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PART V. (E.)
OUR LORD’S INTERCESSORY PRAYER
1. For Himself—that He may be glorified, and thus glorify the Father (John 17:1-43.17.5);
2. For the disciples—that they may be kept from the evil that is in the world and united with the Father in Him (John 17:6-43.17.19);
3. For the universal Church. The unity of all believers (John 17:20-43.17.21), in their unity with the Godhead (John 17:22-43.17.24), through their knowledge of the Father (John 17:25-43.17.26).
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 17:1. These things spake, etc. (ταῦτα ἐλάλησεν).—The reference is to the discourse just ended. Lifted up.—From the troubles of earth and time the mind and soul are raised to the thoughts of eternity. It is the attitude of the victorious incarnate Son, not that of the Man of Sorrows in the final temptation (Luke 22:41). He spoke aloud that the disciples might in the hour of tribulation be led to follow His example. Glorify (comp. John 12:23; Philippians 2:9).
John 17:2. Even as Thou gavest Him authority, etc.—As God manifest in the flesh for the redemption of men this authority was given Him; but it was only after His ascension and glorification that He could pour forth those spiritual gifts which are to life eternal. Eternal life is a present possession; for it is a state or condition that is attained to through the Spirit, in whom we become one with Christ, partakers of His life, partakers of the divine nature and the life of God. All flesh (כל בשׂר).—“Mankind in their weakness and transitoriness” (Westcott). It is to this imperfect humanity Christ gives eternal life.
John 17:3. Him whom Thou didst send, [even] Jesus the Christ (Messiah).—Only through the true knowledge of God can men attain to life eternal; but this knowledge can be attained alone through Him who is the revelation of the Father—the visible representative of the Father’s glory, “full of grace and truth.”
John 17:4. I glorified (ἐδόξασα).—The work is regarded as all completed. He has manifested the glory of the Father in all His works and ways; and His redemptive work—His passion—is also viewed as accomplished; for the will to go forward is in His heart, and with Him to will is to perform.
John 17:5. And now, etc.—The Son is still in His estate of humiliation, but is looking forward to re-entering on that glory which was His ere He was manifested as the Word made flesh. Here we have a more definite statement of our Lord’s claim to be the pre-existent eternal Son than even in John 8:58.
John 17:6-43.17.19. Prayer for the disciples.
John 17:6. I manifested Thy name, etc.—The contents, so to speak, of the divine name were not fully known till Christ came as the brightness of the divine glory, etc. Thine they were, etc.—John 1:37; John 6:44; John 15:16. Thy word, etc. (λόγον).—The whole revelation of Christ is the Father’s word. They heard His word and obeyed (John 6:45).
John 17:7. Now they do know (see John 16:30).—Imperfect as was their faith and knowledge, they had arrived at this fundamental position, that as the result of their training they, in some measure, knew that all His words and works were a manifestation of the Father’s wisdom, power, love, etc (John 5:36; John 12:49). See also following verse.
John 17:8. The words, etc.—As above, John 12:49. They have received, etc.—And therefore, being themselves now sons of God, they could not fail to recognise the Only Begotten of the Father, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:12).
John 17:9. I pray for them, etc.—He is praying that the disciples may be sanctified and fitted for their work. This prayer He could not offer for the world. But this very prayer for the disciples includes the world; for they were to be sent forth in His power on their saving work. There is therefore no limitation here of His redeeming love. But He prays now specially for His faithful ones, “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
John 17:11. Holy Father, etc. (see John 17:25—“righteous Father”).—The world is evil; the disciples, as sanctified, are opposed by the world, and therefore they are rightly committed to the care of the Holy Father. Keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me (Philippians 2:9; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 19:12; Revelation 22:4).—“The ‘giving of the Father’s name’ to Christ expresses the fulness of His commission as the incarnate Word to reveal God. He came in His Father’s name (John 5:43), and to make that name known (comp. John 17:4 ff.). He spoke what He had heard (John 8:26; John 8:40; John 15:15). And all spiritual truth is gathered up in ‘the name’ of God, the perfect expression (for men) of what God is, which ‘name’ the Father gave to the Son to declare when He took man’s nature upon Him. Comp. Exodus 23:21” (Westcott). “This name—not the essential Godhead, but the covenant name, Jehovah our righteousness—the Father hath given to Christ” (Alford).
John 17:12. None of them is lost, but the son of perdition.—Even he, it seems, was given to Christ, but he perished by his own act. He strayed from the flock into ways that led to death in spite of the tender entreaties of love that would have kept him safe (John 13:2-43.13.5; John 13:18; John 13:21; John 13:26-43.13.27, etc.). Son of perdition.—A Hebraism—בֵּןִ־מָוֶת, a son of death; בֵּךמַשְׁחִית, a son of corruption or destruction. That the Scripture might be fulfilled (Acts 1:20)—His perdition was foreknown; but this was in no wise the cause of his fall. This is one of the proofs of the inspiration of Scripture.
John 17:13. My joy (see John 15:11).
John 17:14. Not of the world.—But “fellow-citizens of the saints” (John 8:23; Ephesians 2:19).
John 17:17. Sanctify.—i.e. consecrate, separate. In Thy truth, etc.—i.e. the truth which they had kept (John 17:6-43.17.8), which He had made known to them (John 17:14); the word of truth—the revelation of the divine mind and will spoken to the prophets, and now fully manifested in Christ Himself. This led to their divine consecration, and it was in order to make this known to the world that they were separated and set apart (Romans 12:1).
John 17:18. As Thou didst send, etc.—To reveal the Father, whom to know is life eternal; so I send you to testify of Me; for they who know Me know Him that sent Me, and thus partake of the heavenly gift.
John 17:19. And for their sakes I consecrate Myself, etc.—“I sanctify or hallow Myself, My body sis an offering for sin (Hebrews 10:5), and I sanctify My body the Church, whose members are members of Christ, and sanctified in Him” (Augustine in Wordsworth’s Greek Testament). By His sacrificial offering of Himself He would fulfil the Father’s will and the great work of redemption. Then being raised on high He would receive gifts for men, and pour forth upon the disciples the gift of the Spirit, through which consecrated and inspired they would go forth with the message of life to men.
John 17:21. That they all may be one, etc.—Inspired and vivified in life and activity by one Spirit. One in the unity of love, for such is the unity between the Father and the Son. But even more. As the Father and the Son are one in nature, so in Christ through the indwelling Spirit believers become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:2-61.1.3; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 2:0; Ephesians 4:0; etc.). It is a blessed fact of Christian experience; but also a divine mystery (Ephesians 5:30-49.5.32). Here too we meet again the mystery of the Trinity. Believers are joined to the Father and the Son, but their bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost They are one in the triune Jehovah.
John 17:22. And the glory, etc. (John 14:23; Colossians 1:27).—Even now the Church shines in the beauty of holiness (Isaiah 60:1-23.60.3).
John 17:23. That the world may know, etc.—The shining of the heavenly light and life in the lives of believers will lead men everywhere to render homage to Christ, till every knee shall bow in His name and every tongue confess, etc. (Philippians 2:10-50.2.11). The beauty and glory of the Church, even in its present state of imperfection, will be an irrefragable proof of the divine mission of Jesus.
John 17:24. Father, I will, etc.—He has gone to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-43.14.3). Where He is, there will His people be. The members of His mystical body are one with their living Head (John 17:22).
“One family we dwell in Him,
One Church above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death.”
But a more glorious communion awaits His people beyond, in the undimmed radiancy of the eternal glory (Revelation 3:21). There is in the universe no higher aim than the glory of God in Christ; and to participate in and behold that glory means eternal blessedness. Thou lovedst Me, etc.—Here the eternal pre-existence of Jesus is expressly implied. God is eternal love. The Son is the eternal object of the Father’s love, and manifests it to the world, so that it is seen in glory in His redeeming work. And it is especially manifested to those who are in Christ (John 16:27), and become obedient as He was to the Father’s will (John 17:26).
John 17:25. Righteous Father, etc. (πάτερ δίκαιε).—The world which does not know Him shall learn of His righteous judgments. But righteousness and peace (Psalms 85:10) kiss each other at the cross of Christ. And God is there glorified in believers.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE CHAPTER
The scope and contents of our Lord’s intercessory prayer.—With the words, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” the Lord had concluded the discourse which He had spoken, in this hour of parting, to His disciples. To the richness of the comfort which He left to His Church in those words His love would yet add a richer jewel, and He spoke in this hour before the Father of what moved His high-priestly heart, whilst He prayed that the blessings of His victory should descend from the Father upon His disciples. Thus He manifested forth His glory, and the disciples saw it. Yonder on the holy mount His countenance shone as the sun, and His garments were white as the light, and a voice fell from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:0). Here His Spirit shone like the sun, and His words beamed like a mild, majestic light; for upward to heaven ascended the voice of prayer of the only begotten Son, who in the flesh of His brethren had overcome the world, and was going to the Father, to give them the glory which the Father had given Him. This is the manner of prayer of that man who is God the Lord.
