very dear to us; they are staves on which we lean in weakness; we look on them like old friends.’

Verse 17


‘Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.’

John 17:17

This is emphatically the Lord’s own prayer, the prayer which He Himself alone employed. It may serve as a model for us to teach us what to pray for, for without His help we know not what to pray for as we ought.

I. What is this sanctification?—It is to be carefully distinguished from justification. Justification is in one sense external; sanctification is only internal. There are three aspects of sanctification which may be mentioned.

(a) Separation. Separation is the first great thought in sanctification, and needs to be pressed upon the consciences of believers to-day, for the world fraternises with the Church, and every effort is made by Satan to obliterate the line of demarcation between them. The world has crept into the Church, and the Church makes friends with the world, until it is well-nigh impossible to distinguish the one from the other, and the endless confusion which results no one can adequately estimate.

(b) Purification. It follows that if you set apart a person or a thing to the service of an absolutely holy God, anything that defiles that person or thing renders it unfit for God’s use, and hence though the first meaning of the word is separation, it speedily ‘acquires,’ as Archbishop Trench in his work on the New Testament synonyms points out, ‘a moral significance’; thus the thought of purification is added to the fundamental idea of separation.

(c) Transformation. There should be an immediate purification, but it is to be followed by a gradual transformation into the image and likeness of Christ. The restoration to health may be speedy, the subsequent growth must be gradual.

II. Why is this sanctification necessary?—The answer is manifold. How can it be otherwise than necessary if we have to do with a holy God?

(a) It is necessary for our happiness. Happiness and holiness go together, just as sin and sorrow can never be separated. They are two names for the same thing. ‘What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.’

(b) It is necessary for our usefulness. How often has the lack of consistency in ourselves prevented our speaking a word to a friend for Christ.

(c) Again our meetness for heaven depends upon it. Our title to heaven is one thing, our character or meetness is another. I know that the ground of our peace is the work of Christ for us, and not the work of the Spirit in us; but I also know that to enjoy heaven when you get there you want the work of the Spirit in you. ‘Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.’

III. How is this sanctification to be secured?—Sanctification in the Scripture is ascribed to different causes and different instrumentalities. Here the instrumentality spoken of is the Word of God. The Word of God is a mighty instrument in our sanctification. Let us notice, briefly, how it is that it is so adapted to this end.

(a) First of all, the Word of God sanctifies, because it has a discovering and enlightening power. It is a mirror in which you may see reflected your failures and your sins; it is a searchlight discerning the very thoughts and intents of the heart. The willingness to come to the light is the way to blessing.

(b) The Word of God has also a cleansing and purifying power. ‘Sanctify them through Thy truth.’ The truth of God’s Word will have a cleansing, sanctifiying, purifying effect upon the soul. Do you know you are very much influenced by what you read?

(c) Again, the Word of God has a nourishing and strengthening power (1 Peter 2:2, and Acts 20:32).

(d) Then the Word of God has an overcoming and conquering power. ‘I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one’ (1 John 2:14). The secret of their victory over the wicked one was that the Word of God abode in them.

(e) The Word of God has a Christ-revealing and Christ-communicating power. There is a vital link between the Written Word and the Living Word, and when the Word of God dwells in us Christ will come and dwell in us too. ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom’ (Colossians 3:16), and that Word of God includes the thought of the Personal Word, the indwelling Christ.

The secret is an indwelling Saviour.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.


(1) ‘We are informed that the wretched man who took the life of President Carnot some years ago lived an apparently harmless, decent life for a good many years, until he came into contact with anarchist publications, which so saturated his mind with evil thoughts, schemes, and ideas that at length he was capable of the awful crime he committed. He was defiled, ruined, and destroyed by the word of falsehood which he read. It has again and again been shown in courts of justice that thieves and robbers have had the thoughts of such a life put into their heads by the tales of highwaymen and the like which are sown broadcast in print. The same principle holds true conversely, and it holds good with regard to the Word of God.’

