Gethsemane’s Agony

The undersigned was requested to write the feature article for this issue of Beacon Lights.  The subject assigned to me deals with the struggle of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then particularly with the words of our Lord: “Not My will but Thine be done.”  The topic which I selected for this article reads:  Gethsemane’s Agony.  The reason for this selection should be obvious.  The prayer of Christ: “Not My will but Thine be done” surely reflects the tremendous agony which our Saviour endured in the garden of Gethsemane.  The Scriptural passages which speak of this suffering of our Lord are Matt. 26:36-46, Mark 14:33-41 and Luke 22:41-45.  And the words, “Not My will but Thine be done,” are recorded in Luke 22:42.

I believe that the Board of Beacon Lights, assigning me this subject and quoting these words from Luke 22:42, has certainly laid the finger upon the heart of Christ’s struggle in Gethsemane.  Our Saviour struggles in the garden, as a worm and no man, exactly in order that not His will but that of His Father may be done.  And the emphasis falls upon the thought that this will of His Father may be done in His soul, as we shall presently see.

We understand, of course, that the cup whereof Jesus speaks in His prayer in Gethsemane refers to the cross of Calvary.  I need not reflect in this brief article upon the many and various explanations that are offered us of this expression.  Suffice it to say that the cup is meant here.  That cup is nothing less than the suffering of the wrath of God upon sin which would burn down in all its incomprehensible fury upon the head and soul of the Son of Man.  It is the cup of being forsaken of God, the moment, eternity’s moment, when the terrible righteousness of the living God, which knows of no pardon, no wavering, is eternal and terribly unchangeable, would burn down upon Christ’s head, when all fellowship of Christ with God would be wholly swallowed up, buried underneath the fearful and for us incomprehensible experience for Christ of that wrath of the Lord His God.  No, this does not mean that Christ Himself would become, upon the cross, the object of the hatred of His God.  God loved His Son also upon the cross, yea especially upon the cross of Golgotha.  But it does mean that Christ, the Beloved of the Father, would experience in His soul, and in full and perfect consciousness, the infinite and eternal wrath of God upon sin.

“Not My will but Thine be done.”  What does this mean?  Why did Jesus now become so sorrowful, even unto death?  Did not the Saviour know that this moment awaited Him?  Is this something new for Him?  Does He now stand suddenly, and for the first time, before the cross?  But, this cannot be.  We cannot explain this petition of the Saviour from ignorance.  Had He not instructed His disciples that He must fall into the hands of sinners, be killed, and rise again the third day?  Or, all we need do is recall the last few hours in the upper room.  There He had commanded the betrayer:  what thou doest do quickly.  Indeed, Christ knew what awaited Him.  And yet, His soul now becomes sorrowful, even unto death.  This, my friends, means that, although the Saviour knew what awaited Him, even into minutest details, now the first time, experientially, the cross of Calvary looms before Him and strikes into His soul in all its fearful reality.  That cross now takes hold of Him as never before.

“Not My will but Thine be done.”  Is, then, the will of the Saviour contrary to the will of His God?  Does Jesus rebel against the Father Who sent Him?  Is He disobedient here in the garden of Gethsemane?  How must we view and interpret this petition of our Lord?  Well may we bear in mind that, entering this garden, we take the shoes off our feet, because we tread upon hole ground.  Instead of boldly asking or declaring that this is disobedience, we do well to look on in all amazement and to stammer:  how could the perfect Servant of Jehovah come to this prayer, say:  “Not My will but Thine be done.”

Indeed, Jesus is the perfect Servant of Jehovah.  There is no conflict here between our Lord and the Father Who sent Him.  That would be impossible.  He does not oppose His God in the garden of Gethsemane.  He does not try to change the will of His Father.  To be sure, He desires that this cup may pass from Him, but this is altogether different than to set Himself against the will of His God.  One thing we would most emphatically place upon the foreground here:  Jesus has but one will, but one desire in His soul, as far as the will of God is concerned:  Thy will be done.  He would not maintain Himself even for one moment.  He came to empty Himself, to do the will of His God.

To form some kind of a conception of Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane, we do well to bear in mind the tremendous sorrow which now grips the soul of our Lord.  Jesus here is sorrowful, even unto death.  The terror of Calvary now strikes into His human soul as a lightning bolt.  He stands aghast at that which lies before Him.  He will presently be forsaken of His God.  And for Jesus to be forsaken of His God was something far more terrible, agonizing, fearful than for you or for me to be forsaken of Him.  Christ was the holy Child Jesus, the perfect Child of God, Who lived in perfect fellowship with His God, Who thirsted after God as a hart panteth after the waterbrooks in the most perfect sense of the word.  For Him to be forsaken of His God was an agony which we will never be able to comprehend, which bottomless depths we will never be able to fathom.

Indeed, our Saviour desired another way than the way of this cup.  To be sure, He longed for its passing, expressed the desire that, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.”  O, if God would only save His people another way than the way of the cross!  That was His will, expressed in the words:  “Not My will be done.”  Only, and this we must bear in mind, this was His will, not in opposition to the will of His God, but purely as the expression and longing of His human nature.  That was His purely human desire.  His purely human reaction to the cross of Calvary.  As that fearful cross loomed before Him, struck into His tender soul as a lightning bolt, He shuddered and shook, recoiled from that fearful abyss, uttered the purely human desire:  “Let this cup pass from Me.”  Our Lord was no stoic, did not assume an attitude of carefree indifference toward to cross of Calvary.  Instead, He became sorrowful even unto death; the pangs of death and of hell took hold of His soul; the agony of Golgotha swept over Him, engulfed Him, pressed from Him His blood as sweat.

“Not My will but Thine be done.”  What, then, is the significance of Gethsemane?  This, that Jesus would evade the cross?  This, that He would escape the Hour for which He came into this world?  This, that He would be spared the agony of suffering and dying for His own?  No, a thousand times No!  for unto this Hour He came into this world.  Unto this Hour He took upon Himself our flesh and blood, for the Son of Man came to seek and so save that which was lost.  What then?  Gethsemane is the struggle of the Saviour, of the perfect Servant of Jehovah, not to evade the cross, not to oppose His God, not to change the will of His Father Who sent Him, but to submit His agony-filled and terror-stricken soul to the will of His God, to lay Himself as a perfect sacrifice upon the altar of His God, to subject His horror-filled soul to the will and righteousness of the living God, to be able to rise from the dust of the garden, with peace in His soul, to confront the cross and say:  Thy will be done.  This is the significance of Gethsemane.  For it we give thanks unto our God.  And we look upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Gethsemane is the anticipation of Calvary.  And Calvary is our redemption and salvation, now and forever.