"Your will be done."
Our Lord was truly Man, and so possessed a human will. He desired to be spared the agony He was expecting and suffering. It was agony of body in the tortures of the cross; agony of soul by anticipation of the cross, by ingratitude, slander, and insult of foes, and by the sleep, desertion, and denial of friends; agony of spirit in bearing the sin of mankind and the fierce assault of the devil.
In His agony He prayed that the cup held out might pass from Him. As human, He prayed with intense earnestness. As the Son of God, He bowed with absolute submission. The will of the Father which He had come to execute, though it conflicted with His natural wishes, was recognized as supreme in authority—best for the glory of God, for the welfare of the universe, for the Sufferer Himself.
"He begs that this cup might pass from Him, that He might avoid the sufferings now at hand; or at least that they might be shortened. This intimates no more than that He was truly Man, and as Man could not but be averse to suffering. This is the first and simple act of man's will—to start back from that which is sensibly grievous, and desire the removal of it. The law of self-preservation is impressed on the innocent nature of man, and rules there until overruled by some other law; therefore Christ expressed a reluctance to suffer, to show that He was taken from among men, tempted as we are yet without sin. Note, a prayer of faith against an affliction may very well consist with the patience of hope under affliction. If God may be glorified and man saved without His drinking this bitter cup, He asks to be excused. Otherwise not. What we cannot do with the securing our great end we must reckon to be in effect impossible; Christ did so. We can do nothing, not only we may do nothing, against the truth." (Matthew Henry.)
This submission to the Father's will was displayed in all His words and actions. He constantly declared that He had come into the world, not to promote any personal aims, but to accomplish the will of God. To the captious Scribes and Pharisees He said, "I can of my own self do nothing; I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me." After conversing with the woman of Samaria, He was found weary and faint by the disciples on returning with food; and when they begged Him to eat, He replied, "I have food to eat that you know not of. My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work." It was as natural and pleasant to do the will of God as it was to satisfy natural appetite. It was to Him more so. In seeking the salvation of that one sinner He had forgotten His hunger. The will of the Father was His supreme joy. "This is the will of Him that sent Me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing." The great work the Father had entrusted to Him was the salvation of mankind. For this He had to suffer and die. He never drew back from, He resolutely pressed forward in, His purpose to do the Father's will. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished."
Thus He fulfilled the ancient prophecy, applied to Him by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:5-10), "When He came into the world He said, Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but a body have You prepared me—in burnt-offerings and offerings for sin You have had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come to do Your will, O God." The prophecy thus applied to Christ adds, "I delight to do Your will, O my God; yes, Your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:7, 8). Obedience was to Him not merely duty, but blessedness. The law of God was not merely expressed in His actions, but stored up in His heart. The conduct was the outcome of His dominant desire—His most cherished purpose. The will of the Father was His very life, and that will was concentrated in the atonement of which the agony in Gethsemane was a part.
Just before leaving the upper chamber, or perhaps on the way to the Garden, He had said, in His valedictory prayer, "I have glorified You on the earth—I have finished the work which You gave me to do. And now, O Father, glorify You me." He prayed for the glory of completing the Father's will and for strength, not to evade it, but to accomplish it. Thus on the cross His dying consolation was uttered in the final word of triumph, "It is finished."
None ever pleaded so importunately as our Lord in Gethsemane; none ever resigned His own will so absolutely. As our example, He taught us how urgent desires may be combined with child-like submission to the will of God. We often separate them, or cultivate one at the expense of the other. Earnest in petition, we murmur at a seeming refusal; or, mistaking depression for submission, and unnatural suppression for piety, we yield as to the inevitable, and vainly try to ignore irrepressible desires. Our Lord divinely holy in His entire humanity, showed us how, while strongly pleading for our own will, to subordinate it to that of God. "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me—nevertheless, not my will, but Yours, be done."
In a previous chapter, the Fatherhood of God was urged as an argument both for importunity and resignation. We cannot doubt His loving desire to bless us, His infallible wisdom in the method, or His boundless ability to execute His purposes. We are therefore safe in His hands. He will grant us our will if it be best; and if He refuses, it is because He has something better to give. His love is revealed as much in denying as in granting.
As we emerge from childhood, we learn to suspect the wisdom of our wishes. From some eminence in our pilgrimage we look back on the path, and see plainly how much of our trouble was caused by resolutely following our own will. We see how we sometimes turned aside from the true way because it seemed rough and perplexing; and how, in other places, attracted by the flowers or the scenery, we neglected the map and the sign-posts, and wandered among bogs and thickets, where we floundered in mire, or were torn with thorns; and to precipices, where we stumbled and were bruised, and might have perished. Thus, by bitter experience, we have learned that our will is not always the wisest. What we have prescribed to ourselves as medicine has proved to be poison; the cup we have clutched as sweeter than honey has become more bitter than gall. We resolved to take the helm into our own hands, and have struck on hidden rocks. We have gone where the moss was brightest, and the quagmire has nearly choked us. We have glided where the ice seemed smoothest, and it has given way in the moment of our greatest exhilaration.
It is not safe to say unreservedly, "This is my will; O my Father, grant it." Many have thus asked for what has proved their greatest misery, as was the case with a mother, who, when her minister prayed for the life of her boy, adding, "but not our will; let Yours be done," exclaimed, "No, no! I cannot give him up." He was spared, but brought her grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. But God's will is infallibly wise. He knows both when the sweet in the cup disguises the poison, and when the bitter is the needful ingredient for the healing. He sees the end from the beginning; where the frowning ravine opens out into a blooming valley or a fertile plain; where through the tossing tide-waves of some narrow channel is the entrance to the safe anchorage. We may not understand His methods, but we can rely on His love and wisdom. Our highest enduring welfare is His object, and there is an eternity hereafter for the development. We cannot expect to work out the problem "now in the time of this mortal life;" and during afflictions "which are but for a moment," to perceive in what manner they are working out the "exceeding weight of glory," which is eternal. We now "walk by faith, not by sight;" and thus we know that infallible wisdom directs the Will which is prompted by infinite love and sustained by unlimited power. Therefore we pray with confidence, "Father, Your will be done."
The will of God is commended to us by special promises—promises not merely of general advantage, but of particular benefit to ourselves individually.
In the operation of a general scheme of beneficent Providence, some must seem to suffer for the general good. Wise alteration in human laws, the progress of discovery and invention, while benefiting the many often entail injury on the few. Loyal sons have often accepted personal loss, and risked even life for the honor of their father and welfare of the family. And should not the children of God delight in His glory, even at their cost?
Thanksgivings should not be rendered for personal benefactions alone. True piety is not sordid. Whether our sky be cloudy or clear, whether our storehouse be empty or full, whether in loneliness we lie on a bed of pain or go up with the great congregation to the house of God, we should sing, "We praise You, we bless You, we glorify You, for Your great glory."
But loyal homage and filial love towards God are inseparable from personal benefit, though this should not be our chief motive. Our Father's will is ever linked with our own welfare. We are never in danger of being personally crushed in an exulting crowd. The flood that bears fertility to other fields never desolates our own. We share in the fertilizing influence of every cloud and every ray of sunshine. If the vapor that drops gentle rain on others comes to us as hail, the invigorating breeze as desolating blast, even so it brings us good and not evil.
The will of our Father not only secures advantage to His family as a whole but to every individual child. All things work together for their lasting good. All things! Not alone pleasant things, which we call mercies, but painful things, which we call trials. Thus when we pray for God's will we ask for that which, in promoting His glory and the general good, secures also our own welfare. If then every cup, however bitter, conveys to us some healing medicine or strengthening food, profit as well as piety should prompt the prayer—Your will be done. Happy for us that our Father loves us too much to let us have our own will when it would do us harm.
My will? It is often the result of ignorance, the prompting of passion. My Father, may Your will be done!
My will? I often desire as a treasure to enrich, what would prove a burden to crush. My Father, may Your will be done!
My will? I may pursue a phantom which would allure me to the perilous precipice or the fatal bog. My Father, may Your will be done!
My will? I may be eager for a draught of pleasure, which would poison my whole life. My Father, may Your will be done!
Lord! take your way with me, and let me not choose my own. Ordain my lot. Mix my cup. Your Will—unfailingly kind in its purpose, infallibly right in its method, absolutely sure of its fulfillment. My Father, may Your will be done!
Your way, O Lord! Your way—not mine!