Jesus Loving His Own That Were in the World
Charles Ross’s The Inner Sanctuary: Expositions of John 13–17 is a neglected gem of devotional teaching. The following excerpt, Ross’s comments on John 13:1, amply demonstrate how warm and practical is his treatment of this uniquely beautiful section of Scripture.
THE narrative on which we are about to enter has always been regarded by true believers as a unique and most precious portion of the word of God. It is the record of the last moments spent by Jesus with his disciples before his passion. How was the Lord of glory employed? What was the work in which he was engaged during that solemn season? The beloved disciple, who leaned on his Master’s breast, does not indeed narrate all that took place in the upper room, during that ever-memorable night—such, for example, as the institution of the Lord’s Supper—but he does record incidents and utterances not mentioned by the other Evangelists, but of the most intensely interesting, instructive, and encouraging character, as revealing to us the Saviour’s love and tenderness. The narrative as a whole may be said to comprise the three following things: First of all, the wonderful act of Christ washing the disciples’ feet, with the warnings and indications, which he gave them in connection with it, as to the conduct of the traitor (13:2-30); secondly, the tender, consolatory discourse that ensued immediately after the traitor had left the supper-room (13:31-16:33); and then, thirdly, the sublime intercessory prayer just before entering the garden of Gethsemane (17:1-26). And the heading which John places on the forefront of the whole—not of the washing of the disciples’ feet merely, but of this whole section of the Gospel narrative—the inscription which he writes on the doorway that leads you to the devout consideration of it is: ‘Having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end.’ All that Jesus now does and says, John traces up to love—pure, unmingled love.
I have often regarded this divine sentence: ‘Having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end’, as one of the most tender and touching in the whole word of God. The statement will appear all the more so, when viewed in the light of the context. For the inspired Evangelist not only specifies the precise date—‘Before the feast of the passover’—but he also mentions a particular fact of a moral nature, of the utmost importance, as giving us an insight into the Saviour’s mind: ‘When Jesus knew’—or Jesus knowing—‘that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father,’ etc. The idea plainly is that just because he knew—not merely although, but just because he knew—that his hour was come that he should leave this world, and that, consequently, his disciples would be left alone in it—as he had always previously loved them, so he now manifested his love in a very peculiar manner, corresponding to their necessities; and this, too, under the most affecting circumstances, and to the utmost extent.
In addressing you, therefore, a little more particularly from these words, I intend to notice, first, the objects, the peculiar objects, of this love, secondly, some of those ways in which Jesus had always previously manifested his love to them; and then, thirdly, the steadfastness and unfailing faithfulness of this love under the most affecting circumstances—as in life so also in death, ‘He loved them unto the end’.
The objects of this love are described, in the first instance, more generally as being ‘his own’. It is true, indeed, that in one sense all things are his own, as being their creator and preserver—all things, from the highest archangel to the meanest insect that crawls upon the ground. But his people are his own in a sense peculiar to themselves—his own in a sense in which others are not; his own, as given him by the Father, as purchased with his precious blood, and as being called by his Spirit; ‘his own,’ as being the members of his mystical body, and therefore standing in a nearer relation to him than angel or archangel. Oh, happy people, whom the Lord of glory regards as his own, his jewels, his peculiar treasure, his crown of rejoicing!
But the objects of this love are described not only as his own, but more particularly as his own that were in the world. Jesus had many of ‘his own’ that were now in glory; and doubtless these were objects of peculiar complacency and delight. Oh! see them in their white robes, as they shine so bright! Listen to their melodious songs! But still the precious truth for us is, that it was his own that were in the world, that he is here said to have loved. And why were they singled out from the rest? Why, but because of the peculiar difficulties and dangers to which they were exposed. Ask that tender-hearted mother which of her many children recurs oftenest to her memory—those of them who are safe at home under the parental roof, or the one that is far away at sea? And she will tell you, with tears in her eyes, that, while she loves them all, it is her sailor-boy who is exposed to so much danger. And just so, only in an unspeakably higher sense, while Jesus loves all his own, he regards with peculiar care, corresponding to their necessities, those of them that are still in the world. It is in this connection, that we see the full meaning of the contrast between his position and theirs. Jesus was now to depart out of the world, but they were to be left in it; and therefore his heart turned in love towards them.
