The Uses Of Temptation
One of the features of a probationary state is the fact of temptation. It may come directly from an evil spirit, or from a pleasing object. It maybe felt as a brooding horror upon the soul, or approach with a promised delight to the body. In its assault upon the citadel of a man’s life, the Will, temptation travels upon various routes. Its form is seen moving upon the emotions of the heart, along the sensations of the body, and endeavoring to steal its way up the channels of all the senses, and every appetite known to the race. It has been a wonder to many why God should permit temptation to come to immortal creatures, who if they prove faithless and fall under the attack, make shipwreck of happiness and character, and finally if sin is continued in to the end, are ruined forever. The wonder grows when in full recognition of the momentous consequences of yielding to the evil suggestion and movement, the Bible says: “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” The Scripture does not say fall under, but “into.” Just as it does not say, Blessed is the man who is tempted, but who “endureth temptation.”
Moreover it is remarkable that the apostle was writing to Christians when he said these things. The verse reads, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations.” Evidently there is a moral use of temptation to the Christian. It is this fact we call attention to; not to the necessity of temptation as a feature of moral probation on earth; but to the use of these strange and perilous influences upon the soul of the child of God.
God of course does not and can not tempt, but He allows us as His people to be tempted. Why does He permit it? What is the advantage and good which He expects to come out of it and which in many cases is undoubtedly derived?
One is the knowledge of self.
Very many Christians do not know themselves, and never would but for temptation. The Scripture says the children of Israel were led about in the wilderness for forty years, that they might know what was in their heart. In like manner through the probings, motions and assaults of temptation we are made to see the barely suspected evil, and the vulnerable place in our nature and character.
Peter never dreamed at first that he was capable of denying the Lord, but under circumstances of testing in which we find involved man fear, self-interest and self-protection, he went down. Saul, the king of Israel, had a new heart and started out humble enough, but temptations to pride and self-will soon came in sufficient number and force to show him he was not really as lowly as one would have supposed when he was found “hiding in the stuff.” David, in spite of his beautiful psalms and leaping before the ark of God, had a weak place in his character and there was most likely to fall. In due time the circumstance came which revealed the vulnerable spot. He got to know himself under the sad power of temptation.
In war a battery is often placed upon a hill and the guns trained upon the surrounding woods. It is called “feeling for the enemy.” This is what temptation does; it discovers for us the hidden foe of the heart.
In dental matters, when a man has an uneasy feeling in a tooth, the nerve of which he thought had been killed, he places himself under treatment. The dentist has a number of drills and very fine, sharp, needle-like instruments which he uses to discover the little particle of nerve matter which may have been left. When he finds it, the patient in the chair instantly knows it without being told.
So we may honestly think we are sound and all right in the spiritual life. It is the province of temptation under the overruling power of God to find and touch the remains of the carnal nature, and the weak places of the moral character. If the man is not thoroughly sound, by and by the drill and probe of the Tempter will reach him.
This does not mean necessarily a fall into sin. Far from it. Many are thus tempted, stand self-revealed in some unsuspected weakness and yet do not fall into transgression. Nevertheless they get to know themselves, which is a great gain and triumph in itself.
We recall the grave look of older Christians when they have sometimes to listen to the swaggering, boastful talk of young Christians. These younger followers of the Lord have mistaken the cannon-shooting of the Fourth of July for the siege of Vicksburg. They have been in the battle of Lexington, but know nothing of the fearful trials of Valley Forge. So they talk and so the older Christians listen, grave, thoughtful and oftentimes silent altogether. The young fledgling has the floor or rather the barnyard, and is talking about the great upper air currents, when he has never been higher than the hen-house in which he was born. He speaks indignantly about certain things, and tells us what he would do under such and such circumstances, and what should be done to parties who had said and done certain things. Meanwhile older Christians listen silently and often pityingly. Not that they tolerate sin, or would do wrong or have done wrong; and they have been higher than the hen-house, and felt the blast and rush o f spiritual wickedness in high places against them. They have been far away from the barnyard with its simple history and relationships, and met a bear in a cave, struggled with a lion in the woods, and had a battle with a giant in the mountains. They killed them all, but they know what the paw of a bear is, the strength of a lion’s jaw, and the awful power of a giant. They have gone through experiences, and obtained self-illuminations, and drank cups, and borne burdens, which add ten years to one’s life in a single day. In other words they have got to know themselves, and in this discovery of self are now better able to meet the onsets of the world, the flesh and the devil.
A second benefit is compassion for others.
Those are very tender and beautiful passages in the Word which speak of Christ having been tempted in every respect yet without sin, and of His being touched with a feeling for our infirmities, and having compassion on the ignorant and on them who are out of the way. He can feel for us, because He has been assaulted by the power of Hell, and knows our anguish in like conditions.
As we study men who have gone astray or lapsed in any way in the spiritual life, we notice that nothing touches them more deeply and is more potent as a human instrumentality in lifting them up and bringing them back as genuine compassion.
Another fact that strikes me is that it is very hard to understand and feel for people in certain mental and moral conditions when we have never been there, or realized any temptation to be there.
If a person could be raised in a state of seclusion from the world and not brought in contact with any of its forms of sin and sorrow, such an individual would make a wretched comforter and adviser in this heartbroken world. So not to feel certain forces of evil to beat upon the heart for admittance, is to make certain classes of our fellow beings perfect mysteries to us. We would not know how to counsel, cheer or otherwise assist them.
A woman who never lost a child makes a poor comforter to the bereaved mother next door. It is the woman who has seen the life go out of first one and then another of her little ones, whose voice moves and very touch brings comfort and strength.
An unconverted preacher knows not what to say to the weeping penitent at the altar. So in the matter of temptation, ignorance of its changes, phases and forces would make one a failure as a sympathizer and helper of men in this world.
A number of times in life, the writer has felt in his breast a perfect surge of what he recognized to be Satanic influence, to do something desperate. He never dreamed for an instant of yielding, but the dark, awful pressure of those moments has been the means of creating a very tender, pitiful feeling in his soul for Christians who have been similarly assailed.
Again we recall a time in our early ministry when we were on our way to speak with an eminent preacher on the subject of a peculiar and distressing trial in the life, when we were distinctly and profoundly impressed by the Holy Spirit not to go to him, but to another person altogether. The last one, it is needless to say, understood the case and gave the help needed. The first one we see today would have frozen and discouraged the soul from lack of sympathy and appreciation of the case. A man not tempted in certain lines would stare with cold wonder at the confessions of a visitor who came to get instruction and direction about a matter of which he knew nothing. But if he has been tempted himself, there would not only an understanding attention be given to the confession, but a most pitiful and compassionate attention. He himself has not sinned, but he can see why and how the other man did. He remembers the tug and pull at his own heart, an hour when he wrestled not with flesh and blood but with principals ties and powers in high places, and when Satan with a troop of dark spirits tried to beat down the door of the will and get possession of the life. Hence it is that he listens with patience and pity, and is able to give helpful counsel to those who have been bewildered, saddened and hurt by the devil.
A third benefit accruing from temptation is humility.
To go down under the Tempter brings condemnation, self-abasement and gloom. To be tempted without yielding brings to the mind and heart a much better state of things. Humility is a beautiful plant to flourish in the soul, and God is pleased to allow temptation to be one of the means for its development. The conviction after many and varied temptations is certain to be wrought in the mind, that but for the grace of God we would have been overwhelmed a thousand times. If this does not make the soul feel lowly, then what effect is produced?
The emotion of grateful, humble joy which swept through the heart of a preacher in England, when he saw a drunkard staggering before him, and said, “There goes John Newton,” but for the grace of God, is the feeling of a man who has come successfully out of heavy temptations, under which many of his fellow creatures have fallen. He is glad but also humble, remembering who saved him, and how he was saved.
A fourth result of temptation is increased prayer and watchfulness.
A truly saved man learns to distrust himself. The strongest in the kingdom becomes more and more cautious, and realizes the need of supplicating as not all do, “Lead us not into temptation.” How full of significance in its very position in the prayer is the next sentence, “But deliver us from evil.” So truly is it the case with many that temptation ends in evil, and so properly self-distrustful becomes the very saintliest in the kingdom of Christ, that while recognizing the good which can and does come from temptation, yet the child of God very naturally and properly dreads each new and powerful temptation, and thinks with thankful joy of the life and world where no such things exist forever.
Hence the discovered weakness of human nature, and the power of Satanic influence drives the Christian to renewed and redoubled watchfulness and prayer.
It is said that a man is no stronger than his weakest point. If this is so, then truly all of us have need to watch and pray. Not to do so is to invite the world and the devil to take possession of us.
A fifth result is increased ability to help others.
It is a blessed thing to be able to assist immortal beings as they struggle through a thousand difficulties, discouragements, and besetments along the path of duty to heaven and eternal life. Happy indeed is the man who can speak the word which will put hope again in the sickened heart, and strength in the faltering feet. There are such people, and we have invariably observed that they are individuals who have been tossed about in many a spiritual storm, and walked in furnaces of fiercest moral trial.
If the reader will turn to the biographies of the most devout men he will be struck with their description of sore temptations, and dreadful personal attacks of Satan upon their souls, which would have swept them from their feet, but for their steadfast looking to Christ and calling on God. Concerning the preeminent usefulness of these men, history leaves not a shadow of doubt. To such Christian characters we would rather go for help in time of great spiritual trial than to any other class of God’s people.
When the writer felt the call to preach over twenty years ago, and with the call came all those bewilderments of mind, heart and conscience which Satan brings to confuse a man, he did a very foolish thing when he went for advice to a friend who was an unconverted man. How could a natural mind understand the things of God? The counsel he gave was of course absurd and could not be followed.
Equally great will be the failure to obtain information, comfort and strength in times of deep spiritual gloom from some converted people. They have not been where you have been. They have not prayed, suffered and achieved enough in the Christian life to bring the devils in great awful rushes of darkness down upon them. The words Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha only refer to historic sites to them. So they do not know what you mean when you speak of soul travail and spirit desolation.
Some temptations told to one of these rocking-chair, or hothouse plant kind of Christians would fairly take the breath from him or her, and he would think you had never been regenerated.
Who of us have not heard the following expressions from the canton-flannel and catnip-tea kind of religious character, as he or she speaks to a faithful and successful worker in the gospel:
“What! You tempted!”
Just as well might one say to a captain or colonel who led the charge in a great battle:
“What! You shot at!”
Yes, of course he was shot at; and one hundred more guns were pointed at him than at any single soldier in the ranks; and the numerous bullets were fired because he was a captain or leader.
An illustration arises in my mind. It is another scene in a barnyard. A young bantam is sitting on top of a chicken coops giving a lecture to some old motherly hens about how to avoid contracting the disease called the “pip.” An old rooster with one eye gone is half dozing and half listening from under a neighboring hayrack. At times his head is turned thoughtfully to one side, and again his remaining eye scans the heavens for a hawk. He lost his eye in a fight with an owl one night; and most of his tail feathers in a struggle with a mink; besides he has run miles and miles in his life to save his carcass from the dinner pot. He has had many battles and victories in his line for years, and has a glorious right to crow, and does crow. But the bantam lecture seems to be too much for him this afternoon, and as he listens he appears to be too full for utterance. But my! how much more he knows about things in particular as well as in general than the little Bantam Theologue and Preacher on the coop. The “gaps” and “pip” do not been so dreadful to him who had two dogs, a mink and a darky all after him in one night. In a word, for perfect information about hawks, eagles, owls, weasels and other enemies of the barnyard, it would be better to go to the old rooster than to the young bantam.
Ever since the writer has been a Christian he has felt that the battle-scarred veterans of the cross, the men and women who have had frequent and awful fights with Satan, were the best counselors, and so he always went to them, and invariably realized help and comfort. Many and varied temptations had prepared them to be helpers indeed.
There are some Christians of a bandbox and lavender style of piety, and they are preachers of a feminine make-up as to constitution, temperament and habits of life, and are perfectly powerless to assist certain classes of their fellowmen, because utterly unfamiliar with their peculiar trials and temptations.
As to soul edification and life deliverance give me the Christian to talk to who has fought the owls, hawks and weasels of hell and ran many a time to save his soul from the black dinner pots of the devil.
All this being so, we can see the deeper, fiercer and more varied the temptations are which come into one’s life; and the man does not fall under them, but “endures” them, the more is he fitted to become a kind of human high priest among men. Like his Lord he is touched with pity for others, has compassion on the ignorant and on them who are out of the way, and finds himself a consoler of human sorrow, a helper of the weak and tempted, and a blesser of his race in many ways every day that he lives.
A sixth benefit from temptation is a constantly increased spiritual strength.
Of course we do not mean temptation that is yielded to, but endured, resisted and overcome.
With every trimuph in this line comes not only a sweet and delicious inward joy, but a realization of growing power. In this manner we go from strength to strength in no way can we more quickly come into greater measures of spiritual vigor than by victory over temptation. It is the gymnasium where moral muscle is developed, or the campaign experience which makes the veteran.
We read that David first killed a bear, after that a lion, and later still a giant. So it is still; we begin with small victories, but we grow mightier with every triumph and finally get to slaying giants easily.
Under such a progressive life, the things which moved us a few months or years ago cannot do so now. Plains are traversed, rivers crossed and mountains climbed we once thought impassable and insurmountable. A wall is leaped over, a troop is run through or overcome, Satan’s attempted bonds are snapped like thread, and the head fastened to the wall is jerked triumphantly away carrying pin and beam with it.
Suppose it was so, that the strength of every conquered athlete should go into the victor: then by and by who could stand before him! And suppose that the physical force of every animal slain would go into the body of the hunter and slayer; what a marvel of physical power the man would become, and nothing could withstand his onset.
Something like this takes place in the spiritual life. The force of the thing conquered becomes in a deep wonderful sense our own; and with every new triumph we advance still farther with increasing strength, until finally with bears, lions and giants conquered and dead behind us, and filled with a blessed sense of victory over every new foe, and all foes, we cry with John, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” and “who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”