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THE RIGHT USE OF REST AFTER TRIAL.
“Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.”
AFTER the temptation of our Lord was ended, St. Luke says, the devil “departed from Him for a season,”8686 St. Luke iv. 13. implying that in some form or other Satan was still hovering about His path. And the forty days of fasting being now over, He was an hungered, faint, wearied in flesh and spirit, with the long and sore conflict He had endured. In this season of peace, angels came and ministered strength and refreshment to Him. What heavenly communications they made to His exhausted soul, it is not for us to imagine. In the wilderness of Sinai “man did eat angels’ food.” In this desert, the Son of Man, “the true bread which came 162down from heaven,” was strengthened with the bread of God.
Now from this we may learn a lesson applicable to our own case, namely, that after temptations resisted, there come seasons of peculiar rest: “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.”8787 Acts iii. 19. The mere cessation of active trial is in itself an unspeakable relief. So long as the tumult is kept up within, we are worn, anxious, and depressed. The vividness of evil thoughts and affections, the mistrust and repining of our hearts, the useless and incessant chafing of our desires against our conscience, the beating of strong wishes against a clear consciousness of impossibility or of a divine prohibition—all these make a torment within, to which hardly any other sorrow can be compared. At such times all other affections of the soul are confounded. We seem pent up into one thought, which besets our whole mind. Such a season of temptation is a time of havoc and disorder, even in those who come off with the mastery at last. Now the mere passing away of this is a refreshment, like the waking up out of a troubled dream, and finding it to be without reality. When the tempter is departed, the trial is passed, and we are full of peace. We have a keener perception of God’s love shed abroad in us, a consciousness of 163having overcome in the strength of Christ. It seems as if “angels came and ministered unto” us out of the depth of heavenly consolation.
Now such is God’s gracious way of dealing with us. After our trial comes rest; after our sorrow comes refreshment. But there are peculiar dangers attending this blessed change; and we have hardly less need to watch when our temptation is ended, than while it is yet upon us. And this we will go on to consider.
1. First, we are in danger of losing the impressions and state of heart which the suffering of temptation forms within us. While the trial is upon us, we are wakened up to a trembling and lively sense of our own weakness, and of the subtilty and strength of our unseen antagonist. The thought of being closely and personally assaulted by an evil angel is awful. We feel darkened by the thought of spiritual wickedness hanging over us. We do not know in what the trial may issue at last; how fearfully we may be entangled, or put to open shame, We summon up before our minds all manner of dark contingencies and afflicting visions of falls and abasement; and how we shall stand in the sight of the world with a brand which nothing can conceal. This sense of self-mistrust and fear at the presence and power of Satan, miserable and oppressive as it is, nevertheless 164is very salutary. It produces great quickness and tenderness of conscience, sensitiveness, and vigilance over the purity of our hearts, a quick perception of our own hidden sinfulness, of the great discord between our fair outward seeming and our real inward state; and all this makes us, for the time, peculiarly forbearing to others, gentle, enduring, afraid of impatience, or of a motion of resentful temper. We cannot bear our wonted high words, lofty looks, fierce tones, uncharitable thoughts. Above all, there is no time in which our prayers are more frequent and earnest, our self-examination deeper, our desires more importunate and sincere. The posture of our mind is less worldly, slothful, secure. Our whole inward life is braced up by a kind of tension of all its gifts and powers: if I may say so, it is more saintly than at other times. Such, I say, are the effects of a present temptation against which we are sincerely contending. The danger is, lest this be not the character of the mind itself, but a mere antagonism; lest it be only an attitude, an accidental posture related to the presence of our spiritual adversary, and therefore existing only so long as he is about us. Of course, even in the strongest and most self-possessed Christians, the presence of temptation will add intensity, consciousness, and effort, to their habitual state. This must be so, 165and is not blameworthy. But it is dangerous when it is chiefly so; when the greater part is the accidental, and the habitual the less. For then, as soon as the danger seems past, a still more dangerous security comes on. Our feelings grow less active; we think we have exaggerated our peril, that we have made excessive efforts and needless resolutions; our watchfulness over ourselves relaxes; the thoughts of our hearts are less taxed, our tempers less guarded, our prayers fainter or fewer; our whole state let down some degrees of intensity, and our whole posture of mind inclines to relaxation. So hard is it to use God’s gifts rightly and thankfully. When the tempter is departed, we forget him; when angels minister to us, we turn our consolations into dangers, and our rest into a declension.
2. The next danger of this time of peace is that our old state, in which the temptation found us at first, returns; and yet it is seldom altogether so well with us as before. Temptations are sent or permitted for many reasons: to try us, to humble us, to purify us, to waken us up out of lukewarmness, to kindle us with greater fervour of devotion, to form in us a higher tone of character, and to perpetuate it. When the temptation is gone, its effects ought still to survive. The fruits of the discipline are designed to be an abiding grace in our 166souls. Whatsoever be the peculiar temptation, it was no doubt designed to elicit and establish in us the antagonist grace. If we have been tempted to pride, it was to leave us rooted in humility; if to worldliness, it was to perfect in us a deadness to the gifts of life; if it was excess of any kind, it was to chasten us into definite rules, strong resolutions, habitual self-denial; and so on. If, with the temptation, these also pass away, we shall but have suffered in vain, or rather for the worse. For, first, our old character will rise again to the surface; our old pride, self-consciousness, self-esteem, uncharitableness, luxury, softness, will come out again, encouraged by the return of calm, the absence of fear, and even stimulated by repression. They have been rather irritated than subdued; and a strange self-complacency spreads itself in our minds after a season of self-discipline, on the strength of which we take a larger measure of freedom. For instance, we think ourselves secure from censoriousness if, while we say sharp things of others, we have a consciousness of the sin of being censorious still present in our minds; or we think that the rest we enjoy is an indication from God that we may indulge it, forgetting that all peace must be of God’s giving, not of our taking. Or again, after self-denial, such as fasting, we consciously allow ourselves a freer diet, as if it were neutralised 167by past abstinence. Such are the strange compositions we make with our consciences; and the effect is to destroy the simplicity of our acts and the purity of our intentions, to make us refined and casuistical in plain duties, and so to prepare us to be deluded by the return of temptation.
3. And once more: another danger is, that active temptations return as it were from the opposite side. Sometimes, indeed, the very same comes back upon an unwary mind, almost as soon as it seems to be gone, with a force sudden and sevenfold, and fairly carries all before it. We may have held out for a week under provocation, until the trial seemed over, and then some unlooked-for event has kindled the anger of seven days in one, and “the last state is worse than the first.” So it is in other temptations. But gene rally it seems that the manifold versatility of Satan changes the avenues of approach and the form of his attack. It is but a feint to call all our watchfulness to one point, and then to assault us in another. People who have overcome temptation to worldliness often become pharisaical—luxurious people miserly; they who have been humbling themselves with fasting become complacent at the half-admitted suggestion of their humility; or again, pure minds may become proud, severe spirits harsh and unsympathising. Such are our infirmities; so 168are we surrounded by temptation, that we often do but make exchanges of the sins of boyhood for the sins of youth, the sins of youth for the sins of old age, the sins of the flesh for the sins of the spirit, and of spiritual sins one for another; the more visible for the less perceived, the lower for the more sublime. Such is our wonderful and fearful nature, it revolves in a circle with an instability and a speed so great, that we rise and fall by an inward motion of the heart: at our highest we are nearest to a change, and our changes are often diametrical and extreme. Verily it is an awful saying, “There are first which shall be last, and last which shall be first.” “I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” Such as the speed of his fall, such of tentimes is ours; and as his was from heaven to earth, so is ours from the highest aspiration to the lowest abasement.
Now it will seem, perhaps, paradoxical to say that times of temptation are times of safety. Yet there is a truth in it. And it is true thus far:—Temptations that are resisted become a whole some and searching discipline. Unresisted temptations, or temptations only faintly opposed, of course tend simply to perdition. These are excluded from our present subject by the very terms of it. We are speaking of Him who bruised Satan under His feet, and of those who, like Him and in Him, “resist 169the devil.” I have already said what is the temper and posture of mind which temptations produce in us; and also that it is doubtless the design of God, in suffering us to be so tried, that the spiritual state elicited in the season of temptation should become habitual, and abide as a gift of grace in us for ever. It may be, that to beings once fallen, the pain and toil of this warfare is the only way to perfect strength and purity. For our sanctification is the expulsion of evil from the will, under the help of God’s Spirit, by its own energies and acts. Every temptation overcome is such an act of expulsion, and therefore tends to our perfect cleansing.
Of this we are very certain, that at no time is the protection of angels and the help of God more near to us than when “the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.”8888 Isaiah xxv. 4. At no time is the providence of God more directly pointed upon us than when snares are being spread around our feet: nor does the intercession of our blessed Lord, who, through temptation, knows “how to succour them that are tempted,” ever prevail more mightily by His infinite merits than when the “hour and the power of darkness” is upon our souls. Peter was our type: and all that are tempted were in him, when our gracious Master 170said, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”8989 St. Luke xxii. 31, 32.
Strange, indeed, through our perversity, that dangers should come with the cessation of danger; that rest, peace, refreshing, quietness, should become perils. Yet so, in truth, they too often are. We are most liable to temptation at times when we think ourselves least likely to be overcome; for instance, when things have been going on smoothly; when we have been long unmolested by assaults; when we have overcome some solicitations to things unlawful or inexpedient; when we have done acts, or made resolutions, of higher devotion; when we have been reading and adopting in intention the example of saints; when we have been using high and great words of sanctity and of the cross; when we have done acts of charity, mercy, faith, and have the gladness of them still upon our hearts; when we have been highly accepted and owned of God in our prayers, or at the holy Eucharist, as Christ at His baptism, just before He was tempted: all these are times when we have need to watch with tenfold care, lest, through our slackness of security, peace should be more dangerous to us than temptation.171
Let us, then, consider how we ought to use this peace which follows upon a season of trial.
First, we ought to use it for a particular retrospect of the circumstances of our temptation. So long as the trial lasts, we are less able to take a true view of our case. We ought closely to ascertain what were the avenues by which the temptation came upon us; what occasions, or salient points, or positions of vantage, we gave to the tempter; what were our thoughts and dispositions of mind before it made its approach; what were our intentions; what were its symptoms and effects. And in all this we shall generally find the spiritual discernment and guidance of another more penetrating than our own. And the act of laying it open will bring with it that which will tend to check our relapse into a like condition.
Next, it will be necessary for us to make such resolutions of self-discipline, as shall cut off the occasion of which temptation took advantage before. Sometimes this may not be wholly possible; but in a great number of cases it will be. The perpetuating of any one resolution made at such a time will be a continual memorial of warning and admonition.
Again: the acts of prayer and humiliation used by us in a season of temptation may either wholly or in part be continued, and joined to our 172daily devotions. Again: the day on which we were tempted may be noted in every year, or in every week: and the subject-matter of our trial be made a topic of self-examination, confession, self-denial.
And, once more; if others were involved with ourselves, either directly or indirectly, as in cases of unkindness or selfishness; or if others have been doubtfully affected by our example, as in cases of a more public temptation,—we ought to endeavour, by acts of humility and charity towards them, and by praying for them that they may be kept from all evil, to undo the ill effect we may have caused.
And, also, we ought thenceforward to set ourselves to the especial mortification of that particular sin which our temptation has revealed to us. Religious people often hinder their own advancement by a vague, indefinite manner of conducting their personal religion. They aim at too much at once; and so do nothing deeply. Let us overcome one temptation, mortify one evil desire, and the effect will be felt throughout our whole character. The habit of self-denial, patience, and endurance, is the same in all; let it be well learned in one particular, and not only will that temptation be weaker, but we in ourselves shall be stronger to subdue all that remain.
2. But by thus confining ourselves to the details 173of the particular temptation, we shall not hinder our learning a deeper lesson of the universal weakness of our nature, and of its susceptibility on all sides of being tempted. It is a very bitter and humbling truth, that after many years of a religious life we may be dangerously assailed even by sins which we had overcome, as we thought, at the very outset of our conversion to God. Yet so it is: after years of prayer, strict regularity, unblemished reputation, good works, alms, fastings, contemplation, all our religious professions will sometimes grow lofty and unsteady, and old sins, long ago forgotten, and never so much as thought of, make their re-appearance. So weak and unstable is our nature; so subtil and tenacious is sin; so rare is an entire conversion of the heart to God; so seldom is the foundation of the character laid deeply enough in perfect humility. We shall generally find that the point in which we have been tempted is not the only vulnerable point of our character; often not that which is chiefly so: that it was by the force of circumstances we were exposed to this or that particular temptation; and that in truth we might have been tempted in many other ways, and with more fearful success, as we have points really weaker, which were happily not attacked. It is a humbling truth to most of us who may think we have gained for ourselves a right 174to use the language of saints, that the greater part of our virtue is in the absence of temptation. Now this is a lesson we ought, as soon as we have respite from trial, to set ourselves thoroughly to master. Let us pray God to give us light to see the universal weakness of our fallen nature; our awful proneness to offend. Perhaps if we had not been tempted, we should have fallen; that is, if we had not been made aware of our weakness, we should have insensibly declined until we had met some heavier fall. Therefore, in His mercy, He suffers us to go so near to the point of being overcome, that our fear and shame can hardly be greater; and then, when we are penetrated with a sense of danger and of horror, He interposes and saves us when of ourselves we should be lost. How many seeds of evil lie sleeping in us with the same imperishable vitality we see in the outward world, waiting only for stimulants to unfold it into life! The sins of our years before we repented, the sins of our childhood, are still virtually in our spiritual nature, held in check often by a weak and almost a broken thread of discipline, ready to reappear with the aggravations of our maturer state of light and profession. This is a truth we have need thoroughly and mournfully to learn.
3. And lastly, we ought to set ourselves to deepen the whole habit of our devotion: our humiliations, 175abstinence, fasting, meditation, prayers, especially in our approaches to the holy Communion. Without doubt, the trial from which we have escaped was permitted as a warning to chasten us into a more fervent spirit. By it we ought to gain at least one degree of advance in holy living. It found us lukewarm, let it leave us fervent; it found us armed only in part, let it leave us clad in “the whole armour of God.” There is much deep significance in St. Paul’s charge to the Ephesians. “Be strong,” he says, “in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Why does he say so emphatically “the whole armour,” but because with out it we are wholly naked: because our forefather stripped himself and us of all the glory which was our defence:9090 Isaiah iv. 5. we were laid open in body and soul, eyes and ears, hand and heart, desire and will; and sin had entrance on all sides. We have universal need of this impenetrable mail, and can spare no part of it. “Wherefore,” he says again, “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 176with 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.”9191 Ephes. vi. 10-11, 13-17. It is a complete coat of mail, having in it a perfectness, leaving no part unarmed, covering the whole man; a girdle, a breastplate, sandals, shield, helmet, sword: what does this mean but the unity and perfectness of sanctity, the entire conversion and full devotion of the soul to God? This shews us how all His saints have overcome, and sat down in His throne. They were armed at all points; they counted no part of obedience or devotion small or of little import, knowing that the smallest imperfection will mar a whole defence; and that the whole armour is no stronger than its weakest part, that one breach will unlock a whole position. Therefore, if we enter upon a devout life, we must not do it by halves, but with decision. There must be no reserves, but a full surrender of ourselves, to be wholly sanctified “in spirit, and soul, and body.” Such was the life of Abraham and Joseph, Moses and Daniel, apostles and saints, and of all whose warfare is ended, who have put off the armour of the cross, and put on the white raiment, where rest has no more dangers.177
And we see also how it is that so many are overcome. Because they have armed themselves only in part. There is something wanting in their moral habit; some sin unmortified; some lust still living and importunate; or there was some neglect in their rule of devotion; in prayer or confession, or reading, or meditation, or self-knowledge; some thing left undone which leaves them naked in the day of battle.
This, then, is the use to which we should apply the seasons of rest following on our times of trial; to repair what has been marred in our conflict; to deepen and multiply our defences on every side; to renew the perfectness of our spiritual armour; by cutting off occasions of which sin has taken advantage; by binding ourselves with stricter resolves; by deepening our exercises of humiliation, prolonging our seasons of prayer, multiplying our works of charity; by watching more intently over the workings of our whole spiritual life, and devoting ourselves, with more perfect deadness and renunciation of the world and of our own will, to God. There is a time at hand when angels shall minister to them that overcome, in the paradise of God. There rest and refreshing shall be unbroken and eternal. Meanwhile we must endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
Let us, then, when we can, flee temptation 178with all fear; but if at any time you be encompassed by it, then turn, and cast your fear aside. “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.”9292 St. James i. 12. Here is a benediction and a crown. “The God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”9393 1 St. Peter v. 10. Here is strength and quietness. “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”9494 Rev. ii. 10. Here is our Helper. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Here is our safety. “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”9595 Rev. iii. 10, 11.179
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