JESUS PRAYING FOR UNITY
Comments on John 17 by J. C. Ryle
We should mark 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” – these are leading petitions 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 divisions, 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” (Ps. 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.