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THESE verses begin one of the most wonderful chapters in the Bible. It is a chapter in which we see our Lord Jesus Christ addressing a long prayer to God the Father. It is wonderful as a specimen of the communion that was ever kept up between the Father and the Son, during the period of the Son’s ministry on earth.—It is wonderful as a pattern of the intercession which the Son, as an High Priest, is ever carrying on for us in heaven.—Not least it is wonderful as an example of the sort of things that believers should mention in prayer. What Christ asks for His people, His people should ask for themselves. It has been well and truly said by an old divine, that "the best and fullest sermon ever preached was followed by the best of prayers."
It is needless to say that the chapter before us contains many deep things. It could hardly be otherwise. He that reads the words spoken by one Person of the blessed Trinity to another Person, by the Son to the Father, must surely be prepared to find much that he cannot fully understand, much that he has no line to fathom. There are sentences, words, and expressions, in the twenty-six verses of this chapter, which no one probably has ever unfolded completely. We have not minds to do it, or to understand the matters it contains, if we could. But there are great truths in the chapter which stand out clearly and plainly on its face, and to these truths we shall do well to direct our best attention.
We should notice, firstly, in these verses, what a glorious account they contain of our Lord Jesus Christ’s office and dignity. We read that the Father has "given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life." The keys of heaven are in Christ’s hands. The salvation of every soul of mankind is at His disposal.—We read, furthermore, that "it is life eternal to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent." The mere knowledge of God is not sufficient, and saves none. We must know the Son as well as the Father. God known without Christ, is a Being whom we can only fear, and dare not approach. It is "God in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself," who alone can give to the soul life and peace.—We read, furthermore, that Christ "has finished the work which the Father gave Him to do." He has finished the work of redemption, and wrought out a perfect righteousness for His people. Unlike the first Adam, who failed to do God’s will and brought sin into the world, the second Adam has done all, and left nothing undone that He came to do.—Finally, we read that Christ "had glory with the Father before the world was." Unlike Moses and David, He existed from all eternity, long before He came into the world; and He shared glory with the Father, before He was made flesh and born of the virgin Mary.
Each of these marvelous sayings contains matter which our weak minds have not power fully to comprehend. We must be content to admire and reverence what we cannot thoroughly grasp and explain. But one thing is abundantly clear: sayings like these can only be used of one who is very God. To no patriarch, or prophet, or king, or apostle, is any such language ever applied in the Bible. It belongs to none but God.
For ever let us thank God that the hope of a Christian rests on such a solid foundation as a Divine Savior. He to whom we are commanded to flee for pardon, and in whom we are bid to rest for peace, is God as well as man. To all who really think about their souls, and are not careless and worldly, the thought is full of comfort. Such people know and feel that great sinners need a great Savior, and that no mere human redeemer would meet their wants. Then let them rejoice in Christ, and lean back confidently on Him. Christ has all power, and is able to save to the uttermost, because Christ is divine. Office, power, and pre-existence, all combine to prove that He is God.
We should notice, secondly, in these verses, what a gracious account they contain of our Lord Jesus Christ’s disciples. We find our Lord Himself saying of them, "They have kept Thy Word,—they have known that all things Thou hast given Me are of Thee,—they have received Thy words,—they have known surely that I came out from Thee,—they have believed that Thou didst send Me."
These are wonderful words when we consider the character of the eleven men to whom they were applied. How weak was their faith! How slender their knowledge! How shallow their spiritual attainments! How faint their hearts in the hour of danger! Yet a very little time after Jesus spoke these words they all forsook Him and fled, and one of them denied Him three times with an oath. No one, in short, can read the four Gospels with attention, and fail to see that never had a great master such weak servants as Jesus had in the eleven apostles. Yet these very weak servants were the men of whom the gracious Head of the Church speaks here in high and honorable terms.
The lesson before us is full of comfort and instruction. It is evident that Jesus sees far more in His believing people than they see in themselves, or than others see in them. The least degree of faith is very precious in His sight. Though it be no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, it is a plant of heavenly growth, and makes a boundless difference between the possessor of it and the man of the world. Wherever the gracious Savior of sinners sees true faith in Himself, however feeble, He looks with compassion on many infirmities, and passes by many defects. It was even so with the eleven apostles. They were weak and unstable as water; but they believed and loved their Master when millions refused to own Him. And the language of Him who declared that a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple should not lose its reward, shows clearly that their constancy was not forgotten.
The true servant of God should mark well the feature in Christ’s character which is here brought out, and rest his soul upon it. The best among us must often see in himself a vast amount of defects and infirmities, and must feel ashamed of his poor attainments in religion. But do we simply believe in Jesus? Do we cling to Him, and roll all our burdens on Him? Can we say with sincerity and truth, as Peter said afterwards, "Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee"? Then let us take comfort in the words of Christ before us, and not give way to despondency. The Lord Jesus did not despise the eleven because of their feebleness, but bore with them and saved them to the end, because they believed. And He never changes. What He did for them, He will do for us.
v1.—[These words spake Jesus.] The chapter we have now begun is the most remarkable in the Bible. It stands alone, and there is nothing like it. A few introductory remarks will not be out of place.
Henry remarks that this was a prayer after a sermon, a prayer after sacrament, a family prayer, a parting prayer, a prayer before a sacrifice, a prayer which was a specimen of Christ’s intercession.
We have here the only long prayer of the Lord Jesus, which the Holy Ghost has thought good to record for our learning. That He often prayed we know well; but this is the only prayer reported. We have many of His sermons, parables, and conversations; but only this prayer.
We have here the prayer of one who spake as never man spake, and prayed as never man prayed,—the prayer of the second Person in the Trinity to the Father: the prayer of one whose office it is, as our High Priest, to make intercession for His people.
We have a prayer offered up by the Lord Jesus on a specially interesting occasion,—just after the Lord’s Supper,—just after a most striking discourse,—just before His betrayal and crucifixion,—just before the disciples forsook Him and fled,—just at the end of His earthly ministry.
We have here a prayer which is singularly full of deep and profound expressions; so deep, indeed, that we have no line to fathom them. The wisest Christian will always confess that there are things here which he cannot fully explain.
The Bible reader who attaches no weight to such considerations as these must be in a very strange state of mind.
Augustine remarks, "The prayer which Christ made for us, He hath also made known to us. Being so great a Master, not only what He saith in discoursing to the disciples, but also what He saith to the Father in praying for them, is their edification."
Calvin remarks, "Doctrine has no power, unless efficacy is imparted to it from above. Christ holds out an example to teachers, not to employ themselves only in sowing the Word, but by mingling prayers with it, to implore the assistance of God, that His blessing may render their labour fruitful."
Bullinger remarks that it was the duty of the Jewish priest to pray for the people, as well as to offer sacrifice for them.
About the place where this prayer was offered we know nothing certain. Some, as Alford, have conjectured that it was in the upper room where the Lord’s Supper was held. This however seems inconsistent with "Arise, let us go hence." (John 14:31.) It seems more likely that it was prayed in some quiet place outside the walls, before our Lord "crossed the brook Cedron." (John 18:1.) One thing at least is almost certain. It is a totally different prayer from that which our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, although Rupertus asserts it was the same!
About the hearers of this prayer, there seems no reason to doubt that all the eleven apostles were present, and all heard it. All heard the discourses of the last three chapters, and I cannot see why all should not have heard the concluding prayer.
About the general plan and order and arrangement of the prayer, I decline to express any opinion, thinking it more reverent not to define too closely such a matter. We can all see at a glance that our Lord prays about Himself, prays about the disciples, and prays about those who were after to be disciples. But it is best to pause here, and not to dissect and analyze and systematize too minutely such a prayer. One thing only may be remarked, and that is, the singular frequency with which "the world" is mentioned. The phrase occurs no less than nineteen times.
I conclude these introductory observations by advising all who wish to study thoroughly this wonderful chapter of Scripture, to consult, if they can, the following works specially devoted to the elucidation of it: viz., "Manton’s Sermons on Seventeenth John," 400 folio pages; "George Newton’s Exposition of Seventeenth John," 560 pages folio; and "Burgess’s Expository Sermons on Seventeenth John," 700 pages folio. These three books, having been written by Puritans 200 years ago, are ignored by some and despised by others. I simply venture the remark, that He who cares to examine them will find that they richly repay perusal. Manton’s work especially will bear a comparison with anything written on this chapter since his days. It is curious that the other prayer, commonly called the "Lord’s Prayer," has been frequently made the subject of books and expositions, while this much larger "prayer" has been comparatively little handled.
Melancthon says, "There is no voice which has ever been heard, either in heaven or earth, more exalted, more holy, more fruitful, more sublime, than this prayer."
Luther says, "In proportion as this prayer sounds plain and simple, it is in reality deep, rich, and wide, that which none can fathom."
[And lifted up His eyes to heaven.] This sentence shows that bodily gestures in prayer and worship of God are not altogether to be overlooked as unmeaning. There is a decent and reverent manner and gesture which suits the action of addressing God. It also seems clearly to show that the prayer was prayed before witnesses. John writes as one describing what he saw and heard. It is perhaps too much to say that the expression proves the prayer to have been in the open air. A person may look upward and heavenward even in a room. Yet it certainly rather increases the probability that our Lord was in the open air.
Calvin says, "If we desire to imitate Christ, we must take care that our outward gestures do not express more than is in our mind, but that inward feeling shall direct the eyes, the hands, the tongue, and everything about us."
Newton observes that gesture and demeanour in God’s worship, though not everything, are something.
