By J.R. Miller
We may not always be spared from testing. Though we pray "Bring us not into temptation," our path will ofttimes lead into the field of conflict. To be kept altogether out of struggles, would be to be kept forever children, without strength. Without the discipline of temptation we would be of small use; we could carry no heavy burdens, conquer no difficulties, attain no sublime heights. Nor could we ever become helpers of others, in any real sense.
It is an interesting fact that temptation had a large place in the preparation of Jesus Christ for his work as the world's Redeemer. It is because he was tempted in all points like as we are, that now in glory he can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and can support those who on the earth are tempted. If we would be a strength to others in their times of struggle--we must endure struggle ourselves, so as to know what it means and to be able to give cheer and help to those we find in any sore stress. If we would give courage to those who are fainting, we must first be conqueror ourselves.
There is a story of a young officer in his first battle. He said that when the fighting first began, his first impulse was to run out of it as fast as he could. He looked up, however, and saw that that was exactly what his men were preparing to do. If he failed in courage, they would fail, too. So he instantly rallied himself and then exhorted them to stand firm and be true. We can lead others--only by being brave and strong ourselves. It is needful, therefore, for others' sake, as well as our own--that we meet temptations.
Then the prayer is, that when we are in temptation we may not be hurt by it, that we may be kept from its evil. This is the great problem of true and worthy living. There is possible evil in every experience--not alone in direct temptations, in actual allurements to sin--but even in the good things of life. A happy home by the very sweetness of its love, and by the rich satisfying which its affections give to the heart, may crowd out God and heaven, and thus do harm to the life. Pleasure is not an evil in itself--but possible evil lurks in its cup--from which ofttimes men and women drink poison and not nourishment.
We do not put prosperity down among the evil things. In Old Testament days, it was regarded as a mark of God's special favor. It is indeed and always a blessing from God, from whose hands every good gift comes. No one dreads prosperity. In our church services we make prayers for those who are in any trouble, for the sick, for the poor, for the widow and the orphan--but we do not usually offer supplications for the prosperous, for those who have abounding health, for the happy, for those who have no trouble. Yet these prosperous conditions have their own perils. Many men lose their soul--in their prosperity. While enjoying the good things of this world--never more than when receiving the largest measure of these good things--we need to pray continually to be kept from the evil that is in them.
On the other hand, there is an impression, especially among Christian people, that trouble always works good. Affliction is sometimes said to be the blessing of the New Testament; as prosperity was of the Old Testament. Those who are in sorrow are assured of the comfort of God and have many promises of good and of eternal reward--IF they meet their trials patiently and with faith and joy. One of our Master's beatitudes is for those who mourn. No doubt every affliction has in it, possibilities of blessing. But here again, there are possibilities also of hurt and harming. Sorrow is full of danger. While those who meet it with faith and love and joy--find in it stores of heavenly good and are enriched thereby; many lose their life's beauty and power in it. When we enter a trial--we need also to pray to be kept from its evil.
Thus in every phase of life--there is possible harm for us. Whether we shall receive hurt--or shall pass through our experiences without injury, depends upon the way we relate ourselves to them. One man moves through life--its joy and sorrow, its pleasure and pain, its prosperity and adversity--and receives no stain, no marring, no wounding. Another passes through similar experiences, and at every point is harmed in his inner life. The secret is within us--and we need to pray without ceasing, that we may be kept from the evil which is always close to us.
"From the SELF that stains and stings,
Soils and hurts all holier things,
Weighing down the soul's white wings,
Set us free, good Lord.
"From the inward foes that reign
O'er unwilling heart and brain,
From the tyranny of pain,
Set us free, good Lord."
Our request in this petition, is that we may be delivered from evil. Our Lord, in his great intercessory prayer for his disciples, just before he left them, asked for them, not that they should be taken out of the world--but that they should be kept from the evil. It is not the will of our Master for us--that we should flee away from the world of men, or of business, or of pleasure, or of love, to live in solitude. We could not get away from the evil by such a flight, for we would carry with us that which, wherever we may be, is the real secret of our peril--our own evil self!
Our Master wishes us to remain in the world--but desires for us that we be kept from the evil. Sometimes people say they cannot possibly live a good, true, and holy life in the place where they have to dwell. But wherever it is our duty to stay, though it be in the worst spot on the face of the earth, God is able to keep us unspotted and blameless.
The palm tree, the Arabs say, stands with its feet in salt water and its head in the sun. Ofttimes they cannot drink the water found in the oasis where the palm grows, it is so brackish. Then they tap the tree and drink the sweet palm wine which flows out. "The tree by the magic of its inner life, so changes the elements found in the unkindly soil around it, that they minister to its growth and strength and fruit bearing." The palm tree takes the evil of its environment and transmutes it into good.
This is a parable of spiritual life. It is possible for us to live as it were, with our feet in the mire of sin's bitterness, our life smitten meanwhile by fierce temptations, and yet yield the fruits of love and holiness. If we have Christ in us--there is a magic power in our life which rejects the evil and assimilates the good, which takes the evil and transforms it. The world has no power to harm us--if our life is hid with Christ in God. There is a wonderful promise which says, that there is One who is able to guard us from stumbling and to set us before the presence of his glory, without blemish, in exceeding joy.
Terrible is the power of temptation. What countless lives have been ruined by it! Yet it is possible to be so safely kept in the very midst of the world's worst temptations, that not a taint or trace of evil shall be left on the life. Paul has a wonderful verse about the Christian's relation to temptation. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Every word here is full of meaning. We cannot escape temptation. But no temptation comes to anyone--but such as man can bear. It is not necessary, therefore, that anyone should fall before the tempter. God is faithful, and his eye is never off his child. He will not permit the strain to be greater than we can bear. When it is not possible for us longer to endure, he brings relief and makes the way to escape.
The whole gospel for temptation is in these words. We need never yield to any power of evil. Yet, as in all spiritual life, we have our part in our own keeping. It is ours to resist the evil. We are so made that no power in the universe can force the door of the castle in which we live. The door has no knob or latch outside. It can be opened only from within. Nor can all the power of the world's evil force its way into the sanctuary in which we dwell. Thus we have only to refuse to yield, and temptation has no power to harm us. It can only assault us from without, while we remain secure and unharmed within. It is no sin to be tempted--Jesus was tempted; sin begins only when we open the door and let the tempter in, when we yield to the sinful solicitation, and do the evil thing.
The only absolute safety in this world of evil--is to have Christ in us. We cannot keep the door of our own life. There are traitors within, who, at some moment of peril, will admit the enemy. We cannot keep ourselves. Thousands of times men have thought themselves safe and have boasted of their security. But in their very confidence lay their danger, because it was self-confidence. But if Christ is in us, he will keep the door--and no enemy can deceive him or triumph over him.
"When the world seems full of evil,
Lurking near on every hand;
When I find my strength too feeble
Its temptations to withstand,
Then your strength becomes sufficient,
As to you my weak faith clings,
And I'm kept in perfect safety
"Neath the shadow of your wings!"