The Substance Of A Discourse On John 17
There is no chapter in the Bible which traces more, as a whole, the position of the Christian, and what Christ is for him. I do not say that it states such or such circumstances in which the Christian may be found, but all He is Himself in the presence of God, and how He has introduced us into that position.
You know that Christ Himself says, “I am no more in the world,” v. 11. He views His position in the face of God and in the face of the world; He sets the Christian in the same position where He is in the face of God and in the face of the world, and He lays the foundation of all that. I do not explain at this time all that might be said on the chapter, because it contains a very great number of important truths. I will confine myself to developing some of them, which will make us understand how Christ presents Himself to us, and presents us to God. There is this grand thought, that Jesus is the source of everything for us. He takes it up from the Father.
We may consider Jesus in two ways: either as accomplishing certain promises (for example, those made to Abraham), or, moreover, as son of David; but He is, on the other hand, a source of life, coming from the Father (accomplishing the promise made in Him before the world was). And it is thus that the Lord Jesus is presented in this gospel.
It is not only as accomplishing certain promises, which besides is very precious, but which is far from being all He is for us. He is the Son of the Father, the Word in whom is life, according to that which is said in the first chapter of this gospel: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth… And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” There is what He is. John says, This is the Word that has been made flesh, and we have received of His fulness, and grace for grace. The Gospel of John, having developed His history here below under this relationship, presents Him to us in this chapter at the close of His life; and He, being grace and truth, come forth from the bosom of the Father and ready to return to Him, gives the Father an account of all He has done.
There is something very special in the chapter. It is the only one which admits us to these wondrous conversations. It relates to us, not only what the Lord says to men, but what He says to His Father, while we hearken to Him. It is not trust merely, but confidence. We are here hearkening to Jesus, who is giving account of all to the Father.
“I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” He gives account of all. He pours forth His heart about His own into the heart of the Father. It is the most intimate relation in which one could be, and wherein He has placed us. Christ the Son has satisfied the Father. He gives account to the Father of all that work of grace, whereof He Himself is the representative.
We find, in this chapter, the most intimate relationship between Him and His Father, and through Him with the Father between us and Himself. We find therein the basis on which to found our hope. In the preceding chapters He had spoken to His disciples of various circumstances; but now the time is come when all which would bring immediate relations between God and us was about to have its course. As regards men, His work was finished. All that the second Adam had to accomplish is accomplished in His Person. All the evil introduced from the creation by the fall of the first Adam has been but the occasion of what the Second came to accomplish. He was from heaven, and He is come, from His Father, to establish all the relations between God and us; and He places Himself before Him according to the basis established for what the Second man had to do. God does His own work. He would have a man for Himself in the place of the first Adam, and Christ perfectly fulfilled this end. It is the Second man who acts in the very circumstances into which the first Adam had plunged us; and it is not on what we have done, but on what God has done, that this basis is established. It is well to understand that our relations are based on what has been accomplished by God’s Man. So far there had been on our side but sin and folly: what Christ did was the perfection of wisdom, purity, and obedience.
The hour was come for proving if man could present himself before God, if this new Man Jesus could stand before God. And He can do so. He can lift up His eyes to heaven. And, instead of beholding the cherubim, who barred the entrance of Eden in a terrestrial paradise wherein Adam had failed, and whence he had been cast out (Gen. 3:24), He can look on high and return whence He had come in grace, saying, “I have glorified thee on earth,” v. 4. He could lift His eyes to that heaven whence He had descended, and the imprint of which He had borne all His life. “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee; as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. [Behold, I take a place before thee, in glory, to glorify thee on high, as I have already done on the earth.]” v. 1, 2. We see that He always speaks in complete humiliation. I speak of the place that He not only has acquired, but that He has made for Himself. If man had been innocent, he would have had his place in Eden. But that a man should make his place in heaven before God, as Christ did, and did it for us, such a thing existed not yet, save in the mind of God. A man, who has the life of God, and has made His place by the work that He has accomplished—there is a new existence. And this is what is remarkable—that He takes the glory as a given glory, keeping His place as man, though Son; He places Himself with His own while He is their Head on the same level with them—as receiving all from the Father. He takes His place in the glory with the Father for ever. As God has given Him authority over all flesh, He takes His place as Head, to give life to all those whom the Father has given Him; Himself thus receiving all from the Father. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
The righteousness of man is no longer the question: here it is eternal life. When a certain lawyer came to Jesus (Luke 10), and asked Him, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” Christ’s hour was not yet come; as to the ways of God, the door was not yet shut; the Christ was not yet rejected. Jesus said to him, “This do and thou shalt live.” The lawyer had not asked, What must I do to be saved? but to inherit eternal life. Had a man fulfilled the law (though we know that man was incapable of it), he would have had eternal life. But now, if there is not the knowledge of the Father and the Son, there is no eternal life; and if any one thinks that God gives eternal life, and that he so thinks according to his own thoughts and not according to what is revealed to us, that is not eternal life. If a man makes to himself a Bible of his own heart, how will he know what is life eternal? Will it be in his heart? Oh, no; God alone can say, This is life eternal. And if you cannot have it from Jesus, there is no eternal life for you. Nothing is needful in us in order to have it. It is entirely a new thought. It is no more sought in man here below, but only in Christ, who has established relations between God and man; and then, when a man knows the Father and the Son, he has eternal life.
There are those who cannot say, I know the Father, and the Son whom He hath sent. But if, through grace, we can say, I know the Father and the Son, we may say, I have life eternal; and what a happiness that the thing is so simply said! To bear fruit we must have life; and what happiness! A whole life need not be spent in order to know this. If you know the Father and the Son, you have life; and he who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself, and precious is the knowledge that the Lord can lay down a thing with such certainty. A soul may say to itself, I have not eternal life, for I do not glorify God. Dear friends, lay yourselves a little aside; it is the Son who speaks to. the Father, and it does not become you to place yourself between them with your wretched thoughts. In what the Son says to the Father: “I have glorified thee on the earth,” and there is nothing that thou canst require, but that I have performed. Where did He find His glory?
God could not rest in man; but He could rest in Jesus. Before Jesus, it was with God as with the dove sent forth by Noah (Gen. 8:8), there was nowhere for God to rest; but when the Son comes, He could say, “I have glorified thee”; and on Him the eye of God can rest. He is daily His delight. Jesus can say, at the close of His life here below (that Satan may hear, that His own may rejoice in it, that the world may know, that angels may marvel at it), “I have glorified thee.”
Behold this accepted Man given from God; the Man who has perfectly fulfilled all that the Father could desire! His glory had not been entire, if one single point had failed; but He can say, “I have finished the work which thou hast given me to do.” (I have nothing more to do, and Thou hast nothing more to exact.) “I have glorified thee on the earth; and now, O Father, glorify thou me with thyself, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” There is the basis of all, and of our salvation.
It is most interesting to observe how the Son, though God equal with the Father, and having right to the glory, asks it, because as man He is worthy of it. And He takes this glory in the position of man. Thus we understand how Christ has taken our place as man; as the responsible Man in our position as sinners (though Himself without sin), and thereby, even because He has perfectly glorified the Father, He has acquired the right to this glory. And in order that, in this position as man, He may be glorified with the Father, having acquired the right to this glory, He asks it, that it may be for us as for Himself. He humbled Himself unto death; wherefore God has exalted Him; Phil. 2:5-11. There is the basis of the whole thing: the Son glorifies the Father on the earth, and the Father must glorify the Son in heaven. He has taken His place, because all is accomplished. The Father has nothing more to require: all is done.
Now, what does He as to us? “I have manifested Thy name to the men thou hast given me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me, and they have kept thy word.” (I place them in my own position, and there it is that they became cognizant of their own.) There was nothing left to be done, and Christ manifests the name of the Father to those that God has given Him.
About to ascend to His Father (chap. 20:17), He says, My Father and your Father. He manifests the Father’s name such as He has known it Himself. He lays us on His Father’s heart, as He Himself is laid there; weaker doubtless, just as a little child is weaker and knows much less than a bigger one, but not less therefore children of their father, no less the objects of care and tenderness. We do not understand all the love God witnesses to us. But Christ says to us, “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,” v. 23.
“Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words that thou hast given me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. 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. 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. And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves,” v. 7-13. Thus are we set in intelligence and in truth, whatever the degree in which we realise this position. But, observe this: He was “not of the world.” Man, the first Adam, had no place before God, because of his sin in Eden. Having failed, he was going to be cast out into hell; Christ, the last Adam, places Himself in the position of sinful man, to fulfil God’s purposes; but He was not of the world, and consequently there was no place for Him in this world. The men that God gave Him are taken out from the world, and He says of them, as of Himself, “They are not of the world,” v. 14-16. He sets them in the position which He has made for Himself, and this position is not of the world. He will take the world for His inheritance, but the world now is neither His place nor ours.
In verse 25 Jesus says, “Righteous Father, the world has not known thee.” He says, “Righteous Father,” not “Holy Father,” because it was all over with the world. He appeals to righteousness against the world: the world has not known the Father, although He was fully manifested in flesh.
The hour was come for deciding the merits of Jesus and those of the world. God had to pronounce for one of the two; for they could no longer walk together. God could no longer love this world where His Son had been dishonoured and contemned; and when Judas went out, and the measure of sin was thus filled up, the judgment of this world takes place, though as yet it be not executed. The prince of this world was cast out, and those to be withdrawn from his power are given to Jesus. “I have given them thy word,” added the Lord, “and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil,” v. 14, 15. Thus He describes these persons: “Thine they were”; and “They have kept thy word.” Observe when Jesus says, “They have kept thy word”; and how have they kept it?
There is much consolation in considering this word of Jesus. His disciples, of whom He was speaking to the Father, understood it but little. Their walk, the details of their connection with Jesus, were most sorrowful; but they had (except Judas) persevered, in weakness perhaps, yet they had persevered. Well, that was all. There were many things they did not understand, but they had kept the Father’s word which spake of Jesus. When, one day, Jesus asked them, “Will ye also go away?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God,” John 6:68, 69. They had persevered, they had kept the Father’s word: as soon as the word of the Father has our confidence, because Jesus has spoken it, we are His.
The most advanced Christians need this interpretation of the judgment borne by the Lord on their lives. We may be very wretched, and we find that we all are so, if we compare our state with what we might be. These same disciples, a little after Jesus had been telling about the last circumstances of His life, were disputing between themselves who should be the greatest. Well, for all that, they had kept the word. The eye of God sees the smallest spark of grace. He blows on it and makes it become resplendent; and, notwithstanding all the wretchedness, the weaknesses, and the failures, it suffices that they have kept the word that Jesus has given from His Father. If confidence is there, Jesus says, “They are thine, and I am glorified in them.”
They might have said, We have not kept Thy word as we ought to have done; but what they had kept was precious in the sight of Jesus and of God. Jesus always speaks according to the principle that is there. The great matter is that Jesus was the Sent One of the Father; and as to all that belongs to Jesus, to this poor carpenter’s son, it is the Father who gave it to Him. The disciples had understood that the Son of God had received everything from the Father, that He was Heir of all things. Well, when Jesus takes this place in the heart, we are happy. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities (Isa. 53): but He is the beloved of the Father. This poor Jesus is but too often practically despised and set aside for thousands of frivolous things, even in the heart of the Christian; but we have understood what Jesus is—insulted, despised, and rejected though He be. The eye has penetrated by faith through all this contempt, and has seen in Him the Son of God, the Beloved of the Father; and this cheers, because we have understood that therein is life eternal. We have the same thoughts as God. Our desire has Christ for its object, and we find our delight in Him. We say, Yes, He is right: all comes from the Father. They have believed that Thou hast sent me, and that I came forth from Thee.
Such is the extent of the privileges of the Christian of whom Jesus speaks: we have seen how and why He can claim the glory. The Father owed it Him, and He gives it us. But, moreover, all the words that Jesus received from the Father, all the plans and secret counsels of the Father, whereof Jesus (taking the place of prophet on the part of God) as man has received the communication; all the testimonies of the favour and ways of God which comforted His soul—these all He has communicated to us. The glory that He has acquired (v. 22), the words that He has received (v. 8), He has given them to us. It is His will that we should have the same communion of thoughts with the Father, that we should have part intelligently in all His love and all His grace, having communicated to us all that the Father has said to Him. See what a position is ours as to communion, and what support for practice has been granted to our souls! And if the intelligence, by means of which the Father’s love is poured into the heart of the Son, be given to us, we may say that we have known that Jesus is come forth from the Father, and that we have believed that He has been sent from Him. This love of the Father to the Son is also poured into our heart to strengthen us, and to make us justly appreciate (which, after all, we never can fully) our identification with the Son in His relations with the Father, and in the position that He has acquired for us, having glorified His Father upon the earth. It is thus eternal life to see all that the Father is to the Son; this is to know the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
Jesus was the depositary of the outpourings of the Father’s heart, and that is the place that He has willed that we should have. He wills also that we should know the glory that belongs to Him, being with Him where He is: we who have known Him in His humiliation, we who have shared in principle this humiliation. “Father, I will,” says He, “that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory”—the glory of Him who, though the world despised Him, had been loved by the Father before the world was.
“I have given them thy word, [He does not say Thy words, but Thy word. When He speaks of our privileges, He says, Thy words; but when He speaks of our position in the world, He says, I have given them Thy word; that is to say, the position of testimony by the word which has reached us through Jesus, the word of the Father], and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.” And to whatever degree we enjoy the position of Jesus in heaven, we must also share His position here below, to be hated: it is the practical position of the Christian.
We have seen how God makes a Christian, by separating him from the world in the death of Jesus. At the moment in which Jesus speaks, God had tried all, and He had given up all His trials. It was quite another question now. God would have nothing more to do with the old man: God set up new relations for Himself in Jesus. Are they firm? They are immutable. He has glorified Jesus as man. God has received His Son; and He having entered in as man with the Father, He makes Christians, according to the principle after which this new Man is entered into the presence of God His Father. The Christian understands the activity of the love of the Father. He is based on this hope; all his joy is in the life which results from it. He no longer knows the old man but as a sinner, and the new man as having immutable relations with God. He knows Jesus Himself as the Beloved of the Father. The word that the Father has given to the Son he keeps, and recognises the Son as the object of His love. And what can we say? Is our happiness on the side of truth? Can you say that you have received these words that Jesus gives us from the Father, and Jesus Himself as the only One that God can recognise?
It was the hour of the judgment of the world, as it was the hour of the reception of the Son. It is well worth our while to consider whether we receive this word of eternal life. Are you placed on this new basis? What a basis! What a position! A position to which Satan cannot reach; an immutable position, beyond all that Satan has been able to do, and whither he cannot enter. What largeness of grace! May our ears be opened to hear all that the Son says to the Father when He pours forth His heart before Him concerning His own! And what a happy position is that into which He has brought us! How ashamed ought we not to be that we know so little of these things, and that we make so poor a use of them! What have we learnt of that which the Father says to the Son, and the Son to the Father? If you were asked, What have you learnt of this love of the Father, what would you answer? But, on the other hand, remember that when Jesus says, “They have kept thy word,” He declares to us that His grace has placed us there. Look at His disciples: they were very ignorant. But what I have quoted is not to make you satisfied with remaining in ignorance and indifference; it should rather humble us, if we are in the same case. Rather should we be encouraged to profit by this position, in recognising it as ours. “They are thine.” “They have kept thy word.” What grace! How precious is this grace! How should it urge us to seek the realisation of all these things, so much the more precious as they manifest our gratitude; and if we are led in truth, we shall make account of it to glorify Him, who through His grace has so much loved us!