XXVI. THE PRAYER OF THE HIGH PRIEST.
[Lincoln's Inn, 10th Sunday after Trinity (Afternoon), July 27, 1856.]
St. John XVII. 1.
These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you.
The more we enter into our Lord's teaching, the more profound is our apprehension of the dignity, the awfulness, the divinity of words; the more we confess their insufficiency. If He who was in the beginning with God is the Word, if words have been the expression of His mind, they awaken those thoughts in our minds which they are intended to clothe. But if the Word has spoken of Himself as a Son; if He has said that He has come from a Father; if He has promised a Comforter, He has taken us out of the region of words into the heart of the realities which they represent. It is the Son Himself who reveals the Father: what could words effect without His Person? The Father Himself, He has said, draws us to the Son: words would be spoken in vain if there were not that wonderful and loving attraction upon the hearts of the creatures whom He has formed in the image of the Son. The Spirit's work is to produce that inward conviction which words cannot produce, to act upon the man himself, to bind those into fellowship whom the diversities of speech and custom have made unintelligible to each other, to testify to men of the Father and the Son, as the ground of all speech, thought, and being. But here, as throughout this Gospel, the deepest revelation is the commonest and simplest. As we enter into the region of the divine relations, of divine communion, all must tremble; none are forbidden to approach. Intellectual differences disappear; here every spirit may find its home.
We sometimes ask ourselves, as we read the prayer in this chapter — and it is good that we should ask ourselves — 'Is this the model of our prayer? Is Christ giving us an example here that we should follow in His steps? Or does it stand awfully alone, separated from every other that ever has been or can be offered; one which we are to wonder at the more, because so vast a chasm separates it from all our acts and efforts of devotion?' I believe that if we have not understood the acts and discourses on the Paschal night, there can be but one answer to this question. 'The Son of God praying to His Father the night before His Passion, — how entirely isolated,' we should say, 'must such dialogue be from all that ever has been, from all that can be conceived of! What blasphemy to connect it, even in thought, with the petitions of those who have little to do but to confess their sins, and supplicate forgiveness!' But if we have studied these chapters; if we have learnt that when the disciples saw Christ they saw the Father; if we have understood that He is the Vine, and they the branches; if we have known what He meant when He told them that they were to ask in His name, that their joy might be full; if we have observed how He distinguishes the disciples from the world, and yet how He teaches them that everything they do is to be done for the world, and as a witness of God's love to the world; then, I think, we shall feel that it is the greatest of all contradictions to suppose that this prayer does not contain in itself the essence and meaning of all prayer, that it is not the one which best expresses the wants and longings of every man, that it is not the prayer of all the children of God, in all places and in all ages, because it is the prayer of the only-begotten Son of God.
'These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come.' He had spoken to His disciples of an hour of travail, which was to terminate in a new birth for them and for the world. The world knew nothing of this hour; no one of its works or pleasures was interrupted; that night was like every other night. The disciples had a dull sense of present oppression, a vague presentiment of approaching calamity. But they, as little as the world, felt what the sorrow was, still less what joy they had to expect when it was over. He knew it all. He knew inwardly that that was the hour to fulfil the purpose for which He was come into the world. The life and death of the world were gathered up into it. The feeling would have been intolerable if it had been a solitary, separate one; but the foresight of it had been given Him by His Father; the sense that the hour was come was imparted by Him; His prayer was the acknowledgment of that which had been revealed to Him, His filial acceptance of that which had been prepared for Him. And surely, brethren, all prayer must be this. It is the acknowledging of that, be it sad or joyful, which has been given to us; it is the casting our experience upon Him who has brought us into it, and who understands it, because without Him we cannot go through it, or in the least understand it ourselves.
And this is the petition which is grounded upon that confession, 'Glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you.' Every prayer that had been presented since the creation-day had been a prophecy of this. When the Psalmist cried out of the depths, 'Lord, hear my voice;' when he said, 'Let not any be offended or confounded because of me;' when he confessed his sin, that God might be justified, and might be clear when He was judged, he seemed to say, 'Glorify me, that I may glorify you;' he seemed to pray, 'Let me, David, be brought out of my ignorance and darkness and sin, that your name may be honoured and not blasphemed.' He did really pray, 'Glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you!' He prayed that not he, but that the Son of Man, might be raised and delivered and exalted, in order that God's own image might be exalted, and might shine forth upon men. When the Son of Man actually in His own person prayed this prayer, He was expressing that which was latent and could not be expressed in those earlier petitions; He was bringing them forth into their full clearness and power; He was actually presenting them in His own name to Him who had known and inspired the suppliant.
'As you have given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as you have given Him.' I do not think that when we are occupied with the words of our Lord Himself, spoken in prayer the night before His crucifixion, we have a right to alter them in the slightest degree, for the sake of extracting from them what may seem to us a more natural and obvious signification. I am quite aware that our translators would have appeared to themselves and to many of their readers to be using an uncouth and strange form of speech if they had rendered the words literally, 'That all that which you have given to Him, He may give to them life eternal.' But I think they were bound to encounter any apparent difficulty of construction, rather than to incur the risk of contracting or perverting this sense. It was not a time to ask themselves whether their understandings could fully measure or take in the words. If they had faith in Him who spoke them, they should have given them exactly, and left Him to interpret them in His own time to those who had need of them. Christ says that His Father has given Him power over all flesh. He speaks, again, of all (everything) which His Father had given to Him. And then, leaving the neuter, πᾶν, He uses the masculine plural, them, αὔτοις, surely that He may denote the universality of the gift, as well as the personality of those on whom it is presented as an honor. It seems to me that we cannot afford to lose either of the truths which He thus declares, because it requires a violation of the technicalities of grammar, not of its essential laws, to utter them both. I suppose it was only in prayer that even He could have united them; and possibly it is only in prayer that we can apprehend them, so that they should not clash with each other.
'And this is the eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.' If these words came upon us for the first time, without any preparation, we should perhaps think them very wonderful, but should either pass them over, or try to reduce them under some notions or formulas of ours. But in this Gospel we have been most carefully educated into an apprehension of their force; they do not burst upon us suddenly, though they may be both more full and more distinct than any with which we can compare them. In the night dialogue with Nicodemus, by the well with the woman of Samaria, in the synagogue at Capernaum after the feast of the five loaves, in Jerusalem on the great day of the Feast of Tabernacles, we have been hearing of a life which the Son of Man gives, a life of the Spirit, a life which is not of yesterday or to-day, a life of communion, a life of God. If what was said there was true, this must be true; or rather, this is the truth which throws back a light upon the words concerning the new life, and the 'water of life,' and the 'bread of life.' This explains the assurance in man that he is born to know that which is above himself, and his equally strong assurance that he must be known before he can know. The only true God knows the creature in all his wanderings and ignorance and falsehood, knows him in that Son in whom He has created him. When he turns to that God of truth, when he confesses Him and the Son, who is His image and the Light of man, then comes the true life, the eternal life, which Christ, who has power over all flesh, alone confers upon it.
'I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which you gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the worlds were.' It is impossible to say anything which will not weaken the force of these words. All I desire is to show you how they fulfil the idea, which St. John has been presenting to us from the beginning of his Gospel, of a Word who was with God and was God, of a Son who had come forth from the Father to reveal His grace and truth to men, of a Son who was returning to that Father as to His proper home. All is consistent from first to last; all has been divine, and all human. No clashing of the one with the other; but the human showing forth the divine as the perfect light from which it has been derived; the human leading on to the divine as that in which it is satisfied.
Until the point in time this prayer has had no special reference to the disciples. He has spoken of His power over all flesh, of eternal life, of the work which He had accomplished. Now it turns to them: 'I have manifested your name to the men which you gavest me out of the world: your they were, and you gavest them me; and they have kept your word.' We have traced the use of this language through the later discourses of this Gospel, and have seen how entirely they are in harmony with the commencement of it. The disciples are taken out of the narrow exclusive sect-world by which they are surrounded, to be a family of witnesses for the Father and the Son; witnesses of that love which the world — and no part of it so much as the religious world in Jerusalem — was by its acts, its words, its principles, repudiating. To those Jesus had manifested the name of His Father. He had shown them what He was, and that they belonged to Him. Amidst all their confusions and errors, they had kept firm hold of this word. They had yielded to Christ's guidance; believing, when they understood Him least, that there was none else to whom they could go; that He had the words of eternal life. And they had now learnt a deeper lore. They had referred His calling and guidance to the Father. 'Now they have known that all things whatsoever you have given me are of you. For I have given to them the words which you gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from you, and they have believed that you did send me.' This had been the design of all His discipline. It had been working gradually upon them and in them. But there had been still a clinging to Him as their Master; the vision of a Father had only just dawned upon them. Now in these last discourses they had learnt the mystery of His relation and their relation to the invisible world. Their belief might not be strong enough to be proof against all storms, but it had taken root. Their position was that of friends, not servants; they were waiting for the Comforter to tell them fully of the Father; already they had the sense of not being born of flesh, or of blood, or of the will of men, but of God.
'I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which you have given me; for they are your.' It is not because I wish in the least to evade the force of these words as they stand in our version, that I plead for a more exact rendering: 'I am asking concerning them; not concerning the world do I ask, but concerning those whom you have given me.' I believe the impression left on many minds by our use of the preposition for, is that Christ is indifferent to the world, and only solicitous on behalf of a certain select circle. I do not say that any one will quite put that thought into words. When he sees it stated, he will shrink from it. Still it lurks in men's minds, and it is very desirable to remove any prop, however feeble and unimportant in itself, which may sustain it there. If any one says, 'But the force of the words lies not in this for, but in the expression, "whom you have given me,"' I say at once that, so far from wishing to make that expression less strong, I would insist upon it vehemently, as marking the distinction between a family which stands in its calling by God, and a world which attempts to associate on another ground than that calling, which chooses for itself. Christ is here praying concerning those who are to be the lights of this dark world, the salt of this corrupting earth; those who are to teach the world, in Whom it is constituted, the earth, by Whom it has been created and is kept alive.
'They are your. And all mine are your, and your 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 you. Holy Father, keep through your own name those whom you have given me, that they may be one, as we are.' All that has been said in the Paschal discourses, concerning the unity of the disciples with Him and His unity with the Father, concerning the essential and eternal dependence of the human unity upon the divine, is here translated into prayer. And yet, translated is an unsatisfactory word. It rather finds its only root and ground in prayer. For what is prayer but that dialogue of the Father with the Son, of the family with its Head, which this unity makes possible? And what is the object and result of all prayer but this, that what is true in the mind of God may be true in the actual condition of men; all the hindrances which self-will has opposed to the divine Will being finally and for ever taken away?
'While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name: those that you gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.' Here, no doubt, is an unfathomable abyss; we cannot see down into it; to attempt it, is to hazard the loss of our footing. One of those whom the Father has given to Christ (so the passage seems to say, and we cannot alter the terms of it to fit our fancies or wishes) perishes in his own selfishness and sin. Jesus says so. He says that that which had been written of old had come to pass; curses had come upon the man who loved cursing; he who had chosen death had been left to die. It is terrible to think of. But how infinitely more terrible would this fact, and all the facts that are daily occurring in the world's history, be, if they were not associated with the gift of eternal life, with the cry of the Son to the Holy Father on behalf of all whom He has given Him! What the heights and depths of that prayer are, none of us can know. It is enough to know who spoke and who heard, what love is above all and beneath all, how that love has been manifested and accomplished on this earth of ours. To dwell in it must be eternal life; to be separated from it must be eternal death.
'And now come I to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word; 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 you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.' The idea of men living as children of God, members of Christ's body, inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, with a world and a flesh and an evil spirit striving against them which they can renounce and can overcome, is not one which is strange to any of us. It is only too familiar. We know the sounds so well, and we have repeated them so often and so idly, that the words have lost their significance; we think they are words of art, or words of course. Here we have the beginning and ground of them. Throughout, St. John has been speaking of a race born, not of flesh, nor of blood, nor of the will of men, but of God. Christ here declares that He has founded such a race upon the earth. He prays His Father to keep it in the world, not to take it out of the world; to keep it by His word, His quickening, uniting word, which a world that is divided and is seeking death must hate; to keep it in the confession of Him who is not of the world, but is the Son of God; to keep it from that evil spirit who would make it selfish, divided, hating, and therefore the worst portion of the world against which it is to bear witness.
'Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.' Surely, brethren, there are no words that we need to meditate on more than these: for it cannot be denied that sanctity and truth have become strangely separated among those who call themselves by Christ's name. Oftentimes it would seem as if holiness were pursued to the utter denial and dereliction of truth; no, as if it courted an alliance with falsehood. Oftentimes, again, it would seem as if men who desired truth and pursued it, regarded it as a dead and abstract thing, which has no affinity with the life of man, which has no effect in making him purer or better. Nevertheless, the voice has ascended on high, 'Make them holy by truth,' for truth only can make holy. Whatever is contrary to it or mixed with falsehood, must defile and make base. And the prayer has been heard, and will be answered completely at last; for the Son of God, who is the way, and the truth, and the life, took our flesh upon Him, and met falsehood in all the forms in which it presents itself in this world, and sanctified Himself, and kept Himself from all contact with it, only by the might and energy of truth, only by submitting in all things to His Father, who is the God of truth. And these temptations He underwent, and this battle He fought, for the sake of His disciples, that they also might be sanctified by truth and truth only, that it might be an armour to them on the right hand and on the left, that they might live for it, and die for it.
In this second part of the prayer, all has had direct reference to the disciples who surrounded Him, whatever ultimate reference it might have to the remotest corner of the universe. But in the third part of it, He says expressly: 'Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as you, Father, art in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me.' Here is a prayer for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here on earth from age to age; a prayer offered by the Head of that Church to His Father, offered on the night before His sacrifice was to be perfected; a prayer grounded not upon some wish or high aspiration hard to be realized, but, as He has just said, upon truth, upon the eternal truth that the Father is in Him and He in the Father, and that He is the Head of all men and that all live by Him. This glory, He says, He has given not to those eleven who were sitting about Him then, but to all everywhere who should believe in Him through their words. He has put this glory upon them; He has given them the name of Himself, and of His Father, and of the Holy Spirit the Comforter, to be their name, that they might dwell in it and abide in it. And He prays for them, that they may not choose to be divided when He has made them one, that they may not make themselves the curses of the world by sharing in all its envies and hatreds, and by pleading God's name as the excuse for them, when He has sent them into the world to be the witnesses that His own Son has declared His love to it, and has gone forth from Him to bring it into the circle of His love.
He began by saying, that eternal life was to know the only true God and His Son Jesus Christ; He ends with saying, that this is the glory which all are created to seek after, and which He has taken flesh that they may attain and possess with Him. 'Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me: for you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known you' (has not known your righteousness, but has supposed you to be altogether unrighteous like itself; has not known you by that name of Father, but has taken you to be hard-hearted and grudging like itself): 'but I have known you,' (known you as the image of your righteousness, known you as your Son,) 'and these have known that you have sent me.' These have seen your light shining forth through me. These have beheld my glory as the glory of an only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth. 'And I have declared to them your name, and will declare it' (to the end of all things): 'that the love with what you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.'
From the Gospel of St. John by FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, M.A, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Combridge. Published by MACMILLAN AND CO in 1882; Produced by Charlene Taylor, Julia Neufeld and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.