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Communion Sunday
Evening Service: The Evening Sermon


THE SAVIOUR’S PRAYER FOR THE FIRST COMMUNICANTS

I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.—St John xvii. 15.

These words deserve our special attention on an evening like this. It is not merely the kindness and the wisdom that shine through them, that I should wish you to observe. But when we look at them, we find that there is a great principle involved in them; and a principle which runs through all God's dealings with His children and servants. God's plan with His Christian people, is not to withdraw them from danger, but to shield them in it: not to remove them from labour, but to strengthen them for it: not to keep them entirely free from sorrow, care, and trial, but rather to comfort under these, and turn all these into a heavenly discipline. Even worldly wisdom can see that it is a nobler thing to strengthen the back, than to lighten the burden: it is worthier to give more power to the arm, than to lessen the work it has to do: it is better to strengthen the ship till it shall be able to face the hurricane, than to keep it always sailing upon a breezeless sea. In many respects, and for many reasons, it is better to bring up the strength to do and bear, than to let down the standard of what is to be done and borne. And so the Christian principle is, that we must labour to enter into rest,— that through much tribulation we must enter into the Kingdom of God,—that we must pass to that country where there is no darkness of night, through the dark valley of the shadow of death.

Our Blessed Saviour, as all here well know, after addressing His apostles in that most beautiful discourse which is recorded in the three chapters which >**ec^de that in which my text stands, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and poured out that kind, wise, comforting Intercessory Prayer. He is about to leave His chosen friends in a world of sin and sorrow: and He thinks mainly of them, and not of His own approaching agony and death. How often have we all lingered upon these wonderful words; wherein the Redeemer asks that so much of good and so much of glory may be the appointed portion of those He is leaving behind! He says much of an evil world in which they were to be left: a world that would hate His friends because they were not of it: a world in which they never would find the rest, the holiness, the happiness, the home, which He prayed they might yet enjoy : a world from which He was Himself going soon away; and from which it might have seemed a blessed and a happy thing that they should all go together. But the Saviour's purpose and the Saviour's prayer were not like that. He did not wish to withdraw the labourer from the burden and heat of the day : He did not intend to remove the soldier from the field on which he must fight the good fight of faith: it was no plan of His to take away the apostles from a world in which they were to preach the gospel to perishing souls, and to testify of Christ’s work and resurrection. But yet the wind must be tempered to the shorn lamb: He would not cast them forth upon this world at its worst, to bear the brunt of whatever storm might blow. The prayer was as kind and thoughtful as if it had asked that they might enter into heaven at once: but still it went upon that great principle on which all God’s dealings with His children go. The Redeemer prayed for His apostles, and prayed with all the tenderness of the dying father who is leaving his little children behind: yet His words are, ‘I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil! ’

You see, there were the two good things which the Redeemer might have prayed for. He wished well to His disciples: and the great thought which to beings like us is implied in wishing well and in being well, is Deliverance from Evil. The first and most obvious way was by removing them altogether from a world of evil: and if there had been no good end for them to serve by remaining in this world, that might have been the better way. The second way, a way demanding greater skill, greater wisdom, greater power,—was to let them stay in this evil world,—let them remain where they would be surrounded by evil, pressed by evil, assailed on every side by evil,—and yet to keep them from it all. And that would be the God-like way. That would be the way which would consist with all the Almighty’s ways of dealing with His believing people below. And that would be the way, too, in which every good result would be secured that would follow from their remaining in this world. There was a work for the apostles to do here. There were weighty reasons why it was desirable that they should remain in this world. They could hot be spared, just then. It would have been sad for you and me, had they gone when their Master went. And so Christ expressly declared which of the two good wishes He would wish : which of the two good things He would ask for. Not the first; but the second. Not calm; but strength to bear the storm. Not entire removal from danger; but safety amid it all. Not to leave this earth ; but to wait and do their work in it. I pray not That thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil!'

Now you will easily see that there was weighty reason why the apostles should not at that time have been taken out of the world. No doubt, at the first glance, you would say that it would have been a happy thing for themselves, if they had been spared all the toils and sufferings, the persecution and the martyrdom, which awaited them after the departure of their Lord: and no doubt, had it been left to themselves to decide, they would rather have shrunk away from the strife, and entered at once upon thy rest. But where would have been the Christian^ Church, if the men had been removed from this & world who were to plant and train it? The world could not spare them: God had a great work for them to accomplish here. The New Testament was yet to write: the Holy Spirit was to descend : the gospel was to be preached by them to many, who should believe through their word. For our sake, my hearers, it was needful that they should remain here when their Lord departed. It was needful for the diffusion of the knowledge of the holy religion which the Redeemer lived and died to teach: it was needful to save the great work of redemption, which had just been accomplished, from being lost in forgetfulness. The foundation had been laid, and now it was for them to build upon it. And even for their own sake, it was better that they should face the battle than fly from it: their heavenly crown was growing brighter for all the warfare and all the toil they underwent. O surely a happier welcome and a more glorious place would wait them, when at the close of their allotted pilgrimage they left this world, than would have waited them had they left it then!

