Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION OF JOHN 13-17.
By Rev. D. J. Burrill, D.D., LL.D.
THE SACERDOTAL PRAYER.
No man ever prayed as Jesus did. He was in such vital union with the Father that prayer was second nature to Him. Nay, rather it was first nature to Him. He knew how to commune with God.
On one occasion, being overheard by His disciples, who perceived that He was possessed of a secret unknown to them, they said, "Lord, teach us how to pray." His answer was, "After this manner pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earthy at it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen''
We are accustomed to speak of this as "The Lord’s prayer." It was, however, not the Lord’s prayer, but our prayer. It was a prayer in which He Himself could scarcely join; because His relation with the Father was quite different from ours. He nowhere includes Himself in the same sort of filiation as ours; since He was "the only-begotten Son." The real Lord’s Prayer is that which is recorded here, in the seventeenth chapter of John. This is a prayer which none but He could make; nay, more, which no mortal man could offer without such a measure of presumption as would amount to blasphemy against God.
It is to this sacerdotal prayer that our thought is now directed: "And Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, Father, the hour is come."
It was the last night of His sojourn on earth. He had preached His last sermon to them; had presided at the last supper; had given them His last bequest, saying, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you"; and now He makes His last prayer for them.
"I pray not for the world," He says, "but for them which thou hast given me." He then proceeds to ask four things in their behalf; and in our behalf, also, for He distinctly makes mention of "them also which shall believe on me through their word." His great prayer includes all true Christians to the end of time.
In these four petitions we have a summary of all that makes life worth living or heaven worth longing for.
1. That they may be Kept.
"Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world; but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
He had Himself been sent into the world to accomplish a definite task; and He was not to depart out of the world until He could say, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." As the Father had sent Him into the world, so He sent His disciples into the very thick of its toil and conflict to remain there until their work was accomplished. In the meantime He said, "Whither I go ye cannot come"; but in due time, having been faithful, they were to follow Him.
He foresaw the trials and persecutions that awaited them. The sword was being sharpened; the faggots were being kindled for them. He heard the roaring of the lions in the amphitheatre, and, by His effectual intercession, prepared them to meet it In that company in the upper room was James, who was presently to be slain with the sword; and most of the others, if not all, were destined to climb to heaven by the steep ascent of martyrdom. He did not pray that they might be kept alive: for life is not worth living when faith and honour die. His desire was that they might be kept faithful unto death.
He foresaw also the divers temptations that awaited them; temptations to turn aside from the straight path of righteousness into the byways of sin; temptations to swerve from their loyalty to truth into the easy follies of unbelief. For false teachers were to "creep in" among them, whose clever presentations of error would be calculated to deceive the very elect. He did not pray that they might not be exposed to these temptations; but that, being so exposed, they might be kept from wandering into sin and unbelief.
Oh, how much this prayer of the Master is needed to-day! We are living in a very cyclone of controversy, and in constant danger of being swept away from our moorings by adverse winds. There is not a single fundamental truth of the gospel which is not denied or speciously explained away in these days; the Deity of Jesus, the inspiration of the Scriptures, the reality of the supernatural, the very personality of God!
The two pieces of divine armour which we most need, under these circumstances, are the girdle of truth and the sandals of the gospel. It was the spiked sandals of a Roman knight that enabled him, when at close quarters with his adversary, "to withstand, and having done all to stand."
But the doctrine of the "perseverance of saints" rests on no frail foundation of human ability. We are saved not by our feeble hold on Christ, but by His mighty grip on us; as He said, "No man shall pluck you out of my hand." Wherefore, let us lean hard and trust to His great promise —
2. That they might be Sanctified.
The word sanctification is used in two different senses. It refers, on the one hand, to growth in holiness. A Christian is expected to grow every day; not to stand still, marking time, but "so to live that each to-morrow finds him further than to-day." We are to add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly-kindness, and to brotherly-kindness charity; that so we may increase in the practical knowledge of Christ. This is character building: to be constantly growing more like Him. And to that end we have received the immediate presence and power of the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier. He is not called the Holy Ghost because He is holier than either of the other persons of the Godhead, but because it is His official function to impart and cultivate holiness. Wherefore our sanctification is measured by our close and vital acquaintance with Him.
But sanctification means also consecration; that is, devotion to duty. So Jesus says, "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth"; by which He means that He sets before them an example of perfect devotion to duty. And He indicates how this is to be accomplished in us. The agent of sanctification, in both senses, is the Holy Spirit, and the instrument used by Him is "the truth."
We are left in no doubt as to where this truth is to be found; for Jesus adds, "Thy word is truth." His reference is clearly to the Scriptures. I am aware that an attempt is made by those who reject the Scriptures to explain this away by saying that He was thinking of all the manifestations of Deity in the world about us. But here the wish is father to the thought. The reference of Jesus is not to God’s voice in the rolling of thunder and the rippling of brooks, but to His revealed word; and this is in line with all His other teachings. He was always true to the Bible; He knew it, believed it, loved it, preached it, practised it, and commended it to those who followed Him. He never in a single word or syllable intimated that He questioned its inspiration and entire trustworthiness. It is respectfully submitted to the consideration of His professed followers, that the Book which was good enough for Him should be good enough for us.
The pathway of sanctification is thus made clear. If we profess to follow Christ, we must allow Him to prescribe for us. He breathed on His disciples, saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." He pointed to the Scriptures, saying, "Search them; for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and those are they which testify of me." We have the Bible; and we have the Holy Spirit to illuminate its pages and anoint our eyes with eye-salve that we may see; and we have, furthermore, the sustaining power of this great prayer of Jesus, "Sanctify them by thy truth."
3. That they might be Unified.
"I pray for them; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us."
It is a grave misinterpretation and perversion of this prayer to suggest that Jesus had in mind a heterogeneous union of all sorts of people, wherein Jews and Christians, Moslems, Confucianists, Buddhists and fire-worshippers meet together in a common fellowship under the apparent assumption that sincerity in error is as admirable as devotion to truth. The prayer of Jesus, on the contrary, was for the harmonious unity of all who sincerely believe in Him.
Nor did He pray that these might be one in an unconditioned oneness, but that they might be one after the similitude of the ineffable Trinity; "as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us." The union thus indicated is obviously not a matter of mere sentiment, nor to be accomplished with iron clamps. It is a union of life and purpose, a substantial union, a union for the accomplishment of a definite purpose in the salvation of men.
We sometimes lament the fact that there are different denominations of believers in Christ. But this is after the analogy of Nature. "Birds of a feather flock together"; and there are "many men of many minds." We are made to segregate; and it matters not how we differ in nonessentials so long as there is a substantial unity of life and purpose among us.
At the beginning of the Civil War in America there was a call for seventy-five thousand troops to serve for ninety days. The troops thus enlisted were organised into companies, regiments, divisions and army corps. There were infantry and calvary and artillery. Had they been massed and hurled at once with a common purpose against the enemy the war might have been brought to a speedy close; but they were stationed all over the country in scattered camps. Then came years of sporadic fighting: till at length Grant appeared with a conviction that the whole army must be brought together for one final blow. He meant to save the Union; and there seemed no other way. The order went out accordingly, and a million men turned their faces toward a single point. All the lines converged at Appomattox. Grant was there with his formidable army; Sheridan was hastening from the North and Sherman from the South. The result was a foregone conclusion when the lines closed in.
It was with a like purpose in mind that Jesus prayed for the unification of His Church, "that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." The sending of Christ was for the saving of the world; and the sending of His disciples was to the same end; that is, to bring all men to the knowledge of the saving grace of God. "As the Father sent me into the world," He said, "so I have sent you." Never will the world believe in the great purpose of Jesus until all His disciples, moved by a common impulse, shall advance in solid phalanx to proclaim His gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth.
4. That they might be Glorified.
"Father, I will1 that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou has given me." And here we reach the stupendous climax of this mighty sacerdotal prayer. The words of Jesus at this point are conclusive with respect to two matters. On the one hand, they prove that Jesus was either what He claimed to be, to wit, the onlybegotten and coequal Son of God, or else He was justly charged with blasphemy against God. For, observe. He does not ask this thing of the Father, but wills it! Out of His own authority, the exousia which was "from within," He wills it ! As the Eternal Son, He wills it ! Think of a mere man, though he were "the best of men," looking up to heaven and speaking in this way.
And observe also His reference to "the glory which he had with the Father before the world was." He claims not only to have been pre-existent, but to be a sempiternal sharer in the glory of God! He elsewhere announced His purpose of returning, after He should have finished His redemptive work, to reassume "the glory which he had with the Father before the world was" !
But His words suggest another important truth, to wit, that His intercessory prayer on this occasion was but the beginning of an eternal intercession in behalf of those who follow Him. "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." In that same interview with His disciples in the upper room He said, "I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also." He is thus preparing us for a prepared place. He has entered upon His glory, and proposes that His faithful followers shall not only behold, but participate in it
On one occasion His disciples caught a glimpse of that glory. It was on the Mount of Transfiguration, where "the fashion of his countenance was changed, and his raiment became white and dazzling." For a moment His homespun fluttered aside and revealed the King; but how, think you, will He appear when we shall see Him as He is? Here is something to dream about. Surely a great surprise awaits us.
How natural it was, and how human, that Jesus should offer this prayer. The disciples had known Him in His humiliation; He meant that they should also behold Him in His glory. They had seen Him clothed in homespun; He wanted them to see Him arrayed in light, and dwelling in glory unapproachable. They had seen Him in the workshop, with chips and shavings about His feet and the implements of His trade on the bench before Him; He wanted them to see Him in the palaces where He had dwelt before the world was. They had seen Him on His weary journeys followed by a humble retinue of fishermen; He wanted them to see Him with legions of angels and archangels waiting to do His holy will. They had seen Him in the Judgment Hall, scourged and spit upon, wearing the cast-off purple of a petty magistrate, with an impotent reed in His hand; He wanted them to see Him surrounded by a great multitude that no man can number, ascribing to Him, with a voice like the sound of many waters, honour, and glory, and power, and dominion for ever and ever. They had seen Him lifted up in the mortal anguish of the Cross; He wanted them to see Him lifted up above all principalities and powers, as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Nor was this merely His desire, but His imperative purpose. "I will," He said, "that they may be with me where I am !" There can be no thwarting His will. We shall, therefore, behold Him with these eyes.
One thing more, and here is a matter for serious consideration: this prayer of Jesus was only for those who love and follow Him. "I pray not for the world," He said, "but for them which thou hast given me."
On other occasions He did pray for the world. His advent was a demonstration of His love toward all the children of men. His life was a long prayer for sinners. His death was a mighty prayer for salvation to the uttermost. It had been written of Him, centuries before: "Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." On the Cross, with His pierced hands outstretched. He offered that petition, "Give me the heathen for my inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for my possession !" This was a plea for all humanity; which in the fulness of time shall be answered, when the nations shall come flocking to Him as doves to their windows, and He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. Oh yes, He prayed for the world. He prayed for all nonbelievers to the end of time when He cried, "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do." But on this occasion, in the upper room, His prayer was only in behalf of those who loved Him.
Oh, the blessedness of being included in the prayer of Christ ! It makes us strong and patient, and hopeful in suffering and service, to know that He thus ever liveth to make intercession for us.
1 The rendering of these words in the Revised Version, "Father, I desire," is not to my mind sufficiently strong. Thelo means more than "I desire/’ I cannot conceive how the Revisers could justify it.