We're making big changes. Please try out the beta site at beta.ccel.org and send us feedback. Thank you!
« Prev Chapter VIII. The Source of Temptations and the… Next »

89

CHAPTER VIII.
THE SOURCE OF TEMPTATIONS AND THE REALITY OF SIN.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE DETERMINIST.

"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love Him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death. Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures."—St. James i. 12-18.

After the slight digression respecting the short-lived glory of the rich man, St. James returns once more to the subject with which the letter opens—the blessing of trials and temptations as opportunities of patience, and the blessedness of the man who endures them, and thus earns "the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love Him." These last words are very interesting as being a record of some utterance of Christ's not preserved in the Gospels, of which we have perhaps other traces elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Pet. v. 4; Rev. ii. 10; 2 Tim. iv. 8).4545   In the Acta Philippi, Apocal. Apocr., ed. Tischendorf, p. 147, we have, "Blessed is he who hath his raiment white; for he it is who receiveth the crown of joy." See A. Resch, Agrapha; Aussercanonische Evangelienfragmente (Leipzig, 1889), p. 254. They 90 imply a principle which qualifies what goes before, and leads on to what follows. The mere endurance of temptations and afflictions will not win the promised crown, unless temptations are withstood, and afflictions endured in the right spirit. The proud self-reliance and self-repression of the Stoic has nothing meritorious about it. These trials must be met in a spirit of loving trust in the God who sends or allows them. It is only those who love and trust God who have the right to expect anything from His bounty. This St. James continually insists on. Let not the double-minded man, with his affections and loyalty divided between God and Mammon, "think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (i. 7). God has chosen the poor who are "rich in faith" to be "heirs of the kingdom which He promised to them that love Him" (ii. 5). And this love of God is quite incompatible with love of the world. "Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God" (iv. 4).

It is the loving withstanding of temptation, then, that wins the crown of life: the mere being tempted tends rather to death. "Lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death." With these facts before him, the loving Christian will never say, when temptations come, that they come from God. It cannot be God's will to seduce him from the path of life to the path of death. The existence of temptations is no just ground of complaint against God. Such complaints are an attempt to shift the blame from himself to his Creator. The temptations proceed, not from God, but from the man's own evil nature; a nature which God created stainless, 91 but which man of his own free will has debased. To tempt is to try to lead astray; and one has only to understand the word in its true sense to see how impossible it is that God should become a tempter. By a simple but telling opposition of words St. James indicates where the blame lies. God "Himself tempteth no man (πειράζει δὲ αὐτὸς οὐδένα); but each man is tempted when by his own lust he is drawn away and enticed" (ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας ἐξελκόμενος καὶ δελεαζόμενος). It is his own evil desire which plays the part of the temptress, drawing him out from his place of safety by the enticement of sinful pleasure.4646   The punctuation and order of words in both A.V. and R.V. seem to be faulty: "enticed," quite as much as "drawn away," belongs to "by his own lust." Moreover, the metaphor is not seduction from the right road, but alluring out of security into danger. So that the fault is in a sense doubly his. The desire which tempts proceeds from his own evil nature, and the will which consents to the temptress is his own. Throughout the passage St. James represents the evil desire as playing the part of Potiphar's wife. The man who withstands such temptation is winning the promised crown of life; the man who yields has for the offspring of his error death. The one result is in accordance with God's will, as is proved by His promising and bestowing the crown; the other is not, but is the natural and known consequence of the man's own act.

At the present time there is a vehement effort being made in some quarters to shift the blame of man's wrong-doing, if not on to God (and He is commonly left out of the account, as unknown or non-existing), at any rate on to those natural laws which determine phenomena. We are asked to believe that such ideas 92 as moral freedom and responsibility are mere chimæras, and that the first thing which a reasonable person has to do, in raising himself to a higher level, is to get rid of them. He is to convince himself that character and conduct are the necessarily evolved result of inherited endowments, developed in certain circumstances, over neither of which the man has any control. He did not select the qualities of body and mind which he received from his parents, and he did not make the circumstances in which he has had to live since his birth. He could no more help acting as he did on any given occasion than he could help the size of his heart or the colour of his brain. He is no more responsible for the acts which he produces than a tree is responsible for its leaves. And of all senseless delusions and senseless wastes of power, those which are involved in the feeling of remorse are the worst. In remorse we wring our hands over deeds which we could not possibly have avoided doing, and reproach ourselves for emitting what we could not by any possibility have done. Ethiopians might as reasonably blame themselves for their black skins, or be conscience-stricken for not having golden hair, as any human being feel remorse for what he has done or left undone in the past. Whatever folly a man may have committed, he eclipses it all by the folly of self-reproach.

Positivism will indeed have worked marvels when it has driven remorse out of the world; and until it has succeeded in doing so, it will remain confronted by an unanswerable proof—as universal as the humanity which it professes to worship—that its moral system is based upon a falsehood. Whether or no we admit the belief in a God, the fact of self-reproach in every human heart remains to be accounted for. And it is 93 a fact of the most enormous proportions. Think of the years of mental agony and moral torture which countless numbers of the human race have endured since man became a living soul, because men have invariably reproached themselves with the folly and wickedness which they have committed. Think of the exquisite suffering which remorse has inflicted on every human being who has reached years of reflexion. Think of the untold misery which the misdeeds of men have inflicted upon those who love and would fain respect them. It may be doubted whether all other forms of human suffering, whether mental or bodily, are more than as a drop in the ocean, compared with the agonies which have been endured through the gnawing pangs of remorse for personal misconduct, and of shame and grief for the misconduct of friends and relations. And if the Determinist is right, all this mental torture, with its myriad stabs and stings through centuries of centuries, is based on a monstrous delusion. These bitter reproachers of themselves and of those dearest to them might have been spared it all, if only they had known that not one of the acts thus blamed and lamented in tears of blood could have been avoided.

Certainly the Positivist, who shuts God out from his consideration, has a difficult problem to solve, when he is asked how he accounts for a delusion so vast, so universal, and so horrible in its consequences; and we do not wonder that he should exhaust all the powers of rhetoric and invective in the attempt to exorcize it. But his difficulty is as nothing compared with the difficulties of a thinker who endeavours to combine Determinism with Theism, and even with Christianity. What sort of a God can He be who has allowed, who 94 has even ordained, that every human heart should be wrung with this needless, senseless agony? Has any savage, any inquisitor, ever devised torture so diabolical? And what kind of a Saviour and Redeemer can He be who has come from heaven, and returned thither again, without saying one word to free men from their blind, self-inflicted agonies; who, on the contrary, has said many things to confirm them in their delusions? Whence came moral evil and the pangs of remorse, if there is no such thing as free will? They must have been fore-ordained and created by God. The Theist has no escape from that. If God made man free, and man by misusing his freedom brought sin into the world, and remorse as a punishment for sin, then we have some explanation of the mystery of evil. God neither willed it nor created it; it was the offspring of a free and rebellious will. But if man was never free, and there is no such thing as sin, then the madman gnawing his own limbs in his frenzy is a reasonable being and a joyous sight, compared with the man who gnaws his own heart in remorse for the deeds which the inexorable laws of his own nature compelled him, and still compel him, to commit.

Is there, or is there not, such a thing as sin? That is the question which lies at the bottom of the error against which St. James warns his readers, and of the doctrines which are advocated at the present time by Positivists and all who deny the reality of human freedom and responsibility. To say that when we are tempted we are tempted by God, or that the Power which brought us into existence has given us no freedom to refuse the evil and to choose the good, is to say that sin is a figment of the human mind, and that a conscious revolt of the human mind against the 95 power of holiness is impossible. On such a question the appeal to human language, of which Aristotle is so fond, seems to be eminently suitable; and the verdict which it gives is overwhelming. There is probably no language, there is certainly no civilized language, which has no word to express the idea of sin. If sin is an illusion, how came the whole human race to believe in it, and to frame a word to express it?4747   See R. H. Hutton on The Service of Man, in the Contemporary Review, April, 1887, p. 492. Can we point to any other word in universal, or even very general use, which nevertheless represents a mere chimæra, believed in as real, but actually non-existent? And let us remember that this is no case in which self-interest, which so fatally warps our judgment, can have led the whole human race astray. Self-interest would lead us entirely in the opposite direction. There is no human being who would not enthusiastically welcome the belief that what seem to him to be grievous sins are no more a matter of reproach to him than the beatings of his heart or the winkings of his eyes. Sometimes the conscience-stricken offender, in his efforts to excuse his acts before the judgment-seat of his higher self, tries to believe this. Sometimes the Determinist philosopher endeavours to prove to him that he ought to believe it. But the stern facts of his own nature and the bitter outcome of all human experience are too strong for such attempts. In spite of all specious excuses, and all plausible statements of philosophic difficulties, his conscience and his consciousness compel him to confess, "It was my own lust that enticed me, and my own will that consented."

How serious St. James considers the error of attempting to make God responsible for our temptations is 96 shown both by the earnest and affectionate insertion of "Be not deceived,4848   Or, "led astray" (πλανᾶσθε). The word implies fundamental departure from the truth (v. 19; John vii. 47; 1 John i. 8; ii. 26; iii. 7; Rev. xviii. 23). my beloved brethren," and also by the pains which he takes to disprove the error. After having shown the true source of temptation, and explained the way in which sin and death are generated, he points out how incredible it is on other grounds that God should become a tempter. How can the Source of every good gift and every perfect boon4949   The words form an hexameter in the original, which may be either accidental or a quotation: πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τελειον ("Every gift that is good, and every boon that is perfect"). be also a source of temptations to sin? How can the Father of lights be one who would lead away His creatures into darkness? If what we know of human nature ought to tell us whence temptations to sin are likely to come, what we know of God's nature and of His dealings with mankind ought to tell us whence such things are not likely to come.

And He is far above those heavenly luminaries of which He is the Author. They are not always bright, and are therefore very imperfect symbols of His holiness. In their revolutions they are sometimes overshadowed. The moon is not always at the full, the sun is sometimes eclipsed, and the stars suffer changes in like manner. In Him there is no change, no loss of light, no encroachment of shadow. There is never a time at which one could say that through momentary diminution in holiness it had become possible for Him to become a tempter.

Nor are the brightness and beneficence which pervade the material universe the chief proofs of God's goodness 97 and of the impossibility of temptations to sin proceeding from Him. It was "of His own will" that He rescued mankind from the state of death into which their rebellious wills had brought them, and by a new revelation of Himself in "the Word of truth," i.e. the Gospel, brought them forth again, born anew as Christians, to be, like the first-born under the Law, "a kind of first-fruits of His creatures."5050   See F. D. Maurice, Unity of the N.T. (Parker, 1854), pp. 320-23.

When, therefore, we sum up all the known facts of the case, there is only one conclusion at which we can justly arrive. There is the nature of God, so far as it is known to us, utterly opposed to evil. There is the nature of man, as it has been debased by himself, constantly bringing forth evil. There is God's goodness, as manifested in the creation of the universe and in the regeneration of man. It is a hopeless case to try to banish remorse by making God responsible for man's temptations and sin.

There is only one way of getting rid of remorse, and that is to confess sin—to confess its reality, to confess it to God, and if need be to man. No man ever yet succeeded in justifying himself by laying the blame of his sins on God. But he may do so by laying the sins themselves upon "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world," and by washing his stained robes, "and making them white in the blood of the Lamb." That done, remorse will have no power over him; and instead of fruitlessly accusing God, and seeking vain substitutes for the service of God, he will humbly "give Him glory," and "serve Him day and night in His temple" (Joshua vii. 19; Rev. vii. 15).

98

Note.—The difficult expression (τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα) rendered in the Authorized Version "shadow of turning," and in the Revised "shadow that is cast by turning," has received a great variety of translations and explanations. The Old Latin, modicum obumbrationis, like the Greek commentators, makes ἀποσκίασμα = σκιά = "shade, trace, small amount." It is doubtful whether the rare compound ἀποσκίασμα ever acquired this meaning; but the opinion of Greeks on this point is of great weight, and certainly this meaning makes good sense. The Vulgate, vicissitudinis obumbratio, is as difficult as the Greek; and Augustine's momenti obumbratio comes from the false reading ῥοπῆς. "Shadow cast by turning" does not seem to be very helpful, whether we interpret "turning" to mean the revolutions of the sun or of the earth, or the changes of nature generally. Perhaps the genitive is the genitive of quality, "shadow of change" for "changing shadow;" so Stier and Theil, wechselnde Beschattung, and Stolz abwechselnde Verdunkelung. Comp. ἀκροατὴς ἐπιλησμονῆς (i. 25), and, see the Expositor, Sept. 1889, pp. 228-30.


« Prev Chapter VIII. The Source of Temptations and the… Next »



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |