Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.—James, i. 12.
Nothing can exceed the diversity which characterizes the lot of men in this life. Looking abroad on the surface of human society we behold constant and most wonderful mutations. Changes, which no sagacity could foresee, are occurring with such wonderful rapidity that the history of human life seems little less than some vision of fancy—some reverie of a lawless imagination! The rich, one day in delightful security flattering themselves that want shall never reach them, the next day are compelled to tremble—they see want staring them in the face! The poor now rise to opulence—and now feel more deeply the stings of poverty, till death or some other overturning presents a new aspect. The ambitious, some of them have reached the pinnacle to which they aspired—some of them have plunged headlong from the dizzy heights they were attempting to climb! Thrones crumble! Scepters are shivered into pieces! And kings are refugees in the land of strangers! Mourners, at one time we see them comforted; at another, forced to drink still deeper from that chalice of wormwood and gall they have lifted to their lips! No anticipation has ever contemplated what fact makes true in the world. You do not see around you now such a state of things as you ever expected. Some whom you hoped to see in honor are covered with infamy—others are covered in the dust! Some, whose character once forbade hope, are now the objects of wonder, and perhaps of envy. And as you attempt to look forward to the future, you are forced to anticipate such a rapidity and strangeness of changes, as if some magic were at play and sporting itself with the destinies of the world. As you look, the view changes—it is gone! new objects arise, and new changes fill you with wonder!
In the midst of just such a world we are living, my hearers; and in a little while we shall die and depart out of it. We cannot tell what shall overtake us here. A dark cloud hangs over the future; and as we attempt to enter into it, our eyes fail us, and even the objects by which we would feel our way, suddenly vanish while our hand is on them.
There is something unpleasant to such beings as we are, in this strange uncertainty and fluctuating state. We meet with much to try us. We have disappointments, afflictions, fears, reverses; tears fall from our eyes, and even the very hope that enters into our heart may cause its most bitter bleeding when it is torn away!
And there is no course or character that can secure us. As dieth the rich man so dieth the poor. Piety is not proof against disappointment, and the grave of the graceless is dug just beside the grave of the man of God.
Let us look over and beyond these changes. Let us anticipate that state when change shall be no more. Let us neither despair nor murmur at what meets us in this world. Let us remember, Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
This is the direction that the Holy Spirit gives us, to furnish us for our changeful and trying situation. My brethren, says James in the second verse, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; and then he tells the reason why: Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. Again, in the fifth verse: If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God. Nothing tends more to convince us of our lack of wisdom than the trials and changes to which we are subjected here. Who has not felt, amid the fluctuations of life, that he did not know what to do? and felt it to his very heart’s core? Who has not experienced trials and temptations, difficulties, embarrassments, perplexities, which seemed to sport themselves with his sagacity, and turn all his wisdom into mockery? Let him ask of God—ask, without wavering, and in faith. Again, in the ninth verse: Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted, but the rich in that he is made low. The first of these rejoicings needs no enforcement, and therefore the writer adds none. But the second one is more difficult, and therefore the writer tells why the rich man should rejoice when he is made low; because, as the flower of the grass, he shall pass away. He is to have the same end in this world as if he were not rich; and therefore his poverty ought not to afflict him. And that end will come soon—come like the withering of the grass! The sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth; so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. Rich as he may be, he shall die! gold cannot save him. The most it can do for him is to furnish him a splendid sepulcher: for he brought nothing into this world, and it is certain he can carry nothing out. And therefore, when he is brought to poverty, there is no real occasion for mourning—for anything but joy; because, (and this is the idea which the Holy Spirit would impress upon our minds from all the mutations of human life,) Blessed is the man that en- dureth temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
The ideas, therefore, which it seems to me the Holy Spirit would fix in our minds by these words, are the following:
I. That trials and temptations are to be expected in this life.
II. That the purpose or object of them is our trial.
III. That our duty and interest require us to endure to the end, and not yield to temptation, or sink under trial. And,
IV. That our only wise method of resistance is this— to be led by the promises of God to anticipate felicity in another world, as the inheritance of those whose love to him here enables them to endure to the end.
Let us attend to these ideas, in the fear of God and with prayer for his grace.
I. Trials and temptations are in this life to be expected.
We often flatter ourselves that we shall pass smoothly through the world; and either by our sagacity to shun evil, our vigor to resist it, or by the favor of Heaven, shall never be placed in those terrifying circumstances where we shall be in danger of yielding to the assaults of the Devil. We are very much prone to flatter ourselves; and our delusive flattery extends itself to both our character and our prospects. It is sweet for us to anticipate good, but the anticipation of evil is bitter. And that strange vanity which often exercises the mind of childhood and youth in painting future eminence and distinction, does not entirely fail of its influence, even when sober, Christian instruction and thoughtfulness have taken the place of the vain visions of our childish fancy. From some ardor of temperament, from some vanity of self-esteem, from some inadequate idea of the station in which religion places us in this world, or some inadequate idea of the duties it requires, we are prone to flatter ourselves that we are going to find it not a very difficult thing, and a thing not very severe to the flesh, to walk in the way of Christianity and preserve the integrity of a Christian’s virtue. But this is a dangerous delusion. We will not say that the life of the most afflicted believer is less happy than if he were a man of the world. We know there are consolations furnished to Christian constancy which do much to diminish the miseries which Christians sometimes feel. But we do say, that in this life believers should expect temptations, and be on their guard. They will not find it easy to be always faithful to their Master. And no dream of security ought to lull them into a dangerous repose. For,
1. There is nothing said in the Scriptures which gives us any reason to suppose that it is an easy thing to be faithful and sincere Christians. We have no promise against trial and temptation. Provision is made for us to resist and vanquish assaults; but the security and peace of heaven do not belong to us here. The promises of the Holy Ghost even, are, most of them, not for support and strength under temptation, but like that of our text, for a gracious reward after our love to God has brought us off victorious. It is true, we have some promises for our cross, but we have more for our crown. Some provision and sufficient is offered to us to enable us to resist the devil, and overcome the enticements to sin; but you can scarcely have failed to notice, in reading your Bible, how the most full and clear and frequent of its promises are occupied about the triumphs of heaven, and not the temptations of earth. So far is the Holy Spirit from assuring us that, as Christians, we shall have nothing to tempt our fidelity; he does not seem disposed, by promise, to dissipate our fears of falling when we are tempted. He promises everything to fidelity when we get to another world, but he promises sparingly while we stay in this. Heaven he holds up on our view to encourage and animate us while we are passing through the furnace; but even sustaining, cheering grace for the passage he has not so promised, that we ought ever to believe he intends our trials shall be small.
