Ephesians vi. 10-20.
Temptation, and How to Meet it.
An Address Delivered at Beresford.
WE shall all agree that the subject of temptation is an exceedingly practical one. The problem of temptation is one experienced in every Christian life. We may speak of the Christian life in many ways. We may speak of it as a life of joy, a life of liberty, a life of peace, a life of satisfaction, a life of power, a life of blessing, a life of the enjoyment of God and heavenly things, and all this is true.
But so many Christians have to say, "I truly desire to live a life of joy, but I find I have not so much joy as I should wish. I really wish for a life of power, but on every hand, I find myself full of weakness and infirmity. I crave to enjoy God and heavenly things; I hunger and thirst after them, but find my enjoyment is only shallow and evanescent." This is what is alas, experienced by most, so when we speak of the Christian life in any of these ways, we have to qualify it and say that though known by few, it is the normal life and the possibility of attainment for every Christian. But if we speak of the Christian life as a life of temptation, there is no need to qualify it at all. Temptation is a fact, an ever present problem in the life of every believer.
The subject of temptation naturally divides itself into three branches. First, the origin of temptation; secondly, its aim and purpose; and thirdly, the secret of victory over it. As to its origin, there are two classes of temptation which afflict us, which we may designate "chronic" and "acute." To make my meaning clear as to chronic temptation, take for example a nervous man. His nervous disposition naturally tends to irritability, it is a chronic thing with him; the state of his mind and body, his whole physical makeup, go to produce in him this tendency to irritability. Take again a poverty-stricken man, who is always battling with difficulties, and has hard work to make both ends meet. His temptation is to repine and murmur, to have hard thoughts of God, to think He is not dealing with him as kindly as He might. Or look at an intellectual man. His natural tendency is, to look down with disdain on those with a smaller mental calibre than himself and despise those who possess less intelligence than he. Now we are not so much in the habit of falling before this class of temptation. If we look back over our experience of the last twenty-four hours, we shall probably see that the causes of defeat in us have not been those chronic temptations. We are on our guard against them, we know our weaknesses, we are aware of our natural tendencies; we expect temptations through these avenues, so that we watch and pray and are not taken by them unawares. The temptations before which we most frequently fall are acute temptations. You may, for instance, be walking along a London street, with its beautiful shops, in communion with God, your soul conversing with Him. Presently a vile picture strikes your eye. You did not put that picture there; you did not want to see it; you had nothing to do with it. But having once looked, you are tempted to look again, and linger over it until your thoughts become influenced by it. Immediately your communion is interrupted, your converse with God has ceased, and the action of the Spirit within you is no longer for the presentation of Christ in His beauty, but to lead you into self-judgment and to the confession of your thoughts. Perhaps a sister is on the top of an omnibus in a happy state of communion with the Lord, when suddenly she sees another sister walking in the street with whom she had a misunderstanding some time ago which has never been cleared up. She had no wish to see that sister, but in a moment, the memory of the misunderstanding fills her mind, and unkind thoughts take the place of communion with Christ. It is before this kind of temptation we are defeated far more often, than before the other. It is because we are on our guard against those things which are natural to us, we know our natural tendencies, and we watch against their outbreak and expression. Now we must never forget that in every temptation, there is the Tempter. In the Revised Version, this is much more emphasized than in the Authorized. When, for instance, the Lord teaches His disciples to pray, "Deliver us from evil" it is really "the Evil One." When in John xvii., He prays His Father to "keep them from the evil,'' it is again "the Evil One." When in 1 John we read that "the whole world lieth in wickedness," it is in "the wicked One." In every temptation there is the Tempter. Scripture teaches the existence of a malignant Being, not omnipotent it is true, but of great power, and whose constant aim it is to hinder testimony, to intercept communion, to bring blight and disaster where ever he can find an open door. He is an ever watchful enemy against God, and all that belongs to God. His thought is to strike at God, and when we grasp this, it gives a different colour and complexion to all our temptations. It is not a matter then of you and the Devil, it is a matter of God and the Devil. It was not a question in Egypt of a conflict between Moses and Pharoah, but between God and Pharoah, and Pharoah was a type of the Devil. The Devil strikes at God, he hates God, and if he can strike at God through you and me, he embraces the opportunity. We are only a secondary consideration with him, we would be too small, too insignificant for his notice, if it were not that he aims against God. On the other hand, we must remember that it is a natural thing to be tempted. It is not a strange thing at all, and we ought to expect it. Soldiers, in war time, expect to be attacked by the enemy; they look for an onslaught from him, they came for the purpose of resisting him. And so, I must expect to be attacked and harassed by the foe. When I was converted, I declared war to the knife against the world, and the things that are of the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. And so, it is natural to expect trouble from those things against which I have declared war; it would be strange indeed, if I did not get it. We need to keep in mind that there is a difference between temptation and sin. The most holy life that was ever lived in this unholy world was also the most tempted life. I refer, of course, to the blessed, holy, unblemished Lamb of God. There was never any one so attacked, so harassed, so tempted as He, but He was sinless through it all.
We come now to our second point—the purpose of temptation. There are two sides to this question—God's and the Devil's. As to God's side, He permits it for a wise purpose, for the good of His children. It is a means which he uses, an instrument in His hands to perfect our character, to increase our intelligence, to teach us more of the tendencies of our natural heart, and also more of the sufficiency of His grace. Was not Job all the richer for his temptation? Satan could do nothing against him until God permitted. God had set a hedge round about Job, and as Mr. Spurgeon once said, the Devil went round and round that hedge to see if he could find a loop-hole, but could not. It was not until God removed the hedge that the Devil could get any nearer His servant. It was not the Devil who began in Job's case, but God. God began by saying, "Hast thou considered my servant Job?" But was not Job the richer through his temptation, in all that God taught him of Himself—His ways, His thoughts, His character, His faithfulness, and His eternal truth? Truly Job could say that he had seen "the end of the Lord," and that He was very pitiful and of tender mercy. Was not Peter, too, all the better for his temptation? The Lord said, "Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." Satan desired, and the Lord gratified that desire, that Peter might get all the good of it. The Lord prayed that whatever else he might lose while in the Devil's sieve, though he might lose his self-confidence, his wisdom, his pride, his self-occupation, his ignorance of his natural tendencies, he might not lose his faith. The Devil could never make him lose his faith, because it had been divinely produced and was divinely maintained.
There are three ways of learning the flesh—in communion with God, in the light of the truth, and through temptation. In Rev. i., we see one who learned it through communion. We see the aged Apostle banished to the Isle of Patmos for the testimony of Jesus Christ, brought into His own presence. The result was he fell at His feet as dead. The secret was "he saw Him.” "When I saw Him," John says, "I fell at His feet as dead." It was when he saw Him, whose eyes were as a flame of fire, out of whose mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, whose face shone as the sun, whose feet were like brass, when he saw Him, that he was prostrate before Him. The flesh doesn't act there, it cannot, it is out of call so to speak, but it is never seen to be so vile, so corrupt, so abnoxious, so loathsome, as when we see it there. Let us get into His presence; let us know something of the calm and the holiness of that presence; let us see Him, and we shall see the true worth of the flesh. In Romans vii., the flesh is learned in another way; the soul reaches the knowledge by another route, and we trace the successive steps, until the conclusion is arrived at, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing." But that lesson is not learned immediately. He first calls in the aid of the law to rectify the flesh, to seek to beautify it, to tame it and improve it. But in all these longings, he finds a principle within him that will not go that way. He delights in the law; he truly desires to please God, but he finds within him that which is carnal, unholy, unspiritual, and the more he longs, the more he finds out his helplessness. But most of us have had to learn the flesh in Peter's way. We have not known much of the intense longing, yearning, hungering after holiness of Romans vii., nor have we known much of the Patmos experience of being in the presence of the Master, flat on our faces, learning our own unworthiness. We have to learn it as Simon learned it, when he had to find out that his heart did its very worst when he meant to do his very best; but he also found out what Christ's heart was, even when he was at his worst. And so, God uses our temptations to perfect our Christian character, to enlarge our spiritual vision, to clarify our spiritual intelligence. It is the Devil's desire to interrupt the communion that God is longing for, that is what he is aiming at, so that in my defeat, I lose, and God loses. God wants our company. He desires joint-participation, joint-enjoyment, and it is the Devil's aim to rob Him of this. God's aim in the creation of man was to have a creature with whom He could hold intelligent communion. Ten thousand times ten thousand holy, sinless angels, surrounded the light of the uncreated glory of the throne of God, but not one of them could gratify this desire of His, for intelligent communion, so He created man. Then the Devil comes on the scene, to rob God of this. He destroyed that communion, defaced and shattered God's image, and brought blight and ruin on His creation. Well he knew, that the Holy God, whose anger burns as coals of juniper against sin, could have no collusion with evil. But then God comes in, in wondrous grace in redemption, to recover man from his lost condition. He comes into the garden, and says, "Adam, where art thou?" God began. Adam should have been the one to say, "Oh, my God, I have lost my communion which I once enjoyed. I have lost Thyself. Where art Thou?" But the loss was not felt by him. But God longed for the company of lost man. How can that communion which was lost through sin be restored? Only through redemption. And so we read in Peter, "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust." What for? "That he might bring us to God!” God is bringing many sons unto glory. We shall be with Him there for ever, but His heart is set on having our company now as a present joy. This is what Satan seeks to hinder, for well he knows, that when out of communion, we are as perfectly weak and helpless as others. And well he knows, too, that when clad with the armour of light, we are as safe as the highest angel, and nothing can touch us.
'Tis only in Thee hiding,
I know my life secure,
Only in Thee abiding,
The conflict can endure.
The Secret of Success.
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." It is not merely be strong in "Christ," but be strong in "the Lord," the triumphant One, the One who has proved His Lordship by the completeness of His victory over all the powers of darkness. Our strength is not in intelligence. We may be perfectly clear in our intelligence, and have made great attainments as to doctrines, but there is no strength there. Our strength is not in spiritual qualifications, we may have made much spiritual progress, divine things may be very real to us, the roots of divine life may have struck very deeply into our soul, but there is no strength in that. The eye must be fixed on "the Lord.”
Joshua had to learn this lesson. Was it forty years' experience in the wilderness that led the triumphant host in Canaan on to victory after victory? No. He had seen in the deliverance from Egypt, in the passage of the Red Sea, in the defeat of the enemies on the way, samples of what God could do, but when he crossed Jordan before a single stroke could be levied against the enemy, he had to see that the command was in the hands of another One. "As Captain of the Lord's host am I come."
One may say, "I have had a grand time at the meeting. I feel ready to face anything now." Another may say, “I had a precious time in reading, and half-an-hour on my knees this morning, and it was so sweet." But unless the eye is kept on the Lord, you will fall in spite of it all. "Be strong in the Lord." We can trust to no experience, no resolution, no self-surrender, no consecration to the Lord, as it is called. No matter how genuine our desire, how strong the warmth of our longing, we still need to be strong in the Lord, to have our eyes on the Man with the drawn sword. Then we find there is some exercise needed, there is nothing for a lazy man here. It is "take" the whole armour of God: take, TAKE, TAKE! But when clad with the whole armour, we see in verse 18, that we are not invincible yet. We see truth under the figure of a girdle, practical righteousness as a breastplate, faith as a shield, the feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the hope of salvation, the hope of the coming of the Lord as a helmet, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, but with all these things, we are not fully qualified for victory yet—"Praying always!” Oh, there is need of exercise and earnestness in constantly maintaining dependence on God. Many seem to forget in the present day, the words of the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane—"Watch and pray." They have a scheme of easy holiness, but there is no royal road, no easy path to holiness and practical purity. It means watching and praying, it means daily to die, daily to take up the cross and follow Him, daily martyrdom to the flesh. Peter knew this when he presented the affecting sight of Christ suffering in the flesh, and then added—"Arm yourselves with the same mind, for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin."
I once thought that by means of resolution and surrender, I might have a path of victory, power, joy, and liberty all along the way, but one word from the Apostle Peter is better than all that, and that word is—"He that has suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin." Do you truly desire the pathway of purity, of righteousness, of power, of superiority to the things of the world? You have chosen the pathway of suffering. It will mean death to your own interests, death to your own plans and projects, it will mean the practical appropriation of the death of Christ, eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But oh! is it not worth it, if it results in our dwelling in Him and He in us? So many are content with a lower kind of holiness than this; they are content to live in a past dispensation rather than in the day of blessing and overflowing power of the Spirit of God. In John iii., we see enough of life to make the believer a child of God. "Except a man be a born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God." This water, I take to be the water of life which is given to the soul. There is life enough here for the kingdom. But in John iv., we see the soul drinking more deeply of the living water. "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." If in John iii., we saw life enough for the kingdom, here we see life enough to satisfy the soul, so that it no longer wants the broken cisterns and streams of earth. The soul is transplanted from the region of unsatisfied desire, into the region of satisfied desire, into the region of superiority to the world's charms and independence of the world's attractions. But in John vii., we see a further step still. "He that believeth on Me . . . out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." It is no more a well, it is rivers; there is a constant increase of life and power. It is Eden restored, for from the river that watered the garden, four rivers flowed forth, carrying streams of refreshing, before sin's gloomy shadow had spoiled God's fair creation. That is the Lord's desire for us now in this wilderness world. His desire is, that the soul may be as a watered garden, that from our inmost being may flow rivers of love, of peace, of joy, of power in all directions. His wish is nothing less than this for every believer. It is not something for gifted brethren, or those who take the Gospel to foreign lands—it is “he that believeth." Are you a believer? Perhaps you say, I am only a young believer, only an obscure believer, only an ignorant believer, but are you a believer? If so, it is His desire that you should have such abundance of spiritual blessing, such increase of spiritual life, that from your soul, saturated by it, satisfied, gladdened, enriched, should flow rivers of living water.
One word more as to temptation. "Above all, taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." Not some darts but all. Put what you like into that all, put in your natural tendencies, your disposition, your sorrows, your trials, the malice of the enemy, your temptations of home life, of business life, of church life, of your secret life, "ye shall be able to quench all." Thank God for that grand "all!" In Eph. i. 3, we are blessed with all spiritual blessings—there is not one we have not got, but for our practical life down here, we needed another "all," and we have it here. God grant that we may claim it and enjoy it, for His Name's sake.
"The Believer's Magazine" 1901