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I resolve to sit down: and concerning the death of Christ, I shall take distinctly into consideration the preparations made for it; the nature and quality of it; the deportment and conduct of Jesus when dying; the funeral solemnities with which he was buried; and lastly, the blessed designs and glorious ends of his death.
The preparatives for his death were six. Three on his own part, and three more by his enemies. The preparations made by himself for it were, the solemn recommendation of his friends to his Father; the institution of a commemorative sign, to perpetuate and refresh the memory of his death in the hearts of his people, till he come again; and his pouring out his soul to God by prayer in the garden, which was the posture he chose to be found in when they should apprehend
This scripture contains the first preparative of Christ for death, whereby he sets his house in order, prays for his people, and blesses them before he dies. The love of Christ was ever tender and strong to his people; but the greatest manifestation of it was at parting: especially in the singular supports and grounds of comfort left with them in his last heavenly sermon, chapp. 14, 15, 16, in pouring out his soul most affectionately to the Father for them in the heavenly prayer, chap. 17. In this prayer he gives them a specimen of his glorious intercession-work, which he was then going to perform in heaven for them. Here his heart overflowed, for he was now leaving them, and going to the Father. The last words of a dying man are valued; how much more of a dying Saviour! I shall not launch out into the ocean of precious matter contained in this chapter, but take immediately into consideration the words of the text, wherein I find a weighty petition, strongly followed and set home with many mighty arguments.
1. We have here Christ's petition, or request in behalf of his people, not only those who were with him at the time, but all others that then did, or afterwards should believe on him. And the sum of what he here requests for them is, that his Father would keep them through his name.
Keeping implies danger. And there is a double danger contemplated in this request; danger of sin, and danger of ruin and destruction. To both these the people of God are liable in this world. The means of their preservation from both is the name, that is, the power of God. This name of the Lord is that "strong tower to which the righteous run, and are safe." Prov. 18: 10. Alas! it is not your own strength or wisdom that keeps you, but ye are kept by the mighty power of God. This protecting power of God does not, however, exclude our care and diligence, but implies it; therefore it is added, "Ye are kept by the mighty power of God, through faith, unto salvation." 1 Pet. 1:5. God keeps his people, and yet they are to keep themselves in the love of God, Jude 21, to keep their hearts with all diligence. Prov. 4:23. This is the sum of the petition.
2. The arguments with which he urges and presses this request, are drawn partly from his own condition, "I am no more in the world:" I am going to die; with in a very few hours I shall be separated from them. Partly from their condition: "but these are in the world:" I must leave them in the midst of danger. And partly from the joint interest his Father and himself had in them; "Keep those that thou hast given me :" with several other most prevalent pleas, which, in their proper places, shall be produced and displayed, to illustrate and confirm this precious truth:
The fatherly care and tender love of our Lord Jesus Christ was eminently displayed in the prayer he poured out for his people at his parting with them.
It pertained to the priest and father of the family to bless the rest, especially when he was to be separated from them by death. This was a right in Israel. When good Jacob was grown old, and the time had come that he should be gathered to his fathers, he blessed Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh, "saying, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads." Gen. 48: 15, 16. This was a prophetical and patriarchal blessing: not that Jacob could bless as God blesses; he could speak the words of blessing, but he knew the effect, the real blessing itself, depended upon God: he could, as the mouth of God, pronounce blessings, but could not confer them. Thus he blessed his children, as his father Isaac had also blessed him before he died, Gen. 28: 3; and all these blessings were delivered in the form of prayer.
Now when Jesus Christ comes to die, he also blesses his children, and therein shows how dear and tender love he has for them: "Having loved his own, which were in the world, he loved them to the end." John, 13: 1. The last act of Christ in this world was an act of blessing. Luke, 24: 50, 51.
. We will consider the mercies Christ requested of the Father for them; the arguments he used; why he thus pleaded for them when he was to die; and how all this gives full evidence of Christ's tender care and love to his people.
I. What were those mercies and special favors which Christ begged for his people when he was to die.
1. The mercy of preservation both from sin and danger: "Keep, through thine own name, those whom thou hast given me :" which is explained, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." John, 17: 15. We,
ours, and the saints that are gone, in their respective generations, have reaped the fruit of this prayer. How else comes it to pass, that our souls are preserved amidst such a world of temptations, and these assisted by our own corruptions? How else is it, that our persons are not ruined and destroyed amidst such multitudes of potent and malicious enemies, that "are set on fire of hell?" The preservation of the burning bush, of the three children amidst the flames, and of Daniel in the den of lions, are scarcely greater wonders than these which our eyes daily behold. As the fire would have certainly consumed, and the lions, without doubt, have rended and devoured, had not God, by the interposition of his own hand, stopped and hindered the effect; so would the sin in us, and the malice in others, quickly ruin our souls and bodies, were it not that the same hand guards and keeps us every moment. To that hand, into which this prayer of Christ delivered you, do you owe all your mercies and salvation, both temporal and spiritual.
2. Another mercy he prays for is the blessing of union among themselves. This he joins immediately with the first mercy of preservation, and prays for it in the same breath, "That they may be one, as we are." Ver. 11. And well might he join them; for this union is not only a choice mercy in itself, but a special means of that preservation he had prayed for before their union with one another is a special means to preserve them all.
3. A third mercy that Christ earnestly prayed for, was that his "joy might be fulfilled in them." Ver. 13. He would provide for their joy, even when the hour of his greatest sorrow was at hand; yea, he would not only obtain joy for them, but a full joy: "that my joy might be fulfilled in them." It is as if he had said, Oh Father, I am to leave these dear ones in a world
of trouble and perplexities; I know their hearts will be subject to despond; Oh let me obtain divine joy for them before I go: I would not only have them live, but live joyfully.
4. And as a continued spring to maintain all these mercies, he prays that "they all may be sanctified through the truth," ver. 17, that is, more abundantly sanctified than yet they were, by a deeper implanting of gracious habits and principles in their heart. This is a singular mercy, to have holiness spreading itself over and through their souls, as the light of the morning. Nothing is in itself more desirable. And it is also a great help to their perseverance, union, and spiritual joy, for which he had prayed, and which are all advanced by their increasing sanctification.
5. And as the completion and perfection of all mercies, he prays" that they may be with him, where he is, to behold his glory." Ver. 24. This is the best and highest privilege of which they were capable. The end of his coming down from heaven, and returning thither again, was to bring many sons and daughters unto glory. You see Christ asks no small thing for his people; no mercies but the best that both worlds afford will suffice him on their behalf.
II. Let us see how he urges his requests, and with what arguments he pleads with the Father for these things.
1. The first argument is drawn from the joint interest that himself and his Father have in those for whom he prays, "All mine are thine, and thine are mine." Verse 10. As if he had said, Father, behold and consider the persons I pray for, they are thy children as well as mine; the very same whom thou hast embraced in thy eternal love, and in that love hast given them to me; so that they are both thine and mine; great is our interest in them. Oh therefore keep, comfort, sanctify,