PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
On the nature of the temptations of a Sanctified Heart.
IT is our object, in the present chapter, to give a general outline of the subject of temptations; but particularly of the temptations of a heart, that is so far given to the Lord, that it may properly be regarded as in a state of assurance and of sanctification. Temptations, or tempting objects, are those objects which are presented by the intellect to the sensibilities and the will; and are of such a nature that they have a tendency to induce or cause in the sensitive part of our nature, viz. in the appetites, propensities, and affections, and also in the will, a wrong action. Sometimes the action, to which the temptations lead, is wrong in the FACT of its existence, or in itself considered; and sometimes it is wrong only in the DEGREE of its existence. If, the temptations advance in their influence beyond the intellect and take effect in the desires and will, prompting them to action when they should not act at all, or prompting them to a prohibited and inordinate degree of action when they are permitted to act, they are always attended with sin. And in accordance with this general and somewhat indefinite statement, temptations may be regarded as presenting themselves to our notice in two aspects, or in two points of view.
FIRST.— We observe in the first place, that the tendency of temptations, in some instances, is, to bring feelings into existence, which, under the circumstances of the case, are wrong in the very fact of their existence, wrong in their very nature, and which therefore ought not to exist at all. The temptation, by a special concurrence of circumstances, or through the well calculated influence of Satanic agency, is precisely adapted to that particular wrong result. And if the feeling, appropriate to the temptation, exists, not only in a degree inordinate and irregular, but if it exists at all, it is sin. Our Savior was at a certain time tempted by having the kingdoms and wealth of this world presented before him, obviously with the view of their being desired and possessed by him as a means of personal aggrandizement and enjoyment; but we suppose we give the general sentiment of Christians and of biblical interpreters, in saying, that the temptation went no further, and under the circumstances of the case could innocently go no further, than the thoughts. It had no effect upon the Savior's desires or will; that is to say, it secured no pleased and consentient action; but was instantly rejected. The temptation presented to the Savior at the same time, to throw himself down from the temple, is equally appropriate and decisive, considered as an illustration of the present subject. It could hardly be considered less than a proposition under a very specious pretext to commit himself immediately and fully into the hands of Satan, instead of remaining in the will and under the government of God. Considered intellectually, or rather in reference to the intellect, there is no doubt that the temptation was distinctly perceived and appreciated in itself and in its relations. Without this it could hardly be regarded as a temptation. But it seems very obvious, that it found no entrance into the heart; and the only action, which it did or could produce, in such a pure spirit as the Savior's, was that of decided resistance, resulting in its instant rejection.
In connection with what has now been said in this part of the subject, we proceed to make one or two explanatory remarks. And the first is, that the incipient and what may be called, in the cases we are now considering, the innocent stage of the temptation, is, when the object, which embodies the temptation or is the medium of temptation, is first presented to us intellectually; that is to say, in our mere thoughts or perceptions; and is there perceived and known, not only as an object, but as an object of temptation. If it stops at the limit of the intellectual action, and does not enter into the heart and the will, there is no sin. It is obviously necessary in all cases of temptation, that the object should exist first in this manner, viz. intellectually; in other words that it should exist in the thoughts, or be perceived and thought of. Without this, viz. the perceived or intellective presence of the object, it is entirely clear, that there could not possibly be any such thing as temptation. But, as has been observed, the temptation may exist to this extent, and may be perceived and felt by us so far to exist without sin.
A further remark, which we have to make here, is this. Temptations, limited in their results to the intellectual action, and which do not in any degree take effect in the desires, could not properly be considered temptations, without the physical or natural possibility of a further and sinful action of the mind, without an internal conviction of that possibility, and perhaps we may add, without a distinct sense of danger. Hence, when temptations of this particular character are presented, although they do not take effect in the desires, they are both perceived and felt to be temptations; that is to say, there is a clear perception of their true character, both in themselves and in relation to certain possible results. And in addition to this, there appears to be an instinctive and prompt alarm of the sensitive and moral nature. The desires and affections are not inert and dormant, as some may perhaps suppose; neither are the conscience and the will; but all seem to be penetrated with the sense of imminent hazard, and are thrown into the conscious attitude of repellancy.
SECOND.— We pass now to another class of cases. In some cases different from those which have been described, the temptation passes the limit of the intellectual action, and actually takes effect in the emotions and desires and YET WITHOUT SIN. The foundation of this view of the subject is, that there are many emotions and desires which in their nature are morally and religiously right and lawful, and are wrong only in their degree. The temptation, (that is, the object which possesses the seducing or tempting power,) is presented intellectually; just as in the first case; and it is desired, received into the affections, and delighted in to a certain limit or degree. The precise place or mark of this limit or degree will be different under different circumstances; varying with the precise nature of the seducing or tempting object and with the precise position and responsibilities of the person, who is the subject of the temptation. But wherever it may be, it is susceptible of being ascertained in various ways, either by a reference to the commands of God, or by the indications of an enlightened conscience, or by the special operations of the Holy Spirit, and not unfrequently by their combined influence. At that particular limit or boundary in the desires and affections, wherever it may be found to exist, the temptation, in the case of a truly holy person, and in the case of every person who does what is right, necessarily stops; just as in the first mentioned class of temptations, it stops with the limit or boundary of the intellectual action. And in this case also, as well as in the other, there is a conscious perception and feeling of danger, when the temptation approaches the boundary in our desires and affections, which it ought not to pass, accompanied at the same time with an internal and repellent effort of the mind.
A single remark further remains to be made, in connection with this part of the subject. Looking at the subject of temptations in relation to the intellect, there seems to be ground for saying, that we may properly make a distinction between intentions or thoughts of evil, and evil thoughts. All wandering and unprofitable thoughts, and indeed. all thoughts, which have not a connection either directly or indirectly with the glory of God, are evil, just so far as they are at the time under our control, and are susceptible of being made to assume a different and better character. But thoughts of evil, that is to say, ideas or suggestions of some evil to be done, which are introduced or injected into the mind from a source external to itself, or which on certain occasions arise necessarily and involuntarily in the mind, are not evil, unless they are consented to in act or in feeling. The form of expression here will be noticed, viz. so far as they arise necessarily and involuntarily. If they originate in ourselves by a voluntary movement, and are cherished by our own acts, so as to make us in some sense the authors of our own temptations, they are obviously of a very different character, and are by no means free from sin.
These views seem to present the general outline of the philosophy of temptations; although undoubtedly the subject is not without its difficulties. And all that now remains is, to make a number of remarks incidentally connected with this general sketch, and for the most part of a practical nature.
(1.) — And our first remark is, that in the present life, all persons, not excepting those, who are most advanced in holiness, are subject to temptations. Even the truly sanctified person is not exempt. Holy persons like others retain the attributes appropriate to man's nature; differing from the same attributes in others in this respect only, that they are deprived of irregularities of action, and are entirely subordinate to the divine will. Accordingly the holy person, or the person in whom faith and love exist in the highest degree attainable in the present life, hungers and thirsts like any other person; he is the subject of the propensities and affections, which lay the foundation and which furnish the support of the various family relations; he loves his children, parents, and other relatives, and is the subject of other natural ties and sympathies; he suffers from fatigue and sickness; he is grieved, troubled, and perplexed in various ways; and even displeasure and anger, as is evident from what was witnessed in the life of our Savior, are not entirely excluded. While, therefore, it is our privilege, even in the present life to be exempt from the commission of voluntary and known sin, it does not appear, retaining, as we do, our constitutional tendencies and remaining subject to constitutional infirmities, that we either have, or can reasonably expect, any such exemption from temptation. We cannot suppose, that any of us, in the present life, can be in a better situation than our Savior, who was "without sin;" but who, nevertheless "was tempted in all points as we are."
(2.) — A second practical remark, proper to be made in connection with this subject, is this. It is hazardous to estimate lightly, and to trifle with temptations. The person is greatly wanting in wisdom, who undertakes to make a sport of them, or who delays a moment under the pressure of their influence when he can possibly escape. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation," is the command of Scripture. And the question is well asked in the book of Proverbs, 6: 27, 28, "Can a man take fire into his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?" The Christian, who is desirous of securing fully the approbation of his heavenly Father, must be careful not only to do the right and avoid the wrong; but also to avoid all places and all occasions, which would be likely for any reason to lead him into wrong.
(3.) — We proceed to observe in the third place, that temptations will, in general, be violent, in proportion to the decided resistance which is made to them. And accordingly, although it is perhaps different from what we should naturally expect, the more holy a man is the more violent at times will be the temptations, which he is called to endure. A person, who yields to temptation either in whole or in part, which is very apt to be the case with those who are not wholly devoted to the Lord, will not be likely to understand its full power. He does not oppose resistance enough to ascertain the strength of the aggressive movement. Satan has no inducement to show his full strength to the man, who yields easily. But he, who is determined to sin not at all, who had rather die than commit any known transgression, who opposes the broad and upright energy of his whole being to the assaults of Satan, will know the immense power of the terrible enemy, that wages war upon him. And it is the natural result of this general view, that when in the life of practical holiness we have taken some new and untried position, which for the first time we have ascertained to be a true and a safe one, and are undertaking the discharge of some new but obvious duty, we shall be likely, in connection with that new position, to be tried and tempted very severely. Satan will drive us from it if he can. He hates holiness, and every thing which is involved in holiness, and every thing which holiness does. He hates it in general; and he hates it in particulars. And whoever proposes, in aiming at entire holiness to do better in a particular thing, will be likely to find him in the attitude of defiance and resistance just at that point.
(4.) — A fourth remark is, that it is the part of Christian duty to endeavor to understand the nature of temptations. And as included in this, it is our duty to understand their specific, as well as their general nature; in other words, their nature in its application to ourselves personally. That, which would be a temptation to one, would not be so to another. The general idea, expressed by the word temptation, embraces not only the object which tempts, but also the subject of the temptation. In particular, therefore, we should study the weak and comparatively defenseless points in our character and situation; those particulars, in which wrong influences will be most likely to have an effect upon us and lead us astray.
(5.) — We remark again, when we are doubtful as to the character of the temptation, in other words, when we are doubtful whether the proposed action or feeling is wrong or not, we should be careful to lay the subject before God, and to wait for the instructions of the Holy Spirit, before indulging in the desire or action whatever it may be. We should remain where we are and do nothing, rather than run the hazard of doing wrong. The language of the Apostle is applicable in a case of this kind. "Whatsoever is not of faith [that is, is not done in the faith or belief of its lawfulness] is sin."
(6.) — A farther remark to be made is this. In seasons of temptation, it is highly important, that we should remain recollected, and in the exercise of true patience of spirit. The adversary of our souls gains great advantages at such times, if he can succeed in disturbing our peace. And in order to help us in retaining this valuable state of mind, we should always remember that our heavenly Father is present in temptations, as he is in everything else. It is true he is not the tempter, but he permits the temptation; and he permits it, however mysterious it may sometimes seem, both for our good, and for his own glory. And the temptation, however threatening it may appear, and from whatever source it may come, will not be allowed to go farther than he shall see to be connected with those great objects. This consideration should have great influence with us. It should exclude disquieting thoughts; it should keep us in perfect submission and peace, till the day of our visitation be passed.
(7.) — In cases of especial temptation, we are protected and saved in an especial manner, by the exercise of FAITH. Here, as elsewhere, faith is the great secret of our power; so much so as apparently to be the only method of quenching the fiery darts of the adversary. The tempted person, if he is in the exercise of grace adequate to the occasion, instantaneously offers up the prayer of faith. He exclaims, in spirit at least, if not in language, "Preserve me, O God, in this hour of need." "Spare me and help me in this time of trial;" "Leave me not to fall into the hands of my great enemy." He not only desires this assistance, which is one element of the prayer of faith; but what is equally important, he believes that God hears; and that in accordance with many promises, such as "his grace is sufficient for us," and that he "will not suffer us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear," he is, in fact present with him to aid, protect, and bless. This is especially true of the person, who has experienced the eminent grace of interior sanctification. Having learned to live by faith, which to many is a new and hidden way of living, his prayer ascends to the throne of God, with great rapidity, so that it meets and confronts the temptation almost as soon as it is presented to his thoughts. And not only this, being the prayer of living faith, it is a mighty prayer. It is true, it is exceedingly simple in object and in words; being, in this respect, modeled upon the Lord's prayer; but it has power with God; it touches the heart of everlasting Love; and if we may be allowed the expression, it draws down upon his soul the shield and covering of a Savior's blood. It is in that fountain, in that precious blood, and not in the mere deadness and coldness of his affections, that the fiery darts of the adversary are quenched.
(8.) — We would remark again, that the grace, which may meet and subdue the temptations of the present moment, may not be appropriate and adequate to the temptations of any future time. Every day and every moment bring their duties and trials, and need their appropriate grace. There must, therefore, be constantly repeated acts of faith; and by means of faith a constant application of the atoning efficacy of the blood of the Cross; both to preserve against the power of existing temptation, and also to wash the mind from the impurity of its stains, when we have already yielded to it. We would observe, finally, that temptations are profitable trials of the religious life, and are particularly calculated to purify and strengthen our faith. They are grievous for a time, it is true; but they are calculated to secure, in the end, the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Very few have become strong in faith, who have not passed through great trials. It is said of the Savior himself, that he "learned obedience by the things which he suffered."