Those whom thou hast given me, I have kept - John 17:12

by Anthony Burgess

Of the Manner of Christ's Keeping Those Who Belong to Him. Of a Fourfold Principle that Operates in Preserving Believers: And of the Excellent Effects of the Vivid Contemplation of this Doctrine of Being Kept by Christ for Salvation.

JOHN 17.12. Those whom thou hast given me, I have kept, &c.

In the previous part of the verse, you heard our Saviour expressing the glorious privilege of protection and preservation for his disciples and all those who were given to him, even in the face of all dangers to eternal life. Now, our Saviour amplifies the faithfulness and diligence he employed in this guardianship.

So, in these words, we can observe the faithfulness and diligence of Christ expressed in the words, "I have kept them."

  1. The Subject, "Whom thou hast given me." This is the fifth time our Saviour repeats it and, therefore, deserves more attention.

  2. His faithfulness in preservation is illustrated by the sign or effect of it: "None of them has perished."

  3. He responds to an objection concerning Judas (assuming that he perished) with a twofold reason: "He was the son of perdition," and "that the Scripture may be fulfilled."

All these particulars contain substantial and meaningful theology, both doctrinal and practical. They will serve to refute false doctrines and reprove sinful conduct. And

First, let us consider the faithfulness and diligence that Christ employs, expressed in the words, "I have kept them." This is a different Greek word from the previous one, which was 〈Φυλάσσω〉 (phylasso), but here it is 〈Τηρέω〉 (tereo), which the Septuagint often translates to correspond to the Hebrew word "Shamar," which means to keep with great diligence and vigilance. In the New Testament, it is often used to mean the physical, forceful confinement of someone in prison, as 〈Φυλάσσω〉 (phylasso) is in Acts 12.4 and Acts 23.35. Hence, 〈Τηρέω〉 (tereo) often refers to a prison, as seen in Acts 16.23, 24, 27, 37, 40, and 〈Τηρέω〉 (tereo) means to drag to prison, as in Acts 22.19. However, when applied in a spiritual sense, it signifies a careful observance of a command or, more frequently, a vigilant preservation of ourselves from sin, as in Luke 12.15 and 1 John 5.21. Hence, the Greek word 〈Τηρέω〉 (tereo) in Matthew 23.5, where it means they enlarged their phylacteries, so-called because they served as a warning to guard against sin. But in the text, it is used to denote protection and preservation leading to eternal happiness, as in John 12.25. We can only observe its use in three places very relevant to our current discussion.

"It's applied to Shepherds diligently watching over their sheep, even in the night time, Luke 2.8. and thus Homer also uses it; and thereby, it is represented that Christ is that chief Shepherd who will keep his sheep, no matter how infirm or weak, so that no danger shall befall them.

  1. It's applied to the keeping of some precious thing deposited in our hands, that we are entrusted with, 1 Tim. 6.20. and thus also all the godly are delivered to Christ as his charge, that none may be lost.

  2. Lastly, It's used of preserving in a safe place in the midst of dangers. Thus Noah is said to be kept in the Ark, 2 Pet. 2.5. which is notably true of all the godly. The deluge of God's wrath falls upon all the wicked of the world, and the godly are kept safe in Christ, as Noah was in the Ark, and therefore our Saviour often informs his Disciples that he keeps them. Observe▪

That Christ's divine protection and preservation of his people to eternal life should be thought of daily and utilised by them. They are not to apprehend it in a passing manner, but they are to hold this blessed truth in their hearts until it ignites them. Just as it's not one shower but plentiful and constant droplets that nourish the Tree's root, so it's not an occasional thought about Christ's keeping you safe for heaven that will affect you; but like Jacob wrestling with the Angel, you should say, 'I will not let go of this truth until it blesses me.' Truly, for this purpose, our Saviour repeatedly says, 'Those you have given me, and I have kept them,' to strengthen and increase the Disciples' faith, given that they encounter formidable challenges on the way to Canaan. Anyone who relies solely on their own strength and the dangers in their path would have a negative view of Heaven, as the Spies did of the Land of Canaan, saying, 'It's impossible for anyone to reach there.' Similarly, the Disciples questioned, 'Who then can be saved?' But with God, nothing is impossible.

To expound on this Doctrine, consider that there is a fourfold principle that operates to preserve believers.

First, there is an inward vital and vivifying principle of grace abiding in the godly, which will never fail. Not that it would naturally fail, as it did in Adam and the Angels, but just as God confirmed and established the grace of Angels so that it would never perish, he does the same for that supernatural principle of holiness placed in his people, as in 1 John 3.8. 'He who is born of God does not sin, or cannot sin,' that is, not to be entirely given up to it, because the seed of God remains in him. Though there may be different interpretations of this seed, I presently suppose it to be that inward principle of supernatural life from which all gracious operations flow. God has placed this in the hearts and innermost parts of his people, never to be uprooted. Thus, in John 4:14, the believer is said to have 'a well of water springing up to eternal life.' Here is a fountain that cannot dry up; hence it is said, 'He shall never thirst again,' specifically with a thirst of total indigence and lack. Even in the greatest deficiencies and barrenness of God's people, there has been sap in the root when the branches appeared dead.

A second principle that preserves us is the daily help of grace that revives and strengthens the soul in all holiness. The former grace is permanent and habitual, whereas this is transient, actual, and in the form of motion. This latter completes and activates the former, for just as having natural life is not enough unless there is further assistance from God that enables us to move and act, so in our supernatural life, it's insufficient to have that infused principle of life; we must also receive daily impressions and powerful quickenings from the Holy Spirit. This is having both the 'posse' (the capability) and the 'operari' (the deed). These are the two internal principles of our preservation, for the Lord Christ does not keep us directly but through means in a subordinate manner."

"In the next place, there are two external principles of our preservation. And

The first is our Election, which is the source of all our perseverance. This is the first step on the ladder by which we ascend to Heaven, as stated in Rom. 8. It's through Predestination that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, as Rom. 11 explains. Election ensures that the chosen remnant shall never perish. In this prayer of our Saviour's, the security of the godly is rooted in the fact that the Father had given them to Christ through Election, as the root and source of all their goodness. This truth is so compelling that even those who believe in a falling away from true grace still maintain that no Elect individual can ultimately perish. If that were the case, God's purpose would be frustrated, and human counsel would nullify God's plan. God's Election is the life-giving cause of all preservation. Just as Election brought them in when they were called and converted from a state of sin, the same Election, when they fall, protects and keeps them, and if they falter, it raises and restores them, ultimately leading them safely to Eternity. Therefore, their perseverance is not a merit or reward for their previous holiness; it is a free gift from God and an effect of Election, just as their effectual calling was.

The second external Principle is the Covenant and Promise of God made in Christ to the Godly. The Covenant of Grace, confirmed by Christ's death, in whom the Promises are 'Yes' and 'Amen,' as stated in 2 Cor. 1.20, serves among other glorious purposes to perpetuate and sustain the work of Grace in them. It's impossible for hell or the world to completely lead them astray on the path to Heaven, as seen in Jerem. 32.40, where God promises an Everlasting Covenant that will endure forever. The privilege granted in this Deed of Gift is the implanting of his fear in their hearts, so that they will not turn away from Him. This notable passage makes it clear that it is not we who keep ourselves but God who keeps us, and this is guaranteed by His Promise. Therefore, the godly can rejoice in holy confidence because of it. The Scripture declares many other Promises that are branches of this Covenant, which should be sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. What could be more precious than hearing that God will securely preserve you on the path to Heaven, so that no external deception or force, nor any internal desire or corruption, will hinder you from receiving the Crown of Glory? As seen in Isai. 40.29, 30, 31, 'He gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might, he increases strength,' etc. In the preceding verse, God is said not to faint or be weary. Though He created the Earth and continues to preserve it, He is never weary, and because of this, He will make His people likewise. They may be fainting and weary in themselves, but He will renew their strength. He illustrates this using natural strength, noting that even young men in their full vigour may become weary, but those who trust in the Lord will not. Furthermore, He compares their strength to that of an Eagle, which soars up to Heaven on wings without becoming weary. God will similarly empower the godly soul. Though they may run or walk, they will not grow weary. This should be a revitalizing message for the spiritually dead, sluggish, and languishing believer. Why should I remain low on the ground? Let me ascend to Heaven like an Eagle. There is also a remarkable Promise of Divine Protection in Isai. 4.5, 6, where God uses two similitudes to declare it. Firstly, He alludes to the extraordinary preservation of the people of Israel. It was not enough that God had led them out of Egypt; they would have perished without His Protection. We can read the account in Exod. 13, where God provided guiding Protection for them both day and night. In the daytime, there was a Cloud and smoke, and a shining flaming fire at night. God promises to do the same for every dwelling place in Zion, including her assemblies. These assemblies represent the various congregations gathered to serve God. For all of them, the Glory shall be a defence. 'Glory' refers to the Ark, which is here a symbol of God's people. They are called God's Glory because they glory in God, and God is glorified through them. Therefore, the meaning is that just as God once showed great care and protection to the Israelites to prevent them from perishing in the Wilderness and bring them to Canaan, He will do the same for His Church. The second similitude comes from Shepherds in hot countries who erected tabernacles and shelters for their flock to shield them from the heat and other storms. This signifies that God will create such protection for His sheep against all dangers and calamities so that they do not perish. In all our extremities, we have four strong pillars to support us."

"In the next place, let us take notice of the blessed effects that a lively meditation on this preservation will produce. It's worth spending time to ponder and apply this truth. For

[1] First, hereby a holy boldness and confidence will sustain our hearts against all dangers and discouragements. The people of God are prone to moments of fainting and despondency; their fears and anxieties weaken them. Oh, then what a comforting and reviving truth this will be for us! Though I am weak and unable to preserve myself, I am in the arms of Him who both can and will; a child in a giant's arms is safe from falling. We see David in many Psalms expressing his confidence and boldness, even challenging the whole world. 'Though the earth be removed into the sea, and though an army of men should encamp around me, yet I will not be afraid because I trust in God.' He often speaks of God's right hand upholding him. What a source of support that is! There is more strength in it than in all creatures combined. So, even if not only devils but all creatures, both good and bad, were to unite against you, they would be like dry tinder to the fire of God's right hand. You cannot fall any more than God Himself can become weary and faint. The pagans said of their mythical Atlas, whom they portrayed as holding up the heavens, that he must not even stoop, as the heavens would immediately fall. Certainly, if God were to withdraw His arm for just a moment, not only believers but even the angels in heaven would plunge into hell. If you were to rest in this protection through faith, your life would be a sweet, gracious, and composed life.

[2] Secondly, the contemplation of Christ's protection would cause us to look beyond ourselves and renounce our own strength. Trusting in the arm of flesh for temporal deliverance is akin to idolatry, but trusting in the duties or graces of the soul for spiritual blessings is even more abominable idolatry. It is more peculiar and belongs to God alone to justify and save us than to defend and preserve us bodily. This preservation is meant to humble us and remind us of our own impotence and sinfulness. Those many promises to help you are clear demonstrations of your own weaknesses. We are never closer to falling than when we begin to trust in ourselves. When Peter declared, 'Even if all men forsake you, yet I will not,' he was most ready to forsake and deny Christ. Thus, this doctrine of Christ's protection is a humbling and self-emptying truth; it makes us see our own poverty and nakedness, compelling us to rely solely on Him.

[3] Thirdly, the consideration of this preservation will make us willingly and eagerly engage in all the duties to which God calls us. We will not shy away from them, saying, 'Oh, they are too difficult! We cannot go through with them!' What caused the Israelites to despair in the face of new dangers? It was because they failed to remember the miraculous power of God's presence with them; they regarded everything as formidable except God. They saw their enemies as mighty adversaries but did not consider God as a great God. This sinful fear was also seen in Moses, who made numerous excuses to avoid being sent on the mission to Pharaoh until God's anger was kindled against him. Therefore, if we were to consider Christ's power with faith, even if our duties were substantial and went against our natural inclinations, we would go forth boldly in the name of God and courageously perform them."

"Fourthly, the powerful meditation of this would prevent a thousand doubts and fears that we usually entertain about what might happen. We often forget our Saviour's rule, that 'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,' and, therefore, we torment ourselves with imagined future conditions. We fail to consider that as our needs and weaknesses increase, so does God's preservation. The godly person thinks, 'What if I were to be deprived of such tangible supports, a husband, or a capable friend, or if I were to lose my estate? How would I provide for my many children? What if I were called to martyrdom, imprisonment, or faced with losing my life? My weakness makes me fear that I might deny and renounce like Peter.' However, all the confusion in your soul arises because we forget that Christ's protection and presence are with us!

Lastly, a lively faith in this protection will keep us in a careful and diligent walk in the ways where God grants His presence. As the Apostle says, 'Work out your salvation, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do.' Presumption on God's power breeds complacency and laziness, but faith in God's power follows God's ways. Christ, because He relied on God, did not tempt God with unlawful actions.

Use of Thankfulness: Oh, call upon your soul to thank God for His preservation at every moment! God has guarded your heart, your eyes, and your tongue today. Otherwise, they would have become instruments of wickedness. You are going to bed in peace rather than descending into hell. You are not filled with wounds and scars from sin. Bless God for keeping you close to Him."


Source: Expository Sermons UPON The whole 17 th CHAPTER OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO St JOHN: OR, CHRIST'S PRAYER Before his PASSION Explicated

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