"And for their sakes I sanctify Myself ..."-John xvii. xix.
"I have an exceedingly complex idea of sanctification," says John Wesley in his Journal. And that must surely be an exceedingly complex sanctification, pursuit, attainment and experience which embraces both our Lord and all His disciples,-both Him who knew no sin, and those disciples of His who knew nothing but sin.
But what exactly is sanctification? What is sanctification both in its complexity and in its simplicity? Well, "Sanctification," according to the Catechism, "is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled, more and more, to die unto sin, and to live unto righteousness." Now, to begin with, in all the complexity and completeness of our Lord's sanctification; could He have subscribed to that catechism? Could He have signed what all our deacons sign? When He examined Himself before every approaching passover, would He have found all that going forward within Himself? Yes,-most certainly, He would, every single syllable of it. For it was of His Father's "free grace" that He, the man Christ Jesus, the carpenter's son, was what He was, and did what He did. He was "renewed in the whole man" also, ere ever He was a man. And for thirty years, this, our Lord's sanctification, grew in all its complexity and completeness till He was manifested to Israel as the very Image of God among men. And, while all His days "dead to sins," He was enabled more and more every day to die to sin and to "live unto righteousness," till in the text, and within a few hours of His death on the cross, He is still sanctifying Himself-that is, surrendering Himself, dedicating Himself, devoting Himself, to fulfil and to finish His Father's will, and to accomplish the salvation of all whom the Father hath given Him. "For their sakes I sanctify Myself; that they also might be sanctified through the truth."
It was only after an immense "complexity" of ceremonial, indeed, but also of moral and spiritual sanctification, that the high priest in Israel was able to enter the Holy of Holies, there to make acceptable intercession for the people. And in the whole of this great intercessory prayer of our Lord, and in the whole of the corresponding Epistle to the Hebrews, we see through what an inwardness and spirituality and "complexity," both of personal and of official sanctification, our Lord was prepared, and made perfect, for His crowning office of our Great High Priest. The angel Gabriel described Him as "that holy thing" before He was born. "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." In His own words, and with His eyes lifted up to heaven: "Father, the hour is come: and for their sakes,"-looking round on the Eleven,-"I sanctify Myself."
Now, here again, my brethren,-for it meets us at every turn,-as He was; so are we, in our measure, in this world. As many of us, that is, as are chosen, and called, and ordained, and anointed for the sake of other men, as well as for our own sake. We are to be God's remembrancers on the earth. We are to be men of prayer, and especially of intercessory prayer. We are to be, for a time, in this world, that which our Lord is everlastingly in heaven. We are to be kings and priests unto God and His Father by the blood of the Lamb. As He was sanctified, as He sanctified Himself, for their sake, so is it to be with us. As He was in His life of holiness, and consequent intercession, so are we to be in this world. We must sanctify ourselves for the sake of others. We must first sanctify ourselves, and then pray, first for ourselves, and then for others. And that is not our Lord's command and example only. Apart from all that, it stands to reason, and it stands to experience. Every kind of prayer, not intercessory prayer only, which is the highest kind of prayer, but all prayer, from the lowest kind to the highest, is impossible in a life of known and allowed sin. The blind man's retort upon the Pharisees is his retort upon us to this day,-"Now we know that God heareth not sinners." No! No man's prayer is acceptable with God whose life is not well-pleasing before God. The very ploughing of the wicked is sin. We all know that in ourselves. The man in this house with the least and the lowest religious experience,-he has enough in himself to convince him that sin and prayer cannot both live at the same time in the same heart. Admit sin, and you banish prayer. But, on the other hand, entertain, and encourage, and practise prayer, and sin will sooner or later flee before it: and entertain and practise intercessory prayer, and you will, by degrees, and in process of time, sanctify yourself to an inwardness and to a spirituality, and to a complexity, and to a simplicity that hitherto you have had no experience of, no conception of, and indeed no ambition after.
Now, having said "ambition,"-Who has this holy ambition? Who has the ambition to be bound up in the bundle of life with the Saviour of men? Who has the high heart to shine at last as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever? Are you able to drink of your Lord's cup of sanctification, so as to sit with Him on His throne? Are you willing to wear, not only the ring and the shoes of a returning prodigal, but, in addition, the crown and the mitre of a king and a priest unto God? Then,-take this text out of your Lord's mouth, and make it henceforth your own. Look at Him! Look every day at Him! Never take your eyes off Him!" "Lift your eyes to heaven"-just like Him; and, like Him, say, as He said that great night of sanctification and prayer, "Father, Holy Father! For their sakes I also sanctify myself."
The first human ears these wonderful words ever fell on were the ears of the Eleven. Their Master had chosen the Eleven to be the future preachers of the Gospel, and pastors of the flock. They heard all their Lord's words, both of counsel and of comfort, and of prayer that night; only, they did not understand what they heard. But, after their Master's Crucifixion, and Resurrection, and Ascension, and after the Pentecostal Outpouring of the Holy Spirit-then, all these things came back to their understanding and their remembrance. And, as time went on, there was nothing in that Great Prayer the Apostles remembered more in their daily ministry than just this: "For their sakes I sanctify Myself." They remembered these words every day, and they saw something of the unfathomable and inexhaustible depth of these words, as they worked out their own salvation, and the salvation of their people; in a daily life of increasing holiness and intercessory prayer. And those ministers of our own day are the true successors of the Eleven, who most closely imitate them in their life of sanctification: and that, with a view to intercessory prayer. He alone deserves to be called a minister of Christ and of His Church who, on the day of his ordination, looks round on his people, and says,-"For their sakes I sanctify myself;" and more and more says it with every returning Sabbath morning. "For their sakes," he will say, "I dedicate and devote myself. For their sakes I keep myself at peace with God. For their sakes I practise the Presence of God. I seek more and more to please God for their sakes. To please Him and to please them. For their sakes I sanctify myself." And, what an incomparable sanctification that is, and what a shipwreck it is for any minister to miss it! What a complex, what a spiritual, what an endless, what an incessant sanctification! In every new sermon there is some new sanctification for a preacher, and for his people. First and best for him; and, then, after him, for them. "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth." In every pastoral visit, at every sick-bed, at every death-bed; at every open grave, what a complex sanctification for a true minister every day! And, then, every night, what a correspondingly complex intercession for his people! Every man in his congregation,-little known to the man himself,-has some new and secret and stolen sanctification hidden about him for his minister. Every man's humility, lowliness of mind, and love: every man's rudeness, ill-nature, ingratitude, and insolence, hardness to move, stubbornness to turn, pride not to be told the truth. And, in the face of all that, a minister's own folly, ignorance, unteachableness, offensiveness, idleness,-and all the other vices of the ministerial heart and life and office. Men and brethren, what a complex, what a splendid sanctification is here! Not for you. At any rate, not immediately for you: but for your ministers; and, then, through their consequent intercessions, for you. What a scope! What a field! What an opportunity! For that man's sake, what meekness and humility in his minister! For that man's sake, what forgiveness and long-suffering! For that man's sake, what courage and boldness! And for that man's sake, what patience and what hope against hope! And for all men's sakes, what self-condemnation and constant contrition of heart! But who, is sufficient for all these things? Who but he that has something of the mind and experience of Christ as to the universality, and the malignity, and the irremediableness of sin; as also of the power of prayer, and prayer out of a holier and an ever-holier life? O young men! O gifted young men! O ambitious young men! O courageous and greathearted young men! Choose the pulpit for your life-work! Choose the pastorate! Choose, and endure to the end in this incomparable sanctification. Only, rather beg your bread, rather break stones on the roadside than enter the ministry, unless you are determined to know nothing, day nor night, but to sanctify yourselves for their sakes!
But, almost more than any minister, let every father and mother among us see to it that they make this blessed Scripture the law and the rule of their family life. Let very Nature herself come in here to supplement and to strengthen grace. Let all fathers, and all mothers, look round upon their families every day, and say together before God: For their sakes we sanctify ourselves. Every father and mother makes daily intercession before God in the behalf of their children. But, if they would succeed in that, they must do more than that. They must add sanctification to intercession. They must learn of Christ the true secret of His intercessory and prevailing prayer. They must lay this too long-neglected text to heart,-"For their sakes I sanctify myself."
What is it that makes you pray with such secret tears for that son of yours? What is it that makes you so remorseful as you see him growing up so fast in your house, and not at the same time growing in grace, and in wisdom, and in the favour of God? Is it not that you cannot but see so much of yourself in your ill-fated son? So much of your own willfulness and selfishness, and pride, and bad temper, and incipient sensuality, and what not. It is what he has inherited from you that causes you such remorse, sometimes, that ever he was begotten of you. It is this that makes you pray for yourself, and for him, with such passionate importunity. All that is well; but even all that is not enough. Have you ever tried sanctification,-self-sanctification,-upon your son, upon yourself, and upon God? Try still more sanctification of yourself, before you despair, and give up hope. I say it in His house and in His presence: and He will speak out, and will contradict it if it is not true. God cannot resist a parent's prayer when it is sufficiently backed up with a parent's sanctification. I say it to you, in His hearing, that, though He will not answer your most importunate prayer by itself: yet, because of your sanctification added to it, He will say to you: Be it unto you all that you will! Make experiment by still more sanctification. Sanctify, clean out of yourself, all that it so pains and confounds you to see reproduced in your son. Contemporaneously with your prayers and your counsels, carry you on a secret assault both upon God and upon your son through a still more secret and a still more complete sanctification of yourself. Leave nothing undone so that all your prayers and all your reproofs may have their full and unbroken force, both upon God and upon your son.
It is a very fine sight to see a father taking on a new, and a better, and a more modern education alongside of his son. What a happy household that is when a father is open to all his sons' tutors and schoolmasters both in nature, and in providence, and in grace-the father, and the son still keeping step together in the great school of life. That is wise, and noble, and beautiful, and very fruitful. Now, let all fathers, in like manner, sanctify themselves through their sons. Let them modernise and freshen up, and carry on, and complete their sanctification also, seeing themselves as in a glass, in their son's sin and salvation. It is supremely for this that God setteth His solitaries in families. It is of such a family that the prophet speaks when all the rest of the earth has been smitten with a curse. All the earth, that is, but that house where the heart of the father has been turned to the child, and the heart of the child to the father: that house in which the father says, in the words of the text,-"For the sake of my son I will sanctify myself."
It is altogether too dreadful to speak about-the "curse" with which God smites some unsanctified fathers. And, who can tell, among so many fathers here, but that curse may not have begun to fall? There may be a hidden horror in some father's heart here that he does not, and cannot love his son, as all other fathers are blessed in loving their sons, and in their sons loving them. Such a man feels himself to be a monster among fathers. Your son has grown up to manhood in the house of an unsanctified and unprayerful father. And, as was prophesied in a thousand scriptures, and seen in a thousand of your neighbours' houses,-as a father sows in his son, so shall he reap. You took your own way with God, and your son is now taking his own way with you. You despised God's counsels, and all that your son has done has been to despise yours. "If I am a father," you say, "where is mine honour?" But God said that first, and said it about you. Try the deliverance of the text before you absolutely destroy yourself. You have done everything a father can do, you say. No, you have not sanctified yourself. Try sanctification upon God, and upon yourself, and upon your son. Die this very day to your proud heart; and having begun to die, so die daily. "O Almighty God! O God of all grace! Pity a most miserable man! Sanctify me: break me to pieces: melt me to tears; do what Thou wilt with me: do all that I need to have done: only, if it be possible, take this hell out of my heart, and give me back my lost love for my child, and his for me!"
Till your neighbours-instead of loud and angry words-will hear the voice of Psalms in the tabernacles of the righteous: "For He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up." Sanctify yourself, then, from all the remaining dregs of pride, and anger, and temper, and tyranny in your heart and life, as also from all those appetites that inflame and exasperate all these evil things. Sanctify yourself to please God, and to pacify conscience, and wait and see what God will do to you in His pity and in His love. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked: make you, therefore, a new heart, and a new spirit, saith the Lord. Sanctify yourself; and wait and see.
There is perhaps not one of us come to years, who has not some child or some other relation; some old schoolfellow or college friend; some partner in business; or some companion in sin, or some one else; that we are compelled from time to time to pray for, as we see them going down in sickness, or in poverty, or in vice, or it may be even in crime. Men differ greatly in the tenderness and in the pain of their hearts and their consciences in such cases. But we all know something, no doubt, of this remorse and this horror at the ruin and the misery of men we once knew so well. It is many years since you have even seen him. You did what you could to assist him; and since then you have tried hard to wash your hands of him. But, like the cock-crowing, which, as often as Peter again heard it anywhere to the end of his life, always called back to his unhappy mind his denial of his Master: so there are things that you cannot help hearing, that call back your long past to your conscience. Your conscience may be very unreasonable and very unjust,-but be quiet she will not. "Thou art the man! but for thee that poor shipwreck might to this day have been a happy and a prosperous and a good man." I cannot tell you the terrible shock a case of that kind gave to myself last week. There is a man still in this life I had neglected to pray for, for a long time past. Days and weeks,-and I never once mentioned his name. I used to sanctify myself for his sake: but daily self-denial is uphill work with me; and I had insensibly slipped out of it. But, as God would have it, a letter came into my hands last week, that called back my present text to my mind. I may not tell you all that was in that letter, but the very postmark made my heart to stand still. And as I opened the letter and read it,-Shall I tell you what I felt? I felt as if I had murdered my old friend. I felt as if he had been drowned, while, all the time, I had refused to throw him the rope that was in my hand. I felt his blood burning like vitriol on my soul. And a voice cried after me on the street, and would not be silent even in my sleep, "Thou art the man!" I could get no rest till I had resolved, and had begun to sanctify myself again unto importunate prayer for his sake. To deny myself, to watch unto prayer, and to take his name, night and day, back to God. "I cannot let Thee go unless Thou dost save that man: if he is lost, how can my name be found in Thy Book?" How I will persevere and succeed, in my future sanctification for his sake,-I cannot tell. The event alone will tell! At any rate, I have preached this sermon this morning out of my own heartsore experience, as well as out of this great intercessory text.