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St. Matthew iv. 5-7.
" Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him
on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto Hin, If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
THERE seems to be a manifold cunning in this invitation of the tempter.
“ He setteth Him upon the pinnacle of the temple,” from which no mere man could cast himself and live. He bade Him cast Himself down; scheming either to destroy the person of the Son of God, or to discover His character and power. And yet he so shaped his proposal as to insinuate an imagination of intense spiritual evil.
The pretext suggested in this temptation by the devil to our Lord was, that the Sonship of the true Messiah and the promises of God were a pledge to secure Him from all evil. "If Thou be the Son of God,' He will take care of Thee : His angels shall bear Thee up.” From this we may gather what was the evil to which Satan tempted the Saviour of the world. It appears to suggest a presumptuous depend
ence on God in things where He has not promised to extend it: and a consequent presumption in running into dangers. And this, after all, will be found to resolve itself into a temptation to self-confidence. “If Thou be the Son of God:” this was the chief plea. •If Thou be, all must be safe to Thee. Ministering angels wait upon Thee. Nothing can work Thee harm.'
We may take this as a type of a very subtil and dangerous class of temptations; those, I mean, which beset persons of a truly religious life. When people have lived for many years in the daily practice of religion, and have been long free from habits of transgression, dangers of a new kind begin to surround them. Whatever is habitual has a tendency to become unconscious, and whatever is unconscious is liable to sudden or vehement surprises. The very freedom such people enjoy from ordinary temp tations, the clearness of their daily path, makes them to feel like men dwelling in peace in a country once infestel with enemies, but now long ago cleared of them. When we are at peace, we do not bar and fortify our dwellings, as if we were in a country swept by warfare. We throw down our walls and strongholds. We dwell securely each man under his vine and under his fig-tree. So it is in religion. After a
After a course of repentance, and the hard struggle of conversion to God, we find ourselves at large. After the “ winds and the sea” are fallen, “there is a great calm.” It is a blessed state, full of quiet and refreshing; full of calm acquiescence in our lot, and of unexcited joy in the service of God, in self-denials and prayers, in frequenting the offices of the Church, and the holy sacraments. There grows every day a fuller persuasion that the point is turned ; the great work over; our lot sealed; that God loves us, and has “brought us nigh unto " Him
self; that we have passed from death unto life, and are His sons.
And all this is most true : Blessed be God. But there are certain habits of mind which go with such a state ; and to these habits certain peculiar temptations are incident.
I. First, people who are really religious sometimes trust in God's keeping, without considering the limits and conditions under which that keeping is promised to them. It is not promised absolutely, as if they should be safe anywhere or in any thing, go where they may, do what they will. Neither are they extravagant enough to think so. They know very clearly that they have no warrant to look for His keeping, if they should go out of the path of duty, or run themselves into temptation. All deliberate courting of the tempter they know does at once cancel God's promise of protection; and yet the very clearness of this truth somehow deceives them. Because it is so clear, they feel confident that they can never act in defiance of it; and therefore that this or that particular line which they are entering upon is not in defiance of it. It is very certain, however, that people someway advanced in a religious life do exceed these conditions, and find it afterwards to their sorrow, when some great fall has broken their security, and filled them with a sudden confusion. It is all then, in a moment, clear and plain, as if a veil had suddenly fallen, and their eyes were opened to behold their shame.
II. Again, the reason why they make these dangerous mistakes is, that, through habitual practice of the system of personal religion, which belongs to their lot in life, they sometimes become self-trusting ; not expressly, perhaps, as if they did not know that God alone is their support, but virtually and by implication. For instance, we trust to our first impressions of what is right and wrong, safe or
dangerous, expedient or inexpedient.
We believe our judgment to be as sound as our intentions; and that our religion is a second nature, of which the impulses and instincts have come to supersede forethought and deliberation; that they may be trusted without much scrutiny. We think ourselves out of the danger of such temptations as have long failed to overcome us: so that either they will not approach us, or that, if they do, we should certainly overcome them. A multitude of sins we feel that we are in no danger of being tempted to commit. They are so contrary to our whole life; to our formed habits; to our every thought ; would do so great a violence to our inmost nature ; our time is so much spent in reproving and trying to correct the same in others, that we should be almost inclined to laugh if any one should warn us against them.
Nevertheless, it does happen, and that not unfrequently, that really religious people fall into those very sins against which they believe themselves altogether proof. God in His mercy suffers them to find out their self-confidence, by a fall which breaks them asunder. They wake up, to find that they have been walking upon the brink of endless dangers; that Satan has beset all their path with snares ; that all the while he has ceased to tempt them, he has been lulling them into security, bribing them to take off their outposts and watches; and, at the same time, he has been laying traps and digging pitfalls on every side, so that they can scarce turn without falling into a snare. Perhaps nothing short of a heavy fall would open their eyes; nothing less would kindle the self-reproach and the shame which must abase their pride, and teach them their own utter helplessness, and the tenderness with which they ought to handle the sins of other men. There is an ingratitude in self-confidence; a forgetfulness of God, by whom alone
we stand. It is like the self-complacency of Herod, when he made his oration unto the people ;* or the self-exaltation of Nebuchadnezzar, when he “ walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon, ... and said, Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty ?''+ For these things God brings us down, leaving us to ourselves. He withdraws His hand; and we fall heavily, and become a byword and a reproach. They that sit in the gate speak against" us, “and the drunkards make songs upon” us. I
One great fall makes the scales to drop from men's eyes, and they see themselves surrounded by the danger of many worse; that this is perhaps the least, yet it is very stunning. They see how far they have ventured into dangerous ways; how they have chosen their own path ; withdrawn from God's keeping; how relaxed is their whole character; how open to the inroads of sin; how many of their best points consist only in not being tempted. And God, in His love, suffers them to learn this at any cost, for fear of worse; and all that they have been in time past seems cancelled. All their profession, acts of religion, almsdeeds, fasts, prayers, humiliations, seem to be gone, as things they have now no right in. They have brought a shame on all, and shown its hollowness; and after many years of professed religion, while others are looking on them as saints, they are within full of shame and desolation; words of respect are dreadful rebukes, especially if they were once deserved. They are now forced down to begin all over again; to come to God as the poor prodigal; to take the lowest place of all, that of “the servant who knew his Lord's will, and did it not.”'S Fearful discipline, full