The Prayer of John XVII.
It was night when Jesus discoursed to his disciples on the road in the manner we have been considering. Dark it must have been, but probably not with the darkness to which we are accustomed in the vapour-laden atmosphere of Britain. It would be the darkness of the clear Oriental night, tempered, perhaps, with the star light which is so brilliant in the East, or even with "the moon walking in brightness." There would not be the physical discomfort that attends personal communion in the dark on British roads. At all events, the 12 sad men as they sauntered leisurely along would be too absorbed in their communications to take much notice of the physical conditions.
Jesus came to a pause with the words: "These things I have spoken unto you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." He then stood still in the midst of the eleven disciples (for Judas was at far other work) and lifting his eyes, and assuming the attitude of prayer, he addressed the Father in the words recorded in Jno. xvii.
What a subject for study! How can mortal man enter into the suspiration of the Son of God directed to the Eternal Throne. If it be true, as God himself tells us by Isaiah (chap. Iv. 9), and as we instinctively feel must be the case, that God's thoughts are as high above ours as the heaven is high above the earth, how can we participate in a communion passing between the man who dwelt in the bosom of the Father, and that incomprehensible "High and Holy one" whose mind and power embrace and sustain the universe and fill the ages! Yet the placing of the prayeron record is a proof of Christ's desire and design that we should be lifted somewhat in its soaring reach. And truly this is the effect of its frequent contemplation.
We cannot appreciate its character at first; but as the mind opens, its greatness dawns. We are struck first with the simple majesty of its diction. There is no redundance of language; no ornamental periphrasis; no effort to amplify or impress; no attempt at style, no tragic emphasis; no grandiloquence of any kind, but the simple utterance of great and powerful thought and fact. It is not a human conception of how the Deity ought to be addressed. It manifestly comes from one who "made himself equal with God because he said: I am the Son of God." Consider the opening apostrophe: "Father!" How weighty in its simplicity. This is the approach of more than a mere worshipper. It is the style naturally belonging to one of whom Yahweh could speak as "The Man that is my fellow." The whole prayer has this undertone of what we might call dignified familiarity combined with reverential subordination.
"The hour is come. Glorify thy Son that thy Son also may glorify thee." Jesus was not yet glorified. For 33 1/2 years, he had lived the life of a weak mortal man, and that a man "of no reputation;" worse, "a worm and no man, a reproach of men and despised of the people" (Psa. xxii. 7). But now his end in this line of things had come -- an end darkening in deeper bitterness and distress, yet the end. The cup in his hand was but the prelude to promised joy and glory and honour unspeakable; and for this he prayed: "Glorify thy son that thy Son also may glorify Thee." Jesus had glorified the Father much during his life upon the earth. "I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do." But when himself glorified, he would be able to glorify the Father with an effectiveness not possible in the days of weakness. He would glorify Him in the work to be done through the apostles when he was exalted to the right hand of power: and he would at last fill the earth with the Father's glory by what he should be able to do at his return to the scene of his labour "in power" at the appointed time. Having received "power over all flesh," he should then "give eternal life to as many as the Father had given him" -- "given" by the process of causing them to "know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he had sent," for this knowledge is the way to life eternal. The glory that would enable him to confer this life eternal was the glory of the Divine nature transferred to Himself "Glorify thou me with thine own self." The Father is underived life and glory bodily incorporate in glowing spirit form and substance, "dwelling in Light unapproachable." To glorify another "with his own self" is to impart to that other his own nature, which was done when the Lord Jesus was "changed into the same image or likeness," so that in Jesus now "dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. ii. 9). Being thus glorified, Jesus has the power to do for his brethren what has been done to himself, and the promise is that he will do it. "He shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his own glorious body by the energy wherewith he is able to subdue all things to himself" (Phil. iii. 21). Jesus had his mind set on this attainment when he prayed this prayer. It was part of "the joy set before him," for which "he endured the cross, despising the shame."
This glory, he says, "I had with thee before the world was." It is possible we may fail to enter fully into the thought that was before the mind of Christ in the utterance of these words. Possibly it may blend both the meanings that believers see in it. There is first the sense suggested further on in the prayer -- the sense of retrospective prospect, if we might so say -- a glory possessed as part of the eternal purpose and plan of things, but waiting the future for its actual development as a reality. This seems to be the sense suggested by these words. "The glory which Thou gavest me, I have given them (the disciples).... that they may behold my glory which Thou hast given me, for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." Here Jesus makes the disciples actual possessors, so far as apparent meaning of language goes, of the glory of which he speaks of himself as having been actual possessor. We know that in their case the whole force of the expression lay in the foundation laid for a future manifestation; and he seems to suggest this pplication in his own case in the words "for thou lovedst me before, the foundation of the world." That in divine language a man may be loved before he has any existence, we know from Paul's expression in Ephesians and 1 Tim.: "He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." "According to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." The case of Jeremiah is also very express on this point: "Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee" (Jer. i. 5). That Jesus himself is spoken of in this sense, we have instance in 1 Pet. i. 20: "He verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,"
These instances seem to justify the contention that Christ's meaning was that the glory for which he now prays was the glory the Father purposed for him before the beginning of things -- the more especially as we know that the glory granted to him in answer to his prayer was not a glory that, in the particular form in which it was granted, could have been possessed by him as an actual reality "before the world was" -- viz.: the glorification of the mortal body of the Son of God.
But this is not necessarily inconsistent with the other view to which Dr. Thomas was always inclined to accord weight and prominence, and which it is impossible to dismiss with a full regard to the grounds on which it rests. It is not necessarily an alternate view, but one that may have a place co ordinately with the other: namely, that Jesus being what he was, the "Word made flesh," the manifestation of the God of David in the seed of David, and therefore David's "Lord" -- it is impossible to disconnect his mentality from the Eternal Power in which he was rooted; and that, although as the Son of David and the man Christ Jesus, his existence dates from his conception "of the Holy Spirit," the consciousness within him whose foundation was laid by the Holy Spirit may have reflected previous relations in away that pure earth-borns like ourselves have no experience of. The facts stated in the words "I and my Father are one," and, "the words that I speak are not mine, but the Father's who dwelleth in me," would necessarily carry such an idea, and involve a state of mind requiring expressions to describe it that could not be applicable to us. Only on such a principle does it seem possible to attach a natural meaning to the statement he makes in his prayer: "They (the disciples) have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou did'st send me." And again (previously) "I came forth from the Father and am come into the world: again I leave the world and go unto the Father" (Jno. xvi. 28); and again John's remark -- "Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father ... Jesus knowing ... that he was come from Gad and went to God" (Jno. xiii. 1-3); also the expressions, "I come down from heaven." "Before Abraham was, I am," and his question: "What, and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?" All these expressions imply reminiscence of the preexisting relation of things, which cannot be surprising if we realise that all wisdom and knowledge and memory are stored in the Eternal Father-Spirit of whom Jesus was the expression. It may be there is an ingredient of it in the allusion to the glory had with the Father before the world began. The Father element in Jesus must always be kept in view in judging the expressions that came from his mouth.
Jesus then refers to the nature of the work he had done. "I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest me out of the world." In this we have a glimpse of the inner side of the work of the Gospel: its divine side: its aspect as seen from the standpoint of God and Christ. From this, it is an affair of manifesting God. To man, it may sometimes seem the mere announcement of changes to come: the return of Christ, the immortality of justified man, the setting-up of the Kingdom. But rightly apprehended, all these are the manifesting of God. Without God, they could have no occurrence or meaning. It is to carry out His purpose, to enforce His supremacy, that the performances planned and announced in the Gospel will be carried out. A reception of the truth, therefore, that limits itself to the skeleton facts of the Gospel, is an inadequate reception. The truth, as exhibited in the Bible, has God in its sky like the sun, from whose fructifying beams, all other forms and things derive life and light.
Then, we have the whole process of Gospel enlightenment in a sentence. "I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest me: and they have received them." This comes down to the simplest capacity -- and ought to give peace in a distracted theological age. God gave Christ a message to deliver; Christ delivered it; the message has been preserved in writing; and we have but to make its acquaintance and receive it in order to be in the position of the disciples who surrounded the Lord as he uttered this memorable prayer. We are then included with them in the prayer he prayed on their behalf. "I pray for them ... neither pray I for them alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." To be included in Christ's prayer may seem a light and even sentimental matter at present. It will be apparent as a great and solid privilege when the prayer is answered in its final fulness: 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 has sent me"
This evidently refers to what Paul calls "the day of the manifestation of the sons of God." The world will "believe" when the saints are visibly revealed in the earth in their corporate unity and completeness, under Christ, at "the general assembly and church of the first-born" to whom the wealth and dignity and glory and honour of all the kingdoms of the world will be transferred. The glory of their assembly will be their deathlessness and their absolute unity in mind and nature, caused by the brooding and indwelling among them.of the One Eternal Spirit of Christ, who is "the Lord, the Spirit," through whom they will be one with the Father as he was. Such a body of rulers and governors the world has never seen; strong and glad and beautiful in every faculty, a joy to one another, and a pure blessing to the nations of mankind over whom they will be placed; a perfect satisfaction to Christ, and a praise and a glory to the Father in heaven. The development of such a body was the subject of Christ's prayer. It is a poor view of his words that limits the petition to mental unity among the few and weak disciples at any time living upon the earth during the dark days of probation. Such a unity is doubtless a beautiful thing, but it is never seen to perfection and never among "all" and has never had power to convince an unbelieving world. The unity of an immortal multitude will be a very different thing. It will overawe with its impressiveness, and strike conviction into universal man, and tend to evoke that "glory to God in the highest" which is the first characteristic of the age of blessing which Jesus came to prepare the way for.
Men who do not "receive" the word which Jesus delivered from the Father are not included in the prayer, and consequently can have no place in the glorious community that will be developed in answer to it, because it is only for those who receive his words that he prays. As regards others, he says, "I pray not for the world but for them whom thou hast given me." These are remarkable and terrible words. If Christ pray not for a man, where is he? As a sinner, he has no standing before God. There can be no approach but by sacrifice and priesthood. This is the lesson of the Mosaic Tabernacle, as Well as the express teaching of Christ and the Apostles. It is Christ's appointed part, as "high priest over the house of God," to "make intercession for us according to the will of God" (Heb. iii 6; iv. 14; Rom. viii. 27-34). Where he refuses to perform this part, there can, in the nature of things, be no hope. Here is Christ refusing to pray for the world, or purposely declaring he omits praying for them, which amounts to the same thing. What is tiffs but the condemnation of the world. On what ground? The cause appears towards the close of the prayer: "O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee" (verse 25). In the beginning of the prayer, Jesus had said, "This is eternal life, at they might know Thee, the only true Gad, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." If therefore, the world know not the Father as Jesus says (and as we know is the fact), they are not in the position admitting of the operation of his priesthood and the hope of eternal life. The knowledge of God and submission to Him are the first conditions of human reconciliation. The destroying judgment attendant upon His coming is alleged by Paul to be directed against "them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. i. 8). How far away, then, from the truth as taught by Christ is the theology as well as the philosophy of the present day which obliterates all distinction between the world and His reconciled people. It may seem a narrow view, according to the recognised standards of current human thought, that hope should be limited to those who know God and obey His will as expressed in Christ; but if it is true, what then? The "concensus" of human opinion will not alter it, and the true wisdom lies in the supposed narrowness. The stars and their movements have always been the same, whatever view has prevailed on the earth on the subject; and so eternal truth, resting on the appointment of God, will prevail at the last, whatever unanimity of opinion there may be among men to the contrary.
Of the men who believed on him, Jesus said: "I have given them Thy word and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth." We have in a previous chapter considered why the reception of the word of Christ should be a ground of hatred on the part of the world. That it is so is a matter of universal experience. It might seem to follow that therefore the best thing is for believers to withdraw themselves into the seclusion of separate communities, after the manner of the Mormon settlement or nunneries and monasteries, and some more recent American examples. This part of Christ's prayer is a complete discountenance of this conclusion. It would be very pleasing to retire into the harmonious sphere of love and communion; but it would not serve the object for which men and women are called. It is necessary that Christ's people should remain in the world, though not of it, that they may be tried in the tribulation that comes from contact with it. Their separation is a separation from "the evil" that is in it and not from the forms of life that prevail in it. Faithfulness in this separation is the ground of their final promotion to a state in which there shall "neither be adversary nor evil occurrent;" and there would be no scope for this faithfulness if they were bodily and socially separated from the world as soon as they received the truth. They have to "endure hardness" in obeying the commandments under circumstances of difficulty. The process is painful, but the upshot is unutterably glorious when the short conflict is over: for human life is short; and the welcome seems to come as soon as life has ended, because there is no conscious interval between death and resurrection.
We should, however, fail in rightly reading the lesson of Christ's prayer if we did not observe that, while we are to remain in the world during probation, we are not to be "of it." it may often be difficult for godly men to reconcile the two things: to remain apart from the world while dealing with it: it is so easy to be drawn insensibly into identity with it while living in it. But there must be a line of demarcation, which it is practicable to recognise and observe. We shall gradually learn this line by the means that Jesus immediately indicated in this connection: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." Sanctification or separation from the world is the result of a mental state engendered by the truth. In brief, the truth is the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God. When Jesus says: "Thy word is truth," no doubt he utters what is an abstract proposition taken by itself; as if he had said: "Whatever thou sayest is true." But, taken in its connection, it can only apply to what is revealed; to the word that has been spoken, as incorporate in the Bible. Where the Bible indwells, in the understanding and love thereof, resulting from, and at the same time inducing a loving familiarity with its contents, sanctification prevails. It is a sanctifying book, by universal experience. Men who keep close to it with that accompaniment of prayer which naturally springs from it, will not be long in learning where the line lies that separates them from a "world lying in wickedness," in which they are commanded to live, while, with equal exquisiteness commanded to be separate from it.
"And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world ... and now come I to thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves." This presents to us at once the most sublime, and, for believers, the most painful fact of the present situation: Christ's departure to the Father, leaving us alone and comfortless in the darkness and storm of the present evil world, while he, "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows," basks in the full presence of Eternal Glory, at whose right hand are "pleasures for evermore." We need not trouble ourselves with what may be termed the mechanical bearings of the fact. We cannot apprehend these. We do not know whether Jesus bodily traversed the inconceivable immensities of space to the central throne of Eternal Light and Power; or whether he have but entered the Father's universal presence and become established at the right hand of His power, in the sense of having become assimilated to the Father in the bodily transformation which changed him from flesh to spirit (as seems to be countenanced by the figure of the rent veil -- his flesh: and also by the fact of his personal appearance to Saul of Tarsus some years after his ascension). The subtleties of spirit relation make possible a blending of both ideas, and make it impossible for us to be confident about the ways of God in such depths. But the fact in its practical bearing is plain, that Jesus, in harmony with the foreshadowing of prayer, departed to the Father, and in doing so, went away from the earth, and remains away till the time appointed for his return.
If we could fully open our minds to the greatness of this idea we should never know sorrow: we should be sustained by a perpetual sentiment of joy -- to think that our best friend is closeted -- (as we might say) -- with the Almighty power of the universe, with whom he is our appointed and all-prevailing intercessor; from whom he holds "all power in heaven and earth;" and by whose arrangement of love, he will come forth to bless us with life and peace for evermore. But we are weak and dim-eyed, because of the poverty of our nature, and the darkness of the situation at present prevailing on the earth. Therefore we fail to be as glad as we might. But the morning will come: and when the sun rises, the gladsome warmth and brightness of his living rays will chase the darkness and the sadness for ever away. "Come, Lord Jesus? Come quickly." It was that his disciples might have his joy that he spoke these words So he says, and such is the effect in measure.
We close with the contemplation of these beautiful words: "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: for Thou lovest me before the foundation of the world." This is the end of the matter which will be realized at last. The mortal life of the saints is but a preliminary -- a necessary, developing preparatory preliminary -- but only a preliminary -- to the lasting relation of being to which they are called by the Gospel. The finality -- soon reached in reality, for mortal life is short, and at its end there is no conscious delay in the sequel -- the finality is companionship -- close, loving, and delightful -- with Christ in the glory that is his for ever. The form and locality of this glory the truth teaches us. Away from the earth he will not remain. "I will come again and receive you to myself." With immortality of nature conferred, the cup of life will mantle to the brim with pure and perfect blessing. To witness and partake of the glory of Christ will be "joy unspeakable." The long oppression of evil may crush the very sentiment of joy out of the heart. But this is but for a moment and is a preparation. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. iv. 17).
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