[And said, Father, the hour is come.] The "hour" here named is the hour appointed in God’s eternal counsels for the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and the final accomplishment of His atonement. That time, which had been promised by God, and expected by saints for 4000 years, ever since Adam’s fall, had at length arrived; and the seed of the woman was actually about to bruise the serpent’s head, by dying as man’s Substitute and Redeemer. Up to this night "the hour was not yet come" (John 7:30; John 8:20); and till it had come, our Lord’s enemies could not hurt Him. Now, at last, the hour had come, and the Sacrifice was ready.
Augustine says here, "Time did not force Christ to die, but Christ chose a time to die. So also the time at which He was born of the virgin He settled with the Father, of whom He was begotten without time."
Let us remember, though in a far lower sense, that believers are all immortal till their hour is come; and till then they are safe, and cannot be harmed by death.
Let us note how our Lord addresses God as "Father." In a lower sense we may do the same, if we have the Spirit of adoption, and are His children in Christ. The Lord’s prayer teaches us to do so.
It is worth notice that our Lord uses the phrase "Father" six times in this one prayer.
[Glorify Thy Son...glorify Thee.] I think the meaning of this sentence must be this: "Give glory to Thy Son, by carrying Him through the cross and the grave, to a triumphant completion of the work He came to do, and by placing Him at Thy right hand, and highly exalting Him above every name that is named. Do this, in order that He may glorify Thee and Thy attributes. Do this, that He may bring fresh glory to Thy holiness, and justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and prove to the world that Thou art a just God, a holy God, a merciful God, and a God that keepeth His word. My vicarious death and my resurrection will prove this, and bring glory to Thee. Finish the mighty work. Glorify Me, and in so doing glorify Thyself. Finish Thy work, not least, that Thy Son may glorify Thee by bringing many redeemed souls to heaven, to the glory of Thy grace."
Stier remarks, "These words prove the Son is equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead. What creature could stand before his Creator, and say, ’Glorify Me, that I may glorify Thee’?"
The glory of God and His attributes is the grand end of all creation, and of all God’s arrangements and providences. Nothing brings such glory to God as the completion of the redeeming work of Christ, by His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Our Lord seems to me to ask that His death may at once take place, that He through death may be taken up to glory, and that there the justice, holiness, mercy, and faithfulness of the Father may be glorified and exhibited to all creation, and many souls be at once saved and glorify the Divine wisdom and power.
Augustine remarks, "Some take the Father’s glorifying the Son to consist in this,—that He spared Him not, but delivered Him up for us all. But if He be said to be glorified by passion, how much more by resurrection? For in the passion it is more His humility than His glory that is shown forth, as the Apostle says in Philippians 2:7-11."
v2.—[As Thou hast given Him power, etc.] The Greek of part of this verse is peculiar, as it contains a nominative absolute; and a literal translation seems impossible. It would be, "That with regard to all that body or thing which Thou hast given Him, He should give eternal life to them." There seems a distinction between the whole body and the particular individual members. The body is given to Christ, in the mass, from all eternity. The members of that body are called in time, separately and one by one, and eternal life given to them.
There certainly seems a connection between this verse and the concluding clause of the preceding verse. "Let Thy Son glorify Thee by saving souls, even as Thou hast appointed He should do, seeing that Thou hast given Him power and authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all the members of that mystical body which Thou hast given Him."
When we read here of "the Father giving power to the Son," we must carefully remember that it is not the giving of a superior to an inferior. It signifies that arrangement in the counsels of the eternal Trinity, by which the Father gives to the Son especially the carrying out of the work of redemption. Newton thinks the "power" includes the dignity of judgment at the last day, as in John 5:22.
The expression "all flesh" seems to me, as it does to Augustine, Bullinger, Newton, and others, to denote all mankind. All are not saved, but Christ has power and authority over all. Some confine it to the "elect," but I cannot see the force of their argument. To my eyes it is like John 3:16, where "world" and "believers" are in contradistinction. So it seems here, "all flesh" and "given ones."
Chrysostom thinks that the phrase "all flesh" had special reference to the calling of the Gentiles into the Church; and that our Lord meant that henceforward He was to be "Saviour of Gentiles as well as Jews."
The phrase "eternal life" includes everything that is necessary to the complete salvation of a soul,—the life of justification, sanctification, and final glory.
The Son gives "eternal life" to none but those who are "given to Him," in the everlasting counsels of the Trinity, from all eternity. Who these are man cannot say. "Many of the given ones," say Traill, "do not for a long time know it." All are invited to repent and believe, without distinction. No one is warranted in saying, "I was not given to Christ, and cannot be saved." But that the last day will prove that none are saved except those given to Christ by the Father, is clear and plain.
Poole remarks, "We need not ascend up to heaven to search the rolls of the eternal counsels. All whom the Father hath given to Christ shall come to Christ; and not only receive Him as Priest, but give themselves up to be ruled and quickened by Him. By such a receiving of Christ we shall know whether we are of the number of those that are given to Christ."
Traill remarks, "This giving of men to the Son to be redeemed and saved is the same thing with election and predestination."
"There is a twofold giving of men to the Son by the Father. One is eternal, in the purpose of His grace; and this is mainly meant here. The other is in time; when the Father by His Spirit draws men to Christ. (John 6:44.) All the elect are given from eternity to the Son, to be redeemed by His blood; and all the redeemed are in due time drawn by the Father to the Son, to be kept to eternal life."
v3.—[And this is life eternal, etc.] This verse is mercifully given to us by our Lord as a description of saved souls. "The secret of possessing eternal life,—of being justified and sanctified now, and glorified hereafter,—consists simply in this: in having a right saving knowledge of the one true God, and of that Jesus Christ whom He has sent to save sinners." In short, our Lord declares that he who rightly knows God and Christ is the man who possesses eternal life.
Of course we must distinctly understand that mere head-knowledge, like that of the devil, is not meant by our Lord in this verse. The knowledge He means is a knowledge which dwells in the heart and influences the life. A true saint is one who "knows the Lord." To know God on the one hand—His holiness, His purity, His hatred of sin; and to know Christ on the other hand—His redemption, His mediatorial office, His love to sinners,—are the two grand foundations of saving religion.
Right knowledge after all lies at the root of all vital Christianity, as light was the beginning of creation. We need to be "renewed in knowledge." (Colossians 3:10.) We must know what we believe, and we cannot properly worship an unknown God. Do we know God, and do we know Christ aright? are the two great questions to be considered. God known out of Christ is a consuming fire, and will fill us with fear only. Christ known without God will not be truly valued: we shall see no meaning in His cross and passion. To see clearly at the same time a holy, pure, sin-hating God, and a loving, merciful, sin-atoning Christ, is the very A B C of comfortable religion. In short, it is life eternal to know rightly God and Christ. "To know God without Christ," says Newton, "is not to know Him savingly."
Traill remarks, "The secret moth and poison in many people’s religion is, that it is not Christianity at all. God out of Christ is a consuming fire; God not worshipped in Christ is an idol; all hopes of acceptance out of Christ are vain dreams; a heaven out of Christ is little better than the Turks’ paradise."
The Greek of the phrase, "that they might know," would have been better rendered, "to know." It is the same phrase that is so rendered in John 4:34 : "My meat is to do the will." Literally, this is, "My meat is that I may do the will."
Let us learn that knowledge is the chief thing in religion, though we must not make it an idol. Most wicked men are what they are because they are ignorant. Godly people are often described in Scripture by one single phrase: "They know God."
The argument which Arians and Socinians have always loved to found on this verse appears to me extremely weak. Their idea, that our Lord did not lay claim to divinity, because He speaks of the Father as the "only true God," is foolish and unreasonable. Chrysostom, Cyril, Toletus, and others, remark very sensibly, that the word "only" was not meant to exclude the Son and the Holy Ghost, but only those idols and false gods with which the heathen religions had filled the earth when Christ appeared. The very fact that eternal life consists in knowing not only God, but Christ, goes far to prove Christ’s divinity.
Manton remarks that the expression in this verse had a two-fold object: firstly, to exclude the idols and false gods; and secondly, to show the order and economy of salvation."
Let us note that this is the only place in the New Testament where our Lord calls Himself "Jesus Christ."
v4.—[I have glorified Thee on the earth.] The meaning of these words I take to be this: "I have now glorified Thee during my life on earth by keeping Thy law perfectly, so that Satan can find no defect or blemish in Me,—by witnessing faithfully to Thy truth in opposition to the sins and false teaching of the Jews,—by showing Thee and Thy mind towards man in a way that was never known before."
[I have finished the work...to do.] The meaning of these words I take to be this: "I have completed the work of redemption which Thou didst send Me into the world to accomplish,—My death and resurrection being so near that to all intents and purposes it is finished."
On the use of the past tense here instead of the future, Augustine remarks, "Christ saith He has finished that which He most surely knows He will finish. Thus long before in prophecy he used verbs of past tense, when that which He said was to come to pass after many years. ’They pierced,’ says He, ’my hands and my feet:’ not they will pierce." (Psalms 22:16.)
It has been truly remarked that Christ alone, of all born of woman, could say literally "I have finished the work Thou gavest Me to do." He did what the first Adam failed to do, and all the saints in every age fail to do: He kept the law perfectly, and by so keeping it brought in everlasting righteousness for all them that believe. Yet here is the model we ought to keep before our eyes continually. We must aim to finish the work our Father appoints for us, whether great or small.
Musculus remarks, that true godly obedience is to be seen not merely in doing such work as we arbitrarily take up, but in doing such work as God appoints us to do.