(2) ‘There is a story told of an old woman who was speaking in the course of the week of the blessing she had derived from the previous Sunday’s sermon. Asked by her friend what was the text, she said, “My memory is not what it was, I cannot remember the text.” “Well, what was the line of truth pursued—can you give me any quotation?” “I cannot remember a word the preacher said,” she replied. “Well,” said her friend, “if you cannot remember the text and cannot remember the sermon, how is it that it has done you any good?” Then the old lady, taking up a jug of water, poured it through a pipe, saying, “Do you see this pipe? The water has gone through it, there is none left in it, but the pipe is all the cleaner for the stream that has passed through it.” Even so, though the word spoken was forgotten, she was conscious that it had had a cleansing and purifying power upon her heart. The Word of God cleanses us.’

Verse 19


‘And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.’

John 17:19

The translation is perhaps a little old-fashioned at this point and remote from our ordinary use, too much so to give us at once the full force of the statement. We may render it in more modern phrase—‘For their sakes I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.’

I. ‘I consecrate Myself.’—Who is it that thus unfolds the secret and motive of His life? ‘I’ and ‘myself’ are terms in which each one of us speaks of that mysterious force which he calls his personality. I am I, I am conscious of myself, I have a certain control over myself, with care I can improve myself, by neglect I can spoil myself. Moreover, I can awaken a response to myself in the world outside myself. I can put myself into outside things and shape them, as the artist puts himself into his handiwork and the musician puts himself into his music. More than this, most wonderful of all, I can put myself, to some extent, into other persons, as the master puts himself into his scholars, as the officer puts himself into his men, as the statesman puts himself into his party. My personality can modify the personality of another.

II. It is, then, a Personality that speaks to us here and says ‘I’ and ‘Myself’; a conscious centre of vital force revealing to us His most sacred secret, telling us of His own discipline of Himself and of the effect which He looks to produce on the happiness of other men. ‘I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated.’ Personality is the inalienable possession of every human being as such; it is a gift which each one of us has received from God, Who is the Supreme Personality, in Whose image we have been made. But there is a vast difference between the force of one personality and the force of another. Personalities vary in respect of physical and mental capacity, in respect of opportunity of development, and, above all, in the use which they make of their opportunity, whatever it may be. Those persons who are favoured by natural conditions and by external circumstances, and who use their opportunity of self-development in a high degree, we are accustomed to speak of as personalities par excellence. We make a clear distinction between a personage and a personality. Outward circumstances make a personage; inward force, disciplined and developed, alone can make what we honour by the name of a personality.

III. It is not only a Personality, but the most personal of all personalities, Who speaks in the text and tells us the secret of His effective personality. ‘I consecrate Myself.’ The words imply at least this—‘I am conscious of Myself, I can dispose of Myself; what I do with Myself will influence the selves of others, and therefore when I do the one thing with Myself which leads to the highest self-realisation and self-development, and which leads at the same time to the widest and deepest and most permanent influence on the selves of others, I take Myself, and by an act of self-determination I give Myself, I consecrate Myself, to the Supreme Personality of the universe—the Personal God. I say to Him in every conscious moment of My existence, “Father, not My will but Thine be done; and since Thy Will is the consecration of all personalities, the union of all wills with Thine, oh, therefore, Father, for their sakes I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.”’

IV. The more forcible the personality that is consecrated, and the more complete the consecration, the greater and truer the saint.—Let us take a parallel. The commanding personalities of the world, devoted to great ends and favoured by congenial circumstances, are its heroes. The commanding personalities of the Christian Church, consecrated to God, and called to great service or great suffering, are the saints. You cannot all be heroes, and yet you have a certain capacity for heroic resolve and even heroic action, and so the heroes help you. The study of great men’s lives is one of your best aids to the development of your personality. The sight of their memorials has stimulated many a young man to the effort to realise his own personality and to leave his permanent record in the world, and just in like manner you cannot all be saints, heroes of the spiritual life; and yet you have your personality, which is wholly your own, and the power of consecrating it according to your opportunity. Therefore the study of the saints may help you, and the commemoration of saintliness need not depress you. You, in your place, in your measure, you can consecrate what you are to God; you can yield your lesser personalities, as they yielded their greater personalities, to the Supreme Personality. So by the mercy of God, Who judges not according to what a man hath not, but according to what he hath, even you may come at last to be numbered and rewarded with His saints.

