—JOHN 17:15-26.—MAY 14.—
ON the night of the institution of the memorial of his death, our Lord, so far from being concerned wholly with himself and his approaching crucifixion, was specially thinking of and praying for his disciples. The closing verse of John 16 records his words of admonition, "These things have I spoken unto you that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." These words spake Jesus and lifted up his eyes to heaven in prayer for his disciples, saying, "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thy own name those whom thou hast given me."
Our Lord's entire life furnishes an illustration of what the Apostle commends to all the Church in the words, "Pray without ceasing." Our Lord evidently was always in that prayerful attitude of heart, which was filled with thankfulness to the Father in respect to all of life's affairs, which recognized his guardian care, which trusted him, confided in him and in every distressing circumstance looked to him to overrule and to cause all experiences to work for good. But our Lord's constant attitude of prayer without ceasing did not hinder his more particular devotions when he turned aside from the affairs of life to speak to the Father in secret—sometimes briefly and sometimes spending a whole night in prayer in the mountain solitude. Though he loved his disciples they were not yet begotten of the Holy Spirit and could not fully comprehend matters from his standpoint. The Father alone was able to comprehend the full situation, and hence the very isolation of our Lord from all human help drew him the nearer and the oftener to the Father in prayer.
So it is or should be with the Lord's followers. Proportionately as we grow in his character likeness we will similarly pray without ceasing and in everything give thanks, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord, realizing him as the center of all our hopes and ambitions and joys. And similarly we will avail ourselves of the privilege of more formal approaches to the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Similarly also, in proportion as at times we may find that our dear ones either of earthly or spiritual relationship are unable to sympathize with our experiences, we may be profited by such a lack of earthly sympathy in that the experiences will send us the more frequently to the heavenly Comforter from whom we will derive the greater blessing and joy.
In this prayer, as elsewhere throughout the inspired Word, a sharp line of distinction is drawn as between the Church and the world. A great loss is sustained by those who do not see this, for it wonderfully assists in the "rightly dividing of the Word of Truth." "God so loved the world," Jesus "by the grace of God tasted death for every man," and was a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, yet he is not of the world, and those who become his disciples are not of the world. "Ye are not of the world even as I am not of the world." The losing of the clear line of distinction between the Church and the world has been a serious injury to true Christianity.
The world has appropriated some of the promises and customs and ceremonies which more or less resemble or counterfeit the graces of the Church, and this is called civilization, and thus a large proportion of the world are to-day mistakenly recognized as part of the Church. This is to their disadvantage, for not discerning that those who are of the Church must be begotten again, that in the resurrection they may be born again, they are merely deceiving themselves. It is a disadvantage also to the true Church, the true followers of the Lord, whose new natures must contend with the weaknesses of the flesh, and whose flesh seeks to justify itself by common custom, and to claim that to go much beyond the common standard is to be fanatical, extremists. The Lord's people need to remember that, judged from the standpoint of the world and the nominal Church, they must be extremists if they would come up to the standards set for them by the Lord and the apostles—standards illustrated in the lives of Jesus and the apostles, in their self-denials even unto death.
Our Lord prayed not for the world, because the Lord's time for dealing with the world had not yet come—would not come until after the selection of the Church, the body of Christ. He prayed for the apostles especially, because they would be his special representatives in the world, and his prayer included also all of the five hundred brethren who up to that time had believed on him with sincere hearts. Not only so, but (v. 20) he extended the petition so as to cover all of a similar class even to the end of the age—all who should believe on him so thoroughly, so sincerely, that their faith would separate them from the world to be his disciples, his followers in the narrow way in very truth.
As we look out over the world to-day and take a view of the nominal Christian Church, and attempt to put ourselves in the place of the nominal Christian believer [R3551 : page 137] and his professed view of matters, and if, then, we suppose that the Lord prayed for the present condition of things, his prayer would be something like this:
I pray that my followers may become very numerous, very wealthy and very learned, that they may be the notables of the world. I pray that they may be divided up into great denominations, some holding one fragment of truth and some another, blending the same with much of inconsistency and error. I pray that there may be a dignified class, self-satisfied and reverential in form, who may be known as Episcopalians. I pray for another dignified class who will hold the Westminster Confession of Faith, and subsequently in 1902 supplement it with a briefer statement which, in effect, will contradict it. I pray for another great schism under the leadership of Wesley, which shall mingle with its devotions many worldly customs and attractions, and shall prosper greatly and be able to boast the building of one church every day in the year. I pray for another great sect or party of my followers, to name my name and be the followers of Luther. I pray for the great Roman Catholic Church, which will claim to be my kingdom, claim to reign in power and great dignity and honor over the kingdoms of the earth, claim that its head and representative is my vicegerent, the spiritual emperor of the world. I pray that its cunning policy may keep my Word from reaching the public, and that it may represent my great sacrifice for sins in its innumerable sacrifices of the mass, and that it may prosper and "wear out the saints of the most high God."
