OUR LORD’S PRAYER TO BE GLORIFIED ON EARTH
John 17:1. These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.
THE work of intercession belongs to Christ, as the High-Priest of his Church. We know not the precise manner in which He carries it on within the vail, but we may form some idea of it from the specimen recorded in this chapter. He had given all the instructions necessary for the support and comfort of his Disciples; and now, in their hearing, concluded with this sublime and pathetic prayer; but before he interceded for them, he offered one petition for himself.
In explaining the words before us, we shall consider,
I. Our Lord’s request—
His outward gesture corresponded with the feelings of his heart. Deeply affected with his own condition, he presented a request well suited to his circumstances. It imported,
1. That his Father should bear testimony to him in his trouble—
[Jesus was now to endure all possible indignities, as an impostor. On this account he more than ever needed a testimony on his behalf; and God, in answer to this request, gave ample testimony to his Messiahship [Note: He caused both him that betrayed, and him that condemned, our Lord, to attest his innocence; and made even the inanimate creation to bear witness to him.].]
2. That he should support him under it—
[As man, our Lord needed the supports of Divine grace: and these he was to obtain, like ourselves, by fervent prayer. Nor was his application for them made to his Father in vain. Under his most accumulated distresses, both of body and soul, he was kept unspotted with the slightest stain of sin or error [Note: John 13:31.].]
3. That he should bring him out of it—
[Had there been no interposition of the Deity to rescue him from his disgrace, his enemies would have had reason to triumph; but God delivered him from the grave, and exalted him to glory, and made those very precautions, that were used to ascertain and expose his imposture, the means of establishing the truth which they were intended to subvert.]
4. That he should render it effectual to the salvation of men—
[Without this, all our Lord’s sufferings would have been in vain. But while he yet hanged on the cross, the saving efficacy of his death was shewn; and speedily after his ascension, multitudes flocked to him, as doves to their windows.]
These things being necessary to the glorifying of himself, Jesus taught them with becoming earnestness—
II. The pleas with which he enforced it—
Our own necessity and God’s glory are among the most powerful pleas which can be urged. Such were those with which our Lord enforced his petition;
1. His own necessity, “The hour is come”—
[The hour alluded to was the season of his sufferings and death. This had been fixed from eternity in the Divine counsels, and had been foretold and typified from the beginning of the world. Till its arrival, none of his enemies could lay hands on him; but now men and devils, yea, and God himself, were to concur in afflicting him. What a weighty reason was this for his petition! He had been ordained by the Father himself to those sufferings. The weight which he was to sustain was inconceivably great. The smallest failure on his part would defeat the end of his mission: nor could any thing less than the most miraculous testimonies counterbalance the offence of the cross. Under such circumstances, the Father could not but answer this seasonable request.]
2. His Father’s glory—
[The Father’s glory was deeply interested in the event of that hour. His justice was to be honoured, and a way was to be opened for the free exercise of his mercy. To effect this, was the great object of our Lord’s desire, both in life and in death; and it was this, which, above all, stimulated him to present the petition before us [Note: As Elijah, at the hour of Evening Sacrifice, felt jealous for God’s honour (1 Kings 18:36-37), so did our Lord at this time.]. And could there possibly be a more weighty and prevailing argument? The Father could not but desire the advancement of his own glory: he could not but wish his own eternal counsels fulfilled: he could not but approve the means which he himself had appointed to that end: he could not but delight to glorify his Son, who was, in such an humiliating way, endeavouring to glorify him.]
Let this subject lead us to view Jesus,
1. As our Saviour—
[For us did he agree that that dreadful hour should come; and to us he looks, that we may join with the Father in glorifying him. And shall we not glorify him, by trusting in his blood and righteousness? Shall we not proclaim to the whole world, that he is our only hope and refuge? O let him see of the travail of his soul! let him save us from the wrath to come!]
2. As our example—
[He knew, and could fully estimate the weight of, his impending sufferings. Nor could it fail but that his human nature should shrink back from them; yet he submitted to them, that his Father might be glorified [Note: John 12:27-28.].]
Let us in like manner be resigned to the trials that are allotted us—
[When our hour shall come, let us look to him as our example. Let us consider Him, lest we be weary and faint in our minds. Let us welcome whatever comes to us by the Divine appointment. Let us desire that God may be glorified in us, whether by life or death. Thus shall we be honoured and comforted in the midst of our sufferings; and after them be rewarded with a proportionable weight of glory.]
CHRIST’S POWER TO GIVE ETERNAL LIFE
John 17:2. Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
WE have in these words an unbounded prospect from eternity to eternity: they present to our view the commission first given by the Father to the Son; they exhibit the Son in due season pleading that commission, and finally executing it when the world shall be no more: they lead us to contemplate,
I. The power given to Christ—
As God, he possessed all power equally with the Father; but, as Mediator, he received his power from the Father. This power was,
1. Universal in its extent—
[Not only was the material world, with all the brute creation, subject to his will, but man; “power was given him over all flesh.” His enemies are entirely under his controul: he restrains their violence [Note: Psalms 76:10.], defeats their plots [Note: Job 5:12.], and overrules their efforts for the accomplishment of his own eternal counsels [Note: Psalms 2:4.] — — — His friends and people are his more especial care: he watches over them for good continually [Note: Psalms 34:15.], succours them when tempted [Note: Hebrews 2:18.], strengthens them when weak [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.], and accomplishes in them all the good pleasure of his goodness [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11.] — — —]
2. Infinite in its degree—
[There is nothing beyond the reach of his power. If he chose to annihilate the whole human race, he could effect it in a moment, by a simple act of volition. If, on the contrary, he would change them all into his own divine image, he could as easily create them all anew, as he at first produced them out of nothing. By making use of second causes indeed, he conceals his own agency: but there is nothing done in the whole creation, which does not originate in him, as the only source of wisdom and of strength.]
But we are yet more particularly interested in considering,
II. The end for which he was invested with it—
The Father gave to Christ an elect people—
[It is worthy of notice, that Christ, in this his intercessory prayer, speaks again and again of those who were “given him” by the Father. And, in truth, if the Father had not given to him a peculiar people, we have no reason to think that any would ever have given themselves to him, since there is not in fallen man either the inclination or the ability to do so [Note: Philippians 2:13.]. They who do yield themselves up to him are “made willing in the day of God’s power [Note: Psalms 110:3.],” and in consequence of their having been “predestinated unto the adoption of children from before the foundation of the world [Note: Ephesians 1:4-5.].”]
To these “Christ gives eternal life”—
[The life of grace which is begun in their souls, is the gift of Christ [Note: John 4:14; John 6:51.]. The continuance of it is the effect of his continued communications [Note: Colossians 3:3-4.]. Its consummation also is bestowed by him [Note: John 12:32; John 14:19.] without any merit in us, or any motive in himself, but a concern for his own, and his Father’s glory [Note: John 14:13.]. Life, in every stage of it, both in this world and the next, is entirely his free gift. One is as much indebted to him for it as another: there will not be one in heaven that will not owe his salvation altogether to the merit of his blood, and to the efficacy of his grace.]
And for the accomplishment of this end he both received and exerts his power—
[It would have been to little purpose to have received from the Father an elect people, if he had not been invested also with power to secure them to himself. The Father well knew how many obstacles there would be to their salvation; and therefore he committed all power to his Son, that nothing might resist his will, or prevent the accomplishment of his eternal counsels. Jesus, thus qualified, orders every thing, both in heaven and earth, with an immediate reference to this great design. Events may sometimes appear to oppose his gracious intentions: but, as in a well-constructed watch the seemingly contrary movements all conduce to one end, so every dispensation, whether of providence or of grace, ultimately tends to his glory in our salvation [Note: Romans 8:28.].]
1. What madness is it to neglect the Lord Jesus Christ!
[If any man have great preferments in his gift, he is sure to have many courting an interest in his favour. But the Lord Jesus Christ has eternal life to bestow upon us, and yet we can scarcely be induced to ask it at his hands. What strange infatuation! O let us awake from our slumbers, and implore of him the benefits he is so willing to confer.]
