FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him." -- James 1:12.
IF there is one thing more than another that we need to have on a good sound common-sense basis, it is the subject of temptation; for nothing, I feel convinced, is more misunderstood. Moreover, temptation is an affair of every day, and in a book of lessons for every-day life, it is of vital importance.
The first common-sense thing that I would say concerning temptation is, that temptation is not sin. The second thing I would say is the same, and the third thing is the same also. It may seem to some as if this hardly needed to be said so emphatically, because every one must already know it; but I believe, on the contrary, that very few really know it. People often assent to a thing as a theory, which practically they do not in the least believe; and this is just one of these things. No doubt every one who reads this lesson will say he entirely unites with my proposition that temptation is not sin; but, as a matter of practical experience, how many act on this belief? Our foundation text tells us that it is a blessed thing to endure temptation; but do we really believe it to be a blessed thing? Do we not mostly feel, instead, that it is a cursed thing; and that we must be dreadful sinners just because we are tempted? A flood of evil thoughts is poured into our souls, proud thoughts, unkind thoughts, malicious thoughts, jealous thoughts. They are thoughts we loathe, and yet that we seem to originate; and we feel that we must be very wicked and very far off from God to be able to have such thoughts at all. It is as though a burglar should break into a man's house to steal, and when the master of the house tries to resist him and drive him out, should turn around and accuse the owner of being himself the thief! It is the enemy's grand ruse for entrapping us. He whispers his suggestions of evil into our hearts, and then turns around and says, "Oh, how wicked you must be to think of such things! It is very plain you cannot be a child of God; for if you were, it would have been impossible for such dreadful thoughts to have entered your heart." This reasoning sounds so very plausible, that the Christian feels as if it must be true, and is plunged into the depths of discouragement and despair. But the divine teaching about temptation and the teaching of common-sense as well, is very different.
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:2-4).
If it is a sin to be tempted, should we be exhorted to "count it all joy" when we are tempted? Is it not rather a plain indication that temptation is one of God's divine instruments in our life discipline, and that without it we could never become "perfect and entire, wanting nothing"?
"Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6, 7).
Temptations try our faith; and we are worth nothing if we are not tried. They develop our spiritual virtues; and this development is essential to our true growth. How shallow would be our spirituality if it were not for the discipline of temptation! There is, therefore, in the divine plan evidently a "needs be" for the "manifold temptations" that beset us on every hand during the "season" of this earthly life. The "trial of our faith" is so much more precious to the Lord, and so much more valuable for us, than any present comfort or ease, that, much as He loves us, and, indeed, because He loves us, He is willing even to see us "in heaviness," on account of our temptations. This was His way with the children of Israel. When God took them into the promised land, He did not drive out at once all their enemies, but left some to "prove them," that He might know whether or not they would "hearken unto the commandments of the Lord." (See Judges 2:21-23; 3:1-4.)
I have sometimes thought that temptation is to our soul's health what vaccination is to our body's health, a process by which we are prepared for the victory over far worse attacks of far worse diseases.
"For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads, we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" (Ps. 66:10-12).
Silver is tried that it may be purified, and we are tried that we may be at last "brought out into a wealthy place."
Even of our Lord it is said that He "learned obedience by the things that He suffered;" and among the worst of these things must have been His temptations.
"For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:15, 16).
"For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:18).
If we believe that our Lord was really tempted "in all points" like as we are, we cannot but be convinced that temptation is not sin, and that it is possible to have temptations of every kind, and yet be "without sin." We may be sure of this, also, that wherever temptation is, there is the Lord, waiting to succour. "Where wert thou, Lord, while I was being tempted?" cried the saint in the desert. "Close beside thee all the while, my son, giving thee the needed grace to conquer thy temptation," was the tender reply.
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13).
Fenelon says concerning temptation: "We must never be astonished at temptations, be they never so outrageous. On this earth all is temptation. Crosses tempt us by irritating our pride, and prosperity by flattering it. Our life is a continual combat, but one in which Jesus Christ fights for us. While temptations rage around us, we must pass on unmoved, as the traveller overtaken by a storm simply wraps his cloak more closely about him, and pushes on more vigorously towards his destined home."
"The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations" (2 Peter 2:9, first clause).
Since the Lord "knoweth how" to deliver us out of temptation, He is surely the One to whom we should apply for deliverance; for it is very plain that we do not "know how" to deliver ourselves. There is not one of us who has not had practical proof of our own inability to deliver ourselves, so that I do not need to argue on this point. And yet, so foolish are we and ignorant, that most of us go on trying in the same old ineffectual ways, vainly thinking that if we only try harder, we shall certainly succeed at last. Our usual plan is to scold ourselves, and exhort ourselves, and weep over ourselves, and suffer agonies of remorse, and repent in dust and ashes; and then make stronger and more binding resolutions than ever, and try again, only to be again defeated.
Sometimes, it is true, we seem to conquer for a little while, and we rejoice over our victory, and think it will be permanent; when suddenly all our defences seem to be taken from us, and we are overcome worse than ever. We wonder why this is, and often cannot help feeling that in some way we have been hardly treated by God, that, after all our efforts, such failures should be allowed to come. But the truth is, that there is only one "way of escape" from the power of temptation; and because we have not taken that "way" our failure is inevitable. We may resist this fact as much as we please, and may try every other possible plan, but sooner or later we have got to come back to the simple truth that there is only one Deliverer from temptation, and that that Deliverer is the Lord; and only one way of victory, and that that way is by faith.
"When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, and shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint; fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; for the Lord your God is He that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you" (Deut. 20:1-4).
"The Lord your God is He that goeth with you to fight for you against your enemies, to save you." This is the whole secret. I once asked a Christian, whose life of victory over temptation had greatly impressed me, what was his secret. He replied that it all lay in this, that the Lord fought for him and he held his peace. "Once," he said, "I used to feel that I had to do the fighting myself; and it always seemed to me that the Lord was behind me to help me if the emergency became too great, but that for the most part He looked on, and left the fighting to me. But now," he continued, "I put the Lord in front, and He does the fighting, while I look on and behold the victory."
In Ephesians we have a description of what the Christian's armour is; and this will further elucidate the subject.
"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:13-18).
"Loins girt with truth," the "breastplate of righteousness," the "shield of faith," the "helmet of salvation," and the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," -- all this is the armour of faith. Our Lord used this armour in His conflict with temptation in the wilderness. (See Luke 4:1-13.) This story, it seems to me, gives us a very vivid insight into the reality of the declaration that He was "in all points" tempted like as we are; and it also shows us how we are to conquer. The weapon He used was the "sword of the Spirit," which is, the Apostle tells us, the "word of God." He met each temptation with some saying out of the Bible, introducing them all by the words "It is written." I believe that the truth as it is revealed in the Scriptures of truth, is always our most effectual weapon against temptation. I say weapon, because I do not mean that it is our power. The power to conquer is from the Lord alone, but the weapons are put into our hands; and, to my mind, chief among these is the one used by Christ, i.e., the word or truth of God. Practically I believe that there is nearly always some "It is written" with which we can meet and conquer almost every form of temptation.
I remember an occasion once in my own life when I proved this. I had just laid down a new carpet in my drawing-room, and was very desirous of keeping it fresh. My husband wanted to have a Bible-class of rough working-men with their hob-nailed shoes to meet there every week, but I objected greatly, and felt very sure my nice new carpet would be entirely spoiled. But I found I was not comfortable, as a Christian woman, in placing myself in the position of putting the claims of a carpet above the claims of human souls, and I was sorely tossed and troubled. Then I bethought me of this sword of the Spirit, and wondered if I could use it in this case, thinking to myself that there could not surely be any "it is written" about carpets. However I took up my sword and began to say inwardly and rather forlornly "It is written," when there flashed into my mind -- Yes, it is written, "take joyfully the spoiling of your goods." I confronted the enemy with this "sword of the Spirit," and it conquered for me. I was henceforward content to have my carpet or anything else, if necessary, "spoiled" in the service of the Lord.
I know by a thousand experiences that in every conflict with the temptation to doubt the love and care of God, there is no weapon so effectual as this sword of the Spirit. All doubts must necessarily fly before the confident assertion of some one or more of the innumerable assertions in the Bible of the all-embracing, unchangeable love of God. I have often routed a whole army of doubts by the simple words, repeated in unwavering faith, "It is written, that God is love!" Try it, dear reader, and see.
"Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30).
One great mistake we make about temptations is to feel as if the time spent in enduring them was all lost time. Days pass, perhaps, and we have been so beset with temptations as to feel as if we had made no progress. But it often happens that we have been serving the Lord far more truly while thus "continuing with Him" in temptation, than we could have done in our times of comparative freedom from it. Temptation is as much an attack against God as against ourselves, and we are fighting His battles quite as much as our own when we resist it. Moreover the "kingdom" which has been "appointed" to us can only come through this pathway of manifold temptations. The Apostle, when enumerating the qualifications and characteristics of those who had entered this kingdom, and had been patterns of faith in past ages, names temptation as one of the chief.
"They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy)" (Heb. 11:37, 38).
When next we are tempted, let us remember that those "of whom the world was not worthy" were tempted also, and we shall not be so discouraged. Discouragement is the very worst thing possible with which to meet temptation. If we are afraid of falling, we are almost sure to fall. A very wise writer on Christian experience once said that in order to overcome temptation a cheerful confidence that we shall overcome is the first thing, and the second thing, and the third thing, and the thing all the way through. The power of temptation lies largely in the fainting of our own hearts. The children of Israel were continually warned against this. No matter how terrible their enemies might seem, God's word always was, "Dread not, neither be afraid of them." And the reason given was invariably the same, "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." (See Exod. 14:13, 14; Deut. 1:20-30, &c. &c.)
The Lord fights for us now just as really as He fought for the Israelites then; and we have no more business to be discouraged at our enemies than they had. We all see clearly that it was no sin for them to have enemies to fight, and we ought to see as clearly that it is no sin for us. Temptation, therefore, is under no circumstances to be regarded as a sin.
Sometimes, however, our discouragement arises from what we think is a righteous grief and disgust at ourselves, that such things can be any temptation to us. It seems as if we must be great sinners, or we could not be so tempted. But if we probe it to the bottom, we shall find that this feeling really arises from a mortified self-love. We have expected better things of ourselves than to be open to the possibility of such temptations, and we are sorely disappointed in ourselves; and are discouraged in consequence. This mortification and discouragement over our temptations are really a far worse condition than the temptations themselves, for they arise altogether from wounded vanity and self-love. Discouragement is never a fruit of humility, but always of pride.
"But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:14, 15).
It is no sin to be "enticed;" the sin comes only when we yield to the enticement. The word translated "lust" here is the same word that is used by our Lord when He said in Luke 22:15, "With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you." It signifies a great wish for something. Now it is no sin to desire anything. I may see an orange in a shop-window, and feel a desire for it, but this is not a sin. It is only when the desire "conceives" or begets theft, that sin enters. A great many tender-hearted Christians torture themselves with anxious self-examinations to see whether they may not have yielded at least a sort of half-consent in the moment of temptation. Fenelon says this is all wrong. He tells us that by examining too closely whether we have not been guilty of some unfaithfulness, we incur the risk of being again entangled in the temptation, after we have repulsed it. We ought to treat ourselves in such matters with as much care as we would treat our watches. If we fancy a watch is out of order, we are never so foolish as to take it apart and examine it ourselves in order to discover what is wrong. We are too well aware of the delicate nature of a watch's inside machinery to risk meddling with it. But we take it to a jeweller, who, having made watches, understands them, and can discover without risk what is the matter with them; and who, above all, knows how to put them in order again. And similarly, only the God, who made the delicate machinery of our inward being, is able to examine it without risk, or can know how to put it in order. The only safe thing to do, therefore, in the matter of temptation is simply, and without self-analysis, to commit ourselves to the Lord, and leave with Him the management of the whole matter.
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8, 9).
It is no sin to hear the "roarings" of the devil, but it becomes sin if we stop and "roar" with him, or yield to his roarings. It is no sin to hear wicked men swearing along the street: it only becomes sin when we stop and join in with them. An old writer says, "Eye not the temptation, but eye the Lord;" and this expresses a profound truth. I believe it is often unwise even to pray much about our temptations, for the fact of praying keeps our mind fixed on them. The best way is a simple turning of the heart to the Lord, as a child to its mother, looking away from the temptation, and "looking unto Jesus," and leaving Him to deal with it as He pleases.
Fenelon says concerning this: "A direct struggle with temptations only serves to augment them. We should simply turn away from the evil, and draw nearer to God. A little child on perceiving a monster, does not wait to fight with it, and will scarcely turn its eyes toward it, but quickly shrinks into the bosom of its mother, sure of safety there. If we do otherwise, and in our weakness attempt to attack our enemies, we shall find ourselves wounded, if not totally defeated; but by remaining in the simple presence of God, we shall find instant supplies of strength for our support."
"Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Josh. 1:9).
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4, 5).
It is God's purpose that we who are born of Him should overcome the world; but we can only overcome in one way, and that is, not by struggle, or effort, or conflict, but by faith. We must put the Lord between ourselves and our temptations. We must meet them with a confident trust in His power and willingness to conquer them for us, and must be sure of victory beforehand. And above all, we must not blame ourselves for being tempted, but must remember always that "blessed is the man who endureth temptation," and must obey the command to "count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations."
"Be of good cheer," says our Divine Master, "for I have overcome the world." It is an immense help in meeting temptation to meet it as an already conquered foe. In earthly battles, the defeated army is disorganised and surrenders, the moment they find out that the opposite side has discovered their defeat. In our Civil War in America the war was prolonged far beyond the necessary time, because the North had not yet found out that the South was defeated; and the South knew this, and kept up the fight. But the moment the South found that the North had discovered the fact of their defeat, they collapsed without another battle. Sin is for us an already conquered foe. The Lord Jesus Christ has met and conquered it, and we are, if we only knew it, more than conquerors in Him. Like Jehoshaphat and the children of Israel, if we will go out to battle against our enemies singing songs of victory, the Lord will set ambushments against them, and when we reach them, behold, they will all be "dead bodies." (See 2 Chron. 20:1-30.)
"Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in the forefront of them, to go again to Jerusalem with joy; for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies. And they came to Jerusalem with psalteries and harps and trumpets unto the House of the Lord. And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries, when they had heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel. So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet: for his God gave him rest round about" (2 Chron. 20:27-30).
"So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet: for his God gave him rest round about." These lessons are closed with an earnest prayer that they may be used of the Lord to help some souls into this same "realm of quiet" in their every-day lives; to the end that they, too, as was Israel, may be a testimony to all who know them, of the reality of a God who always gives to those who trust in Him, "rest round about."
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