“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
(John 17:1b-2, 6, 9-12, 15)
I cannot think of a more hated, maligned, misunderstood, and misrepresented doctrine than the doctrine of election, which is also most dearly loved, precious, and most beneficial to those who know by the illumination of the Holy Spirit and submit to it. It is quite frankly a very plain and clear teaching in the Scripture, thus showing that it’s resistance can be due to nothing other than the blindness and hardness of heart or the refusal to let go of the most precious idol known to man, that of the free will of man which is autonomous of the decree of an all sovereign God. To those who have been given grace from God to receive this truth and bow all of themselves unto Almighty God, see it now as a most precious crown jewel and bedrock of comfort in their Christian life. The way in which our Lord most plainly and consistently refers to this doctrine of election in His most precious prayer to and for every believer shows us it’s most foundational place in our redemption and eternal life. As such we should seek to know of it what God has revealed to us in His Word and thereby obtain the great comfort and benefits that it brings to the believer. Indeed it is a deep and difficult truth to man, but that makes it all the more beneficial to us when the Spirit gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.
Calvin says that, “We shall never be clearly convinced as we ought to be that our salvation flows from the fountain of God’s free mercy, till we are acquainted with His eternal election…” The consistent presence of this doctrine in Christ’s intercessory prayer for His people which is meant for our comfort and assurance begins to show us of what great use this doctrine is to the believer. Should we ignore because it is too hard of thing, or should we not speak of it to avoid controversy, then we should miss out on the great blessing of the knowledge of the depths of God’s mercy and grace is toward us in our salvation. Grace is not anything if not given freely, sovereignly, and totally by God alone to undeserving sinners such as us. That which aids me in understanding God’s grace toward me more deeply, I want to know more and speak more of. Many Christians have been deprived of understanding the depths of their salvation by avoidance of such a weighty subject as this. I do not want to deprive you this afternoon, for such truth belongs to all of God’s people here today. And more importantly I do not want to slight God’s Word or Christ’s intercessory High Priestly Prayer.
To state it most plainly, election is the divine and sovereign choosing of God to redeem a people for Himself. God has decreed from all eternity to pour His saving grace upon a particular and specific people. Such people as have been elected by God will, in time, apprehend Christ by faith for their salvation through the hearing of the gospel.
In chapter 3 of our confession, the1689 London Baptist Confession it says this, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice. These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
In considering the presence of this doctrine in the High Priestly Prayer, it is undeniable, such that opponents of the doctrine openly admit it is there. They will simply argue that Christ was speaking only of His disciples and no other. Over the weeks we have spent thus far in John 17 we have already sufficiently refuted such an argument that Jesus said He prays not only for the disciples but for all those who would believe on account of their testimony. We have established and maintained that this prayer stands as an effectual prayer before the throne of God for every believer in every time who does believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. So as we read of this doctrine in John 17, we rightly come to possess it for ourselves who do believe upon Christ. Should we arbitrarily pick and choose what belongs to us in this prayer as Christians? Certainly not.
Upon establishing the presence of this doctrine in Christ’s prayer and that for all believers, we note the way in which it is spoken by our Lord. Jesus continually refers to the elect as those whom the Father has given Him. He continually prays for those whom the Father has given Him. This is none other than the doctrine of election. It is the Father’s ordaining of a people for Himself, whom He gives to the Son in order to accomplish their redemption and so enjoy the blessedness of union with Christ in the Triune God. In this way, election is spoken of in Trinitarian terms, or familial terms, of the Father giving a people to the Son.
Many falsely view election as cold and arbitrary. To the contrary, it is warm and Fatherly. Predestined from all eternity, we are beneficiaries of Divine Mercy, this mercy flowing from the Godhead, ordained by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied to us in time by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus was soon to send as He prayed this prayer.
In this we see that election is a display of God’s love and warm affection for sinners who deserve no such thing. Election does not come from a cold, calloused, and cranky god, but from a warm, loving Father who desires to show the richness of His grace to unworthy sinners. For those who struggle with this doctrine, they ought to look at Christ as mediator and how it comes off of His lips being described as the Father giving a beloved people to His Son.