I pray also for all the little sects and parties and splits, that they may prosper, that each may think that they have the truth and be satisfied with their creeds, and be hindered from searching the Scriptures to know therefrom the way, the truth and the life. I pray for all these that they may be thus scattered and separated and have fences between each other. I pray further that they may not only have denominational lines to separate them, but, additionally, political lines and lines of national prejudice, so that millions of them of one party or nationality may threaten and make war upon and slaughter those of another nationality or party. I pray that these national distinctions amongst them shall run so high that it will require hundreds of millions of dollars every year for armies and weapons and battleships [R3552 : page 137] to fight each other or to threaten each other or to intimidate each other. I pray all this that the heathen world may be charmed with the glorious effect of my teachings upon Christendom, and that all the heathen may say with one voice, Let us also become partisan and sectarian. Let us also arm and fight. Let us also learn of the practices of these Christian nations that they do not have the entire monopoly of profanity and drunkenness and debauchery, that we may share in these.
Very different was our Lord's petition. His prayer represents his disciples as being a small minority in the world, hated of the world, opposed by the world, misunderstood by the world, not many great, not many wise, not many learned, not many rich, not many noble—chiefly the poor and altogether a "little flock." The characteristics of the disciples whom Jesus personally gathered were to be expected in all who should afterward be gathered to him as his true followers.
Notwithstanding the great array of Christian nations and Christian sects, the Lord "knoweth them that are his;" and in harmony with this prayer he has not during the age separated his people from the world, but left them in the world, merely separating them so far as the heart is concerned—"I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil." We are not to say that the evil is good, we are not to say that the world has become saintly; it is still evil. Christendom is practically in the same condition to-day that Judaism was in when it crucified the Lord and persecuted his followers.
Then the chief sect of the Jews called themselves God's holy people (the meaning of the word Pharisee), and the whole nation stood on a plane of outward morality which the Lord declared was in his sight a farce. He called the leaders whited sepulchers, inwardly full of corruption. He told them that while they washed the outside of the cup they left it filthy within; that while they made broad their phylacteries and prayed in public, in their hearts they were far from a condition of holiness or love—so far that they would be willing to wrongfully take a home from a poor widow if the outward forms of the law permitted and if the transaction would not bring too much reproach. (Matt. 23:14,23-28.) It is much the same to-day; there is an outward gloss or veneer that in many cases is hypocritical, an outward form of worship, a drawing near with the lips while the heart is far from him, busy with fashion and dress and pleasure and money-making idolatries, if not with grosser sins.
Our Lord prayed that his true followers might be kept by heavenly power free from such conditions—out of sympathy with them, not of them. And we believe this has been true all down throughout this Gospel age. We believe that the Lord's prayer has been fulfilled, and that his scattered little flock, the branches of the true vine, have flourished in heart, spiritually, keeping up a separate life entirely from the nominal system, which is only a part of the world. We believe that the same is true to-day, and that these in the world but not of it are now, in the harvest time, being called out of Babylon, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins and receive not of her plagues." But as the entire number of Israelites who returned from Babylon when the opportunity offered was only about 50,000, so we may expect here that the Lord has so arranged matters respecting the popularity of error and the unpopularity of the Truth, that the number ready and glad to forsake all to follow the Truth and the right will be few.
The prayer, continuing, points out two things—first, how the Lord's followers will be kept, and, secondly, why they will be kept. (1) They will be kept because they are not of the world, because they have taken a positive stand on the Lord's side, because they have reckonedly died to the world and sin and been begotten again of the holy Spirit to newness of life. (2) They will be kept in the world, but not of it, by the power of the Truth in their hearts. The Truth will sanctify or separate them. Not any truth, not all truth, but the Truth—the Truth of the divine revelation respecting the divine character and the divine plan, and their relationship to these. Summing this all up the Lord declares, "My [R3552 : page 138] Word is Truth"—the Truth which only sanctifies and separates my disciples from the world.