The Lord Jesus is our high priest and advocate (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 7:25). No ear has ever heard how He entreats for us at the right hand of God. But here we listen to something that must resemble it. “How He as our advocate with the Father speaks with Him,” says Steinhofer, “cannot be known by us here, and indeed cannot be comprehended in the present condition of our humanity. Yet He had once on earth spoken (so that all might hear), in the tongue of men, a prayer laid before the Father’s heart; so that we might know the feeling of His heart toward us, and what He now accomplishes in heavenly fashion, since He has been glorified by the Father.” In all times the Church (for which her Head and faithful High Priest in this prayer petitioned for power and might in her activity) has accepted this as a noble jewel in the treasury of the Holy Scripture, and quickened herself thereat as at a full stream of living water. Melancthon, who shortly before his end had delivered his last lectures on this high-priestly prayer, praised its excellency in these words: “No more noble, no more holy, no more salutary, no more lofty voice has ever been heard in heaven or earth than this very prayer of the Son of God.” Spener on his deathbed desired three times that it should be read to him: “Thereby to indicate” (says his biographer Canstein) “that he specially loved this chapter. But he would never preach on it: it seemed to him so high above human understanding.” Luther testifies in the exposition of this chapter: “It is indeed above measure a fervent, heart-felt prayer, in which He revealed and poured out the depth of His heart both toward us and toward His Father. But the power, the character, and the virtue this prayer has in itself I cannot set down sufficiently, I fear. For however plainly and simply it is expressed, it is so deep, so wide, so rich, that no one can sound its depths.” Thus speaks Bengel also: “This chapter is in all the Scriptures the most easy in its language, but contains the deepest meaning.” And with this agrees Hofacher, in the introduction to his consecrated sermon on the high-priestly prayer: “To preach on our Gospel for to-day is no light task. Not that its words are difficult to understand. They are, on the contrary, exceedingly clear and simple. But that which these words express, the meaning they contain, is so deep that we can never thoroughly penetrate it with our thoughts and words.” What then shall we do in entering on the study of this chapter? Let us be in the Spirit, so that He, as in St. John, may shed abroad in our hearts the love of Christ, whence sprang this high-priestly prayer. Then an understanding of the same will be given to us according to our need; and there will be fulfilled in our experience what Augustine said of the Scripture as a whole: that it is a stream “wherein the lamb may wade and the elephant swim.” … Let the Spirit which searches even the deep things of God dwell in us—as the Spirit of prayer let Him enable us to search these words of prayer with which the Saviour sealed all His words and actions.
The hour which would bring to the disciples pain and sorrow, offence and dispersion, had come. But He who had overcome the world bade His disciples be of good cheer. He was of good cheer, and had peace in that hour, for He was not alone, for the Father was with Him. And with eyes clear as the unclouded sun He looked to the open heaven above Him, and prayed, “Father, glorify Me” (comp. John 12:28; John 13:31). This prayer for Himself and for His own glory did the divine Son of man proffer in the first part of His prayer (John 17:1-43.17.5) in threefold fashion. He made reference to the glory of the Father, whom through His own glorification He desired also to glorify; to the salvation of sinners, who would be able to attain to eternal life in the glorifying of the Son through the Father, and of the Father through the Son; to the completion of His mediatorial work, through which He gained His glorification as reward and crown. In the second part (John 17:6-43.17.19) He prayed for His apostles, the first inheritors of eternal life to whom He had revealed the name of His Father, through the word He had given them; and in whom He was glorified, because they believed on Him. For them He prayed, that they in a world which hated them might be kept and sanctified in order to their perfect Christian joy. Then this petition for the keeping and sanctifying of His disciples finally includes all the faithful. Most explicity does He pray for His whole Church in the third part (John 17:20-43.17.26), that they may all be one in the truth, a consecrated missionary Church for the salvation of the world, and may be partakers of His glory, in the first place inwardly, as believing members of His body, and in the next outwardly, as visible inheritors of the kingdom of His glory.
J. Gerhard thus brings the unity of the whole clearly into view: “In the first place, Christ prays for Himself in order to His glorification, because He is the chief corner-stone of the Church (Ephesians 2:20), and because on His merits all heavenly and spiritual blessings rest. Next He prays for the apostles, the teachers appointed to the world, who should, in the words of the Gospel, present to the world the treasures of salvation won by Christ. For this reason they are called the foundation of the Church, on which other believers are builded (Ephesians 2:20). Finally, He prays for the whole Church, whose members should through the apostles’ preaching believe on Him.
Firstly, He speaks of this gain,—i.e. that He through His sufferings, death, and resurrection should restore their lost salvation to men, and He prays that His offering may be acceptable to the Father. Secondly, He speaks of the means,—i.e. that He, through the preaching of the apostles, should spread abroad the gifts won by His being glorified, and He prays that the Father would sanctify and fit the apostles for their office. Thirdly, He speaks of the fruit,—i.e. that the faithful should be made partakers of His gifts through the apostolic preaching, and He prays that the Father would keep them in the unity of faith and love, and lead them to the end of faith—the heavenly glory.”—Translated from Dr. R. Besser.
John 17:2-43.17.3. Life eternal.—The word life, as used here by our Lord, includes all blessedness. It is the supreme gift He has obtained for men. And although it must not be limited to the blessed life beyond this scene, yet there it will attain to its full perfection. It is on what might be called the material aspect of this life that men have been wont to dwell. The new Jerusalem, with its streets of gold, its angel-guarded gates of pearl, its strong bulwarks, its divine temple, its river of the water of life, with trees on either bank for the healing of the nations, etc.—such figures start up insensibly in the mind at the thought of the life eternal. And no doubt they prefigure glorious facts. But eternal life is not something outward, but inward. We have not to wait for it till heaven is revealed. It is given to Christ’s people now.
I. It is life in Christ, and therefore eternal life.—
1. It was this that Jesus came to win for His people. “I am come that,” etc. (John 10:10).
2. This life contains the idea of happiness, and is opposed to punishment, misery, death. It begins here in germ, although it is perfected hereafter. “God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). Life begun here, progressive, and unending beyond is the result of abiding in Christ. The possession of it is heaven—life eternal.
3. This was a truth known, though dimly, by God’s people from the beginning. The Old Testament saints felt that God’s true people never die. They did not so much trouble themselves about a future state. Their divine life was a present reality. They stood firm on the rock of the divine presence often visibly manifested, and could from that vantage-ground look unmoved on quaking earth, trembling mountains, and raging seas. His presence, the knowledge of Him—that they felt sufficient for time and eternity.
4. But how their hearts would have rejoiced had they attained all the fulness of knowledge that Jesus came to impart (John 8:56)! Christ hath truly brought life and immortality to light. The dim dawn hath given place to glorious morning.
II. This eternal life comes to men through their attaining to the true knowledge of God in Christ.—
1. Christ came to reveal the Father. Men had some dim and illusory conceptions of the greatness, power, wisdom, etc., of God in the past. Those who were inspired by His Spirit especially had arrived at true ideas of His fatherly care (Psalms 23:0; Psalms 103:0, etc.).
2. But with few exceptions how erroneous were the conceptions of men regarding the Deity! With what fatal facility did not even the Israelites, with their heaven-given law and ordinances, fall into idolatry; whilst with regard to the rest of the world the apostle’s charge was terribly true (Romans 1:18-45.1.32).
3. And this ignorance regarding God means moral and spiritual death. It is so with many of the heathen nations and tribes at the present day. They lie under the shadow of spiritual ignorance, darkness, and death. Even in the case of merely nominal Christians, who “have a name to live,” we see how through ignorance of the true character and the ways of God “they are dead” (Revelation 3:1).
4. But Jesus revealed the Father: in Him men saw the divine glory “full of grace and truth.” He brings to view the divine hatred of sin, a clear view of the demands of the divine righteousness; so that men are led to repentance, which is the first step to true spiritual life.
III. The source and stay of eternal life is the divine love.—
1. “God is love; and he that abideth in love,” etc. (1 John 4:16). It was this love that looked in saving pity on the world (John 3:16). It was this love which shone in mild rays of mercy in Christ’s redemptive work (John 15:9; Ephesians 5:2). “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8); and the knowledge of God is life eternal (John 17:3).
2. The lack of love is the root of all evil. Selfishness lies at the base of sin. Sin is the abominable thing which God hates (Jeremiah 44:4); therefore the impenitently sinful, those whose hearts are barren of love, cannot dwell in the divine presence, where alone is life eternal (John 17:24)
3. The grace of love is the root, essential grace. The loveless being might be placed (if that were possible) near the throne of heaven’s eternal King; but he would flee in terror “sheer o’er the crystal battlements,” and seek his appointed place.
4. The presence of love is the absence of sin. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour” (Romans 13:10). If on one spot of earth love reigned supreme—pure, unselfish love—there, even in spite of sorrow and trial, would be a true foretaste of heaven and eternal life. In the heavenly state love will be supreme. Therefore no sin shall cloud the light of the divine love, no mists of misconception rise between friend and friend. The objects of love shall be perfect, and it shall “never fail.”
5. The knowledge of God, the reign of love, the absence of sin—these elements constitute eternal life, and these we have in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Men need not wait for the revelation of the heavenly state ere this promise can be fulfilled to them. Here and now Christ gives His people eternal life. It is in and through Him. Without Him we can do nothing. His incarnation, His life and death, were necessary to cancel the guilt of sin, and vindicate the eternal law of righteousness. There is necessary a living faith, uniting men to Christ in order that spiritual grace and power may flow into their souls, producing the heavenly character. But this divine love of Christ constrains His disciples to love Him in return, and to live unto Him who died for them and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:14-47.5.21). And this is life eternal, begun even here in the human soul, leading to the living hope of the eternal inheritance beyond (1 Peter 1:4).
John 17:14-43.17.15. Christian separation from the world,—The secret of the higher life is separation from the world. The believer is in the world, but not of it. Christ does not wish us to withdraw from the world. His earnest prayer for His disciples, who were not of the world as He was not of the world, was that they might be kept from the evil. That is what we are to keep from as strangers and pilgrims.
I. Christian separation from the world does not mean withdrawal from the society of our fellow-men.—
1. That is what men thought in the earlier ages of the Church’s history, when the Church began to come into contact with the sinful and unbelieving world. They fled to hermitages and desert places, they avoided the society of their kind, and lived lives of solitary retirement, thus thinking to escape the pollutions of the world, but forgetting the purpose for which they had been sent into it.
2. And this error spread so that in mediæval times it grew into a system, and the light of truth was hidden often within monastic walls, whilst all around the darkness of sin and superstition was gross among men.
3. And did this seclusion always conduce to real separation from the world? In nowise! True, within those monastic cells were many true-hearted men and women who earnestly followed Christ. But for the most part, especially in pre-Reformation times, men and women took the world with them into monastery and convent, till these often became centres of darkness instead of light. And without those walls were witnesses to the truth, who lived consecrated lives, as well as within.
4. The monastic system in its time had a purpose, and formed a protest against the sin and wickedness of the world. But could not this have been better done had the good from within those walls lived more in fellowship and unity with the good without?
5. As Christ “the light of the world” did not shun the society of men, so should those who are His true followers, and therefore in Him also lights in the world, let their “light shine,” not alone at the family altar, or in the public services of the sanctuary, but in the field or on the market-place, and in all the innocent intercourse of society. Christ does not desire that His people, who are “the salt of the earth,” should remove themselves or be removed from the world, else the world’s destruction would be near at hand. And Christ desires the world’s salvation—came to save the world.
II. Christian separation from the world means being kept from the world’s evil.—
1. As Christ’s disciples, as members of God’s spiritual family, and therefore “strangers and pilgrims” on earth, although we are forbidden to seclude ourselves from the society of men and the pursuits of life, we are also bidden to keep ourselves free from that sin and evil which make the world inimical to God and God’s people.
2. Our daily prayer should be this petition in that prayer which Jesus taught His disciples—“Deliver us from evil.” And when it is remembered that evil inheres as it were in a centre, comes from one dark source, then the petition should also run—“Deliver us from the evil one.” It was for this that Jesus prayed His Father just before the cross, that He would keep the disciples from the evil one.
3. It is not then the world in itself that is evil. The earth indeed is full of the divine goodness. “The heavens declare the divine glory,” etc. “Earth with her thousand voices praises God” (Coleridge). Reverent intercourse with nature to the spiritually minded leads them nearer to God. And nature in itself has no sympathy with evil (Revelation 3:22). It is from the world of evil men, inspired by the spirit of evil, that the believer is to be kept free.
4. And this is the difficulty. Hic labor, hoc opus. How can men escape that which touches their lives at every point! In what enticing guises and disguises does evil solicit even in a Christian land! Under the guise of sociability and good fellowship it offers the intoxicating cup. With the specious promise of pleasure it tempts with those “fleshly lusts that war against the soul.” With the tempting bait of easy gain, and the excitement of chance, it entices its victims into worshipping at those shrines (of gambling, etc.) dedicated to Mammon. Great need for prayer that we should be kept from the world’s evil—that the high-priestly prayer of our Lord should be answered in our case also.
III. How then shall believers be kept from the evil in the world?—
1. Not by their own strength. They must be inspired by a higher power. Another spirit must reign within them than that which dominates this evil world. As in malarious districts, those who have to go through them prepare themselves by prophylactics to resist the poisoned air, so that the deadly swamp fever may not lay its burning hand upon them—so the Christian who must come in contact with the evil world must have a spiritual prophylactic. “Sanctify them through Thy truth.”
2. The men who are spiritually healthy, holy, will be best fitted to resist spiritual disease, and be able to go about as spiritual healers among men.
3. And this we may attain to through union with the Saviour; for then we shall be kept by the Father from evil and the evil one. In this struggle we do not stand unaided and alone. A heavenly panoply is provided for us (Ephesians 6:11-49.6.18); a heavenly weapon—the divine word—is put into our hands; a divine Spirit inspires the Christian pilgrim and soldier with strength to endure; a divine Friend is ever near to aid and help in time of need.
IV. The purposes for which the Christian disciple is to remain in the world.—
1. There is a personal, spiritual gain in wrestling with and overcoming evil. Our faith is strengthened by the conflict with unbelief. Every temptation overcome is a step upward on the heavenly stairway, every victorious struggle with evil thoughts from within and incitements from without is a gain to the moral nature. Every firm refusal to yield to the blandishments of the world, the flesh, the devil, every time the indignant word, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” is spoken, the struggle will be less painful, and the victory in Christ’s strength more sure.
2. And as the divine Son was “perfected through sufferings,” so will it be with His disciples. In our present condition we must either overcome the world or be overcome by it. But Jesus has shown us the way in which we may be more than conquerors, through His grace. And the promise is to those who overcome (2 Timothy 4:7-55.4.8; Revelation 21:7).
3. There was also a purpose regarding the world served by the disciples of Christ remaining in it. They were to be witnesses for Christ. Inspired by the Spirit, they were to make known His saving power. “Having their conversation honest among the Gentiles,” “shining as lights in the world,” they would lead men to see the sinfulness of sin, the need of Christ’s salvation, and thus bring glory to God (1 Peter 2:12).
4. And as they were so are we in the world. If we are truly Christ’s disciples, He gives us a work to do for Him whilst we are here which we alone can do. He calls us to witness for Him by our lives, by word and deed, in the world, showing by our walk that we are not of the world, but seek a better country, even a heavenly. Thus men will be led also to seek for and rejoice in this salvation, and in the end glorify our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).
John 17:15. “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world.”—Some reasons why our Lord asks for His friends that they should not be taken out of the world.
I. He asks it for the benefit of the world.—If Christ were to remove men to His immediate presence so soon as they become His followers, He would be taking away from the world those who were meant to be its greatest blessings. True Christians are the salt of the earth. Distributed over its surface, they help to preserve it from the utter corruption to which it would otherwise sink. They are more—they are its light. If ever the world is brought to the knowledge of God, it must be through their instrumentality. If they were removed, there would be no Church on earth to witness for God. It would be the darkness of Egypt, without light in any dwelling—the corruption of Sodom, without a Lot to be grieved for it; and if the earth were still preserved, it would only be for the sake of those who, in time coming, might be drawn from it to God. This world would then be a quarry from which stones were taken, as from heathen Tyre, and transported, so soon as cut, to form the house of God in another land. But it would not be a site on which a temple shall rise to God’s glory, growing from age to age, until it fill the extent of the wide earth, and have the “headstone brought forth with shoutings, Grace, grace, unto it!”
II. He asks it for the honour of His own name.—There is glory that accrues to the name of Christ and there is joy among the angels when a sinner drops the weapons of rebellion, and becomes, through Him, the child of God. There is glory also that comes to Him when His redeemed are brought home, and when, arrayed in the beauties of holiness, they cast their crowns before the throne with the ascription, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” But it is for His honour also that there should be an interval between—a pathway of struggle, where the power of His grace may be seen in preserving His friends in every extremity. The more threatening the rocks and eddies, the fiercer the winds and waves, so much the more honour to Him, who sometimes asleep in the ship (as men deem it), sometimes absent, can keep it from wreck, and carry it in safety to the desired haven. What an emphatic challenge there is to every enemy in His own words, “I give unto My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand”!
III. He asks it for the good of Christians themselves.—“Master, it is good for us to be here,” Peter said, when a ray of heaven’s light shone upon him on the holy mount; “let us build here three tabernacles.” As if he had said, “Why go down again into the dark world of opposition and trial, when we can enjoy here at once the heavenly vision?” But “he wist not what he said,” and he was compelled to descend, and travel many a weary footstep, before he reached that higher mount where he now stands with his Lord in glory. We, too, may sometimes feel that it would be better for us to be carried past these temptations and struggles, and to enter at once into rest. There are times when that rest seems so much to be desired, and this world so little, that our soul, like that of the ancient Israelites, “is much discouraged because of the way.” But He who undertakes for us knows what is best, and as it was expedient for us that He should depart, so must it also be that we should for a season remain behind. There are lessons which we have to learn on this earth which can be taught us in no other part of our history. One of these is the evil of sin. Another part of God’s desire may be that we should enjoy more fully the blessedness of heaven. Our bitter bereavements will intensify the joy of its meetings; its rest will be sweeter for the hard toil; and its perfect light and purity fill the soul with a far more exceeding glory for the doubts and temptations which oppress us here.—Dr. John Ker.
John 17:16-43.17.17. Christian separation from the world.—The circumstances under which this prayer was offered render it pre-eminently a revelation of Christ’s last thoughts concerning the Church of the future. In this prayer we enter the solemn temple of the Saviour’s soul, and, gazing on the mighty thoughts that were throbbing there, we read those spiritual principles on whose foundation the kingdom of heaven rises into might and majesty. Christ throughout draws a sharp distinction between the disciples and the world. At the outset He draws a broad line of demarcation, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.” That distinction comes out yet more sharply as He passes on. He implies that the world has become conscious of it, and shows its detection of the difference by hating the disciples. He asks not that they may be taken out of the world, but kept from its evil. If, then, this prayer be a revelation of Christ’s profoundest thoughts on the mission of His disciples, we are compelled to infer that, if this separation be lost, the Christian Church will lose its power and leave its work undone. And this conviction is forced upon us, inevitably, as in approaching the close of the prayer the Saviour carries the thought to its conclusion in the words, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.”
The Christian separation from the world: its nature, attainment, and purpose.
I. Its nature.—“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Christ does not so much mean to say that His disciples were not of the world because He was not, as that they were unworldly precisely in the same way that He was.
1. Looking at Christ’s life, we observe that His separateness was not an outward separation from the world, but an inward separation from its spirit.
