IT is very profitable to the faithful soul to be tested and confirmed in the faith by temptations, whilst tarrying in this world. Our Saviour Himself was willing to wrestle with the devil in His temptation in the wilderness, in order that He might overcome him for us and for our salvation, and thus be our faithful Champion in all our conflicts with the tempter. Before He ascended to heaven He descended into hell as its Conqueror, and so the faithful soul must first descend into the very lowest depths of temptation, before ever it can ascend to the glories of heaven. The children of Israel could not fully occupy the promised land of Canaan, until their various enemies were first conquered; and thus the faithful soul may not comfort itself with the promise of entering into the glories of the heavenly kingdom, until it has first gained the victory over its enemies –- the world, the flesh, and the devil. Temptation tests, purifies and illuminates the soul.
Temptation tests the soul, because our faith assailed by storms of adversity strikes its roots more firmly down into the very bed-rock of our salvation; it spreads out its branches more widely in good works, and shoots up higher and higher in its hope of the glorious liberty of the children of God. When Abraham, bidden by God Himself to offer up his son in sacrifice, had given full proof of his prompt and cheerful obedience, the angel of the Lord appears to him saying, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me” (Gen. xxii. 12). And so if thou, in thy temptations, offerest up to God in sacrifice thine own will and desires, thou too wilt be counted as one that feareth God, and in thine inmost heart thou wilt hear the divine word of approval. As fire tests the gold, so temptation tests thy faith. The battle shows the temper of the soldier, so temptation shows the strength of thy faith. When the boisterous winds beat against the boat that carried Christ, and the foaming billows dashed into it, then appeared the little faith of His disciples. When the Lord directed that the Israelites should be led out to overcome the Midianites, they were first taken down to the water and tested there (Judges vii. 4); and so are we to be tested in the water of tribulation and temptation, ere we, with all our enemies laid low before us, shall be led triumphantly into our heavenly fatherland. Whatever adversities then, whatever temptations, the faithful soul here suffers, let them be regarded not as a mark that God is reproving us for our sins, but rather that He is proving our faith.
Temptation also purifies our souls. Our great Physician, Christ, employs many bitter remedies to expel the malignant spiritual diseases of love of self and love of the world. Tribulation excites us to a careful examination of our consciences, and often vividly recalls the sins of our past lives; nay more, it frequently preserves us from the commission of sin, as certain medicines act as a preventative of contagious bodily diseases. We are prone to fall into sin at all times, and yet more so in times of prosperity than of adversity. To many riches are as thorns (Matt. xiii. 22) that spring up and choke the good seed sown in their hearts. God, therefore, takes them away, lest they may destroy the soul. A multitude of worldly business cares hinder many from rendering due obedience to God; and so He often lays them upon a sick bed, that they may have time to turn their thoughts in upon themselves, and thus begin to die to the world, that they may live unto Him. To very many it has been a great blessing to have fallen from an exalted station of wealth or of honor to the comparative quiet of a more obscure lot in life. Worldly honor puffs up many with pride; and so God often sends reproach, and removes that which feeds this worldly pride.
Finally, temptation illuminates the soul. How imperfect and worthless is all worldly consolation, we come to recognize only in time of temptation. While Stephen was being stoned to death he saw the glory of Christ (Acts vii. 55), and so Christ shows himself to the truly contrite soul in the hour of its sorest trouble. It is only as God Himself dwells in us that we may have true and lasting joy, and God dwells with him that is of a contrite, humble spirit (Is. lvii. 15). Affliction as a severe test of our faith serves to make our spirits humble and contrite, so that the souls of the afflicted may greatly rejoice in all their afflictions. Through temptation we come to know God more truly and intimately, for the Lord Himself says, “I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him” (Ps. xci. 15). Blind Tobias saw nothing above him, below him, in front of him, not even himself; but illuminated by God through the Angel Raphael, he clearly saw all those things that he could not see before, using no other remedy than the gall of a fish, thus teaching us that our eyes are to be anointed and illuminated by the gall of bitterness before we shall attain to a true knowledge of ourselves and of the world. Why does the Apostle say –- “For now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. xiii. 12)? Because in temptation and trial we learn to know that God brings joy to the hearts of His elect children in a way that seems to betoken only sadness; that He makes them spiritually alive by apparently putting them to death; that He heals them spiritually by allowing them to be subjected to various diseases, and makes them rich in spirit by keeping them poor in this world’s goods. Hence, we ought cheerfully accept the cross and temptation in grateful appreciation of the love of Christ, who was tempted, and tried, and suffered on the cross for us.
O blessed Jesus, let me pass through fiery trials here; let me be bitterly persecuted, even, in this world, if Thou wilt only spare me in the world that is to come. O blessed Jesus, who dost often spare us by apparently casting us away from Thee, grant that by Thy merciful stripes upon us we may be brought back again to Thee. Afflict and chastise the outward man, if Thou wilt, if only the inward man may thus grow in strength and power. O merciful Jesus, be Thou with me to help me in all my conflicts with myself; direct me in my struggles, and crown me with glorious victory. Whatever adversities I may suffer in this life, let them serve to quicken and increase my faith. Strengthen my feeble faith, O blessed Jesus, for so hast Thou promised to do by Thy holy prophet, “As a mother comforteth her children, so will I comfort you” (Is. lxvi. 13). As a mother cherishes and nourishes with more tender and anxious care her new-born infant because of its very helplessness, so, O merciful Jesus, encourage and strengthen my soul because of the very weakness and feebleness of my faith. Grant that the inward consolations of Thy grace may have more influence and power upon me than all the contradictions of ungodly men and of the devil himself. O Jesus, do Thou, who art indeed the Good Samaritan, pour into the gaping wounds of my sins the stinging wine of Thy just judgments, but at the same time, also, add the soothing oil of Thy divine consolations. Increase the burden of the cross I already bear, if Thou wilt, but grant me also the strength to bear it.