Dean J. Armitage Robinson.


‘Parents, for your children; masters, for your pupils; friends, for your friends, consecrate yourselves that they may be consecrated also. This is how Christianity is spread from the very beginning, for it follows the general law which governs the spread of ideas and the deepening of convictions. It is propagated by personality far more than by argument. Convictions produce convictions, consecration leads to consecration, personality reaches personality. You are passing, or you have passed, into years when habits are fixed and character is already almost unchangeable. For yourselves you have little hope that life can be much modified now, or that it can be rescued from its failure or comparative failure, but you do want those whom you love more than yourself to be better men and women than you have been. You want the “might have been” of your life to find a sure realisation in theirs. Then you must go down on your knees and bring what is left of your neglected and impaired and dwindling personality into the Presence of God. But young and eager soul, you are not to be depressed by the thought of the peculiar greatness of the hero or of the saint, for your lives are before you to do with them as you will. Each one of you has this most mysterious gift of personality—of saying “I am I,” of being a conscious centre of living force, a person capable of a purpose, able to act upon outside things, able to act upon other persons, capable of developing your own personality, of acquiring mental strength and moral character. To you God comes to-day, and this is what He says: “Recognise this capacity, take pains, be all that you can be, not selfishly, but for the noblest ends.” Consecrate your personality to Him, watch over it, and develop it for Him.’



Holiness is spiritual wholeness—Godliness is Godlikeness.

The root idea of Christian holiness is possibly best seen on its human side by studying the word, Sanctification. In both Testaments the words, Holy, Hallow, Holiness, exactly correspond with Saint, Sanctify, Sanctification. The ruling thought of each is separation. Sanctification involves separation always and under all circumstances, whether in the Old Testament or the New.

I. Sanctification is separation from sin.—Here is one of those fundamental truths writ large for us in Scripture. The man who is truly separated may expect the Holy Spirit to reveal from time to time whatever may be sinful or inconsistent; and until that thing is renounced or forsaken no further advance is possible. Israel, separated from Egypt, was thirty-eight years in the wilderness before it learned this lesson. May God write it speedily in our hearts! We may talk and pray and go softly all our days, but until we obey the intimations of the Spirit and the plain teaching of Scripture, we come to a standstill.

II. Sanctification is separation unto God.—It was so in Israel’s days; it is so still. The minute observances of the Mosaic law appear at first sight arbitrary, formal, and unspiritual. Wherein lay the power of the Old Testament ritual to sanctify the heart, to produce, in other words, holiness of life? The answer is clear. It was not these ceremonials which in themselves separated Israel from the nations, for ritual observances are the natural effort of the heart to please God.

III. Sanctification to-day is separation in Jesus Christ.—It has been strikingly observed that from the moment our Saviour uttered the high-priestly words, ‘Sanctify them in Thy truth: Thy word is truth,’ ‘For their sakes I sanctify Myself,’ the meaning of the word sanctification in the Bible deepens and widens. It no longer merely means separation from evil, but likeness to ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The Old Testament provides for the one, the New Testament provides for the other, and the transitional words are those of our great High Priest on His way to Gethsemane.

God has a definite ideal for my life: it is likeness to His own life. Let me ponder this well. It is very wonderful; but never let me forget that the first great condition of all holiness is separation. Separation from sin; separation unto God; separation in Christ Jesus; and all this through the power of God the Holy Spirit.

—Rev. Canon Barnes-Lawrence.


