“I will;” Yet, “Not as I will”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon July 1, 1888 Scripture: John 17:24 From: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Volume 40

“I will;” Yet, “Not as I will”


“Father, I will.” — John xvii. 24.

“Not as I will.” — 'Matthew xxvi. 39.


WE have here two prayers uttered by the same Person; yet there is the greatest possible contrast between them. How different men are at different times! Yet Jesus was always essentially the same: “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” Still, his mood and state of mind varied from time to time. He seemed calmly happy when he prayed with his disciples, and said, “ Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me;” but he was in an agony when, in Gethsemane, having withdrawn from his disciples, and fallen on his face, he prayed, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me : nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” It is the same Man, and an unchangeable Man, too, as to his essence, who uttered both prayers; yet see how different were his frames of mind, and how different the prayers he offered. Brother, you may be the same man, and quite as good a man, when you are groaning before God as when you are singing before him. There may be more grace even in the submissive “Not as I will” than in the triumphant “Father, I will.” Do not judge yourselves to have changed in your standing before God because you have undergone an alteration as to your feelings. If your Master prayed so differently at different times, you, who have not the fulness of grace that he had, must not wonder if you have a great variety of inward experiences.

     Notice, also, that it was not only the same Person, but that he used these two expressions almost at the same time. I do not know how many minutes—I had better say minutes rather than hours—intervened between the last supper, and the wonderful high-priestly prayer, and the agonizing cries of Gethsemane. I suppose that it was only a short walk from Jerusalem to the olive garden, and that it would not occupy long to traverse the distance. At one end of the walk, Jesus prays, “Father, I will;” and at the other end of it, he says, “Not as I will.” In like manner, we may undergo great changes, and have to alter the tone of our prayers, in a few minutes. You prayed just now with holy confidence; you took firm hold of the covenant angel, and with wrestling Jacob you said, “ I will not let thee go, except thou bless me;” and yet it may be equally becoming on your part, within an hour, to lie in the very dust, and in an agony to cry unto the Lord, “Pardon my prayers, forgive me that I was too bold, and hear me now as I cry to thee, and say, ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt.’”

“If but ray fainting heart be blest
With thy sweet Spirit for its guest,
My God, to thee I leave the rest;
‘Thy will be done!’”

Never be ashamed because you have to mend your prayers; be careful not to make a mistake if you can help it; but, if you make one, do not be ashamed to confess it, and to correct it as far as you can. One of our frequent mistakes is that we wonder that we make mistakes. Whenever a man says, “I should never have thought that I could have done such a foolish thing as that,” it shows that he did not really know himself, for had he known himself, he would rather have wondered that he did not do worse, and he would have marvelled that he acted as wisely as he did. Only the grace of God can teach us how to run our prayers down the scale from the high note of “Father, hear me, for thou hast said, ‘Ask what thou wilt,’” right down to the deep, deep bass of “Father, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

     I must further remark that these two prayers were equally characteristic of Christ. I think that I should know my Lord by his voice in either of them. Who but the eternal Son of God may dare to say, “Father, I will”? There speaks Incarnate Deity; that is the sublime utterance of the well-beloved Son. And yet who could say as he said it, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”? Perhaps you have uttered those words, dear friend; but in your case they were not concerning such a cup of woe as Christ emptied. There were but a few drops of gall m your cup. His was all bitterness, from the froth to the dregs; all bitterness, and such bitterness as, thank God, you and I can never taste! That cup he has drained to the dregs, and we shall not have to drink one drop from it; but it was of that cup that he said, — and I detect the voice of the Son of God, the Son of man, in that brief utterance, — “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

     My two texts make up a strange piece of music. Blessed are the lips that know how to express the confidence that rises to the height as far as we can go with Christ, and descends even to the deeps as far as we can go with him in full submission to the will of God. Does anybody say that he cannot understand the contrast between these two prayers? Dear friend, it is to be explained thus. There was a difference of position in the Suppliant on these two occasions. The first prayer, “Father, I will,” is the prayer of our great High Priest, with all his heavenly garments on, the blue, and purple, and fine twined linen, and the pomegranates, and the golden bells, and the breastplate, with the twelve precious stones bearing the names of his chosen people. It is our great High Priest, in the glory of his majestic office and power, who says to God, “Father, I will.” The second Suppliant is not so much the Priest as the Victim. Our Lord is there seen bound to the altar, about to feel the sacrificial knife, about to be consumed with the sacrificial fire; and you hear him as though it were a lamb bleating, and the utterance is, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The first petition is the language of Christ in power pleading for us; the second is the utterance of Christ made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. That is the difference of position that explains the contrast in the prayers.

     Let me tell you also that there is a difference in the subject of his supplication, which is full of instruction. In the first prayer, where our Lord says so majestically, “Father, I will,” he is pleading for his people, he is praying for what he knows to be the Father’s will, he is officiating there before God as the very mouthpiece of God, and speaking of something about which he is perfectly clear and certain. When you are praying for God’s people, you may pray very boldly. When you are pleading for God’s cause, you may speak very positively. When you know you are asking what is definitely promised in the Scriptures as part of the covenant ordered in all things and sure, you may ask without hesitation, as our Lord did. But, in the second case, Jesus was praying for himself: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He was praying about a matter, concerning which he did not, as man, know the Father’s will, for he says, “If it be possible.” There is an “if” in it: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Whenever you go upstairs in an agony of distress, and begin to pray about yourself, and about a possible escape from suffering, always say, under such circumstances, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” It may be given you sometimes to pray very boldly even in such a case as that; but, if it is not given you, take care that you do not presume. I may pray for healing for my body, but not with such confidence as I pray for the prosperity of Zion and the glory of God. That which has to do with myself I may ask as a child of God asks of his Father; but I must ask submissively, leaving the decision wholly in his hands, feeling that, because it is for myself rather than for him, I must say, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” I think that there is a plain lesson here for Christians to take heed that, while they are very confident on one subject for which they pray, they are equally submissive on another, for there is a heavenly blending in the Christian character, as there was in Christ’s character, a firm confidence and yet an absolute yielding to the will of God, let that will be what it may.

“Lord, my times are in thy hand;
All my sanguine hopes have plann’d
To thy wisdom I resign,
And would make thy purpose mine.”

Now all this while you may say that I have only been going round the text. Very well; but, sometimes, there is a good deal of instruction to be picked up round a text. The manna fell round about the camp of Israel; peradventure there is some manna round about this text. May the Lord help every one of us to gather his portion!

     I want you now, for a few minutes, to view this great Suppliant in the two moods in which he prayed, “Father, I will;” and, “Not as I will,” and then to combine the two. We will, first, view Jesus in the power of his intercession; next, we will talk of Jesus in the power of his submission; and in the third place, we will try to combine the two prayers, “I will;” yet, “Not as I will.”

     I. First, let us view JESUS IN THE POWER OF HIS INTERCESSION, saying, “Father, I will.”

     Whence did he derive that power? Who enabled him thus to speak with God, and say, “Father, I will”? First, Jesus prayed in the power of his Sonship. Sons may say to a father what strangers may not dare to say; and such a Son as Jesus was,— so near to his Father’s heart, one who could say, “The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him;” one of whom the Father had said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” — well might he have power with God so as to be able to say, “Father, I will.”

     Next, he derived this power from the Father’s eternal love to him. Did you notice how, in the very verse from which our text is taken, Jesus says to his Father, “Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world”? We cannot conceive what the love of the Father is to Christ Jesus his Son. Remember, they are one in essence. God is one, — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and, as the Incarnate God, Christ is unspeakably dear to the Father’s heart. There is nothing about him of which the Father disapproves; there is nothing lacking in him, which the Father would desire to see there. He is God’s ideal of himself: “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Well may one who is the subject of his Father’s eternal love be able to say, “Father, I will.”

     But our Lord Jesus also based this prayer upon his finished work. I grant you that he had not yet actually died, but in the certain prospect of his doing so, he had said to his Father, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Now, he has actually finished it; he has been able in the fullest sense to say, “It is finished,” and he has gone up to take his place in glory at his Father’s side. You remember the argument with which Paul begins his Epistle to the Hebrews: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high ; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” When the Father looks at Christ, he sees in him atonement accomplished, satisfaction presented, sin annihilated, the elect redeemed, the covenant ratified, the everlasting purpose settled on eternal foundations. O beloved, since Christ has magnified God’s law, and made it honourable, and since he has poured out his soul unto death, he may well possess the power to say, “Father, I will.”

     Remember, too, that Jesus still possesses this power, and possesses it for you and for me. O my dear hearers, you may well go to Christ, and accept him as your Mediator and Intercessor, since all this power to say, “Father, I will,” is laid up in him on purpose for poor believing sinners, who come and take him to be their Saviour! You say that you cannot pray. Well, he can; ask him to plead for you; and I thank God that, sometimes, when we do not ask him to plead for us, he does it all the same, as he did for Peter, when Satan had desired to have him, but Christ had prayed for him. Peter did not know his danger, but the Saviour did, and he pleaded for him at once. What a blessing it is to think of Christ, clothed with divine authority and power, using it all for us! Well does Toplady sing, —

“With cries and tears he offer’d up
His humble suit below;
But with authority he asks,
Enthroned in glory now.

“For all that come to God by him,
Salvation he demands;
Points to their names upon his breast,
And spreads his wounded hands.

“His covenant and sacrifice
Give sanction to his claim;
‘Father, I will that all my saints
Be with me where I am.

     Further, that power of Christ will land every believer in heaven. Notice how Christ turns all his pleading with God that way; he says, “Father, I will, that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” The devil says that we shall never get to heaven; but we remember that declaration of Moses, “thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee,” and the arch-enemy will be found to be the arch-liar, for the Lord’s Prayer will be heard, and as he pleads that those whom the Father gave him should be brought up to be with him where he is, you may depend upon it that they will all arrive safely in heaven; and you, if you are among those who are given to Christ,— and you may know that by your faith in him, — shall be among that blessed company.

     I shall have finished with this first point when I have said this, that power which Christ had may, in a measure, be gained by all his people. I dare not say, and I would not say, that any one of us will ever be able to utter our Saviour’s words, “Father, I will;” but I do say this, if you abide in Christ, and his words abide in you, you may attain to such power in prayer, that you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. This is not a promise to all of you; no, not even to all of you who are God’s people; but only to those of you who live wholly unto God, and serve him. with all your heart. You can, by habitual intercourse with God, attain to such power with the Most High that men shall say of you what they used to say of Luther, “There goes a man who can ask what he likes of God, and have it.” You may attain to that glorious altitude. Oh, I would that every one of us would seek to reach this height of power and blessing! It is not the feeble Christian, it is not the worldly Christian, who has just enough grace to make him miserable, the man who has only about enough grace to keep him from being absolutely immoral; that is not the man who will prevail with God. You paddlers in Christianity, who scarcely wet your toes; you who never go in beyond your ankles, or your knees; God will never give you this privilege unless you go in for it. Get where the waters are deep enough to swim in, and plunge in. Be perfectly consecrated to God; yield your whole lives to his glory without reserve; then may you obtain something of your Master’s power in prayer when he said, “Father, I will.”

     II. Now I ask you kindly to accompany me, in the second place, to notice JESUS IN THE POWER OF HIS SUBMISSION. Our second text is all submission: “Not as I will.”

     This utterance, “Not as I will,” proved that the shrinkings of Christ’s nature from that dreadful cup were all overcome. I do not believe that Christ was afraid to die; do you believe that? Oh, no; many of his servants have laughed at death; I am sure that he was not afraid to die; what was it, then, that made that cup so awfully terrible? Jesus was to be made sin for us, he was to come under the curse for us, he was to feel the Father’s wrath on account of human guilt; and his whole nature, not alone his flesh, but his whole being, shrank from that fearful ordeal. It was not actual defilement that was to come upon him; but it looked like it; and, as man, he could not tell what that cup of wrath must contain.

“Immanuel, sunk with dreadful woe,
Unfelt, unknown to all below—
Except the Son of God—
In agonizing pangs of soul,
Drinks deep of wormwood’s bitterest bowl,
And sweats great drops of blood.”

After dwelling in the love of God from all eternity, he was in a few hours to bear the punishment of man’s sin; yet he must bear it, and therefore he said, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Do you wonder that he prayed, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me”? Is Christ to be blamed for these shrinkings of nature? My dear friends, if it had been a pleasure to him, and he had had no shrinkings, where would have been his holy courage? If it had not been a horrible and dreadful thing to him, where would have been his submission, where would have been the virtue that made atonement of it? If it had been a thing that he could not, or must not, shrink from, where would have been the pain, the wormwood, and the gall of it? The cup must be, in the nature of things, something from which he that beareth it must shrink, or else it could not have been sufficient for the redemption of his people, and the vindication of the broken law of God. It was necessary, then, that Christ should, by such a prayer as this, prove that he had overcome all the shrinkings of his nature.

     “Not as I will,” is also an evidence of Christ’s complete submission to the will of his Father. “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” There is no resistance, no struggling, he gives himself up completely. “There,” he seems to say to the Lord, “do what thou wilt with me; I yield myself absolutely to thy will.” There was on Christ’s part no reserve, no wish even to make any reserve; I go further, and say that Jesus willed as God willed, and even prayed that the will of God, from which his human nature at first shrank, might be fulfilled. “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

     O brothers and sisters, — for you both need this grace, — pray God to help you to learn how to copy your Lord in this submission! Have you submitted to the Lord’s will? Are you submitting now? Are not some of you like bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke? There is a text, you know, in the one hundred and thirty-first Psalm, “My soul is even as a weaned child.” I have sometimes thought that, for some of the Lord’s children, the passage would have to be read, “My soul is even as a weaning child,” and there are many of God’s people who are very long in the weaning. You cannot get satisfaction, and quiet, and content, can you? Can you give yourself up entirely to God, that he may do whatever he likes with you? Have you some fear of a tumour, or a cancer? Is there before you the prospect of a painful and dangerous operation? Is business going badly with you, so that you will probably lose everything? Is a dear child sickening? Is the mother likely to be taken away? Will you have to lose your position and reputation if you are faithful to the Lord? Will you be exposed to cruel slanders? Will you probably be cast out of your situation if you do what is right? Come now, whatever you dread or expect, can you give yourself up wholly to God, and say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good”? Your Lord and Master did so; he said, “Not as I will.” Oh, that he might teach you this divine art of absolute resignation to the purpose and ordinance of God, till you also should be able to say, “Not as I will”! Thus you will sing, —

“I bow me to thy will, O God,
And all thy ways adore;
And every day I live I’ll seek
To please thee more and more.”

     III. I have finished my discourse when I have just twisted these two sayings together a little; so, thirdly, let us COMBINE THE TWO PRAYERS: “I will;” yet, “Not as I will.”

     First, let me say, Number One will help you very much to Number Two. If you learn to pray with Christ, with the holy boldness that almost says, “Father, I will,” you are the man who will know how to say, “Not as I will.” Is it not strange that it should be so? It looks like a contradiction; but I am sure that it is not so. The man who can have his will with God is the very man who does not want his own way with God. He who may have what he likes, is the man who wishes to have what God likes. You remember the good old woman, who lay near to death, and one said to her, “Do you not expect soon to die?” She answered, “I do not know whether I shall live or die; and what is more, I have no concern which way it is.” Then the friend asked, “But if you had your choice whether you should live or die, which would you choose?” She replied, “I would rather that the Lord’s will should be done.” “But suppose the Lord’s will were to leave it entirely to you to choose whichever you liked?” “Then,” she said, “I would kneel down, and pray the Lord to choose for me.” And I do think that is the best way to live; not to have any choice at all, but to ask the Lord to choose for you. You can always have your way, you know, when your way is God’s way. The sure way to carry out self-will is when self-will is nothing else but God’s will. Oh, that the Lord would teach us this mighty power with him in prayer! It will not be given without much close fellowship with him. Then, when we know that we can have what we will of him, we shall be in the right state to say, “Not as I will.”

     The next remark that I would make is, that Number Two is needful for Number One; that is to say, until you can say, “Not as I will,” you never will be able to say, “Father, I will.” I believe that one reason why people cannot prevail in prayer, is because they will not yield to God; and they cannot expect God to yield to them. God does this and that with you, and you quarrel with him; and then you go upstairs, and begin to pray. Go down on your knees, and make your peace with him first; for if you must not come to the altar till you have become reconciled unto your brother, how can you come to the throne of grace till you have given up your quarrel with God? But some people are never at peace with God. I have heard of a good friend who lost a child, and he was wearing mourning several years afterwards, and he was always fretting about the dear child, till a Quakeress said to him, “What! hast thou not forgiven God yet?” and there are some people who have not yet forgiven God for taking their loved ones. They ought always to have blessed him, for he never takes away any but those whom he lent to us, and we should bless his name as much for taking them again as for lending them to us. Hear friends, you must submit to the will of God, or else you cannot have power with him in prayer. “Well,” say you, “you will not let me have my own way at all.” Certainly, I will not let you have your own way; but when you just say, “There, Lord, I have no quarrel with thee now; do what thou wilt with me,” then he will say, “Rise, my child, ask what thou wilt, and I will give it thee; open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

      Notice, also, dear friends, that Jesus will help us to have Number One and Number Two. He gives himself over to us to teach us the power of prevailing prayer; but he also gives himself over to teach us the art of blessed submission in prayer; and it is his will that these two should not be separated. “Father, I will,” is Christ’s word on our behalf; and “Not as I will,” is equally Christ’s word on our behalf. When you cannot pray either of these prayers as you would, fall back upon Christ’s prayer, and claim it as your own.

     Lastly, I think that true sonship will embody both Number One and Number Two. It is the true child of God, who knows that he is his Father’s child, who says, “Father, I will.” He is often very bold where another would be presumptuous. Oh, I have heard full often of somebody’s prayers, — I will not say who the somebody is, — he seemed so familiar with God in his prayer. Oh, yes; I know! You love those very stately prayers, in which the bounds are set about the mount, and no man may dare to come near. You make the throne of grace to be like Sinai was of old, of which the Lord said, “Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: there shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live.” “Oh, but,” you say, “so-and-so is so familiar at the mercy-seat!” Yes, I know; and you think that is a pity, do you not? Perhaps you are acquainted with a judge; look at him on the bench wearing his wig and robe of office; but you will not dare to speak to him there unless you address him as “My lord,” and behave very respectfully to him. By-and-by he goes home, and he has a little boy there, Master Johnny. Why, the child has seized hold of his father’s whiskers, there he is up on his father’s back! “Why, Johnny, you are disrespectful!” “Oh, but he is my father!” says the boy; and his father says, “Yes, Johnny, that I am; and I do not want you to say, ‘My lord,’ and talk to me as they do in the court.” So, there are certain liberties which God’s children may take with him, which he counts no liberties at all; but he loves so to be treated by them. He will let each one of them say, “Father, I will,” because they are his children.

     Then, mark you, you are not God’s child unless you can also say, “Father, not as I will.” The true child bends before his father’s will. “Yes,” says he, “I would like so-and-so.” His father forbids it. “Then I do not want it, and I will not touch it;” or he says, “I do not like to take that medicine, but my father says I am to take it,” and he takes the cup, and he drinks the whole of its contents. The true child says, “Not as I will,” although, after his measure, he also says, “Father, I will.”

     I have only been talking to you who are the Lord’s people. I hope you have learned something from this subject; I know you have if the Lord has taught you to pray after the fashion of these two prayers, as you humbly yet believingly may, copying your Lord.

     But oh, what shall I say to those of you who are not the Lord’s people? If you do not know how to pray at all, may the Lord teach you! If you do not yet know your needs, may the Lord instruct you! But let me tell you that, if ever there shall come a time when you feel your need of a Saviour, the Lord Jesus will be willing to receive you. If ever you should yearn after him, be you sure that he is also yearning after you. Even now, —

“Kindled his relentings are,”

and if you will but breathe the penitent’s prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” and turn your eye Christ-ward, and cross-ward, there is salvation for you even now. God grant that you may have it, for Jesu’s sake! Amen.