And who can fail to recognise here, the close connection between the words of John and those of Christ himself in the intercessory prayer: ‘And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee’ (17:11). It is clear enough that the inspired Evangelist derives this part of his description from the words of his divine Master.
But without dwelling further on this idea here, is it not a most delightful and encouraging truth that, though Jesus is now in glory, yet he still regards his own that are in the world with peculiar care suited to their circumstances and necessities? Oh! think of this, you that go out and in amongst ungodly companions and that see and hear so many things that may well shock you if you have any spiritual life and tenderness. Jesus loves his own that are in the world still. But methinks, I hear some one say, ‘Alas! I feel that I am in the world, not only because of the sins of others, but because I sin myself; because I have “a body of death” within me, and often it breaks out in word and action’. Yes, indeed, but Jesus loves his own that are in the world still; he sees and knows all the sin and imperfection that you have to contend against, and yet he loves his own notwithstanding. ‘But, oh!’ says some one, ‘my case is of a different kind still: I have come hither today, burdened with a heavy heart’. It may be that it is some dear relative that is sick, and apparently near to death. All this proves that you are still in a world of sorrow. But then Jesus loves his own still and looks down upon them with ever watchful eye. This is the comfort of the Christian’s heart and the balm of his sorrow; and I call upon his own to lay hold of it, to keep to it, and not to let Satan deprive you of it. Jesus loved his own that were in the world, while he was here on earth, and he loves his own that are in the world still, though he is now in heaven.
But I come now, in the second place, to mention some of those ways in which Jesus had always previously manifested his love to them. For the sentence is so constructed and compacted as to imply that the Saviour’s whole previous history had been one of love: ‘Having loved his own that were in the world’—having always and previously loved them.
And here I might take occasion to speak somewhat of the great redeeming love of Christ to his own—those of them that were now in heaven, as well as those who were on earth—in undertaking our cause in the councils of peace; in the delight with which he looked forward, from all eternity, to the accomplishment of his work, ‘rejoicing in the habitable parts of God’s earth, and his delights with the children of men’ (Prov. 8:30, 31); and in his appearing in the fullness of the times to discharge the great engagement (Psa. 40:11). But clearly the inspired Evangelist is speaking here of Christ’s love to his own that were then in the world, as distinct from that part of the one great family that had already gone home to glory; and to this point, therefore, our attention must for the present be confined.
What, then, were some of those ways in which Jesus had specially manifested his love to his own that were then in the world as distinct from those who had already gone home? Indeed, his whole conduct towards them may be briefly summed up in these words: ‘He loved them’. He always loved them; and there was not a single word that he ever spake to them, or a single Jesus Loving His Own that were in the World action that he ever performed towards them, but it emanated from his love to them.
But more particularly here. See, for example, how, having once chosen them in his love, he ever afterwards proved his love by continual companionship with them. He sought no other company than theirs among the sons of men; unless it be that he often went to seek some strayed sheep, to bring it back into the fold. ‘My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies.’ See, too, how tenderly, how graciously he instructed them. His instructions were always very simple, because he loved them so well. They were exceedingly dull scholars, like you and me. There is no teacher on earth that would have borne with them as Jesus did; but their Lord and Master’s love remained always the same; his love was stronger than their unbelief and ignorance. See, moreover, how ready he was to sympathise with them, and to render them every kind of assistance. Whenever they were in trouble, he was their willing and able Friend. When the sea roared and was tempestuous, and he slept, for a while, hard by the helm, they had only to awake him, and he rebuked the winds and the waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. When Peter’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, he did but enter the house, and speak the word, and immediately the fever left her. And when one of his dearest friends had passed beyond the ordinary bounds of life, and was not only dead, but had been four days buried, even then did he interpose, and prove that he was ‘the resurrection and the life,’ by crying, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ Everywhere, and at all times, he was at the call of his disciples, ever ready to help them in every difficulty.
