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originates within. " Keep thy heart with all diligence,
for out of it are the issues of life1." But we are taught by Christ, how to receive seduction, and how to repel it. The shield of faith is our sole defence. The patriarch Joseph replied to temptation," How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God"." "Get thee hence, Satan," was the indignant answer of our Lord. It is not for forty days that we are tempted, nor yet for forty years; but for the whole term of our mortal existence, however short, or however long. God has appointed our lot in life and for the purposes of his providence, has placed us in the midst of many and great dangers, so that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; yet even this is eventually a blessing, as his grace is always ready; and his assurance undeniablethat he who endureth unto the end shall be saved"." Our danger, therefore, may be great, but God has attached a reward to our conquest.
The tree, in the midst of the garden, the fatal temptation-tree, presents its alluring fruits. Here is no allegory; it is minutely true that this was placed as a test of man's obedience: the simplicity of the trial, when all was pure in paradise, is a proof of the veracity of the narrative. Thus fell the first man, who "brought sin into the world, and all our woe;" but the great exemplar of conquest over temptation is
Prov. iv. 23.
2 Gen. xxxix. 9.
3 Matt. x. 22.
Christ. In him alone consists the restoration of a fallen world. If we are permitted 'to conquer, it is under this banner; and our reward is not of debt, but of grace and favour; "that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord 1."
But it is not till the last scene of man's life on earth that he can be safely removed from a state of danger. His closing scene then should be a scene of joy, as it is of deliverance. A moment's reflection on such occurrences as tempt us to go astray, will teach us a serious lesson. Some of these we meet half-way, and greet them as pleasant friends. Our deadened eye, and still more deadened heart, are never sensible that our companions are dangerous, till the deed of destruction is past. Some temptations come upon us like the under current of a flowing tide. Our vessel founders on an unseen rock, and sinks in the unfathomable ocean. It was too late to consider that the whole might have been avoided by a pilot and a compass: other temptations travel with us in our ordinary occupations, and while we delude ourselves with thinking that we are fulfilling the common duties of our station, we do not perceive that, in many points, we are betraying our allegiance to our God. But temptations are not all outward; they arise, in
1 Rom. v. 21.
many instances, from the most secret recesses of our own hearts; unconnected, as it might seem, with any manifest cause. For there the author of evil has his refuge. Even the good man is sensible of evil thoughts, and wicked suggestions; for seeds of evil are found even in his breast; how much more in the unguarded bosom of an evil man? The very disciples of Christ required a caution, "what I say unto you, I say unto all, watch '." The admonition is not without its use; as, even in the profession of true religion, an unsuspected danger lurks. Is there no delusion in supposing ourselves better men than we really are? Do we never compare our secure state, as we think it, with that of others which we imagine less secure? The heart in this, as in many other cases, is deceitful as it is self-flattering; but I would rather draw a veil over this unfortunate self-deception; for real piety can make no such distinctions. On the contrary, the man well advanced in religion, with all its dangers on one hand, and all its inestimable gifts and graces on the other, is the best qualified to estimate its value. He is therefore always suspecting himself and watching his own temptation, whilst he is hoping better for all those, who, perhaps, may be a few paces behind himself in the same pleasant journey. The pride of wisdom is a temptation he does not feel, because he is clothed with humility: and when he
can congratulate with a brother-convert escaped from the wiles of Satan, he "rejoices with joy unspeakable, and full of glory'."
I do not mean to say that any good man can behold the wicked actions of another without feeling an indignation sufficiently consistent with his Christian character. Our sound judgment increases rather than diminishes with our proficiency in religious knowledge. Why? Because the charity of the Gospel promotes the good feeling which is generated by it, and changes the sharp reprover into the sympathizing friend.
Our Lord's temptation stands in deep record against the admission of all temptation, and particularly of such seductions as these. It warns us to avoid a wilderness of perplexities, as dangerous to our peace, as they are to our salvation. It shows us whom we may expect to meet with in our passage through the great desert of the world; but it cheers us with the celestial guide that will attend our steps: the Holy Spirit will conduct us safely through the howling wilderness of seducing temptations, which, in fact, are only crimes and sorrows in disguise, and the result will resemble that of the blessed sufferer of the desert, that "when the devil left him, behold! angels came and ministered unto him2.
1 1 Pet. i. 8.
2 Matt. iv. 11.
THE extremely superstitious fasts of the Roman Catholic Church, and the hypocritical fast-days of the puritans in the times of the commonwealth, have thrown a levity on this subject; and have unfortunately prejudiced the conduct of later times, and introduced an almost general disuse of a pious practice, enjoined by the canons and rubricks of our Church. I do not dwell on the injunction of fasting, as a thing meritorious in itself, for that is by no means the case; but the observation of such a fast as God has chosen, and which certainly was not abrogated by our blessed Lord, has advantages, which the man of warm piety and religion alone can estimate. In times of public danger and peril, the established government of this country enjoins days of fasting and humiliation, accompanied by fervent acts of personal devotion. Who will say, that the united prayers of a whole nation, on a proper and corresponding occasion, do not present a most sublime and impressive picture of an humbled people? Who will say, that the profound acknowledgment of a superintending providence, and a national delinquency, may not afford a prevailing argument through the mediation of our blessed Intercessor, to turn aside the uplifted arm, to conciliate the Divine mercy, and to strengthen those