2. How great is the security which the Lord’s people enjoy!
[Jesus both possesses and exerts omnipotence in their behalf. What then have they to fear? Let them only secure his aid, and they defy both men and devils. “If he be for them, none can effectually be against them.”]
3. What obligations do we lie under to love and serve the Lord!
[Is Jesus incessantly exerting his almighty power for us, and should not we employ our talents for him? O for a heart duly sensible of his love, and altogether devoted to his service!]
OUR LORD’S DYING APPEAL TO GOD
John 17:4-5. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
A DYING scene, especially when the person is of an exalted character, creates in all a very deep interest, and calls forth a more than ordinary attention to every thing that he either says or does. But here we have a scene such as never occurred either before or since: it is no less than the dying scene, if I may so speak, of the Saviour of the world. “Father,” says he, “the hour is come.” Yes, “the time was come that he must depart out of this world, and go unto his Father.” And here we are permitted to behold him in the attitude of prayer; and to hear his every petition, both for himself, and for his people to the very end of time. It is that part of his prayer which related more especially to himself, that will occupy our attention at this time. In it we notice,
I. His appeal to God—
The Lord Jesus, in his Mediatorial capacity, was a servant, sent by God to execute an appointed work: and, having executed it, he here appeals to God,
1. That “he had glorified God on earth”—
[This, in fact, had been the one end for which he had lived. He had glorified his Father in his life; every hour of which had been devoted to the executing of his will, and to the promotion of his glory [Note: John 4:34.]. He had glorified him especially in his doctrine. Never once had he sought his own glory, but, on all occasions, the glory of Him who sent him [Note: John 7:16; John 14:24.]: and when he testified of himself, it was only as the person bearing a commission from the Father, and as sent by him to open for men a way of access to him as a reconciled God [Note: John 14:6.]. He had glorified him no less by his miracles: for though he wrought them by his own power, yet he always ascribed them to his Father, who had concurred with him in these exercises of omnipotence [Note: John 5:36.]; and thus he had constrained the beholders to acknowledge the Father in them [Note: John 14:10. with Matthew 9:8.]. But, above all, he had in purpose, though not in act, glorified his Father in his death: for in death he not only displayed the power of the Father, who upheld him under all his trials, but reflected honour on all the perfections of the Deity; causing them all to shine forth in united and harmonious splendour, and every attribute to appear more glorious than it could possibly have done in any other way. Hence, on the near approach of this great event, the Lord Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him [Note: John 13:31-32.].”]
2. That “he had finished the work which God had given him to do”—
[This was a work which none but an incarnate God could ever have effected. For, first of all, he was to expiate the sins of a ruined world. This was to be done by offering himself a sacrifice for sin. And though this was not literally fulfilled in all its extent, till he died upon the cross, yet, in mind and intention, it was already done; and there were but a few hours to elapse before the mighty debt would be discharged, even to the uttermost farthing: so that justice itself would have nothing further to require of those who should plead the payment made by Him, as their Surety.
Next, he was perfectly to fulfil the law of God; so that all who should trust in him might have a perfect righteousness made over to them for their justification before God. And this also he did: for, though he was in circumstances of trial which far exceeded any that ever were sustained by mortal man, he never, either in word or thought, transgressed any one command: and all, not excepting even his bitterest enemies, were constrained to acknowledge that they could find no fault in him.
Further, he was to introduce and establish a new dispensation. And this, too, he did; fulfilling and abrogating every part of the Mosaic Law; and erecting “a kingdom, which consisted not in meats and drinks and carnal ordinances, but in righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost [Note: Romans 14:17.].”
In a word, there was not any one part of his mediatorial work, so far as it could be completed at this time, that had not been accomplished: so that our Lord’s appeal, in relation to it all, was just and true.]
From this appeal we proceed to notice,
II. His petition, founded upon it—
He had, in the commencement of this prayer, desired to be glorified on earth [Note: ver. 1.]: and now he requests that he may be glorified in heaven. He had from all eternity possessed a glory with the Father—
[From eternity had he “been in the bosom of the Father [Note: John 1:18.].” In truth, he was one with the Father: for that very “Word which was made flesh, was in the beginning with God, and was God [Note: John 1:1; John 1:14.].” Yes; “being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Note: Philippians 2:6-8.].” This he did for the purpose of accomplishing the work he had undertaken, the work of redeeming and saving a ruined world. But, having done all that was necessary for the effecting of this great purpose,]
He desired to resume the glory, which for a season he had laid aside—
[Not only did he desire that his humiliation, as God, should cease; but that his exaltation, as man, should commence; and that, in his human-nature, he might possess all the dignity and glory to which it was entitled by its union with the Godhead. It had been the instrument of effecting Jehovah’s purposes; and therefore it was right that it should participate the glory of that divine nature to which it was united, and in connexion with which it had accomplished this great work. And now, agreeably to this request, that Godman, who died upon the cross, is “highly exalted, and has a name given to him above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father [Note: Philippians 2:9-11.].” On the very throne of God the human-nature sits: for Jesus there appears as “a Lamb that has been slain [Note: Revelation 5:6.]:” and there does he receive the praises both of men and angels, on a perfect equality with the Father [Note: Revelation 5:13.]. And though the time will come when the mediatorial office will cease, and the kingdom established by means of it will be given up to the Father [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:28.]; yet to all eternity will Jesus be the Head of his elect people, the acknowledged Author of all their bliss, and, together with the Father, the object of universal adoration.]
Whilst we thus view the Saviour in his last moments, we may learn from his dying words much which respects his followers:
1. The ground of their hopes—
[What hope has any man but what is founded altogether on the finished work of Christ? Had he left any part of his work undone, not a human being could ever have been saved. What if his atonement had been incomplete? What if he had not wrought out a perfect righteousness? What if he had not gone to heaven to carry on the work which he began on earth? Is there one amongst us that could have supplied the least deficiency? But, thanks be to God! there is no need of any thing to be added to His all-perfect work. There is in Christ a sufficiency, not for us only, but also for the whole world: nor shall any soul that relies on Him ever perish. Only let our reliance on him be simple, and without the least mixture of self-dependence, and we have nothing to fear; for “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.”]
2. The object of their life—
[Every Christian has the very same end in view as Jesus himself had; even to “glorify God on earth, and to finish the work which God has given him to do.” In these respects Christ is an example to us; and every one of his followers is bound to “walk as he walked.” See then, brethren, that ye maintain this character, and that “there be in you the same mind as was in your Saviour Christ.” If ye be his indeed, ye will make this the one object of your life, to glorify your God and Father. Every day brings with it its appointed work, which it becomes you to execute with all fidelity; that, when your last hour shall arrive, you may be able, amidst all your short-comings and defects, to say, ‘Father, sinful as I am, and conscious of innumerable infirmities, yet I can with humility appeal to thee, that I have, according to the grace given me, endeavoured to “glorify thee on earth, and to finish the work which thou hast given me to do.” ’]
3. The end of their labours—
[For every faithful follower of Christ is a recompence reserved, even glory and honour and immortality, at the right hand of God. Yes, in a dying hour the true Christian may look up with confidence, and say, ‘”Now, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory” that I shall have with thee when this world shall no longer exist. To this recompence have I had respect; and for the hope of it I have willingly resigned all that this world could give me; yea, and cheerfully endured also all that thine enemies have been permitted to inflict: and now do I welcome death itself, that I may enter into the joy of my Lord, and be for ever with my God.’ Dear brethren, only follow your Saviour in the exercise of faith and love; and his glory shall be your glory, his kingdom your kingdom, for ever and ever.]
THE OBJECTS OF OUR LORD’S INTERCESSION
John 17:9-10. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
THE Apostles were but weak in knowledge or in grace till the day of Pentecost; nevertheless, they were greatly beloved by their Lord and Master. He declared in their hearing that they were true believers [Note: ver. 6–8.]. He testified also that they were the peculiar objects for whom he prayed.
I. For whom our Lord interceded—
The Disciples of Christ are characterized as persons “given” him by the Father—
[This is a just description of every child of God: none would ever give themselves to Christ, if they were not previously given to him by the Father; or come to Christ, if they were not drawn to him by the Father [Note: John 6:44.]. As every grace we possess must be traced to the operations of the Spirit, as its immediate cause [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7. Galatians 5:22.], so must it be traced to the electing love of God, as its primary and original source [Note: Ephesians 1:4-5.]. And it is of great importance, both for our humiliation and for God’s glory, that this matter should be clearly known and understood [Note: This description of God’s people is repeated five times in seven verses. See ver.6–12. Was there no design in this? and is there nothing to be gathered from it?].]
It was for these more especially that Jesus interceded—
[We apprehend that the apparent exclusion of the world from his intercessions is not to be understood strictly and positively, but only in a comparative sense [Note: In this respect it resembles Hosea 6:6 : for our Lord did pray for the ungodly world, Luke 23:34 and had their good in view even in this very prayer, ver. 21.]: but certainly the saints were the objects whom, both in this and all other intercessions, he had principally in view. The high-priest, in bearing the names of the twelve tribes upon his breast-plate whenever he went within the vail, was a type of Christ in this particular [Note: Exodus 28:9-12; Exodus 28:29-30.]. Christ would not be a high-priest, if he omitted this part of his office; since intercession was no less necessary to that office than oblation: but he does intercede for his people, and lives in heaven, as it were, for that very purpose [Note: Hebrews 9:24; Hebrews 7:25.]. Yes; He that formed the universe, and upholds it by his power, and whose petitions are commands, says, “I pray for them.” And the petitions he then offered for his living disciples had respect to all his believing people, even to the end of the world [Note: ver. 20.].]
This distinguishing favour, however, was not conferred without reason—
II. Why he interceded for them in particular—
The reasons of the Divine procedure are in many cases inscrutable; but our Lord condescended to state some on this occasion—
1. Believers are the Father’s property, “They are thine”—
[All things belong to God as his creatures; but believers are his in a far higher sense. He has made them his by adoption: he has confirmed his interest in them by regeneration: he esteems them as his peculiar treasure [Note: Psalms 135:4.], in comparison of whom the whole universe is as nothing in his eyes. Hence our Lord interested himself more particularly on their behalf. His zeal for his Father’s glory would not suffer him to be for one moment unmindful of their interests.]
2. Christ himself has an equal propriety in them, “All mine,” &c.
[They belong to Christ by the Father’s donation, by his own purchase, and by the closest possible union [Note: They are one body with him, Ephesians 5:30 and one Spirit, 1 Corinthians 6:17.] — — — Will he then be regardless of this precious gift, and lose the purchase of his blood, and suffer his own members to perish, for want of his continual intercession? Surely his interest in them is a very sufficient reason for his unwearied solicitude respecting them.]
3. Christ is glorified in them—
[The ungodly world bring no glory to Christ; but it is the labour and delight of his people to glorify him. He is glorified now in their faith, love, worship, and obedience: he will be glorified and admired in them at his second coming [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:10.]: he will be glorified by them to all eternity. While therefore he has any concern for his own glory, he cannot but be studious of their welfare.]
1. How honourable a character is the true Christian!
[The Christian is eminently distinguished from all the rest of the world. He is highly esteemed both by the Father and by Christ, who equally claim him as their property, “He is mine;” “he is mine.” He is interested in all which Christ has done or is now doing. How infinitely does this honour exceed that which cometh of man! Let every one be ambitious to attain it: nor let any earthly attainments whatever satisfy our desires.]
2. How secure and blessed is his state!
[There may be some who shall never be benefited by the Saviour’s intercession; but Christ’s people are continually remembered by him before the throne. They therefore are sure to have every want supplied; nor can any defeat the purposes of their blessed Lord. Let therefore every Christian rejoice and glory in the Lord: let the thought of Christ’s intercession dissipate all fears of condemnation [Note: Romans 8:34.]: let Christ be viewed as an Advocate under every fresh-contracted guilt [Note: 1 John 2:1.]: let every one seek to glorify him, and to be glorified with him.]
PRESERVATION FROM SIN MORE DESIRABLE THAN DELIVERANCE FROM AFFLICTION
John 17:15. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
WE admire the solicitude which a dying parent expresses for the future and eternal welfare of his children; nor can we easily shake off the concern which such a spectacle creates in our minds. Such a scene, but incomparably more affecting, is here presented to our view. The Saviour of the world was unmindful of his own impending sorrows, and was altogether occupied with the concerns of his Church and people. Having given his last instructions to his Disciples, he poured out his soul in prayer for them. One of the principal subjects of his prayer is specified in the text.
We shall consider,
I. What our Lord prayed for on behalf of his Disciples—
He prayed “not that they should be taken out of the world”—
[He had just declared that the world hated his Disciples. Hence we might suppose that he should wish them to be taken out of the world; and many reasons might have been urged by him to enforce such a request. God had often taken away his beloved people in a signal manner [Note: Hebrews 11:5. 2 Kings 2:11.]: he speaks of a sudden removal in evil times as a favour to them [Note: Isaiah 57:1.]. He would hereby manifest his indignation against the world for crucifying his Son; and our Lord might then have carried his Disciples with him as trophies. Nor can we doubt but that such a measure would have been extremely pleasing to his Disciples.
But on the whole such a petition would have been inexpedient; first, on account of the world. The Disciples were to be the instructors of mankind [Note: Matthew 28:19.], and to be living examples of true piety [Note: Matthew 5:14.]. They were also to intercede on behalf of their fellow-creatures; but, if they were taken away together with our Lord, their commission could not be executed, and the world would lose the benefit of their instructions and prayers. What an inconceivable loss would this have been both to Jews and Gentiles! Yea, in what a state of ignorance should we ourselves have been at this moment!
Next, it would have been inexpedient on God’s account, if I may so speak. The Disciples were to be, like the dispossessed Gadarene, monuments of God’s mercy [Note: Luke 8:39.]. They were to exemplify in their own persons the all-sufficiency of Divine grace under every situation. They were to be instruments also whereby the eternal counsels of the Deity were to be accomplished: their removal therefore would have robbed God himself of his glory.
Lastly, it would have been inexpedient on account of the Disciples themselves. They would have been glad to have accompanied their Lord; but it would not have been for their advantage at that time. Their reward was to be proportioned to their labours and sufferings [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:8.]. If they had been taken away at that time they had done but little for God; consequently they would not have possessed so bright a crown as they now do. How glad are they now that their abode on earth was prolonged!]
The request which our Lord offered for them was far better—
[He prayed that they might be kept from the evil of it. Satan is by way of eminence called “the evil one.” He is incessantly plotting the destruction of God’s chosen people [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.], and our Lord might have respect to their preservation from him [Note: ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ—Satan is often called ὁ πονηρὸς. Ephesians 6:16 and 1 John 5:18.]; but he rather refers to the moral evil that is in the world. And there was good reason why he should pray for their deliverance from that.
The temptations they would have to encounter were innumerable. Their poverty might beget impatience and discontent; their persecutions might provoke them to retaliation and revenge; their incessant danger of a violent death might tempt them to apostasy. They were to have innumerable trials from without and from within: how needful then was it that they should have an almighty Keeper!
They were utterly unable of themselves to withstand the smallest temptation. The Disciples were altogether men of like passions with ourselves; nor had they any more sufficiency in themselves than the weakest of us [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.]. The most confident of them fell, as soon as he boasted of his strength [Note: Matthew 26:33; Matthew 26:35; Matthew 26:74.]. Almighty power was then, as well as now, necessary to keep any man from falling [Note: Jude, ver. 24, 25.]. How kind then was our Lord’s solicitude to interest his Father in their behalf!
Their fall would be attended with the most pernicious consequences. It would open the mouths of their adversaries, and cause them to blaspheme [Note: 2 Samuel 12:14.]. It would utterly destroy all hopes of success in their own ministry; and, even if they should be recovered, and saved at last, they would be deprived of a great part of their reward [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:15.]. Hence our Lord’s request was the best that could be offered for them.]
Hence we may see,
II. What we should mainly desire for ourselves—
An exemption from the troubles and calamities of life, however desirable in some points of view, is not greatly to be coveted. St. Paul, it is true, “desired to depart and to be with Christ:” but it was not in order to get rid of his trials, but that he might have full possession of the glory which awaited him; not that he, his earthly tabernacle, might be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:4.].” But
To be preserved from “the corruptions that are in the world through lust [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]” is most desirable—
[The snares with which we are surrounded in this vain world are very many, and replete with danger. “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” are soliciting us continually, and presenting temptations to us exceeding difficult to be withstood — — — Even though we may have withstood them manfully for a season, we are yet in danger of being overcome by them at last, and of perishing thereby with an aggravated weight of guilt and condemnation [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.]. So eminent a character was Demas, that St. Paul himself, a good judge of characters, twice united him with St. Luke in his salutations to the Churches: yet of him it is said, “Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present world [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.].” Who then can hope to stand, if he be not upheld by the Almighty power of God? Truly it is God alone who is “able to keep us from falling [Note: Jude, ver. 24.]:” and therefore we should make our supplications to him continually for that end.]
For the obtaining of this mercy it is not possible for us to be too importunate—
[It was in order to this end that Christ himself came into the world, and died upon the cross: “He gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father [Note: Galatians 1:4.].” And to produce this blessed effect is the great scope and tendency of his Gospel: “By the cross alone it is that the world is crucified unto us, and we unto the world [Note: Galatians 6:14.].” In fact, there is not a person upon earth that ever gets a victory over the world, except by faith in Christ [Note: 1 John 5:5.]. On the other hand, every one that is really born of God does gain this victory [Note: 1 John 5:4.]. And this is the distinguishing character of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity; they all resemble him in this particular, “not being of the world, even as he was not of the world [Note: ver. 14, 16.].” If then we would reign with Christ hereafter, we must resemble him now; and never cease to implore help from God, that the world and all its lusts may, in answer to our prayers, be put for ever under our feet.]
In conclusion i would say,
1. Learn to form a right estimate of the world—
[It is, in fact, a wilderness, through which we are to pass to the promised land; and we are but pilgrims passing through it, or sojourners taking up our residence in it for a few days at most. Whether we have a more or less gratifying accommodation in it, is a matter of small moment. We are going to our Father’s house, where we shall possess all that our souls can wish; and present things are only of importance as they advance or retard our meetness for our heavenly inheritance. The instant that we have arrived at our journey’s end, we shall see what judgment we ought to have formed of the world, and every thing in it. Let us anticipate that judgment now; and we shall rise superior to the attractions of all created things, and to the solicitations of every unhallowed appetite—]
2. Seek to have, in reference to it, “the same mind as was in Christ Jesus”—
[In asking for you a preservation from the snares of the world, he judged right. He wished not to abridge your happiness, but to promote it. And, if we call upon you to renounce the world, and all its lusts, we are not Cynics, as you are apt to imagine, but your best and truest friends. Even when all his own sufferings were coming upon him, the Saviour, forgetful of himself, implored this blessing for you. And if I were never to address you more, I would, with all earnestness, urge this duty on you, and implore this blessing on your behalf. You can only be happy in proportion as you rise above this world to the pursuit and enjoyment of heavenly things. Look at the Saviour, and see how superior he was to all the things of time and sense. That is the state I wish you to attain; and the more you resemble him now, the richer shall be your enjoyment of his presence in a better world—]
CHRISTIANS ARE NOT OF THE WORLD
John 17:16. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
SUCH is the enmity of a carnal mind to the will and law of God, that men usually hate us most for those very things which render us most acceptable in the sight of God. The sanctity of Abel was the real ground of the inveterate hatred that rankled in the breast of Cain, and that impelled him to destroy his brother whom he could not imitate. And David in his day complained, that when he put on sackcloth and chastened his soul with fasting, pleasing as that conduct must have been to God, profane scoffers turned it to his reproach. Thus our Lord told his Disciples that the world would hate them because they did not conform themselves to its habits: but at the same time, repeating what he had spoken of their holy singularity, he pleads it as an argument with his heavenly Father to interpose more effectually for their preservation from evil, and their sanctification through his truth [Note: ver. 14–17.]. The assertion before us leads us to shew,
I. In what respects Christ was not of the world—
Our Lord fulfilled with the utmost exactness all his social and relative duties, and wrought, till the age of thirty, at his father’s trade [Note: Mark 6:3.]. But though he filled up his proper station in the world, he was not of the world,
1. In his spirit and temper—
[A levity of mind, a disregard of God, and an indifference about eternal things, characterize the generality of mankind. But no such disposition was ever seen in our adorable Emmanuel. A holy gravity invariably marked his demeanour: he had a continual sense of the Divine presence, a deep impression of the importance of time, and an unremitting zeal to finish the work assigned him: “It was his meat and drink to do the will of him that sent him.”]
2. In his desires and pursuits—
[The world affect nothing but the things of time and sense: pleasure, riches, and honour are the idols which they worship. But our Lord desired none of these things. Had he wished for pleasure, he had a mind and body framed for the most exquisite delights of which our nature is capable: as his bodily organs were not weakened by any sinful habit, so his intellectual faculties were capable of comprehending all the wonders of creation, and of deriving the sublimest pleasure from the contemplation of them. But he was occupied with thoughts widely different from these: he found no time for the amusing speculations of philosophers. He had come to atone for sin; and, that he might do so, chose rather to be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Had he desired riches, how easily could he, who commanded a fish to bring him a piece of money to pay his tax, have possessed himself of inexhaustible stores of silver and gold! But he chose rather to be destitute even of a place where to lay his head, and to be a pensioner upon the bounty of some pious women [Note: Luke 8:3; Luke 9:58.]. He did indeed carry a purse, but it was not for the procuring of superfluities for himself, but that he might administer to the necessities of the poor. Had he been ambitious of honour, with what crowds of followers might he have been attended, all of them monuments of his tender compassion and almighty power! But he dismissed them from him, and frequently with the most solemn charges, that they should tell no man what he had done for them: and when the people would have taken him by force to make him a king, he rendered himself invisible, and withdrew from them. So little did he covet what the foolish world admire; and so different was he from the world in the whole of his deportment.]
Singular as he appeared in his day, it will be found,
II. That his Disciples all resemble him—
The followers of Christ, whatever attainments they may have made, were once “walking after the course of this world even as others:” but the very instant that they obtain a saving knowledge of their Lord, they begin to tread in his steps and imitate his example [Note: Galatians 6:14.]: “as they have once borne the image of their earthly father, they now bear the image of the heavenly.”
1. They indulge not a worldly spirit—
[Believers are not free from the imperfections of their former state: their constitutional or acquired habits still in some measure remain: hence one is yet too easily drawn aside to levity, another to earthly-mindedness, and all to the “sins which most easily beset them:” but this is their pain, their grief, their burthen: they desire from their inmost souls to be delivered from such a spirit: though they too often fall into it, they would not indulge it; they would far rather have their souls nourished with spiritual blessings; and would account it an infinitely richer mercy to receive an increase of grace and peace, than to enjoy all the wealth or pleasure that the world can bestow.]
2. Nor do they affect worldly company—
[From their situations in social life they are necessitated to have much intercourse with the men of this world: but they regard the world as a physician does an hospital which it is his office to attend: they consider it as the theatre on which they are called to act; and they endeavour to approve themselves to God and to their fellow-creatures by a diligent discharge of their duty: while in it, they seek the good of those around them, and study to improve themselves by all which they see: but they take not up their abode there; they are glad to retire from it when their work is finished: their friends and companions are selected from among another people; their “delight is in the saints that are in the earth, and in such as excel in virtue:” they shew by their conduct that “light cannot have communion with darkness, nor Christ with Belial, nor he that believeth with an unbeliever [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.]:” and, like Moses, they would rather suffer affliction with the people of God than participate the pleasures and honours of a court [Note: Hebrews 11:24-26.].]
3. Nor are they engrossed with worldly pursuits—
[They are not indifferent about the things of this world, nor are they of necessity precluded from the enjoyment of them when God in his providence casts them into their lap: they may even seek these things in subordination and subserviency to their more important concerns. But they will not be engrossed with such mean pursuits: they will not suffer their affections to be set on such worthless objects: their hearts are in heaven, and their “conversation also is in heaven.” They seek “pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore;” they labour to be “rich towards God in faith and good works;” and they aspire after “the honour that cometh of God,” the honour of being “children of God, yea, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” And though much time and thought is spent by them in things relating to the world, yet when at liberty to follow the bent of their minds, they return to God as their beloved, their only, rest.]
We shall conclude the subject with some suitableadvice—
1. Guard against the self-deception which too generally prevails—
[We have reason at this time to adopt the Apostle’s words, and say, that “many walk, of whom we have told you often, and tell you now even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, and that their end will be destruction, because they mind earthly things [Note: Philippians 3:18-19.].” There are, alas! too many who “call Christ, Lord, Lord, but will not obey his commands,” or “walk as he walked.” But let us remember, that “the tree must be known by its fruits;” and that we must judge of our interest in Christ by our conformity to his image: if our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, be excited principally by worldly things, we certainly are of the world: but if, with Christ, we be “crucified to the world,” and our spirit and temper, our desires and pursuits, resemble his, then, and then only, may we conclude, that we are Christ’s; for “all that are born of God have overcome the world; and all that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts [Note: 1 John 5:4. Galatians 5:24.].”]
2. Be not afraid of a necessary singularity—
[We would not recommend a needless singularity, or insinuate that there is any virtue in making ourselves appear ridiculous; but whereinsoever the world deviate from the mind and will of God, there we may, and must differ from them. If we be singular, the fault will be theirs and not ours. No blame can attach to our Lord because he was singular; nor can it to us while we “shine as lights in a dark world,” “holding forth in our conduct the word of life.” We should “make our light to shine before men,” and be “as a city set upon a hill;” and though the besotted world will “gaze strangely at us, and wonder that we run not with them to their excess of riot,” we shall have enough to counterbalance their contempt in the testimony of our own consciences, and in the approbation of our God. We know that it is our duty to despise all the vanities which the world can offer us [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.], and that, if we would not be found enemies of God in the last day, we must relinquish all desire after that friendship of the world, which is enmity with God [Note: James 4:4.]: let us therefore go on boldly in the way of duty, and if we meet with a cross in our road, let us not turn aside from it, but take it up and glory in it.]
3. Seek more and more conformity to the Saviour’s image—
[The command of God is, “Be not comformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds.” The way in which we are to comply with this command is set before us in our Lord’s example. We are not indeed to attempt the things which were peculiar to him as a Prophet of the Most High God; but to get the same mind which was in him; to imitate him in his spirit and temper, and to manifest the same superiority to things visible and temporal, and the same decided preference for things invisible and eternal: then, like the higher regions of the atmosphere, we shall remain serene, while those who grovel on the earth are agitated by incessant tempests. “Come out then from the world, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and God will be a father unto you, and ye shall be his sons and daughters [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.]:” and know that the more your conversation is in heaven now, the greater will be your meetness for it whenever you shall be called hence.]
THE END FOR WHICH CHRIST DEDICATED HIMSELF TO GOD
John 17:19. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
THE sanctification of men is no less necessary for their usefulness in this world, than it is for their happiness in the world to come. Hence our blessed Lord, in his intercessory prayer, made this a very prominent subject of his requests in behalf of his Disciples whom he was about to leave in the midst of an ensnaring world: “sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth [Note: ver. 17.].” And for the encouragement of all his followers to the latest period of the world he declares, that the attainment of this object in their behalf has been a very principal end of all that he ever had done, or was at that instant doing, for them: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth.”
In opening to you these words I will shew,
I. What is that act to which our Lord here refers—
To “sanctify” means to purify from sin, and to devote to God. In the former sense it may be properly applied to men: but it is in the latter sense only that it can have any reference to Christ.
Under the Mosaic law the priests and all the vessels of the sanctuary were sanctified to the Lord [Note: Exodus 30:26-29.]. The offerings there made, all shadowed forth the Lord Jesus Christ, who sanctified and set apart himself to the work of saving a ruined world. This he did,
1. When he first undertook our cause—
[From eternity he entered into covenant with the Father to redeem our souls by his own obedience unto death: and the utter insufficiency of all other sacrifices being acknowledged, he engaged to offer himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world [Note: Psalms 40:6-8.] — — —]
2. When he assumed our nature—
[St. Paul cites the foregoing passage with an express reference to “the time of Christ’s coming into the world:” and there is a remarkable variation in his language suited to that occasion. In the Psalm it is said, “Mine ear hast thou opened;” referring to the law which ordained that a servant who devoted himself for ever to the service of his Master, should “have his ear bored through with an awl [Note: Exodus 21:5-6.]:” but in the Epistle it is said, “a body hast thou prepared me [Note: Hebrews 10:5-7.].” At his incarnation therefore he sanctified himself afresh to this great work.]
3. When he submitted to the baptism of John—
[John wished to decline the office of baptizing so exalted a person. But, on entering upon the office assigned him, the Lord Jesus Christ judged it necessary to consecrate himself to it afresh by this solemn ordinance, in which he was openly and ostensibly devoted unto God: “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness [Note: Matthew 3:15.].”]
4. When he went up to Jerusalem in order to his crucifixion—
[The paschal lamb was to be separated and set apart four days, in order to its being fully ascertained by the most accurate examination, that it was without spot or blemish, and therefore fit to be offered in sacrifice to God [Note: Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6.]. And on the fourth day previous to his crucifixion did our blessed Lord go up to Jerusalem, that after the strictest examination his very judges might proclaim his innocence, and consequently his fitness for the work assigned him, of making an atonement for the sins of the whole world. And his persisting in his work in opposition to all the dictates of suffering humanity, shewed that on this occasion also he sanctified himself to the office he had undertaken [Note: John 12:12-13; John 12:27-28.].”]
5. When he surrendered up himself into the hands of his murderers—
[He beat them all to the ground, when they came to apprehend him; to shew that he could with his word have struck them all dead upon the spot [Note: John 18:4-8.]. He took care also to exempt his Disciples from a participation of his lot, because their work was scarcely yet begun. But himself he resigned into the hands of sinners, in order that all which he had undertaken to do and suffer might be accomplished in him.]
Having seen what the act was, let me shew,
II. What light his performance of it throws upon his character—
There was a most mysterious composition in his character—
[All others, even Aaron himself, were sanctified through the instrumentality of one appointed to that office: but Christ “sanctified himself.” He was at the same time the Sacrifice, and the Priest that offered it, and the Altar on which it was offered [Note: Hebrews 13:10.].]
And this it was which gave his offering its efficacy—
[Had he been a mere man, his sacrifice could never have availed for the redemption of the world. But he was God and man in one person: and his divinity, whilst it gave an infinite value to his sacrifice, both qualified and authorized him to present himself a sacrifice to God. Both his body and soul were alike offered; the one to endure all that was due to our bodies, the other, all that was due to our souls. And his was, not a typical offering, like those presented under the law, but a real and true propitiation for sin. Nor did his sacrifice avail for a typical and temporary remission of sins, but for the full and everlasting forgiveness of all sin [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14.] — — — Thus the expression in my text, whilst it seems to convey nothing very particular to the mind, gives us, in reality, an insight into the deepest mysteries of our religion, and shews, that it was God who purchased the Church with his own blood [Note: Acts 20:28.].”]
Stupendous in this view, was the act to which he referred. But let us consider,
III. What his ends were in the performance of it—
Generally, it was for the sake of his people that he did this. But particularly, it was, “that they might be sanctified through the truth.”
The sanctification of his people was a very principal end which he aimed at in all that he did and suffered for them—
[His people must be sanctified unto the Lord, even as he was. The different vessels of the sanctuary, no less than the offerings presented there, were altogether devoted to the Lord. In like manner must the disciples of Christ be sanctified. In this view they are called “a kind of first-fruits,” which could on no account, and in no degree, be alienated from the Lord [Note: James 1:18.]. Nay more, we are called to “offer up our whole selves living sacrifices unto the Lord, as a reasonable and acceptable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].” And that we might be thus sanctified was the great end of all that our blessed Lord either did or suffered for us: “he gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” And the very same object he still keeps in view in all that he is at this moment doing for us in heaven [Note: Romans 14:9.].]
This however must be accomplished through the instrumentality of his word—
[His Holy Spirit indeed is the agent, without whom not even the word itself would produce any good effect. But he is pleased to make use of his word as the means of quickening us to a heavenly life [Note: 1 Peter 1:23.], and of carrying on his work where it is begun [Note: 1 Peter 2:2.], and of completing it even to the end [Note: 2 Timothy 3:16-17.]. His word is the mould into which we are to be cast [Note: Romans 6:17. the Greek.], and by which we shall be altogether changed into the divine image. This is the state to which he desires to bring us; and by his word ministered unto us, “he will turn us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.].”]
Observe now from hence,
1. How great is the love of Christ to fallen man!—
[He well knew all that he must endure if he would become a substitute and surety for fallen man: yet he undertook our cause, and came down from heaven for us, and never ceased from his work till he could say, “It is finished” — — — Methinks the ox and the ass may well reproach our more than brutish ingratitude [Note: Isaiah 1:3.] — — —]
2. What obligations have we to holiness!—
[By holiness T mean, a total surrender of ourselves to God. And if we aspire not after this, what do we but pour contempt upon all that Christ has done and suffered for us, and cause him, as far as lies in our power, to have “sanctified himself” in vain. What excuse shall we offer for this when he shall call us into judgment? Verily if, being “called to be saints,” we be not found so at the last day, it would be better for us never to have heard of Christ at all — — —]
3. What guilt do they contract who turn back from the service of their God!—
[As Aaron and his sons were sanctified with the blood of the Mosaic covenant [Note: Leviticus 8:30.], so are we with the blood of the Christian covenant. And, “if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, we do, in fact, tread under foot the Son of God, and count the blood of the covenant wherewith we have been sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace.” What then awaits us in the eternal world? The despisers of Moses’ law died without mercy: but a much sorer punishment will come on us, even the everlasting wrath of our offended God [Note: Hebrews 10:26-29.] — — — O let not any of you turn back unto perdition; but be of those who believe unto the saving of their souls [Note: Hebrews 10:38-39.].]
THE IMPORTANCE OF UNION AMONG CHRISTIANS
John 17:20-21. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
IN the former part of this chapter our Lord has been interceding principally for his own immediate Disciples: but here he intercedes for all his people to the end of time. Who the particular persons were, is known only when the word of God reaches their hearts, and they are made obedient to the faith of Christ. But the substance of the petition is evidently most important; because our Lord had before made the same request in behalf of his own Disciples; and because he repeats it again more strongly in the two verses following our text.
We will endeavour to shew,
I. What is that union which Christ prayed for in our behalf—
If we should interpret the union spoken of in ver. 11, as relating only to the testimony which the Apostles were to bear concerning Christ, still we cannot possibly limit the import of the text to that sense: the terms are too varied and too strong to admit of such a limitation. The comparison instituted between Christ’s union with the Father, and ours with each other in him, leads our thoughts into a far different channel; a channel mysterious indeed, but deeply fraught with the richest instruction. Christ is one with the Father, in essence and in operation; being “the brightness of his Father’s glory and the express image of his person,” and at the same time acting in every thing in perfect concert with the Father, having no will but his, speaking nothing but according to his commands, doing nothing but by his direction, and seeking only the glory of his name.
This fitly illustrates the union which his people have with each other in and through him:
1. They are formed into one body—
[Sometimes they are represented as a temple, composed of living stones, and having a living stone for its foundation, even Jesus Christ himself; and built up as an habitation for God himself [Note: 1 Peter 2:4-5. Ephesians 2:20-22.]. At other times they are spoken of as a body, of which Christ is the Head, and all the different individuals are members [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 1 Corinthians 12:27.]. Thus whilst they are united with each other, they are united also with the Father and the Son: “the Father is in Christ, and Christ is in them; and thus they are made perfect in one,” ever “growing up into Christ as their Head,” and contributing to each other’s perfection, till they arrive at “the full measure of the stature of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 4:15-16.].”
How earnestly the Lord Jesus Christ desired this, may be gathered from the frequent repetition of it before noticed: and well he might plead for it in this manner, since the accomplishment of it was the principal design of his death [Note: John 11:51-52.], and the great end of God the Father in the whole economy of redemption [Note: Ephesians 1:9-10.].]
2. They are all animated by one Spirit—
[“He that is joined to the Lord,” says the Apostle, “is one Spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.].” This is true of every individual, and of the whole collective body of believers. “Christ dwells in all of them;” and “as Christ himself lived by the Father, so do they live by him [Note: Ephesians 3:17. Colossians 3:4. John 6:56-57.].” Hence, as there is no distraction in the body, but, in consequence of its being under the controul of one living and governing principle, its powers are all harmoniously exerted for the attainment of the same object; so the members of Christ’s mystical body are one in sentiment, in affection, and in the scope and tenour of their lives.
In sentiment they are one: for though, in matters of inferior moment, there may be a wide difference between them, yet in the fundamental points, such as our fall in Adam, our recovery by Christ, our renovation by the Spirit, the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, the security of believers, and many other points connected with the spiritual life, there is no difference: all that are taught of God agree in these things; or, if they differ a little in modes of expression, when disputing for opinions, they agree perfectly when they come upon their knees before God; which shews that their differences are rather imaginary than real. There is “an unity of faith” to which they all come [Note: Ephesians 4:13.]; and which the untutored Indian attains as easily as the most learned philosopher; for it is learned by the heart rather than the head; and it is God alone that can guide us to the knowledge of it [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.].
In affection also they are one, being “kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love,” and “loving one another with a pure heart fervently.” They are all “taught of God to do so [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:9.].” What the real tendency of Christianity is may be seen in the effects produced on the first Christians [Note: Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32.]: and if there is not the same measure of love among Christians of the present day, it is not owing to any want of efficacy in the grace of God, but to the slender measure in which it is possessed: for, in proportion as the grace of Christ abounds in, the soul, will ever be the measure of our faith and love [Note: 1 Timothy 1:14. Ephesians 4:3-4; Ephesians 4:7.].
Moreover, in the scope and tenour of their lives also they are one. They all acknowledge the Scriptures as the one directory which they are to follow; and, according to their several attainments, “they walk by the same rule [Note: Philippians 3:16. Galatians 6:16.]” — — — Without this, all other “unity,” whether “in the faith,” or “in the Spirit,” is of no avail.
This “holding of the Head” by faith, this ministering to each other by love, and this progressive increase of the whole body in the ways of holiness, constitutes that true union which the Gospel produces, and which our Lord so earnestly desired in our behalf [Note: Colossians 2:19.].]
Let us now consider,
II. The unspeakable importance of it—
Truly it is of the utmost importance: for on it depends,
I. The honour of Christ—
[In the days of the Apostles, the Messiahship of Christ was abundantly proved by the most stupendous miracles wrought in confirmation of it. But it was the design of God, that, when Christianity was once established, it should carry its own evidence along with it, and convince men by producing such effects in the world as would demonstrate to all its Divine origin. The perfect consistency which there was in the testimony of all the Apostles and of the first teachers of Christianity shewed, that they must have been inspired by the same Spirit; who kept them all from error, and guided them into all truth. In the whole apostolic age we read of but one point of difference that arose, namely, Whether the believing Gentiles should be required to submit to circumcision or not; and even that was discussed, not for the satisfaction of any of the Apostles, but only of some of the less-enlightened converts. And the agreement which there was in doctrine, was rendered still more manifest by the wonderful unity which was displayed in the life and conversation of the whole Church. There were indeed spots and blemishes in many; but these were reproved by the authorised teachers of religion, and served to illustrate more clearly the proper efficacy of the Gospel [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:19.]. Twice does our Lord suggest, that this union of his people would confirm the truth of his mission [Note: Compare ver. 23. with the text.]. And certain it is that the same effects are produced by it at this time. Where shall we look for such an union of sentiment, of affection, and of conduct, as is to be found in the Church of Christ? Hence believers are marked as a peculiar people; and the very peculiarity which pervades the Church of God, makes an impression on the hearts of thousands, who, if they could in an instant attain to the measure of peace and holiness which they see in the true believer, would willingly sacrifice all that they have in the world for it: and though, from the inveteracy of their corruptions, they are determined to go on in sin, they are constrained to acknowledge, that the Gospel of Christ is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.]
2. The credit of the Church—
[God the Father “loveth his people, even as he loveth his only dear Son [Note: See ver. 23.].” But how is it to be known that he loves them? Who can look into their hearts, and see those manifestations which he makes of himself there, as he does not unto the world? When “he sheddeth abroad his love there,” who can discern it, but the persons themselves? or, as Solomon expresses it, who can “intermeddle with their joy?” But it is to be discerned by the effects it produces on their lives, just as the irradiated countenance of Moses attested the intercourse he had held with God. Accordingly, where the piety of any person is of an exalted kind, it carries with it a conviction to the minds of others; it makes religion itself appear honourable, and induces many to say, “We will go with you; for we perceive that God is with you of a truth.”]
3. The welfare of the world at large—
[The world in general “hate the light, and will not come to it, lest their deeds should be reproved.” But Christians, when truly exemplary, are living witnesses for God: they are epistles of Christ, known and read of all men; and their whole spirit and conduct is a sermon to all around them. St. Peter tells us, that many unbelieving people, who utterly despise the word of God, are “won by the good conversation” and conduct of their pious friends. On the other hand, we know that divisions or scandals in the Church are the means of casting before many a stumbling-block, over which they fall, to their eternal ruin. What can more strongly manifest the importance of union in the Church, than such considerations as these? Surely, if the welfare of the world so much depends upon it, we cannot wonder that our Lord offered such repeated supplications for it in our behalf; nor should there be any intermission to our exertions for the advancement of it in the Church of God.]
From this subject we may see,
1. The duty of the world to unite themselves to the Church—
[The Church is represented as “one fold under one Shepherd.” To that fold we must be gathered: nor must we decline that open profession that shall distinguish us for his sheep. If we are ashamed of Christ and his people, Christ will be ashamed of us. We must not only “believe with our hearts unto righteousness, but make confession with our mouths unto salvation.” As Judah and Israel are to become one at the latter day, like the two sticks in the prophet’s hand [Note: Ezekiel 37:16-22.], so are Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, to be all one in Christ Jesus [Note: Galatians 3:28.]. I call on all therefore “to give themselves unto us,” as St. Paul expresses it, but first to “give up their whole selves to the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:5.].”]
2. The duty of the Church to be united among themselves—
[Who that hears our blessed Lord pleading so earnestly for this object, can doubt what his duty is in relation to it? If a doubt remain, let the Apostle Paul determine it: so desirable was this object in his eyes, that he seemed as if he could never be sufficiently urgent with his converts to cultivate it with all their hearts [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:10. Philippians 2:1-4.]. Let us then beg of God to “give us one heart and one way:” thus shall the sweetest fellowship be produced, not only with each other, but with the Father and with Christ; and “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son shall cleanse us from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:7.].”]
THE GLORY WHICH CHRIST GIVES TO HIS PEOPLE
John 17:22. The glory which thou gavest me I hare given them.
THE dignity of human nature is a favourite subject with many: nor, if man be considered in his primeval state, can it be estimated too highly. But man is a fallen creature, and reduced to the most abject condition. The Scriptures speak of him in the most humiliating terms: nevertheless, through the grace of the Gospel, he is restored to his primitive honours: he in some respects is elevated even above the angels of heaven. No words can express his dignity more fully than those of the text. Do we inquire what that glory is which the Father gave to Christ, and Christ gives to his Church and people?
We will specify it in five particulars:
I. The glory of manifesting the Divine power—
Angels have been used as instruments of Divine power both for the preservation and destruction of mankind; but it is peculiar to Christ and his people to manifest the Divine power in conflicts with their enemies.
Christ had this glory given him—
[He had innumerable enemies, both men and devils [Note: Psalms 2:2. Luke 22:53.]; but he conquered sin, Satan, death, and hell [Note: Colossians 2:15. Ephesians 4:8.]. This he did through the support and influence of his Father [Note: Isaiah 42:1.].]
This glory has Christ given us—
[His people are in a state of warfare [Note: Ephesians 6:12.]: but the very weakest of them triumph at last through Christ [Note: Romans 8:37.]. Paul acknowledges this to the praise of his Divine Master [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].]
II. The glory of displaying the moral perfections of the Deity—
The material world displays the natural perfections of God; but not even the angels in heaven can set forth all his moral perfections—
[Never having been injured, they cannot exercise mercy, forbearance, love of enemies.]
This is the peculiar prerogative of Christ—
[Christ manifested the most wonderful compassion [Note: Luke 19:41; Luke 23:34; Luke 24:47.]. In so doing he displayed the Father’s perfections [Note: John 14:9.]. This honour he himself received of the Father [Note: John 14:10.].]
His people however are made to share this glory with him—
[They, as stars in their several spheres, reflect the beams of the Sun of Righteousness. How strongly was his character delineated in the life of Paul and in the death of Stephen! Every one of them endeavours to “walk as he walked.” They are enabled to do this by Christ himself [Note: Philippians 4:13.].]
III. The glory of being sons of God—
The angels are sometimes called sons of God; but they bear this relation to him only as creatures.
Christ has this honour in an infinitely higher sense [Note: Hebrews 1:5.]—
[Christ is the Son of God both in his divine and human nature. He is emphatically called by the Apostle “God’s dear Son [Note: Colossians 1:13.].”]
The same honour has Christ conferred on us—
[Every believer is brought into this relation to God [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:18.]. This astonishing mercy may well excite wonder and admiration [Note: 1 John 3:1.]. It is bestowed on the believer by Christ himself [Note: John 1:12.],]
IV. The glory of being united to God—
The Scriptures often speak of the union that subsists between Christ and the Father—
[Our Lord himself affirmed that he and the Father were one [Note: John 10:30.]. St. Paul declares that all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Christ [Note: Colossians 2:9.]. What our Lord did as man, is attributed to him as God [Note: Acts 20:28.].]
A similar, though not the same, union subsists between Christ and his people.
[Our Lord represents them as branches of the living vine [Note: John 15:1.]: he compares their union with him to his with the Father [Note: John 17:21.]: he declares not only that he himself is the author of this union, but that it is a part of that glory which he has given us [Note: ver. 22, 23.].]
V. The glory of reigning with God—
Both the good and evil angels are called principalities and powers, but they are never said to “reign” with God.
Our Lord however has received this honour of his Father—
[All power in heaven and in earth is committed to him [Note: Matthew 28:18.]. He is exalted far above all principalities and powers [Note: Ephesians 1:20-21.]. It is decreed that every soul shall submit to Jesus [Note: Isaiah 45:23.].]
This honour also has Christ vouchsafed to his people—
[The victorious saints will exercise a kind of dominion over the ungodly at the last day [Note: Psalms 49:14. Revelation 2:26-27. Psalms 149:7-9.]: they will sit with Christ as assessors in judgment over men and devils [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:2-3.]: they have a kingdom appointed to them even now [Note: Luke 22:29.]: they will be formally invested with it at the last day: they will receive it as a special grant from Christ himself [Note: Revelation 3:21.].]
1. What an exalted character is the true Christian!—
[Christians are despised by the unbelieving world: but the Scriptures describe their dignity in most exalted terms. How can we ever estimate aright the glory given them by their Lord! What glory can the earth afford in comparison of this! Let us not then act unworthy of this high character.]
2. How marvellous is Christ’s love to his people!—
[Every thing, which he himself has received of the Father, he gives to them: he even bought it with his blood, that he might bestow it upon them. How incomprehensible is this love! Let us entertain worthy conceptions of it: let us be constrained by it to love and serve him.]
John 17:24. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.
THERE is an height, and depth, and length, and breadth in the love of Christ, which can never be explored. His assumption of our sinful nature, and his submission to the accursed death of the cross for our sake, will fill the universe with wonder to all eternity. Next to those unparalleled instances of his love, we cannot but notice the concern which he expressed for his people’s welfare in the last hours of his life. Well did he know all that was coming upon him; yet instead of being occupied, as might have been expected, about his own sufferings, he was intent only on the salvation of others. Having prayed in the hearing of his Disciples that they, and all his followers to the end of the world, might be preserved and sanctified, he adds the petition which we have now read; in discoursing on which we shall consider,
I. The subject-matter of the petition—
The manner in which it is expressed is worthy of notice.
[It is generally considered as an authoritative demand, which he made in consequence of the right he had in them, and with a more especial view to their comfort. Certain it is that, as his people had been “given him by the Father,” and as he was now about to confirm his title to them by the surrender of his own life in their stead, he might justly claim the blessings which he asked in their behalf. But the same expression is elsewhere used where nothing more is intended than great earnestness in the request [Note: Mark 6:25; Mark 10:35.]; and this seems to be the real import of the words before us. Our Lord had come down from heaven to rescue his people from destruction; nor could he endure the thought of returning thither without first securing them to himself as the trophies of his victory. Hence was there an extraordinary emphasis laid on this petition, because, if that should not be granted, all which he had done and suffered for them would be in vain.]
The petition itself represents the final glorification of all his Disciples—
[Jesus was now going to his Father in heaven. He was already in heaven as to his divine nature; but his human nature also was speedily to be removed thither. A short separation from them was necessary, in order that he might prosecute his mediatorial work in heaven, and they discharge their apostolic office on earth. But he had promised that, “where he was, there should also his servants be [Note: John 12:26.];” and that, as he was going to prepare mansions for them, so he would surely come again and receive them to himself, that they might be with him for ever [Note: John 14:3.]. Besides, he had already given them a glimpse of his glory, which they had seen through the veil of his flesh [Note: John 1:14. 2 Peter 1:16-17.]; and taught them to expect that what they had beheld in the dawn, should be revealed to them in its meridian splendour [Note: Matthew 19:28.]. These expectations he would never disappoint. Hence in his intercession he gave them an additional assurance, that they should in due time possess the promised bliss. At the same time he taught them by his example, that the promises of God were not to supersede, but to encourage prayer: and that, however secure they might feel themselves in knowing the eternal purposes of God, they were never to relax their earnestness in prayer till every decree of God should be finally accomplished [Note: To the same effect see Jeremiah 29:11-12 and Ezekiel 36:37.].]
As we cannot conceive any petition more important, we shall proceed to mark,
II. The blessedness of those who are interested in it—
There are two things suggested for their comfort,
1. Their security in this world—
[The saints are frequently, especially in this intercessory prayer, spoken of as “given to Christ by the Father.” And when were they given him, but from all eternity [Note: Ephesians 1:4.]? Nor was it merely in his personal, but also in his official character, as the head and representative of his elect, that “the Father loved Christ from before the foundation of the world [Note: Isaiah 42:1.].” Can we suppose then that they were given to Christ, and that it was left uncertain whether he should ever enjoy the gift? Has not our Lord himself repeatedly declared, that they should never perish, and that none should ever pluck them out of his hand [Note: John 10:28-29.]? Further, it was for them that Jesus prayed; and “we know that him the Father heareth always.” For them too he is carrying on his intercession in heaven; and is not he an all-prevailing Advocate? yea, is not his intercession for them a ground of assurance, that he both can, and will, save them to the uttermost [Note: Hebrews 7:25.]? “Fear not then, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Note: Luke 12:32.].” Rejoice in your security, and know that “having loved you, our Lord will love you to the end [Note: John 13:1.]” having “bought you with a price,” he will never suffer himself to be deprived of “his purchased possession.”]
2. Their felicity in the world to come—
[It is the glory of Christ which irradiates heaven, and makes it what it is; “the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” Hence the Apostle speaks of “being with Christ,” and “being present with the Lord,” as terms equivalent with the glorification of his soul: yea, he mentions it as that which conveys the most consoling idea of heaven [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:18.]. Now if we only consider what unspeakable joy arises from a view of Christ, through the medium of the written word, we may well conceive that an immediate vision of his unveiled glory constitutes the felicity of heaven. And this, believer, is thy portion: it is reserved for thee, and thou for it. Thou shalt behold him face to face [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12.]. Though now thou canst not endure the splendour of the meridian sun, thou shalt soon have thine organs of vision strengthened to gaze on him, who is “the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person.” What felicity must this be! If the Queen of Sheba, enraptured with the glory of Solomon, exclaimed, “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants who stand before thee, and that hear thy wisdom [Note: 1 Kings 10:8.]” what must be the happiness of those who behold “the Lamb upon his throne,” and enjoy that beatific vision without weariness or intermission? O that we might all aspire after this honour, and that not one of us might ever come short of it!]
1. Let every one of us now inquire, Am I interested in this prayer?
[This surely is an important inquiry: it is, in fact, to ask, Shall I behold my Saviour’s face with joy, or shall I behold it only at an unapproachable distance, a wretched outcast from heaven, an hopeless monument of God’s displeasure? Let us enter into this inquiry with fear and trembling. But it may be asked, Is it not presumptuous to attempt an answer to such an inquiry? for who can specify the persons that have been. given to Christ? who hath looked into the book of God’s decrees, that he shall undertake to answer such a question as this? We answer, that the question may easily be resolved, without presuming to pry into the secrets of God. The point may be determined by asking, Have I given myself to Christ? Have I as a guilty, helpless, and undone creature, given up myself to Christ, to be washed in his blood, and to be sanctified by his Spirit? Have I done this repeatedly, with deep humiliation, with fervent prayer, with faith unfeigned? If our consciences bear witness that we have indeed done this, then do we know that the Father gave us to him from all eternity; for “we love him because he first loved us [Note: 1 John 4:19.];” and we chose him only in consequence of our having before been chosen of him [Note: John 15:16.]. Hither then let our researches be directed; nor let us ever conclude ourselves his, till we have shewn ourselves willing and desirous to he his.]
2. Let us all live as those who are looking for a speedy answer to it—
[How worthless would all earthly vanities appear, if we were looking daily for the glory that shall be revealed! and how effectually would death be disarmed of its sting! Methinks, we should be “looking for and hasting to the coming of that day:” we should be “desiring to depart, that we may be with Christ,” and that “mortality,” with all its cares or pleasures, “may be swallowed up of life,” Let this be your state, brethren, and you have nothing to fear. Only maintain habitual fellowship with Christ here, and doubtless ye shall be with him hereafter. Be daily surveying his glory now, and you shall assuredly behold it in the world to come. His prayer was offered not for his immediate Disciples only, but “for all who should believe on him through their word.” Be ye of this number, and all the glory of heaven shall be yours.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 17". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany