J. C. Ryle on John 17:24
John 17:24 is a text to dwell on, and indeed to dwell in. John Owen, perhaps the greatest Puritan theologian, wrote his Meditations on the Glory of Christ1This is included in Volume 1 of the Banner edition of Owen’s Works: The Glory of Christ on the themes of this verse, and it was carefully treated of by his contemporaries Anthony Burges in England, who preached six of his 145 sermons expositing John 17 on verse 24, and Robert Traill in Scotland, who preached sixteen separate sermons on this one verse. 2These sermons can be found in Volume 1 of the The Works of Robert Traill. Traill introduced these sermons to his hearers with the following words: ‘You have heard many a good text taken out of the word of God; but though all be good, there is none better than this. Love the text, and love, above all, the blessed first speaker of it; and you will be the fitter to profit by what you hear spoken in his name from it.’ The following excerpt is taken from J. C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts (Volume 7, John Part Three), and, in treating of John 17:17–26, includes his discussion of this wonderful verse:
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. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast 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. 25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:17–26).
THESE wonderful verses form a fitting conclusion of the most wonderful prayer that was ever prayed on earth,—the last Lord’s prayer after the first Lord’s supper. They contain three most important petitions which our Lord offered up in behalf of his disciples. On these three petitions let us fix our attention. Passing by all other things in the passage, let us look steadily at these three points. We should mark, first, how Jesus prays that his people may be sanctified. ‘Sanctify them,’ he says, ‘through thy truth: thy word is truth.’ We need not doubt that, in this place at any rate, the word ‘sanctify’ means ‘make holy.’ It is a prayer that the Father would make his people more holy, more spiritual, more pure, more saintly in thought and word and deed, in life and character. Grace had done something for the disciples already,—called, converted, renewed, and changed them. The great Head of the church prays that the work of grace may be carried higher and further, and that his people may be more thoroughly sanctified and made holy in body, soul, and spirit,—in fact more like himself. Surely we need not say much to show the matchless wisdom of this prayer. More holiness is the very thing to be desired for all servants of Christ. Holy living is the great proof of the reality of Christianity. Men may refuse to see the truth of our arguments, but they cannot evade the evidence of a godly life. Such a life adorns religion and makes it beautiful, and sometimes wins those who are not ‘won by the Word.’ Holy living trains Christians for heaven. The nearer we live to God while we live, the more ready shall we be to dwell for ever in his presence when we die. Our entrance into heaven will be entirely by grace, and not of works; but heaven itself would be no heaven to us if we entered it with an unsanctified character. Our hearts must be in tune for heaven if we are to enjoy it. There must be a moral ‘meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light,’ as well as a title. Christ’s blood alone can give us a title to enter the inheritance. Sanctification must give us a capacity to enjoy it. Who, in the face of such facts as these, need wonder that increased sanctification should be the first thing that Jesus asks for his people? Who that is really taught of God can fail to know that holiness is happiness, and that those who walk with God most closely, are always those who walk with him most comfortably? Let no man deceive us with vain words in this matter. He who despises holiness, and neglects good works, under the vain pretence of giving honour to justification by faith, shows plainly that he has not the mind of Christ.
We should mark, secondly, in these verses, how Jesus prays for the unity and oneness of his people. ‘That they all may be one,—that they may be one in us,—that they may be one even as we are one,’—and ‘that so the world may believe and know that thou hast sent me,’— this is a leading petition in our Lord’s prayer to his Father. We can ask no stronger proof of the value of unity among Christians, and the sinfulness of division, than the great prominence which our Master assigns to the subject in this passage. How painfully true it is that in every age divisions have been the scandal of religion, and the weakness of the church of Christ! How often Christians have wasted their strength in contending against their brethren, instead of contending against sin and the devil! How repeatedly they have given occasion to the world to say, ‘When you have settled your own internal differences we will believe!’ All this, we need not doubt, the Lord Jesus foresaw with prophetic eye. It was the foresight of it which made him pray so earnestly that believers might be ‘one.’ Let the recollection of this part of Christ’s prayer abide in our minds, and exercise a constant influence on our behaviour as Christians. Let no man think lightly, as some men seem to do, of schism, or count it a small thing to multiply sects, parties, and denominations. These very things, we may depend, only help the devil and damage the cause of Christ. ‘If it be possible, as much as lieth in us, let us live peaceably with all men’ (Rom. 12:18). Let us bear much, concede much, and put up with much, before we plunge into secessions and separations. They are movements in which there is often much false fire. Let rabid zealots who delight in sect-making and party-forming, rail at us and denounce us if they please. We need not mind them. So long as we have Christ and a good conscience, let us patiently hold on our way, follow the things that make for peace, and strive to promote unity. It was not for nothing that our Lord prayed so fervently that his people might be ‘one.’
