I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil.
I. WHAT OUR LORD ASKS FOR US. His petition has two sides — a negative and a positive. To be kept from evil in the world means —
1. To be engaged in the world's business, and have it rightly directed. Some have thought that we would be more Christian if we were to withdraw into solitude. But this is impossible for the mass of men, and it is in direct opposition to the example of Christ, and to the spirit of His gospel. Paul did not think his office suffered when he wrought as a tent-maker, and was not labour consecrated by the Son of God Himself? Whatever is open to men, that is just and right in business, is open to Christians, and whatever their hands find to do, they are to do it with their might. The gospel asks of its friends that all their business should be —
(1) Directed to a true end. Other men may turn their work to the ends that are merely personal. The Christian's toil should not have self for its end, but God and Christ, and in them, the good of humanity. Men may call this ideal and impracticable, but it is the only thing that can redeem human business from being dreary, degrading toil, and man himself from feeling that he is a mere beast of burden,
(2) Done in a right manner. The law of truth and justice should regulate every part of it. Some think they can separate their religion from their business; but it is the vain old endeavour to serve God and Mammon. Christianity must touch everything in life if it touches it at all. If the gospel is not to make Christians truthful and upright, I do not see any great purpose it can serve on this side time or beyond it. If the world and its business are ever to be put right, and cleared of the robberies that threaten society, where is the stand to be made if not by those who have lifted up their hands to God and said, "We are His witnesses"?
2. To suffer under its trials, and to be preserved from impatience. If a man would escape trial, he must needs go out of the world, and when Christ prayed that His disciples should be kept in it, He knew that they were to suffer affliction. Moral distinctions are not observed in the providential allotment of calamity. This stumbles many. But if God were to exempt His friends from trial, He would take away from Christians one of the most effective means of their training, and one of the most striking ways in which they can prove their likeness to Christ. The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour, but it is not seen in his being saved from suffering; it is in the way in which he meets it. Few things do more to raise the tone of our own Christian life, and to prove to men that there is a hidden property in religion which can turn the bitterest thing in this world into sweetness.
3. To be exposed to its temptations, and preserved from falling into sin. God has not seen fit to deprive sinful things of their attractiveness, nor to disarm the great enemy of his fiery darts, nor to quench at once and altogether the inflammable material in our heart. This would be fighting the battle and gaining the victory without us, and there could then be no perfected purity, no established character, no conqueror's crown. This should mark a Christian in the world, that he should have a deeper view of what is to be aimed at in character — of what is meant by being kept from evil. It is not to be preserved from misfortune, or sickness, or reproach, or bereavement, but from sin.
II. WHY HE ASKS IT.
1. For the benefit of the world. If Christ were to remove men so soon as they become His followers, He would be taking away from the world its greatest blessings. True Christians are the salt of the earth and its light.
2. For the honour of His own name. There is glory that accrues to the name of Christ when a sinner drops the weapons of rebellion, and when His redeemed are brought home. But it is for His honour also that there should be an interval between — a pathway of struggle, where the power of His grace may be seen preserving His friends in every extremity. It was a glorious thing for the Head Himself to enter the lists of battle, and to depart a victor, triumphing through endurance to the death. But it multiplies His triumph, or brings out all that was hidden in it, when we see it repeated in the victory of the weakest of His followers. It is like the sun reflecting His image from every dewdrop, folding out His treasures in the green leaves and colours of all the flowers, and flashing His light along the beaded moisture of gossamer threads — for we believe that not a blessing or a comfort, not a grace or virtue rises out of the night of our sin and suffering — not the slightest filament of feeling sparkles into hope — but it will be found that it owes its source to the fountain of light and life which God has opened for His world in Jesus Christ.
3. For the good of Christians themselves. "Master, it is good for us to be here," Peter said on the Holy Mount, "Let us build here three tabernacles. Why go down again into the dark world of opposition and trial, when we can enjoy at once the heavenly vision"? But "he wist not what he said," and he was compelled to descend and travel many a weary footstep, before he reached that higher mount where he now stands with his Lord in glory. We, too, may sometimes feel that it would be better for us to be carried past these temptations and struggles, and to enter at once into rest. But He who undertakes for us knows what is best, and as it was expedient for us that He should depart, so must it also be that we should for a season remain behind, Not that this is indisipensable for our sanctification, for the Saviour who could carry the dying thief at once to paradise, could do the same for all of us. The reason seems rather to be that there are lessons which we have to learn on this earth which can be taught us in no other part of our history.
(1) The evil of sin. And, therefore, we are detained in a world where its effects are so terrible, where we have to struggle with it.
(2) That we should enjoy more fully the blessedness of heaven. Our bitter bereavements will intensify the joy of its meetings; its rest will be sweeter for the hard toil; and its perfect light and purity fill the soul with a far more exceeding glory for the doubts and temptations which oppress us here.Conclusion: Let this petition point out —
1. Our duty. What He asked for us we must aim at. Let us fear nothing so much as sin; and feel that our life can aim at a true and noble end, only when it breathes the air of this prayer of Christ.
2. Our security. The life of a Christian man is in no common keeping. It is suspended on the intercession of Christ (ver. 24).
(J. Ker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.