Next to their purity he prays for their unity; for the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable; and amity is amiable indeed when it is like the ointment on Aaron’s holy head, and the dew on Zion’s holy hill. Observe,
I. Who are included in this prayer (John 17:20): “Not these only, not these only that are now my disciples” (the eleven, the seventy, with others, men and women that followed him when he was here on earth), “but for those also who shall believe on me through their word, either preached by them in their own day or written by them for the generations to come; I pray for them all, that they all may be one in their interest in this prayer, and may all receive benefit by it.” Note, here, 1. Those, and those only, are interested in the mediation of Christ, that do, or shall, believe in him. This is that by which they are described, and it comprehends all the character and duty of a Christian. They that lived then, saw and believed, but they in after ages have not seen, and yet have believed. 2. It is through the word that souls are brought to believe on Christ, and it is for this end that Christ appointed the scriptures to be written, and a standing ministry to continue in the church, while the church stands, that is, while the world stands, for the raising up of a seed. 3. It is certainly and infallibly known to Christ who shall believe on him. He does not here pray at a venture, upon a contingency depending on the treacherous will of man, which pretends to be free, but by reason of sin is in bondage with its children; no, Christ knew very well whom he prayed for, the matter was reduced to a certainty by the divine prescience and purpose; he knew who were given him, who being ordained to eternal life, were entered in the Lamb’s book, and should undoubtedly believe, Acts 13:48. 4. Jesus Christ intercedes not only for great and eminent believers, but for the meanest and weakest; not for those only that are to be employed in the highest post of trust and honour in his kingdom, but for all, even those that in the eye of the world are inconsiderable. As the divine providence extends itself to the meanest creature, so does the divine grace to the meanest Christian. The good Shepherd has an eye even to the poor of the flock. 5. Jesus Christ in his mediation had an actual regard to those of the chosen remnant that were yet unborn, the people that should be created (Ps. 22:31), the other sheep which he must yet bring. Before they are formed in the womb he knows them (Jer. 1:5), and prayers are filed in heaven for them beforehand, by him who declareth the end from the beginning, and calleth things that are not as though they were.
II. What is intended in this prayer (John 17:21): That they all may be one. The same was said before (John 17:11), that they may be one as we are, and again, John 17:22. The heart of Christ was much upon this. Some think that the oneness prayed for in John 17:11 has special reference to the disciples as ministers and apostles, that they might be one in their testimony to Christ; and that the harmony of the evangelists, and concurrence of the first preachers of the gospel, are owing to this prayer. Let them be not only of one heart, but of one mouth, speaking the same thing. The unity of the gospel ministers is both the beauty and strength of the gospel interest. But it is certain that the oneness prayed for in John 17:21 respects all believers. It is the prayer of Christ for all that are his, and we may be sure it is an answered prayer—that they all may be one, one in us (John 17:21), one as e are one (John 17:22), made perfect in one, John 17:23. It includes three things:—
1. That they might all be incorporated in one body. “Father, look upon them all as one, and ratify that great charter by which they are embodied as one church. Though they live in distant places, from one end of heaven to the other, and in several ages, from the beginning to the close of time, and so cannot have any personal acquaintance or correspondence with each other, yet let them be united in me their common head.” As Christ died, so he prayed, to gather them all in one, John 11:52; Eph. 1:10.
2. That they might all be animated by one Spirit. This is plainly implied in this—that they may be one in us. Union with the Father and Son is obtained and kept up only by the Holy Ghost. He that is joined to the Lord in one spirit, 1 Cor. 6:17. Let them all be stamped with the same image and superscription, and influenced by the same power.
3. That they might all be knit together in the bond of love and charity, all of one heart. That they all may be one, (1.) In judgment and sentiment; not in every little thing—this is neither possible nor needful, but in the great things of God, and in them, by the virtue of this prayer, they are all agreed—that God’s favour is better than life—that sin is the worst of evils, Christ the best of friends—that there is another life after this, and the like. (2.) In disposition and inclination. All that are sanctified have the same divine nature and image; they have all a new heart, and it is one heart. (3.) They are all one in their designs and aims. Every true Christian, as far as he is so, eyes the glory of God as his highest end, and the glory of heaven as his chief good. (4.) They are all one in their desires and prayers; though they differ in words and the manner of expressions, yet, having received the same spirit of adoption, and observing the same rule, they pray for the same things in effect. (5.) All one in love and affection. Every true Christian has that in him which inclines him to love all true Christians as such. That which Christ here prays for is that communion of saints which we profess to believe; the fellowship which all believers have with God, and their intimate union with all the saints in heaven and earth, 1 John 1:3. But this prayer of Christ will not have its complete answer till all the saints come to heaven, for then, and not till then, they shall be perfect in one, John 17:23; Eph. 4:13.
III. What is intimated by way of plea or argument to enforce this petition; three things:—
1. The oneness that is between the Father and the Son, which is mentioned again and again, John 17:11; 21-23. (1.) It is taken for granted that the Father and Son are one, one in nature and essence, equal in power and glory, one in mutual endearments. The Father loveth the Son, and the Son always pleased the Father. They are one in design, and one in operation. The intimacy of this oneness is expressed in these words, thou in me, and I in thee. This he often mentions for his support under his present sufferings, when his enemies were ready to fall upon him, and his friends to fall off from him; yet he was in the Father, and the Father in him. (2.) This is insisted on in Christ’s prayer for his disciples’ oneness, [1.] As the pattern of that oneness, showing how he desired they might be one. Believers are one in some measure as God and Christ are one; for, First, The union of believers is a strict and close union; they are united by a divine nature, by the power of divine grace, in pursuance of the divine counsels. Secondly, It is a holy union, in the Holy Spirit, for holy ends; not a body politic for any secular purpose. Thirdly, It is, and will be at last, a complete union. Father and Son have the same attributes, properties, and perfections; so have believers now, as far as they are sanctified, and when grace shall be perfected in glory they will be exactly consonant to each other, all changed into the same image. [2.] As the centre of that oneness; that they may be one in us, all meeting here. There is one God and one Mediator; and herein believers are one, that they all agree to depend upon the favour of this one God as their felicity and the merit of this one Mediator as their righteousness. That is a conspiracy, not a union, which doth not centre in God as the end, and Christ as the way. All who are truly united to God and Christ, who are one, will soon be united one to another. [3.] As a plea for that oneness. The Creator and Redeemer are one in interest and design; but to what purpose are they so, if all believers be not one body with Christ, and do not jointly receive grace for grace from him, as he has received it for them? Christ’s design was to reduce revolted mankind to God: “Father,” says he, “let all that believe be one, that in one body they may be reconciled” (Eph. 2:15, 16), which speaks of the uniting of Jews and Gentiles in the church; that great mystery, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body (Eph. 3:6), to which I think this prayer of Christ principally refers, it being one great thing he aimed at in his dying; and I wonder none of the expositors I have met with should so apply it. “Father, let the Gentiles that believe be incorporated with the believing Jews, and make of twain one new man.” Those words, I in them, and thou in me, show what that union is which is so necessary, not only to the beauty, but to the very being, of his church. First, Union with Christ: I in them. Christ dwelling in the hearts of believers is the life and soul of the new man. Secondly, Union with God through him: Thou in me, so as by me to be in them. Thirdly, Union with each other, resulting from these: that they hereby may be made perfect in one. We are complete in him.
2. The design of Christ in all his communications of light and grace to them (John 17:22): “The glory which thou gavest me, as the trustee or channel of conveyance, I have accordingly given them, to this intent, that they may be one, as we are one; so that those gifts will be in vain, if they be not one.” Now these gifts are either, (1.) Those that were conferred upon the apostles, and first planters of the church. The glory of being God’s ambassadors to the world—the glory of working miracles—the glory of gathering a church out of the world, and erecting the throne of God’s kingdom among men—this glory was given to Christ, and some of the honour he put upon them when he sent them to disciple all nations. Or, (2.) Those that are given in common to all believers. The glory of being in covenant with the Father, and accepted of him, of being laid in his bosom, and designed for a place at his right hand, was the glory which the Father gave to the Redeemer, and he has confirmed it to the redeemed. [1.] This honour he says he hath given them, because he hath intended it for them, settled it upon them, and secured it to them upon their believing Christ’s promises to be real gifts. [2.] This was given to him to give to them; it was conveyed to him in trust for them, and he was faithful to him that appointed him. [3.] He gave it to them, that they might be one. First, to entitle them to the privilege of unity, that by virtue of their common relation to one God the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, they might be truly denominated one. The gift of the Spirit, that great glory which the Father gave to the Son, by him to be given to all believers, makes them one, for he works all in all, 1 Cor. 12:4 Secondly, To engage them to the duty of unity. That in consideration of their agreement and communion in one creed and one covenant, one Spirit and one Bible—in consideration of what they have in one God and one Christ, and of what they hope for in one heaven, they may be of one mind and one mouth. Worldly glory sets men at variance; for if some be advanced others are eclipsed, and therefore, while the disciples dreamed of a temporal kingdom, they were ever and anon quarrelling; but spiritual honours being conferred alike upon all Christ’s subjects, they being all made to our God kings and priests, there is no occasion for contest nor emulation. The more Christians are taken up with the glory Christ has given them, the less desirous they will be of vain-glory, and, consequently, the less disposed to quarrel.
3. He pleads the happy influence their oneness would have upon others, and the furtherance it would give to the public good. This is twice urged (John 17:21): That the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And again (John 17:23): That the world may know it, for without knowledge there can be no true faith. Believers must know what they believe, and why and wherefore they believe it. Those who believe at a venture, venture too far. Now Christ here shows,
(1.) His good-will to the world of mankind in general. Herein he is of his Father’s mind, as we are sure he is in every thing, that he would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9. Therefore it is his will that all means possible should be used, and no stone left unturned, for the conviction and conversion of the world. We know not who are chosen, but we must in our places do our utmost to further men’s salvation, and take heed of doing any thing to hinder it.
(2.) The good fruit of the church’s oneness; it will be an evidence of the truth of Christianity, and a means of bringing many to embrace it.
[1.] In general, it will recommend Christianity to the world, and to the good opinion of those that are without. First, The embodying of Christians in one society by the gospel charter will greatly promote Christianity. When the world shall see so many of those that were its children called out of its family, distinguished from others, and changed from what they themselves sometimes were,—when they shall see this society raised by the foolishness of preaching, and kept up by miracles of divine providence and grace, and how admirably well it is modelled and constituted, they will be ready to say, We will go with you, for we see that God is with you. Secondly, The uniting of Christians in love and charity is the beauty of their profession, and invites others to join with them, as the love that was among those primo-primitive Christians, Acts 2:42, 43; 4:32, 33. When Christianity, instead of causing quarrels about itself, makes all other strifes to cease,—when it cools the fiery, smooths the rugged, and disposes men to be kind and loving, courteous and beneficent, to all men, studious to preserve and promote peace in all relations and societies, this will recommend it to all that have any thing either of natural religion or natural affection in them.
[2.] In particular, it will beget in men good thoughts, First, Of Christ: They will know and believe that thou hast sent me, By this it will appear that Christ was sent of God, and that his doctrine was divine, in that his religion prevails to join so many of different capacities, tempers, and interests in other things, in one body by faith, with one heart by love. Certainly he was sent by the God of power, who fashions men’s hearts alike, and the God of love and peace; when the worshippers of God are one, he is one, and his name one. Secondly, Of Christians: They will know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me. Here is, 1. The privilege of believers: the Father himself loveth them with a love resembling his love to his Son, for they are loved in him with an everlasting love. 2. The evidence of their interest in this privilege, and that is their being one. By this it will appear that God loves us, if we love one another with a pure heart; for wherever the love of God is shed abroad in the heart it will change it into the same image. See how much good it would do to the world to know better how dear to God all good Christians are. The Jews had a saying, If the world did but know the worth of good men, they would hedge them about with pearls. Those that have so much of God’s love should have more of ours.