We should mark, finally, in these verses, how Jesus prays that his people may at last be with him and behold his glory. ‘I will,’ he says, ‘that those whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am: that they may behold my glory.’ This is a singularly beautiful and touching conclusion to our Lord’s remarkable prayer. We may well believe that it was meant to cheer and comfort those who heard it, and to strengthen them for the parting scene which was fast drawing near. But for all who read it even now, this part of his prayer is full of sweet and unspeakable comfort. We do not see Christ now. We read of him, hear of him, believe in him, and rest our souls in his finished work. But even the best of us, at our best, walk by faith and not by sight, and our poor halting faith often makes us walk very feebly in the way to heaven. There shall be an end of all this state of things one day. We shall at length see Christ as he is, and know as we have been known. We shall behold him face to face, and not through a glass darkly. We shall actually be in his presence and company, and go out no more. If faith has been pleasant, much more will sight be; and if hope has been sweet, much more will certainty be. No wonder that when St Paul has written, ‘We shall ever be with the Lord,’ he adds, ‘Comfort one another with these words’ (1 Thess. 4:17, 18). We know little of heaven now. Our thoughts are all confounded, when we try to form an idea of a future state in which pardoned sinners shall be perfectly happy. ‘It does not yet appear what we shall be’ (1 John 3:2). But we may rest ourselves on the blessed thought, that after death we shall be ‘with Christ.’ Whether before the resurrection in paradise, or after the resurrection in final glory, the prospect is still the same. True Christians shall be ‘with Christ.’ We need no more information. Where that blessed person is who was born for us, died for us, and rose again, there can be no lack of anything. David might well say, ‘In thy presence is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore’ (Psa. 16:11). Let us leave this wonderful prayer with a solemn recollection of the three great petitions which it contains. Let holiness and unity by the way, and Christ’s company in the end, be subjects never long out of our thoughts or distant from our minds. Happy is that Christian who cares for nothing so much as to be holy and loving like his Master, while he lives, and a companion of his Master when he dies.
Ryle’s Notes on John 17:24
24.—[Father, I will … my glory … given me.] In this verse our Lord names the fourth and last thing which he desires for his disciples in his prayer. After preservation, sanctification, and unity, comes participation of his glory. He asks that they may be ‘with him’ in the glory yet to be revealed, and ‘behold,’ share, and take part in it. ‘I will’ is a remarkable phrase, though it must not be pressed and strained too far (see Mark 10:35). The daughter of Herodias asking the head of John the Baptist, said, ‘I will that thou give me’ (Mark 6:25). It may be nothing more than the expression of a strong ‘wish.’ Yet it is the wish of him who is one with the Father, and only wills what the Father wills. It is probably used to assure the mind of the disciples. ‘I will,’ and it will be done. Hutcheson says, ‘I will,’ doth not import any imperious commanding way, repugnant to his former way of humble supplication; but it only imports that in this his supplication, he was making his last will and testament, and leaving his legacies, which he was sure would be effectual, being purchased by his merits, and prosecuted by his affectionate and earnest requests and intercessions.’
Traill remarks, ‘Christians, behold the amazing difference betwixt Christ’s way of praying against his own hell (if I may so call it) and his praying for our heaven! When praying for himself, it is, “Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me.” But when Christ is praying for his people’s heaven, it is “Father, I will that they may be with me.”’
Stier maintains that ‘I will’ ‘is no other than a testamentary word of the Son, who in the unity of the Father, is appointing what he wills, at that second limit of the prayer where petition ceases.’ Alford says ‘this is an expression of will founded on acknowledged right.’ The expression, ‘be with me where I am,’ is one of those deeply interesting phrases which show the nature of the future dwelling place of believers. Wherever it may be, whether before or after the resurrection, it will be in the company of Christ. It is like ‘with me in paradise,’ ‘depart and be with Christ,’ and ‘for ever with the Lord’ (Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:23; 1 Thess. 4:17). The full nature of the future state is wisely hidden from us. It is enough for believers to know that they will be ‘with Christ.’ It is company, and not place, which makes up happiness. Traill remarks, ‘Heaven consists in the perfect immediate presence of Christ. Perfect presence is, when all on both sides is present: all of Christ, and all of the Christian. But now all of Christ is not with us, and all of us is not with him. On his part we have Christ’s Spirit, word, and grace. On our part there is present with him our hearts, and the workings of our faith and love and desire towards him. But this presence is imperfect, and mixed with much distance and absence.’ The expression, ‘behold my glory,’ of course must not be confined to the idea of ‘looking on as spectators.’ It includes participation, sharing, and common enjoyment (compare John 3:3, 36; 8:51; Rev. 18:7). The expression, ‘which thou hast given me,’ seems to point to that special glory which the Father, in everlasting covenant, has appointed for Christ as the reward of the work of redemption (Phil. 2:9).
[For thou lovedst me … foundation … world.] This sentence seems specially inserted in order to show that the glory of Christ in the next world is a glory which had been prepared from all eternity, before time began, and before the creation of man, and that it was not only something which, like Moses or John the Baptist, he had obtained by his faithfulness on earth; but something which he had, as the eternal Son of the eternal Father, from everlasting. ‘Thou lovedst me, and didst assign me this glory long before this world was made,’ that is, from all eternity. This is a very deep saying, and contains things far above our full comprehension.
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