George Everard, 1877
"Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane." Matthew 26:36
"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death!" Matthew 26:38
"And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground!" Luke 22:44
It were well for the faithful believer often to frequent this sacred spot. It was a garden to which Jesus often resorted with His disciples. And as in quiet thought and meditation we go thither also, we may learn in His name to overcome the Tempter and to be partakers of His sufferings.
Go to dark Gethsemane,
You that feel the Tempter's power.
Your Redeemer's conflict see,
Watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away,
Learn from Him to watch and pray.
Jesus had loved the stillness, the retirement, the loneliness of Gethsemane. What hours of peaceful communion did He there enjoy with His heavenly Father! What blessed repose for His wearied spirit did He there find, after the noise of the city and the strife of tongues!
The contradiction of sinners,
the sights and sounds of evil around,
the mistakes, the failings, the slowness of the disciples
— all these must often have pained and distressed Him. But He found refreshment in solitude. Alone, with His Father, He found peace and consolation.
And you, believer, may do so likewise — you may find joy and comfort in some secret pavilion of your Father's presence. Go alone, and shut your door, forbid worldly scenes, and, as far as possible, worldly thoughts to intrude — and there, in conscious nearness to your Savior and your God, look up for strength to maintain your warfare with the powers of evil.
And if you have a garden, or some retired nook to which you can go away from the crowd, away from the haunts of men, hallow it by meditation and prayer.
The calm retreat, the quiet shade,
With prayer and praise agree;
And seem by Your sweet bounty made
For those who follow Thee.
There, if Your Spirit touch the soul
And grace her mean abode,
Oh, with what joy and peace and love
She communes with her God!
"Blessed Redeemer, when I am in a garden, may I remember the ardent love You showed in Gethsemane! May the labors and enjoyment of a garden be sanctified by this recollection! O heavenly Gardener, happy is the heart which is Your garden, watered by Your blood. O break the rocks, root out the thorns, and make my heart a fruitful soil. Sow the good seed of Your Word therein; water it with Your grace; shine on it, O Sun of Righteousness; blow on it with the soft gales of Your Spirit — that the spices thereof may flow forth."
Eden and Gethsemane, each a garden — but what a contrast do they present! In the one, Adam tastes the fruit which was good for food and pleasant to the eye; and, in doing so, brought on himself and his posterity the bitterness of sorrow, shame, and death. In the other, the second Adam begins to taste the bitter cup of woe and anguish, that His Church might reap the fruits of endless joy and life everlasting. From Eden, Adam goes forth as a culprit, under the severe rebuke and judgment of the God whose command he had disobeyed. From Gethsemane, Christ goes forth, as bold as a lion, to die and to bring in deliverance and everlasting Righteousness for all His spiritual seed.
But let me draw near — let me behold this wondrous sight. If Moses took off his shoe when the Lord came near at the burning bush, still more should I regard Gethsemane as holy ground.
I see the Redeemer of sinners prostrate on the cold earth. I hear a groan, a sorrowful complaint. Never before has Christ complained but for the sin, and impenitence, and unbelief of those around. But now it is otherwise. There is deep soul agony; there is sore dismay; there is darkness that may be felt.
In a vision, a horror of great darkness fell on Abraham, foretelling the bondage of his seed. For three days a strange, mysterious darkness fell upon Egypt. Dark and gloomy was the shadow cast by those olive trees in the Garden. But a deeper darkness overshadowed the spirit of the Savior. Well might He employ the language of the Psalmist: "Fearfulness and trembling have come upon Me, and a horrible dread has overwhelmed Me!"
For this hour He had come into the world — for this hour He had lived and prayed. To enter upon His work, He had eagerly trodden the path to Jerusalem, going before His disciples so hastily that they were astonished. But now He starts back from the path He has chosen. At least there is a solemn pause before He advances. His soul is amazed and very heavy. He prays in an agony. The conflict is great, and His sweat is as drops of blood falling to the ground.
Who can pierce the darkness?
Who can tell the secret of that hour?
Who can explain the cause of that mysterious agony?
Was it the last struggle with the great adversary? In the wilderness He had met the Tempter, and thrice had triumphed. When Peter would have Him put aside the cross, He discerned the Tempter's form: "Get behind Me, Satan!" and at once rejected the thought. Is it now the final struggle?
Or is it that, in some way altogether beyond our thought — sin, our sin — is touching the Holy One? Is it the guilt of mankind oppressing our Surety — the judgment and the wrath we had merited, descending upon Him? Who shall answer? Who has known the mind of the Lord? Rather let us worship and adore.
O sinless Lamb, O Lord Jesus, I bow before You, and praise You for Your love! What marvels do I behold!
You, the source of all joy — are borne down with heavy sorrow!
You, the source of all comfort — faint for lack of it.
You, the Fountain of Life — wrestle with death.
You, the highest Majesty, before whom Principalities and Powers bow — bow down Yourself to the earth before Your Father.
You, before Whom cherubim and seraphim veil their faces — lie in the dust and tread the winepress of wrath for man.
Ah, I learn here the fearful reality of sin! Sin, sin! What have you done! This is your work. Never, but for sin, would we have seen the holy, spotless Savior thus enduring unspeakable sorrows. Never, but for sin, would Christ have drunk the cup of suffering, wrath, and death. Can it be a light thing which cost the Son of God such groans, such tears, such dismay?
O that I may abhor the faintest shadow of evil! O that I may shrink from the least taint of this deadly thing. Who can utter all that sin has done? The whole creation groans beneath the burden. Countries are filled with cruelty and oppression. Homes are made wretched by its power. Ten thousand times ten thousand hearts it has crushed and broken. On account of it, myriads of death-beds have been without one ray of hope — -and unnumbered souls have perished eternally.
But chief of all — who can tell the woe, the anguish, the misery it brought upon the Son of God? May God give me His grace, that I may . . .
hate it with perfect hatred,
mourn over it with godly sorrow, and
flee from it as the greatest and only evil!
But I would learn from Gethsemane a lesson of prayer. It was our Lord's command to His disciples, as they entered it: "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." But they fail. Some little solace would it have been to the Savior in His agony, had He found them earnest in pleading for themselves, and in true sympathy with Him in His hour of sorrow. But not so.
What do we find? The Son of God in an agony; Satan, with his artillery, preparing to attack the Shepherd and His flock; the enemies of Christ awake, and close at hand to bind Him and carry Him away to Annas — and the disciples asleep!
Poor, frail man! well is it that you have a pitiful and compassionate Savior! While He rebukes, He yet is ready to excuse and forgive. "Could you not watch with Me one hour?" "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Truly does Christ fulfill that which was spoken of Him: "A bruised reed will He not break, nor quench the smoking flax."
But while the disciples fail — Christ fails not; and His prayer may well teach us how to pray.
Let me copy His humble reverence. Christ fell on the ground as He prayed; and let me bend low before my Father in heaven — let there be the attitude as well as the spirit of true devotion. In the house of God, and in the secret chamber, it is right to bend as we pour out our confessions and prayers before the Mercy Seat.
Let me copy the fervency of Christ's prayer. I would be distinct, and hearty, and real, in whatever I desire and ask of God. Whatever is my request — the removal of trial, the bestowment of temporal good, the forgiveness of sin, more grace and power in the Spirit — whatever it is — I would realize my urgent need, and ask for it with earnest and heartfelt longings. In the power of the Spirit, let prayer be prayer indeed. No mere utterance of words can be accepted as prayer by Him who ever looks on the heart.
Let me catch, too, the filial confidence which is seen in Christ's prayer. I need the humility of a sinner — joined with the happy confidence of a little child. As one with Christ, accepted and highly favored in the beloved, I may go before God, crying, "Abba, Father!" Even in seasons of deepest distress, I shall find peace while clinging fast to a Father's hand, resting in a Father's love, and telling out every care and trouble in a Father's ear.
But with this there must be perfect submission. We must be willing to drink the cup even to the dregs — if it is our Father's will. We must not rebel or repine, if the petition is answered otherwise than we have desired. We must say, "Nevertheless, not as I will — but as You will."
His will is love;
His will is unerring wisdom;
His will is covenant faithfulness and truth;
His will is our everlasting peace and glory —
and, therefore, we must be still in perfect submission.
"I would lie still,
Do Your holy will."
And we must continue and persevere. We mark the thrice-repeated petition — we hear the same words yet again and again, until the conflict is over. So must we pray always, and not faint. My Father hears my first cry for help — yet He would have me pray on, though I see not how my petition is answered.
Large and abundant answers shall reward those who are constant and persevering in prayer. "For the vision is yet for the appointed time — it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it — for it will certainly come, it will not delay." Habakkuk 2:3
Christ's prayer was heard — an angel was sent to strengthen Him. And in going forth so calmly, so willingly to the scene of trial and of death, His request was plainly fulfilled: the Father's will was done, and He rejoiced to do it. "The cup which my Father has given Me — shall I not drink it?"
So, too, shall our desires be accepted and our prayers be fulfilled, in the very best way. We have an example in the Apostle Paul. Very beautiful is the parallel between Gethsemane and the narrative given in 2 Corinthians 12. Three times Paul prayed for the removal of the thorn — yet it remained; but grace was promised and was given: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
And the Apostle is content; yes, more than content. He believes the promise, and glories in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon Him. Thus may we rest in God's dealings, and be assured that His way, not ours, is best.