Three Great Petitions Of Christ
By J. C. Ryle
“Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. As Thou has 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.
“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. And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: 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.
“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. O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. 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.
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.”
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 pretense of giving honor 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 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 behavior 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 you, 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. 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.”
Behold His Glory
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 Paul has written, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord,” he adds, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes. 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 doth 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.” 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 fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psa. 16:11).
Let us leave this wonderful prayer with 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.