‘A well-known Christian man had publicly accused another of some serious fault or sin. As events proved he was mistaken, and this was pointed out to him. His duty was clear; reparation was due, and a public retractation needed. It was not difficult, the opportunity came, but there was no apology then or afterwards. That public utterance was never taken back publicly, and from that time the speaker’s spiritual influence waned. Doubtless he “brought his gift to the altar,” and with tears; but to his brother, who had something against him, he was never reconciled, and God could not accept his gift.’

Verse 21


‘That they all may be one; as Thou Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.’

John 17:21

Some things are good, but not pleasant; others are pleasant, but not good; it is not easy to combine the two qualities; but in unity both converge; pleasantness and the highest good. This our Lord intended for his Church; this He prayed for (beautifully illustrated in Psalms 133).

Christ did not come down from Heaven simply to unfold a revelation of God’s love by His atoning death, and then return, leaving the Gospel leaven to work its own way in the world. He founded a visible kingdom, and called men out of the world to be its subjects. (Hence, Ecclesia, ‘called out,’ everywhere translated ‘Church.’) He instituted two sacred rites: one the means of admission and union with Him, the other the means of sustaining that union and spiritual life. Further, He provided for the continuity and propagation of this throughout the world; He appointed and consecrated officers by a solemn rite to preach and minister the Sacraments; and as the Creator breathed into the first man’s nostrils, so our Lord, in commissioning the representatives of the ‘new creation,’ breathed on them, and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’

Now it was for this ‘Ecclesia,’ this universal body of His baptised people, that He thus prayed. Therefore it behoves all Christians ‘seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.’

I. First, we must deplore the uncharitable spirit amongst ourselves.—United to our Lord, and through union with Him to one another, by baptism, confessing the Faith once delivered to the saints, and handed down in the creeds; ministered to by the same priesthood; worshipping in the common language of the Liturgy, kneeling side by side at the same altars, and receiving, ‘verily and indeed,’ the same Blessed Sacrament; we ought to be more lovingly united. ‘We be brethren,’ and the points of divergence are infinitesimal with the great body of truth which we hold in common.

II. Secondly, as we look round we are startled and ashamed at the number of ‘sects’ into which our common Christianity is subdivided. The most glaring fault of the nation’s religious life is the easy indifference with which men break away from unity and create new communities—between two and three hundred different religious sects—and the number grows! Do Christians attach no meaning to our Lord’s Prayer? or do the indurating effects of habit deaden our sensibilities, and make us impervious to the taunt that England has one dish and a hundred sauces?

III. Thirdly, taking a wider survey of Christendom, we find the churches of the East and West have mutually excommunicated each other, and the Anglican Church stands apart from both. History of rupture of some ten centuries since cannot now be discussed, but the ‘Reformation’ made no break in the historical continuity of the Anglican Church. There was no destruction of an old and setting up of a new Church. Unable to obtain redress of doctrinal abuses, the English Church reformed herself. The appeal, made by her bishops and clergy in convocation, was the same as made by all the great councils of the Church; it was to antiquity, Holy Writ, the Fathers, and the general councils of the undivided Church. Before the Reformation the Church was soiled by many impurities and abuses, and now it teaches only ‘the Faith which was once delivered to the saints.’ The Church in this land was never the Roman Church, though, prior to the Reformation, at times subject more or less to the Roman Pontiff, but always the Church of England, ‘Ecclesia Anglicana,’ as termed in Magna Charta and other documents. Our Church, when she recovered her independence, did not sever herself from Western Christendom; Rome caused the schism. The real obstacle still to reunion is the prevailing ambitious claim to lordship over God’s heritage by the Bishop of Rome.

There can be no more God-like aim than to seek to restore the Church’s broken unity. Disunion is weakness. We can individually do little beyond praying that it may please God to give to His Church, ‘Unity, Peace, and Concord.’ But we may minimise our differences, magnify our points of agreement, eschew elements of bitterness; the obstacles seem insurmountable; but the things which are impossible with men are possible with God, and we may be sure our Lord’s Prayer cannot ultimately fall to the ground. The day will come when the reunion of divided Christendom will impart new life to missionary enterprise, and will be the signal for completing the conversion of the world.

Canon M. Woodward.


