JOHN xvii. 24.
THIS chapter contains the best part of the gospel. If the gospel be good news from heaven, (as surely it is), the best part of those good news is what the Saviour sends up to heaven in this prayer. And what he sends up in this prayer, he brought down from heaven, from his Father, John vi. 38. I have made some entrance on this verse 24. the sweetest of this prayer, if comparison may be made, where every, word is most sweet and excellent. I have spoke unto the manner of Christ’s praying, I will. The manner is singular, and the matter, is most excellent. The manner of Christ’s praying here, is more like a commander, than a supplicant. What specialties there were in the person that made it, and in the season that drew forth this high word, you have heard.
The matter of Christ’s prayer in this verse, I took up in four; and have spoke to the first of them, to wit, the description of the party he prayeth for. In this chapter, Lord not only describeth them he prayed for, but expressly denieth that he prayed for any besides them, ver. 9, 10. 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. From this description of them Christ prayed for in this verse, and in other parts of this chapter, I have spoke unto these three points: 1. That there is a select determinate company of men, that were given by the Father to the Son, to be redeemed and saved by him. 2. That this company was particularly and exactly known by Jesus Christ. 3. That Christ’s heart was fixed and resolved on the eternal salvation of all them that were given to him. And here he expresseth it highly, in this I will.
The second thing in the matter of Christ’s prayer, followeth to be spoke unto; and that is, the blessing he prayeth for unto them. It is, that they may be with me where I am. There are three things here, that I would first take notice of and explain; and then speak to the words themselves; and give you from them, the doctrines which I intend to insist more largely upon.
I. Concerning, this word also. It doth not in the least hint, that there are any that he desires may be with him where he is, besides those that were given him: but it is only his praying for another, and greater blessing, to them that were given to him. Our Lord had prayed for many and great things for them before in this chapter and prayer. He had prayed his Father to keep them, to sanctify them, and to make them all one in the Father and in the Son. “But (would our Lord say) there is something more than all this I would have for them;” I would have them to be with me where I am. Hence,
Observe, Nothing short of, nothing less than heaven, and eternal glory in it, doth stint and limit Christ’s heart and prayers for his people. For all he hath done for them, for all he hath given to them, (and there is a great deal of both), there is still this also in his heart for them, I will that they also may be with me where I am. “I will not only go where they are, but I will also have them where I am.” Nothing less than everlasting blessedness to his people, doth limit Christ’s will and prayers for them. He prays for every thing to them, and for this also. When the apostle is speaking to believers in Heb. vi. 4,-9. he gives a very gracious insinuation, after a most fearful alarm. When he had spoke some of the most terrible words in the scripture, upon a supposition of an utter apostasy from Christianity, after great attainments: If such as have been enlightened, &c. do fall away, their case is desperate; they are soil that bring forth nothing but briers and thorns, are near unto cursing, and their end is to be burned. But, beloved, (saith he, ver. 9.), we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. All the grace that Christ giveth, all the grace that believers receive and act in this life, are but things that accompany salvation, that do pertain unto the state of salvation, and prepare for the full enjoyment of salvation in heaven.
There are several sorts of gifts that Christ gives, and believers receive, in this life, that pertain to salvation. As,
1. Their right and title to heaven. And that is Christ himself possessed by faith; dwelling in their hearts by faith, Eph. iii. 17.; Christ in them the hope of glory, Col. i. 27. That day that Christ entered into their hearts, the hope of glory began to dawn, And the deeper he enter into the heart of any, the greater is the hope, so as to make the believer rejoice in hope of the glory of God, Rom. v. 2.
2. The Lord giveth also meetness for heaven; and that is wrought by his Spirit and grace on his people: Col. i. 12. Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be made partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. This meetness for partaking is inseparable from a right and title to glory; at least so far, that no believer can have a comfortable view of his right, without some experience of his meetness for enjoying the inheritance. This same apostle saith to this same purpose, in 2 Cor. v. 5. Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing, is God; who hath also given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. He hath been at great pains on us, and bath used many means and methods with us. And what hath all this been for? It hath only been the Lord’s gracious and wise way of polishing and framing us for heaven.
3. There is the earnest of the inheritance that Christ gives, and Christians receive sometimes, Eph. i. 13, 14. This pertains to glory nearly. It is like the first -fruits of that good land, frequently spoke of in the word; and might be more often tasted by believers, were it not for their laziness and unbelief when they want it; and their bad guiding of it, when at any time they enjoy a little of it.
APPLICATION. Imitate our Lord Jesus Christ in your praying for yourselves. Imitate him,
1. In all your askings. There are some spiritual blessings that believers are very desirous of. Conscience terrifies you, and then you cry, O for the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, and for peace with God thereby, and peace within! O for victory over sin, and for strength to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing! All good prayers. But if all this were granted you, remember to pray on this also for glory. Beg pardon, and heaven also; holiness, and heaven also. Ask any good thing which you want, and which he hath promised, Ask every thing, and heaven also. Let your prayers for yourselves be as large as Christ’s are for you.
2. Remember this also in all your receivings, as well as in your askings. His fulness is infinite, his bounty is great; but his people are but narrow vessels, and cannot receive much; and are leaky vessels, and cannot keep long what they receive. Is he kind, large-hearted, and open-handed to you? (as no believer dare deny,) Bless him, and beg heaven also. Jacob was a meek, lowly, humble man, and saith, Gen. xxxii. 10. l am not worthy of the least (or, l am less than the least) of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou host shewed unto thy servant. This man looks on the least mercy as a great mountain, and on himself as a little mole-hill. You would think, surely this humble man will not stand with God for any thing; yet he will weep and make supplication, as in Hos. xii. 9, 4. and wrestle all night, and say (doubtless with his eyes full of tears, and his heart full of faith and love) I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. Receive all his grace and bounty, with all the sense you can reach of your own unworthiness; yet still remember this also. Be not satisfied, so as not to desire eternal glory. Make use of all experiences of his grace to you, to quicken both your desire and your faith of eternal life. Let that, well of water in you, which Christ’s grace hath made in you, spring up into everlasting life, John iv. 14.
II. The second word that is next to be explained, is, with me: I will that they be with me. It may be some of them were with Christ when he prayed thus; it may be all the eleven apostles were there. But their being with Christ in the garden, was but a small matter. Christ was then at his lowest; then was the cloud thickest, and the eclipse darkest on the Son of God. It is another, and better place and case, that, Christ prays to have them with him in, than this.
There are three words concerning Christ and his people, in the scripture, that are very good and gracious; but this in the text is beyond them all.
1. We find, that his people are said to be in him, 1 John v. 20. and 2 Cor. v. 17.
2. Another word is, that Christ is said to be in his people, Cor. xiii. 5. We are in Christ by faith; and Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, Eph. iii. 17. So John xvii. 2,.
3. And Christ is said to be with his people. This was amongst the last words of Christ, when going to heaven, Matth. xxviii. 20. And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. “Though ye shall never see my face any more, till I bring you to heaven, yet I am with you always.” But this word of being with Christ, is above all those three, for as great as they are. This is far better, Phil. i. 23.
III. The third word to be explained in the text is, where I am: That they may be with me where I am. Where was Christ when he said these words? He was either in the garden, or going to it. For what is in these four chapters, xiv, xv, xvi, xvii. was, in all appearance, spoken by our Lord, partly at his last supper, partly immediately after it; as may be gathered from John xiv. 31. Arise, let us go hence. Christ was on the earth when he said this; but surely he meant heaven in this word, where I am. He was just upon leaving the world, and on going to heaven; as he speaks, John xvi. 28. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world! again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. And John xvii. 11,12. he speaks as if no more in the world: And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name. So like is this blessed prayer to the intercession of our great High Priest in heaven. Now let us consider how far this blessing of being with Christ where he is, is above and beyond all he had done for, and said before to his people; and yet they were very considerable.
1. Our Lord Jesus Christ was made what his people are. He was made all that we are, except sin. There was no difference betwixt Christ and another man, as he came into the world, but only in this (and it was his glory, and our salvation) that he was sinless. But all his people are shapen in iniquity, and in sin did their mother conceive them, Psal. li. 5. Are the children partaker: of flesh and blood? He also himself likewise took part of the same. He took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, Hebrews ii. 14, 16, 17.
2. Jesus Christ was not only made what his people were, but he came where they are. He came into the world, their dwelling-place, and came down from heaven into the earth, John vi. 38. Never did any person come down from heaven but Jesus Christ. Neither could he come down from heaven, if he had not been God; for that body he took to himself, was formed in the lowest parts of the earth, Psal. cxxxix. 15. (as well as the body of other men) though in a singular manner. What marvellous grace and love was here, that the eternal Son of God would not only take on him his peoples nature, but would come and dwell where they dwelt, and that with delight? See Prov. viii. 30, 31. Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him, as the Son with the Father. It is very like to that in John i. 1, 2. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. Ver. 14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. But see farther what is said, Prov. viii. 31. Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and my delights were with the sons of men. When was this? From everlasting, ever the earth was, ver. 23. While as yet he had not made the earth, ver. 26. How marvellous is this expression, that God’s Son, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, did eternally rejoice in the habitable part of the earth, when there was no earth; and that his delights were with the sons of men, when there was no man, nor son of man, in the earth? But the habitable part of the earth, though not yet made, was the place he was to come into, for redeeming his people. And as he delighted in it from eternity, he came triumphantly into it, in the fulness of time: Heb. x. 7. Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God. He also loved the ground his bride was to tread on, the earth where they were to live in, and where in time he was to court the heart and win the love of his people.
3. Our Lord went where his people deserved to go. There is a good sense of that harsh-like word, He descended into hell. It is a Popish fable, to imagine, that Christ, after he died, went down into the place of the damned, either to suffer, or to do any thing there. His humiliation was accomplished in his dying, and lying in the grave for a time. But if we take it in this sense, that that stroke of Divine justice that his people by sin had deserved, Christ did feel and bear; this is the usual voice of the gospel. The sword of justice was roused, furbished, and drawn against Jesus Christ, and his soul pierced thereby, Zech. xiii. 7. He was apprehended, accused, arraigned, condemned, and executed, most unjustly and wickedly by men, but most righteously by God. Men’s putting of Christ to death, was the most unjust and wicked act that ever was done in the world. But the Lord Jehovah’s part in it, was most just and righteous. If you have ears to hear it, this is a sure truth, Never did a damned sinner deserve hell more justly, nor was, nor shall be sent into it more righteously, than the spotless Lamb of God deserved the stroke of Divine justice for the sins of his people laid upon him. It was indeed infinite grace and love in the Father, to substitute his only begotten Son to be the Saviour of sinners, 1 John iv. 9, 10. It was infinite grace in our Lord Jesus Christ, to condescend to be the sacrifice for sinners, 2 Cor. viii. 9. But when both are done, justice was glorified in the execution of this sacrifice, Rom. iii. 25, 26.
4. Our Lord also went whither he had a mind to bring us; and that is, to heaven. And yet all this is short of being with him where he is. On this, consider, 1. How he went, and left his people: Luke xxiv. 50, 51. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lift up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. A blessed way of going hence. Our blessed Lord came into the world, as the greatest blessing that ever it got. He blessed his people while he was with them, and blessed them at parting, and will return again to bless them more. The last use our Lord made of his lips on earth (into which grace was poured, Ps. xlv. 2.), and the last use he made of his holy hands, was to bless his people; and the force and virtue of that blessing remains to this day, and will until his return. He went away blessing, and will come again blessing. He ascended with a shout, Psalm xlvii. 5.; and he shall himself descend from heaven with a shout, 1 Thess. iv. 16. 2. Consider what he went to heaven for. It was to possess heaven for us, as the forerunner, Heb. vi. 20.; to prepare a place for us, John xiv. 2, to make intercession for us, Heb. ix. 24.; to mind our concerns while we are here, and to welcome us to heaven when he calls us hence. You may think, that it is far more comfortable for believers now to die, having Christ in heaven before them, than it was for believers to die before he came into the world, as many did; or to die, and leave Christ in the world, as it may be some did: though his saving grace is the same in all the states he was in. But now we die to be with him, Phil. 1. 23. to be where he is, John xiv. 2, 3.
5. Christ is with his people even while they are here in the world. This is also a great blessing, but short of this being with him where he is. There are two seasons when this presence of Christ with his people is known. 1. When they are at their best. When is a Christian at his best? Every one can answer, It is when most of Christ’s presence is enjoyed.
2. When is he at his worst? When in great affliction, Isa. xliii. 2. Paul found this presence; 2 Tim. iv. 16, 17. At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me. He had never a friend then and there, but Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me. When a believer is greatly tempted, then is he in a bad condition. Peter was warned both of his danger and relief, Luke xxii. 31, 32. Paul had this exercise, 2 Cor. xii. 7, 8, 9. and relief under it; and makes this use of it, Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. As if he had said, “I have got a troublesome visit from the devil; but it hath been the occasion of a gracious visit from Christ. And if the one come first, and the other follow, the first is to be patiently borne, and the other to be thankfully received.” There is also a presence of Christ with his people, even in their stumblings. Though he be displeased with them for their falling, yet he hath a double care about them. One is, that they may not fall utterly: Psal. xxxvii. 24. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. Another care of Christ about his stumbling children, is, to take them up again. Lastly, Christ’s people have his presence with him in dying. And it is a precious and needful blessing. Will Christ withdraw his gracious help and presence from his people, when it is so very needful? Paul calls dying by a sweet name, 1 Thess. iv. 14. sleeping in Jesus. It is a dark place, and a cold pillow, that this sleep is taken on. But it is the sweetest sleep that ever the believer took. The body is freed from all pain and trouble, and will be sweetly awakened at the last day. And till then the Spirit is not only with him that gave it, Eccl. xii. 7. but with him that redeemed it, Psal. xxxi. 5.
But now what Christ prays for here, is far beyond all those. He was made what we are; came where we were; suffered what we deserved; went to heaven for us; gives his presence with us here, in life and death. But more than all is this, I will have them where I am.
There are two points of doctrine that I would speak to from this word.
DOCT. 1. To be with Christ where he is, is Christ’s, and the believer’s heaven, that heaven that Christ gives, and that believers receive.
DOCT. 2. That our Lord’s will is set upon his people’s enjoying of this blessedness.
I would at this time conclude with three words of Application of what hath been said.
1. Behold how greatly Christ loves his people. This prayer of his for them, flowed from his boundless love. He cannot be pleased without them, and they cannot be happy without him. All the glory and bliss that Christ is possessed of, doth not fully satisfy him, till he have all his people with him. His church is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all, Eph. i. 23.
2. Behold how happy are his people. Moses sung thus of old, Deut. xxxiii. 29. Happy art thou, O Israel: Who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord? Much more may we say so, when Christ hath appeared, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 2 Tim. i. 10.
3. Learn to pray moderately for the lives of Christ’s people. There are some of the godly that are very useful by their gifts and grace; and, if spared, might be of great profit to the church of Christ. Such we should be loathe to lose, and their lives we may pray for; yet it must be done moderately. Who can tell, but Christ and we are praying counter to one another? He may be saying in heaven, “Father, I will have such a one to be with me where I am;” and we saying on earth, “Lord, we would have him to be with us where we are:” we sayings “We cannot spare him as yet;” and Christ saying, “I will be no longer without him.” It is the force of this prayer of Christ, “I will have them to be with me where I am,” that is the cause of the death of the godly. It is the force of this prayer that carries away so many of the saints in our day. Christ is saying in heaven, “I will have them where I am. They are despised in the world, and badly used on the earth: Father, let us have them where we are.” Should not we pray modestly for their lives, while we know not his secret will? and should not we believingly submit to his will, when he reveals it? Say, “Let them go from us, since Christ calls them to be with him.” It is his will, and their great advantage, Phil. i. 23.
Robert Traill (1642-1716): Friend of William Guthrie of Fenwick, attendant of James Guthrie of Stirling on the scaffold, son of the Greyfriars Church manse where the 1638 Covenant was signed, Scot ordained in England, exile in Holland, prisoner on the Bass Rock, scholar, preacher and saint — Robert Traill lived to span the ripest period of the Puritan age. Distinguished in the classes at Edinburgh University, Traill early felt the inner constraint to preach Christ. Too intimate an association with the younger John Welsh drew the swift displeasure of the civil arm upon him. Denounced as a ‘Pentland Rebel’ he fled to join the bright galaxy of British divines weathering the storm of Stuart Absolutism in the Low Countries (1667).
Traill’s literary output began there. As assistant to Nethenus, professor at Utrecht, he prepared Samuel Rutherford's Examination of Arminianism for the press. Back in London in 1692 he took up his pen, as Isaac Chancy (Owen’s successor) and the younger Thomas Goodwin were having to do, to defend the doctrine of Justification against the new Legalism. After serving Presbyterian charges in Kent and London he died at the age of 74.
The Works of Robert Traill are available through the Banner of Truth