CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED
THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST WITH THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION.
"For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted."-Heb. ii. 18.
We ascend with our present subject into a
higher and diviner region of thought and feeling. From the sympathy of angels in
temptation, we rise to the sympathy of the Lord of angels. And if the one has
proved so intelligent, soothing, and helpful in the hour of battle and of
danger, what must be the power and effect of the other? Infinitely transcending
the combined ability of all the hosts in heaven, must be that of the tempted
Head and Savior of His Church. There is a point in sympathy and power which no
angel can possibly reach. The truest and most effectual sympathy is that which
flows from kindred suffering. He who soothes me in temptation-stanches my
wound-and weeps when I weep-must be one whom the archers have pierced-whom
adversity has schooled-whom sorrow has chastened. "Not being untutored in
suffering," says an ancient classic, "I learn to pity those in affliction." And
not less expressive the same sentiment as rendered by a modern poet-
"They best can bind
Who have been bruised oft."
It is here that the sympathy of Christ infinitely distances all other; and all the benevolent angels in heaven must yield the palm to Him. Probably no chapter of our Christian life brings us into such close and tender contact with the heart of Christ, or He with ours, as the temptations-satanic or otherwise-which constitute so essential an element in our Christian character here, and in our fitness for its higher and more perfect development hereafter.
In directing our attention to a view of Christ’s sympathy in temptation, let us inquire what are some of its more distinctive characteristics. "For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted."
The first feature which will impress the thoughtful mind is,-its Priestly character. "We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." It will thus appear that, one essential part of Christ’s Priesthood is-sympathy with the tempted. There does not exist in the offices filled by Christ in the Church of God so essential and precious a one as His Priestly office. His sacrifice lays the foundation of all the other relations He sustains in the economy of redemption. He could not possibly be a Prophet to instruct, or a King to govern, or a Mediator to administer, or a Brother to sympathize, but as He first became a Priest to atone. There must first be the offering of a righteousness and the shedding of blood in vindication of the honor of the moral government of God, ere He could consistently exercise any one function of His mediatorial mission. And it is a noteworthy fact that, the most prevalent and arrogant attack of modern heresy is directed against the Priesthood of Christ! The underlying element of existing ecclesiasticism is a species of pseudo-sacerdotalism, arrogating to itself a priestly authority and function, entirely ignoring the office, and subversive of the work, of Christ, the one only Priest of His Church. It is from this sacerdotal element that springs-as a natural and logical sequence-the notions of apostolic succession, sacramental efficacy, auricular confession, and priestly absolution. Exorcise this ghostly pretension-priestly power-and with it will vanish the kindred spectres which wander among the tombs of those who are dead to the reality and power of the life of God in the soul of man.
But the Priesthood of Christ occupies its own solitary, unapproachable, and untransferable position in the Church of God. "We have a Priest"-a Divine Priest-a sacrificial Priest-an interceding Priest; and every true member of the "Royal Priesthood," needs and acknowledges no other. That there is a divinely appointed "priesthood" in the Church of Christ, composed of all believers, of every nation and from every communion, we readily and gratefully admit. "Ye are a Royal Priesthood." The conditions of this Priesthood are not submission to any rite, or subscription to any creed, or membership with any Church; but all true believers become members of this "Priesthood" in virtue of their spiritual and mystical union with the Lord Jesus Christ, the "Priest upon His throne." Thus the saints of God belong to the true "seed royal," through their relation to Christ, and will, with Him, reign "kings and priests" for ever. Oh, how faintly do the saints of God value their true royalty! How we forget that we belong to a "kingdom of priests"! that we are clothed with royal apparel-the robe of Christ’s righteousness! that we sit at the King’s table, and feed on royal dainties-that a life-guard from the Court of Heaven is commissioned to be our ministering attendants; that hereafter we shall reign with Christ in His kingdom of glory upon the New Earth and the New Heaven, for ever and ever. But to this royalty is attached the distinction and office of Priests. "Ye are a Royal Priesthood"-made so by Christ and through His Priestly office, and anointed as such by the Holy Ghost. To this office of Priests is attached the function of sacrifice: not an atoning, propitiatory sacrifice for sin-this exclusively appertains to the Great High Priest of His Church-but the sacrifices which, as a Royal Priesthood, we offer, are those of a broken heart and a contrite spirit-the sacrifices of prayer and praise-and the presentation of our "bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our most reasonable service." And for this "kingdom of Priests"-this "Royal Priesthood," there awaits the anthem which will employ their tongues and tune their harps through eternity-"Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." My reader, rise to the dignity of your Royalty, exercise your privilege as Priests; and while you strive to keep your royal apparel unspotted from the world, day by day offer the sacrifice of contrition of heart for sin, and thanksgiving and praise to Him who, by the one sacrifice of Himself, has for ever delivered you from its guilt and condemnation. "By Him, therefore"-our Priest, Sacrifice, and Altar-"let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name." Oh, how fragrant your prayers-melodious your praises-and a sweet-smelling savor your offerings of love done to the saints,-the representatives of Christ-all presented and accepted in virtue of the One Sacrifice He our Priest has offered for us to God! Your cup of cold water quenching the thirst-your crust of bread satisfying the hunger-your seasonable garment clothing the nakedness-your visit of sympathy soothing the sickness-of one of Christ’s disciples, is an "odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing to God;" and is laying up for you a grateful recognition, a loving welcome, and a rich reward of grace in the Heavenly Kingdom; when Jesus will say to you, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me. Enter you into the joy of your Lord." Hold fast the profession of your faith, without wavering, in the one sacrificing Priesthood of the Lord Jesus! Recognize no priestly authority, or power, or function in the Church of God but His! "Jesus only"-the One "High Priest over the house of God."-is the watchword of the Christian Church-the counter-sign of the great army of the living God-the one badge of the "Royal Priesthood" on earth and in heaven.
"Shall I trust my soul’s salvation
To a fellow-creature’s care?
Can a priest, a saint, or angel,
Save me in my dark despair?
None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Hears a contrite sinner’s prayer.
"Do I need a Mediator,
Other than the Son of God?
Can the Virgin Mary help me?
Jesus shed for me His blood
None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Intercedes for me with God.
"Is there aught of praise or merit
Due to works my hands have done?
Can a life of tears and penance
For a single sin atone?
None but Jesus, none but Jesus:
He must save, and He alone.
"Can the waters outward washing
Inward change of heart supply?
Life and energy bestowing,
Can it bid corruption die?
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Send Your Spirit from on high!
"Can the sacramental symbols-
Emblems of a Savior’s love-
Can these satisfy the longings
Of a soul born from above?
None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Food for fainting souls can prove."
The sympathy of Christ with the tempted is experimental. It is this attribute which, perhaps, more than any other, imparts to it such peculiar interest and tenderness in the experience of the Satan-tempted believer. How strikingly is this feature of personal experience of our Lord’s sympathy with the tempted expressed by the Apostle: "In that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." And again: "Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that He Himself is compassed with infirmity." This is a most touching and soothing view of Christ’s compassion. The sympathy He offers in infirmity, in sorrow, in temptation, is not theoretical and visionary; it is the fellow-feeling, the sympathy of One who has been taught in the same school of suffering, who has passed through the same furnace of affliction, who has endured the same fiery temptations-"tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." You look, in your sorrow, to the "Man of Sorrows;" in grief, to Him who was personally "acquainted with grief;" and in temptations from Satan, from the world, from man, to Him who battled with the devil-who was despised, rejected, and crucified by the world-and "who would not commit Himself to man, because He knew what was in man." Go ye then to Jesus, and tell Him just what you fear, just what you suffer, just what you are. The infirmity that oppresses you, encompassed Him; the flaming dart that pierces you, was hurled at Him; the painful cross you carry, bowed Him to the earth; the bitter cup you drink, once pressed His quivering lips.
The sympathy of Christ with the Christian is intelligent. It is not a blind, heartless sympathy, either unacquainted with, or indifferent to, our case. "I know their sorrows, and have come down to deliver them," was the wonderful and consolatory declaration of God concerning His people under the cruel and crushing service of Pharaoh. And what are the words of Jesus the Shepherd of His Flock but an echo of the same truth: "I know My sheep." Oh, how unspeakably assuring is this truth! Enough, that Christ knows our temptation, is acquainted with our sorrow, though not another being in the universe is cognizant of it. It is the sympathy of a full and intelligent knowledge of all the delicate shades, and the subtle circumstances-too sacred and intricate, perhaps, to explain to another-of the position in which we are placed, and of the temptations by which we are assailed. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us-it is high, we cannot attain unto it-for it is the knowledge of an Infinite and Divine mind. The most confidential friend may be ignorant of the mental and spiritual exercise through which we are passing, of the fiery conflict we are waging, of the temporal and anxious pressure we are sustaining, the lonely path we tread, the trying life we live, the daily cross we carry;-enough that Christ knows it all! And this assurance should infinitely outweigh the solitariness and sadness we experience, and which the ignorance, or, perhaps, the coldness, of all others may painfully augment. Who would exchange the compassion and individual knowledge of our daily life which Christ possesses for the most tender commiseration the human heart ever felt?
The sympathy of Christ is practical and
helpful. In this feature it differs essentially from much of the so-called
sympathy of the world. There exists a species of compassion which; apparently
sincere and fervent, evaporates in mere words: "Depart ye in peace, be ye warmed
and filled," is the utmost limit of its expression. The helping hand is not
extended, the closed purse-strings are not unloosed, the tear of sympathy
moistens not the eye, and thus no practical and timely outflow of sympathy is
the response. And, "if a brother or a sister be naked, or destitute of daily
food," or the mind oppressed with anxiety, or the heart bowed with grief,
appeals to our compassion and asks our aid, of what practical avail if, with the
priest and the Levite, content with an idle look of pity, we pass by on the
other side, leaving the object of our heartless indifference to bear his burden
or nurse his wound in lonely and unrelieved sorrow? Oh, for more reality in our
religion! Oh, for more of the sweet, helpful charity of Christ!-that charity
which, like the gentle dew of evening, distils silently and unseen, but
softening and reviving, upon the fainting flowers-a link from the golden chain
which entwines an angel’s form-and which, like the mild radiance of the emerald,
emits a softer and more pleasing luster than the sparkling diamond or the
brilliant ruby. Such, if we are Christ’s true followers, should be
characteristic of our charity; like the Good Samaritan-not evaporating in empty,
meaningless expression, but embodied and manifested in noble and fragrant deeds-
"Like the sweet South,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor."
Apply this to the sympathy of Christ with His tempted saints. How true, yet how faint, the illustration! Tempted in all points like as we are, is there a single form of assault with which He is not personally familiar, and with which He does not practically sympathize? Are you tempted by worldly attraction? distrust of God? creature idolatry? false worship? self-destruction? Oh, bend an ear to Christ’s own words-"My grace is sufficient for you; My strength is made perfect in weakness." Not satisfied with a mere expression of sympathy, Christ imparts skill to fence, power to bear, grace to overcome. "There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way that ye may be able to bear it." "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation."
Nor let us overlook the exquisite tenderness of Christ’s sympathy. Could language be more expressive of this than that of the Apostle? "We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are." ‘Touched’-how full of meaning the word! We are ‘touched’-our deepest sensibility and sympathy aroused-by a spectacle of suffering and want. Such is the sympathy of Jesus! He is touched with our misery, touched with our temptation, touched with our grief. Who can sound the depth, or portray the tenderness of that sympathy with bereaved sorrow embodied in the inimitable picture, which no artist has ever attempted to delineate-"Jesus wept"? Such is the sympathy of the Great Tempted One, to which we invite you. Approach Him with prayer and confidence-unveil to Him your trouble-make known to Him your want-confess to Him your sin-sob your grief upon His bosom-for "we have not a High Priest who cannot he touched with the feeling of our infirmities,"-and He is touched with yours.
The sympathy of Christ is not only that of a fellow-sufferer, but it is also that of an Intercessor. This office constitutes Christ’s work in heaven. "He ever lives to make intercession." "By His own blood He entered once into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." What a sweetly soothing truth is this, that every temptation that assails us-every affliction that bows us-every trouble that befalls us-every sorrow that crushes us-and every sin that wounds us, is represented in heaven. All are borne upon the breastplate-entwined with the prayers-perfumed with the incense of our once Sacrificing, but now Interceding, High Priest. "I have prayed for you-I am praying for you-I will pray for you," is the sweet assurance He addresses to all who, as He once did, are passing through the fiery ordeal of temptation-sifted as wheat-tried as gold-and are "filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in the flesh." Words addressed by Christ to the Apostle Pete; are equally addressed to every assailed believer-"Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not."
"Jesus, that King of Glory, reigns
On Zion’s heavenly hill,
Looks like a Lamb that has been slain,
And wears His Priesthood still.
"He ever lives to intercede
Before His Father’s face:
Give Him, my soul, your cause to plead,
Nor doubt the Father’s grace."
"If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
We must not overlook the crowning attribute of Christ’s sympathy-its perfect sinlessness. "Yet without sin." In this, its purity, consists its power. Human sympathy-the most tender-must, necessarily, be imperfect from the fact of its sinfulness. Not a relation, nor a passion, nor a feeling, nor a sentiment of our humanity has escaped the effects of the Fall. Sin has palsied and infected the whole. Not thus the sympathy of Christ. Ignorance does not blind it-selfishness does not warp it-fickleness does not change it-ingratitude does not chill it-unworthiness does not forfeit it-time nor distance do not impair it, because sin does not taint it! "Yet without sin." Oh, how truly real, exquisitely tender, and unspeakably soothing and precious must that stream of sympathy be which flows from a spring so sweet and from a fountain so pure! Such is the sympathy of the Savior with all the tempted, tried, and sorrowful of His Church.
This thought of Christ’s pure sympathy, suggests a cognate truth unspeakably comforting, and assuring to the tempted Christian. The perfect sinlessness of Christ in temptation teaches us that, temptations are not per se-in other words, of themselves-sinful. That, whatever the shaft of the adversary may be,-however skeptical and blasphemous, carnal and worldly, God-dishonoring and self-destroying the temptation-the mere presentation or suggestion of the Devil to the Christian mind involves no moral obliquity, and leaves upon the conscience no trace of guilt. Ignorance, or forgetfulness, of this fact has often occasioned needless mental suffering to many of the Lord’s tempted saints. Where, in the history of His Church, shall we find so tempted, and yet so holy, a Being as the Lord Jesus Christ? And yet, not only did He emerge from the terrible ordeal unscathed, but He came forth with not the shadow of a shade of moral dishonor, of compromised integrity, attaching to His soul. We cannot say that He emerged from the furnace more purified and refined-for He was "without sin," and needed it not-but we may safely affirm that, as the suffering Mediator and Head of His Church, He became more thoroughly fitted by the discipline of temptation through which He passed to sympathize with and succour them that are tempted. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered;" and that lesson of ‘obedience’ thus learned, involved a fellow-feeling-a sympathy the most perfectly intelligent and exquisitely tender-for all the weak and tempted ones of His Church.
"Touched with a sympathy within,
He knows our feeble frame;
He knows what sore temptations mean,
For He has felt the same."
Be not, then, cast down-write no bitter things against thyself, you tempted soul! Yielding not to the vile suggestion of the enemy-for temptation only becomes a sin as we succumb to its power-ye shall, like your tempted Head, come forth from the flaming furnace with not the smell of fire upon your garments. You may be sorely tempted by Satan to believe that the Bible is not true-that Christianity is not divine-that God is not faithful-that prayer is a delusion-that your sin is unpardonable-that Jesus does not save-and that your past religious experience and Christian profession is but delusion and hypocrisy, and your hope of heaven but a lie; nevertheless, these suggestions of Satan are not only all false, but, ‘resisting’ them with your Lord’s invulnerable weapon, "It is written"-"he will flee from you"-one touch of the Divine Word overcoming him-leaving you, like your Lord, victor upon the field.
Forget not that temptation is an essential part of the development of Christian character here, and of the education and fitness of the Christian for glory hereafter. "Prayer, temptation, and study," remarked Luther, "are essential to the Gospel minister:" equally so to the private Christian. And, since temptation is a test of the reality of our grace, and the genuineness of our faith, and the stability of our hope, let us accept the discipline with meekness and love; and putting on the whole armor of God, withstand the Evil One, and having done all to stand. "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
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