CQOD Special Archive
Did Christ Pray in Vain?
by Robert MacColl Adams
It seems strange that this prayer request of our Lord
has been rejected by those who claim to be His followers.
What the world thinks of Jesus Christ depends upon what it sees in us who bear His name.
Sometimes it seems that we are hesitant even to
bear His name. Perhaps that is because we are unwilling to depart from iniquity. “Let every
one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19). Perhaps it is
because we are ashamed of our Lord.
This was certainly not the case with the
Christians in first-century Antioch. There the
believers were nicknamed “Christians” because they talked about Christ so much.
They possessed a unity and a corporate personality unlike anything the people of Antioch had
ever seen before. Such a new phenomenon required a new name.
I wonder what nickname we are earning nowadays.
The believers at Antioch were called Christians
because outsiders recognized their intense loyalty to a person, Jesus Christ. Both individually and
corporately, these early Christians bore a recognizable allegiance to Jesus Christ.
Worldly people understand loyalty. They can
understand it whether it is to an organization, a practice, a doctrine, a principle, a philosophy,
a persuasion or a delusion. And certainly they can understand it when it is to a person.
But they have every right to be confused when
we say our loyalty is to a person but when in practice it appears we are visibly gathered around
an organization, a policy or a principle. No wonder they think it is just another organization
like their clubs, lodges and societies.
The world sees only social-progress Christians,
Health-Christians, Bible-Christians, western-civilization-Christians, Christians who extol rule
by ‘elders’ or by ‘bishops,’ Christians who revere Calvin or Kierkegaard
or Wesley or Loyola or Cranmer or Karl Barth or Francis of Assisi or Darby or Aquinas or Tillich
or Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy or Schweitzer or Bunyan, Christians defending This-itude or
That-icity or The-other-ism.
We are found in groups, large and small, which
are obviously united by natural affections, shared opinions, self-interest of various sorts, early
training and common heritage. The world, seeing this, looks no deeper for the causes of our little unities.
As the Lord Jesus remarked, “If you love only
those who love you, what reward have you earned? Do not even the publicans do that?” Indeed they do.
There is no credit to Jesus Christ, even though we may proclaim that we are constrained by His love,
if we love only those who are congenial to us: we could do this by ourselves.
If Christ came only to give us that sort of love,
He might just as well have stayed at home. But He came to show us, and sends His Spirit to teach us,
how to love the unlovable, to tolerate the intolerable, to bear with the unbearable.
Our unity in Christ could be shown to the world by
our loving one another as He loved us, preferring one another in honor, bearing one another’s burdens.
But we have focused our attention—and so focused the world’s attention—upon our
disagreements, and let these go on to divisions; and our professed unity in Christ is not believed in,
because it never shows.
Granted, nothing could be plainer—in theory—than
the teaching of the New Testament about our unity in Christ. But do we know this, do we feel it. do we take
advantage of it, do we live ad if it were true?
REFUSING TO LISTEN
It seems to me that the gentlemen cry, “Unity!
Unity!”, but there is no unity. It is notorious that Christendom is divided. The first thing any
candid observer finds out is that Christians are divided, fragmented, apparently beyond any practical
prospect or reasonable expectation of reunion. Because we have rallied around ideas, systems, or organizations,
instead of uniting in Jesus Christ, we have demonstrated the truth of His warning that those who do not
gather in Him merely scatter.
When the Lord Jesus was praying to His Father in the presence
of His disciples, on the night when He was betrayed to His enemies, He said, “I ask, not only for these,
but also for those who will find faith in Me through their teaching, that they all may be one; as Thou, Father,
art in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may come to believe that it is Thou
who hast sent me. The glory Thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;
I in them and Thou in me, that they may be perfectly made one, and that the world may come to understand that
Thou hast sent me, and lovest them just as Thou lovest me.”
This is one of the few passages in the Bible in which
you and I are undoubtedly spoken of. We transfer and apply to ourselves (with varying degrees of
appropriateness) so many messages meant in the first instance for other people: why do we ignore this passage
so unmistakably meant for us?
Our Lord prayed that we might live a testimony to Him which
the World could understand. He prayed that our visible, undeniable unity would point men to the truth of His
heavenly origin. Did He pray in vain? Surely the Father desires to grant the Son’s petition; He has sent
the Holy Spirit to baptize us into one Body, in order that Jesus Christ might be glorified. But we are not
united, whatever we may say; and our obvious disunity is all the proof that the world needs to convince it
that Jesus of Nazareth was only a poor, half-crazy, peasant prophet who loved his God and the world better
than they deserved, and was broken for it.
Such an attitude toward Christ, and the disunity which
justifies it, will not go away just because we refuse to think about them. The disunity is rooted in our pride,
and shows itself especially in two ways.
Intellectually, pride appears as a gross overestimate
of the importance of being right; as John Bunyan wrote, “But here is our misery, that we no sooner
receive anything for truth but we presently ascend the chair of infallibility with it, as though in this
we could not err.” (source)
And, morally, pride manifests itself in our refusal to
love God and our fellow men above ourselves. The Lord Jesus told us to love one another as He loved
us—that is, to the death—and St. Paul counseled us to do all that we can to be at peace with
all men, especially with our Christian brothers. But we are proud and disobedient, and the world’s
scorn of our Lord and Master lies at our door. His Spirit would make us one, but we have chosen to be many;
He prayed that we might show His power, but we have preferred to show our own. I believe that the facts
will sustain an indictment against us for the sin of rejecting Christ and doing despite to the Spirit of Grace.
Are we refusing to listen to Him who is speaking to us? There
was no escape for those of old who refused to hear the message of God when He spoke on earth: what escape
can there be if we turn away when He speaks from Heaven? The writer to the Hebrew Christians warned them
of the deadly peril of apostasy, in which the Son of God is, as it were, recrucified and held up again to
the mockery of the world. When our Lord was exposed on the cross of shame on Calvary, the world counted Him
a liar, a fool, or a madman: when the world looks now at His professed followers, does it think any better
of Him than it did then?
I want to leave you with that question. I could assume
that your answer is the same as mine, and go on to suggest ways in which we can carry out the Lord’s
wish that we be truly one; but it will be better if I don’t, because you need to find your own answer
to the question, not to adopt my answer. Besides, no matter what I suggest, objections will be possible; and
you will be in danger of thinking about whether my suggestions are wise instead of whether you are obeying
the will of God for yourself—in fact, your attention will be diverted from pleasing your Lord to
pleasing yourself. And we must be concerned, not with what we think so much as with what we know: which is,
that what the world thinks of Jesus Christ depends upon what it sees in us who bear His Name.
published in Eternity, v.15, no. 9, September, 1964, p. 28-29