In verse 12 we read how Jesus addressed His Father as “Holy Father.” And when Jesus addresses the Father as “Holy Father,” D. A. Carson notes that this title combines awesome transcendence with familial intimacy. This is one way in which this doctrine comes to us from the lips of Christ. Who is to question or accuse God of injustice in His purposes of election? For He is holy and we are sinners. Who is to accuse God of cold arbitrariness? For He is Father.
The Father loved His people so much that He gave them to His Son to be redeemed and to be kept. He loved them such that He sent His own Son to suffer and die to purchase their pardon and redemption, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. How can it be cold and arbitrary when it was given to the Son to suffer and die to have this people for His eternal possession and inheritance?
John Gill says that, “…it is an instance of love and care on God’s part to give, and of grace and condescension on Christ’s to receive…”
Furthermore, we see this doctrine and this mission to be set forth in times past, as we also note the language used of here as being more language of the Psalms. Psalm 2:7-8 says, “I will tell of the decree: the LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” This Psalm lets us in on inter-trinitarian conversation. It is the Father telling the Son to ask Him and He will give Him a people – the nations for His heritage, and the ends of the earth for His possession. This was read and sung and memorized by God’s people for centuries as the messianic work that was to come. And here in John 17, the disciples are gathered around their Lord as He prays to the Father and He speaks of this promise as His own. The Father has indeed given Him a people. And here Jesus prays for those people whom the Father promised to give Him long ago. Certainly this reality of the nations being given to Christ is progressively accomplished in history through the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit to bring the nations unto Him, yet Jesus even here prays for them as they were all given to Him to intercede for and purchase in His work on the cross.
We also note here as it says in verse 2 that Christ has been given authority over “all flesh” – His authority and Lordship is not just over His redeemed Church, and those who reject Him are autonomously outside of His authority. No, His authority is over the domain of every man, but He gives special care and eternal life to those given Him by the Father, for whom He prays, and then purchases on the cross.
The elect are the special object of Christ’s intercessory prayer. Jesus specifically intercedes for them that are given Him to redeem by the Father.
Jesus does not pray for none in particular or everyone in general, but for each that the Father gave to Him and are His. Just as He does not die for none in particular, but for each that the Father gave to Him. It is thus an irrefutable effectual prayer and effectual atonement.
As objects of His this special prayer, notice how Christ advocates for such ones. Notice the affection in election, as Christ advocates for those the Father has given to Him when He says, “they have kept your word.” This of course refers immediately to the eleven, as those who would believe on account of their Word, were yet to believe in time. Yet as those do believe in time, even this phrase of Christ’s may belong to them as Christ advocates for them, that they have kept your word. How wonderful a thought! Even in the infirmities of and weak faith of the disciples to this point Christ says they have kept your word. This, I believe, refers not to a perfect righteousness of the disciples before God, but of their preserving, continuing, and persevering faith and following of Christ, which is a testimony to how Christ has guarded and kept them from falling away.
This advocacy of Christ He has every right to do for it is based upon the authority given Him to give eternal life to those that Father has given to Him. We are divine property and possession.
Furthermore, we notice in this language of the Father giving a people to the Son that election itself is a gift from God. Gifts are to be received with all gladness and not to be ungratefully mumbled against.
How could such a one who knows it, mumble against it when, since election is the giving of a gift, it is most certainly not the earning of a wage. It is not something for which the disciples worked and earned based upon their keeping of His Word, rather their keeping of His word was the result of their being ordained from all eternity to be the apostles of Christ. And indeed it is such for all those who would believe.
This gift of grace is not based on anything inherent in those who receive it, for they were given to Christ from out of the world, as Jesus says in verse 6. Before Jesus called them, the disciples were out in the world, they were of the world, doing their own thing, in various sins. Yet by merit of their own were called by the incarnate Christ to follow Him. Such were each of us, once wicked and vile haters of God, as all men are in their natural state. We were each called out of great and gross sin and rebellion in the world to come unto Christ. Doing nothing to merit such a call, except for being great sinners. It is only from sinners and rebels that God chooses a people for Himself, not out of the pool of those who are righteous in themselves; for there is no such pool of humanity to choose from, lest we think that God looked down to see who was worthy of His grace. Being worthy of electing grace is indeed an oxymoron. None were worthy, none were righteous, none had merit, but God was rich in mercy and abounding in grace toward such ones.
As we have thus established and defined this doctrine, we will now proceed to observe and by faith apprehend the designs of election that are particularly present here in our text today.
We first notice that election is meant to be a doctrine of great comfort to God’s people. Jesus openly established much of His prayer on the election of God giving a people to the Son. In this we see that Jesus seeks to comfort His disciples with the doctrine of election. We have talked much about how the disciples were at a loss for Jesus’ approaching departure and how Christ sought to comfort and prepare them in the farewell discourse culminating in His High Priestly Prayer. In the culmination of Christ’s comforting of His disciples, He openly prays for them as those who were given to Him by the Father. In the turbulent times ahead of them they are taught to know and remember God’s electing grace in their lives, that they were given by the Father to the Son, and they will thus be kept secure by Him.
This doctrine which is specially made known to the believer by the illumination of the Spirit of God is not meant to be fearful, but to be comforting; not concerning but assuring.
Several weeks ago in beginning in John 17 I told of the story of John Knox and how he found great comfort from Christ’s High Priestly Prayer. Specifically John Knox said that John 17 is where he “cast his first anchor” in coming out of Roman Catholicism. It was here that Knox saw the roots of election and Christ’s commitment to keep those whom the Father had given to Him. When this passage was read to Knox on his death bed, he said, “Is that not a comfortable chapter?”
We need this doctrine for the storms and trials of life. We need it for the battle with our sin. When we are tossed about by life and persecution, loss, sickness, and suffering come upon us, what better place to rest our anchor upon then the unchanging immovable decree of God to redeem us in Christ, His Son? Not only the salvation of your soul, but every event and trial that seems chaotic and confusing, that too, we can rest assured it the decree of God for our lives, working about for our salvation. For all of the unknown to us, Christ is keeping us and will not let us go.
Further, this doctrine directs us to look to God in Christ.
The doctrine of election is not designed to cause us to look to ourselves, but to look to God in Christ who is strong and sure to save and rich in mercy. That our salvation depends upon God, directs us not unto ourselves, our works, our religious fervor, or any such thing in us or that we do, but to Christ alone. It depends not on man to will and to exert, but upon God who has mercy. This is where we must rest and fall: upon God’s mercy to sinners in Christ, for that is from where salvation and eternal life flows, and not from man. We cannot fully understand or comprehend God’s sovereign decree, but rather than drive us from God, those who are given the Spirit of God, are made to look unto God, knowing Him through Christ to be the only source of life. This is a great design of the doctrine of election.
Even greater is that this glorifies God. Jesus says in verse 10, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” When man looks not unto Himself and does not depend upon Himself for eternal life and righteousness before God, but looks to God in Christ for all, and to be His all in all, this glorifies God, and Christ is glorified in us. God’s decree and design of election is that man might find not satisfaction or hope in looking to oneself, but be compelled to look upon God alone for salvation, and so magnify the glories of His riches in grace, and none other. This is exactly how the apostle Paul speaks of election in Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before he foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
Objection: It makes us Robots
But what of the objection that we so often hear, that this makes us robots? I would have you note that Jesus prays for the elect. If we are robots and nothing matters because God is sovereign, then why does the Lord Jesus Himself pray on behalf of those the Father has given to Him? What’s the point? In noting Christ’s prayer, the objection is already answered. God incarnate prays for the salvation and perseverance of the elect to be accomplished. Jesus prays for those the Father has given to Him, that the Father would keep them.
As A. W. Pink says, “God’s decrees do not render void the use of means.” What a beautiful thing to see Christ praying for that those given to Him would be kept.
Furthermore, notice, the prayer is that they be kept in fidelity to Christ – in holiness. In verse 17 Christ prays for their sanctification. In other words, Jesus is praying that those whom the Father has given to Him would walk out their salvation, that they would grow in holiness, that they would grow in obedience of life, that they would believe and act in accordance. His prayer is not that they would do nothing, but that they would do much.
We are never told to sit idly by and wait to know if we are elect, but rather we are exhorted to believe upon the Lord Jesus and obey Him. That is our responsibility.
Jesus says, “They have kept your word,” not that they have done nothing. Here is the importance or mark of obedience and preserving faith of those who follow Christ that were given from the Father to the Son.
These truths of a sovereign God do not drive us away from prayer and responsibility, but towards it, and to prayer. Because election is fatherly affection, it causes us to desire to draw near to Him and love Him and obey Him.
In my own life, learning these great truths as a younger man is what drove me to obedience and purity of life before God to forsake my sin. They fueled my love and affection for Christ, for I knew that He loved me. I knew that He loved me, when I did not love Him. He wanted me and had me when I did not want Him. I deserved death and damnation but received life and salvation. There have been many a young man who have been gripped by the total sovereignty of God and could do no other but to fervently follow after Him in obedience. Again, A. W. Pink says, “Your election will be known by your interest in Christ, and your interest in Christ by the regeneration of the Spirit.”
Let us finally conclude by stating clearly the teaching that election is closely connected with preservation. Jesus gives eternal to all those the Father has given to them. He doesn’t give them a start, or a starting point and then lets us go to see how far we can make it. He keeps us, sustains us, preserves us, to the end. Jesus keeps us and guards us unto that day when we stand before Him. This is the same idea that is said with different but similar language in John 6 that all those that Father has given to me, Jesus says, will come to me, and I will raise them up on the last day.
Christ perfectly discharges of His office. He does not pray for and die for some only to lose some in the end. The good work He began in us He will bring to completion on that day. He is a total Savior who perfectly redeems those who the Father has given to Him, and who perfectly keeps them. He will not let one be lost, otherwise He is an imperfect Savior, and no Savior at all. He is the good shepherd who calls His sheep, and none can snatch them out of His hand.
Again, A. W. Pink says, “That Christ asked the Father to keep us shows us that it is not within our power to keep ourselves.”
This should work in us the spirit of dependency upon God. We cannot keep ourselves. If it were up to us, we would fail. If the Spirit of God did not seal us for that day, we would be lost. It is not upon our power, which is weak, but upon God’s which is great.
1 Peter 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Election means that God keeps us based on His mercy and His choice which does not change. “Eternal security” without election, bases it on man’s choice which is subject to change.
“But my sin is so great,” you say. Christ’s mercy is greater still. “But my grip is weak,” you say. Christ’s grip is not. It is strong. None slip through His fingers, and none can pry you lose from His hand.
Our perseverance is evidence of God’s grip on us.
Your preservation and perseverance in the faith is a matter of answered prayer. It is a matter of the Father answering the Son’s prayer. Do you doubt that God will be faithful to do so? “But I am weak,” you say. But Christ is strong. “But my sins haunt and hound me in the night and burden me in the day,” you say. So does Christ’s prayer for His own remain effectual before the throne of God. As loud as the accuser is in your ear, louder still is Christ’s prayer for His own before the ear of the Father.
Christ upholds us in our weakness and infirmities. Weak and sinful men need a mighty God and an able Savior.
Christ perfectly saves and keeps those given to Him.
John 6:37-40, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Here in John 6, Jesus presents the Father’s will to His hearers, and the mission that He came to accomplish. Here in John 17 Jesus presents to the Father His will and mission as accomplished. John 17:4, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” Not one has been lost, not one will be lost. All the Father has given to Him will come to Him, and will be kept and raised up on the last day. So come unto Jesus Christ today.
Jude 1:24-25, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”