I WOULD enter to-day upon a yet deeper principle of our LORD'S life than those which we have already considered, though they were among the chief. That, however, which underlies them all, which directs and sustains them, is the will. The will is the power lying at the point where the inward nature passes into act; it is the source of movement. It is what the spring is in the watch, the hidden power setting in motion all the framework of being. The will is the self-determining energy in all intelligent natures. In GOD, it determines what He is, and what all that exists is.
The most mysterious feature of the Divine Will is, that it is at once unchanging, and yet open to be influenced: unchangeable in its direction and its end, yet subject to be influenced by forces which He permits to act upon it. The highest known law regulating the material world, illustrates in some degree this feature of the will of GOD. In the movement of the heavenly bodies there is a fixed line of unceasing steadfast motion which nevertheless admits of variations, occasioned by surrounding forces; and it has been proved that these very variations only result in a more perfect carrying out of the original line of motion, a constant power of restoration being inherent in the very variations themselves. This system is a faint shadow of the Eternal and Ineffable law, determining the Nature of GOD, by which the primary original Will is ever fulfilling itself, while yet it is, in some great mystery, capable of yielding itself.
This combination of fixedness and yieldingness, however seemingly inconsistent, is indeed essential to the Will of GOD, as a personal GOD. It distinguishes a personal will from a blind destiny; for what is a true living will, but one steadfast in its purpose, yet ever adapting itself to the circumstances and conditions with which it has to deal? This law is the secret groundwork of the power of prayer; for prayer is not merely an exercise reacting on the worshipper, producing in him the dispositions suitable to a dependent creature; it is also an influence ordained of GOD to act upon Himself, modifying His purposes according to His good pleasure, if it be offered according to His Will.
The human will of our LORD was conformed in entire obedience to the Will of the FATHER. It therefore partakes of the same characteristic features, the same combination of steadfastness, ever pursuing its own end, and of the capability of yielding itself to influences which He is pleased to permit.
The act of the Incarnation, while it was our LORD'S own pure will, was an act of obedience to the FATHER. "Then said I, Lo I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O GOD." This is only one of the manifold texts which mark the submissiveness of Him Who expressly came as "One sent," and not "in His own Name." Our LORD speaks of the spirit of obedience forming an habitual thought on which His Soul fed. "My meat," He once said, "is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." But our LORD gives the fullest and most beautiful picture of an obedient will when speaking of Himself in the discourse recorded in the 5th chapter of S. John; "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the SON can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the FATHER do; for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the SON likewise. For the FATHER loveth the SON, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth." That our LORD in these words is speaking of the state of His own will, is evident from the verse closing the discourse; "I can of Mine own self do nothing; as I hear I judge, and My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the FATHER Which hath sent Me." We read in this passage our LORD'S own description of the true elements of an obedient will,--the inward ear listening for the interior voice, the mind watching the exact form in which the higher Will manifests itself, and then the pliant moulding of itself after the pattern revealed to it. This submissiveness of will expressed itself in its intensest form of subdual in the Agony. There was then the utmost conceivable repugnance of nature to the Divine Will; "FATHER, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me;" a revulsion of every nerve and feeling, physical and mental, a depression and struggle within, which no creature ever yet experienced or can conceive; the great drops of blood flowing in unwonted channels, because of the terrible convulsion. But still the unswerving faithfulness of His Soul was manifested even in this uttermost prostration of nature; "Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done." And then, when the Agony was passed, this steadfast will arose in its triumphant strength, as He awoke the disciples, and bid them follow Him to meet the full storm of approaching trial; "Rise, let us be going; Behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me." Mark, moreover, how our LORD at this very time rejected every hindrance to the fullest acceptance of what He recognised as the Divine Will, whatever its endurance cost. When S. Peter interposed with the sword, JESUS said unto him; "Put up again thy sword into its place; for all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword."
An obedient will is obedient in itself, irrespective of the nature or quality of the person who lawfully claims obedience. It has its own principles, according to which alone it can submit itself, and is, if true, always consistent with its principles; but it is not necessarily towards GOD alone that its action turns. On this ground rests obedience to the creatures, as only another form of obedience to GOD, and it accounts for the obedience to human superiors which marks the life of our LORD. It is most remarkable that thirty of the thirty-three years of His earthly life were passed in subjection to His parents. The language of Holy Scripture, in describing His obedience to creatures is as strong as when it describes His obedience to the will of the FATHER; "He went down to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." When He passed from His home it was only to transfer His obedience to the laws which bind one man to dependence on another, and even subject man to the restraint of the inferior creatures. Indeed, every act of our LORD'S earthly life was an act of submission to some form of created being, some pressure of outward nature with which He had associated Himself.
Again, in our LORD'S human, as in His Divine will, with this unchanging steadfastness there was the gentle yielding to influences which He approved. Such was the case towards His blessed Mother at the marriage-feast, when she urged Him to supply the wine that was needed. His words at first imply the rejection of the desire; "Mine hour is not yet come." His mother still trusted that He would grant the petition, and she bid the servants be prepared: "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it." The desire of love, the sense of the need, acted upon Him, and He yields. "Fill the water-pots with water, and they filled them up to the brim." The same yielding occurs from time to time throughout the Gospels, e.g., "When JESUS was entered into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him and saying, LORD, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And JESUS saith unto him, I will come and heal him." The centurion expressed a degree of faith at which JESUS "marvelled," and He changed His purpose. "He said unto the centurion, Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the self-same hour." He went not down. He healed the sufferer where He stood. It was the influence of strong faith having power to change our LORD'S original purpose, and leading to what seemed a greater exercise of His grace. Again, after His Resurrection, as He accompanied the two disciples to Emmaus, when "they drew nigh unto the village whither they went, He made as though He would have gone further. But they constrained Him, and He went in to tarry with them."1 It was love laying on Him its sweet restraint, and His will yielding to it.
The combined action of these two principles constitutes the perfection of a true human will, as well as of the Divine Will,--an unswerving adherence to its own true end, together with a gentle, graceful yielding to influences, which are approved as equally, or more, consistent with its purposes.
II. There is a further point of the greatest practical moment, in our LORD'S example of submissiveness, which must here be noted. He accepted not merely the general bearing of the events to which He was subjected, but also, and as fully, the minute and wholly subordinate details of these events; not merely the substance, but the mode of a trial; not merely its bitterness as a whole, but also all the conjunctures of circumstances under which it comes. Consider, e.g., two points of the Passion, which exemplify this momentous truth. Our LORD accepted Pilate's judgment of Himself, as a direct expression of the Divine Will. "JESUS answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above." This instance, however, may seem but a necessary incident of the Passion, as directly accessory to His Crucifixion. Consider, then, what was evidently an entirely incidental feature of His sufferings, having no effect on the general purpose of His Sacrifice,--the last thirst, and the vinegar. "JESUS, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now, there was set a vessel full of vinegar; and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth. When JESUS therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished, and He bowed His head and gave up the ghost." Do we suppose that when this occurrence is said to have taken place, in order "that the Scriptures might be fulfilled," the object was to prove the genuineness of the Old Testament? Surely this our LORD always assumed, as a truth undoubted by the Jews. No; He was bringing home to their consciousness the deeper truth, that every single pang of His sufferings, even their own least act in afflicting Him, even so slight and unpremeditated an impulse, as snatching up the hyssop, and giving Him the vinegar to drink, was a form through which the Will of GOD was expressing itself in filling up the ordained completeness of His Passion. He was showing how the Eternal Will is as distinctly revealed in the minute particular accompanying events of a trial, as in the general event itself. This same principle evidently pervaded His subjection to human control, equally as to the blind conjuncture of circumstances. There was no withdrawal of submission on any occasion, because He was unjustly and cruelly oppressed.
III. There is yet a further question. Is this submissive obedience of the will manifested in our LORD, to be regarded merely as a necessity for fulfilling the purposes of the Atonement, in order that human disobedience should be compensated by His obedience? It was this, but it was more. Our LORD in all His actions and sufferings in the flesh, was exhibiting the perfectness of Humanity. He was giving the example of the highest sanctity, at the same time that He was offering Himself for us to GOD as an atoning Victim.
The necessary conclusion is, that an obedient will is part of the perfectness of renewed Humanity. And it is important to observe how our LORD'S example proves, that not merely obedience to GOD is to be thus regarded, but obedience to human superiors also, if GOD place us thus in subjection; or a willingness to be thus obedient, where there are none; subjection to the laws which place us in relation to the creatures, being in truth only an indirect form of obedience to GOD.
Our earthly experience confirms this conclusion. Consider what uniformly characterises the greatest genius in dealing with the forms of the material universe. It is when the mind, receiving the laws of matter as of GOD, shapes its magnificent ideas in subordination to an accepted will, which it recognizes as a necessary constraint at every point. Consider, again, what constitutes the striking beauty of character in a religiously-minded labouring man. It is the working and suffering on, under the constant pressure of the outward world, regarding this pressure as the sacred condition of his being. It is but the same law which regulates the highest forms of sanctity. The saint adores GOD, not only in direct submission to His revealed will, but equally under all lawful claims of control, under the laws of human interdependence, under the moral significance and constraint of created things. He strives to develop his energies in a constant consciousness of an overruling Providence stretching its control into the least details of his life. Our LORD contrasts with Himself the false CHRIST, as one who comes "in his own name." The Apostles designate the man of sin, rising up against all that is called GOD, as "the lawless one." There can in fact be but one absolute and perfect Will in the universe, and every other will must therefore be perpetually in subjection, and the perfectness of this subjectiveness is the perfectness of the being.
IV. It may be thought, while seeking to apply our LORD'S example in this particular of an obedient will, that there can be no correspondence as to the formation of such a will in us and in Himself; that if His example holds good in the possession of such a will, it cannot hold good also in the mode of attaining it. How can there be sympathy in the formation of the will between the disobedient and the obedient; for Our LORD'S will was perfect from the beginning? There are at least two ways in which we may trace a real and close sympathy.
1. It is the law of our nature that we should be trained to a submissive will by degrees, through the early discipline of childhood, afterwards through self-discipline under the controls, the checks, the hindrances, the disappointments, the sorrows, the reproofs, the denials, which make up so large a portion of the experience of life. It is the grace of GOD working through such means, which by successive steps subdues the will; and these steps by which the will is thus subdued, form so many crises of life, entailing suffering, but through the suffering raising and perfecting us, just in proportion as we yield our will to GOD. Now this which is the law of our growth, was also the rule which our LORD vouchsafed to use for His own advancing perfection in the flesh, and each child that is patiently humbling his will to a parent, each one of maturer years who is mastering the strength of his natural temper, and chastening it into an enduring habit of patience, may feel to the full the blessedness of an assured sympathy with our LORD: for not only does the Scripture say of Him, that He "increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with GOD and man," but also that "He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and, being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation." He was pleased to advance along the same path of gradual progressive development, involving trial and effort. He tasted the very same pain in the progressive discipline of His Soul, that we experience, though without the imperfection or the sin
2. As there are in our case seasons of special trial, or special points in which our nature is peculiarly tempted to resist the Will of GOD, which are practically the turning points of our destiny, when life is hanging on the struggle, and all depends on the event whether in this one particular we yield our will or no, so in this respect likewise the closest sympathy is to be traced between one so tried and our LORD. The Temptation in the wilderness and the Agony were special seasons, crises of peculiar trial when He experienced in their utmost intenseness the same dreadful revulsion of His sensitive Being, the same abhorrence, the same forcing back of the current of the heart's blood, such as in its measure any one of us, in some strong wrestling with the will of GOD, in some lone hour of trial, may be called to endure. We may trace the same feelings, the same in kind, though so far beyond comparison greater in degree in our LORD, linking our sin-stained humanity with His most pure and yet most truly kindred Humanity, when He, beginning to sink in the awful struggle in the garden, drew a few favoured friends near Him, bidding them to tarry there and watch with Him, to be at hand to strengthen Him, as though He feared His own purpose giving way, as though He feared being alone,--His prayer three times repeated, the same prayer, the same brief words, the long struggle between each prayer, not once but thrice endured,--when He was so sunk, so desolate, that when the disciples failed Him, another of the creatures comes and is welcomed, the mute companionship of the Angel is felt to be a relief, a stay; for the Angel came, not as it was at the Temptation, after it had passed, "ministering unto Him" as in joy and thankfulness, but then, during the Agony, and "strengthening Him," as though but for this stay His suffering Humanity could scarce have borne the struggle.
We may draw a comparison touching ourselves even in this stupendous effort of His will, for "He left us an example that ye should follow His steps;" and we here see a picture, of which a likeness, however faint, may be traced in every true heart that struggles against some stern unbending demand of the Divine Will, when the human will of the sufferer, stripped of all its natural outward supports, yet still grasping hold of the unseen GOD, though in darkness and desolation, is upheld and abideth steadfast. If to many of us there has been no such trial, yet who of us can say but that some similar pressure of the Eternal Will may not yet come upon us in some sudden or some protracted dispensation of trial, when success in that particular struggle is the one condition of the soul's conformity to the will of GOD, perhaps the last and crowning test of obedience. Or if we be always spared the severer forms of such discipline of the will, yet is there not in the case of every one of us, some one point in which a measure of the same conflict between our natural mind and the pure will of GOD is ever being felt, and is in truth the trial-point of our religious life? May we have grace in such crises of our destiny, to gather up our strength, to betake ourselves to prayer, to kneel on beside the prostrate Form, in the shadows of the olive-trees of Gethsemane, striving to master ourselves, nor cease till the hour of our agony is past, and the strengthened will arises to unite itself with all the purposes of GOD.
There are three practical points on which I would dwell before I close. 1. One of the saddest tokens of our fallen state, is the length of time it takes, before we recognise in our personal gifts or station, in the circumstances and complications of our life, in our difficulties and trials, in our relations to others or to the world,--the will of GOD, as revealed for us, teaching us what we are, and for what we ought to live. Years often pass away before our early dreams, like mists stealing up the mountain's side, clear away; before the end of our life becomes visible, and the several objects around us fall into their true relative position; before we set ourselves resignedly to fulfil the real objects for which we were sent into the world. What long periods of waste and rebellion often intervene before the very first and simplest truths regarding the end of our being come out to view. How much of life is simply an aspiring after unrealities, or else a fretting and chafing against an irreversible will, which, if lovingly accepted, would be the true bond of union with our LORD, the starting point of an unknown and boundless beatitude. Yet surely the first real lesson of all is, to know what is the end for which we are as we are, and what is the measure of talent, of strength, of opportunities, wherewith to compass it, and for what we shall be accountable in the great day of retribution. 2. Again, life is a season of continual calls and inspirations of grace; and it is the purpose of these calls, these openings of service, to advance us step by step. If we obey the calls, and cherish the inspirations, our natural life rises, according to GOD'S predestination, more and more into the Divine; it becomes unceasingly a "forgetting those things which are behind, and a reaching forth unto those things which are before." But at every such call there is required an effort, because -nature shrinks back from the exactions of a higher and a purer will. How much cause of regret and self-reproach is there to every one of us, because of the misuse of such seasons, because of failing in such crises, because of the want of a ready response to some acknowledged conviction! And if, after having missed such first callings, GOD has mercifully opened for us some second line of service, changing His will to adapt Himself to our infirmity or our wilfulness, still how much of sloth, of indisposition for such later calls, how much want of devotedness in gathering in "this latter growth" of the King's harvest, may there have been! How unspeakably terrible, if at last one miss even the gleanings of the field, when GOD would have mercifully accepted the least "fragments that remain!"
3. Once more. We have learnt that it is the whole conjuncture of the circumstances of an event which constitutes the will of GOD, not the mere event itself without its circumstances; and yet how constantly do we fail in this respect. Such remarks as these again and again are heard:---'I could bear reproof, but not from such a one;' 'I could bear a loss, but not this loss;' 'I could do better at home, were this one of the family circle different, and less trying.' Or a Sister says, 'I could work better and be less faulty, if my place, or my superiors, were more according to my mind.' Every one has his own secret excuse, his own subtle temptation,--'I should get on more hopefully, if this or that hindrance were removed;' 'I could do more for GOD, if I had more money, or more talent, or better health, or greater opportunities.'
We must remember that if this change which we desire could be made, our condition would not be GOD'S will for us, but our own; or it would at best only be partly His, and partly ours. This one point which we wait to have altered, before giving ourselves wholly to GOD in patient faith, is as much a part of His will, as any other circumstance in our lot. It is the whole conjuncture of circumstances which forms the expression of His mind for us, not a portion of the circumstances divested of this one particular. His Will is not an abstract thing; we know it only as it is revealed in the order of His Providence. If the hairs of our head are all numbered, and whether they be white or black be an expression of an overruling Will which we cannot alter, how certainly must each single point of detail in the trial of each immortal soul be within the watchful care of that all-seeing Eye, and each one of the ordained means of testing our obedience, and disciplining our will, be surely ordered by His Providence, just as every portion of our LORD'S Passion was as minutely foreseen, as the general event of His death. When our LORD said, "The cup that My FATHER hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" He meant the entire mixture of the complex circumstances which together composed the Passion, each one point as much as another.
O sweet and blessed Will of GOD, when shall we yield ourselves wholly to thy influence! If the highest Angel were to swerve even in the least degree from the tenour of Thy Will, heaven would cease to be heaven to him. Oh! what are we, that we should be asserting ever and ever more, in some new form, that will of self which, if it prevailed, would become a devil! Oh, that I might cease to "kick against the pricks," and be entranced by the shining out of the bright vision of Thy love, and so be drawn to a perpetual compliance with Thy purposes, to a meek surrender of self; that I might arise and live wholly for Thee; that I might say always, "LORD, what wouldest Thou have me to do?" Oh, that my instability might be fixed by Thy un-changeableness, my inconstancy by Thy unweariedness, my struggling and impatience by Thy calm peace! Oh blessed Will of GOD, which is the cause and the continuance of all these mysterious worlds of life, of all beauty, of all love, of all truth, of all order, of all joy, of all sanctity, of all beatitude, when shall I learn to trust thee, when cease to wish for no other but thee! Arise, O GOD, and make us "willing in the day of Thy power."