You have had a great time on the mountains, but remember the mountain is not a place to live on. The Mount of Transfiguration is an episode, coming to a man from time to time; but it is not in the ordinary course of nature that a man should always live on the top of the mountain. The mountain is of use to send streams into the valley of our ordinary life, to fertilize and nourish what is there. Perhaps it is not possible that we shall all be living at the same pitch at which you have lived during the days of this week. Before the sacramental wine was dry on the lips of Peter he was untrue to his Saviour. A breakdown to the moral life is just as natural, and just as much a matter of law as the breakdown of an engine. It is important to get to the bottom of these causes. One of the most important things for us to study is the anatomy of the soul, the anatomy of temptation, and the physiology of sin.
You will not agree with me, perhaps, but I have a strong suspicion that the evolutionists are on the right track when they tell us that man's body has come up through the animal creation. Bone for bone, muscle for muscle and nerve for nerve, you and I are exactly the same as the higher vertebrae of the animal kingdom; and after we passed through the animal kingdom, it is supposed by the theorists, we underwent a long probation in which we were somewhat in the condition of the red Indian; and, just as we had the bodies of animals, we had to some extent the minds of animals and the dispositions of savages. If the animal has left me as its legacy a vertebral column and certain nerves, why should it not leave me a legacy of its modes and passions? And if I have once had as my ancestors a long race of savages, why should not the modes and predilections of the savage nature be still in my blood? If I have the blood of the tiger, shall I not have to some extent the spirit of a tiger? If I have the blood of a shark, shall I not be inclined sometimes to play the shark? If I have the blood of a fox, shall I not be inclined sometimes to be foxy? Well, it doesn't matter in the least whether that is true or not, but I appeal to you if it is not a fact that you find in yourselves the residuum of many animals and the disposition of many savages. If there is a man who has nothing of the animal in him, I should like you to introduce me to him. It doesn't matter where it came from. It is there, as a matter of fact. That is to say, man is built in three stories. He is a three-storied structure. On the ground floor there dwells the animal. Above that, on the second story, there is the savage. And on the third floor there is the man. Now, my brother, when you go wrong, it is not you who goes wrong, it is the man who lives in the bottom story. And when you collapse, when you imagine that it is impossible for you to recover again, remember that the true man in you is still there; and that although temptations may come to you from these lower parts of your nature, it is not essential that you should live in idle acquiescence to them. By taking to pieces the moral nature, one sees very clearly what temptation really is. It is the appeal of the animal to the man; and it is no sin for man to hear that appeal. It is no sin for a man to be tempted. In virtue of his nature, man must be tempted. It is when a man leaves the top story and deliberately walks down and spends an hour in the cellar that temptation passes from temptation into sin.
In the same way, one sees very clearly from that little piece of anatomy, how it is possible to overcome temptation. The remedy, of course, is simply to decline ever to move in the lower regions of one's being at all, to regard that as a thing evolved past, and to live constantly in the higher regions. When a man does that, it is impossible for him to break down. Put it in this way. An image is thrown upon the screen of your mind and you look at it. How can you dismiss it? You can only dismiss it by throwing another image on the screen which will be more beautiful, more pure and more attractive, and which, above all, will pre-occupy your mind so that the other image will fade away. It is impossible, I think, in most cases, for the man to deliberately fight the temptation when it comes in certain forms. The only thing he can do is to replace that form by another form. You can do something with temptation at its first stage. You can do everything with it. You can do a little with it at the second stage, but you can do nothing with it after it passes to the third stage. If you let it pass that, you are over Niagara. You must fight it, not by direct fight, but by flight to the higher regions. Paul summed it up in a single sentence, where he said: "Walk in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." In plain English, walk in the fourth flat, and you will not do the things that people do in the cellar. You cannot be in two places at once. If you make up your mind to live continuously in the spirit, ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Spirit is there contrasted with flesh. It does not mean primarily the Holy Spirit, although it includes that. It is here contrasted primarily with the flesh. Either live a cellar or a top-story life, a dog life or a man life. Walk among spiritual things, among high people--not necessarily religious things, but spiritual things. Look not on the things which are seen, but the things which are unseen. Be in the company of good books, beautiful pictures, and charming, delightful and inspiring music; and let all that one hears, sees, reads and thinks lift and inspire the higher. The man who does that is kept above the lower nature. Many and many a thing which is not directly religious, therefore, comes in to make up a part of the nourishment of the spiritual life.
We can always live a high life. We can always have before us beautiful, divine ideals, and the sudden attempt to get from the lower to the higher is the transition between the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit, and the passing from the one region into the other is done by a sudden act, by a sudden mental movement, by a transference of one's interests from one region to another. That mental movement, I think, may be dignified with the name of prayer. That sudden appeal to the purer image which is to displace the other and let it fade away is the spasmodic act of prayer, which instantly places one in the spiritual region; and that is one of the highest uses of prayer, not to get something directly from heaven, but to switch everything up, and not down. If you could keep a Christian and a God-like spirit, it would be impossible for you to have the lower appetites again.
If you want to get a man on his feet again, the thing to do is not to preach or read the Bible to him, but to get him out of the cellar in which he lives. Take him by the hand, and he will be led away from his former life. Those are psychological principles founded upon the fact that the attention cannot be directed to two things at the same moment. You see that, upon merely psychological principles, the man who understands his nature and applies that remedy for his case when he finds himself becoming a lower man than he ought to, is bound to get the victory. It is not by magic that men are able to succeed in living a high and Christian life. It is by living according to nature and according to the revelation of our higher nature. It is by living along the line of the laws under which this system of our human nature is founded. That is put in other words by Christ, where he says, "Abide in me" --the same thing on a still higher plane. The man who lives with Christ cannot sin. "If any man sin," John says, "he hath not known Christ." Sin is abashed in the presence of Christ. The man who lives in Christ as his ideal finds in Him a continuous living Saviour, drawing him away from himself and making it impossible for him to live for himself.
Let no man here to-night think or say that he can get victory over sin alone. He cannot get that out of religion unless he gets a great many other things as well, and is compelled to accept them. Deliverance from sin is only one of the functions of the new nature; and a man is not a new man if he has got only one arm. The one arm is to fight sin. He must be a full, perfect man; and the man who has simply got the muscle in his spiritual nature which is to deal with sin is not a Christian man at all necessarily. The man who attempts to live in one function alone will find it impossible. Religion is not a blue ribbon to wear against a single set of things. It is not an inoculation against a single disease. A man must accept Christ all around, not only as his Deliverer from sin, but as his friend and guide, his ideal and Saviour. He must walk his whole life, and every day of his life, in the spirit, not merely rushing into the top story when temptations are at his heels, but dwelling there, in that place where the air is always sweet, where the company is always pure, and where there is nothing to hinder the soul from communing with God and with the stars. If a man can continuously live in that region, he is bound to grow better and better. That is the picture of temptation chasing a man who walks in the Spirit. He hears its bark and feels its bite, like a dog's; but if he is off its ground it cannot touch him. Just in proportion as we live in the higher regions are we able to evade temptations.
In dealing with others, it is not enough to preach to them, to give them tracts, texts or prayers: but we must give them a new environment, in which the new nature can bud and flower and grow into perfection. Gentlemen, it is not such an easy business to save a man as some people think. It is not to be done by a few earnest words. That is why so many college men have been passed over untouched by our college Y. M. C. A.'s. It is not because we do not have meetings enough, not because we do not know the Bible well enough, not because we are not earnest enough; but it is because we do not proceed rationally enough. It is because we do not sow seeds for individuals and live so that they may be compelled to live this higher life with us. We do not do our work half thoroughly enough. Unless we lay down our lives to save men, we are not following the Master as we ought. It is good business to devote our lives to individuals. It may not be so picturesque, but individual work, where every man singles out his individual to help and save, and stands by him, if multiplied through the universities, would soon win our universities for Christ.
Make a continuous effort by will power and prayer power and the power of the Spirit of God to walk in the spiritual region; for nature abhors a vacuum. If we allow any pause to occur in our high living, if we leave this place, the enemy will come upon us, and we will be worse off after this Conference than we were before it.
Delivered at the World's Bible Students' Conference, Northfield, Mass., in July, 1893.