We are aware that "doctrine" has become very unpopular in every quarter of the world and in the nominal Church. No wonder! The doctrines, the creeds, of the various sects and parties of Christendom are so mingled with error, so offensive to the spiritual senses of the spiritual mind, that they could have no pleasure in partaking of such things from their tables. The prophet describes the matter, saying, "All tables are full of vomit"—every creed formulated in the Dark Ages is necessarily repulsive to-day. But the Truth, "Thy Word is Truth," never becomes stale, never becomes rancid or offensive; it is still the Bread from Heaven, it is still the Word of Life; and all who are of the Truth, all who have progressed from being merely babes in Christ and by partaking of the meat of his Word have come to an appreciation of it, all who have been weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts, can say with the poet respecting the wonderful story of the divine plan,
The Truth has a sanctifying power in the heart because it fills the longings of the heart. Every heart has talents and appeals which demand operation, activity. Something must be supplied to meet the hungerings and thirstings of these various talents and qualities of the mind. If the exceeding great and precious promises of the divine Word be not received into the heart to satisfy its cravings or longings, it will feed upon other things; and the world, the flesh and the devil are all crowding upon it, offering various attractions, some of which will be received if the heart be not filled and kept filled. Thus our Lord's parable represents a heart swept and garnished, with the devil cast out, and then that heart, still empty, is represented as being re-entered by seven devils. Our hearts need not only to be cleansed from sin through justification of life, through faith in Christ, but they need also to be filled with the Lord himself; and our Lord, who calls himself the Truth, furnishes to our hearts various truths as food, as nourishment, as filling our hearts and satisfying our cravings, and by thus filling he sanctifies those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and thus separates them completely and keeps them separate from the world, its spirit, its hopes, its aims, its ambitions.
Have we love for righteousness? We cannot hope to find it in the world, nor hope to establish it here under present conditions. We are obliged to admit that nothing short of God's promised Kingdom can establish righteousness; hence our hearts, as Noah's dove, return to the Lord as the center and fountain of righteousness. Have we a desire for peace and joy? Our past experience in the world convinces us that, while the whole world is seeking for happiness, it has not found it. We who have found the Lord have found the secret of happiness, the Christian's secret of having every day a happy one. Do we long for power and influence that we may exercise them for good? The Word of Truth assures us that it is impossible to find them in present conditions, but that we shall, if faithful, attain to the power and glory, honor and immortality, in the First Resurrection, and that then our grandest hopes and ideals will be realized in the Kingdom blessings that will come to all the families of the earth. Do riches seem attractive to us? The Scriptures hold out the true riches, and assure us that in following the Lord all things are ours by faith now, and shall be actually ours by and by, when we become our Master's associates in the heavenly Kingdom.
Our Lord declares, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." It is evident enough how the Father sent the Son, who left the glory which he had with the Father before the world was made flesh and dwelt amongst us; but in what sense are we sent into the world, we who are born of the world? Of course the apostles were specially sent once, but all the Lord's followers are sent in a sense or degree. We are not sent until we are separated from the world to be his in heart and in truth. Then he gave us a commission or a message, a work to do in the world in his name and for the cause which he represents, namely, the cause of righteousness. So, then, the true followers of the Lord are ambassadors for God, representatives for Jesus. As he was in the world, so are we in the world; hence he calls upon us to walk as children of the light, to oppose sin in ourselves, and to use our influence in all proper ways in opposition to sin and in favor of righteousness and truth and right.
Continuing our Lord declares, "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." This seems to carry with it the thought, elsewhere suggested in this prayer, that our Lord had by this time come to a full realization of the Father's plan, namely, that his disciples were to be developed for the purpose of becoming his joint-heirs in the Kingdom, sharers in his glory. At first thought such a sharing of the great glory of the Kingdom might appear to be a lessening of the great glory of Jesus, just as the appointment of the seventy elders of Israel to be associates with Moses in judging Israel seemed at first to be a contraction or diminution of the dignity or authority of Moses.
But as Moses in the type was very meek, and gladly welcomed all the elders to joint-service, saying, [R3553 : page 138] "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:29), so the Lord Jesus, so far from feeling that the gathering out of the Church to be his joint-heirs in the Kingdom would diminish his glory, joined heartily in the divine plan, and declares here that he set himself apart, he separated himself from that feature of the glory and dignity of the Father's reward that his followers might have a share in it, that they might become his joint-heirs, being set apart and brought to this honor through the Truth, through the great and precious promises bestowed upon them. This same thought seems to be presented in the words (vs. 22,23)—"The glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one: I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."
The love of God pervades our hearts so that selfishness has no room there, and thus it was that our dear Redeemer, instead of feeling jealous that any others [R3553 : page 139] should be exalted to the divine nature, participators in the Kingdom, in this prayer to the Father declares his full acquiescence in the plan, his hearty cooperation, his joy to have it so. What a thought this gives to us as the prospective Bride, already espoused to the heavenly Bridegroom. He is pleased to exalt us from our lowly estate to be one with himself in his Kingdom, in his throne, in his Father's love.
Wonder of wonders! Where will the divine compassion cease! While we were yet sinners, under divine condemnation of death, we were loved and redeemed at a great price; and now, having been redeemed, we hear the voice celestial saying, "Come up higher," yea, even to the throne, to joint-heirship with the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Could we keep ever before our minds this grand display of love and unselfishness how thoroughly it would scatter from the minds of all who are seeking to be copies of God's dear Son every thought of rivalry one with another. How it would cause us to rejoice in the growing usefulness and advancement in the Lord's service of every member of the body. How we should more and more feel what the Scriptures describe as "in honor preferring one another," and which rejoices in the prosperity of a brother, in his growing usefulness in the Church, in the growing evidences of his favor with God and man. Those who can thus rejoice in the prosperity of the fellow-members of the body have another evidence of their growth in the likeness of our great and glorious Head. Those who are without this sentiment should strive for it and be very discontented until it is attained.
The spirit of trusts and combinations which is abroad in the world and which is permeating everything has the effect of combining congregations, combining denominations, and in general is leading on rapidly to the formation of great religious trusts, whose development will be a serious menace to the liberties of the Lord's truly consecrated people, but not an injury to their spiritual interests. On the contrary, it will prove a blessing to the Lord's little flock in that it will more particularly differentiate them and confirm to them the teachings of the Scriptures, separating them the more completely from the nominal systems and the binding in bundles of the tares, giving them the while the confirmations of the Scriptures, which clearly predict this condition in the end of this age as preceding the collapse of great Babylon.—Rev. 18:21.
Our Lord's prayer, "That they all may be one," has been fulfilled throughout the age. All who have been truly his have had a oneness of heart, a oneness of purpose, a oneness of spirit, with the Father and with the Son—a fellowship divine which cannot be produced by earthly creeds and fetters. So it is to-day, and so it is always between those who are truly the Lord's. They know each other not by outward passwords or grips or signs, but by the touch of faith and love which it gives and which each recognizes. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, in that ye have love one for another." "We know we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." True, we love all men and seek to serve all as we have opportunity, but, as the Apostle explains, "especially the household of faith," especially those who love the Lord and are trusting in the precious blood, and are fully consecrated to him and, so far as they are able, doing his will and seeking to further know that will day by day.
This union between those who are the Lord's people is evidently not the union of person. The Lord's followers are not one in person but in spirit. And this is the illustration which the Lord gives of the oneness which exists between himself and the Father—they are not one in person but one in spirit, purpose, will; for our Lord declares that he always does the Father's will, those things which are pleasing in the Father's sight. And thus we abide in his love and abide in him by doing his will, which is the Father's will, and thus Father and Son and the Church, the Bride, are all one—in spirit and in truth.
Our Lord's words (v. 24), "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me go with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me." This is not a petition, but a declaration of the Lord's will, as though he were saying, Father, I understand that this is thy will in respect to these my followers, and I will it also, acquiescing in this great and liberal arrangement which thou hast made. I will be glad to have my followers ultimately on the same plane of glory with me, and that they may there be blessed by seeing and sharing the glories thou hast conferred upon me whom thou hast loved always even before the foundations of the world—even before the arrangements were made for these my disciples.
The closing words of the prayer are beautiful and give us an insight into the Lord's confidence in the Father and fellowship with him. He knew the Father, and so he has declared respecting us that this is the highest evidence that could be granted us of our acceptance with the Father and of our participation in the life eternal which he has provided, namely, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Our Lord declares, "O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me." And I have made known unto them thy name, thy character, thy greatness, thy goodness, thy love, thy benefactions, and will make known still further as they are able to bear it, as they grow in knowledge of the Truth, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them.
How wonderful is this love of God and love of Christ! How impossible it seems for us to measure its lengths and breadths and heights and depths! Those who have accepted the Lord as their Redeemer and have entered into covenant relationship with him, giving him their little all and accepting from him a participation in all these blessings of his provision, if ever cast down because of weakness or opposition or what not, should call to mind this great love which the Father has for us and which the Son shares, the love which not only redeemed us while we were yet sinners, but which since then has called us to such wonderful blessings and privileges, making us joint-heirs with Christ our Lord, if so be we suffer with him;—this love will not be lightly turned away, this love would chasten us rather than permit us to fall away into the second death; this love will [R3553 : page 140] finally deliver, either in the little flock or in the great company, all who continue to trust in Jesus and continue to hold the faithful Word. But in proportion as this love of God dwells in us richly, in proportion as Christ is enthroned in our hearts, in that same proportion we will have a responsive love which will delight to do those things which are pleasing in our Father's sight and acceptable to our Lord, and in the same proportion we will be loth to do anything which would bring a cloud between the Lord and our souls. Let us, then, have fresh courage because of what we discern of the lengths and breadths and heights and depths of love divine, and let this love of God constrain us to greater zeal and devotion to him and to his cause.