8) ON TEMPTATIONS AND TRIBULATIONS
We are at times so base, proud, and ambitious; and so full of our own appetites, our own judgment and opinions, that if temptations and tribulations were not permitted to try, humble and purify us, we should never arrive at a state of acceptance.
The Lord, seeing our misery, and perverse inclinations, and being thereby moved to compassion, withdraws His strength from us, that we may feel our own weakness; suffering us to be assaulted by violent and painful suggestions of impatience and pride, and diverse other temptations; and some, who have long been in the practice of sin, by gluttony, luxury, rage, swearing, despair; and a great many other besetments; in order that they may know themselves, and be humble. With the temptations, Infinite Goodness humbles our pride giving us, in that, the most wholesome medicine.
“All our righteousness,” as Isaiah saith, “are as filthy rags;”(47) through the vanity, conceitedness, and self-love, with which they are defiled. It is, therefore, necessary that they should be purified with the fire of temptation and tribulation; that so they may be clean, pure, perfect, and acceptable in the sight of God.(48)
The Lord polishes the soul which He draws to Himself, with the rough file of temptation; freeing it thereby from the rust of many evil passions and propensities. — By means of temptation and tribulation He humbles, subjects, and exercises it; showing it its own weakness and misery. It is thus that He purifies and strips the heart, in order that all its operations may be pure, and of inestimable value. Oh, how happy would you be, if you could quietly believe that all the trials and temptations, wherewith you are assaulted, are permitted for your gain and spiritual profit!
But you will perhaps say that when you are molested by others, or wronged and injured by your neighbor, that this cannot be for your spiritual advantage; seeing that it is the effect of their faults and malice. This is no other than a cunning and hidden device of the enemy; because, though God wills not the sin of another, yet He wills His own effects in you; and the trouble which accrues to you from another’s fault should improve you by increasing your patience, and exercising your forbearance and charity.
Consider, how the Lord makes use of the faults of others for the good of your souls. Oh, the greatness of the divine wisdom! Who can pry into the depth of the secret and extraordinary means, and the hidden ways, whereby He guides the soul which He desires to purge, transform, and dignify?
It is often the greatest temptation to be without temptation; because we are then most liable to fall into a state of lukewarmness; wherefore we ought not to repine when it assaults us; but with resignation, peace, and constancy, shut our hearts against it. If we would serve God; and arrive at the sublime region of internal peace, we must pass through this rugged path of temptation and tribulation; and therein become polished, purged; renewed and purified.
A direct contest and struggle with temptations rather serves to augment them; and withdraws the soul from that adherence to God, which it should ever be its principal occupation to strive after and maintain. The surest and safest method of conquest is simply to turn away from the evil, and draw yet nearer and closer to our Sure Refuge: a little child, on perceiving a monster, does not wait to fight with it, and will scarcely turn its eyes towards it; but quickly shrinks into the bosom of its mother, in total confidence of safety: so, likewise, should the soul turn from the dangers of temptation to its God. “God is in the midst of her,” saith the psalmist, “she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early.”(49) The name of the Lord is a strong tower, to which the righteous flee and are safe.”(50)
If we do otherwise, and in our weakness attempt to attack our enemies, we shall frequently feel ourselves wounded, if not totally defeated: but, by casting ourselves into the presence of God, and relying solely on Him, we shall find supplies of strength for our support. This was the succor sought for by David: “I have set” saith he, “the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad and my glory rejoices: my flesh, also, shall rest in hope.”(51) And, it is said in Exodus, “The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”(52)
Although “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man;”(53) yet it is evident that temptations are permitted for our good, and, if rightly endured, tend to our refinement; “therefore, count it all joy, when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.”(54) And in all our besetments, however painful they may feel to us, or of whatever nature they may be, we should remember that it is said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love Him.”(55)
You cannot be hurt by men or devils, if you keep always near to God: for, “who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good.”(56) But if you are hurt, it is your pride, your passions, and your many unsubdued evil propensities, that rise up and injure you; and as long as these remain, the enemy will make use of them, and seek to draw your minds away from adherence to an All-sufficient Preserver.
“Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”(57) Therefore, know your own state, and the need you have to be purified by means of temptation, and keep always on the watch, lest the unwearied enemy gain access to your souls by his insinuations and pleasing allurements, which he will suit to your present situation and condition: for, in your passage through life, there are many things which he will offer you as temptations; endeavoring to produce in you an inordinate inclination and desire for them; which if you give way to while you are in this manner tempted, great will be the danger of your being wholly overcome.
If the malignant enemy is not resisted in his first attack, he enters by gradual advances, and takes entire possession of the heart: and so long as opposition is deferred by habitual negligence, the power of opposing becomes every day less, and the strength of the adversary proportionally greater. Therefore, when you feel in yourselves a strong and eager desire after anything whatsoever, and find your inclinations carry you too precipitately to do it, strive to moderate yourselves by retreating inward, and seeking after tranquility of mind. To do all things well, we must do them as in the Divine presence, otherwise we shall soon get off our right center, and be in danger of being wholly overthrown.
Oh blessed soul! If you wouldst but be content and quiet the fire of temptation and tribulation, and suffer thyself to be fully proved and tried, in patiently enduring the assaults of the enemy and the desertion of the heavenly good, how soon would you find yourself rich in celestial pleasures! How soon wouldst the divine bounty make a rich throne in thy soul, and a goodly habitation for thee to refresh and solace thyself in. Know, that although the Lord may for a season visit, yet He taketh up His abode in none but peaceful souls; and those in whom the fire of temptation and tribulation have consumed all their corrupt propensities; the Lord reposeth not Himself any where, but where quietness reigns, and self-love is banished.
If from chaos, His omnipotence has produced so many wonders in the creation of the world, what will He not do in your soul, created after His own image and likeness, if thou keep constant, quiet, and resigned, with a true sense of thy own nothingness?
“Cast not, therefore, away thy confidence, which hath great recompense of reward,”(58) but keep constant; O blessed soul! Keep constant, for it will not be as thou imaginest; nor art thou at any time nearer to God, than in such times of desertion, and trial of thy faith; for although the sun is hid in the clouds, yet it changes not its place, nor loses any part of its brightness. The Lord permits these painful temptations and desertions to purge and polish, to cleanse and disrobe of self; that thou mayest become of these trials entirely His, and give thyself up to wholly serve Him.
Oh, how much is there to be purified in a soul that must arrive at the holy mountain of perfection, and of transformation with God! For whilest any portion of evil, any thing of self, remains in us, we must be subject to temptation. When self is annihilated, there is then nothing left for the tempter to act upon. Oh, how resigned, naked, denied, annihilated, ought the soul to be, that would not hinder the entrance of the Divine Lord, nor His continual communion with it.
47) Isaiah 64:6
48) James 1:2-4
49) Psalm 46:5
50) Proverbs 18:10
51) Psalm 16:8-9
52) Exodus 14:14
53) James 1:13
54) James 1:2
55) James 1:12
56) I Peter 3:13
57) James 1:14
58) Hebrews 10:35