CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN
TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED
Octavius Winslow, 1877
CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN TEMPTED TO SELF?DESTRUCTION.
"Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, and set Him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto Him, If You be the Son of God, cast Thyself down; for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning You; and in their hands they shall bear You up, lest at any time You dash Thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord thy God."-Matt. iv. 5-7.
This, doubtless, was the most crucial of our dear Lord’s temptations. The imagination can scarcely picture to itself an assault more revolting to the feelings of Christ, or a temptation of the Christian more dishonoring to God, than this solicitation of the Devil to the impious act of-self-destruction! Life is a precious, solemn, and responsible thing. The love of life, or, the law of self-preservation, is a divinely-implanted principle of our nature. It is not only an instinct common to the animal creation, but it constitutes one of the noblest and holiest canons of humanity. "You shall love thy neighbor as thyself," defines this divine law of proper self-love, which is none other than the natural law of self-preservation God has most wisely and beneficently instituted. We are fallen and depraved; and it is not the least evidence and result of our sinfulness the low estimate men in general form of the value, necessity, and preciousness of life. We "thank God for our creation;" but, in many instances, the very beings from whose lips the heartless acknowledgment has breathed regard life, and sport with life, and waste life, as though there were not attached to it a reality, responsibility, and an account of the most vital, solemn, and tremendous nature!
Far different was the case with our Lord, Himself essential Life, and the Fountain and Giver of life to all sentient beings. Possessing a Life-as the Savior of the race-which was to redeem countless millions, can we imagine a temptation of the Devil from which His whole being would more wholly and indignantly recoil, than that couched in the words of the tempter, as, standing upon the pinnacle of the Temple, he exclaimed-"Cast Thyself down"? To have brought his battery thus to bear upon the very life of Christ-to prompt Him to fling from Him, by a self-destroying hand, that life upon which hung interests more precious, solemn, and deathless than countless worlds, was a master-stroke of the arch-foe of God and man. True, that life was to pass away-that life was to be sacrificed-but under other and far different circumstances, and by a will and a hand other than His own. That life received of His Father-"For as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself"-was to be offered on the cross as a sacrifice and atonement to the moral government of God for the sins of His elect Church. But, neither the fullness of time or the crucial mode of self-sacrifice of His life had yet come; and Satan’s attempt to anticipate it was one of the fiercest darts selected from his quiver.
It is instructing to remark that the first temptation presented to our Lord was to distrust Divine providence; the second was to presume upon it. And thus these two extremes-distrust and presumption-are frequently weapons by which Satan assails the children of God-the one, the weapon of despair; the other, the weapon of unlawfulness. The subject of the present chapter is peculiarly difficult and painful, unfolding a most trying temptation of Satan often presented to the Christian, and not unfrequently with success; but, difficult and painful as it is, its discussion is necessary, and, in some instances, with the Divine blessing, may be found timely and profitable. As we are considering the temptations of Christ and those of the Christian in some of their essential features as identical, let us glance at two or three of the particulars of the present one. The scene of this temptation of Christ is suggestive: "Then the Devil takes Him up into the Holy City, and set Him upon a pinnacle of the Temple." We are left to conjecture by what influence the Devil thus transported the Son of God; but we are not equally left in ignorance as to the power which the Devil is sometimes permitted to exert over the objects of God’s love and care.
There is no place and no occasion in the Christian life which may not become the theatre of Satan’s assaults. On the last occasion he presented his temptation to Christ in the depth of the lone and far-off wilderness, with no human sound to break its profound solitude. But here his tactics are changed. The scene of his temptation is not the solitude of the desert, but the pinnacle of the Temple. Be the scene of temptation the privacy of the chamber or the publicity of the city, Satan is equally at home in plying his wily arts and in accomplishing his dark designs. No place is too hallowed! The Holy City-the sacred Temple-are often his most favourite and successful places of attack. The pinnacle of the Temple, in its sacred and sublime elevation, is a chosen position of the tempter, but a dangerous one for the Christian; for the greater the height, the more conspicuous and tremendous the fall! It is here we need the most strength and the most sleepless vigilance. Young Christians-not to speak of more advanced believers-are often ambitious of a high position in the world and in the Church. We naturally love to climb. Seeking great things for ourselves, place and power, wealth and distinction, are pleasant and attractive objects with which Satan loves to bait his hook. They tempt us to mount, little thinking that Satan is aiding our ascent, more desirous even than we ourselves are of reaching such an altitude as will render our downfall more easy and more dire. There are but few Christians who can bear the exaltation to which our common humanity so ardently aspires. The head turns giddy, reason is unhinged, and we become self-inflated; and from our sublime elevation-the pinnacle on which we stand, "the observed of all observers,"-we may fall, the depth of which can only be measured by the elevation from which we were plunged. "Seek you great things for thyself? Seek them not." Keep on lowly ground; the humble only are safe.
"He that is down need fear no fall."
It is one thing for God to place us upon a pinnacle of the Temple, it is quite another thing for Satan! Is it a fact, my reader, that your elevation in the Christian Church has proved promotive of your spiritual and personal religion? Is sin more abominable-self more loathed-holiness more thirsted for-the world more scorned-the power of the world to come more absorbing-and Christ more admired and precious? Alas! it may be far otherwise. For elevation to dignity and power is a trying position for a man of God. Few can pass through the fiery ordeal and remain unscathed. In the same proportion to the pinnacle elevation of the Christian, the foundation becomes more flimsy, the standing more insecure, and the drop more certain and more fatal.
"Line o’er line,
Terrace o’er terrace, nearer still and nearer
To the blue heavens"-
rises the uplifted and inflated soul, until from the pinnacle of its dizzy altitude it topples to the earth; and great is the fall thereof! A thousand times, O Lord, would I rather be a doorkeeper in Thy house than stand upon its most towering pinnacle.
Once more the Divine Sonship of our Lord is assailed: "If You be the Son of God," or, as it is in the Greek, "Seeing You art the Son of God." We repeat the fact that demons never denied the Godhead of Christ, but invariably and unhesitatingly acknowledged it, and did it homage. It was left for man, in his depravity and arrogance, to ignore and scorn a doctrine which the devils believed, and at which they trembled! In this particular the temptation of Christ and that of the Christian are remarkably coincident. Satan’s first great step in promoting his dark design is to call our personal Christianity in question. He will set us upon the task of debating our Divine adoption, and consequently denying our sonship. He will engender doubts respecting the reality of our conversion, and suggest to the mind that all our past religious experience has been but a delusion, our Christian profession hypocrisy, and that with all our shining gifts, zealous service, and prominent position in the Church of God we have in reality no part or lot in the matter. And the moment he has succeeded in foisting upon us the idea of self-deception, he has opened an easy avenue to the temptation of self-destruction! Oh, heed not, believer, the suicidal voice of this Evil One! Were you really self-deceived and deceiving-were you still in an unconverted and unrenewed state, would he, think you, set you upon the work of doubting your spiritual state-of questioning the genuineness of your conversion? Would it not rather be his policy to rock the cradle of your false hope, and ply you with yet deeper draughts of the narcotic which had so long promoted your profound and fatal insensibility-thus fostering the belief that you were saved, well knowing that you were lost? If Satan was compelled by the force of a conviction he could not resist to acknowledge the Divine Sonship of Christ, his device, on the other hand, is to throw a doubt upon ours, and thus, by admitting the one and denying the other, he aims to accomplish his subtle and hellish purposes.
"Cast Thyself down from hence." Such was the temptation presented by the Devil to our Lord-the temptation to lay violent hands upon His own life! What must have been the horror-what the profound sense of the tempter’s satanic malignity and arrogance-awakened in Christ’s mind by the bare suggestion of self-destruction! His holy soul must have shuddered at the very thought! By suicidal hands to rid Himself of a life given to Him of His Father-a life upon the existence and the eventual sacrifice of which the lives of countless myriads of the race hung, must have been a crime, the blackness and enormity of whose guilt could only have been measured by His own infinite and holy mind.
It was no little aggravation of this temptation to self-destruction that it should have been suggested as presuming upon the Divine care. "For it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning You: and in their hands they shall bear You up, lest at any time You dash Thy foot against a stone." Here was the appalling act of self-destruction suggested, strengthened, and encouraged by a presumed reliance upon the promise and power of God to frustrate or prevent it-God thus made a party to one of the saddest and most unnatural afflictions to which humanity can be subjected. How fluently-though always to pervert it-can Satan quote the Word of God! It is not always safe to follow Scripture as quoted by the mouth of bad men. Neither is it more safe to be influenced in our actions by vague Scriptural texts and impressions conceived by our own mind, and yielded to by our own treacherous hearts.
But this temptation to self-murder is common to God’s people; and in this we trace a striking identity of Christ’s temptation and the Christian’s; and so unseals another spring of sympathy flowing from the union of the Lord’s tempted ones with their tempted Lord Himself. "Cast thyself down-destroy thyself-ease you of thy pain of body-get rid of thy despondency of mind-thy spiritual doubts and fears-thy trouble, responsibility, and wants." Such is the temptation and such the reasoning by which many Christians are assailed. That there should exist the fact that in some instances the temptation has proved but too successful, is one of those dark events in the providence of God the mystery of which will all be explained in another and brighter world, when what we know not now we shall know then, and all to the eternal glory of His great Name. Such a calamity-assuming the case to be that of a child of God-is not without its peculiar alleviation and instruction. It is a truth which no reasoning can controvert, that the life thus self-sacrificed touches not upon the spiritual life that is hid with Christ in God. And, moreover, that as no Christian under the control of reason, and possessing a healthy mind, and walking in the light of the Lord, would thus voluntarily and rashly anticipate death in one of its most repulsive and appalling forms, the inference is logically and philosophically sound, as it is Scripturally and consistently true, that as no moral responsibility attaches to the act, the spiritual and eternal state of the soul remains undisturbed, and the soul is safe. The ascent to heaven was, indeed, like Elijah’s, with a "whirlwind and in a chariot of fire;" but, like Solomon’s chariot, it was "paved with love;" and thus proves Christ’s permitted mode of conveying to Himself the soul redeemed with His own most precious blood. A mystery, dark and inscrutable, envelops the appalling event: why God should permit a child of the light to pass into eternity under a cloud so dark and by a mode so awful, is a problem of His moral government the solution of which must alone be found in that infinite wisdom that can make no mistake, in that perfect righteousness that cannot be unjust, and that Divine love that knows no change. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing." "Verily You art a God that hides Thyself." "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Is this, my reader, the dark sorrow that bows you to the earth? "Be still and now that I am God," is the Divine voice to which now you must bend your ear. No comfort will accrue from an attempt to trace the cause of an event so awful, or to find a clue to a mystery so solemn and profound. "Thy will be done!" must be the calm, patient, and submissive language of thy soul. In this holy quietness and confidence thy repose and strength will be found.
The class of pious individuals to whom this temptation is presented is a large and a touching one. The suicidal propensities of a mind passing through a partial eclipse are often powerful and irresistible. Hundreds of God’s people thus tempted through physical suffering, mental despondency, and religious melancholy, are patent to all whose especial and benevolent mission calls them to minister to a mind diseased. The temptation by which our Lord was assailed is reproduced in the persons and experience of many of His saints-"Cast thyself down from hence." Shall we attempt a portrait of your case, my reader? It is, perhaps, physical. Disease has taken a strong hold upon your system; the body is tortured with suffering, the nerves quiver with agony-sleep is a stranger to your pillow-and, "Cast thyself down from hence," is the horrible impulse that haunts you. Or your case is mental. Trouble and anxiety, embarrassment and want, bow thy spirit to the dust-"Cast thyself down from hence," whispers the wily serpent in your ear. Or, your despondency is spiritual. Assailed by doubts and fears touching the state of your soul, you begin to question the reality of your conversion; and, thinking that your soul is lost, the tempter suggests an easy but a terrible solution of all your religious difficulties-"Cast thyself down from hence: He has given His angels charge over you."
But, my reader, listen to reason-listen to conscience-listen to God! "Do thyself no harm," is the tender, imploring voice of each. Christ the tempted One-assailed by this very tempter and by this very temptation, and who by the Word of God resisted and overcame-is all-sufficient in His love and power, grace and intercession for you; and looking to Him will assuredly give you the victory. "I have prayed for you that thy faith fail not," were the words addressed to one-and now equally addressed to you-whose grace, like yours, was sifted as wheat, and whose faith, like yours, was tried as by fire. "He that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the Name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God: and I will write upon him my new Name." "Be you faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life." "Why art you cast down, O my soul? and why art you disquieted within you? Hope you in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance and my God."
If, my reader, you are haunted by the dark temptation of self-destruction, sit down, and as a Christian calmly and dispassionately reason the matter with yourself. Mind and faith have not entirely abandoned you; and, with prayer for Divine help, summon these to your aid in battling with and resisting the temptation; and consider the grounds you have for closing your ear to the tempter’s voice, and resisting an insinuation so base, a crime so terrific.
Think, in the first place, what a sin the act would involve. Calmly and deliberately to fling away a life God has given you for your enjoyment and His glory-to cast it, as it were, in His face as a worthless thing-what language can describe the turpitude of guilt of such an act? Consider, too, the base ingratitude to your Maker the sin would express. You have often in the sanctuary, and with audible voice, "thanked God for your creation." Equally have you reason to thank Him for its preservation. Through how many dangers, seen and unseen, from infancy to manhood,-your life has been preserved, times without number redeemed from destruction the most eminent! And now, by a deliberate and willful violation of the law of self-preservation God has implanted in your nature, to take that life away, how base the ingratitude! how dark the crime! Reflect, too, how important and precious your life is to those whose very existence seems bound up in yours; and who, under God, depend upon your industry and toil, your influence and care, for their daily sustenance. Think of the conjugal, parental, or filial tie thus ruthlessly and painfully severed, and imagine, if you can, the terrible result! A still more powerful dissuasive grows out of the dishonor and check such an act would bring upon the religion of God-the name of Christ-the interests of the Gospel and the progress of the Christian Church. What a triumph of Satan-what a weapon for the infidel-what an argument for the ungodly! Think of the great things the Lord has done for you-the Lord that died for you on the cross, and that now intercedes for you before the throne. Resist then, oh resist, this dark temptation of the Evil One: implore strength from God-seek grace from the all-sufficiency of Christ-and invoke the aid, comfort, and power of the Holy Spirit. And at every whisper of the enemy-"Cast thyself down"-send up to God in Christ the fervent, believing, importunate prayer-"Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me."
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
"You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head."
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