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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–19
Verses 17–19

The next thing he prayed for for them was that they might be sanctified; not only kept from evil, but made good.

I. Here is the petition (John 17:17): Sanctify them through thy truth, through thy word, for thy word is truth; it is true—it is truth itself. He desires they may be sanctified,

1. As Christians. Father, make them holy, and this will be their preservation, 1 Thess. 5:23. Observe here,

(1.) The grace desired—sanctification. The disciples were sanctified, for they were not of the world; yet he prays, Father sanctify them, that is, [1.] “Confirm the work of sanctification in them, strengthen their faith, inflame their good affections, rivet their good resolutions.” [2.] “Carry on that good work in them, and continue it; let the light shine more and more.” [3.] “Complete it, crown it with the perfection of holiness; sanctify them throughout and to the end.” Note, First, It is the prayer of Christ for all that are his that they may be sanctified; because he cannot for shame own them as his, either here or hereafter, either employ them in his work or present them to his Father, if they be not sanctified. Secondly, Those that through grace are sanctified have need to be sanctified more and more. Even disciples must pray for sanctifying grace; for, if he that was the author of the good work be not the finisher of it, we are undone. Not to go forward is to go backward; he that is holy must be holy still, more holy still, pressing forward, soaring upward, as those that have not attained. Thirdly, It is God that sanctifies as well as God that justified, 2 Cor. 5:5. Fourthly, It is an encouragement to us, in our prayers for sanctifying grace, that it is what Christ intercedes for for us.

(2.) The means of conferring this grace—through thy truth, thy word is truth. Not that the Holy One of Israel is hereby limited to means, but in the counsel of peace among other things it was settled and agreed, [1.] That all needful truth should be comprised and summed up in the word of God. Divine revelation, as it now stands in the written word, is not only pure truth without mixture, but entire truth without deficiency. [2.] That this word of truth should be the outward and ordinary means of our sanctification; not of itself, for then it would always sanctify, but as the instrument which the Spirit commonly uses in beginning and carrying on that good work; it is the seed of the new birth (1 Pet. 1:23), and the food of the new life, 1 Pet. 2:1, 2.

2. As ministers. “Sanctify them, set them apart for thyself and service; let their call to the apostleship be ratified in heaven.” Prophets were said to be sanctified, Jer. 1:5. Priests and Levites were so. Sanctify them; that is, (1.) “Qualify them for the office, with Christian graces and ministerial gifts, to make them able ministers of the New Testament.” (2.) “Separate them to the office, Rom. 1:1. I have called them, they have consented; Father, say Amen to it.” (3.) “Own them in the office; let thy hand go along with them; sanctify them by or in thy truth, as truth is opposed to figure and shadow; sanctify them really, not ritually and ceremonially, as the Levitical priests were, by anointing and sacrifice. Sanctify them to thy truth, the word of thy truth, to be the preachers of thy truth to the world; as the priests were sanctified to serve at the altar, so let them be to preach the gospel.” 1 Cor. 9:13, 14. Note, [1.] Jesus Christ intercedes for his ministers with a particular concern, and recommends to his Father’s grace those stars he carries in his right hand. [2.] The great thing to be asked of God for gospel ministers is that they may be sanctified, effectually separated from the world, entirely devoted to God, and experimentally acquainted with the influence of that word upon their own hearts which they preach to others. Let them have the Urim and Thummim, light and integrity.

II. We have here two pleas or arguments to enforce the petition for the disciples’ sanctification:—

1. The mission they had from him (John 17:18): “As thou hast sent me into the world, to be thine ambassador to the children of men, so now that I am recalled have I sent them into the world, as my delegates.” Now here,

(1.) Christ speaks with great assurance of his own mission: Thou hast sent me into the world. The great author of the Christian religion had his commission and instructions from him who is the origin and object of all religion. He was sent of God to say what he said, and do what he did, and be what he is to those that believe on him; which was his comfort in his undertaking, and may be ours abundantly in our dependence upon him; his record was on high, for thence his mission was.

(2.) He speaks with great satisfaction of the commission he had given his disciples “So have I sent them on the same errand, and to carry on the same design;” to preach the same doctrine that he preached, and to confirm it with the same proofs, with a charge likewise to commit to other faithful men that which was committed to them. He gave them their commission (John 20:21) with a reference to his own, and it magnifies their office that it comes from Christ, and that there is some affinity between the commission given to the ministers of reconciliation and that given to the Mediator; he is called an apostle (Heb. 3:1), a minister (Rom. 15:8), a messenger, Mal. 3:1. Only they are sent as servants, he as a Son. Now this comes in here as a reason, [1.] Why Christ was concerned so much for them, and laid their case so near his heart; because he had himself put them into a difficult office, which required great abilities for the due discharge of it. Note, Whom Christ sends he will stand by, and interest himself in those that are employed for him; what he calls us out to he will fit us out for, and bear us up in. [2.] Why he committed them to his Father; because he was concerned in their cause, their mission being in prosecution of his, and as it were an assignment out of it. Christ received gifts for men (Ps. 68:18), and then gave them to men (Eph. 4:8), and therefore prays aid of his Father to warrant and uphold those gifts, and confirm his grant of them. The Father sanctified him when he sent him into the world, John 10:36. Now, they being sent as he was, let them also be sanctified.

2. The merit he had for them is another thing here pleaded (John 17:19): For their sakes I sanctify myself. Here is, (1.) Christ’s designation of himself to the work and office of Mediator: I sanctified myself. He entirely devoted himself to the undertaking, and all the parts of it, especially that which he was now going about—the offering up of himself without spot unto God, by the eternal Spirit. He, as the priest and altar, sanctified himself as the sacrifice. When he said, Father, glorify thy name—Father, thy will be done—Father, I commit my spirit into thy hands, he paid down the satisfaction he had engaged to make, and so sanctified himself. This he pleads with his Father, for his intercession is made in the virtue of his satisfaction; by his own blood he entered into the holy place (Heb. 9:12), as the high priest, on the day of atonement, sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice at the same time that he burnt incense within the veil, Lev. 16:12, 14. (2.) Christ’s design of kindness to his disciples herein; it is for their sakes, that they may be sanctified, that is, that they may be martyrs; so some. “I sacrifice myself, that they may be sacrificed to the glory of God and the church’s good.” Paul speaks of his being offered, Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6. Whatever there is in the death of the saints that is precious in the sight of the Lord, it is owing to the death of the Lord Jesus. But I rather take it more generally, that they may be saints and ministers, duly qualified and accepted of God. [1.] The office of the ministry is the purchase of Christ’s blood, and one of the blessed fruits of his satisfaction, and owes its virtue and value to Christ’s merit. The priests under the law were consecrated with the blood of bulls and goats, but gospel ministers with the blood of Jesus. [2.] The real holiness of all good Christians is the fruit of Christ’s death, by which the gift of the Holy Ghost was purchased; he gave himself for his church, to sanctify it, Eph. 5:25, 26. And he that designed the end designed also the means, that they might be sanctified by the truth, the truth which Christ came into the world to bear witness to and died to confirm. The word of truth receives its sanctifying virtue and power from the death of Christ. Some read it, that they may be sanctified in truth, that is, truly; for as God must be served, so, in order to this, we must be sanctified, in the spirit, and in truth. And this Christ has prayed for, for all that are his; for this is his will, even their sanctification, which encourages them to pray for it,