2. Christ walked the earth as God’s world. He looked into the beautiful eyes of lilies and saw the touch of the eternal finger, and beheld the Father’s care in every falling sparrow. Men have tried to be separate from the world by condemning the glad, the social, the free; but He who blessed little children blessed the mirth and joy of childhood. So little of an ascetic was He that men called Him a “wine-bibber,” and by His very first miracle He hallowed and glorified the gladness of human love. Whence came this spiritual atmosphere of separation amid His close contact with men? We may trace two sources of it:
(1) His life of holy consecration;
(2) His life of abiding prayer.
II. Such, then, is the nature of Christian separateness. We are not required to retire outwardly from the world; we are not called upon to be sad, stern, severe; not to abjure the common, the familiar, and the social; but in the midst of all to manifest a separateness of spirit. But the question meets us here, How is this to be attained? how can a man acquire this spiritual separateness? “Sanctify them through Thy truth.” To sanctify means to set apart, to separate for God. Set them apart in spirit from the world “through Thy truth.” He whose eye gazes on the eternal pierces the shadows of the apparent. The world lives in and for the present, the visible, the temporal. He walks with God, and His life and conversation are in the heavenly. Hence arises that spiritual separation. The entanglements of the world’s life are broken and overcome. Its charms are snapped. Its practical falsehoods fade before the light of an unveiled eternity.
III. Its purposes.—“As Thou hast sent,” etc. Our mission of witnessing to the truth, love, will of God, can only be fulfilled by this spiritual separation from the world. Apart from this everything else fails; it alone gives power to our direct Christian activity. Our influence is just in proportion to what we are. Men will read the reality of our lives, whatever they may appear to be. It is vain to preach, etc., unless we can prove by this spirit of Christlike separation that, like Christ, we are “not of the world.” This forms our mightiest power over men, because its action is silent, constant, irresistible.—E. L. Hull, B.A.
John 17:16-43.17.19. The spirit in which Christians are to live separated from the world.—
I. As God’s sanctified ones.—
1. “Your bodies,” wrote the apostle, “are temples of the Holy Ghost.” “Ye are the temple of God.” This is to be kept in view in all the relationships of life, in the training of our spiritual being, in seeking to influence others for good. It is for this end our Lord prayed for His disciples that they might be sanctified by the truth.
2. Nor is it easy to live in this spirit. It is hard for men to deny themselves, to oppose that spirit of self which naturally inspires them, to submit themselves to discipline that may sometimes seem like the cutting off of a right hand or the plucking out of a right eye. So hard is this that men and women, in their present imperfect condition, could not of themselves accomplish the task. They need to surrender themselves to the guidance of the Spirit, to be led by Him into all truth, to be sanctified through the truth.
3. But guided thus and quickened by the example of Jesus, who for their sakes sanctified Himself, His disciples will be able through His grace to maintain their freedom from the evil in the world. They will remember that these bodies of theirs are sacred places, and that sin committed is committed against the indwelling God. “Shall I profane the temple of God?” They will be led to say, “Shall I do this great wickedness and sin against God, against His Spirit that dwells within me?” And thus they will be led to pray ever more earnestly, “Deliver us from evil.”
II. As members of God’s spiritual family.—
1. Though not of the world, and separated by a gulf deep as eternity from the evil that is in it and the evil men, believers do not stand alone. They are members of a great spiritual family, of which God is the Father and Jesus the great elder Brother. And, strengthened by this fellowship, they will be enabled more and more to resist the world’s evil.
2. The citizens of the heavenly state strengthen each other in their, struggle against the forces of evil. And this they do through union and communion with God in Christ Jesus. “Through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” And in Him we have fellowship one with another. The traveller over difficult and dreary paths is upheld and cheered by the presence of like-minded fellow-travellers, and by mutual help delivered from many a danger.
3. And this very fellowship acts with deterrent power in keeping men from the evil. How shall we sin against and bring dishonour on the name of our brethren? How, above all, shall we through sin “tread under foot the Son of God, and count the blood of the covenant, wherewith we were sanctified, an unholy thing, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29).
4. Shall we not rather through grace seek to have higher conceptions of duty, a noble scorn of what is base and unrighteous, and resolve, aided by grace divine, to attend to the apostle’s exhortation, “I … beseech you to walk worthy of the high calling wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1).
III. In holy activity for the world’s salvation.—
1. Why were the disciples to remain in the world but in order to carry out, after Jesus had left it, the work given by the Father to Him to do? And was not their activity simply a continuation of the work of Jesus Himself, now working for the world’s salvation from His heavenly throne? As the Gospel story tells of all that Jesus began to do and teach, so the Acts of His Apostles, and the history of the Christian Church, show how He has continued His work (Acts 1:1).
2. Separation from the world does not mean hatred of the world. Jesus met the hatred of the world with love; He died for it. So the disciples of Jesus must meet the hatred and persecution of the world with love, and seek to win the world for Christ, so that it may no longer be the world, but that its kingdoms may become the kingdom of our Lord, etc.
3. For this end Christ’s disciples are “sent into the world” (John 17:18), so that by their holy example, their earnest proclamation of redemption, the spiritual power of their witness-bearing, they may be the instruments of bringing many to believe unto salvation; and that thus over all the glory of God and the Redeemer may be seen.
4. Modern disciples should “walk according to the same rule, should mind the same things.” Their conversation should be in heaven (Philippians 3:16; Philippians 3:20), as they walk in the present evil world, so that they may win men by their holy example (Matthew 5:14-40.5.16). The love to Christ which inspires them will lead them in love to seek to win a perishing world for Him. The extension of His kingdom in their own hearts and in the world will be their first and dearest desire. They will give themselves and their gifts freely and ungrudgingly for Christ’s cause and kingdom.
5. And thus living in the unity of the faith with Christ and His people they will joyfully realise that His prayer for His disciples has in their case been blessedly answered; they will “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).
John 17:17. Thy word is truth.—Look at the testimony of our Lord to the truth of revelation. When He prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth”:—
I. What did Christ mean by these words?—
1. Did He mean, as modern critics would have us suppose, a revelation that, whilst containing the truth, was at the same time so mixed up with error that it required the training of experts to distinguish the one from the other? And if this had been the case, would He not in some way have warned His disciples of the fact, if fact it was? Surely He would.
2. It was not Christ’s method to keep His disciples in darkness regarding matters of such moment to them. In all His teaching, and even whilst earnestly warning the disciples against the teaching of those who had made “the word of God of none effect through their tradition” (Mark 7:13), we have no hint of the existence of human error in the divine word, or any warning to avoid in it the elements of fabrication, which modern critics assert are to be found in it.
3. No; on the contrary, He asserts as here, “Thy word is truth”—not merely, notice, that it contains the truth mixed up with other elements, but “is truth.” “I came not to destroy,” etc. “Not one jot or tittle,” etc. (Matthew 5:17-40.5.18). “The law and the prophets prophesied,” etc. (Luke 16:16). “Blessed are they that hear,” etc. (Luke 11:28). “Search the Scriptures, … for they,” etc. (John 5:39). In all His teaching there is no word of errancy in the Scripture. Nay, He showed that error arose just from want of knowledge of those same Scriptures. “Ye do err,” He said to the Sadducees, “not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”
4. Apostolic testimony is in the same line as our Lord’s. And all this referred to the Old Testament only. To our Lord and His disciples it is truth. “Thy word is truth.”
5. And in John 16:13 our Lord shows how the word is “truth,” and gives the basis of our belief in the New Testament as a divine revelation. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: … whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come.” Scripture, as to its substance, is God-given, although in its form it was necessarily human. Only,—the human promulgators or heralds of the word were divinely guided into “all truth.” The Old Testament stands on the same basis as the New; “for the prophecy (teaching) came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
II. God’s faithfulness a foundation for the truth of His word.—
1. Would God leave us with an ambiguous and perhaps erring presentment of His mind and will? When we look for bread, will He give us a stone, or the wheat of His truth so mixed up with the poison of error that we do not discover it, and go on eating until the skilful analysts come along and warn us of our danger—all disagreeing among themselves meanwhile as to the nature and proportion of the poison?
2. Our brethren for many a century have been fed on this word; and the more heartily they partook of it, so much more did they grow in spiritual strength. Many of them from childhood knew “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make men wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
3. We believe this is the experience of many still, who will decline to accept this critically refined and desiccated production offered by modern critics as the pure wheat of the word. We shall be inclined rather to acquire for our spiritual nourishment that commended by our Lord as “truth,” and by the apostle as “able to make us wise,” etc., believing that the concentrated essence offered by the critics is not spiritually nourishing, and will, like many other patents, have its day, and then pass away into merited oblivion.
4. The Admiralty, and those in the department responsible for the direction of the navigation of our great navy and mercantile marine, issue charts of all the oceans that are so nearly absolutely correct that seamen, steering faithfully by them, will pass safely over seas they have never traversed before. It may sometimes happen that a reef, hitherto unnoticed, causes disaster; but then it is immediately noted, and of course new reefs and rocks are continually rising here and there through the labours of the coral insects, or the upheavals of volcanic forces. On the whole, however, those navigation charts are wonderfully exact, and they are founded not alone on actual patient investigation of seas and shores, but on the movements of the unerring heavenly bodies, whereby the exact latitude and longitude of every point on the trackless waste of waters can be determined.
5. But what should we think of those officials who, with all the astronomical calculations and results of navigation before them (and our nation depends more on those specialists perhaps than even on its greatest statesmen), should issue charts with the leading routes and ports, and some of the dangerous spots marked, it may be, yet at the same time with so much omitted that should be known, and so many errors left uncorrected, that the navigator would be in danger night and day? And shall we think it possible that the almighty and omniscient One should, when giving a revelation of His mind and will, so permit truth and error to be mixed up that the wayfaring man should need a specialist at his elbow to help him to discriminate between them—nay, that the truth and error should be so mingled that even the specialists (the critics) are not agreed among themselves where the one begins and the other ends?
6. No; some of us are still old-fashioned enough to believe that God has spoken to us in His word, and that “His word is truth.” It is true we cannot comprehend it all; for the human cannot entirely apprehend the divine. But what is necessary for the practical and spiritual life we can know; and the Spirit has been promised to guide us into all truth. It is true, also, there are difficulties, and seeming discrepancies in its pages; but as many of these have been cleared away in the past, so the future will see more removed. And if there are statements and facts which seem to clash with the moral government and love of the divine Father; so there are in the works of nature, and we do not deny that nature is the workmanship of His divine hand. We see things with our purblind human intelligence. To realise the divine thought we must rise to the divine standard; and we believe that in days to come it will be as in days gone by. The fashions and modes of thought among men will change and fluctuate; but the word of God, as it has done through centuries of trial in the past, will in the future shine only with clearer lustre as the truth, when the clouds of conflict clear away,—“a light shining in a dark place” until the eternal day dawn, and the Day-star, the Sun of righteousness, the Truth, the Light and Life of men, shall be revealed to us in all His glory:—
 These may be trivial blemishes caused by want of care on the part of scribe or copyist, or printer even. But all these petty variations alter in no whit the general meaning of any passage or portion, or make the divine plan of salvation less clear.
“The works of man inherit, as is just,
Their author’s frailty and return to dust;
But truth divine for ever stands secure,
Its head is guarded and its base is sure:
“Fix’d in the rolling flood of endless years,
The pillar of the eternal plan appears;
The raving storm and dashing wave defies,
Built by the architect that built the skies.”
John 17:17. “The Gospel is true, true, true.”—Yes, let us preach doctrines, Christians! But do you know what paralyses our preaching? Alas! it is the little effect which those doctrines produce in many of those who accept and profess them. For my part I declare that it is in regard to this that my faith is often troubled. When I consider Christianity itself in its magnificent unity; when I view the sublime truths of revelation, like to lofty mountains whose summits are lost in the depths of the heavens; when I follow along the centuries the marvellous history which begins in the bower of Eden, and which is to result in the universal reign of righteousness and love over a world at peace; when I turn my gaze on the adorable face of the Christ, on His unequalled holiness, on His love as it shone on Calvary; when I hear the word that comes from His lips with the accent of an authority that is divine,—then I believe, I adore, and cry like Felix Neff, when dying, “The Gospel is true, true, true!” But what often troubles me is the life of those who call themselves Christians. How shall we believe that these doctrines are efficacious, when those, who for twenty or thirty years have embraced them and profess them, are the same to-day as they were then—when a bitter or narrow spirit animates them—when from their lips there fall unmerciful judgments of their brethren? How shall we believe it, when the most pressing appeals of charity hardly succeed in moving them, and only win what remains over from what self, vanity, and the desire to make a show have sacrificed to the world? How shall we believe it, when we see those who demand faithful preaching, that we should speak of a Holy God, of sin, of life and death eternal, plunging into the whirlpool of the world, and astonishing us by their levity; when sudden falls or secret licentiousness come to light to humiliate the Church and cause rejoicing to the worldly-minded? How shall we believe it, when in business matters an external appearance of piety covers the unhandsomeness of the behaviour, the want of scruple and honesty; so that toward religious talk by such people just men sometimes exhibit an instinctive mistrust? See, my brethren, what often makes men sceptics; see in this what makes our preaching weak, and strikes dead our endeavours and apologies; see in this that which destroys souls, which would destroy the Church, if the Church could be destroyed. Ah! may such thought fill our minds with salutary fear. May we all, humbled and repentant, beat on our breasts, and remember that, if the truth which we believe does not change our hearts and transform our lives, it will at the last rise up to condemn us.—Translated from Eugène Bersier.
John 17:19-43.17.21. Sanctification through the truth the source of human peace and unity.—That the spirit of the present age is materialistic is shown by the attitude many have assumed toward religion. The Truth has been assumed to be unnecessary to fit the individual for the work of life. The cry has been on the lips of many so-called reformers for a secular education, from which Christianity should be excluded. Give children a good secular training in the schools of the country, oust religious teaching altogether, or thrust it into a corner. The latter has been the course adopted in many places in our own country; and the result of more than twenty years’ experience has not been reassuring. Thoughtful men of all Churches and classes are beginning to see the necessity of putting the Bible into its former position in our public schools, and of teaching the young the broad catholic truths of that Christianity which the nation professes.
I. The neglect of the religious training of the young is a sign of the practical materialism of the age, and a national danger.—
1. When that covetousness of material things “which is idolatry” becomes the ruling spirit of a community, it will speedily attempt to get rid of whatever conflicts with it. It is impossible to serve God and Mammon; and when Mammon is worshipped God is contemned and for the time forgotten.
2. Mammon-worshippers therefore see no need to train their children to religious service. A thorough training for this life seems sufficient. Therefore religious training is to be excluded from the public schools. And does the end answer the expectation? Do the children thus trained without religion succeed even in this life?
3. An instructive example has come to us from Victoria. During the years of apparent prosperity and Mammon-worship, when people “took their ease, ate, drank, and were merry” (Luke 12:19); men not only seemed to forget that God and eternity were around them, they appeared to think it possible to live and thrive without much regard for man’s chief good, i.e. God. “They went to the disgraceful extreme of removing the name of Christ from the school-books,” rendering anything like moral training impossible; for all reference to the Christian sanction of morals was forbidden, and nothing was put in its place.
4. And what was the consequence? A practical scepticism became largely prevalent. During this period of a godless education, whilst the population increased 32·24 per cent., arrests for serious crime increased 54 per cent. The increase of native-born Victorians was (during a decade) 42·94 per cent., but the increase of crime among them reached the appalling figure of 88·65 per cent., and the increase of arrests for drunkenness 63·19 per cent. “And the great increase of crime comes from those under twenty-one” (Professor Harper, British Weekly, January 18, 1894). Well might those Victorians pray to be delivered from the worship of Mammon, which even in this life leads to such disastrous results; and religious people are regarding the commercial catastrophe which has overtaken the colony as a blessing in disguise. Well might the more earnest people among these colonists, and all who have the welfare of humanity at heart, breathe for their brethren the Saviour’s prayer, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.” The bitter experience of failure has led the legislature to resolve to replace the name of Christ, etc., in all the school-books of the colony.
II. The only hope for the elevation and peace of humanity is their sanctification—their consecration to God through His truth.—
1. When men adopt practical heathenism as their creed they must not be surprised if the abominations of heathenism appear in their immediate surroundings. Divorce Christianity and education, and the result will infallibly be evil. When education has no moral and religious basis, it is a house founded on sand. Divorce religion and national life, and the way is opened for corruption and dishonesty, not only in the central government, but in every phase of the nation’s life. A religious people, which considers religion a prime necessity, will tolerate no rule founded on unrighteousness or mere expediency. And such a people will be truly strong and prosperous. “Happy is that people which is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord” (Psalms 144:15).
2. Let those then who are bent on secularising the state, on divorcing religion from national life, consider whether the results of the experiment, as given in history, warrant any hope of blessing from such a source. Consecration to the service of God through the truth, and thus submission to the rule of Christ, is the true panacea for the world’s evils.
3. Is it unity and fellowship between man and man that is desired—
“When man to man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that”?
Then that which is a dream of the socialist’s creed, and could never be anything more if it depended only on that system of covetousness and selfishness, individualistic or collectivist, can be realised in union with Christ. And the more men are transformed into Christ’s likeness, the nearer will the realisation of such a unity be. Is it peace on earth men desire? Then they may rejoice; for Christ’s kingdom is the kingdom of peace. And it will be when men are sanctified by His truth that they shall “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). Is it help for the wretched, food for the hungry, labour for the strong and skilful, enough and to spare for all? Then men may legislate as they will, and legislate till doomsday, if they legislate in the spirit of covetousness; if they labour for the sake of mere class interests, regardless of the interests of their fellow-workers, and the interests of their fellows as a whole, they will in the end fail. “Christ in the employer and Christ in the employed” is the true solution of all these evils. “Love born of the love of the indwelling Christ will always inspire right treatment of the neighbour” (Homiletic Review, January 1894).
John 17:20-43.17.21. Christian unity.—The unity for which Christ prayed by its manifestation leads to the glory of God, through the walk and conversation of Christ’s true disciples. The world will know Christ in His people, will be convinced that only union with Him can make them lights of the world. And even in this period of the Church’s obscuration, when the Church’s light is dimmed by the veil of sect or party, “the glory of the Lord” is seen shining through it.
I. The Church of Christ should be the centre of Christian unity.—
1. The influence of this spirit of unity and the manner of its working are beautifully expressed in Psalms 133:0. True Christian unity is like the precious fragrant oil used for anointing Israel’s high priest. Flowing down from the head, it sanctifies the whole man. It is like the dew of Hermon, which saturates the air with refreshing moisture, which is wafted by genial airs even to the lower hills.
2. The first has a personal reference—the anointing of the spirit sanctifies the whole man. The second refers to the collective and universal effects of the unity of believers. As the dews distilled on Hermon bless also the lower heights of Zion, so this spiritual unity exists not only on the high summits of spiritual and religious life, but descends to the lower ranges of men’s experience—their governments, their political, social, commercial, and industrial interests—to every member of the common-weal, refreshing and quickening all. This is what would happen if everywhere brethren dwelt together in unity in the spirit of Jesus.
3. This unity of Christians should not remain an ideal. It is intended to be translated into fact, as it was in the days of the apostolic Church (Acts 2:41-44.2.47). So it should be now. True, the small company has increased and is scattered abroad. Men cannot now have “all things in common.” But that was not the essential of their unity. It was their continuance in fellowship and doctrine and prayer. This would bring to us now more unity—not uniformity. How few were the articles of their creed compared with our cumbrous symbols! Where such union and fellowship exist they bring to those influenced by them priestly beauty of character, priestly honour as called to be fellow-workers with Christ, priestly blessedness in the sense of oneness with God in Christ. Thus Christ’s disciples show forth His glory, so that the world may believe and know that He is the Sent of God.
II. The blessed effects of this unity are widespread.—
1. They are seen in all who “dwell together in unity.” The active life is penetrated and quickened by its spirit. It binds the most distant units of the spiritual family to one another and to their head. It should come with blessing in all life’s activity—politics, business, pleasure, etc., for these affect our brethren’s weal. Christ’s kingdom is not of the world, but in it. It is intended to bless the world.
2. The art of government and the business of life should not be ruled by expediency, or made the sport of envy, strife, malice, and every passion. Christian unity should quicken into a richer, fuller activity every occupation and work of men. If all these were engaged in in the spirit of Christian unity Christ would be glorified.
3. Alas! how far is it otherwise: party jealousies, labour disputes, Church divisions, destroy it. Hence men are looking in other directions for unity—socialism, communism, etc., by which paths only greater disunion can be reached.
III. What can be done to realise fully this oneness for which Christ prayed?—
1. Christians must seek to realise, and act on the realisation, that amid much outward diversity the true fellowship of saints may exist, that unity does not mean uniformity (1 Corinthians 12:4-46.12.5). Why should there not be between the various communities, of reformed Christians at least, not only mutual regard, but mutual helpfulness in consecrated activity? It is not fundamental principle that separates them, but opinions which are not of the essence of Christianity. Diversity is not always a blemish. It is a feature of nature: why not of God’s spiritual creation?
2. The Church is likened in Old Testament allegory to an Eastern garden. In such a garden there is the widest diversity; but that detracts neither from its beauty nor its usefulness. It would not be well to have nothing in the garden but roses or lilies, or any single flower. It will be a greater delight to the owner to have it as an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices (Song of Solomon 4:13-22.4.14). Each has its place, and the garden is richer and more beautiful for the diversity.
3. Thus the Lord may see it good to have variety in His spiritual garden, the Church. As the plants and trees do not envy or grieve at each other in the garden, but each fulfils its own place and function, watered by the same dews and rains, and blessed with the same light and heat rays, so should it be in the Church of Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Where brethren dwell in unity of love and service, and inspired by the same blessed Spirit, working together for Christ’s glory, then the barren and thirsty tracts of life are refreshed by copious dews of spiritual blessing.
4. And the glory of the Church will be manifested to the world, proving a centre of attraction for all men, so that “the Gentiles shall come to her light and kings to the brightness of her rising.”
John 17:20-43.17.23. Christ’s prayer for the unity of His Church.—It is impossible to read these words and yet think of the Speaker as merely human. He speaks of a glory which was His before all worlds; but His utterances are marked by such conscious dignity that, taken in connection with His life and works, they come home with the force of truth to the mind. It is vain for men to seek to explain away such utterances. They refuse to yield to such treatment. They are as clear and distinct in their meaning to-day as when they were first spoken, and they reveal the glory of Him who spoke.
I. How this prayer has been answered.—
1. It did not seem likely when these petitions were presented that an answer would speedily come. How widespread is the belief, even beyond the bounds of Christendom, that Christ was a heavenly messenger! That name, once despised, is now honoured worldwide. The cross of Christ, the symbol of shame, has become the centre of the world’s spiritual life, the rallying-point of what is noble, good, and true. Men of divers nationalities, various ranks, even of non-Christian ideas, have conspired to honour it.
“In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.”
2. Not by force of arms, fascination of ritual, glamour of learning and philosophy, has the gospel, whose chief expression is the cross of shame, entered into human life and transformed it; but by its own inherent power, warring only against sin, the gospel has lifted human life to higher levels, working moral miracles, glorifying everyday existence.
3. So doing it has crowned Christ Himself with a glory that is growing in ever-increasing brightness, and which will grow whilst men have hearts to love Him and tongues to sing His praise. But it is not yet perfected; for it is manifested on earth among men, and therefore must be imperfect so far. For the chief, or one of the chief, elements of this glory is the unity of Christ’s people in Him.
4. It should then be one of the chief motives of Christians to exhibit that glory in their unity. Yet what seems most striking in view of the Christian Church is rather diversity than unity. It is the want of it that greatly retards the progress of Christian truth, that dwarfs and minimises the output of Christian energy and effort.
5. It does exist to some extent—it is not necessarily co-extensive with outward unity. It flows from a spiritual affinity which may exist under diverse forms. But outward disunion is too frequently indicative of inward disunion, for unity of action is often entirely lacking. The Christian Churches are not all like divisions of one great army under one head, but are often rather like contending factions. And effort misdirected by sectarian jealousy makes often one part of the vast field of the world like Gideon’s fleece when wet with dew, whilst all around stretches a dry and barren land. How, then, shall Christ’s prayer for His Church be answered? What is the nature of Christian unity? how is it to be attained?
II. Christian unity is the result of a peculiar unity of relationship.—
1. It does not arrive by external force. It is produced by an affinity of spiritual life in the persons united. Mere human relationship or proximity does not of itself lead to unity of sentiment or action. A man’s foes are sometimes those of his own household. But those united spiritually in Christ, however diverse in outward circumstances or tastes, can live in harmony. They are partakers of the same Spirit. The Spirit given without measure to Jesus works in their hearts. A unity of disposition is attained to in Christ, and leads to unity of action. This will be seen in the hatred of sin and striving against it—zeal for the divine glory, etc., whether they eat or drink, etc.
2. Thus they are brought into a peculiar relationship with Christ and the Father. God is in a special sense the Father of all who believe. They are the children of God through Jesus Christ. But though this relationship of the redeemed to the Father is like that of Christ to the Father, it is also widely different in degree at least. Christians who are united to Christ become childlike in their love and obedience to the Father. Yet even in this sense of sonship—not to speak of the essential oneness of nature of the divine Son with the Father—they lag far behind Him, with whom in all things the Father was well pleased.
3. Still, there exists, as will be seen, a peculiar unity of relationship, between God and His redeemed children, which does not exist between Him and other men, and which lifts the life of the redeemed into closer unity with Him.
4. And this has a vital effect on the relations of believers to each other. They become one as Christ and the Father are one. With one aim before them, the glory of God and the divine vision, and a constant striving after that perfection to which they are called, there is produced, above all, a deeper union than any that is merely human, and an anticipation of eternal communion hereafter.
III. How do believers attain to this union?—
1. The answer is brief and simple—faith in Jesus Christ, uniting them to Him as branches of the living vine. Thus His life flows into their souls, and that renewal of the nature in His likeness is produced on the basis of this union.
2. True faith which brings salvation leads to a change in the life of men which cannot be mistaken, and they show evidences of the presence in them of that germ of new life which is the earnest of life eternal. They know the regenerating power of Christ’s gospel, through which the current of their being has been changed. It is when men enter through faith into union with Christ and become members of His mystical body that they become one in Him with the Father (John 17:21). It is in this heavenly relationship that believers are bound by a common love and common interests. This will show that they are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world. They will rejoice in the companionship of all who are likeminded with themselves. And one chief proof of their having passed from death to life, and thus entered into their eternal fellowship, will be their love of the brethren (1 John 3:14).
IV. This unity can only be attained to in part on earth.—
1. There will always be something to mar the harmony that should exist even among those filled with the same spirit, prompted by the same motives, swayed by the same impulses. This is caused by the presence of sin, the great disturbing element, producing disunion and consequent weakness. The “old man” is not entirely subjugated, the “new man” is not yet perfected.
2. But the Church of Christ should ever keep this goal in view. It should ever seek to be more catholic. The motto of sincere Christians should be: “In essentials unity; in nonessentials tolerance; in all things charity.” It is a hopeful sign that men do not so readily assemble now at the beat of the “drum ecclesiastic.” The more Christians realise the prophetic vision of the great multitude which “no man can number” (Revelation 7:9), who with united voice praise God and the Lamb, the more they will be ashamed of strifes and divisions. And although union cannot be perfected here, it must be begun here, and ought to grow toward perfectness.
3. Unity with Christ must be first assured: unless we are one in Him, we are not included in this petition for His Church. But the closer our union with Him, the more sincere our hatred of sin, the more ardent our imitation of Him, the closer will be our union one with another.
4. Then shall our relations to our brethren in Christ be more harmonious, we shall learn to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. The strong will bear with the infirmities of the weak; and generally the relations of all believers to their Christian brethren, and to those without, will be animated by the spirit of Christian love, which is the fulfilling of the law.
John 17:3. The essence of life eternal.
Still, still with Thee—when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than the dawning
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee!
Still, still with Thee! as to each new-born morning
A fresh and solemn splendour still is given,
So does the blessed consciousness awaking
Breathe, each day, nearness unto Thee and heaven.
When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath Thy wings o’er-shading,
But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh, and life’s shadows flee;
Oh in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1867.
John 17:15. Patience under trial.—To be kept in the world and kept from its evil means, to suffer under its trials and to be preserved from impatience. If a man would escape trial, he must needs go out of the world, and when Christ prayed that His disciples should be kept in it, He knew that they were to suffer affliction. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Moral distinctions are not observed in the providential allotment of calamity. Famine, pestilence, shipwreck, and death in every shape, light upon those who are God’s servants, when they are hastening on His errands. This stumbles many. But only consider. If God were to adopt another plan, and exempt His friends from trial, He would antedate the day of judgment. He would take away from Christians one of the most effective means of their training, and one of the most striking ways in which they can prove their likeness to Christ. The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour, but it is not seen in his being saved from suffering; it is in the way in which he meets it. A merely worldly spirit is ready in severe affliction to fall into one of two extremes,—either to cast the trial aside in levity, and to dissipate thought by some engrossing preoccupation; or to sink into despondency, and consider all as lost. The spirit of the Christian, which is also that of the true man, is described by the apostle: “Not to despise the chastening of the Lord, nor to faint when we are rebuked of Him.”—Dr. John Ker.
John 17:15. The world is full of danger.—“Behold,” said Christ, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” He spoke then, of course, of the persecutions that were lying ready to His people, but His words are as true of the moral and spiritual dangers that lurk to-day in every corner of God’s universe for our souls. The world is a very cruel place for character. We cannot live in it long without finding that out, how terribly cruel a place the world is. Now in this respect one does not need to speak only of presumptuous temptations which abound in it. It is enough to remind ourselves of how morally exhausting our ordinary life is. To live in the present day an ordinary and average life takes it out of a man tremendously. The drain upon character is constant and tremendous. If even in that simpler age in which He came our Lord warned His disciples of the cares of this life, how much more warning do we need whose lot has fallen in this far more complex time! The cares of this life, innocent and legitimate as they may be, are exhausting, morally and spiritually exhausting; and if we give ourselves to them, taking no care to provide compensation from other sources, they are bound, however gradually, to drain the life-blood from our souls, and to reduce us to spiritual death. That is the case even with our honest work. There are some men who imagine that to give up one’s self to one’s daily duty, to the profession one has adopted, to the routine work of every day, that that is sufficient; and if a man does that he will grow. No, he does not; he does not grow. If you bind yourselves over hand and foot to your work like that, without taking care to draw in from other sources compensation, how wasted and distorted a life do you become! how selfish does mere attention to work and labour make us! how selfish do our studies make us! Oh, how necessary it is, in the midst of this earthly life that sucks in upon our poor hearts from all sides, how necessary it is to lay hold on eternal life, to pull it toward ourselves, to make our spiritual life, not, as we so often do, a mere pleasure and luxury, but a necessary and indispensable agony. What need is there for us all to recognise our dangers in even the purest walks of life, and to call in to counterbalance their effect all the ready grace and influence of the Holy Spirit!—Prof. G. A. Smith, from “British Weekly.”
John 17:15. Danger from unlooked-for sources.—Take even the lovelier aspects of this world in which we are placed. The indulgence of friends and the praise of friends are at times the sweetest and most needed cups of blessing that God can lift to a weary and dispirited man’s lips. But how often at other times do they inevitably relax his moral strenuousness, and he slumbers; I say it is part of a sane man’s sanity and a vigilant man’s vigilance to be on his guard against these dangers in the world, even where the world is most innocent.—Idem.
John 17:18. Filial trust in and submission to God.—This is a duty incumbent on those whom He adopts into His family; the very name Father dispels fear and inspires confidence; and yet it is but little that the best of men who bear this endearing name are able to do for us. In our greatest emergencies we should often be left without relief if we had no better father than they on whom to rely. But when the great God ranks us among His children, what is there that we may not look for at His hands? In whom shall we confide, if not in such a Father? To whom can we so cheerfully consign our cares and entrust our interest as to Him, who is no less able than He is willing to do for us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think”? His promise is ever sure, that, “If men, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto their children, much more shall our Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him”; and, trusting in this promise, it becomes us to “be careful for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to make our requests known unto Him: and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Filial submission to the chastening of God is another duly incumbent on His children. They know that their severest afflictions come from a Father’s hand, and are sent to them, not in wrath, but in mercy, as a salutary discipline tending to their good. This consideration is fitted, if anything be, to reconcile them to the endurance of the hardest trials; for there is an unanswerable force in the apostle’s argument: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:5-58.12.10). Further, we may draw from the thought of our heavenly sonship a powerful motive to abstinence from base pursuits, sordid pleasures, and unworthy companionships, and to the maintenance of a dignity of character and loftiness of sentiment suited to our high vocation. Even a heathen philosopher could thus argue: “If any one were duly affected with the opinion that we are all originally descended from God as our Father, he would not, I suppose, conceive anything mean or ignoble concerning himself. If Cæsar should adopt thee, thou wouldst be greatly elated; and if then thou knowest that thou art a son of God, much more ought this to elevate thy mind” (Epictetus). To the same effect another learned heathen remarks: “It is useful for states that valiant men should believe themselves to be born of the gods, although it be false, in order that their minds, thus assured of their divine extraction, may the more boldly undertake great enterprises, pursue them the more earnestly, and hence accomplish them the more successfully, from the security and confidence which this belief produces” (Varro). If heathens thus estimated the dignity of a divine sonship, it ought not surely to be less esteemed by those who are children of God by faith in His beloved Son, and “if children, then heirs—heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” It becomes them to shrink from aught that would be disparaging to the character they sustain and the destiny they have in prospect. “Beloved,” we may say to them, in the words of an apostle, “beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-62.3.3). Finally, it becomes those who are partakers of the heavenly sonship to show their high estimation of its preciousness by the habitual gladness and cheerfulness of disposition with which the thought of it is fitted to inspire them. To “joy in God through the Lord Jesus Christ” is the duty, no less than the privilege, of believers. And if a Christian at any time allows himself to be harassed with cares, or overwhelmed with griefs, or cast down by gloomy and desponding imaginations, he may justly be considered as walking unworthily of the high vocation wherewith he is called. The question put of old to a disconsolate Jewish prince may with much greater emphasis be put to such a Christian, “Why art thou, being the king’s son, growing lean from day to day?” (2 Samuel 13:4). For, certainly, of all men he has the least excuse for suffering any causes of disquietude to prey upon him, who can call himself a son of the very King of kings, and who knows that, by the gracious providence of His Father in heaven, all things work together for his good. Whatever reasons the children of God may have, or think that they have, at any time for being sorrowful, they have always far greater reasons for being joyful. No outward losses can rob them of their blessed portion as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Nor can any of “the sufferings of this present time” be deemed “worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed.” Hence it is a just description that is given of them, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things,” and it is a reasonable injunction that is laid upon them, “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, rejoice.”—Dr. T. J. Cranford.
John 17:18. Christ’s perfect self-surrender our example.—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 lesson 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 alone, 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.—Dr. A. Maclaren.
John 17:19-43.17.21. The direful results of the neglect of divine truth.—In small communities like ours it is possible, in a very remarkable way, to gather up the results of social movements, and in this way the results of the delirium of the past ten years have been set forth for our instruction in rather an interesting fashion. Some little time ago the Bishop of Manchester, making use of his experience in Melbourne, warned the English people of the moral dangers which secular education would bring with it. As a proof he adduced statistics to show that crime, especially juvenile crime, had greatly increased in Victoria since primary education was secularised. An admirer of the Birmingham system wrote to a leading Congregational minister in Melbourne, asking for a correction of the bishop’s figures. The checking was done by the Rev. W. Savage, also a Congregational minister, and it more than verified all Dr. Moorhouse had said. The effect of the statement was great. It killed any remaining Congregational opposition to Scripture-reading in State schools, and brought its author into the committee of the National Scripture Education League. The Argus, too, took it up, and, after careful revisal of the figures, endorsed them, at the same time raising a note of alarm. Nor are any of these results to be wondered at, for, roughly, the figures reveal that crime and drunkenness have been increasing, during the ten years from 1881 to 1891, out of all proportion to the increase of population. [The leading figures are given above, p. 488.] … And the great increase of crime comes from those under twenty-one. As for the cause of this state of things there was of course the relaxing influence of our recent speculative period, one terribly destructive aspect of which was the absence of family religion and parental control. Then men made money quickly and the drink bill went up. But the most potent cause has undoubtedly been the bitter secularism of the State system of primary education. As I have stated, it went to the disgraceful extreme of removing the name of Christ from the school books, etc. (see above). It may perhaps not seem patriotic to proclaim the disgrace of these past delirious years, but I have done it with two good objects. The first is to declare also that the remedy will soon be applied. The Scripture Education League has taken votes of the householders on the question whether extracts from the Bible should be read in the schools, and in almost every locality ten have been for it, one against it. In the last vote taken, a month or so ago, the majority was forty-six to one. Most probably a plebiscite upon the subject will soon be taken, and we may hope then to end this most disastrous experiment. In our folly we cut up the roots of moral life in the schools, and we have seen it wither away. We shall live to plant them painfully again; but if our disasters enable us to do that, they will prove to be blessings, hardly even in disguise. The second is to warn the religious people of the old lands never to let the Bible out of the primary schools. Let it be read there, and receive such a modicum of explanation as will make it intelligible as an English classic. That will be enough. In the London School Board there have been very perilous discussions as to whether the duty of Christ may be taught. Let the Bible be read, and teach what is in it of that and other things. That is the minimum which should be irreducible, and more in the primary schools is of little use. We have writhed in the prison of secularism for twenty years with most disastrous results. Let our experience be a word to the wise.—Prof. And. Harper of Melbourne, in “British Weekly,” Jan. 18, 1894.
