The gospel is the greatest riches of every place where it is. As therefore the righteous rejection of the unbelieving Jews, was the occasion of so large a multitude of the Gentiles being reconciled to God, and at peace with him; the future receiving of the Jews into the church would be such a change, as would resemble a general resurrection of the dead in sin to a life of righteousness. Abraham was as the root of the church. The Jews continued branches of this tree till, as a nation, they rejected the Messiah; after that, their relation to Abraham and to God was, as it were, cut off. The Gentiles were grafted into this tree in their room; being admitted into the
Romans 11:11–21 KJV I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. (12) Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? (13) For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: (14) If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. (15) For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? (16) For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. (17) And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; (18) Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. (19) Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. (20) Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: (21) For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
Another thing which qualified this doctrine of the rejection of the Jews was that though they were cast off and unchurched, yet the Gentiles were taken in, which he applies by way of caution to the Gentiles.
The rejection of the Jews made room for the reception of the Gentiles. The Jews’ leavings were a feast for the poor Gentiles: Romans 11:11 KJV I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. “Have they stumbled that they should fall? Had God no other end in forsaking and rejecting them than their destruction?” He startles at this, rejecting the thought with abhorrence, as usually he does when any thing is suggested which seems to reflect upon the wisdom, or righteousness, or goodness of God: God forbid! no, through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles. Not but that salvation might have come to the Gentiles if they had stood; but by the divine appointment it was so ordered that the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles upon the Jews’ refusal of it. Thus in the parable, Matthew 22:8–9 KJV Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. (9) Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. Those that were first bidden were not worthy — Go ye therefore into the highways, Luke 14:21 KJV So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.
And so it was in the history: Acts 13:46 KJV Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but, seeing you put it from you, lo, we turn to the Gentiles; so Acts 18:6 KJV And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.
God will have a church in the world, will have the wedding furnished with guests; and, if one will not come, another will, or why was the offer made? The Jews had the refusal, and so the tender came to the Gentiles. See how Infinite Wisdom brings light out of darkness, good out of evil, meat out of the eater, and sweetness out of the strong. To the same purport he says, Romans 11:12 KJV Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? The fall of them was the riches of the world, that is, it hastened the gospel so much the sooner into the Gentile world. The gospel is the greatest riches of the place where it is; it is better than thousands of gold and silver. Or, The riches of the Gentiles was the multitude of converts among them. True believers are God’s jewels. To the same purport: Romans 11:15 KJV For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? The casting away of them is the reconciling of the world. God’s displeasure towards them made way for his favour towards the Gentiles. God was in Christ reconciling the world, 2 Corinthians 5:19 KJV To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
And therefore he took occasion from the unbelief of the Jews openly to disavow and disown them, though they had been his peculiar favourites, to show that in dispensing his favours he would now no longer act in such a way of peculiarity and restriction, but that in every nation he that feared God and wrought righteousness should be accepted of him, Acts 10:34–35 KJV Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: (35) But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
The use that the apostle makes of this doctrine concerning the substitution of the Gentiles in the room of the Jews.
As a kinsman to the Jews, here is a word of excitement and exhortation to them, to stir them up to receive and embrace the gospel-offer. This God intended in his favour to the Gentiles, to provoke the Jews to jealousy, Romans 11:11 KJV I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. and Paul endeavours to enforce it accordingly: Romans 11:14 KJV If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. If by any means I might provoke to emulation those who are my flesh. “Shall the despised Gentiles run away with all the comforts and privileges of the gospel, and shall not we repent of our refusal, and now at last put in for a share? Shall not we believe and obey, and be pardoned and saved, as well as the Gentiles?” See an instance of such an emulation in Esau, Genesis 28:6–9 KJV When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padanaram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan; (7) And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padanaram; (8) And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; (9) Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.
There is a commendable emulation in the affairs of our souls: why should not we be as holy and happy as any of our neighbours? In this emulation there needs no suspicion, undermining or countermining; for the church has room enough, and the new covenant grace and comfort enough, for us all. The blessings are not lessened by the multitudes of the sharers. — And might save some of them. See what was Paul’s business, to save souls; and yet the utmost he promises himself is but to save some. Though he was such a powerful preacher, spoke and wrote with such evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, yet of the many he dealt with he could but save some. Ministers must think their pains well bestowed if they can but be instrumental to save some.
As an apostle to the Gentiles, here is a word of caution for them: “I speak to you Gentiles. You believing Romans, you hear what riches of salvation are come to you by the fall of the Jews, but take heed lest you do any thing to forfeit it.” Paul takes this, as other occasions, to apply his discourse to the Gentiles, because he was the apostle of the Gentiles, appointed for the service of their faith, to plant and water churches in the Gentile nations. This was the purport of his extraordinary mission, Acts 22:21 KJV And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles; compare, Acts 9:15 KJV But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
It was likewise the intention of his ordination, Galatians 2:9 KJV And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Compare Acts 13:2 KJV As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
It ought to be our great and special care to do good to those that are under our charge: we must particularly mind that which is our own work. It was an instance of God’s great love to the poor Gentiles that he appointed Paul, who in gifts and graces excelled all the apostles, to be the apostle of the Gentiles. The Gentile world was a wider province; and the work to be done in it required a very able, skilful, zealous, courageous workman: such a one was Paul. God calls those to special work whom he either sees or makes fit for it. — I magnify my office. There were those that vilified it, and him because of it. It was because he was the apostle of the Gentiles that the Jews were so outrageous against him, Acts 22:21–22 KJV And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. (22) And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. and yet he thought never the worse of it, though it set him up as the butt of all the Jewish rage and malice. It is a sign of true love to Jesus Christ to reckon that service and work for him truly honourable which the world looks upon with scorn, as mean and contemptible. The office of the ministry is an office to be magnified. Ministers are ambassadors for Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God, and for their work’s sake are to be esteemed highly in love. — My office; tēn diakonian mou — my ministry, my service, not my lordship and dominion. It was not the dignity and power, but the duty and work, of an apostle, that Paul was so much in love with.
Now two things he exhorts the Gentiles to, with reference to the rejected Jews:
To have a respect for the Jews, notwithstanding, and to desire their conversion. This is intimated in the prospect he gives them of the advantage that would accrue to the church by their conversion, Romans 11:12 KJV Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? Romans 11:15 KJV For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? It would be as life from the dead; and therefore they must not insult and triumph over those poor Jews, but rather pity them, and desire their welfare, and long for the receiving of them in again.
To take heed to themselves, lest they should stumble and fall, as they Jews had done.
Here observe, First, The privilege which the Gentiles had by being taken into the church. They were grafted in, Romans 11:17 KJV And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; as a branch of a wild olive into a good olive, which is contrary to the way and custom of the husbandman, who grafts the good olive into the bad; but those that God grafts into the church he finds wild and barren, and good for nothing. Men graft to mend the tree; but God grafts to mend the branch.
Those that are out of the church are as wild olive-trees, not only useless, but what they do produce is sour and unsavoury: Wild by nature, Romans 11:24 KJV For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? This was the state of the poor Gentiles, that wanted church privileges, and in respect of real sanctification; and it is the natural state of every one of us, to be wild by nature.
Conversion is the grafting in of wild branches into the good olive. We must be cut off from the old stock, and be brought into union with a new root.
Those that are grafted into the good olive-tree partake of the root and fatness of the olive. It is applicable to a saving union with Christ; all that are by a lively faith grafted into Christ partake of him as the branches of the root — receive from his fulness. But it is here spoken of a visible church-membership, from which the Jews were as branches broken off; and so the Gentiles were grafted in, autois — among those that continued, or in the room of those that were broken off. The Gentiles, being grafted into the church, partake of the same privileges that the Jews did, the root and fatness. The olive-tree is the visible church (called so Jeremiah 11:16 KJV The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken.); the root of this tree was Abraham, not the root of communication, so Christ only is the root, but the root of administration, he being the first with whom the covenant was so solemnly made. Now the believing Gentiles partake of this root: he also is a son of Abraham, Luke 19:9 KJV And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles, Galatians 3:14 KJV That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. the same fatness of the olive-tree, the same for substance, special protection, lively oracles, means of salvation, a standing ministry, instituted ordinances; and, among the rest, the visible church-membership of their infant seed, which was part of the fatness of the olive-tree that the Jews had, and cannot be imagined to be denied to the Gentiles.
Secondly, A caution not to abuse these privileges.
“Be not proud: Romans 11:18 KJV Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Boast not against the branches. Do not therefore trample upon the Jews as a reprobate people, nor insult over those that are broken off, much less over those that do continue.” Grace is given, not to make us proud, but to make us thankful. The law of faith excludes all boasting either of ourselves or against others. “Do not say: Romans 11:19 KJV Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. They were broken off that I might be grafted in; that is, do not think that thou didst merit more at the hand of God than they, or didst stand higher in his favour.” “But remember, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Though thou art grafted in, thou art still but a branch borne by the root; nay, and an engrafted branch, brought into the good olive contrary to nature, Romans 11:24 KJV For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? not free-born, but by an act of grace enfranchised and naturalized. Abraham, the root of the Jewish church, is not beholden to thee; but thou art greatly obliged to him, as the trustee of the covenant and the father of many nations. Therefore, if thou boast, know (this word must be supplied to clear the sense) thou bearest not the root but the root thee.”
“Be not secure: Romans 11:20 KJV Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: Be not high-minded, but fear. Be not too confident of your own strength and standing.” A holy fear is an excellent preservative against high-mindedness: happy is the man that thus feareth always. We need not fear but God will be true to his word; all the danger is lest we be false to ours. Let us therefore fear, Hebrews 4:1 KJV Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. The church of Rome now boasts of a patent of perpetual preservation; but the apostle here, in his epistle to that church when she was in her infancy and integrity, enters an express caveat against that boast, and all claims of that kind. — Fear what? “Why fear lest thou commit a forfeiture as they have done, lest thou lose the privileges thou now enjoyest, as they have lost theirs.” The evils that befall others should be warnings to us. Go (saith God to Jerusalem Jeremiah 7:12 KJV But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.), and see what I did to Shiloh; so now, let all the churches of God go and see what he did to Jerusalem, and what is become of the day of their visitation, that we may hear and fear, and take heed of Jerusalem’s sin. The patent which churches have of their privileges is not for a certain term, nor entailed upon them and their heirs; but it runs as long as they carry themselves well, and no longer.
Consider, “How they were broken off. It was not undeservedly, by an act of absolute sovereignty and prerogative, but because of unbelief.” It seems, then, it is possible for churches that have long stood by faith to fall into such a state of infidelity as may be their ruin. Their unbelief did not only provoke God to cut them off, but they did by this cut themselves off; it was not only the meritorious, but the formal cause of their separation. “Now, thou art liable to the same infirmity and corruption that they fell by.” Further observe, They were natural branches, Romans 11:21 KJV For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. not only interested in Abraham’s covenant, but descending from Abraham’s loins, and so born upon the premises, and thence had a kind of tenant-right: yet, when they sunk into unbelief, God did not spare them. Prescription, long usage, the faithfulness of their ancestors, would not secure them. It was in vain to plead, though they insisted much upon it, that they were Abraham’s seed, Matthew 3:9 KJV And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. John 8:33 KJV They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
It is true they were the husbandmen to whom the vineyard was first let out; but, when they forfeited it, it was justly taken from them, Matthew 21:41 KJV They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Matthew 21:43 KJV Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. This is called here severity, Romans 11:22 KJV Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
God laid righteousness to the line and judgment to the plummet, and dealt with them according to their sins. Severity is a word that sounds harshly; and I do not remember that it is any where else in scripture ascribed to God; and it is here applied to the unchurching of the Jews. God is most severe towards those that have been in profession nearest to him, if they rebel against him, Amos 3:2 KJV You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Patience and privileges abused turn to the greatest wrath. Of all judgments, spiritual judgments are the sorest; for of these he is here speaking, Romans 11:8 KJV (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.
“How thou standest, thou that art engrafted in.” He speaks to the Gentile churches in general, though perhaps tacitly reflecting on some particular person, who might have expressed some such pride and triumph in the Jews’ rejection.
“Consider then,” “By what means thou standest: By faith, which is a depending grace, and fetches in strength from heaven. Thou dost not stand in any strength of thy own, of which thou mightest be confident: thou art no more than the free grace of God makes thee, and his grace is his own, which he gives or withholds at pleasure. That which ruined them was unbelief, and by faith thou standest; therefore thou hast no faster hold than they had, thou standest on no firmer foundation than they did.”
Christ does not pray that they might be rich and great in the world, but that they might be kept from sin, strengthened for their duty, and brought safe to heaven. The prosperity of the soul is the best prosperity. He pleaded with his holy Father, that he would keep them by his power and for his glory, that they might be united in affection and labours, even according to the union of the Father and the Son. He did not pray that his disciples should be removed out of the world, that they might escape the rage of men, for they had a great work to do for the glory of God, and the benefit of mankind. But he prayed that the Father would keep them from the evil, from being corrupted by the world, the remains of sin in their hearts, and from the power and craft of Satan. So that they might pass through the world as through an enemy’s country, as he had done. They are not left here to pursue the same objects as the men around them, but to glorify God, and to serve their generation. The Spirit of God in true Christians is opposed to the spirit of the world.
Christ next prayed for the disciples, that they might not only be kept from evil, but made good. It is the prayer of Jesus for all that are his, that they may be made holy. Even disciples must pray for sanctifying grace. The means of giving this grace is, “through thy truth, thy word is truth.” Sanctify them, set them apart for thyself and thy service. Own them in the office; let thy hand go with them. Jesus entirely devoted himself to his undertaking, and all the parts of it, especially the offering up himself without spot unto God, by the eternal Spirit. The real holiness of all true 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. If our views have not this effect on us, they are not Divine truth, or we do not receive them by a living and a working faith, but as mere notions.
Our Lord especially prayed, that all believers might be as one body under one head, animated by one soul, by their union with Christ and the Father in him, through the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The more they dispute about lesser things, the more they throw doubts upon Christianity. Let us endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, praying that all believers may be more and more united in one mind and one judgment. Thus shall we convince the world of the truth and excellence of our religion, and find more sweet communion with God and his saints.
John 17:11–23 KJV And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. (12) While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. (13) And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (14) 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. (15) I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (16) They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (17) Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (18) As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. (19) And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (20) Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; (21) 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 hast sent me. (22) And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: (23) I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
And in this see, the particular petitions he puts up for them that they might be kept; that they might be sanctified; and that they might be united.
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, 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.
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 KJV But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. I have prayed for thee.
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 these verses, 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, the request itself: Keep them from the world. There were two ways of their being delivered from the world:
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, “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: 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. Because he had work for them to do in the world; the world, though sick of them, Acts 22:22 KJV And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. and therefore not worthy of them, Hebrews 11:38 KJV (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 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, Isaiah 57:1 KJV The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. 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.
“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, Jeremiah 9:2 KJV Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. but that, like Ezekiel, their faces may be strong against the faces of wicked men, Ezekiel 3:8 KJV Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. 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.
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 KJV And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. John 17:15 KJV I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
Here are three branches of this petition: Holy Father, keep those whom thou hast given me. 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 Peter 4:19 KJV Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. 2 Timothy 1:12 KJV For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
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 KJV And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (29) My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. 1 Peter 1:5 KJV Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
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, Psalms 89:35 KJV Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. 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. 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.”
Keep them through thine own name. That is, 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.
Keep them in thy name; so others; the original is so, en tō 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.”
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.”
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. “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.” “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 Corinthians 13:7 KJV Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates. Sin is that evil which, above any other, we should dread and deprecate.
“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.
The reasons with which he enforces these requests for their preservation, which are five:
He pleads that hitherto he had kept them: John 17:12 KJV While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. “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, 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 KJV That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none. 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, that they are weak, and cannot keep themselves; their own hands are not sufficient for them. That they are, in God’s account, valuable and worth the keeping; precious in his sight and honourable; his treasure, his jewels. That their salvation is designed, for to this it is that they are kept, 1 Peter 1:5 KJV Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. As the wicked are reserved for the day of evil, so the righteous are preserved for the day of bliss. 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.
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 KJV And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. so it will appear when they come all together, and none of them shall be wanting.
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, 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 Thessalonians 2:3 KJV Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 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 mē 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 KJV They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
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 Psalms 41:9 KJV Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me. Psalms 69:25 KJV Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. Psalms 109:8 KJV Let his days be few; and let another take his office. We should be amazed at the treachery of apostates, were we not told of it before.
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 KJV And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. “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 KJV 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 hast sent me.
But see here, 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. “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.”
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.”
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, 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.
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.
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 KJV And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
Observe, 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, 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. 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, Philippians 3:1 KJV Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Philippians 4:4 KJV Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. To aim at the perfection of this joy, that we may have it fulfilled in us, for this Christ would have.
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, 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. 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, Romans 8:34 KJV Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. And see Hebrews 7:25 KJV Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
He pleads the ill usage they were likely to meet with in the world, for his sake: John 17:14 KJV 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 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, 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.
The reasons of this enmity, which strengthen the plea. 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, Psalms 69:7 KJV Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face.
Note, Those that keep the word of Christ’s patience are entitled to special protection in the hour of temptation, Revelation 3:10 KJV Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. That cause which makes a martyr may well make a joyful sufferer.
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.
He pleads their conformity to himself in a holy non-conformity to the world: John 17:16 KJV They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. “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, who are as Christ was in this world, and tread in his steps. God will love those that are like Christ. Who do not engage themselves in the world’s interest, nor devote themselves to its service.
Observe, 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 KJV And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
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.
The next thing he prayed for; for them was that they might be sanctified; not only kept from evil, but made good.
Here is the petition: John 17:17 KJV Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 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, as Christians. Father, make them holy, and this will be their preservation, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 KJV And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Observe here, the grace desired — sanctification. The disciples were sanctified, for they were not of the world; yet he prays, Father sanctify them, that is, “Confirm the work of sanctification in them, strengthen their faith, inflame their good affections, rivet their good resolutions.” “Carry on that good work in them, and continue it; let the light shine more and more.” “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 Corinthians 5:5 KJV Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Fourthly, It is an encouragement to us, in our prayers for sanctifying grace, that it is what Christ intercedes for; for us.
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, 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. 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 Peter 1:23 KJV Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. and the food of the new life, 1 Peter 2:1–2 KJV Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, (2) As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
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, Jeremiah 1:5 KJV Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
Priests and Levites were so. Sanctify them; that is, “Qualify them for the office, with Christian graces and ministerial gifts, to make them able ministers of the New Testament.” “Separate them to the office, Romans 1:1 KJV Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, I have called them, they have consented; Father, say Amen to it.” “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 Corinthians 9:13–14 KJV Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? (14) Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Note, 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. 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.
We have here two pleas or arguments to enforce the petition for the disciples’ sanctification:
The mission they had from him: John 17:18 KJV As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. “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, 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.
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 KJV Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 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, Hebrews 3:1 KJV Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; a minister, Romans 15:8 KJV Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: a messenger, Malachi 3:1 KJV Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. Only they are sent as servants, he as a Son. Now this comes in here as a reason, 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.
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, Psalms 68:18 KJV Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them. and then gave them to men, Ephesians 4:8 KJV Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 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 KJV Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? Now, they being sent as he was, let them also be sanctified.
The merit he had for them is another thing here pleaded: John 17:19 KJV And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. For their sakes I sanctify myself. Here is, 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, Hebrews 9:12 KJV Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 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, Leviticus 16:12 KJV And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: Leviticus 16:14 KJV And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
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, Philippians 2:17 KJV Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. 2 Timothy 4:6 KJV For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 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. 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. 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, Ephesians 5:25–26 KJV Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (26) That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 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,
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, who are included in this prayer: John 17:20 KJV Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; “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.”
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.
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.
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 KJV And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
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.
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, Psalms 22:31 KJV They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this. the other sheep which he must yet bring. Before they are formed in the womb he knows them, Jeremiah 1:5 KJV Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. 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.
What is intended in this prayer: John 17:21 KJV 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 hast sent me. That they all may be one. The same was said before, John 17:11 KJV And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. that they may be one as we are, and again, John 17:22 KJV And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
The heart of Christ was much upon this. Some think that the oneness prayed for in John 17:11 KJV And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 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 KJV 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 hast sent me. 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 KJV 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 hast sent me. one as e are one, John 17:22 KJV And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: made perfect in one, John 17:23 KJV I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
It includes three things: 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 KJV And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Ephesians 1:10 KJV That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
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 Corinthians 6:17 KJV But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Let them all be stamped with the same image and superscription, and influenced by the same power.
That they might all be knit together in the bond of love and charity, all of one heart. That they all may be one, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 KJV That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 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 KJV I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Ephesians 4:13 KJV Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
What is intimated by way of plea or argument to enforce this petition; three things:
The oneness that is between the Father and the Son, which is mentioned again and again, John 17:11 KJV And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. John 17:21–23 KJV 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 hast sent me. (22) And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: (23) I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
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. This is insisted on in Christ’s prayer for his disciples’ oneness, 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.
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.
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”, Ephesians 2:15–16 KJV Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; (16) And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 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, Ephesians 3:6 KJV That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 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.
The design of Christ in all his communications of light and grace to them: John 17:22 KJV And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: “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, 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, 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. 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. 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.
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 Corinthians 12:4 KJV Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 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.
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 KJV 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 hast sent me. That the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And again: John 17:23 KJV I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 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, 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 Timothy 2:4 KJV Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 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.
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.
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 KJV And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (43) And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. Acts 4:32–33 KJV And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. (33) And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
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.
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, 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. 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.
Christ is a good Shepherd; many who were not thieves, yet were careless in their duty, and by their neglect the flock was much hurt. Bad principles are the root of bad practices. The Lord Jesus knows whom he has chosen, and is sure of them; they also know whom they have trusted, and are sure of Him. See here the grace of Christ; since none could demand his life of him, he laid it down of himself for our redemption. He offered himself to be the Saviour; Lo, I come. And the necessity of our case calling for it, he offered himself for the Sacrifice. He was both the offerer and the offering, so that his laying down his life was his offering up himself. From hence it is plain, that he died in the place and stead of men; to obtain their being set free from the punishment of sin, to obtain the pardon of their sin; and that his death should obtain that pardon. Our Lord laid not his life down for his doctrine, but for his sheep.
John 10:10–18 KJV The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (11) I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (12) But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. (13) The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. (14) I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. (15) As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. (16) And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. (17) Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (18) No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
Christ’s parabolical discourse concerning himself as the shepherd of the sheep.
Precious promises to those who observe this direction. They shall be saved hereafter; this is the privilege of their home. These sheep shall be saved from being distrained and impounded by divine justice for trespass done, satisfaction being made for the damage by their great Shepherd, saved from being a prey to the roaring lion; they shall be for ever happy.
In the mean time they shall go in and out and find pasture; this is the privilege of their way. They shall have their conversation in the world by the grace of Christ, shall be in his fold as a man at his own house, where he has free ingress, egress, and regress. True believers are at home in Christ; when they go out, they are not shut out as strangers, but have liberty to come in again; when they come in, they are not shut in as trespassers, but have liberty to go out. They go out to the field in the morning, they come into the fold at night; and in both the Shepherd leads and keeps them, and they find pasture in both: grass in the field, fodder in the fold. In public, in private, they have the word of God to converse with, by which their spiritual life is supported and nourished, and out of which their gracious desires are satisfied; they are replenished with the goodness of God’s house.
Christ is the shepherd, John 10:11 KJV I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. He was prophesied of under the Old Testament as a shepherd, Isaiah 40:11 KJV He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Ezekiel 34:23 KJV And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. Ezekiel 37:24 KJV And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. Zechariah 13:7 KJV Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.
In the New Testament he is spoken of as the great Shepherd, Hebrews 13:20 KJV Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, the chief Shepherd, 1 Peter 5:4 KJV And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. the Shepherd and bishop of our souls, 1 Peter 2:25 KJV For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. God, our great owner, the sheep of whose pasture we are by creation, has constituted his Son Jesus to be our shepherd; and here again and again he owns the relation. He has all that care of his church, and every believer, that a good shepherd has of his flock; and expects all that attendance and observance from the church, and every believer, which the shepherds in those countries had from their flocks.
Christ is a shepherd, and not as the thief, not as those that came not in by the door. Observe, the mischievous design of the thief: John 10:10 KJV The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. The thief cometh not with any good intent, but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. First, Those whom they steal, whose hearts and affections they steal from Christ and his pastures, they kill and destroy spiritually; for the heresies they privily bring in are damnable. Deceivers of souls are murderers of souls. Those that steal away the scripture by keeping it in an unknown tongue, that steal away the sacraments by maiming them and altering the property of them, that steal away Christ’s ordinances to put their own inventions in the room of them, they kill and destroy; ignorance and idolatry are destructive things. Secondly, Those whom they cannot steal, whom they can neither lead, drive, nor carry away, from the flock of Christ, they aim by persecutions and massacres to kill and destroy corporally. He that will not suffer himself to be robbed is in danger of being slain.
The gracious design of the shepherd; he is come, First, To give life to the sheep. In opposition to the design of the thief, which is to kill and destroy (which was the design of the scribes and Pharisees) Christ saith, I am come among men, that they might have life. He came to put life into the flock, the church in general, which had seemed rather like a valley full of dry bones than like a pasture covered over with flocks. Christ came to vindicate divine truths, to purify divine ordinances, to redress grievances, and to revive dying zeal, to seek those of his flock that were lost, to bind up that which was broken, Ezekiel 34:16 KJV I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. and this to his church is as life from the dead. He came to give life to particular believers. Life is inclusive of all good, and stands in opposition to the death threatened; Genesis 2:17 KJV But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. that we might have life, as a criminal has when he is pardoned, as a sick man when he is cured, a dead man when he is raised; that we might be justified, sanctified, and at last glorified.
That they might have it more abundantly, kai perisson echōsin. As we read it, it is comparative, that they might have a life more abundant than that which was lost and forfeited by sin, more abundant than that which was promised by the law of Moses, length of days in Canaan, more abundant than could have been expected or than we are able to ask or think. But it may be construed without a note of comparison, that they might have abundance, or might have it abundantly. Christ came to give life and perisson ti - something more, something better, life with advantage; that in Christ we might not only live, but live comfortably, live plentifully, live and rejoice. Life in abundance is eternal life, life without death or fear of death, life and much more.
Secondly, To give his life for the sheep, and this that he might give life to them: John 10:11 KJV I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. It is the property of every good shepherd to hazard and expose his life for the sheep. Jacob did so, when he would go through such a fatigue to attend them, Genesis 31:40 KJV Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. So did David, when he slew the lion and the bear. Such a shepherd of souls was St. Paul, who would gladly spend, and be spent, for their service, and counted not his life dear to him, in comparison with their salvation. But, it was the prerogative of the great Shepherd to give his life to purchase his flock, Acts 20:28 KJV Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. to satisfy for their trespass, and to shed his blood to wash and cleanse them. Christ is a good shepherd, and not as a hireling. There were many that were not thieves, aiming to kill and destroy the sheep, but passed for shepherds, yet were very careless in the discharge of their duty, and through their neglect the flock was greatly damaged; foolish shepherds, idle shepherds, Zechariah 11:15 KJV And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd. Zechariah 11:17 KJV Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.
In opposition to these, Christ here calls himself the good shepherd, John 10:11 KJV I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. and again John 10:14 KJV I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. ho poimēn ho kalos - that shepherd, that good Shepherd, whom God had promised. Note, Jesus Christ is the best of shepherds, the best in the world to take the over-sight of souls, none so skilful, so faithful, so tender, as he, no such feeder and leader, no such protector and healer of souls as he.
He proves himself so, in opposition to all hirelings. Where observe, First, The carelessness of the unfaithful shepherd described; John 10:12–13 KJV But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. (13) The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. he that is a hireling, that is employed as a servant and is paid for his pains, whose own the sheep are not, who has neither profit nor loss by them, sees the wolf coming, or some other danger threatening, and leaves the sheep to the wolf, for in truth he careth not for them. Here is plain reference to that of the idol-shepherd, Zechariah 11:17 KJV Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened. Evil shepherds, magistrates and ministers, are here described both by their bad principles and their bad practices.
Their bad principles, the root of their bad practices. What makes those that have the charge of souls in trying times to betray their trust, and in quiet times not to mind it? What makes them false, and trifling, and self-seeking? It is because they are hirelings, and care not for the sheep. That is, the wealth of the world is the chief of their good; it is because they are hirelings. They undertook the shepherds’ office, as a trade to live and grow rich by, not as an opportunity of serving Christ and doing good. It is the love of money, and of their own bellies, that carries them on in it. Not that those are hirelings who, while they serve at the altar, live, and live comfortably, upon the altar. The labourer is worthy of his meat; and a scandalous maintenance will soon make a scandalous ministry. But those are hirelings that love the wages more than the work, and set their hearts upon that, as the hireling is said to do, Deuteronomy 24:15 KJV At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee. See 1 Samuel 2:29 KJV Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people? Isaiah 56:11 KJV Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Micah 3:5 KJV Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. Micah 3:11 KJV The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.
The work of their place is the least of their care. They value not the sheep, are unconcerned in the souls of others; their business is to be their brothers’ lords, not their brothers’ keepers or helpers; they seek their own things, and do not, like Timothy, naturally care for the state of souls. What can be expected but that they will flee when the wolf comes. He careth not for the sheep, for he is one whose own the sheep are not. In one respect we may say of the best of the under-shepherds that the sheep are not their own, they have not dominion over them not property in them (feed my sheep and my lambs, saith Christ); but in respect of dearness and affection they should be their own. Paul looked upon those as his own whom he called his dearly beloved and longed for. Those who do not cordially espouse the church’s interests, and make them their own, will not long be faithful to them.
Their bad practices, the effect of these bad principles, John 10:12 KJV But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. See here, How basely the hireling deserts his post; when he sees the wolf coming, though then there is most need of him, he leaves the sheep and flees.
Note, Those who mind their safety more than their duty are an easy prey to Satan’s temptations.
How fatal the consequences are! the hireling fancies the sheep may look to themselves, but it does not prove so: the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep, and woeful havoc is made of the flock, which will all be charged upon the treacherous shepherd. The blood of perishing souls is required at the hand of the careless watchmen.
Secondly, See here the grace and tenderness of the good Shepherd set over against the former, as it was in the prophecy: Ezekiel 34:21–22 KJV Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; (22) Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. I am the good Shepherd. It is matter of comfort to the church, and all her friends, that, however she may be damaged and endangered by the treachery and mismanagement of her under-officers, the Lord Jesus is, and will be, as he ever has been, the good Shepherd. Here are two great instances of the shepherd’s goodness.
His acquainting himself with his flock, with all that belong or in any wise appertain to his flock, which are of two sorts, both known to him: He is acquainted with all that are now of his flock, John 10:14–15 KJV I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. (15) As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. as the good Shepherd: John 10:3–4 KJV To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. (4) And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. I know my sheep and am known of mine.
Note, There is a mutual acquaintance between Christ and true believers; they know one another very well, and knowledge notes affection.
Christ knows his sheep. He knows with a distinguishing eye who are his sheep, and who are not; he knows the sheep under their many infirmities, and the goats under their most plausible disguises. He knows with a favourable eye those that in truth are his own sheep; he takes cognizance of their state, concerns himself for them, has a tender and affectionate regard to them, and is continually mindful of them in the intercession he ever lives to make within the veil; he visits them graciously by his Spirit, and has communion with them; he knows them, that is, he approves and accepts of them, as Psalms 1:6 KJV For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Psalms 37:18 KJV The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever. Exodus 33:17 KJV And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
He is known of them. He observes them with an eye of favour, and they observe him with an eye of faith. Christ’s knowing his sheep is put before their knowing him, for he knew and loved us first, 1 John 4:19 KJV We love him, because he first loved us. and it is not so much our knowing him as our being known of him that is our happiness, Galatians 4:9 KJV But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Yet it is the character of Christ’s sheep that they know him; know him from all pretenders and intruders; they know his mind, know his voice, know by experience the power of his death. Christ speaks here as if he gloried in being known by his sheep, and thought their respect an honour to him. Upon this occasion Christ mentions John 10:15 KJV As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. the mutual acquaintance between his Father and himself: As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father.
Now this may be considered, either, First, As the ground of that intimate acquaintance and relation which subsist between Christ and believers. The covenant of grace, which is the bond of this relation, is founded in the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, which, we may be sure, stands firm; for the Father and the Son understood one another perfectly well in that matter, and there could be no mistake, which might leave the matter at any uncertainty, or bring it into any hazard. The Lord Jesus knows whom he hath chosen, and is sure of them, John 13:18 KJV I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. and they also know whom they have trusted, and are sure of him, 2 Timothy 1:12 KJV For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. and the ground of both is the perfect knowledge which the Father and the Son had of one another’s mind, when the counsel of peace was between them both.
Or, Secondly, As an apt similitude, illustrating the intimacy that is between Christ and believers. It may be connected with the foregoing words, thus: I know my sheep, and am known of mine, even as the Father knows me, and I know the Father; compare John 17:21 KJV 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 hast sent me.
As the Father knew the Son, and loved him, and owned him in his sufferings, when he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, so Christ knows his sheep, and has a watchful tender eye upon them, will be with them when they are left alone, as his Father was with him.
As the Son knew the Father, loved and obeyed him, and always did those things that pleased him, confiding in him as his God even when he seemed to forsake him, so believers know Christ with an obediential fiducial regard.
He is acquainted with those that are hereafter to be of this flock: John 10:16 KJV And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Other sheep I have, have a right to and an interest in, which are not of this fold, of the Jewish church; them also I must bring.
Observe, the eye that Christ had to the poor Gentiles. He had sometimes intimated his special concern for the lost sheep of the house of Israel; to them indeed his personal ministry was confined; but, saith he, I have other sheep. Those who in process of time should believe in Christ, and be brought into obedience to him from among the Gentiles, are here called sheep, and he is said to have them, though as yet they were uncalled, and many of them unborn, because they were chosen of God, and given to Christ in the counsels of divine love from eternity. Christ has a right, by virtue of the Father’s donation and his own purchase, to many a soul of which he has not yet the possession; thus he had much people in Corinth, when as yet it lay in wickedness, Acts 18:10 KJV For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. “Those other sheep I have,” saith Christ, “I have them on my heart, have them in my eye, am as sure to have them as if I had them already.” Now Christ speaks of those other sheep, First, To take off the contempt that was put upon him, as having few followers, as having but a little flock, and therefore, if a good shepherd, yet a poor shepherd: “But,” saith he, “I have more sheep than you see.” Secondly, To take down the pride and vain-glory of the Jews, who thought the Messiah must gather all his sheep from among them. “No,” saith Christ, “I have others whom I will set with the lambs of my flock, though you disdain to set them with the dogs of your flock.”
The purposes and resolves of his grace concerning them: “Them also I must bring, bring home to God, bring into the church, and, in order to this, bring off from their vain conversation, bring them back from their wanderings, as that lost sheep,” Luke 15:5 KJV And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. But why must he bring them? What was the necessity? First, The necessity of their case required it: “I must bring, or they must be left to wander endlessly, for, like sheep, they will never come back of themselves, and no other can or will bring them.” Secondly, The necessity of his own engagements required it; he must bring them, or he would not be faithful to his trust, and true to his undertaking. “They are my own, bought and paid for, and therefore I must not neglect them nor leave them to perish.” He must in honour bring those with whom he was entrusted.
The happy effect and consequence of this, in two things: — First, “They shall hear my voice. Not only my voice shall be heard among them (whereas they have not heard, and therefore could not believe, now the sound of the gospel shall go to the ends of the earth), but it shall be heard by them; I will speak, and give to them to hear.” Faith comes by hearing, and our diligent observance of the voice of Christ is both a means and an evidence of our being brought to Christ, and to God by him. Secondly, There shall be one fold and one shepherd. As there is one shepherd, so there shall be one fold. Both Jews and Gentiles, upon their turning to the faith of Christ, shall be incorporated in one church, be joint and equal sharers in the privileges of it, without distinction. Being united to Christ, they shall unite in him; two sticks shall become one in the hand of the Lord.
Note, One shepherd makes one fold; one Christ makes one church. As the church is one in its constitution, subject to one head, animated by one Spirit, and guided by one rule, so the members of it ought to be one in love and affection, Ephesians 4:3–6 KJV Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4) There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; (5) One Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Christ’s offering up himself for his sheep is another proof of his being a good shepherd, and in this he yet more commended his love. He declares his purpose of dying for his flock: John 10:15 KJV As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. I lay down my life for the sheep. He not only ventured his life for them (in such a case, the hope of saving it might balance the fear of losing it), but he actually deposited it, and submitted to a necessity of dying for our redemption; tithēmi - I put it as a pawn or pledge; as purchase-money paid down. Sheep appointed for the slaughter, ready to be sacrificed, were ransomed with the blood of the shepherd. He laid down his life, huper tōn probatōn, not only for the good of the sheep, but in their stead. Thousands of sheep had been offered in sacrifice for their shepherds, as sin-offerings, but here, by a surprising reverse, the shepherd is sacrificed for the sheep. When David, the shepherd of Israel, was himself guilty, and the destroying angel drew his sword against the flock for his sake, with good reason did he plead, These sheep, what evil have they done? Let thy hand be against me, 2 Samuel 24:17 KJV And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house. But the Son of David was sinless and spotless; and his sheep, what evil have they not done? Yet he saith, Let thine hand be against me. Christ here seems to refer to that prophecy, Zechariah 13:7 KJV Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd; and, though the smiting of the shepherd be for the present the scattering of the flock, it is in order to the gathering of them in.
He takes off the offence of the cross, which to many is a stone of stumbling, by four considerations: That his laying down his life for the sheep was the condition, the performance of which entitled him to the honours and powers of his exalted state: John 10:17 KJV Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life. Upon these terms I am, as Mediator, to expect my Father’s acceptance and approbation, and the glory designed me — that I become a sacrifice for the chosen remnant.” Not but that, as the Son of God, he was beloved of his Father from eternity, but as God — man, as Immanuel, he was therefore beloved of the Father because he undertook to die for the sheep; therefore God’s soul delighted in him as his elect because herein he was his faithful servant; Isaiah 42:1 KJV Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. therefore he said, This is my beloved Son. What an instance is this of God’s love to man, that he loved his Son the more for loving us! See what a value Christ puts upon his Father’s love, that, to recommend himself to that, he would lay down his life for the sheep. Did he think God’s love recompence sufficient for all his services and sufferings, and shall we think it too little for ours, and court the smiles of the world to make it up? Therefore doth my Father love me, that is, me, and all that by faith become one with me; me, and the mystical body, because I lay down my life.
That his laying down his life was in order to his resuming it: I lay down my life, that I may receive it again. First, This was the effect of his Father’s love, and the first step of his exaltation, the fruit of that love. Because he was God’s holy one, he must not see corruption, Psalms 16:10 KJV For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. God loved him too well to leave him in the grave. Secondly, This he had in his eye, in laying down his life, that he might have an opportunity of declaring himself to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection, Romans 1:4 KJV And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By a divine stratagem (like that before Ai, Joshua 8:15 KJV And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.) he yielded to death, as if he were smitten before it, that he might the more gloriously conquer death, and triumph over the grave. He laid down a vilified body, that he might assume a glorified one, fit to ascend to the world of spirits; laid down a life adapted to this world, but assumed one adapted to the other, like a corn of wheat, John 12:24 KJV Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
That he was perfectly voluntary in his sufferings and death: John 10:18 KJV No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. “No one doth or can force my life from me against my will, but I freely lay it down of myself, I deliver it as my own act and deed, for I have (which no man has) power to lay it down, and to take it again.”
First, See here the power of Christ, as the Lord of life, particularly of his own life, which he had in himself. He had power to keep his life against all the world, so that it could not be wrested from him without his own consent. Though Christ’s life seemed to be taken by storm, yet really it was surrendered, otherwise it had been impregnable, and never taken. The Lord Jesus did not fall into the hands of his persecutors because he could not avoid it, but threw himself into their hands because his hour was come. No man taketh my life from me. This was such a challenge as was never given by the most daring hero.
He had power to lay down his life. He had ability to do it. He could, when he pleased, slip the knot of union between soul and body, and, without any act of violence done to himself, could disengage them from each other: having voluntarily taken up a body, he could voluntarily lay it down again, which appeared when he cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. He had authority to do it, exousian. Though we could find instruments of cruelty, wherewith to make an end of our own lives, yet Id possumus quod jure possumus — we can do that, and that only, which we can do lawfully. We are not at liberty to do it; but Christ had a sovereign authority to dispose of his own life as he pleased. He was no debtor (as we are) either to life or death, but perfectly sui juris.
He had power to take it again; we have not. Our life, once laid down, is as water spilt upon the ground; but Christ, when he laid down his life, still had it within reach, within call, and could resume it. Parting with it by a voluntary conveyance, he might limit the surrender at pleasure, and he did it with a power of revocation, which was necessary to preserve the intentions of the surrender.
Secondly, See here the grace of Christ; since none could demand his life of him by law, or extort it by force, he laid it down of himself, for our redemption. He offered himself to be the Saviour: Lo, I come; and then, the necessity of our case calling for it, he offered himself to be a sacrifice: Here am I, let these go their way; by which will we are sanctified, Hebrews 10:10 KJV By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. He was both the offerer and the offering, so that his laying down his life was his offering up himself.
Unbelief often suggests things to discourage believers, against which God has expressly guarded. Spiritual blessings are unspeakably better than having sons and daughters; for children are a care, and may prove a grief and shame, but the blessings we partake of in God’s house, are comforts which cannot be made bitter. Those who love the Lord truly, will serve him faithfully, and then his commandments are not grievous. Three things are promised. Assistance: I will not only bid them welcome, but incline them to come. Acceptance, and comfort: though they came mourning to the house of prayer, they shall go away rejoicing. They shall find ease by casting their cares and burdens upon God. Many a sorrowful spirit has been made joyful in the house of prayer. The Gentiles shall be one body with the Jews, that, as Christ says, John 10:16 KJV And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. there may be one fold and one Shepherd. Thanks be to God that none are separated from him except by wilful sin and unbelief; and if we come to him, we shall be accepted through the sacrifice of our great High Priest.
Isaiah 56:3–8 KJV Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. (4) For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; (5) Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. (6) Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; (7) Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. (8) The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
Great encouragement given to strangers that were wiling to come under the bonds of the covenant, assuring them of the blessings of the covenant.
The prophet is here, in God’s name, encouraging those that were hearty in joining themselves to God and yet laboured under great discouragements.
Some were discouraged because they were not of the seed of Abraham. They had joined themselves to the Lord, and bound their souls with a bond to be his for ever (this is the root and life of religion, to break off from the world and the flesh, and devote ourselves entirely to the service and honour of God); but they questioned whether God would accept them, because they were of the sons of the stranger, Isaiah 56:3 KJV Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. They were Gentiles, strangers to the commonwealth of Israel and aliens from the covenants of promise, and therefore feared they had no part nor lot in the matter. They said, “The Lord has utterly separated me from his people, and will not own me as one of them, nor admit me to their privileges.” It was often said that there should be one law for the stranger and for him that was born in the land, Exodus 12:49 KJV One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you. and yet they came to this melancholy conclusion.
Note, Unbelief often suggests things to the discouragement of good people which are directly contrary to what God himself has said, things which he has expressly guarded against.
Let not the sons of the stranger therefore say thus, for they have no reason to say it.
Note, Ministers must have answers ready for the disquieting fears and jealousies of weak Christians, which, how unreasonable soever, they must take notice of.
Others were discouraged because they were not fathers in Israel. The eunuch said, Behold, I am a dry tree. So he looked upon himself, and it was his grief; so others looked upon him, and it was his reproach. He was thought to be of no use because he had no children, nor was ever likely to have any. This was then the more grievous because eunuchs were not admitted to be priests, Leviticus 21:20 KJV Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; nor to enter into the congregation, Deuteronomy 23:1 KJV He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD. and because the promise of a numerous posterity was the particular blessing of Israel and the more valuable because from among them the Messiah was to come. Yet God would not have the eunuchs to make the worst of their case, nor to think that they should be excluded from the gospel church, and from being spiritual priests, because they were shut out from the congregation of Israel and the Levitical priesthood; no, as the taking down of the partition wall, contained in ordinances, admitted the Gentiles, so it let in likewise those that had been kept out by ceremonial pollutions. Yet, by the reply here given to this suggestion, it should seem the chief thing which the eunuch laments in his case is his being written childless.
Now suitable encouragements are given to each of these.
To those who have no children of their own, who, though they had the honour to be the children of the church and the covenant themselves, yet had none to whom they might transmit that honour, none to receive the sign of circumcision and the privileges secured by that sign.
Now observe, what a good character they have, though they lie under this ignominy and affliction; and those only are entitled to the following comforts who in some measure answer to these characters.
They keep God’s sabbaths as he has appointed them to be kept. In the primitive times, if a Christian were asked, “Hast thou kept holy the Lord’s day?” He would readily answer, “I am a Christian, and dare not do otherwise.”
In their whole conversation they choose those things that please God. They do that which is good; they do it with a sincere design to please God in it; they do it of choice, and with delight. If sometimes, through infirmity, they come short in doing that which pleases God, yet they choose it, they endeavour after it, and aim at it. Note, Whatever is God’s pleasure should without dispute be our choice.
They take hold of his covenant, and that is a thing that pleases God as much as any thing. The covenant of grace is proposed and proffered to us in the gospel; to take hold of it is to consent to it, to accept the offer and come up to the terms, deliberately and sincerely to take God to be to us a God and to give up ourselves to him to be to him a people. Taking hold of the covenant denotes an entire and resolute consent to it, taking hold as those that are afraid of coming short, catching at it as a good bargain, and as those that are resolved never to let it go, for it is our life: and we take hold of it as a criminal took hold of the horns of the altar to which he fled for refuge.
What a great deal of comfort they may have if they answer to this character, though they are not built up into families: Isaiah 56:5 KJV Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Unto them will I give a better place and name. It is supposed that there is a place and a name, which we have from sons and daughters, that is valuable and desirable. It is a pleasing notion we have that we live in our children when we are dead. But there is a better place, and a better name, which those have that are in covenant with God, and it is sufficient to counterbalance the want of the former. A place and a name denote rest and reputation; a place to live comfortably in themselves, and a name to live creditably with among their neighbours; they shall be happy, and may be easy both at home and abroad. Though they have not children to be the music of their house, or arrows in their quiver, to keep them in countenance when they speak with their enemies in the gate, yet they shall have a place and a name more than equivalent.
For, God will give it to them, will give it to them by promise; he will himself be both their habitation and their glory, their place and their name.
He will give it to them in his house, and within his walls; there they shall have a place, shall be planted so as to take root, Psalms 92:13 KJV Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. shall dwell all the days of their life, Psalms 27:4 KJV One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. They shall be at home in communion with God, as Anna, that departed not from the temple night nor day. There they shall have a name. A name for the good things with God and good people is a name better than that of sons and daughters. Our relation to God, our interest in Christ, our title to the blessings of the covenant, and our hopes of eternal life, are things that give us in God’s house a blessed place and a blessed name.
It shall be an everlasting name, that shall never be extinct, shall never be cut off; like the place and name of angels, who therefore marry not, because they die not. Spiritual blessings are unspeakably better than those of sons and daughters; for children are a certain care and may prove the greatest grief and shame of a man’s life, but the blessings we partake of in God’s house are a sure and constant joy and honour, comforts which cannot be embittered.
To those that are themselves the children of strangers.
It is here promised that they shall now be welcome to the church, Isaiah 56:6–7 KJV Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; (7) Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. When God’s Israel come out of Babylon, let them bring as many of their neighbours along with them as they can persuade to come, and God will find room enough for them all in his house.
And here, (as before) we may observe, upon what terms they shall be welcome. Let them know that God’s Israel, when they come out of Babylon, will not be plagued, as they were when they came out of Egypt, with a mixed multitude, that went with them, but were not cordially for them; no, the sons of the strangers shall have a place and a name in God’s house provided, that they forsake other gods, all rivals and pretenders whatsoever, and join themselves to the Lord, so as to become one spirit, 1 Corinthians 6:17 KJV But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.
That they join themselves to him as subjects to their prince and soldiers to their general, by an oath of fidelity and obedience, to serve him, not occasionally, as one would serve a turn, but to be constantly his servants, entirely subject to his command, and devoted to his interest.
That they join themselves to him as friends to his honour and the interests of his kingdom in the world, to love the name of the Lord, to be well pleased with all the discoveries he has made of himself and all the memorials they make of him. Observe, Serving him and loving him go together; for those that love him truly will serve him faithfully, and that obedience is most acceptable to him, as well as most pleasant to us, which flows from a principle of love, for then his commandments are not grievous, 1 John 5:3 KJV For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
That they keep the sabbath from polluting it; for the stranger that is within thy gates is particularly required to do that.
That they take hold of the covenant, that is, that they come under the bonds of it, and put in for the benefits of it.
To what privileges they shall be welcome, Isaiah 56:7 KJV Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. Three things are here promised them, in their coming to God:
Assistance: “I will bring them to my holy mountain, not only bid them welcome when they come, but incline them to come, will show them the way, and lead them in it.” David himself prays that God by his light and truth would bring them to his holy hill, Psalms 43:3 KJV O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. And the sons of the stranger shall be under the same guidance. The church is God’s holy hill, on which he hath set his King, and, in bringing them to Zion Hill, he brings them to be subjects to Zion’s King, as well as worshippers in Zion’s holy temple.
Acceptance: “Their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on my altar, and be never the less acceptable for being theirs, though they are sons of the stranger.” The prayers and praises (those spiritual sacrifices) of devout Gentiles shall be as pleasing to God as those of the pious Jews, and no difference shall be made between them; for, though they are Gentiles by birth, yet through grace they shall be looked upon as the believing seed of faithful Abraham and the praying seed of wrestling Jacob, for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision.
Comfort. They shall not only be accepted, but they themselves shall have the pleasure of it: I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. They shall have grace, not only to serve God, but to serve him cheerfully and with gladness, and that shall make the service the more acceptable to him; for, when we sing in the ways of the Lord, then great is the glory of our God. They shall go away and eat their bread with joy, because God now accepts their works, Ecclesiastes 9:7 KJV Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Nay, though they came mourning to the house of prayer, they shall go away rejoicing, for they shall there find such ease, by casting their cares and burdens upon God, and referring themselves to him, that, like Hannah, they shall go away and their countenance shall be no more sad. Many a sorrowful spirit has been made joyful in the house of prayer.
It is here promised that multitudes of the Gentiles shall come to the church, not only that the few who come dropping in shall be made welcome, but that great numbers shall come in, and the door be thrown open to them: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. The temple was then God’s house, and to that Christ applies these words, Matthew 21:13 KJV And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. but with an eye to it as a type of the gospel church, Hebrews 9:8–9 KJV The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: (9) Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; For Christ calls it his house, Hebrews 3:6 KJV But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
Now concerning this house it is promised, that it shall not be a house of sacrifice, but a house of prayer. The religious meetings of God’s people shall be meetings for prayer, in which they shall join together, as a token of their united faith and mutual love.
That it shall be a house of prayer, not for the people of the Jews only, but for all people. This was fulfilled when Peter was made, not only to perceive it himself, but to tell it to the world, that in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of him, Acts 10:35 KJV But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
It had been declared again and again that the stranger that comes nigh shall be put to death, but Gentiles shall now be looked upon no longer as strangers and foreigners, Ephesians 2:19 KJV Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And it appears by Solomon’s prayer, at the dedication of the temple, both that it was primarily intended for a house of prayer and that strangers should be welcome to it, 1 Kings 8:30 KJV And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place: and when thou hearest, forgive. 1 Kings 8:41 KJV Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake; 1 Kings 8:43 KJV Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.
And it is intimated here Isaiah 56:8 KJV The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him. that when the Gentiles are called in they shall be incorporated into one body with the Jews, that (as Christ says, John 10:16 KJV And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.) there may be one fold and one Shepherd; for, God will gather the outcasts of Israel. Many of the Jews that had by their unbelief cast themselves out shall by faith be brought in again, a remnant according to the election of grace,Romans 11:5 KJV Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
Christ came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matthew 15:24 KJV But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. to gather their outcasts, Psalms 147:2 KJV The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. to restore their preserved, Isaiah 49:6 KJV And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. and to be their glory, Luke 2:32 KJV A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
He will gather others also to him, besides his own outcasts that are gathered to him. Or, though some of the Gentiles have come over now and then into the church, that shall not serve (as some may think) to answer the extent of these promises; no, there are still more and more to be brought in: “I will gather others to him besides these; these are but the first-fruits in comparison with the harvest that shall be gathered for Christ in the nations of the earth, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in.”
Note, The church is a growing body: when some are gathered to it we may still hope there shall be more, till the mystical body be completed. Other sheep I have.