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of practice in direct opposition to plain and evident duty. The key of all this is, that they have secretly yielded their will to some temptation, and converted it into their own sin; and that sin is their master. We sometimes see such people deteriorating with a frightful intensity and speed; so much so as to make us remember how awfully the emptiness and preparedness of an undevout heart is described by our Lord. The unclean spirit “ saith, I will
, return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there."'*
The case is, of course, much more obviously true of those who live lives of positive unholiness. Every sin that a man commits is an invitation to the tempter to tempt him thenceforward to that particular sin. So that every man of a profligate life is the subject of a manifold temptation, which is perpetually multiplying itself. First he is tempted of his own heart, then by Satan, then by consent he tempts Satan to tempt him again in the same forms, circumstances, and details ; for by consent he has made that his master sin. And thenceforward it becomes, as we say, a ruling sin, which is so seldom broken off that St. Peter says of certain, that they have "eyes full of adultery, and that
“ cannot cease from sin.”+ They have an active commerce with the tempter, a mingling of will and desire with him ; and the inflammation and power of evil affections become a bondage through which it becomes at last morally impossible to break. And how does this differ from a possession of the devil ? Is it not a possession in all the reality of fact and truth? How did Satan enter into the heart of Judas with any fuller or more personal presence than this? * St. Matt. xii. 44, 45.
+ 2 St. Peter ii. 14.
How can we otherwise explain the settled, deliberate career of sin in which some men live—the perfect impenetrableness of heart and conscience with which they hold out against all warnings, fears, and chastisements ; as, for instance, in sensuality, falsehood, or pride ?
This, then, is the sum of the matter: temptations are no sins so long as we keep our will pure from all consent to them; when we consent, they become sins, are infused into our spiritual nature, and are the first admissions of that which in the end may be no less than a possession.
3. And this leads to one point more-I mean, to the nature and limits of the power of temptation. First, it is plain that Satan has no power over the will of man except through itself. It must be won by self-betrayal, or not at all. This is absolutely certain, and lies at the root of the distinction between obedience and disobedience, holiness and sin. Next, it would appear that he can have no direct power over the affections. He must approach them, as they lie round the will, through the eye and the ear, the touch or the imagination. Through the senses, the avenues of temptation are ready and direct; and all the world around us ministers to danger. Therefore our Lord was so searching in His commands to pluck out the offending eye, and to cut off the offending hand. The first visible objects which Satan used to tempt withal were pure creatures of God, the fruit of the tree which God had blessed. So subtil is evil. But since he gained an entrance into the creation of God, he has, through the will and works of wicked men, framed for himself a world of his own, full of the visible forms and suggestions of pride, lust, impurity, covetousness. What else are idolatries, oracles, licentious ceremonies, lying books, unholy sights, pomps, and wars; or, again, false casuistry, sceptical and defiling literature,
luxurious arts, worldly grandeur, and the like? And these things find their way into all eyes and ears, and are quick
, ened by the craft and activity of men already corrupt. This world of evil hangs upon us round about, and through it he insinuates the quality of evil into the affections, and by them sways and possesses the will. .
And again: we cannot doubt that he has still more concealed ways of addressing himself to us. He is a spirit, and we are of a spiritual nature. It is impossible to limit or define the action of intellect on intellect, and imagination on imagination. There are some temptations so peculiar, so sudden, so abrupt in their onset, so contrary to our natural and habitual bias, so disturbing and vehement in their first entrance on the mind, that we can hardly doubt that the tempter has a direct avenue to the intellectual and imaginative powers of our nature: for instance, religious delusions, in which he appears as an angel of light to the perverted mind. There is, by the common consent of man, such a thing as the direct instigation of the devil, which, though its means of working may be generally through the senses, we cannot doubt is also a work of direct and disembodied evil. Such, for instance, as the unaccountable desire to commit great and eccentric crimes; sudden impulses to do things most feared and hated, concurring with an opportunity unperceived till the impulse detected it. Now though these are extreme cases, and such as we are not commonly exposed to, they lay open a law, so to speak, of temptation which has place in our common life. I mean, the direct power and agency of Satan on the imagination. It is not necessary now to go further, or to inquire whether the images of the mind of which he serves himself are gathered from the ideas of previous experience, or suggested, new and unknown, from without. All that we are concerned
THE NATURE AND LIMITS OF TEMPTATION. (Serm. V.
with now is, to show that he has no hold over the will, nor power over the affections, except through the images of the senses and of the mind. And this is a most consolatory and a most practical truth. It shows us our perfect safety so long as the Spirit of Christ dwells in our hearts : and it teaches us where to watch against the approaches of the tempter.
Let us pray, then, that our eyes, ears, and all senses be mortified; that the cross be upon them all; that no images of pomp, vanity, or lust may pass through them into the affections of our hearts; that no visions of sins past, nor remembrance of any thing that can kindle pride, anger, resentment, or any unholy passion, may haunt us; that our will may be dwelt in by the will of our sinless Lord, who for us overcame in the wilderness, and, if we be pure and true, will “ bruise Satan under our feet shortly.”
St. Matthew iv. 3.
"When the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God,
command that these stones be made bread.”
When our Lord had fulfilled the forty days of His miraculous fast, “He was afterward an hungered.” He felt at that moment, more than all the sensations of languor and exhaustion to which long abstinence from food commonly brings our nature. It was a time of peculiar weakness, when, if ever, the tempter might hope to have advantage of this mysterious Person. When he came to Him, therefore, he took
the words which fell from heaven at His baptism. He said, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” It seems to have been partly for the sake of finding out what He truly was, and partly to prepare
the way for other and worse suggestions. We cannot say how far Satan knew with Whom he had to do. Probably he could only gather His real nature by the manifestations which were revealed in this world. The tempter had, we may believe, no knowledge derived from his own intelligence who this mysterious servant of God might be. He was no longer privy to the secrets of Heaven; and no