It admits of doubt, whether there is not a latent reference in the end of this verse to Daniel’s prophecy, that Messiah would "finish transgression, make an end of sins, make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness." (Daniel 9:24.)
Let it be carefully noted that Christ’s redeeming work on earth was "work which the Father gave Him to do." He was the Person commissioned in the counsels of the everlasting Trinity to do this work.
"On the earth" must include the whole period of Christ’s incarnation, from His birth until His ascension. During all that period He glorified the Father by perfect unvarying holiness.
v5.—[And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me, etc.] Having briefly recited His work on earth, or, as it were, rendered an account of His ministry, our Lord now repeats the one prayer with which He began: "Glorify Me." The meaning of this verse I take to be as follows: "Father, my earthly work being now finished, I ask to be restored to that heavenly glory which in an unspeakable manner I had with Thee, as one of the co-equal and undivided Trinity, long before this world existed. The period of my humiliation and self-imposed weakness being accomplished, let Me once more share Thy glory, and sit with Thee on Thy throne as I did before my incarnation."
It is needless to say that the things asked in this prayer, both here and elsewhere, are very deep, and reach far beyond man’s understanding. The glory which the Son had with the Father, in the time before the creation of the world, is a matter passing our comprehension. But the pre-existence of Christ, the doctrine that Father and Son are two distinct persons, and the equal glory of the Father and the Son, are at any rate taught here very plainly. It seems perfectly impossible to reconcile the verse with the Socinian theory,—that Christ was a mere man, like David or Paul, and did not exist before He was born at Bethlehem.
Let us also learn the practical lesson, that a prayer for glory comes best from those who have done work upon earth for God. A lazy wish to go to glory without working is not according to Christ’s example.
v6.—[I have manifested Thy name.] In this part of the prayer our Lord begins to speak of His believing people: directly of the eleven apostles, but indirectly and partially of all believers in every age. And the rest of the prayer from this point is entirely taken up with the case of the disciples.
The sentence before us means, "I have made known Thyself, Thy character, and Thine attributes to my disciples." The word "name" is continually used in this sense in the Bible. Thus: Psalms 22:22; Psalms 52:9; Psalms 119:55; Isaiah 26:8; Acts 9:14; Proverbs 18:10. A right knowledge of God the Father was the first thing which Christ revealed and taught to His disciples.
Burgon remarks, "The word name is here used in that large signification, so well known to readers of Scripture, whereby it is made to stand for God himself. The Psalmist says, ’The name of the God of Jacob defend thee.’ (Psalms 20:1.) The evangelist says, ’They shall call His name Emmanuel;’ meaning, that our Saviour would be what the name Emmanuel means: viz., ’God with us.’ As often thus as our Lord made known to men the mind and will of the eternal Father, so often did He manifest His name."
Traill remarks, "What is the Father’s name? Many think they know it, to whom Christ never revealed it. If you ask them whether they know Christ’s Father’s name, they have a ready answer. He is the first Person in the Trinity. He is the Almighty, the maker and ruler of heaven and earth. Yes: but this is the name of God only, and that in general! The name of Christ’s Father is that name and discovery of God wherein He stands related to the Son."
[Unto the men...gavest them Me.] In this sentence our Lord describes His disciples. He calls them "men whom the Father gave Him out of the world,—men who were the elect children of the Father, and whom the Father committed and entrusted to His care as to a good Shepherd." Lampe thinks that "men" are emphatically mentioned here to the seclusion of angels.
Believers are "given" to Christ by the Father, according to an everlasting covenant made and sealed, long before they were born; and taken out from the world, by the calling of the Spirit, in due time. They are the Father’s peculiar property, as well as the property of the Son. They were of the world, and nowise better than others. Their calling and election out of the world to be Christ’s people, and not any foreseen merit of their own, is the real foundation of their character.
These are deep things, things to be read with peculiar reverence, because they are the words of the Son addressed to the Father, and handling matter about believers, which the Eternal Trinity alone can handle with positiveness and certainty. Who those are who are given to Christ by the Father, we can only certainly know by outward evidences. But that all believers are so given by the Father, predestined, elect, chosen, called by an everlasting covenant, and their names and exact number known from all eternity, is truth which we must reverently believe, and never hesitate to receive. So long as we are on earth we have to do with invitations, promises, commands, evidences, and faith; and God’s election never destroys our responsibility. But all true believers, who really repent and believe and have the Spirit, may fairly take comfort in the thought, that they were known and cared for and given to Christ by an eternal covenant, long before they knew Christ or cared for Him. It is an unspeakable comfort to remember that Christ cares for that which the Father has given Him.
[And they have kept Thy word.] Here our Lord continues the description of His disciples, and names things about them which may be seen by men as well as God. He says, "They have kept, or observed, or attended to, the Word of the Gospel, which Thou didst send them by Me. While others would not attend to or keep that Word, these eleven men had hearing ears and attentive hearts, and diligently obeyed Thy message." Practical obedience is the first great test of genuine discipleship.
v7.—[Now they have known, etc.] In this verse our Lord proceeds to give an account of His disciples. The meaning seems to be, "They have now attained such a degree of knowledge, that they know that the words they have heard and the works they have seen from Me, are words and works given Me to speak and do by Thee."
The idea is that they know my mission to be divine. "They know that Thou hast sent Me to be the Messiah, and hast commissioned Me to speak and act as I have done."
Here, as elsewhere, it is striking to observe how Jesus dwells on a right knowledge of the Father as the great truth which He came into the world to reveal.
v8.—[For I have given...words...gavest Me.] In this sentence our Lord declares what He had done in teaching His disciples: He had given them the words, doctrines, or truths, which the Father had given Him to proclaim to the world. The words which our Lord spoke, and the works which He did, were both alike given Him by the Father to speak and to do, in the eternal counsels of the Trinity about man’s salvation.
For the peculiar use of the phrase, "words," to denote the truths or doctrines taught by our Lord, see John 3:34; John 6:68; John 12:48; John 14:10. Specially we should remark Peter’s saying, "Thou hast the words of eternal life."
[They have received, etc., etc.] Our Lord here declares three remarkable things about His disciples. They had willingly received and embraced the truths He brought them from the Father. They had known and acknowledged that their Master came from God the Father. They believed and were persuaded that the Father sent Him to be the Messiah. And all this had taken place when the vast majority of their countrymen neither acknowledged nor believed anything of the kind.
We should carefully note the high character given to the disciples by our Lord. It seems wonderful, at first sight, when we remember their many defects in faith and knowledge, that our Lord should commend them for "knowing" and "believing." Yet when we think of their immensely difficult position, and the opposition they had to meet, we shall see it was no light matter to believe at all. It is after all a very comfortable reflection that our Lord does not despise weak grace; and that He honours reality and sincerity of faith, although it may be very small. Believers make a better appearance in heaven than they do upon earth.
The word rendered "surely" is literally "truly." It is translated "surely" in Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:70. The idea is, "They have known for a sure and undoubted truth."
Manton observes, "The faith of the Apostles was weak. They had but a confused view of Christ’s Godhead and eternal generation. They knew little of His death, were filled with the thought of a terrene [earthy - terrestrial] kingdom and a pompous Messiah, and understood not His prediction of His death and passion. Though they knew Him to be the Redeemer and Saviour of the world, yet the manner of His death and passion they knew not. ’We trusted that it had been He that should have redeemed Israel.’ Yet observe how Christ commendeth their weak faith! Certainly He loveth to encourage poor sinners, when He praiseth their mean and weak beginnings."
Traill observes, "Christ tells all the good He can of His disciples, and covers their failings. How poorly had they received Christ’s Word! How weak and staggering was their faith! How oft had Christ reproved them sharply for their unbelief and other faults! Yet not a word of all this in Christ’s representing them to His Father! This is the constant gracious way of our High Priest. He makes no mention of His Israel’s faults in heaven, but for their expiation."
THESE verses, like every part of this wonderful chapter, contain some deep things which are "hard to be understood." But there are two plain points standing out on the face of the passage which deserve the special attention of all true Christians. Passing by all other points, let us fix our attention on these two.
We learn, for one thing, that the Lord Jesus does things for His believing people which He does not do for the wicked and unbelieving. He helps their souls by special intercession. He says, "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me."
The doctrine before us is one which is specially hated by the world. Nothing gives such offence, and stirs up such bitter feeling among the wicked, as the idea of God making any distinction between man and man, and loving one person more than another. Yet the world’s objections to the doctrine are, as usual, weak and unreasonable. Surely a little reflection might show us that a God who regarded good and bad, holy and unholy, righteous and unrighteous, with equal complacency and favor, would be a very strange kind of God! The special intercession of Christ for His saints is agreeable to reason and to common sense.
Of course, like every other Gospel truth, the doctrine before us needs careful statement and Scriptural guarding. On the one hand, we must not narrow the love of Christ to sinners; and on the other we must not make it too broad. It is true that Christ loves all sinners, and invites all to be saved; but it is also true that He specially loves the "blessed company of all faithful people," whom He sanctifies and glorifies. It is true that He has wrought out a redemption sufficient for all mankind, and offers it freely to all; but it is also true that His redemption is effectual only to them that believe. Just so it is true that He is the Mediator between God and man; but it is also true that He intercedes actively for none but those that come unto God by Him. Hence it is written, "I pray for them: I pray not for the world."
This special intercession of the Lord Jesus is one grand secret of the believer’s safety. He is daily watched, and thought for, and provided for with unfailing care, by One whose eye never slumbers and never sleeps. Jesus is "able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by Him, because He ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25.) They never perish, because He never ceases to pray for them, and His prayer must prevail. They stand and persevere to the end, not because of their own strength and goodness, but because Jesus intercedes for them. Judas fell never to rise again, while Peter fell, but repented, and was restored. The reason of the difference lay under those words of Christ to Peter, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." (Luke 22:32.)
The true servant of Christ ought to lean back his soul on the truth before us, and take comfort in it. It is one of the peculiar privileges and treasures of a believer, and ought to be well known. However much it may be wrested and abused by false professors and hypocrites, it is one which those who really feel in themselves the workings of the Spirit should hold firmly and never let go. Well says the judicious Hooker,—"No man’s condition so safe as ours: the prayer of Christ is more than sufficient both to strengthen us, be we ever so weak; and to overthrow all adversary power, be it ever so strong and potent." ("Hooker’s Sermons." Nisbet’s edit., 1834, p. 171.)
We learn, for another thing, in these verses, that Christ does not wish His believing people to be taken out of the world, but to be kept from the evil of it.
We need not doubt that our Lord’s all-seeing eye detected in the hearts of His disciples an impatient desire to get away from this troubled world. Few in number and weak in strength, surrounded on every side by enemies and persecutors, they might well long to be released from the scene of conflict, and to go home. Even David had said in a certain place, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove, then would I flee away and be at rest!" (Psalms 55:6.) Seeing all this, our Lord has wisely placed on record this part of His prayer for the perpetual benefit of His Church. He has taught us the great lesson that He thinks it better for His people to remain in the world and be kept from its evil, than to be taken out of the world and removed from the presence of evil altogether.
Nor is it difficult on reflection to see the wisdom of our Lord’s mind about His people, in this as in everything else. Pleasant as it might be to flesh and blood to be snatched away from conflict and temptation, we may easily see that it would not be profitable. How could Christ’s people do any good in the world, if taken away from it immediately after conversion?—How could they exhibit the power of grace, and make proof of faith, and courage, and patience, as good soldiers of a crucified Lord?—How could they be duly trained for heaven, and taught to value the blood and intercession and patience of their Redeemer, unless they purchased their experience by suffering?—Questions like these admit of only one kind of answer. To abide here in this vale of tears, tried, tempted, assaulted, and yet kept from falling into sin, is the surest plan to promote the sanctification of Christians, and to glorify Christ. To go to heaven at once, in the day of conversion, would doubtless be an easy course, and would save us much trouble. But the easiest course is not always the path of duty. He that would win the crown must carry the cross, and show himself light in the midst of darkness, and salt in the midst of corruption. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him." (2 Timothy 2:12.)
If we have any hope that we are Christ’s true disciples, let us be satisfied that Christ knows better than we do what is for our good. Let us leave "our times in His hand," and be content to abide here patiently as long as He pleases, however hard our position, so long as He keeps us from evil. That He will so keep us we need not doubt, if we ask Him, because He prays that we may be "kept." Nothing, we may be sure, glorifies grace so much as to live like Daniel in Babylon, and the saints in Nero’s household,—in the world and yet not of the world,—tempted on every side and yet conquerors of temptation, not taken out of the reach of evil and yet kept and preserved from its power.
v9.—[I pray for them, etc., etc.] In this verse our Lord begins that part of His prayer which is specially intercessory, and proceeds to name things which He asks for His disciples, from this point down to the end of the chapter. It may be convenient to remember that the things He asks may be divided under four heads. He prays that His disciples may be (a) kept, (b) sanctified, (c) united, (d) and be with Him in glory. Four more important things cannot be desired for believers.
To say, as some have said, that our Lord’s intercessory prayer is an exact specimen of what He does in heaven as our High Priest, is straining a point, and going too far. To suppose that the Son literally asks things of the Father by prayer in heaven, is in my judgment unreasonable, and a very limited, narrow view of Christ’s intercession. We are reading a prayer made by our Lord during the time of His earthly ministry, before His ascension and session at God’s right hand; and we are not reading an account of what He does for us, as our Priest, within the veil. Let it suffice us to believe that the intercession of this chapter exhibits accurately Christ’s mind toward believers, His desires for believers, the active interest He takes in believers, and the graces He would fain see in believers. Above all, let us believe that if we seek for ourselves the same four things that Jesus here names, we have a Friend in heaven who will take care that we do not seek in vain, and will make our prayer effectual.
There are two interpretations of our Lord’s meaning, when He speaks of praying for the disciples, and "not praying for the world."
Some, as Bengel and Alford, think that our Lord meant, "At this present moment I pray specially for my disciples, and not for the world." They will not admit that our Lord does not pray and intercede in any way for the wicked and unbelieving; and they quote with some show of reason His prayer at the crucifixion for His murderers,—"Father, forgive them." (Luke 23:34.)
Others, as Hutcheson and Lampe, think that our Lord meant, "I pray specially for my disciples, because now and always it is their special privilege to be prayed for and interceded for by Me." The advocates of this view maintain that it is derogatory to our Lord’s honour to suppose that He can ever ask anything in vain; and that His intercession specially belongs to "those who come unto God by Him." (Hebrews 7:25.)
The point in dispute is a nice and delicate one, and will probably never be settled. On the one hand we must take care that we do not forget that our Lord Jesus Christ does take a special interest in His believing people, and does do special things for them which He does not do for the wicked and unbelieving.—On the other hand we must not forget that our Lord pities all, cares for all, and has provided salvation sufficient for all mankind. There is no escaping the text which says of the wicked that they "deny the Lord that bought them." (2 Peter 2:1.) The most fair and honest interpretation of the text, "God so loved the world" (John 3:16), is to regard "the world" as meaning all mankind.
The whole dispute turns, as is often the case in such disputes, on the meaning we put on a word. If by "intercession" we mean vaguely and generally the whole mediatorial work of Christ on behalf of mankind, it is then true that Christ intercedes for all, both good and bad; and this text before us must mean, "I pray at this moment specially for my people, and am only thinking of them."—If, on the other hand, we mean by "intercession" that special work which Christ does for His people, in order to carry them to heaven, after calling, pardoning, justifying, renewing, and sanctifying them, it is then plain that Christ intercedes for none but believers, and that the words before us mean, "I pray now, as always, specially for my disciples, and not for the world."
If I must give an opinion, I must own that I decidedly hold the second or last view of which I have spoken. I believe that Christ never, in the fullest sense of the word, "makes intercession" for the wicked. I believe that such intercession is a peculiar privilege of the saints, and one grand reason of their continuance in grace. They stand, because there is One in heaven who actively and effectually intercedes.
I will give place to no one in maintaining that Jesus loves all mankind, came into the world for all, died for all, provided redemption sufficient for all, calls on all, invites all, commands all to repent and believe; and ought to be offered to all—freely, fully, unreservedly, directly, unconditionally—without money and without price. If I did not hold this, I dare not get into a pulpit, and I should not understand how to preach the Gospel.
But while I hold all this, I maintain firmly that Jesus does special work for those who believe, which He does not do for others. He quickens them by His Spirit, calls them by His grace, washes them in His blood—justifies them, sanctifies them, keeps them, leads them, and continually intercedes for them—that they may not fall. If I did not believe all this, I should be a very miserable, unhappy Christian.
Holding this opinion, I regard the text before us as one which describes our Lord’s special intercession for His people; and I take the meaning to be simply, "I pray for them, as my peculiar people, that they may be kept, sanctified, united, and glorified; but I do not pray for the world."
The famous text, "Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34), is at best a doubtful one. Will any one undertake to say, that those for whom our Lord prayed were never forgiven and saved?—Have we forgotten that within fifty days after that prayer 3,000 souls were converted at Pentecost, of whom Peter said, "By wicked hands ye crucified and slew Jesus of Nazareth"? (Acts 2:23.) Who can prove that the very men who crucified our Lord were not among the number of the converted, and were thus the answer to our Lord’s prayer?—These however are conjectures at the very best. The matter is one which is not necessary to salvation, and one about which Christians must agree to differ, and must not excommunicate one another. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." (Romans 14:5.)
Hengstenberg remarks, "The world may be viewed under two aspects. First, there is the susceptibility of grace, which, despite the depths of the sinful depravation of Adam’s race, still remains in it. Of the world in this sense Jesus says, ’I came not into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.’ (John 1:29; John 3:17.) Viewed under this aspect, the world is the subject of Christ’s intercession. The disciples themselves were won from the world. But the world may also be viewed as ruled by predominantly ungodly principles. Of the world in this sense we read that it cannot receive the ’Spirit of truth.’ (John 14:17.) To pray for the world, thus viewed, would be as vain as to pray for the prince of this world."
Manton suggests that we must draw some distinction between the intercession of Christ as a Divine Mediator, and the prayers of Christ as a man, wherein He is an example to His people. Yet, however just this remark, it hardly seems to apply to this peculiarly solemn prayer.
[For them...given Me...thine.] Our Lord here repeats the description of His disciples which He had given before. They were men whom "the Father had given Him" to teach, and feed, and save. They were His Father’s sheep, intrusted to His charge. Therefore, He seems to argue, "I am specially bound to pray for them, and ask for them everything that their souls need. Like a good Shepherd, I must give an account of them one day."
v10.—[And all mine...thine...mine.] This sentence seems to come in parenthetically, and to be a reassertion of the great truth of the perfect unity of the Father and the Son. The words in the Greek mean literally "things," and not "persons." "All my things are Thy things, and all Thy things are my things. As with everything else, these eleven disciples are not mine more than Thine, or Thine more than mine." This continual assertion of the doctrine of the perfect unity of the Godhead, and the distinction of the Persons in the Trinity, is very remarkable and instructive.
[I am glorified in them.] In this sentence our Lord seems to return to the disciples. "I have been and am glorified in them, by their faith and obedience and love, when the vast majority of their countrymen have hated and rejected Me. They have honoured Me and brought glory to Me, by continuing with Me in my tribulation. Therefore I now make special prayer and intercession for them."
Let us mark here that the weakest faith and love to Christ brings Him some glory, and is not overlooked by Him.
v11.—[And now I am...come to Thee.] In the beginning of this verse our Lord describes the position of the disciples, and shows the special reason why they required prayer and intercession to be made for them. They were about, for the first time, to be left alone like orphans, and thrown on their own resources, in a certain sense. Hitherto they had always had their Master at their side, and could turn to Him in every case of need. Now they were about to enter on a totally different condition of things.—"The time of my departure from the world is at hand. I am very soon about to ascend into heaven and come to Thee. But these few sheep, these weak disciples, are not coming to heaven with Me. They are going to be left alone in a wicked, cold, persecuting world."
Poole observes, "Christ here speaks of Himself as one who had already died, and was already risen, and ascended, though none of all these things were past, because they were so soon and suddenly to come."
Let us not fail to note how our Lord remembers the position of His people here on earth,—cares tenderly for them, and will make all needful provision for their safety and comfort. "I know thy works, and where thou dwellest." (Revelation 2:13.)
[Holy Father.] This is the only place in the Gospels where we find our Lord addressing the Father by this epithet. There is doubtless some good reason for it. It may be that there is a fitness in asking the "Holy" Father to keep the disciples holy and free from the dominion of evil. "As Thou art holy, so keep these my disciples holy."
[Keep through Thine...name...given Me.] Here is the first petition that our Lord puts up for His disciples. He asks that they may be kept and preserved from evil, from falling away, from false doctrine, from being overcome by temptation, from being crushed by persecution, from every device and assault of the devil. Danger was around them on every side. Weakness was their present characteristic. Preservation was what He asked.
The expression, "Keep through Thine own name," is remarkable. I take it to mean, "Through Thine own attributes of power, love, and wisdom." The "name" of God, as before remarked, is frequently used in Scripture to signify His character and attributes.
[That they may be one, as we are.] Here our Lord mentions one special object for which He desires that His people may be kept: viz., their unity: that they may be one.—"Keep them, that they may be of one heart and one mind, striving together against common foes and for common ends, and not broken up, weakened, and paralyzed by internal quarrels and divisions."
He adds the highest model and pattern of unity,—"one, as we are,"—the unity of the Father and the Son. Of course there cannot be literally such unity between Christian and Christian, as there is between two Persons in the Trinity. But the unity which Jesus prays the disciples may aim at, should be a close, intimate, unbroken unity of mind, and will, and opinion, and feeling.
Burgon remarks here, "The word rendered ’as,’ both here and in John 17:21, does not denote strict correspondence, but only general resemblance; as in the Athanasian Creed, where the union of two natures in the one Person of Christ, is popularly illustrated by the union of the ’reasonable soul and flesh’ in man." (Comp. Matthew 5:48; Luke 6:36.)
The importance attached by our Lord to "unity" among Christians, is very strikingly illustrated by the prominent place assigned to it in this verse. The very first object for which He desires the preservation of the disciples, is that they may be kept from division. Nor can we wonder at this, when we consider the interminable divisions of Christians in every age, the immense harm they have done in the world, and the astounding indifference with which many regard them, as if they were perfectly innocent things, and as if the formation of new sects was a laudable work!
v12.—[While...with them...kept...Thy name.] Our Lord here recites what He had done for the disciples during His ministry: "Throughout the three years in which I have been with these eleven disciples in the world, I used to keep them from all harm, through Thy power and name."—I can see no reason why the same Greek words should not be rendered "through Thy name," in this verse, as well as in the preceding one. In both cases the idea seems the same,—a preservation through the grace, power, and attributes of God the Father.
[Thou...gavest...kept...none...lost.] The word rendered "kept" in this clause, is quite different from the word so rendered in the first part of the verse. There it means simply, "I have preserved." Here it means, "I have guarded," like a shepherd guarding a flock, or a soldier guarding a treasure. "I have so carefully guarded those disciples whom Thou hast given Me, that not one of them has perished, or is lost."
[But the son of perdition.] This remarkable expression of course refers to Judas Iscariot, the traitor, the only one of the Apostles who was lost and cast away in hell. The name given to Judas is a strong Hebraism, and means "a person worthy of perdition, or only fit to be lost and cast away, by reason of his wickedness." David says to Saul’s servants, "Ye are worthy to die;" or, as the margin says, "sons of death." (1 Samuel 26:16.) Again, he says to Nathan, "The man that hath done this thing shall surely die," or, "is a son of death." (2 Samuel 12:5; see also Psalms 79:11; Matthew 13:38; Luke 16:8.) It is a tremendously strong expression to come from the lips of our merciful and loving Saviour. It shows the desperate hopelessness of any one who, living in great light and privileges like Judas, misuses his opportunities, and deliberately follows the bent of his own sinful inclinations. He becomes the "child of hell." (Matthew 23:15.)
A question of very grave importance arises out of the words before us. Did our Lord mean that Judas was originally one of those that the Father "gave to him," and was primarily a true believer? Did he therefore fall away from grace?—Many maintain, as Hammond, Alford, Burgon, and Wordsworth, that Judas was at one time a true believer, like Peter, James, and John,—that the text is an unanswerable proof that grace may be lost,—and that a man may be converted, and have the Holy Ghost, and yet finally fall away, and perish for ever in hell.—This is not only a very uncomfortable doctrine, but one which it is hard to reconcile with many plain texts of Scripture, to say nothing of the seventeenth Article of our own Church.—But does the text before us clearly prove that Judas was one of those who were "given" to Christ by the Father? I believe firmly that it does not. I maintain that the "but" in the text is not an "exceptive" word, but an "adversative" one. I hold the right meaning to be, "Those whom Thou gavest Me I have kept, and out of them not one is lost. But there is one man who is lost, even Judas the son of perdition; not one who was ever given to Me, but one whom I declared long ago to be ’a devil,’ a man whose hardened heart fitted him for destruction."
It is easy of course to say that this view is a far-fetched and non-natural one. I ask those who say this to observe, that the same Greek words here rendered "but," are used in other places in the New Testament, where it is impossible to put an "exceptive" sense on them, and where the "adversative" meaning is the only one they can possibly bear.—I challenge any one to deny that "but," in such texts as Matthew 12:4, "but only for the priests,"— Mark 13:32, "but the Father,"— Revelation 9:4, "but only those men,"— Revelation 21:27, "but they which are written,"—must be interpreted as an "adversative," and cannot possibly be an "exceptive" word. (See also Acts 27:22 and 2 Kings 5:17.) And so it is here. Our Lord does not mean, "No one of those given to Me is lost EXCEPT the son of perdition."—What He does mean is, "Not one of those given to Me is lost. On the other hand, and in contrast, Judas, a man not given to Me, a graceless man, is lost."
Let me add, in confirmation of the view I maintain, that in the very next chapter the expression here used is referred to by John, in his account of our Lord’s capture. "He says, "The saying was fulfilled which He spake: Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none" (John 18:9); and not one hint does he give of any exception having been made by our Lord, when he heard Him use the expression before.
The view I advocate is maintained by De Dieu, Gomarus, Lampe, Hutcheson, and Manton.
It is a curious fact that even in our own English language, Milton, writing in the seventeenth century, when the last revision of our Bible took place, has used the word "except" in the same way. He says of Satan, in "Paradise Lost:"—
"God and His Son except, created thing
Nought valued He or shunned."
"Except" there must clearly be "adversative." God and His Son are not created things! Both Brown (on xvii. John) and Doddridge quote this sentence of Milton.
Bishop Beveridge, quoted by Ford, remarks, "Judas, here called the son of perdition, though he seemed to be given to Christ, and to come to Him, yet really did not. Therefore, though he was lost, as the Scripture had foretold, yet Christ’s word is still true, that He never casts out, nor loseth any, that really come to Him."
[That Scripture...fulfilled.] Here, as in many places, it does not mean that Judas was lost in order to fulfill Scripture, but that the Scripture was fulfilled by the loss of Judas. The place referred to is Psalms 109:8.
Let us not fail to note the high honour put on Scripture in this place. Even in a prayer of the utmost solemnity addressed by the Son to the Father, we find reverent allusion to the written word of the Old Testament, and to that oft-quoted book, the Psalms.
v13.—[And now come I to Thee, etc.] This is a somewhat elliptical verse. I take the meaning to be something of this kind: "I am now soon leaving the world, and coming to Thee. Before leaving the world, I speak these things openly in prayer in the hearing of these my disciples, in order that they may be cheered and comforted, and feel the joy which I give to them filled up and abounding in their hearts."
I can hardly think that our Lord is referring to the discourse which preceded this prayer. It seems more natural to apply "these things I speak" to His prayer.
The expression, "my joy," occurs before, in John 15:11. It must mean that peculiar, inward sense of comfort that Christ imparts to believers, and which no one knows excepting him who receives it.
v14.—[I have given them Thy Word, etc.] In this verse our Lord appears to describe more fully the position of the disciples as an introduction to a more full repeated prayer for their preservation. It is as though He said, "I do not pray that my disciples may be kept without good reason. I have given them the Word of the Gospel, and they have received it, and have been at once persecuted and ill-treated for receiving it. In short, the world has hated them ever since they became my disciples, because, like myself, they are not of the world, neither holding the world’s principles, nor walking in the world’s ways."
Let us not fail to remark that true believers must expect the hatred and enmity of the wicked in every age. They must not be surprised at it. Christ and His disciples had to endure it, and all real Christians must endure it too. The reason of this enmity is the continued testimony which believers bear against the world’s opinions and practices. The world feels itself condemned, and hates those whose faith and lives condemn it. If believers were more bold, decided, and consistent, they would soon find these things out more than they do now. The good opinion of the world is about the last thing a true Christian should expect or desire. If all men speak well of his opinions and ways in religion, he may well doubt whether there is not something very wrong and defective about them. We are not to court the world’s enmity. A narrow, morose, uncourteous, and exclusive spirit, is downright wrong. But we are never to be the least surprised by the world’s enmity if we meet with it; and the more holy we are, the more we shall meet with it. Christ was perfect in holiness; but the world hated Him.
v15.—[I pray not that Thou, etc., etc.] In this verse our Lord repeats, and develops more fully, His prayer that His disciples may be kept. His meaning appears to be this:—"Wicked and persecuting as the world is, I pray not that Thou wouldest take my disciples immediately out of it. Such removal would be bad for themselves, and bad for the world. What I do pray is, that remaining in the world, Thou wouldest keep them from the evil of the world. Though in it, let them not be spoiled or corrupted by it."
The deep wisdom of this prayer is very instructive. There are few Christians who would not like to go to heaven without trouble, conflict, and persecution. Yet it would not be for their own sanctification, and it would deprive the world of the benefit of their teaching and example. Believers would never value Christ and heaven as much as they will do one day, if they were not kept here on earth a good deal, taught to know their own hearts, and, like their Master, "perfected by suffering." (Hebrews 2:10.)
Hutcheson remarks, "However much we ought to have our eye upon our rest, and make ready for it, yet we are not anxiously to long for it till God’s time come, nor to be weary of life because of any trouble, persecution, or inconvenience we meet with in His service."
There is a strong indirect argument here, as Bullinger and Gualter remark, against the favourite theory of many, that entire retreat from the world, by going into monasteries and convents, is the secret of eminent holiness. Eminent holiness is most seen by publicly winning a victory over evil, and not by a cowardly desertion of our post in society.
Three of the only prayers not granted to saints, recorded in Scripture, are the prayers of Moses, Elijah, and Jonah, to be "taken out of the world."
Gerhard remarks that the Apostles were to be the first preachers of the Gospel and the light of the world. If they had been taken away immediately after their Lord, the world would have been left in darkness. Moreover, the cross is the school of faith and patience, and without remaining in the world they could not have become eminent saints.
George Newton remarks, "The world is the place where we bring glory to the Lord; in the world to come we are glorified by Him. Oh, let us be so ingenuous as to desire to be awhile where we may glorify God, rather than where we may have glory from Him. Let us not be so eager for our wages and our rest, till we have finished our work and served our generation. When we have done so God will glorify us with Himself for ever."
The meaning of the phrase, "the evil," is a point on which there is much difference of opinion.
Some think that it means simply, as our translation of the Bible has it,—evil in the abstract,—all evil of every kind,—like "deliver us from evil" in the Lord’s prayer; and they think that it includes all evil that may assail us from the world, the flesh,, and the devil.
Others think that the words would have been better rendered, "the evil one," and apply the expression to the devil, as the first great cause and beginner of evil. The word is so rendered in Matthew 13:19-38; 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18.
The question is one which will probably never be settled, and the Greek phrase may be translated either way. Nevertheless I decidedly incline to think that our translation is right. It is "evil" in the abstract, and not the devil, that our Lord means. I think so, partly because the devil is not anywhere brought forward in this prayer, and partly because it is more consistent to reason to suppose our Lord would have His disciples kept from all kind of "evil," than from the devil only. This is the more clear to my mind, from the fact that it is "the world," and its hatred and enmity, which our Lord has just been speaking of, and not the devil. However, I freely admit that it is an open question.
v16.—[They are not of the world, etc.] These words are a literal repetition of the end of the fourteenth verse, and need no further comment. Our Lord seems to repeat them in order to add emphasis to the request He has just made; and the repetition strengthens my opinion that it is "the evil in the world" which He specially desires His people to be kept from. "They need to be specially kept and preserved, because, I repeat, there is an entire want of harmony, a gulf of separation between them and this wicked world, in which I leave them. They are much hated, and need to be much kept."
Repetitions in real, earnest prayer, we may observe, are not wrong: Christ’s example warrants them. It is "vain repetitions," such as were common among the heathen, repeating the same words over and over again, without thought or feeling, against which we are warned in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 6:7.)
These wonderful verses form a fitting conclusion of the most wonderful prayer that was ever prayed on earth,—the last Lord’s prayer after the first Lord’s Supper. They contain three most important petitions which our Lord offered up in behalf of His disciples. On these three petitions let us fix our attention. Passing by all other things in the passage, let us look steadily at these three points.
We should mark, first, how Jesus prays that His people may be sanctified. "Sanctify them," He says, "through Thy truth: Thy word is truth."
We need not doubt that, in this place at any rate, the word "sanctify" means "make holy." It is a prayer that the Father would make His people more holy, more spiritual, more pure, more saintly in thought and word and deed, in life and character. Grace had done something for the disciples already,—called, converted, renewed, and changed them. The great Head of the Church prays that the work of grace may be carried higher and further, and that His people may be more thoroughly sanctified and made holy in body, soul, and spirit,—in fact more like Himself.
Surely we need not say much to show the matchless wisdom of this prayer. More holiness is the very thing to be desired for all servants of Christ. Holy living is the great proof of the reality of Christianity. Men may refuse to see the truth of our arguments, but they cannot evade the evidence of a godly life. Such a life adorns religion and makes it beautiful, and sometimes wins those who are not "won by the Word." Holy living trains Christians for heaven. The nearer we live to God while we live, the more ready shall we be to dwell forever in His presence when we die. Our entrance into heaven will be entirely by grace, and not of works; but heaven itself would be no heaven to us if we entered it with an unsanctified character. Our hearts must be in tune for heaven if we are to enjoy it. There must be a moral "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light," as well as a title. Christ’s blood alone can give us a title to enter the inheritance. Sanctification must give us a capacity to enjoy it.
Who, in the face of such facts as these, need wonder that increased sanctification should be the first thing that Jesus asks for His people? Who that is really taught of God can fail to know that holiness is happiness, and that those who walk with God most closely, are always those who walk with Him most comfortably? Let no man deceive us with vain words in this matter. He who despises holiness and neglects good works, under the vain pretense of giving honor to justification by faith, shows plainly that he has not the mind of Christ.
We should mark, secondly, in these verses, how Jesus prays for the unity and oneness of His people. "That they all may be one,—that they may be one in Us,—that they may be one even as We are one",—and "that so the world may believe and know that Thou hast sent Me,"—this is a leading petition in our Lord’s prayer to His Father.
We can ask no stronger proof of the value of unity among Christians, and the sinfulness of division, than the great prominence which our Master assigns to the subject in this passage. How painfully true it is that in every age divisions have been the scandal of religion, and the weakness of the Church of Christ! How often Christians have wasted their strength in contending against their brethren, instead of contending against sin and the devil! How repeatedly they have given occasion to the world to say, "When you have settled your own internal differences we will believe!" All this, we need not doubt, the Lord Jesus foresaw with prophetic eye. It was the foresight of it which made Him pray so earnestly that believers might be "one."
Let the recollection of this part of Christ’s prayer abide in our minds, and exercise a constant influence on our behavior as Christians. Let no man think lightly, as some men seem to do, of schism, or count it a small thing to multiply sects, parties, and denominations. These very things, we may depend, only help the devil and damage the cause of Christ. "If it be possible, as much as lieth in us, let us live peaceably with all men." (Romans 12:18.) Let us bear much, concede much, and put up with much, before we plunge into secessions and separations. They are movements in which there is often much false fire. Let rabid zealots who delight in sect-making and party-forming, rail at us and denounce us if they please. We need not mind them. So long as we have Christ and a good conscience, let us patiently hold on our way, follow the things that make for peace, and strive to promote unity. It was not for nothing that our Lord prayed so fervently that His people might be "one."
We should mark, finally, in these verses, how Jesus prays that His people may at last be with Him and behold His glory. "I will," He says, "that those whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am: that they may behold my glory."
This is a singularly beautiful and touching conclusion to our Lord’s remarkable prayer. We may well believe that it was meant to cheer and comfort those who heard it, and to strengthen them for the parting scene which was fast drawing near. But for all who read it even now, this part of his prayer is full of sweet and unspeakable comfort.
We do not see Christ now. We read of Him, hear of Him, believe in Him, and rest our souls in His finished work. But even the best of us, at our best, walk by faith and not by sight, and our poor halting faith often makes us walk very feebly in the way to heaven. There shall be an end of all this state of things one day. We shall at length see Christ as He is, and know as we have been known. We shall behold Him face to face, and not through a glass darkly. We shall actually be in His presence and company, and go out no more. If faith has been pleasant, much more will sight be; and if hope has been sweet, much more will certainty be. No wonder that when Paul has written, "We shall ever be with the Lord," he adds, "Comfort one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18.)
We know little of heaven now. Our thoughts are all confounded, when we try to form an idea of a future state in which pardoned sinners shall be perfectly happy. "It does not yet appear what we shall be." (1 John 3:2.) But we may rest ourselves on the blessed thought, that after death we shall be "with Christ." Whether before the resurrection in paradise, or after the resurrection in final glory, the prospect is still the same. True Christians shall be "with Christ." We need no more information. Where that blessed Person is who was born for us, died for us, and rose again, there can be no lack of anything. David might well say, "In Thy presence is fullness of joy, and at Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore." (Psalms 16:11.)
Let us leave this wonderful prayer with a solemn recollection of the three great petitions which it contains. Let holiness and unity by the way, and Christ’s company in the end, be subjects never long out of our thoughts or distant from our minds. Happy is that Christian who cares for nothing so much as to be holy and loving like his Master, while he lives, and a companion of his Master when he dies.
v17.—[Sanctify them, etc.] In this verse our Lord proceeds to name the second thing He asks for His disciples in prayer. Preservation was the first thing, and sanctification the second. He asks His Father to make the disciples more holy, to lead them on to higher degrees of holiness and purity. He asks Him to do it "through the truth,"—by bringing truth to bear more effectually and powerfully on their hearts and consciences and inner man. And to prevent mistake as to what He meant by truth, he adds, "Thy Word, Thy revealed Word, is the truth that I mean."
Some, as Maldonatus, maintain that the sentence only means "sanctify them truly,"—in opposition to that legal sanctification of priests, of which we read in Exodus and Leviticus. This, however, seems a very cold, thin, shallow sense to put on the words.
Some, again, as Mede, Pearce, and Burgon, maintain that our Lord is only praying that His Apostles may be consecrated, fitted, and set apart for the great work of the ministry, and that this is all the meaning of "sanctify." This appears to me an imperfect and defective view of the sentence.
No doubt the word "sanctify" originally and primarily means "set apart, separate for religious uses;" and it might be used of a vessel, a house, or an animal. But inasmuch as in human beings this separation is principally evidenced by holiness and godliness of life and character, the secondary sense of "sanctify" is "to make holy," and holy and godly people are "sanctified." This I hold to be the meaning here most decidedly. It is a prayer for the increased holiness and practical godliness of Christ’s people. In short, the petition comes to this: "Separate them more and more from sin and sinners, by making them more pure, more spiritual-minded, and more like Thyself." This is the view of Chrysostom and all the leading commentators.
Four great principles may be gathered from this text.
(a) The importance of sanctification and practical godliness. Our Lord specially asks it for His people. Those that despise Christian life and character, and think it of no importance so long as they are sound in doctrine, know very little of the mind of Christ. Our Christianity is worth nothing, if it does not make us value and seek practical sanctification.
(b) The wide difference between justification and sanctification. Justification is a perfect and complete work obtained for us by Christ, imputed to us, and external to us, as perfect and complete the moment we believe, as it can ever be, and admitting of no degrees.—Sanctification is an inward work wrought in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and never quite perfect so long as we live in this body of sin. The disciples needed no prayer for justification: they were completely justified already. They did need prayer for their sanctification; for they were not completely sanctified.
(c) Sanctification is a thing that admits of growth; else why should our Lord pray, "Sanctify them"? The doctrine of imputed sanctification is one that I can find nowhere in the Word of God. Christ’s imputed righteousness I see clearly, but not an imputed holiness. Holiness is a thing imparted and in-wrought, but not imputed.
(d) The Word is the great instrument by which the Holy Ghost carries forward the work of inward sanctification. By bringing that Word to bear more forcibly on mind, and will, and conscience, and affection, we make the character grow more holy. Sanctification from without by bodily austerities and asceticism, and a round of forms, ceremonies, and outward means, is a delusion. True sanctification begins from within. Here lies the immense importance of regularly reading the written Word, and hearing the preached Word. It surely, though insensibly, promotes our sanctification. Believers who neglect the Word will not grow in holiness and victory over sin.
Calvin remarks, "As the apostles were not destitute of grace, we ought to infer from Christ’s words that sanctification is not instantly completed in us on the first day, but that we make progress in it through the whole course of our life."
Hutcheson remarks, "It is not enough that men have a begun work of sanctification in them, unless they grow up in it daily more and more. Christ prayeth for those who were already converted and sanctified."
Augustine thinks that "Thy Word" in this place means the Personal Word, Christ Himself. But in this opinion I can find no one holding with him, except Rupertus.
v18.—[As Thou hast sent Me, etc.] The connection between this verse and the preceding one seems to me to be this: "I ask for the increased sanctification of my disciples, because of the position they have to occupy on earth. Just as Thou didst send Me to be Thy Messenger to this sinful world, so have I now sent them to be my messengers to the world. It is therefore of the utmost importance that they should be holy—the holy messengers of a holy Master,—and so stop the mouths of their accusers." Believers are Christ’s witnesses, and the character of a witness should be spotless and blameless. For this reason our Lord specially prays that His disciples may be "sanctified."
v19.—[And for their sakes I sanctify myself.] This is a rather hard passage. In one sense, of course, our Lord needed no sanctification. He was always perfectly holy and without sin.
I believe, with Chrysostom, the meaning must be, "I consecrate myself, and offer myself up as a sacrifice and a priest, for one special reason, to say nothing of others: in order that these my disciples may be sanctified by the truth, and made a holy people."—Is it not as good as saying, "The sanctification no less than the justification of my people is the end of my sacrifice"? "I want to have a people who are sanctified as well as justified. So much importance do I attach to this that this is one principal reason why I now offer myself to die as a sacrifice."—The same idea seems to lie in the text: "He gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people." And again: "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it." (Titus 2:14; E 5:26; 1 Peter 2:24.)
Melancthon remarks, "The word ’I sanctify myself,’ in this place, without doubt, is taken from priests and victims."
v20.—[Neither pray I for these alone, etc.] In this and the three following verses our Lord proceeds to name another thing that He prays for His people. He asks that they may be "one." He had already named this on behalf of the eleven Apostles. But He takes occasion now to enlarge the prayer, and to include others beside the eleven,—the whole company of future believers. "I now pray also for all who shall believe on Me through the preaching of my disciples in all future time, and not for my eleven apostles only." All believers needed preservation and sanctification in every age; but none so much as the eleven, because they were the first to attack the world and bear the brunt of the battle. In some respects it was more easy to be "one" at the first beginnings of the Church, and harder to be kept and "sanctified." As the Church grew, it would be more difficult to keep unity.
Let us mark how wide was the scope of our Lord’s intercessory prayer. He prayed not only for present, but for future believers. So should it be with our prayers. We may look forward and pray for believers yet to be born, though we may not look back and pray for believers who are dead.
George Newton observes what an encouragement it should be to us in praying for others, for a child or a friend, to remember that perhaps Christ is asking him or her of God too. He here prays for those who did not yet believe, but were to believe one day.
Let us mark how the "word" preached is mentioned as the means of making men believe. Faith cometh by hearing. The Church which places Sacraments above the preaching of the Word, will have no blessing of God, because it rejects God’s order.
Hengstenberg thinks that the "word" here must include the writings of the Apostles as well as their sermons.
v21.—[That they all...one in us.] The meaning of this sentence I take to be, "I pray that both these my disciples, and those who hereafter shall become my disciples, may all be of one mind, one doctrine, one opinion, one heart, and one practice, closely united and joined together, even as Thou, Father, and I are of one mind and one will, in consequence of that ineffable union whereby Thou art in Me and I in Thee."
Here, as in John 17:11, we must carefully remember that the unity between the Father and the Son is one which the unity of believers cannot literally attain to. They must however imitate it.
The true secret of the unity of believers lies in the expression, "one in us." They can only be thoroughly "one" by being joined at the same time to one Father and to one Saviour. Then they will be one with one another.
Ferns thinks that one thing in our Lord’s mind in this sentence was the union of Jew and Gentile into one Church, and the removal of the "wall of partition."
[That the world...believe...sent Me.] Here our Lord brings in one important reason why He prays for His people to be "one." It will help to make the world believe His Divine mission. "When the world sees my people not quarreling, not divided, but one in judgment, heart, and life, then the world will begin to believe that the Saviour, who has such a people, must really be a Saviour sent from God."
Let us carefully note how well our Lord foresaw the effect which the lives, ways, and opinions of professing Christians have on the world around them. The want of unity, and consequent strife among English Christians in the last 300 years, has been a miserable example of the enormous damage that believers may do their Master’s cause by neglecting this subject. "How much," says George Newton, "our blessed Saviour and His Gospel suffer by the hot contentions of those who call themselves saints."
v22.—[And the glory, etc., etc.] In this verse our Lord repeats His deep desire for the unity of His people. He declares, "that in order that they may be one, He has given them the glory which the Father gave Him." This is a very difficult expression, and one which seems to puzzle all commentators. The whole question is, what did our Lord mean by "the glory" which He gave.
(a) Some, as Calvin, think that "glory" means the image and likeness of God, by which the disciples were renewed. (2 Corinthians 3:18.)
(b) Some, as Bengel, think that "glory" means that insensible power, influence, and authority, which accompanied all our Lord did and said during His earthly ministry. Thus Moses had "glory" in his countenance when coming down from the mount. (2 Corinthians 3:7.) This same power and influence Christ gave to the Apostles. (See Acts 4:33.)
(c) Some, as Zwingle, Brentius, Gualter, and Pearce, think that "glory" means the power of working miracles, which was the special and peculiar glory of our Lord while He was on earth. Thus, we read, "Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father." (Romans 6:4.)
(d) Some, as Augustine, Ecolampadius, Bullinger, and Manton, think that "glory" means the heavenly glory and immortality which our Lord promised to His disciples,—a glory which they should have after faithfully serving Him on earth. (Romans 8:18.)
(e) Toletus makes the strange suggestion, that the "glory" means that which is communicated to us in the Lord’s Supper! Burgon seems to take the same view.
