And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father…
Our Saviour had just passed through the agony when Judas came upon Him "with a band of men and officers" (John 18:1-9). Whatever might be the reason for mustering so large an array, in order to seize one who seemed so little likely to offer resistance, our Lord quickly showed how unavailing would have been the assault, had He not chosen to surrender Himself to the will of His enemies. By merely acknowledging Himself to be the party of whom they were in quest, Christ prostrated the whole host. But, as our Lord had no intention of delivering Himself from His adversaries, why did He give this signal evidence of having them completely in His power? For the sake of His disciples. "Let these go their way." The Evangelist still further limits the design of the miracle, that the very saying of the text might be fulfilled. These words must have had respect to more than a mere temporal deliverance. Christ had been praying, "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name," &c., and "the son of perdition," was not lost in any mere temporal respect. But what was the amount of the keeping which our Lord secured for His disciples on the occasion? Simply that they should not be made prisoners with Himself, and perhaps be condemned with Himself to an ignominious death. Here then is a promise which would contemplate nothing short of everlasting salvation, declared to be fulfilled by a deliverance from present danger and calamity. Had His followers been required at that moment to suffer with Him, we can hardly doubt, knowing what their conduct was on a far less amount of trial, that they would have apostatized in such a way as to have jeopardized their final salvation. Sooner or later these disciples were to die. Christ would not, then, have lost them by their dying at that moment, "except" St. says, "because they had not then the faith in Himself which was needful to secure them from everlasting death." So that we may believe that our Lord interfered miraculously on behalf of His disciples, because He foresaw that if He now required them to bear the Cross with Him, the trial would be too great for their strength. Let us see what special truths are suggested by this fact.
I. WHAT A COMFORTING THING IT IS TO KNOW THAT CHRIST WOULD SOONER WORK A MIRACLE TO RESTRAIN THE ENEMIES OF HIS SERVANTS, THAN LEAVE THOSE SERVANTS TO AN ENCOUNTER TOO GREAT FOR THEIR STRENGTH There is often a fear, on the part of the disciple, that such or such a trial would be more than he could bear. And the fear may be altogether just, so far as it arises from comparing the strength then possessed with the danger then supposed. But the fear is altogether unjust, so far as it assumes the possibility of God's exposing His people to a trial, for which He does not communicate adequate grace. We might not be able always to die for Christ; but we are not always called to die for Christ. If we were called to die for Him, then we may be confident that we should be strengthened to die, even as martyrs died, with a smile upon the cheek, with a song upon the lip. We may not always feel as if we could in a moment resign without a murmur this or that object of devoted affection; but wait till we are actually called upon to resign it, and then, if we be truly of those who acknowledge God in all their ways, we shall find ourselves enabled to exclaim, "The Lord gave," &c. Trials are not accidents; they may be often unexpected by us, they are never unprovided for by God. God holds the balances in His hand. In one scale He puts the trials, in the other the strength; but the trial does not come to our share till outweighed by the strength which He sees fit to communicate. And, if anything can, this should encourage us to "patient continuance in well doing." So then, whilst there is everything to encourage the meek, there is nothing to warrant the presumptuous. God keeps His people by enabling them to keep themselves. When you read in Jeremiah, "I will not turn away from them, to do them good," it might seem to you as though good were secured, be your conduct what it may; but when you-read on, "I will put My fear in their hearts, that they should not depart from Me," you should learn that God's not turning from us is through the withholding us from turning from Him, and that, therefore, he who strives not against sin has no promise of salvation. And when we have thus warned you against expecting to be kept, though you are not diligent to keep yourselves — for whilst it is most true "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain," think ye not that it is also true, that the Lord will not keep the city where the watchman sleeps? — having done this, we may yet by the miracle wrought on behalf of the disciples, encourage you to the building confidently on that most blessed truth, "God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able."
II. BUT in place of procuring for His followers an opportunity for escape, MIGHT NOT CHRIST HAVE IMPARTED AN ABILITY TO ENDURE? The saying would thus have been only the more evidently fulfilled. Of course, He might had it accorded with His dealings and purposes. But He could not consistently with the laws which prescribe His dealings with accountable creatures. It would have taken more grace than could be bestowed without destroying all freedom of will. Remember that grace is that in which you are bidden to grow; and in spiritual stature no more than in bodily is the infant made the giant with no stage between. You must pass from point to point, improving what you have as the condition of your receiving more. Ye are to present yourselves "a living sacrifice," otherwise it will be a compulsory, and not a "reasonable service." Thus also with apostles. They have not yet grown into fitness for the honours of martyrdom; they might have been presented in sacrifice — they would not, in the true sense, have presented themselves. They had yet a long discipline to pass through, of "taking up the cross daily." So that, though there are some dangers which at one time God turns away from His people, because too great for such a measure of grace as would consist with present spiritual stature, He would have them faced at another time, because the spiritual stature is such as accords with the requisite strength. And the great practical truth to be derived from this is, that you are not to expect to become Christians by any sudden leap, but step by step. The spiritual temple rises stone by stone, as beneath the hands of a builder; it does not soar at once — wall, dome, pinnacle, complete — as beneath the wand of an enchanter.
III. IN COVENANTING TO KEEP US TO ETERNAL LIFE, CHRIST HATH ALSO COVENANTED THAT WE MAY BE KEPT FROM ALL THE POWER OF THE ENEMY. And it is delightful to think of the one covenant as including the other; so that we have the same reason for believing that nothing really hurtful shall be suffered to happen to us of a temporal kind, as that nothing shall finally separate the believer from the "love of God which is in Christ Jesus."
IV. The saving of the disciples from bodily danger might be taken as AN ASSURANCE THAT CHRIST WOULD NOT FAIL TO CONDUCT THEM SAFELY TO HEAVEN; and therefore was it a sort of primary accomplishment of the gracious purpose that none of them should be lost. And what a brightness would it shed over present deliverances, what a sweetness would it give to present mercies, were all in the habit of regarding them as so many earnests of a rich inheritance above! Then might every day of life be to us a sort of herald of eternity. We should not receive blessings as merely to he enjoyed and then forgotten; for they would serve to us for even more than the Ebenezer of old, a stone on which to inscribe, "Hitherto the Lord bath helped us," but on which also to engrave afresh the most comforting declaration, "Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost." Truly a most comforting declaration, forasmuch as it shows that our safety is in better keeping than our own. The Christian will be disquieted and harassed, a prey to frequent doubts and fears, till he come to regard the Redeemer as having taken upon Himself the work of his salvation, and bound up His own glory with the carrying him through. "I know whom I have believed," &c.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.