But the apostles, not at that moment to be taken out of the world, have been taken out of it long ago : their race is run and their warfare is ended; and they are once more with their Lord at last. And though it never can be a thing devoid of interest to trace the why and wherefore, so far as we can trace them, of every arrangement made by the Almighty, still you would say that the question of the reasons why the apostles were to remain when their Master went, is now, so to speak, out of date: it is comparatively of little practical moment to justify a state of things which no longer exists. A greater and more pressing interest appears to invest the text, where wc generalize the principle implied in it; and regard il not as something said of the apostles only, but as something said concerning all believers. And although our Lord did not in express words say as much of all believers, you need not be told that bj the arrangements of His providence He is daily telling us that His plan is not to remove true Christians from this world, but to keep them from the evil that is in this world. It need not be said that, to the believer, 'to die is gain:' and ‘to depart and be with Christ is far better' than to toil and suffer here, ever apart from the fearful risk of finally falling away that hangs over us so long as we continue here, exposed to temptations from within and from without. Anc so, there can be no doubt at all, that to the Christiar himself it might be a happy thing, once he was assuridly in Christ, to be  taken out of this world and inally delivered from all its ‘evil'. Heaven is better :han earth; and assuredly it would be gain to ex-?hange earth for heaven. But it is not to be so. The best we can hope is to be left for God’s time in :his evil world, but to be kept from its evil: and surely it will be interesting for us to think this evening why we are to be left upon a stormy ocean when we might be taken into the haven at once. Why is it that Christ’s prayer for all His people may be understood :o be that stated in the text? And why is it, therefore, :hat in all but the most extraordinary circumstances, t is hardly justifiable for the believer to offer for himself any other prayer than that it may please his God :o take him indeed when His good time comes; but meanwhile, if not to ‘take him out of the world' thn to ‘keep him from the evil’?

Let it be said, that the phrase ‘to take out the world ’ may be variously understood. No doubt, what Jesus meant when He said these words, was the removal by death: it was the taking away from earth to heaven. No doubt that is the first thought which would suggest itself when we apply this text to believers now. And so, understanding it thus in the mean time, can you not see why it is better that believers should be spared in this world but kept from its evil, than that they should be taken out of this world at once? What kind of world would this be if all the true Christians were taken out of it? Very truly has it been said that ‘ many good people are spared to live, because they cannot be spared to die/ This world could not do without the true believers in Christ: they are the salt of the earth, that save the human race from utter corruption. Not to speak of the vast effect of direct religious instruction : not to speak of the many schemes of usefulness, and institutions of charity, which are founded on Christianity or they have no foundation —which never were in this world till Christianity came to it: not to speak of the direct doings of Christianity, as such : I say that you cannot even conceive the indirect influence which Christianity and Christian people wield even over such as never pretend to be Christians. The world would become a den of thieves, a cage of savage wild beasts, if all the Christians were taken out of it! This dark earth needs all the light they can yield it! For God to take His own people out of this world, would just mean that God had given up this world,—had cast it off, and would care for it no more. It would just mean that hell was to begin below, and begin at once. When sometimes we hear it said that Christianity has proved somewhat of a failure—has not improved rnankind so much as with its high pretensions it Ought to have done—it is forgotten, surely, how O^uch worse men might possibly and would certainly ^ave been, but for the constant presence among them of this great spiritual disinfectant. And not only I may we say that for this worlds sake it is needful that true believers should not be taken out of it: we may affirm that it is needful for God's honour that they should for a while continue here. God's glory can be vindicated in either of two ways; by the punishment of the guilty, or by the salvation of the guilty: but He has chosen that it shall be vindicated-in the milder way; and so He is e not willing thatr^ any should perish, but that all should come to 'repentance.' So you see that God's glory and man's-salvation are bound up together: not without meaning does the first answer of the Shorter Catechism combine the two great ends of man's happiness and God's honour; telling us that the great purpose of our being here is to 'glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.' Whatever serves the. one end serves the other: whatever conduces to the one thing conduces to the other too. The utter perdition of mankind, which would necessarily follow from the removal of God's people from this world, would mean that x God's greatest work, that work which had cost Him most thought, and time, and work, yea, and suffering through the medium of flesh and blood, had proved a wretched failure. What wonder, then, that our Lord, in the close prospect of His agony and His death, should expressly disavow any desire for that which might indeed save His people from a few days or years of trial, but which would make His agony and death prove to have been all in vain! What wonder if, as He reckoned up the measure in which man's salvation and God's glory were bound up and linked with His people's continuance on earth, He should exclaim almost with the hurried air of one who fears that what He has already said should be understood as meaning more than He intends,—'I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil!'

