06/04/2014 09:13:25 PM
To-night I want to talk to the man who is down, to the man who has his back to the wall, and who is being embattled by his own temptations. It is, perhaps, not an academic subject, but it is the greatest of all subjects on which one can speak to young men. There are men here who are lost in the abyss; but there are more men who are on the brink of the precipice. Temptation is a universal experience--the one thing that makes every man his brother, and creates within any one who thinks about it a grave sense of tenderness as he thinks of those around him, when he remembers that every man he meets has the same black spot in his nature that he has, and the same terrible fight going on from day to day. But, gentlemen, temptation is more than a universal experience. It is an individual thing. Just as you have your own handwriting, your own face, or your own walk, you have your own temptation-- different in every case, but generally some one temptation which means everything to you, which sums up the whole battle of life, and which, if you could conquer, you would conquer the world. That temptation follows you wherever you go like your shadow. I have gone into the heart of Africa. When I opened the curtains of my tent in the morning, the first face I saw was the hideous face of my own temptation. Go where you like, you cannot avoid that. It will follow you wherever you go, and lie with you in the grave. Temptation is not only a universal experience and a personal experience, but you have doubtless noticed this about it, that it is very lonely. It cuts a man off in a moment from all his fellowmen; and in the silence of his own heart he finds himself fighting out that battle on which the issues of life hang. Christ trod the wine press alone, and so do you and I. That is one of the things that makes it harder, because there is no one to blame us when we go wrong, and there is no one to applaud us when we do right.
More than that, temptation is a pitiless thing. It goes into the church and picks off the man in the pulpit. It goes into the university and picks off the flower of the class. It goes into the Senate and picks off the great man. Let him that thinketh he standeth, however high up, however sheltered, take heed lest he fall. Why is it that we have to run the gauntlet of temptation all our lives, and what does it mean? Can we analyze it? We have seen its strength. Can we find out whence it comes and how to meet it? There are many theories as to how it came into our nature. Some think there is a virus in human nature somewhere, a bias towards wrong; but I don't think we need to look very far for the origin at least of a great many of our temptations. We have in our bodies the residua of the animal creation. We have bones and muscles and organs which are now mere curiosities, but which once played a great part in the life of our progenitor; and I suppose it is now accepted as a scientific fact, at all events so far as the body is concerned, that it has come down the long ladder from the invertebrate world. That is to say, we have in our nature a part of the animal; and if we have an animal's body in us, we have to a certain extent the residua of an animal's mind, of an animal's proclivities and passions. Whether that is the origin of them or not, it is certain every man among us has a certain residuum of the animal in him. After passing through the animal stage, it is believed that man passed through a long, long discipline in the savage state; so that, in addition to the animal, relics of the savage are still left in our nature.
There are two great classes of sins--sins of the body and sins of the disposition. The prodigal son is a typical instance of sins of the body; and the elder brother a typical illustration of sins of the disposition. He was just as bad as the prodigal, probably worse. The one set of temptations comes from the animal and the other from the savage. What are the characteristics of the savage? Laziness for one thing, and selfishness for another. The savage does nothing but lie in the sun all day and allow the fruits to drop into his mouth. He has no struggle for life. Nature has been so kind as to supply all his wants; and he is, above all, characteristic of selfishness. He has no one to think about or care for, nor has he any capacity. A great preacher said not long ago to his congregation that he would tell them the mark of the beast, and that he also knew its number. He said the mark of the beast was selfishness, and its number was No. 1. Now the mark of the beast, selfishness, is in every man's breast, less or more. We are built in three stories --the bottom, the animal; a little higher up, the savage; and on the top, the man. That is the old Pauline trichotomy--body, soul, spirit. Paul spoke of this body of death. Science speaks of it in almost precisely the same language. Whatever the origin, that is the construction of a man. He is built in those three layers. With this analysis, it is perhaps easier to see how temptation may be met.
Many a man goes through life hanging his head with shame and living without his self-respect because he has never discovered the distinction between temptation and sin. It is only when a man sees temptation coming and goes out to meet it, welcomes it, plays with it and invites it to be his guest that it passes from temptation into sin; but, until he has opened the door of his own accord and let it in, he has done no wrong. He has been a tempted man--not a sinful man. The proof, of course, that temptation is no sin is that Christ was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. Many a man is thrown back in his attempts to live a new life by the clinging to him of this residua of his past; and he does not discover until perhaps too late that there is nothing wrong in these things until they have passed a certain point. If he sees them coming and turns his back upon them, he has not sinned. Indeed, temptation is not only not sin, but it is the most valuable ingredient in human nature. Who was it that said, "The greatest of all temptations is to be without any"? The man who has no temptation has no chance of becoming a man at all. The only way to get character is to have temptation. If a man never exercises his muscle, he will get no muscle. If a man never exercises his moral nature in opposing temptation, he will get no muscle in his character. Temptation is an opportunity of virtue. What makes a good picture? Practice. What makes a good oarsman? Practice. What makes a good cricketer? Practice. Temptation is the practice of the soul; and the man who has most temptations has most practice. I fancy we all imagine we have more temptations than anybody else. That is a universal delusion. But, instead of praying to be delivered from our temptations, we ought to try to understand their essential place in the moral world. Taken from us, these would leave us without a chance of becoming strong men. We should be insipid characters, flaxen and useless. That is why the New Testament says the almost astonishing thing: "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." We are apt to call it hard lines because we are tempted. James says, count it joy; congratulate yourself because of your own temptation. It is the struggle for life almost solely which has helped on the evolution of the animal kingdom, passing on into the moral region and giving you practice in growth.
Now, then, granting that this discipline is to be ours, that every day of our lives we have to face temptation, how are we to set about it? We have seen that temptation lies in the projection on the human area of our life of the animal and of the savage. I think the first thing we have to do is to deal decisively with those two parts of our nature. The animal body was finished thousands and thousands of years ago. Nature took a long time to work it out, then stopped and went on to develop the mind. Let us recognize the development of the body as a fact in the past, and have no more to do with it. The body is finished. The hand of creation is done working at it. That is what Paul meant very largely when he gave it as his advice to men to get over temptation, "Reckon ye yourselves dead." Reckon that all beneath. It is not only wrong to allow the body to prevail in a man's life, but it is a denial of his development. It is unnatural and irrational. It is contrary to the teachings of science, borrowed altogether from the teachings of religion. Therefore, the first thing a man must do is to make up his mind that the body which is prompting him is a dead thing and is to be taken as a dead thing. If we can give our animal nature its true place, we will soon learn to rise above it. What did Cato do when he was buffeted? Ask Seneca. He did not strike back, fly into a passion: he did not resent it, but denied that it had been done. That is to say, the body being nothing, nothing had happened.
But that is not enough. We cannot live negatively. It is not enough to forsake the old life, the old habit; but we must take another piece of advice which I think the New Testament also sums up for us in language of exceeding simplicity and yet of absolute scientific accuracy. Paul says: "Walk in the spirit." Live in the top flat. You find yourself living in the animal part of your being. Escape and get into the upper story, where the roof is open to God, and where you can move amongst beautiful things, and amongst holy memories and amongst high ideals. Walk in the spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. A man can't do it. That is to say, he has to evolve the past, the animal and the savage, and develop the new nature. The new nature is renewed from day to day, little by little. Just as the body is built up, microscopic cell by microscopic cell, so the new nature is built up by a long series of crucifixions of the old nature, by taking in food from the higher world and getting those things built into our nature which work for righteousness and truth and beauty and purity.
Now, the man who encourages the higher part of his nature continuously will get an absolute victory over the lower parts of his being. He will come to live in those higher parts of his being. It will become as habitual to live there as it was to live in the lower; and, while this building up is going on within, there will be the degeneration of the old nature. How has man evolved past the animal and the savage, and how has so much that is in them passed away from him? By mere disuse. And so, by the mere disuse of the propensities of the body and the discouragement of selfish and petty interests, by merely giving up the animal ways and the animal passions, and the savage tempers and the savage laziness, the impulse, the function which makes these things, will wither--atrophy. As the one goes on, the other inevitably follows. As the old man passes away, the new man is renewed in righteousness. That can be explained not only in the language of development but in the language of psychology as a perfectly rational principle. A man cannot have two things in consciousness at the same moment. Suppose a man has been lost out in the West and wandered away from the railway depot where he had put up at a hotel. Perhaps he has been four or five days on the prairie. One day he staggers back, almost dropping with hunger and calls out for food; but finds lying upon his table, while waiting for food, a telegram reporting the sudden death of his wife. The hunger is gone, completely gone. The man who was perishing a few moments ago is now absolutely above it; and if I could keep up the emotion of sorrow, I could keep down forever the appetite of hunger. If you want to get over an appetite on philosophical principles, not to speak of religion, the thing to do is to pass into another region, and let your mind be preoccupied with something higher. Unless you take in the higher, it is tremendously difficult to crush out the lower. The new man can only be put on as the old man is put off.
You remember Augustine's history of temptation in four words--cogitatio, imaginatio, delectatio and assensio: a thought, a picture, a fascination, and a fall. You can cut off the series between the first and second. Between the second and third, it is almost impossible. Between the third and fourth, it is absolutely impossible. When the image is thrown upon the screen and you are delighting in it and it is just beginning to enthrall you, you can still do one thing. You can suddenly throw another image on the screen and look at that. If you look for two seconds at the first image you are lost; but if you look one second you are not yet lost, and there is still a chance to be saved. You can throw another image over it and let the first dissolve away; and, by the mere possession of consciousness, you have got over that temptation.
You see, then, how, upon merely natural principles, it is possible to fight temptation. If we simply walk in the spirit, we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We must evolve past them, in plain words. By cultivating ideals of all kinds and by strengthening our moral nature by all the opportunities we can get in society, in literature and in the church, we will gradually accumulate a body, a higher body, of life and mind and truth, in which we can live; and the old tenements in which we lived will not only be uninhabited but uninhabitable. Hence the value of everything that is beautiful and pure and lovely and wholesome in the world; and not only their use as auxiliaries to the religious life, but as indispensable to it; because all these are things in the higher nature, and the man who cultivates them is building up a region in which he can live. A man must live. He must live in the body, in the savage or in the man. At every moment he must live, and so at every moment he must make his choice. He cannot suppress it. If you take this subject in terms of energy, you will find that the energy which leads to sin must not be suppressed, but must be transformed into an energy which leads to virtue; so that when the desire to do something wrong comes in, instead of trying to suppress that desire, we have simply to turn the helm in the right direction; and in the new channel it will not only save us from a fall which we would have had, if we had allowed it to go the other way, but it will carry us higher towards the new life.
Now I have tried to explain the way in which any man here can rise above himself and be a man. I care not how far he has dropped. It is an historical fact that a man can be saved to the uttermost. You say to me, is there no religion in all this? It is all religion. You say, do I not need to put more religion into it? The more the better. I have spoken of walking in the spirit. I have spoken of ideals. I know no ideal that will act so promptly as the ideal of the perfect Man. I know no picture that you can throw upon the screen which will fascinate more immediately than the picture of the character of Christ. You may throw people upon the screen, a line of poetry, an epigram from a moralist, a memory of your mother, a warning of some one you love, and all these are reflections in some form of Christ; and they will all be effective up to a point. But most of all effective is the power of Christ Himself; and, unless a man has a moral environment which is full of these things, he cannot live. There is no hope for his new life, unless he has that. No man can live without these things morally. Take that gas which gives us light. The light is not in the gas. It is half in the air and half in the gas. Take away the half from the air, and the gas goes out. "Without me, ye can do nothing." Your life will go out. Without Me, whether as the Light of the world itself, or as diffused through books, and through men and through churches, without that your life will come to nothing; but, if you take that and all the reflections of it, and let these constitute a spiritual atmosphere about you, your redemption from this hour is a certainty. There is no haphazard about Christianity. It is based upon the laws of nature and the laws of the human mind.
The man who lives in Christ cannot go wrong. He will be kept. In the nature of things, he must be kept. He cannot sin. You remember John said: "Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him." John's Friend was such, so inspiring and so influential, that it was inconceivable to John that anybody could ever have met Him without forevermore trying to live like Him. Sin is abashed in the presence of the purity of Jesus Christ. There are many heroes in life. They will all help a man; but we will get on better and quicker by giving ourselves to Christ.
I have just two things to add. The first is: if any man here to-night takes this seriously and means business; if he means for the future not to keep up the sham fight that he has been pretending to wage, and means to get to the bottom of things, let me ask him for a few days from this time to treat himself as a man who has been very ill and dare not do anything. Let him consider himself as a convalescent for a few weeks and take care where he goes, what he reads, what he looks at, and the people he speaks to. He is not strong enough for the outer air. When he first begins the new life, he is young and tender. Therefore, let him beware of the first few days. Mortality is greatest amongst children for the first few hours: then it is greater for the first few days; then it is great for the next few months, and lessens as the children grow older. If you are careful not to catch cold for the first few weeks after you begin to lead a new life, you will succeed; but, if you do to-morrow what you did to-day, you will go wrong, because you are not strong enough to resist. You will have to build up this new body cell by cell, day by day, just as the old body of temptation has been built up. If any man here knows any other man who is in that convalescent condition, let him take care, and neither by jest, or word, or temptation, throw that man back. Stand by him, if you know such a man. If you are such a man, do not be ashamed to get somebody else to back you and go along with you. Very few men can live a solitary Christian life. You will find it a great source of strength to get another man's life wound about you. You can help each other.
The other thing I want to say is this: Do not imagine that you can get deliverance from sin alone--I mean without getting other things, and without doing other things. Deliverance from sin is only a part of the Christian life--by no means the whole. It is only one wing of the new nature; but no man can get on with one wing. Deliverance from temptation is only one function of the new nature. Therefore, you must consecrate your whole life to Christianity, and go into it wholly and with a whole heart, if you expect to get deliverance in this one direction; and the best way you can do that is to make up your mind that you will give much of your life to Christianity, to purify the air of the world, so that other men will feel less temptation than you do. Sin is a kind of bacillus, and it cannot take root in the world unless there is a soil, and it is our business to make the world's soil pure and sanitarily sweet, so that the disease of sin cannot exist.