STALKER

TEMPTATION


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

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 University.

Lewis O. Brastow, D. D.


STALKER

Born in 1848

TEMPTATION

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 rise.

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 not matter.

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 you be.

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 it.

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 them.

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 Roman fame?

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 profitably.

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 on....