The Heart Of Christianity
Notes of an address on John 17
One likes to take up the ministry of Paul, indeed some would take it up exclusively (which is wrong). I remember being in conversation with a brother in my house on one occasion and he made this remark to me, 'Let us see to it that we hold the balance of truth because in the balance of truth, all divinely inspired, there is divine variety'. Paul does not conflict with John, neither does John conflict with Paul, and you might say that of all the writers. There is a blessed unity of divine inspiration running from Genesis to Revelation, and it is a good thing to get your hearts saturated with the word of God.
John 17 is beyond my exposition, it is beyond any 45 minute (or less) address. I felt that in turning to this verse in John 13 one is reminded very forcibly of the heart of Christianity. You might say, 'What are you getting at?' I will tell you very simply, John was given, by the Spirit of God, to pen his Gospel and Epistles and the book of Revelation when the awful seeds of breakdown, defection and departure were becoming manifest in the assembly of God as formed, or doctrinally ministered to, by the holy apostles and prophets. So when John was given his ministry he was inspired by the Spirit of God to bring before the saints of God that which was not resting on their responsibility at all, he was given to minister to them the blessed revelation of Persons in the Godhead, the relationships in which they eternally subsisted and the blessedness and intimacy of the affections proper to those relationships. He was given to bring out this ministry when the assembly, as the responsible vessel, formed particularly by the ministry of the apostle Paul, seemed to be failing in regard to its practise in the hands of men (and if that was true then how much more true is it today), but what the apostle brings out in his blessed ministry is that which knows no failure, which knows no breakdown, that which will last when the whole responsible course is ended, that which will last when the glorious kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ has run its course for a thousand years when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to Him who is God and Father that God might be all and in all throughout God's eternal day, where the blessedness of eternal life and eternal love will be enjoyed. Thank God the knowledge of these things is given to us now, the heart of Christianity, the revelation of God in the Person of the Son has become available for our knowledge and enjoyment on the righteous basis of that wonderful work which the Son Himself did.
"Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father......" (John 13:1a)
In John's Gospel there are three passovers (chapters 2, 6, 11-19), this is the last one. There are three things that I want to draw attention to and then pass on, firstly, "his hour". This blessed theme runs through the pages of John's Gospel, there are a variety of hours referred to. It is not my theme and so I do not dwell on it, but I simply say it for your encouragement and for your blessing. Go through the pages of the Gospel and take account of the references to the hour, "his hour" in particular (7:30, 8:20, 13:1). There are two blessed features about this hour as mentioned here. Firstly, it does not say cast out (although He was cast out) but it says He should depart out of this world. This is the language belonging to the One who came into the world with a mission to execute and when it was compete He would go out of it quietly, serenely, calmly, confidently, in the blessed consciousness of the fact that what He came to do when He came into the world had been gloriously done. He came forth "from the Father" (16:28) and He travelled through a sin ridden world, His footsteps were constantly dogged by those who ever tried to prove His moral failure; thank God they could not. Even the Devil himself beset Him at every step of the way, but if He came forth "from the Father" He would depart "out of this world unto the Father". This was indicative of this blessed truth, that nothing could come in to hinder, to interrupt, to break His abiding communion with the Father. The Lord Jesus was as intimate with the Father at the end of His blessed pathway as He had been at the beginning and as He had been before He came into the world. I thank God for the grace that gives me, from the word of God, to stand here in the confession of the blessed truth of the abidingness of that relationship in which He had ever subsisted with the Father before ever time began. I put it in a very simple phrase, I believe in the eternal Sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I do not believe it because brethren teach it (although I am very thankful that they do teach it), I believe it because the word of God teaches it.
"......having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (13:1b)
The beginning of the Gospel tells us "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own and his own received him not" (John 1:10-11). The rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ was written very quickly into the page of John's Gospel, but when we read these wonderful words in John 13 we read that nonetheless there was something in the world that He called His own. When He came into the world it was brought to light by Him and it was brought to God by Him and for Him. There is a unique company in the world, thank God that company is still in existence today, and it is spoken of in these wonderful words, "His own". If His own things of John 1:10 were withheld from Him, if His own people Israel refused Him, it only brought to light the eternal purpose. He has brought to light, in the world that eventually crucified Him, a unique company that He very gladly owns as peculiarly His.
The expression "He loved them unto the end" does not simply mean that He loved them to the end of His pathway, it includes that of course, but it is not just the end that speaks of terminus, so to speak. There is an expression in another part of the New Testament, I just draw attention to it to emphasise the force of the word, in Hebrews 7:25, "Wherefore, he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him". This word has the same root as 'end' in John 13:1, "He loved them to the end". It means that He loved them completely, He loved them utterly, He loved them abidingly, and whatever the circumstances that came across His pathway, whatever the circumstances that would come across their pathway, whatever the circumstances that come across your pathway if you are His, He loves them and you through everything. It is a good thing to know the love of the brethren, although this often has its limitations. Sometimes the brethren love because of selfish motives, but He loves utterly and He loves eternally. Even if the love of the brethren breaks down, His love never will, and if you and I were in the good of this we would be preserved from many of the breakdowns that beset our pathway. How often we get our eyes from off the Lord and onto the brethren and in such miserable experiences the Spirit of God applies the blessedness of the truth of God to our souls to remind us, not of the constancy of the love of the brethren, blessed though that is when it is there, but rather to remind us of the constancy of the love of Christ. So having loved his own which were in the world he loved them through everything.
My heart has been saddened oftentimes, I do not know what you brethren feel like. At times I have felt, 'Can I go on with a company?' I remember a brother saying in a meeting, 'Christ first, brethren, if I can'. I think it is a good thing to act upon. Do some of you feel just now, 'It is not worth going on'? Just read this verse over to yourself in the quiet of your own communion with the Lord and listen to these blessed words penned by the Spirit of God, "Having loved His own which were in the world He loved them through everything". I will tell you what will happen, you will lift up your heart first of all, you will lift up your head, you will strengthen the feeble knees, you will make straight paths for your feet and you will walk in the path of His testimony with your eye on Him and your heart enjoying His abiding love, and in the measure in which you and I do that we will be a testimony to our fellow brethren. When I speak of 'brethren' do not think I am talking about certain kinds of Christians, the brethren I am speaking of are the ones that the Lord spoke of when He said, "Go to my brethren" (John 20:17). If you want to be a power of good amongst the brethren go on with Christ and you cannot help but go on with the brethren; you will get a fresh knowledge of them and you will get a fresh feeling for them as you meditate upon the repetition of these words, and the sweetness of the love of Christ.
So the heart of Christianity is given us in the ministry of the apostle John here at the end of this remarkable section of his Gospel starting with chapter 13 and ending with chapter 17, often referred to as the 'last words' of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have recorded our Lord Jesus Christ's words in prayer to the Father. Now I want to speak a little bit about this.
"These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee......" (v.1)
We learn from verse 4 that He also said, "I have glorified thee", but in this first verse He says, "that thy son also may glorify thee". At that juncture our blessed Lord had in view ascending into the Father's presence, and desiring that there, and from there, He might glorify the Father. In verse 4 He speaks in the past tense and says, "I have glorified thee on the earth". What a wonderful life He lived, what a wonderful testimony He rendered. I was struck again on reading these verses this afternoon, in verse 6 He says, "I have manifested thy name" and in verse 26 He says, "I have declared..... thy name". What is the difference? Manifestation is different to declaration. Manifestation is a showing forth, declaration is a telling forth, and we have got these two blessed things to occupy us as we move through the pages of John's Gospel, we have the life of our blessed Lord lived out in beautiful fashion (manifestation), and we have His own testimony, the words that He spoke (declaration), "I have manifested...... I have declared".
He says further, "I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it". The declaration was not completed in the sense of being brought to a full stop when our blessed Lord left this scene. We have been singing, "Father, spring and source of blessing", we have taken the Father's name upon our lips tonight. Why? Because there is an appreciation of the Father's name in these grace-won hearts of ours and that blessed name has been declared to us by our blessed Lord from His place in the glory, He is carrying on this declaration of the Father's name now, "I have declared ..... I will declare".
Note here the blessed designation, "glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee". Scripture speaks of names and titles in regard to our Lord Jesus Christ; names are descriptive of who He is, titles are descriptive of what He does, it may even say what He is, but wherever we find Him and in whatever office we view Him the truth of who He is lies behind everything that He does, and Son is His name in the Godhead. So He says here, on the ground of who He is in the glory of His Person as Son, He says to the Father, "Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee". He desires, even though He was to depart out of this world to the Father, to continue glorifying the Father. But how is He going to do that?
"......as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him." (v.2)
When you get home go down John 17 and take account of the persons that the Father has given to the Son, then take account of what the Son has given to the persons whom the Father has given to Him. I have not time to dwell on these things, I only draw attention to them and hope that exercise might lead us all to consider these blessed things as food for our souls.
Now "as thou hast given him power over all flesh" is a description of something that almost seems to belong to Paul's ministry, the blessed Lord Jesus Christ is given universal supremacy, and if you want a verse of Scripture to tie this up with Paul's ministry go into Ephesians 1, "[God] set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come" (vv.20-21). But before He exercises the power of His place in universal supremacy He exercises the power of it towards those who are singled out from all flesh, those described here as the many "that thou hast given to him".
He exercises His authority in giving eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him. You form part of the Father's love gift to the Son, and the Son Himself is so interested in you that He has given you "eternal life". What does this mean? Does it just mean eternal existence? No, it does not mean that at all. It is a kind of life, not just a duration of life. We sometimes say that a fish has a fishes life to live in the sea; in other words, there is a life by which it lives in a certain environment. We might go on of course, but there is no time. You and I have got the necessary life by which we live in this blessed circle where divine Persons, divine relationships and divine affections are known. We have got eternal life that we might live in this blessed circle where, in the words of the hymn, "love's treasures are displayed". Eternal life is the power to live in the love of God in the consciousness of the knowledge of God, and with the ability to respond to God. We have something that death cannot touch, that sin has nothing to say to, we have something that finds its rightful place in the very presence of God, in the knowledge and enjoyment of God in the company of the Son of God.
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (v.3)
Eternal life is the ability to know the Father as the only true God, and to know His Son, Jesus Christ, as His sent One. It is connected with the knowledge of the Father and the Son. Eternal life therefore belongs to the New Testament condition of things, and it belongs to every saint today.
"I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." (v.4)
Thank God, if the Son gives eternal life He gives it righteously, if He gives it He gives it on a blessed, imperishable foundation, He gives it on the basis of the fact that He has glorified the Father here on earth and has finished the work which the Father gave Him to do; that would take us to the cross. The Lord Jesus said earlier in this Gospel, "My meat is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work" (4:34). Here anticipatively, being in His own spirit beyond the cross, and looking back as it were, taking account of some of the blessed results of it, He said, "I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do". So, if He speaks of those whom the Father has given Him, if He speaks of giving them eternal life, He speaks of these blessed things on the ground of this, that a righteous basis has been laid by Him, and He did that at the place called Calvary. A little further on in this Gospel Jesus "bearing his cross, went forth" (19:17); what a tremendous, graphic statement, a statement beyond all telling as to its tremendous depths. Thank God it is on that basis that He says, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do"
"And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had [alone] with thee before the world was." (v.5)
The Son had ever subsisted in the co-equality and co-eternity of Godhead with the Father. So why did He ask the Father to glorify Him with something that was His before the world was? It was for this blessed reason, He had come down from circumstances of Godhead glory, He had been cradled in a manger here, He had been found in fashion as a man, He had taken a servant's place, and He has never stepped out of this place, praise His name, He abides a Man forever, and in the blessed perfection of His devotion and dependence in abiding Manhood He asks for that which is ever His in co-equality with the Father, but now as a Man.
"And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one even as we are one......" (v.22)
I might ask the question, because He is speaking of those whom the Father gave Him out of the world, is this the glory of verse 5? Of course it is not. The glory of verse 5 is uniquely and personally His because of who He is. That glory will be shared with none. But here He speaks of a glory which is given to Him and which He gives to these whom the Father has given to Him, it is a glory which He shares. This I believe refers to the glory of the coming kingdom, when our blessed Lord will take up the reigns of government, when He is manifested in power and great glory. He will not be alone as He was at the cross, He will be surrounded with the holy myriads of those whom the Father has given to Him to share with Him the glory which the Father gave Him because of His affection for Him. This glory He will share with His own.
"Father, I will that they also, whom thou hasty given me. be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." (v.24)
If there is a glory which we will neither behold nor share it is in verse 5, and if there is a glory which we will share it is in verse 22. There is a glory in verse 24 which we shall behold but shall not share. We are going to see Him as the only begotten Son, the unique object of the Father's love, we are going to be given to look at Him in all the sweetness of the abidingness of His place in the Father's affections but we will not share that place, there is only one only begotten Son. So there is a glory which will be given for us to behold only, and we will not be jealous, but we will thankfully own that He alone is entitled to it.
"I pray for them...... that they may be one, as we are...... I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of this world, even as I am not of the world...... 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 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." (vv.9a, 11b, 15-16, 20-21).
Just in closing, think of these blessed words in verse 9, "I pray for them". And what does He pray for for His own? He prays for them that they might be kept through the Father's name in a blessed unity of testimony, the stamp of which is on the apostolic writings. There is no doubt about the fact that the unity of verse 11 belongs peculiarly to the apostles and their testimony, but verse 20 brings you in, brings me in, brings us all in. We are the subjects of the intercession of our blessed Lord. Praise God for these blessed things. Let us see these blessed things are practised in our lives. We ascend to these things in the meeting room, but at times we sadly fail to translate them into practise in the privacy of our home life, our every day life. In the meeting room it is easy to be a Christian, but it is not so easy perhaps when we get away from the gathered company of saints of God. May God grant that when we say 'Amen' to this that our Lord says, "they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world", may we have grace to come under the sanctifying application of the truth of God to be true in practise to what we are in position. Amen.