John 17:20-43.17.21. The golden rule of Christ the bond of human brotherhood.
Not without envy Wealth at times must look
On their brown strength who wield the reaping-hook
And scythe, or at the forge-fire shape the plough,
Or the steel harness of the steeds of steam;
All who, by skill and patience, anyhow
Make service noble, and the earth redeem
From savageness. By kingly accolade
Than theirs was never worthier knighthood made.
Well for them if, while demagogues their vain
And evil counsels proffer, they maintain
Their honest manhood unseduced, and wage
No war with Labour’s rights to Labour’s gain
Of sweet home-comfort, rest of hand and brain,
And softer pillow for the head of Age.
And well for Gain if it ungrudging yields
Labour its just demand; and well for Ease
If, in the uses of its own, it sees
No wrong to him who tills its pleasant fields,
And spreads the table of its luxuries.
The interests of the rich man and the poor
Are one and same, inseparable evermore;
And when scant wage or labour fail to give
Food, shelter, raiment, wherewithal to live,
Need has its rights, necessity its claim,
Yea, even self-wrought misery and shame
Test well the charity suffering long and kind.
The home-pressed question of the age can find
No answer in the catch-words of the blind
Leaders of blind. Solution there is none
Save in the Golden Rule of Christ alone.
J. G. Whittier.
John 17:20-43.17.23. Phases of unity among believers.—We can distinguish a sequence of thought in the references to the unity contained in this prayer. There is first the most general form, “one as We are,” having one purpose, one mind, one dwelling-place—the Father’s name—the Holy Spirit thus making them one. There is again the more special form, oneness in the communion of Father and Son, proving that the unity of believers is more than a merely moral consent, that it is in a real sense a vital unity, “As Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.” And, lastly, there is the perfected unity, which is realised through the giving of the glory which the Father gives the Man Jesus, viz. the knowledge of Him as the Father, and fellowship with Him as the Son with the Father, and which is consummated in the everlasting participation in the Father’s beatific presence. Corresponding to the two latter, there are results in the world. The unity of believers in the communion of the Father and the Son is the means of awakening belief in the divine mission of Christ. The unity in glory—the perfecting into it—is the means of revealing the love with which the Father loves Him, so that men may recognise not only the mission of Christ, but the fellowship of His people in that love. As the perfecting proceeds, the knowledge of the love of God, reflected in and from the Church, will increase. Ah! when we speak of failure, of the powerlessness of the Church, of the weakness of her testimony, and the fruitlessness of her toil, let us ask whether the perfecting into unity is advancing as it should. Unity, oneness, is the predominant feature of the last part of the prayer. To the hostile world it is the sign of the Church of Jesus; it is the power of the Church also. Without it all evidences fail. With it there is a force which the world cannot resist. We may not linger over the sublime conception; we cannot analyse the wonderfully suggestive language. This only,—it is unity in truth, unity in love, unity in the consciousness of the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” Certainly it is something at once much higher and more elastic than any external uniformity. Yet there must be a visible attestation of the union. Else how could the world believe? How could the world know? There can be no doubt that the attestation is hindered by the disunion of Christians. But, through all the times, and notwithstanding all kinds of divisions, there has been, is, and will be, the working of the same Spirit, the same holy and eternal life. Blurred and marred as the writing is, men have traced—the human heart does trace—the characters: “I in them, and Thou in Me, one in Us.”—Dr. Marshall Lang.
John 17:20-43.17.23. Christian unity is not formal, but spiritual.—If we are looking for formal union, we are looking in the wrong direction, and we are looking for the wrong thing. It is as if we should ask the question, Are men alive? and should then determine to answer to the inquiry by stature, complexion, accent, or by any other accident attaching to the individual. Who would assent to the doctrine that it is right to determine living humanity by such incidents or accidents? We should protest against the judgment; we should say, We are looking in the wrong direction, we are in quest of the wrong test and standards; life is wholly different from stature, complexion, or local position and attitude. Human love is not formal; it is spiritual. What is its shape, what its colour, what its bulk in plain ounce weight? Where is it? Yet we all know it, we all feel it; life would be poor without it; yet it resists organisation beyond a given point, it believes in organisation also up to that point, and most fully and sacredly. Love claims united love; love is the genius that presides over household life; love will unite even national life, when political instinct fails to touch the necessity of the hour. Still, love is more than organisation. Love is always surprising us with new revelations of its beauty and goodness; love is always revealing to us some hitherto unknown or unrealised aspect of God. Human life is not formal; it is spiritual. Who has seen life? Where does life reside in the body? Put a finger upon the residence of life, saying, Here you will find it, and nowhere else. No man has seen life. Yet life is organised; life has its body, its tabernacle, its system of nerves, and its wondrous incarnation; it presses itself against these forms in palpitation that means it is greater than can be confined within physical boundaries. Life, like love, is always surprising us by new energy, new passion, new capacities. Who can throw a line upon life and say, We will keep thee here, and bind thee like a beast of burden? The very life that could purpose to deal so with other life gives itself the lie; its own energy, its own aspiration after primacy, declares that it has miscalculated the quality and the quantity of that supreme mystery which we call life. So it is with the Church of Christ. It has organisation—without organisation it could not live; but it has more than organisation. Emerson speaks of some men who are blessed with “over-soul,” soul enough and to spare; soul that goes out in evangelistic yearning and solicitude after other souls less favoured, pining away in the desert or in the darkness. So with the Church of Christ. Its organisations are valuable; up to a given point these organisations are sacred: but whose house has outbuilt all other houses and made them nothing but huts not worth living in? The house is sacred, yet there is a house next door, there is a house behind, there is a house opposite; the whole place is covered with joyous habitations, lighted early in the winter-time, rich with flowers all the summer-time, and the children are so like one another in their laughter, in their innocent glee, that only their mothers can tell which is which. Is there not some analogy, or at least dim hint of meaning, as to ecclesiastical and religious life to be gathered from the life of the household and of the neighbourhood? When we lose the spiritual conception of unity, then the mechanical conception is exaggerated; it is set in false proportions and in misleading cross-lights; we have lost the meridian, and men are keeping their time by their own guesses and their own wild conjectures and speculations. The moment we lose hold, so to say, of Christ’s hand, we are the prey of the enemy, we are lost; we are like planets loosed from their centres; we plunge where we ought to revolve in silent rhythm around the governing Flame. Men become controversial when they become unspiritual. When men cease to pray, they begin to argue and to fight. How wonderful it is that men are usually one in prayer, but the moment they rise from their knees and begin to state their opinions, the Church becomes a battle; pray, then, without ceasing.—Dr. Joseph Parker.
John 17:21-43.17.22. The blessedness of unity of labour among different sections of the Church.—The Church of Christ, no longer the scene of intestine warfare among the several denominations into which it is cantoned and divided, presents the image of a great empire, composed of distant but not hostile provinces, prepared to send forth its combatants, at the command of its invisible Sovereign, to invade the dominions of Satan and subdue the nations of the earth. The weapons of its warfare have already made themselves felt in the east and in the west; and wherever its banner is unfurled, it gathers around it, without distinction of name or sect, “the called, the chosen, the faithful,” who, at the heart-thrilling voice of Him whose “vesture is dipped in blood,” and who goes forth “conquering and to conquer,” rush to the field, unmindful of every distinction but that of his friends and foes, and too eager for the combat to ask any other question than, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Who?”—Robert Hall.
“Come out from among them, and be ye separate,” etc.—There is a most profound philosophy in this. If we are to impress the world, we must be separate from sinners, even as Christ, our master, was, or at least, according to our human degree, as being in His Spirit. The great difficulty is, that we think to impress the world, standing on the world’s own level and asking its approbation. We conform too easily and with too much appetite. We are all the while touching the unclean thing—bowing down to it, accepting its law, eager to be found approved in it. God therefore calls us away. Oh that we could take our lesson here, and plan our life, order our pursuits, choose our relaxations, prepare our families, so as to be truly with Christ, and so, in fact, that we ourselves can say, each for himself, “The Prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me”!—H. Bushnell.
John 17:23. Unity with the spiritual children is dear to God’s heart.—Does He not know all things? Why limit thus the range of His omniscience? Is there anything that can be hid from the search of His piercing gaze? Is not the way of the wicked also known to Him? known so well that He has travelled over the far country to seek and to save that which was lost. Yes; but there is a sense in which He only knows the good. His eyes behold, His eyelids try all that belongs to the eye; but there is a knowledge which belongs not to the eye, but to the heart, the knowledge which men call sympathy. Hundreds know me as a man, but only my child knows me as a father. Even so the heavenly Father has a special knowledge of His child. His knowledge is His nearness; it is the attraction of a kindred sympathy, the gravitation of love. He looks into the glass of our humanity, and He beholds there, in miniature, the brightness of His own glory, the express image of His own person, the Christ that is to be, and, when He sees it, He rejoices with an exceeding great joy. My soul, wilt thou fulfil this joy of thy Father’s heart? He waits to behold in thee the impress of His own likeness. He sits as a refiner of silver till He sees in thee the reflection of His own image; and when He sees His image reflected He knows that the refining is complete. Wilt thou grant Him the joy of that knowledge? Wilt thou let Him behold a Christ in thee, Himself in thee? Wilt thou let Him feel that there is a heart in sympathy with His heart, a life in unison with His life, a will in harmony with His will? Then thou shalt have the joy of all joys, the joy of making glad the heart of God. Communion is dear to the Spirit of the heavenly Father, for the Spirit of the Father is love, and love seeketh not her own. It cannot rest in aught but the vision of its object; it must speak, and it must be answered again: it must know even as it is known.—Dr. Geo. Matheson.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent