James Stalker, professor of Church
History in the United Free Church College,
Aberdeen, was born at Crieff in
1848, and was educated at the universities
of Edinburgh, Halle, and Berlin. He has
been an incumbent of many pastorates in
Scotland, and has published "Life of Jesus
Christ"; "Life of St. Paul"; "The
Preacher and His Models," etc. In 1891
he delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures
on Preaching, at Yale, and is examiner
for the degree of B.D. in Aberdeen
Lewis O. Brastow, D. D.
Born in 1848
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is
common to men; but God is faithful, who will not
suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but
will with temptation also make a way to escape, that
ye may be able to bear it.—1 Cor. x., 13.
Once, when I was going to address a
gathering of young men, I asked a
friend what I should speak to them
about. His answer was: There is only one
subject worth speaking to young men about,
and that is temptation.
Of course, he did not mean this literally: he
only meant to emphasize the importance of
this subject. Was he not right? You remember,
in the story of the Garden of Eden, where
the tree which represented temptation stood?
It stood in the midst of the garden—just at
the point where all the walks converged, where
Adam and Eve had to pass it every day. This
is a parable of human life. We are out of
paradise now; but the tree of temptation still
stands in our life where it stood then—in the
midst; where all the roads meet; where we
must pass it every day—and every man's weal
of wo depends on the attitude to it which
he takes up.
There are six attitudes in any of which we
may stand to temptation—first, we may be
tempted; second, we may have fallen before
temptation; third, we may be tempting others;
or, fourth, we may be successfully resisting
temptation; fifth, we may have outlived temptation;
sixth, we may be assisting others to
overcome their temptations.
As I should like these six attitudes to be
remembered, let me give them names; and
these I will borrow from the politics of the
continent of Europe. Any of you who may
glance at times into the politics of France
or Germany will be aware that in their legislative
assemblies there prevails a more minute
division into parties, or groups as they are
called, than we are accustomed to. In your
politics you are content with two great historical
parties—Republicans and Democrats.
But, as I have said, in Continental parliaments
the members are divided into groups. You
read of the group of the left center,
the group of the left, and the group
of the extreme left; the group of the
right center, the group of the right, and the
group of the extreme right. I do not pretend
that even these are all; but I will take
these as the six names I need for characterizing
the six attitudes in which men may
stand to temptation.
On the left there are three—first, the group
of the left center, by which I mean those who
are being tempted; second, the group of the
left, by which are meant those who have
fallen before temptation; third, the group of
the extreme left, or those who are tempters
of others. And on the right there are three
groups—the fourth group, that of the right
center, containing those who are successfully
resisting temptation; the fifth, the group of
the right, or those who have outlived their
temptations; and the sixth and last, the group
of the extreme right, that is to say, those who
are helping others to resist their temptations.
Let me run rapidly over these six groups.
I. The group of the left center or those who
are being tempted.
With this one I begin; because we have all
been in it. Whether we have been in the other
groups or not, we have all been in this one:
we have all been tempted. One of the first
things we were told when we were quite young
was that we should be tempted—that we
should have to beware of evil companions; and
there is not one of us in whose case this prediction
has not come true.
There is, indeed, no greater mystery of
providence than to understand the unequal
proportions in which temptation is distributed.
Some are comparatively little tempted;
others are thrown into a fiery furnace of it
seven times heated. There are in the world
sheltered situations in which a man may be
compared to a ship in the harbor, where the
waves may sometimes heave a little, but a real
storm never comes; there are other men like
the vessel which has to sail the high seas and
face the full force of the tempest. Many here
must know well what this means. Perhaps
you know it so well that you feel inclined to
say to me, Preacher, you know nothing about
it; if you had to live where we live—if you
had to associate with the companions whom we
have to work with, and hear the kind of language
which we have to listen to every hour
of the day—you would know better the truth
of what you are saying. Do not be too sure
of that. Perhaps I know as well about it
as you do. Perhaps my library is as dangerous
a place for me as your workshop is for
you. Solitude has its temptations as well as
society. St. Anthony, before his conversion,
was a gay and fast young man of Alexandria;
and, when he was converted, he found the
temptations of the city so intolerable that he
fled into the Egyptian desert and became a
hermit; but he afterward confest that the
temptations of a cell in the wilderness were
worse than those of the city. It would not
be safe to exchange our temptations for those
of another man; every one has his own.
I believe, further, that every man has his
own tempter or temptress. Every man on
his journey through life meets with some one
who deliberately tries to ruin him. Have you
met your tempter yet? Perhaps he is sitting
by your side at this moment. Perhaps it is
some one in whose society you delight to be,
and of whose acquaintance you are proud;
but the day may come when you will curse the
hour in which you ever saw that face. Some
of us, looking back, can remember well who
our tempter was; and we tremble yet, sometimes,
as we remember how nearly we were
over the precipice.
One of the chief powers of temptation is
the power of surprize. It comes when you are
not looking for it; it comes from the person
and from the quarter you least suspect. The
day dawns which is to be the decisive one in
our life; but it looks like any other day. No
bell rings in the sky to give warning that the
hour of destiny has come. But the good angel
that watches over us is waiting and trembling.
The fiery moment arrives; do we stand; do we
fall? Oh, if we fall, that good angel goes
flying away to heaven, crying, fallen, fallen!
II. The group of the left or those who have
fallen before temptation.
Tho I do not know this audience, I know
human nature well enough to be certain that
there are some hearing me who are whispering
sadly in their hearts, This is the group I belong
to: I have fallen before temptation; it
may not be known; it may not even be suspected;
but it is true.
To such I bear a message of hope to-day.
The great tempter of men has two lies
with which he plies us at two different stages.
Before we have fallen, he tells us that one fall
does not matter; it is a trifle; we can easily
recover ourselves again. And, after we have
fallen, he tells us that it is hopeless: we are
given over to sin, and need not attempt to
Both are false.
It is a terrible falsehood to say that to fall
once does not matter. Even by one fall there
is something lost that can never be recovered
again. It is like the breaking of an infinitely
precious vessel, which may be mended, but
will never again be as if it had not been
broken. And, besides, one fall leads to others;
it is like going upon very slippery ice on the
face of a hill; even in the attempt to rise you
are carried away again farther than ever.
Moreover, we give others a hold over us. If we
have not sinned alone, to have sinned once involves
a tacit pledge that we will sin again;
and it is often almost impossible to get out
of such a false position. God keep us from
believing the devil's lie, that to fall once does
But then, if we have fallen, he plies us with
the other lie: It is of no use to attempt to rise;
you can not overcome your besetting sin. But
this is falser still. To those who feel themselves
fallen I come, in Christ's name, to say,
Yes, you may rise. If we could ascend to
heaven to-day and scan the ranks of the blest,
should we not find multitudes among them
who were once sunk low as man can fall?
But they are washed, they are justified, they
are sanctified, in the name of our Lord Jesus
and by the Spirit of our God. And so may
It is, I know, a doctrine which may be
abused; but I will not scruple to preach it
to those who are fallen and sighing for deliverance.
St. Augustine says that we may out
of our dead sins make stepping-stones to rise
to the heights of perfection. What did he
mean by that? He meant that the memory
of our falls may breed in us such a humility,
such a distrust of self, such a constant clinging
to Christ as we never could have had if
we had not fallen.
Does not the Scripture itself go even
further? David fell—deep as man can fall;
but what does he say in that great fifty-first
Psalm, in which he confesses his sin? Anticipating
forgiveness, he says:
Then will I teach Thy ways unto
Those that transgressors be,
And those that sinners are, shall then
Be turned unto Thee.
And what did our Lord Himself say to St.
Peter about his fall? "When thou art converted,
strengthen thy brethren." A man may
derive strength to give to others from having
fallen. He may have a sympathy with the
erring; he may be able to describe the steps
by which to rise, as no other can. Thus, by
God's marvelous grace, out of the eater may
come forth meat, and out of the strong may
come forth sweetness.
III. The group of the extreme left or those
who are tempters of others.
These three groups on the left form three
stages of a natural descent. First, tempted;
secondly, fallen; then, if we have fallen, we
tempt others to fall.
This is quite natural. If we are down
ourselves, we try to get others down beside
us. There is a satisfaction in it. To a soul
that has become black a soul that is still white
is an offense. It is said of some, "They rest
not except they have done mischief, and their
sleep is taken away, except they cause some
to fall." There is nothing else, I think, in
human nature so diabolical as the delight
which the wicked feel in making others like
themselves. Have you never seen it? Have
you never seen a group of evil-doers deliberately
set themselves to ruin a newcomer, scoffing
at his innocence and enticing him to their
orgies? And, when they succeeded, they rejoiced
over his fall as if they had won a great
triumph. So low can human nature sink.
Sometimes it may be self-interest that makes
man a tempter. The sin of another may be
necessary to secure some end of his own. The
dishonest merchant, for his own gain, undermines
the honesty of his apprentice; the employer,
making haste to be rich, tempts his
employees to break the Sabbath; the tyranical
landlord forces his tenants to vote against
their conscience. Why, there are trades which
nourish on other people's sins.
But perhaps the commonest way to become
a tempter is through thoughtlessness. I protest,
we have no pity for each other's souls.
We trample about among these most brittle
and infinitely precious things, as if they were
common ware, and we tempt one another and
ruin one another without even being aware of
it. Perhaps, indeed, no one who goes to the
place of wo goes there alone; perhaps every
one takes at least one with him. I hear it
said nowadays that the fear of hell no longer
moves men's minds; and that preachers ought
no longer to make use of it as a motive in religion.
Well, I confess, I fear it myself; it is
a motive still to me. But I will tell you what
I fear ten times more. What! is there anything
which a man can fear ten times more
than the fire that never shall be quenched?
Yes! it is to meet there any one who will say,
You have brought me here; you were my
tempter; and but for you I might never have
come to this place of torment. God forbid
that this should ever be said to me by any one.
Will it be said to any of you?
But now let us turn away from this side
of our subject and look at the bright side—at
the three groups on the right.
IV. The group of the right center, or those
who are successfully resisting temptation.
Not very long ago a letter chanced to come
under my eye. It was by a young man attending
one of the great English universities.
One day two or three fellow students had come
into his rooms and asked him to join them in
some amusement of a questionable kind, which
they were contemplating. On the spur of the
moment he promised; but, when they had
gone, he thought what his parents would say
if they knew. It was a godly home he belonged
to and a very happy one, in which the
children were bound to the parents in such a
way that they kept no secrets from them. He
thought of his home, and he had doubts
whether what he had promised to do might not
cause pain there. He was afraid it would;
and he promptly and frankly went and told
his companions that his engagement was off
till he should inquire. The letter I saw was
the inquiry. It affected me deeply to read it;
for it was easy to understand how much manliness
was required to do that which might
be interpreted as unmanly.
The memory of that man's home came to
him in the hour of temptation and made him
strong to resist. I wonder this influence does
not prove a rescuing power oftener than it
does. Young men, when you are tempted,
think of home. I have been a minister away
in a provincial town; and, I think, if you
could realize the mother's terror, and the
father's stricken frame, and the silent tearful
circle, as I have seen them—it would make you
fling the cup of temptation from your lips,
however persuasive was the hand that proffered
Yet this will not always be a strong enough
motive in the struggle with temptation. There
will come times when you are tempted to
great sin which will appear to you absolutely
safe from discovery and not likely to inflict
the slightest injury on your fortunes. In such
circumstances nothing will sustain you if
you do not respect your own nature and stand
in awe of your own conscience. Nay, even
this is not enough; the only effective defense is
that of one who was surely tempted in this
very way, "How can I do this great wickedness
and sin against God?"
There are secret battles fought and victories
won on this ground, never heard of on earth,
but essentially more glorious than many victories
which are trumpeted far and wide by
the breath of fame. There is more of courage
and manhood needed for them than for walking
up to the cannon's mouth? Many a soldier
could do that who could not say "No" to
two or three companions pressing him to enter
the canteen. Not long ago I was speaking to
a soldier who told me that many a time in the
barracks he was the only man to go down on
his knees out of twenty or thirty; and he did
it among showers of oaths and derision. Do
you think walking up to the cannon's mouth
would have been difficult to that man? Such
victories have no record on earth; but be sure
of this, they are widely heard of in heaven,
and there is One there who will not forget
V. The group of the right or those who
have outlived their temptations.
On this point I do not mean to dwell; but
I should like at least to mention it, as there
is contained in it a great encouragement to
some who may be enduring the very hottest
fires of temptation. Perhaps your situation is
so intolerable that you often say, I can not
stand this much longer; if it lasts as it is, I
must fall—"One day I shall fall into the
hands of Saul."
No, you will not. I bid you take courage;
and as one encouragement I say, you will yet
outlive your temptation.
That which is a temptation at one period
of life may be no temptation at all at another.
To a child there may be an irresistible temptation
in a sweetmeat which a man would take
a good deal to touch; and some of the temptations
which are now the most painful to you
will in time be as completely outlived. God
may lift you, by some turn of providence,
out of the position where your temptation lies;
or the person from whom you chiefly suffer
may be removed from your neighborhood.
The unholy fire of passion, which now you
must struggle to keep out of your heart, may,
through the mercy of God who setteth men in
families, be burnt away and replaced by the
holy fire of love burning on the altar of a
virtuous home. The laughter and scorn which
you may now be bearing for your Christian
profession will, if you only have patience, be
changed into respect and veneration; for even
the ungodly are forced at last to do honor to
a consistent Christian life.
In these and other ways, if you only have
patience, you will outlive temptation; tho I
do not suppose we shall ever in this world be
entirely out of its reach, or be beyond the
need of these two admonitions: "Watch and
pray that ye enter not into temptation," and,
"Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed
lest he fall."
VI. The group of the extreme right, or those
who are helping others to overcome temptation.
You see, on the right there is an upward
progress, as on the left there was a downward
one. The first step is to be successfully resisting
temptation; a higher one is to have outlived
temptation; the highest of all is to be
helping others to resist it; tho I do not say
that this must be the chronological order. It
is the order of honor.
This group of the extreme right is the exact
opposite of the group of the extreme left.
Those in the latter group are tempting others
to fall; those in this one are encouraging and
aiding others to stand fast. No man ought
to be satisfied till he is in this noble group.
There are many ways in which we may assist
others with their temptations. A big-hearted
man will often be doing so without
being aware of it. His very presence, his
attractive manhood, his massive character act
as an encouragement to younger men and
hold them up. I do not know anything so
much to be coveted as in old age to have men
coming to say, Your example, your presence,
your sympathy were like a protecting arm
put round my stumbling youth and helped
me over the perilous years. My brothers, if
a few men can honestly say this to us in the
future, will it not be better than Greek and
Many are helping the young against their
temptations by providing them with means
of spending their leisure innocently and profitably.
Our leisure time is the problem. While
we are at work, there is not so much fear of
us; but it is in the hours of leisure—the hours
between work and sleep—that temptation finds
men, and they are lost; and therefore I say,
there is no more Christian work than providing
men with opportunities of spending leisure
But by far the best way to help men with
their temptations is to bring them to Christ.
It may be of some service to a man if, in the
time of trial, I put round him the sympathetic
arm of a brother; but it is infinitely better
if I can get him to allow Christ to put round
him His strong arm. This is the effectual defense;
and no other can be really depended