‘We may rejoice in that real but unseen spiritual bond which undoubtedly exists among all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity; nevertheless, this cannot be accepted as an answer to his prayer, “That they all may be one; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.” The unbelieving world is to be impressed and converted by the spectacle of a united Church. “See how these Christians love one another,” and “are of one heart and one mind”; see how they “continue steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the Prayers,” cannot, alas! yet be said. It is an awe-inspiring thought that the divisions of Christendom are delaying the return of the Church’s Head, and the fulfilment of the prediction: “The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.”’



I. It is perfectly clear and distinct that our Blessed Lord means to ensure, in this supreme prayer of His, a visible unity, a unity that the world can take cognisance of, a unity which is tangible, and which has a definite and specific object, that in and through it the world may be led to believe that the Father sent the Son to redeem mankind. It is of the very first importance that we should lay stress upon the fact that a visible unity was required by our Blessed Lord, because, however true, and however valuable it may be in its preparation for an external unity, the Unity of the Spirit, as it is called, cannot exhaust the meaning of our Lord’s words. It is perfectly clear, then that our Lord had the visible unity of his followers in mind, as a means whereby the world might be converted. And it is also important to dwell upon the fact, because men will continually try to escape from the full force of our Lord’s words. In hopeless despair of ever being able to achieve an external unity, they throw themselves back upon the idea that our Blessed Lord never meant anything of the kind.

II. Notice, secondly, the deep significance of the fact that there never has been, and there is not now, a complete expression of that unity.—Sometimes we are tempted to think that either in the Middle Ages, or in the early days of the Church, things were very different from what they are now; and we are sometimes apt to draw conclusions concerning the quiet and devoted and united life of the Church in other days which have little basis in reality. Turn to the Holy Scriptures—look at the state of the Church of Corinth: ‘I am of Paul, I am of Cephas, I am of Apollos,’ were the party watchwords of the day, while a third section, out-Heroding Herod in its ideas of schism, dared to erect our Lord Himself into a party leader. ‘I am of Christ.’ Then, later on, you have the spectacle of a divided Christendom, such as shocked Constantine the Great, almost at the moment of his so-called conversion. Hardly had he become the patron of Christianity than he was called to deal with the schisms of the Church, first, with the Donatist schism in Northern Africa, and then with wider and more serious divisions incidental to the Arian heresy. As you carry your investigations into later history, you come across the spectacle of the great division between East and West; and then, later on still, the division in Western Christendom, until, as you look at the Body of Christ at the present time, it is seen to be split up into hopeless disunion, and the spread of the one truth hindered by contending factions amongst Christian men.

III. What, then, are we to say?

(a) First of all, this undoubtedly: we can refer the matter back directly to our Blessed Lord, and for this reason, that it was perfectly within the power of our Blessed Lord so to communicate His truth to the world in such a way that men could never have questioned either as to the subject-matter of the Faith, or the mode and manner in which it was to be propagated. But, apparently, for good and wise reasons, our Blessed Lord communicated His truth in such a way that there was always a possibility of divergence of opinion on both points. Of course, it goes without saying, that this was accentuated by the frailty of mankind, but still there was always in the nature of the case the possibility of difference of view on such points. We may always, therefore, carry the difficulty back to Him, and realise that in His inscrutable wisdom He knew that the truth had better so be communicated.

(b) Secondly, we must realise that all the marks of the Church are of vital importance to the spread of the Gospel. We have no right to single out any one mark of the Church like Unity in any exclusive sense, and press it, to the neglect of the other marks. In order that the world may be converted, the presentation of the Apostolic side of the Church, of the Catholic side, and of the side of Righteousness, are quite as necessary as the presentation of Unity. It is at least thinkable that these different marks of the Church may conflict with such other as the history of the Church progresses, and then I am quite certain that our Lord Jesus Christ would rather delay the rapid spread of His Truth, than that there should be loss from a neglect of the presentation of these other necessary marks of the Church. We must always set side by side with the mark of Unity which is expressed by our text, the mark of Holiness which is expressed by ‘By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one towards another.’ Moreover, and this always seems to me a most important consideration, it is probable, after all said and done, that there is a great deal more Unity amongst us than we imagine. The difficulty largely depends as to whether we conceive of unity as uniformity. Observe the basis on which our Lord prays for unity, ‘That they all may be one, as Thou Father art in Me and I in Thee.’ That does not seem to express a unity of uniformity. Rather it suggests something of a unity in plurality, the Holy Trinity in Unity. And is it not true that we are learning more and more in our day and generation the full conception of unity?

IV. There are many things we can do.

(a) First and foremost, every Christian man may make up his mind definitely and distinctly, that he will not acquiesce in the idea of disunion as a permanent factor in the life of the Christian Church. However far off may be the possibility of reunion, and however apparently difficult may be the conditions of reunion now, every Christian will make up his mind to have before him that hope clearly for the future; and never to acquiesce in the idea that it is all an impossible dream. Therefore he will never sit in the seat of the scornful when efforts are made for reunion.

(b) Secondly, we can at least try to get rid, in our own case, of those things which make for disunion. All pride, all self-will, all jealousy, all unkindness, must go, and the spirit of love and of a sound mind take their place.

(c) Above all things, we shall try to remember as members of the Church of England that we are also part of a much wider whole, that we owe a duty to that wider whole, that we should show interest in the other portions of Catholic Christendom, that it has a claim upon us, and that we should look forward to the time when, in the Providence of God, we may be brought into more direct relationship with it.

(d) Lastly, me can all of us pray that God the Holy Ghost will stir up into flame one great gift within us, which more than all else will bring forth the fruit of reunion both in our homes and in the Church of England, and in the wider range of Catholic Christianity. The Spirit of Wisdom is within us, and ‘the wisdom which is from above, is first of all pure, then peaceable.’

Rev. G. F. Holden.

Verse 22


‘The glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one.’

John 17:22

The text points to our oneness and union with Christ, by which alone we derive an interest in Him and we are made partakers both in His grace and glory. Jesus hath given us—

I. The glory of—(a) Being brought within the covenant; (b) Redemption; (c) The Holy Ghost’s gifts and influences.

II. Look at it under two considerations:—(a) Put forth the faculties to calculate that glory which, if one of Christ’s redeemed people, you have in union with Him. (b) Jesus hath given present glory to all His redeemed in that communication which is constantly passing and repassing between Him and them.

III. What is our experience?—Do we partake of what is Christ’s? Our sorrows, our wants, our afflictions, are His care. Does He partake of what is ours? Our hearts, our lives must be His.

—Rev. Dr. Robert Hawker.


‘Do not forget that of this oneness our Holy Communion is now the seal and pledge; and as we eat the bread and drink the wine we will not forget that they are the emblems of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ; and that as they mingle with our natural body, so we receive Christ into our very being; and that as the bread and wine are the same in all, so is the one Christ in all. And that oneness, and the one Christ in all, is the cause of the assurance that we are one each with the other, that we may never be divided, that we shall be one through all eternity. Which sweet and holy oneness, may God, by His infinite mercy, grant to us for His dear sake.

Verse 24


‘Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory.’

John 17:24

The truth that men are judged by their desires finds its highest illustration in Jesus. The perfectness of His wishes. This is one of Christ’s wishes. What does it mean? What would be the effect of its fulfilment? A prayer is merely a wish turned Godward. Christ looked for the fulfilment of His wishes, not to Himself and not to the things about Him, but to His Father; and so in His prayer we have simply the utterance Godward of what He was desiring in His heart.

I. This wish was spoken at Christ’s Last Supper with His disciples.—It is an expression of the Saviour’s affection for His disciples, His dread of being separated from them. When friend is going away from friend, how naturally the wish springs up into words, ‘Oh, if I could only take you with me!’ These primary emotions do exist in Jesus, the proof-marks of His true humanity, the patterns for all humanity; but they are deeper and richer things in Him than in ordinary men, in proportion to the depth and richness of His human nature and the Divinity that was mingled with it. Thus, then, we understand Christ’s longing for the companionship of His disciples. He wanted them to be with Him. That wish of His must have run through all the scale of companionship; but it must have completed itself in the desire that they should be like Him, that they should have His character, that in the obedience and communion of God, where He abode, they should abide with Him. I do not think that we can tell how much it signifies, this wish of Jesus, in its lower meaning of physical companionship. I am sure it does mean something. I am sure that in the Bible something is promised, some close perpetual association of the souls of Christ’s redeemed to Him, which, over and above the likeness which is to come between their souls and His, shall correspond in some celestial way to that close, visible, tangible propinquity with which they sat by one another at the table in the upper chamber. The ‘seeing His face,’ the ‘walking with Him in white’ in heaven, are not wholly figures.

II. He wants them to be with Him, ‘that they may behold His glory.’—Before the words can be cut entirely free from low associations and soar into the high, pure meaning which belongs to them, we must remember what Christ’s glory is which He wants us to see. Its essence, the heart and soul of it, is His grace and goodness. What outward splendour may clothe Christ eternally we cannot know. But this we are sure of, that the glory of God must issue from and consist in the goodness of God, not in His power. It is the very purpose of religion, it is the battle that Christianity has been fighting with the standards of the world for all these centuries, to make men know that power without goodness is not really glorious. In Him, too, nothing but goodness can be really glorious in the eyes of moral creatures. His power is the emphasis set upon His goodness; the brilliant light thrown through the perfect window, showing the window’s glory, not its own. It is the prerogative of our morality that only in a moral character can it discover the glory that shall call out its fullest adoration. It is Christ’s goodness, then, that He would have His people see. In various words, under various figures, Christ is the intercessor, always offering prayers for men; but all His prayers resolve themselves into the same wish; all are asking for the one same thing. It is always that men become saved from sin, that His goodness might come to us and we become good. There is something very impressive, I think, about this, as it becomes more and more plain to us. I hear God at work everywhere on the lives of men. Wherever I go I hear men answering to some touch of His. They may not know that it is His touch which they are answering; but one who believes in Him knows that these things about us are not all doing themselves, but He does them.

III. Christ asked His Father simply for this, that those whom He loved might come to Him in spiritual likeness.—We use still, in our religious talk, the words which express what Christ desired, but too often they have acquired some small meaning and degenerated into cant. We talk about a man being ‘far from Christ.’ Men mean by that too often something technical, something narrow; the not having undertaken certain ceremonies, or passed through certain experiences. But how much the words really mean. What a terrible thing it is to be really ‘far from Christ!’ To be far from purity is to be impure. To be far from spirituality is to be sensual. To go away from the light is to go into the outer darkness. Not to be ‘with Him where He is’ is to be away from Him where He is not, where sin is and the misery that belongs to sin. And then that other phrase, which we use so often, ‘Coming nearer and nearer to Christ,’ we say; that does not mean creeping into a refuge where we can be safe. It means becoming better and better men; repeating His character more and more in ours. The only true danger is sin, and so the only true safety is holiness. What a sublime ambition! The dearest and noblest being that our souls can dream of stands before us and says, ‘Come unto Me’; stands over us and prays for us, ‘Father, bring them where I am.’

—Bishop Phillips Brooks.


‘Bunyan’s words are worth quoting. The immortal dreamer says: “Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and behold the city shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold, and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their heads, and golden harps, to sing praises withal. There were also them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.’ And, after that, they shut up the gates, which, when 1 had seen, I wished myself among them,” “I wished myself among them.” I marvel not at that wish; it was realised in Bunyan’s case when he entered into the joy of his Lord. Ah! I dare say many a burdened heart echoes that wish. “I wish myself among them. Here I am tossed about with conflict, and sin, and fear. Oh, that I were yonder!” But, hush! God’s time is best. And be very sure “Christ won’t be in glory and leave you behind.”’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 17". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.