(2.) His pleadings for his apostles.
We proceed now to consider the pleadings by which the Savior enforces these petitions. These pleadings may all be arranged under the following heads :–First, The persons he prays for are a peculiar class, “not the world.” Secondly, They stand in a peculiar. relation both to the Father and to him, Thirdly, They have a peculiar history. Fourthly, They have a peculiar character. Fifthly, They are placed in peculiar circumstances. Sixthly, They are appointed to a peculiar and most important and difficult work. And finally, Their consecration for this work is one great end for which he consecrates himself to the great work assigned him by the Father. Let us turn our attention to these topics in their order, endeavoring to apprehend the meaning of our Lord’s statements with respect to each of them, and their bearing and force as pleas, on the petitions which he presents for his apostles.
1. They were a peculiar Class.
The first plea which I would bring under your consideration is, ‘that the objects of his prayer were a peculiar class–not the world.’ “I pray not for the world”1 (ver. 9). And I call your attention to this plea first, because it lays the foundation for all the, rest. Indeed, all the rest may be considered as only the expansion or development of this.
The words, “I pray for them, I pray not for the world,” have by many able theologians been considered as an assertion that our Lord’s intercession does not in any sense extend to mankind at large, but is strictly limited to the elect. It is one of the passages which have been much used in support of the doctrine, that in no sense did Christ die for all men, and that therefore the atonement has exclusively a reference to ‘the elect;’ the two parts of our Lord’s mediatorial work being justly considered as indissoluble.
Like many other passages of Scripture, more eagerness has been discovered by polemical divines to wrest it as a weapon out of the hand of an antagonist, or to employ it as a weapon against him, than to discover what is the precise meaning of the words as used by our Lord, and how they serve the purpose for which he employed them. I think it will not be difficult to show that the assertion that our Lord prays for no blessings for any but the elect, is not warranted by Scripture; and that, even if it were, it would not be easy to show how such a statement should have’ a place in a plea for the bestowment of certain blessings on his apostles.2
“The world,” here, is not an expression coincident in meaning with the reprobate–the non-elect. It is equivalent to men who have not been converted–men in their fallen, unchanged state–men under the power of unbelief, impenitence, and depravity. Now undoubtedly our Lord does not mean to make an unqualified declaration that he does not pray for any of these. All his elect originally belonged to this class. They were not only “in the world,” but “of the world;” and they ceased to be of the world just in consequence of his praying for them on the ground of his atoning death, that they should be brought out of the world, by his Spirit being given them, to the sending of which it was necessary that he should go away in his death. In the context immediately following we find him praying that the world might be brought to know and acknowledge that the Father had sent him. Surely this was praying for the world.
Nor is this all. We have reason to believe that Christ’s intercession as well as his death has a reference to mankind universally, and that in an important sense he prays for all, as well as has died for all. But for the mediation of Christ, it is difficult to see how fallen men could have enjoyed any blessings. The unmitigated execution of the curse was their desert; and but for the intervention of the mediatorial economy, how could they have escaped it? All that is not wrathful in the divine dispensations to fallen man, is directly or indirectly the result of Christ’s mediation and the parts of that mediation, while they must be distinguished, cannot be separated. Had Christ not died, could men, even those who are ultimately to perish, have had in this world the blessings of various kinds they possess? could the door of mercy have been opened to them t could a free and a full salvation have been presented to them for their acceptance? and do they possess any of these blessings without his willing it to be so, and without his expressing that will in his intercession? In the parable of the barren fig-tree, who is the vine-dresser who petitions the husbandman to spare the fruitless tree for three years more,–contemplating as a possible event, that, after all, it will continue hopelessly barren, and be cut down as cumbering the ground. The prophetic oracle is fulfilled, “He makes intercession for the transgressors.”3
It is most true he does not pray for these as he does for those whom, in accordance with his covenant engagement, he is determined to save.4 In making intercession, just ,as in making atonement, he bears special relations to them, regards them with a special love, and by his intercession l secures for them the enjoyment of saving blessings.
“It is equally true,” as Luther says, according to the sense in which you use the words, “that Christ prays for the world,” for unbelieving men, “and that he does not pray for them.”5 There are blessings conferred on men who, in consequence of their sin and unbelief, shall finally perish, and who were not” chosen in Christ” to eternal life; there are blessings conferred on elect men in their state of irregeneracy, especially the great blessing of bringing them out of that state; and there are blessings conferred on elect men in their regenerate state, of which in their irregenerate state they were incapable; and the communication of all these blessings is connected, though by no means in the same way, with that mediation of our Lord which consists in his making atonement aud making intercession.
But even although the assertion, that in no sense does our Lord make intercession for any but the elect, were better founded than as we have seen it is, it would be difficult to perceive what bearing it could have on a prayer for particular blessings to the apostles. “I pray for them; I pray not for the world.” Them is here an emphatic word. ‘I am now praying for my apostles, not for mankind at large–not for unconverted men. I am asking peculiar blessings for a peculiar class; blessings which it would not be fitting for me to ask, nor for thee to bestow, on the world.’ They have peculiar claims and peculiar necessities. What these are, will come out as we proceed with the illustration of the other particulars.
John Brown, An Exposition of Our Lord’s Intercessory Prayer, (Edinburgh: William Oliphant and Co., 1866), 99-104 [Some spelling modernized; footnote values modified; italics original; and underlining mine.]
1“Oravit et pro mundo, ut resipisceret et veniam acciperet peooatorum (Luc. xxiii. 34). Immo et mox ut credat (ver. 21); sed haec quae nunc orat, de protectione paterna, de Spiritu, de concordia, non nisi ad credentes pertinent. “–GROTIUS. ‘It is not for the world I am praying; I am praying for those whom thou hast given me out of the world.’
2“That John xvii. 9 is to be understood not absolutely but comparatively with respect to the manner and ground of supplication, is plain from Matt. v. 44; Luke xxiii. 34; Acts vii. 60; 1 Tim. ii 1.”–PYE SMlTH
3Isa. liii. 12.
4“That Christ did not pray such a prayer for all men as was only proper for believers, doth not conclude that he did not at all pray for them.”–POLHILL.
5“Pro mundo rogare, et pro mundo non rogare utrumque est bonum et rectum. Mox enim in sequentibus dicit Christus, ‘non pro eis tantum rogo, sed et pro iis qui credituri aunt per sermonem eorum.’ Hos carte priusquam ad fidem convertuntur, de mundo esse oportet, ideo pro mundo ipso orandum, propter eos, qui adhuc sunt convertendi: Sanctus Paulus haud dubie etiamnum de mundo erat, cum persequeretur et occideret Christianos: attamen S. Stephanus rogabat pro eo ut converteretur: ita Christus quoque rogabat in cruce ‘Pater ignosce illis.’ Ita verum esse videmus, quod pariter pro mundo roget et non roget. Hoc autem inest discrimiuis. Non rogat pro mundo hoc modo, quo pro suis Christianis rogando utitur. Pro Christiania ita rogat, ut penes rectam fidem manesnt, inque ea proficiant et pergant, neque ab es desciscant; pro convertendis orat, ut relicta priori vita ad fidem accedant. “–LUTHER, v. 198. “The prayer of Christ for the world takes quite a different form from that for the church. He prays that the world may cease to be what it is; he prays for the church, that what it is may be perfected.”–OLSHAUSEN.