(f) Stier and Heugstenberg hold that the "glory" means unity of mind and heart.
(g) Some, as Gregory Nyssen, Ammonius, Theophylact, and Bucer, think that "glory" means the Holy Ghost, who is elsewhere called "the Spirit of glory." (1 Peter 4:14.)
The question will probably never be settled. If I must give an opinion, I prefer the last view to any other. It suits the end of the verse better than any other. Nothing was so likely to make the disciples "one" as the gift of the Holy Ghost.
v23.—[I in them, and Thou in Me, etc.] In this verse our Lord simplifies His declarations about unity, and expands them more fully, in order to show emphatically how great importance He attached to unity. I take the meaning to be something of this kind: "I pray that my disciples may be so closely united—I dwelling in them, and Thou dwelling in Me,—that they may be compacted and perfected into one body,—having one mind, one will, one heart, and one judgment, though having many members,—and that then the world, seeing this unity, may be obliged to confess that Thou didst send Me to be the Messiah, and that Thou lovest my people even as Thou lovest Me."
In leaving this deep and difficult passage about unity, it is well to remember that the Church, whose unity the Lord desires and prays for, is not any particular or visible Church, but the Church which is His Body, the Church of the elect, the Church which is made up of true believers and saints alone.
Moreover, the unity which our Lord prays for is not unity of forms, discipline, government, and the like; but unity of heart, and will, and doctrine, and practice. Those who make uniformity the chief subject of this part of Christ’s prayer, entirely miss the mark. There may be uniformity without unity, as in many visible Churches on earth now. There may be unity without uniformity, as between godly Episcopalians and godly Presbyterians. Uniformity no doubt may be a great help to unity, but it is not unity itself.
The unity which our Lord prays about here is that true, substantial, spiritual, internal, heart unity, which undoubtedly exists among all members of Christ of every Church and denomination. It is the unity which results from one Holy Ghost having made the members of Christ what they are. It is unity which makes them feel more of one mind with one another than with mere professors of their own party. It is unity which is the truest freemasonry on earth. It is unity which shakes the world, and obliges it to confess the truth of Christianity.—For the continued maintenance of this unity, and an increase of it, our Lord seems to me in this prayer specially to pray. And we need not wonder. The divisions of mere worldly professors are of little moment. The divisions of real true believers are the greatest possible injury to the cause of the Gospel. If all believers at this moment were of one mind, and would work together, they might soon turn the world upside down. No wonder the Lord prayed for unity.
v24.—[Father, I will...my glory...given Me.] In this verse our Lord names the fourth and last thing which He desires for His disciples in His prayer. After preservation, sanctification, and unity, comes participation of His glory. He asks that they may be "with Him" in the glory yet to be revealed, and "behold," share, and take part in it.
"I will" is a remarkable phrase, though it must not be pressed and strained too far. (See Mark 6:25; Mark 10:35.) The daughter of Herodias asking the head of John the Baptist, said, "I will that thou give me." It may be nothing more than the expression of a strong "wish." Yet it is the wish of Him who is one with the Father, and only wills what the Father wills. It is probably used to assure the mind of the disciples. "I will," and it will be done.
Hutcheson says, " ’I will,’ doth not import any imperious commanding way, repugnant to His former way of humble supplication; but it only imports that in this His supplication, He was making His last will and testament, and leaving His legacies, which He was sure would be effectual, being purchased by His merits, and prosecuted by His affectionate and earnest requests and intercessions."
Traill remarks, "Christians, behold the amazing difference betwixt Christ’s way of praying against His own hell (if I may so call it) and His praying for our heaven! When praying for Himself, it is, ’Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from Me.’ But when Christ is praying for His people’s heaven, it is, "Father, I will that they may be with Me.’ "
Stier maintains that "I will" "is no other than a testamentary word of the Son, who in the unity of the Father, is appointing what He wills, at that second limit of the prayer where petition ceases."
Alford says "this is an expression of will founded on acknowledged right."
The expression, "Be with Me where I am," is one of those deeply interesting phrases which show the nature of the future dwellingplace of believers. Wherever it may be, whether before or after the resurrection, it will be in the company of Christ. It is like "with Me in Paradise," "depart and be with Christ," and "for ever with the Lord." (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:17.) The full nature of the future state is wisely hidden from us. It is enough for believers to know that they will be "with Christ." It is company, and not place, which makes up happiness.
Traill remarks, "Heaven consists in the perfect immediate presence of Christ. Perfect presence is, when all on both sides is present: all of Christ and all of the Christian. But now all of Christ is not with us, and all of us is not with Him. On His part we have Christ’s Spirit, word, and grace. On our part there is present with Him our hearts, and the workings of our faith and love and desire towards Him. But this presence is imperfect, and mixed with much distance and absence."
The expression, "Behold my glory," of course must not be confined to the idea of "looking on as spectators." It includes participation, sharing, and common enjoyment. (Compare John 3:3-36; John 8:51; Revelation 18:7.)
The expression, "Which Thou hast given Me," seems to point to that special glory which the Father, in everlasting covenant, has appointed for Christ as the reward of the work of redemption. (Philippians 2:9.)
[For Thou lovedst Me...foundation...world.] This sentence seems specially inserted in order to show that the glory of Christ in the next world is a glory which had been prepared from all eternity, before time began, and before the creation of man, and that it was not only something which, like Moses or John the Baptist, He had obtained by His faithfulness on earth; but something which He had, as the eternal Son of the eternal Father, from everlasting. ’’ Thou lovedst Me, and did assign Me this glory long before this world was made," that is, from all eternity. This is a very deep saying, and contains things far above our full comprehension.
v25.—[O righteous Father, etc.] In this verse our Lord begins the final winding up of His wonderful prayer. He does it by declaring the position of things in which He was about to leave the world and His disciples. I take the meaning to be this: "I come to Thee from a world which knows Thee not, and has refused to know Thee throughout my ministry. But in the midst of this world I have known Thee and steadily adhered to Thee. And these my disciples have acknowledged and confessed that Thou didst send Me to be the Messiah."
It is not clear why our Lord uses the expression, "Righteous Father." It is one which stands alone. It may possibly be intended to bring out in strong contrast the wickedness of a world which "knew not the Word," when the Word was in it (see John 1:10), and the justice of God in punishing this world, which refused to know Christ while the disciples received Him.
The expression, "I have known Thee," seems to point to the veil of humiliation which covered our Lord during the whole period of His incarnation. "Even then," He seems to say, "I never ceased to know and honour Thee."
The high testimony born to the disciples once more deserves notice. With all their infirmity, "they have KNOWN my Divine mission."
v26.—[And I have declared...declare it.] In this sentence our Lord briefly sums up what He had done, and was still doing for the disciples: "I have made known to them Thy name and character and attributes, as the sender of salvation to a lost world, and will continue to declare it after my ascension, by the Holy Spirit."
Here, as elsewhere, our Lord again declares that to make known the Father was one great object of His ministry.
The expression, "I will declare it," says George Newton, is a proof that "Jesus Christ will be continually making further declarations of His Father’s name to other nations and other persons, to the end of the world. He will be ever teaching new scholars to spell it and understand it, in every generation, while the world endureth."
[That...in them...I in them.] Our Lord ends His prayer by expressing His wish that the Father’s love may dwell in the hearts of His disciples, and that He Himself may dwell in their hearts. "My great desire is that they may know and feel the love wherewith Thou dost love Me, and that I may ever dwell in their hearts by faith."
Let us not forget that one great wish of Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians, was that "Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith." (Ephesians 3:17.) He also tells the Romans "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts." (Romans 5:5.)
The expression, "I will declare my love," is a difficult one. It can only mean, "I will declare it personally during the interval between my resurrection and my ascension," or "I will continue to declare it by my Spirit’s continual teaching after I leave the world." The latter seems the more probable meaning.
The expression, "Thy love maybe in them," is another grave difficulty. It must either be "That Thy love, the same love wherewith Thou lovest Me, may be directed on and toward them;" or else, "That they may feel in their own hearts a sense of that same love toward them wherewith Thou lovest Me." I prefer the latter sense.
George Newton remarks on this verse, "If Christ is in you, let me give you this caution: let Him live quiet in your hearts. Do not molest Him and disturb Him; do not make Him vex and fret. Let it not be a penance to Him to continue in you. But labour every way to please Him, and give Him satisfaction and content, that so the house He hath chosen may not be dark and doleful, but delightful to Him."
Manton remarks, "If an earthly King lie but one night in a house, what care there is taken that nothing be offensive to him, and that all be neat and sweet and clean. How much more careful ought you to be to keep your hearts clean, to perform service acceptable to Him, to be in the exercise of faith, love, and other graces, that so you may entertain, as you ought, your heavenly King, who comes to take up His continual abode in your hearts."
We may well feel humbled, as we leave this chapter, when we think of our ignorance of the true meaning of many of its phrases. How much of our exposition is nothing better than feeble conjecture! We seem only to scratch the surface of the field. Let us only remember that the four things prayed for by our Lord are things that every Christian should daily desire,—preservation, sanctification, unity, and final glory in Christ’s company.
George Newton closes his Exposition of the whole chapter with these touching words:—"How earnest and importunate is Christ with God the Father, that we may be one here, and that we may be in one place hereafter! Oh, let us search into the heart of Jesus Christ, laid open to us in this abridgment of His intercession for us, that we may know it and the workings of it more and more, until at length the precious prayer comes to its full effect, and we be taken up to be for ever with the Lord, and where He is there we may be also!"
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 17". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter