After the general pleas with which Christ recommended his disciples to his Father’s care follow the particular petitions he puts up for them; and, 1. They all relate to spiritual blessings in heavenly things. He does not pray that they might be rich and great in the world, that they might raise estates and get preferments, but that they might be kept from sin, and furnished for their duty, and brought safely to heaven. Note, The prosperity of the soul is the best prosperity; for what relates to this Christ came to purchase and bestow, and so teaches us to seek, in the first place, both for others and for ourselves. 2. They are such blessings as were suited to their present state and case, and their various exigencies and occasions. Note, Christ’s intercession is always pertinent. Our advocate with the Father is acquainted with all the particulars of our wants and burdens, our dangers and difficulties, and knows how to accommodate his intercession to each, as to Peter’s peril, which he himself was not aware of (Luke 22:32), I have prayed for thee. 3. He is large and full in the petitions, orders them before his Father, and fills his mouth with arguments, to teach us fervency and importunity in prayer, to be large in prayer, and dwell upon our errands at the throne of grace, wrestling as Jacob, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
Now the first thing Christ prays for, for his disciples, is their preservation, in John 17:11-16, in order to which he commits them all to his Father’s custody. Keeping supposes danger, and their danger arose from the world, the world wherein they were, the evil of this he begs they might be kept from. Now observe,
I. The request itself: Keep them from the world. There were two ways of their being delivered from the world:—
1. By taking them out of it; and he does not pray that they might be so delivered: I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world; that is,
(1.) “I pray not that they may be speedily removed by death.” If the world will be vexatious to them, the readiest way to secure them would be to hasten them out of it to a better world, that will give them better treatment. Send chariots and horses of fire for them, to fetch them to heaven; Job, Elijah, Jonah, Moses, when that occurred which fretted them, prayed that they might be taken out of the world; but Christ would not pray so for his disciples, for two reasons:—[1.] Because he came to conquer, not to countenance, those intemperate heats and passions which make men impatient of life, and importunate for death. It is his will that we should take up our cross, and not outrun it. [2.] Because he had work for them to do in the world; the world, though sick of them (Acts 22:22), and therefore not worthy of them (Heb. 11:38), yet could ill spare them. In pity therefore to this dark world, Christ would not have these lights removed out of it, but continued in it, especially for the sake of those in the world that were to believe in him through their word. Let not them be taken out of the world when their Master is; they must each in his own order die a martyr, but not till they have finished their testimony. Note, First, The taking of good people out of the world is a thing by no means to be desired, but rather dreaded and laid to heart, Isa. 57:1. Secondly, Though Christ loves his disciples, he does not presently send for them to heaven, as soon as they are effectually called, but leaves them for some time in this world, that they may do good and glorify God upon earth, and be ripened for heaven. Many good people are spared to live, because they can ill be spared to die.
(2.) “I pray not that they may be totally freed and exempted from the troubles of this world, and taken out of the toil and terror of it into some place of ease and safety, there to live undisturbed; this is not the preservation I desire for them.” Non ut omni molestia liberati otium et delicias colant, sed ut inter media pericula salvi tamen maneant Dei auxilio—Not that, being freed from all trouble, they may bask in luxurious ease, but that by the help of God they may be preserved in a scene of danger; so Calvin. Not that they may be kept from all conflict with the world, but that they may not be overcome by it; not that, as Jeremiah wished, they might leave their people, and go from them (Jer. 9:2), but that, like Ezekiel, their faces may be strong against the faces of wicked men, Ezek. 3:8. It is more the honour of a Christian soldier by faith to overcome the world than by a monastical vow to retreat from it; and more for the honour of Christ to serve him in a city than to serve him in a cell.
2. Another way is by keeping them from the corruption that is in the world; and he prays they may be thus kept, John 17:11, 15. Here are three branches of this petition:—
(1.) Holy Father, keep those whom thou hast given me.
[1.] Christ was now leaving them; but let them not think that their defence was departed from them; no, he does here, in their hearing, commit them to the custody of his Father and their Father. Note, It is the unspeakable comfort of all believers that Christ himself has committed them to the care of God. Those cannot but be safe whom the almighty God keeps, and he cannot but keep those whom the Son of his love commits to him, in the virtue of which we may by faith commit the keeping of our souls to God, 1 Pet. 4:19; 2 Tim. 1:12. First, He here puts them under the divine protection, that they may not be run down by the malice of their enemies; that they and all their concerns may be the particular care of the divine Providence: “Keep their lives, till they have done their work; keep their comforts, and let them not be broken in upon by the hardships they meet with; keep up their interest in the world, and let it not sink.” To this prayer is owing the wonderful preservation of the gospel ministry and gospel church in the world unto this day; if God had not graciously kept both, and kept up both, they had been extinguished and lost long ago. Secondly, He puts them under the divine tuition, that they may not themselves run away from their duty, nor be led aside by the treachery of their own hearts: “Keep them in their integrity, keep them disciples, keep them close to their duty.” We need God’s power not only to put us into a state of grace, but to keep us in it. See, John 10:28, 29; 1 Pet. 1:15.
[2.] The titles he gives to him he prays to, and them he prays for, enforce the petition. First, He speaks to God as a holy Father. In committing ourselves and others to the divine care, we may take encouragement, 1. From the attribute of his holiness, for this is engaged for the preservation of his holy ones; he hath sworn by his holiness, Ps. 89:35. If he be a holy God and hate sin, he will make those holy that are his, and keep them from sin, which they also hate and dread as the greatest evil. 2. From this relation of a Father, wherein he stands to us through Christ. If he be a Father, he will take care of his own children, will teach them and keep them; who else should? Secondly, He speaks of them as those whom the Father had given him. What we receive as our Father’s gifts, we may comfortably remit to our Father’s care. “Father, keep the graces and comforts thou hast given me; the children thou hast given me; the ministry I have received.”
(2.) Keep them through thine own name. That is, [1.] Keep them for thy name’s sake; so some. “Thy name and honour are concerned in their preservation as well as mine, for both will suffer by it if they either revolt or sink.” The Old Testament saints often pleaded, for thy name’s sake; and those may with comfort plead it that are indeed more concerned for the honour of God’s name than for any interest of their own. [2.] Keep them in thy name; so others; the original is so, en to onomati. “Keep them in the knowledge and fear of thy name; keep them in the profession and service of thy name, whatever it cost them. Keep them in the interest of thy name, and let them ever be faithful to this; keep them in thy truths, in thine ordinances, in the way of thy commandments.” [3.] Keep them by or through thy name; so others. “Keep them by thine own power, in thine own hand; keep them thyself, undertake for them, let them be thine own immediate care. Keep them by those means of preservation which thou hast thyself appointed, and by which thou hast made thyself known. Keep them by thy word and ordinances; let thy name be their strong tower, thy tabernacle their pavilion.”
(3.) Keep them from the evil, or out of the evil. He had taught them to pray daily, Deliver us from evil, and this would encourage them to pray. [1.] “Keep them from the evil one, the devil and all his instruments; that wicked one and all his children. Keep them from Satan as a tempter, that either he may not have leave to sift them, or that their faith may not fail. Keep them from him as a destroyer, that he may not drive them to despair.” [2.] “Keep them from the evil thing, that is sin; from every thing that looks like it, or leads to it. Keep them, that they do no evil,” 2 Cor. 13:7. Sin is that evil which, above any other, we should dread and deprecate. [3.] “Keep them from the evil of the world, and of their tribulation in it, so that it may have no sting in it, no malignity;” not that they might be kept from affliction, but kept through it, that the property of their afflictions might be so altered as that there might be no evil in them, nothing to them any harm.
II. The reasons with which he enforces these requests for their preservation, which are five:—
1. He pleads that hitherto he had kept them (John 17:12): “While I was with them in the world, I have kept them in thy name, in the true faith of the gospel and the service of God; those that thou gavest me for my constant attendants I have kept, they are all safe, and none of them missing, none of them revolted nor ruined, but the son of perdition; he is lost, that the scripture might be fulfilled.” Observe,
(1.) Christ’s faithful discharge of his undertaking concerning his disciples: While he was with them, he kept them, and his care concerning them was not in vain. He kept them in God’s name, preserved them from falling into any dangerous errors or sins, from striking in with the Pharisees, who would have compassed sea and land to make proselytes of them; he kept them from deserting him, and returning to the little all they had left for him; he had them still under his eye and care when he sent them to peach; went not his heart with them? Many that followed him awhile took offence at something or other, and went off; but he kept the twelve that they should not go away. He kept them from falling into the hands of persecuting enemies that sought their lives; kept them when he surrendered himself, John 18:9. While he was with them he kept them in a visible manner by instructions till sounding in their ears, miracles still done before their eyes; when he was gone from them, they must be kept in a more spiritual manner. Sensible comforts and supports are sometimes given and sometimes withheld; but, when they are withdrawn, yet they are not left comfortless. What Christ here says of his immediate followers is true of all the saints while they are here in this world; Christ keeps them in God’s name. It is implied, [1.] That they are weak, and cannot keep themselves; their own hands are not sufficient for them. [2.] That they are, in God’s account, valuable and worth the keeping; precious in his sight and honourable; his treasure, his jewels. [3.] That their salvation is designed, for to this it is that they are kept, 1 Pet. 1:5. As the wicked are reserved for the day of evil, so the righteous are preserved for the day of bliss. [4.] That they are the charge of the Lord Jesus; for as his charge he keeps them, and exposed himself like the good shepherd for the preservation of the sheep.
(2.) The comfortable account he gives of his undertaking: None of them is lost. Note, Jesus Christ will certainly keep all that were given to him, so that none of them shall be totally and finally lost; they may think themselves lost, and may be nearly lost (in imminent peril); but it is the Father’s will that he should lose none, and none he will lose (John 6:39); so it will appear when they come all together, and none of them shall be wanting.
(3.) A brand put upon Judas, as none of those whom he had undertaken to keep. He was among those that were given to Christ, but not of them. He speaks of Judas as already lost, for he had abandoned the society of his Master and his fellow-disciples, and abandoned himself to the devil’s guidance, and in a little time would go to his own place; he is as good as lost. But the apostasy and ruin of Judas were no reproach at all to his Master, or his family; for, [1.] He was the son of perdition, and therefore not one of those that were given to Christ to be kept. He deserved perdition, and God left him to throw himself headlong into it. He was the son of the destroyer, as Cain, who was of that wicked one. That great enemy whom the Lord will consume is called a son of perdition, because he is a man of sin, 2 Thess. 2:3. It is an awful consideration that one of the apostles proved a son of perdition. No man’s place or name in the church, no man’s privileges or opportunities of getting grace, no man’s profession or external performances, will secure him from ruin, if his heart be not right with God; nor are any more likely to prove sons of perdition at last, after a plausible course of profession, than those that like Judas love the bag; but Christ’s distinguishing Judas from those that were given him (for ei me is adversative, not exceptive) intimates that the truth and true religion ought not to suffer for the treachery of those that are false to it, 1 John 2:19. [2.] The scripture was fulfilled; the sin of Judas was foreseen of God’s counsel and foretold in his word, and the event would certainly follow after the prediction as a consequent, though it cannot be said necessarily to follow from it as an effect. See Ps. 41:9; 69:25; 109:8. We should be amazed at the treachery of apostates, were we not told of it before.
2. He pleads that he was now under a necessity of leaving them, and could no longer watch over them in the way that he had hitherto done (John 17:11): “Keep them now, that I may not lose the labour I bestowed upon them while I was with them. Keep them, that they may be one with us as we are with each other.” We shall have occasion to speak of this, John 17:21. But see here,
(1.) With what pleasure he speaks of his own departure. He expresses himself concerning it with an air of triumph and exultation, with reference both to the world he left and the world he removed to. [1.] “Now I am no more in the world. Now farewell to this provoking troublesome world. I have had enough of it, and now the welcome hour is at hand when I shall be no more in it. Now that I have finished the work I had to do in it, I have done with it; nothing remains now but to hasten out of it as fast as I can.” Note, It should be a pleasure to those that have their home in the other world to think of being no more in this world; for when we have done what we have to do in this world, and are made meet for that, what is there here that should court our stay? When we receive a sentence of death within ourselves, with what a holy triumph should we say, “Now I am no more in this world, this dark deceitful world, this poor empty world, this tempting defiling world; no more vexed with its thorns and briars, no more endangered by its nets and snares; now I shall wander no more in this howling wilderness, be tossed no more on this stormy sea; now I am no more in this world, but can cheerfully quit it, and give it a final farewell.” [2.] Now I come to thee. To get clear of the world is but the one half of the comfort of a dying Christ, of a dying Christian; the far better half is to think of going to the Father, to sit down in the immediate, uninterrupted, and everlasting enjoyment of him. Note, Those who love God cannot but be pleased to think of coming to him, though it be through the valley of the shadow of death. When we go, to be absent from the body, it is to be present with the Lord, like children fetched home from school to their father’s house. “Now come I to thee whom I have chosen and served, and whom my soul thirsteth after; to thee the fountain of light and life, the crown and centre of bliss and joy; now my longings shall be satisfied, my hopes accomplished, my happiness completed, for now come I to thee.”
(2.) With what a tender concern he speaks of those whom he left behind: “But these are in the world. I have found what an evil world it is, what will become of these dear little ones that must stay in it? Holy Father, keep them; they will want my presence, let them have thine. They have now more need than ever to be kept, for I am sending them out further into the world than they have yet ventured; they must launch forth into the deep, and have business to do in these great waters, and will be lost if thou do not keep them.” Observe here, [1.] That, when our Lord Jesus was going to the Father, he carried with him a tender concern for his own that are in the world; and continued to compassionate them. He bears their names upon his breast-plate, nay, upon his heart, and has graven them with the nails of his cross upon the palms of his hands; and when he is out of their sight they are not out of his, much less out of his mind. We should have such a pity for those that are launching out into the world when we are got almost through it, and for those that are left behind in it when we are leaving it. [2.] That, when Christ would express the utmost need his disciples had of divine preservation, he only says, They are in the world; this bespeaks danger enough to those who are bound for heaven, whom a flattering world would divert and seduce, and a malignant world would hate and persecute.
3. He pleads what a satisfaction it would be to them to know themselves safe, and what a satisfaction it would be to him to see them easy: I speak this, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves, John 17:13. Observe,
(1.) Christ earnestly desired the fulness of the joy of his disciples, for it is his will that they should rejoice evermore. He was leaving them in tears and troubles, and yet took effectual care to fulfil their joy. When they thought their joy in him was brought to an end, then was it advanced nearer to perfection than ever it had been, and they were fuller of it. We are here taught, [1.] To found our joy in Christ: “It is my joy, joy of my giving, or rather joy that I am the matter of.” Christ is a Christian’s joy, his chief joy. Joy in the world is withering with it; joy in Christ is everlasting, like him. [2.] To build up our joy with diligence; for it is the duty as well as privilege of all true believers; no part of the Christian life is pressed upon us more earnestly, Phil. 3:1; 4:4. [3.] To aim at the perfection of this joy, that we may have it fulfilled in us, for this Christ would have.
(2.) In order hereunto, he did thus solemnly commit them to his Father’s care and keeping and took them for witnesses that he did so: These things I speak in the world, while I am yet with them in the world. His intercession in heaven for their preservation would have been as effectual in itself; but saying this in the world would be a greater satisfaction and encouragement to them, and would enable them to rejoice in tribulation. Note, [1.] Christ has not only treasured up comforts for his people, in providing for their future welfare, but has given out comforts to them, and said that which will be for their present satisfaction. He here condescended in the presence of his disciples to publish his last will and testament, and (which many a testator is shy of) lets them know what legacies he had left them, and how well they were secured, that they might have strong consolation. [2.] Christ’s intercession for us is enough to fulfil or joy in him; nothing more effectual to silence all our fears and mistrusts, and to furnish us with strong consolation, than this, that he always appears in the presence of God for us; therefore the apostle puts a yea rather upon this, Rom. 8:34. And see Heb. 7:25.
4. He pleads the ill usage they were likely to meet with in the world, for his sake (John 17:14): “I have given them thy word to be published to the world, and they have received it, have believed it themselves, and accepted the trust of transmitting it to the world; and therefore the world hath hated them, as also because they are not of the world, any more than I.” Here we have,
(1.) The world’s enmity to Christ’s followers. While Christ was with them, though as yet they had given but little opposition to the world, yet it hates them, much more would it do so when by their more extensive preaching of the gospel they would turn the world upside down. “Father, stand their friend,” says Christ, “for they are likely to have many enemies; let them have thy love, for the world’s hatred is entailed upon them. In the midst of those fiery darts, let them be compassed with thy favour as with a shield.” It is God’s honour to take part with the weaker side, and to help the helpless. Lord, be merciful to them, for men would swallow them up.
(2.) The reasons of this enmity, which strengthen the plea. [1.] It is implied that one reason is because they had received the word of God as it was sent them by the hand of Christ, when the greatest part of the world rejected it, and set themselves against those who were the preachers and professors of it. Note, Those that receive Christ’s good will and good word must expect the world’s ill will and ill word. Gospel ministers have been in a particular manner hated by the world, because they call men out of the world, and separate them from it, and teach them not to conform to it, and so condemn the world. “Father, keep them for it is for thy sake that they are exposed; they are sufferers for thee.” Thus the psalmist pleads, For thy sake I have borne reproach, Ps. 69:7. Note, Those that keep the word of Christ’s patience are entitled to special protection in the hour of temptation, Rev. 3:10. That cause which makes a martyr may well make a joyful sufferer. [2.] Another reason is more express; the world hates them, because they are not of the world. Those to whom the word of Christ comes in power are not of the world, for it has this effect upon all that receive it in the love of it that it weans them from the wealth of the world, and turns them against the wickedness of the world, and therefore the world bears them a grudge.
5. He pleads their conformity to himself in a holy non-conformity to the world (John 17:16): “Father, keep them, for they are of my spirit and mind, they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Those may in faith commit themselves to God’s custody, (1.) Who are as Christ was in this world, and tread in his steps. God will love those that are like Christ. (2.) Who do not engage themselves in the world’s interest, nor devote themselves to its service. Observe, [1.] That Jesus Christ was not of this world; he never had been of it, and least of all now that he was upon the point of leaving it. This intimates, First, His state; he was none of the world’s favourites nor darlings, none of its princes nor grandees; worldly possessions he had none, not even where to lay his head; nor worldly power, he was no judge nor divider. Secondly, His Spirit; he was perfectly dead to the world, the prince of this world had nothing in him, the things of this world were nothing to him; not honour, for he made himself of no reputation; not riches, for for our sakes he became poor; not pleasures, for he acquainted himself with grief. See John 8:23. [2.] That therefore true Christians are not of this world. The Spirit of Christ in them is opposite to the spirit of the world. First, It is their lot to be despised by the world; they are not in favour with the world any more than their Master before them was. Secondly, It is their privilege to be delivered from the world; as Abraham out of the land of his nativity. Thirdly, It is their duty and character to be dead to the world. Their most pleasing converse is, and should be, with another world, and their prevailing concern about the business of that world, not of this. Christ’s disciples were weak, and had many infirmities; yet this he could say for them, They were not of the world, not of the earth, and therefore he recommends them to the care of Heaven.