And, oh, with what patience did he bear with them in all their weaknesses and infirmities! On one or two occasions, indeed, certain of them were guilty of great impertinence. It was surely no small trial to the Redeemer’s love, when Peter took him and began to rebuke him. What a sight—Peter rebuking his Master! Ah! surely thy Lord will have done with thee now, thou son of Jonas! But no, though he used a strong expression, to rebuke a temptation which was manifestly Satanic: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’, yet his love to Peter remained unabated. Even when he rebuked him, he loved him. Oh yes, his love never faltered nor failed. And who can tell in how many ways Jesus loves his own that are in the world still—visiting them with his gracious presence, instructing and guiding them by his word and Spirit, preserving them in his providence, strengthening them by his grace, comforting them with his love, and maturing them for his eternal glory?
But what I wish you specially to notice now is the steadfastness of this love—its unfailing and unflinching faithfulness, as in life so also in death. ‘He loved them unto the end’—not only to the end of life, but to the utmost extent, and under the most affecting circumstances. The meaning plainly is that as he had always previously loved them, so now, on the very verge of Jesus Loving His Own that were in the World his final sufferings, when it might be supposed that he would be wholly taken up with his own awful prospects, he was even then, so far from forgetting them that he scarcely seems ever to think of himself, save in connection with them. Herein is love, not only enduring unto the end, but moreover, most wondrously and conspicuously displayed, when, judging by a human standard, it was least to be expected. Oh, surpassing love of Jesus, with the fire of justice and the furnace of divine wrath, and the sea of his own blood—all, all in vivid array before him—he yet spends the last moments before his final sufferings in words and deeds of love to his disciples!
And if he thus loved them, in the view of the agonies of Gethsemane and the death of Calvary, think you does he now forget them—now that he has passed within the veil? Ah! no, it is impossible. He whose love the many waters of his own suffering could not quench, nor the floods drown (Song of Sol. 8:7), shall never cease to love his own that cling to him. And yet, what a wonderful truth is this, when we look at what we are! When we think of our sins and shortcomings—of our blackness, sinfulness, and vileness—what a wonder that his love is not exhausted! But no, the love of Christ to his own knows no change. It is a golden chain, without a single link amissing. Whom he has once set his heart upon, he will never cease to bless. And though we continually sin against him, and provoke him to jealousy, yet he loves his own still. For has he not said: ‘For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee’ (Isa. 54:10). And again, ‘Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?’ Can such a strange, unnatural thing as this happen? ‘Yea, she may forget’—this strange thing may happen—‘yet will not I forget thee.’ Oh! how can he forget them? ‘Behold, I have graven thee,’ says he—not merely stamped thee, but ‘graven thee upon the palms of my hands: thy walls are continually before me’ (Isa. 49:15, 16).
Oh! do not, therefore, child of God, get into the fainting fit of unbelief. For we have not to deal with a vacillating Saviour, who loves his people today and hates them tomorrow—a Saviour in whom I could have no confidence, and in whose existence I do not believe—but we have to deal with One who ‘is the same yesterday, today, and for ever,’ and who says: ‘I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore, ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’
But I must also add, if Jesus Christ loved his own unto the end, then surely they ought to persevere in their love to him. Sometimes we become greatly warmed up, and we do a great deal very zealously. But, alas! how soon we grow cold again. Let some peculiar trial or cross come, and we soon give way. Surely it ought not to be so. It was not thus the blessed Master dealt with us; he remembered us in the hour of his trial. Oh, that his own love would constrain us to live upon him, and to live unto him!
But I have this also to say in closing, what misery must it be to be without such a Saviour! I scarcely know any words more terrible than these—to be without Christ. And yet I fear that, terrible as they are, they are applicable to some in this congregation. You have no interest in this heavenly friend, this mighty Saviour; your sins are still upon you: they are written down against you in the book of God’s remembrance; and you will soon have to appear in his presence. But yet there is hope; for Jesus is the friend of publicans and sinners. Come to him, ye weary; welcome to him, ye heavy laden. Oh that you would come to him now, and then shall you be able to sing of unchangeable and undying love.
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