But I have said to you that when we speak being taken out of this world, or of withdrawin^^^ from this world, the phrase need not of necessity^^f mean that we should quit the world by death. There^^* have been men who have turned their back upon that world even while they wore its earth around them.. Such a thing may be, as ‘the world forgetting, by^^B^ the world forgot/ to grow, without dying, as dead to the world as though we breathed its air no more. —Like the stricken deer, that left the herdmen. I have broken away from the business and bustle time, and thought that in the monastic shade there I could more perfectly serve the Redeemer, and live more completely above the things of sense. It is not straining the meaning of this text to affirm, that it, along with a host of others, teaches us that such is not our Master's will. For what did He ask, for those for whom He asked His best ? Not to be ‘ taken out of the world/ but to be ‘kept from the evil.'

Not that we should shrink away from our part in that worldly work which must be done by some, but that we should see to it that our daily life shall be hallowed by Christian principle, and that wherein we are called, therein we abide with God/ There is no calling, so it be a calling not in itself a sinful one, in which we may not keep our religion by us. I need not say, that in this country we are exposed to no temptation to fly from common business to such religious retreats as I have named: and I do not know that in the case of any in whom the mind is not truly morbid, there will now-a-days be found any actual impulse to retire from the active duties of life for religion's sake. Few, very few, not under the influence of temporary depression or excitement, will seriously think of turning away from an honest worldly calling because they think it is not a Christian's part to be there. The difficulty is in theory rather than in practice: it is rather in the head than in the life.

Yet no doubt there are many people who have in their mind a lurking fancy, that there is something not religious in common drudgery and care. And we see this fancy looking out in the way in which people divide affairs into sacred and secular; and talk of a man’s worldly duties and his religious duties, as if these were things quite different, and indeed in some degree opposed to each other. People think it is religious work to pray, to read the Bible, to go to church : but it is worldly work to dig your garden, or to plough your field, or to walk down to the Exchange, or to go into Court. They have, in fact, a lurking fancy which this text shows is wrong, that religion consists in getting ( out of the world/ Nay, it is not so. Religion abides not in going out of the world, but in € keeping from the evil/ An action or a life is religious not from anything in itself, but according as it is done from religious principle. A man may pray, and read the Bible, and go to church, all with such a spirit as shall make it all thoroughly worldly work : and, on the other hand, he may dig, and plough, and transact mercantile affairs, with such a spirit as shall make it all thoroughly religious work. I do not deny that in a fancy picture, it may look the finer thing that the believer should be given up exclusively to his Christian duties, standing apart from and eievated above the little prosaic cares of this world, and 'having his conversation in heaven.' And so the ancient Church held it, that it better befitted those whose souls were to be much exercised in sacred thoughts and duties, to have nothing to do with sublunary matters at all. But all this is a wrong view of things. All this goes on the false supposition, that you cannot be ‘kept from the evil' unless you are ‘taken out of the world.' Surely it is Platonism rather than Christianity to hold that there is anything necessarily debasing or materializing about the cares of daily life. All these cares take their character from the spirit with which we pass through them. The simple French monk, five hundred years since, who acted as cook to his brethren, indicated the Christian's true path when he wrote, ‘I put my little cake on the fire for the sake of Christ:' and the quaint Anglican divine and poet, more gracefully, has shown how, as the eye may either look on glass, or look through it, we may look no farther than the daily task, or may look through it to something nobler beyond:

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see ;
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for Thee.
All may of Thee partake :
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture, for Thy sake,
Will not grow bright and clean.

And so you see that in this sense, too, so long as God shall please to continue us in this life, our desire and prayer ought to be, not that we may be entirely removed from worldly business, but that we may be kept from any evil which attaches to it,—so that its cares may not choke the word in our heart,— so that though in the world we may not be of it,— so that we may not grow worldly in that seuse in which to be worldly unfits the soul for a better world beyond the grave. Do not think that in your ordinary work you may not be serving God: do not be surprised though you, a Christian man, should have to hold much intercourse with people who are not Christians, and who if they go on as they are going will surely end in woe. It would be a pleasanter thing, indeed, you would say, if ygu never needed to speak at all to any man who seems to be advancing to perdition: it would be a happier thing, you might fancy, to hold the Jerusalem above ever in your eye and in your heart: but that is not your Saviour's will. € I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep

them from the evil/ Better for the world that it should be so: better for the world’s business, better for the world’s society: it is hard to reckon how much the presence of true believers does to keep up the standard of even mercantile morality: and it is hard to say how much it does to purify the tone even of that worldly society in which all mention of such solemn truths as that man is a dying creature, and that man is a sinful creature, is a thing forbidden by canons which, though unwritten and unspoken, are yet perfectly understood. Better for God’s glory and God’s cause on earth, as we have already seen : and now let it be added, better for believers themselves.

It has been maintained that such is the nobility of conflict and struggle, and such the accession of happiness in the other world which is allotted to the sun.which has 'overcome,’ that it would be better, if I were given to the Christian to decide for himself,—-— better to remain in this world, only kept from its evil than even to leave it by death and enter into heaven. That we dare not say : but that we need not debate; since it is agreed on all hands that it is not for us to decide whether or not we shall in that solemn fashion quit this world. Whether better for ourselves or not, there can be no doubt that it is for us to remain patiently in this world in so far as that means that we shall breathe its air till we are called away by death. But when we think of the other way of leaving the world, the voluntary way, the way by entire withdrawal from worldly business and society;—then, indeed, we can venture to affirm without doubt that even for the-believer himself it is better, far better, that he should not seek to do so. He cannot do it, without flying in the face of the manifest intention of his Maker: he cannot do it, without oowardly shrinking away from the work and warfare xvhich God set him to do: And all the cares of even the busiest life may be so sanctified by the Holy Spirit as to make them work together for the Christian's eternal weal. It will be but a poor and sickly type of Christianity which will grow up in the hothouse atmosphere of entire withdrawal from active life. The mind grows morbid in too much retirement; and it is needful to maintain its healthy tone that we should bear the brunt of the rough realities of life. What monstrous errors in doctrine, yea, what fearful lapses into sin, have come of men fancying that they knew better than Christ, and turning His prayer to the very opposite of His meaning, saying virtually, ‘We pray that Thou wouldst take us out of the world, for thus only canst Thou keep us from the evil.' No rude winds blow away unwholesome damps: the cheek will be pale which no cold blast has ever visited: the frame will be weak and nerveless which has not been strung by constant toil. We do not want a hot-house religion: we want what will stand the daily wear of life. It was the purpose of the Author of our holy religion to give us in it something that should brace the nerve and muscle alike of the body and the soul. And so I say to you who have come from the Holy Table, Do your work, your daily work: do it faithfully and honestly and diligently: and comfort yourself with the firm belief, that if you do it in a Christian spirit, it is a Christian work you do. If you do it, mind, in a Christian spirit—everything turns upon that. All that the believer does should be sacred work, being done for the Redeemer's sake. But remember that you are surrounded with temptations: the Evil One himself, and all that evil in which he delights, are always on the watch, ever seeking to lead you wrong. Even your daily work, though right and honest, may become a temptation, if you are led to give to it more care and earnestness than you give to working out the salvation of your immortal soul. Yea, the home where your best affections centre, and the dear ones you love, may becor^ve a sore temptation, if you are led to put down from the throne of your heart and to place them there: for they have grown to be idols then How earnest should be our prayer, that we may be kept from the evil seeing that there is scarce thing in this world from which evil influences not come! The very Communion-table, the ver^^ house of God, may become a snare to us, if we make sure, from the regularity of our appearance there, that we are better and safer than God knows us to be! Yet be encouraged, believers: you were not forgotten in your Master's gracious prayer. He knew the world in which He was leaving His own: He knew it was an evil world: but He knew that its evil was not so strong but that the Blessed Spirit could bring them safely through. He was anxious for them,-kindly anxious,—but, after all, not much afraid. He was content to run the risk, and He left them behind— 'pray' He said, 'not that Thou shouldst get them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil!'

Now unto Him that is able to keep us from failing and to present us faultless in the presence of His Glory with exceeding joy: To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and ever. Amen.


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