2. The express declarations of the Holy Scriptures assure us that believers will, in this life, have very much to tempt them and try their fidelity. The believer is engaged in a warfare. Enemies are before him. The battle is to be fought: Fight (say the Scriptures) the good fight of faith: put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. The believer is a pilgrim—he is a stranger and sojourner upon the earth. He cannot be faithful if he forgets it, and, surrounded with enough to make him comfortable here, takes up with his present blessings and makes this world his home. He will never reach Canaan in this way. The desert must be trodden. Its wastes, its wilds, its barren sands must be traveled over. Through those regions where he feels that nothing but bread from heaven can feed him, and nothing but light from heaven be his guide, he must direct his footsteps. And when on the borders of his possession new difficulties rise to meet him, no towering son of Anak must force him to turn back.
3. The character of the believer is such, that it is impossible he should be free from temptation. He is sanctified only in part. Folly herself never dreamt a wilder dream than that there is perfection of holiness on this side of heaven. There is no perfection here. The sons of God have not, in this life, the whole character nor the whole inheritance to which they were born. In the bosom of every man on earth there are feelings not wholly sanctified. Like Paul, the holiest have reason to say: I count not myself to have apprehended; one thing I do, I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest, after having preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. Now every feeling and every principle of the believer which are not wholly sanctified, are so many weak points at which he is exposed to injury. More than this; they are so many living, active enemies exerting their energies to drive him into sin. If there is one feeling of sinful ambition unmortified, every eminence, every dazzling honor that meets the eye, will solicit that ambition toward unholy action. If there is one feeling of condemned covetousness unsubdued, every golden stream that rolls its treasures will become a temptation to sin. If grace has not quenched forever the fires of improper anger, every slight provocation even will be a temptation to unholy resentment. And so of every other sinful propensity. Just so far as man is unsanctified, just so far he is peculiarly exposed. Temptation is diminished by holiness and increased by sin. This fact forms one of the most consolatory arguments for increasing grace, and one of the most terrible warnings to continued impiety. It is proper for the struggling believer to know that every item of his progress in holiness renders him less assailable by the temptations of the Devil: and surely, it is proper for the unbeliever to reflect that every step he takes in his impiety is putting him more and more into the power of his enemies. But there is not a just man on earth that doeth good and sinneth not: if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. And because we are of this character, (not perfect in holiness, but retaining in our hearts much of the principles and seeds of sin,) we cannot but be exposed to a thousand temptations. We shall find it difficult to endure. When we little think it, some propensity to evil will solicit gratification. There is almost an infinite variety in those ways in which corruption operates. The heart is the fountain of a thousand streams. One of them turned from its channel will often seek out another, and flow onward with accelerated speed. Another, checked in its course, will often accumulate its energies for a more terrible rush. We ought not to feel secure. Just as certain as sin dwelleth in us, sin will easily beset us. It is difficult to be faithful. And our difficulty is as great and as varied as the deceitfulness and corruption of our hearts.
4. Whatever we may hope, there is no situation in this world which places us beyond danger. Almost every Christian is prone to be looking after something in worldly condition which shall diminish his difficulties and make it more easy for him to serve God with a Christian’s fidelity. He wishes to save his soul from the curse of God and the contamination of sin; and when he is wearied with difficulties which surround him, he longs for some other situation in which he might find repose. But he longs in vain. The very condition he covets is not what he thinks it to be. There is no condition in which a Christian can ever place himself where he will not find that tribulation is in the pathway to heaven. Take any example you will.
There are temptations of adversity. It is extremely difficult for those who have nothing in this world and can expect to have nothing, to avoid envying the lot of more favored mortals, and avoid that anxiety about worldly subsistence which the clamorous calls of our nature seem to demand. The hungry man will find it difficult, by faith, to live upon the precept, when he reads in his Bible, Take no thought for tomorrow, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink. The desolate man, stripped of those who were the joy and solace of his life, will find it difficult to say over the tombs of his wife and children, The Lord gave and the Lord hath token away, blessed be the name of the Lord. The friendless child of misery, whom adversity drives into the wilderness like David, will find it no easy matter to exclaim: When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up. Our confidence is apt to be shaken by reverses. It is a hard matter to think that God loves us, and have faith enough to be satisfied with his allotments, when our hearts are bleeding under his strokes. In such cases we shall be tempted to distrust his goodness, or deny him our faith if we do not our love. While we suffer under his hand we shall be tempted to think, “Surely if we were his beloved, he who feeds the fowls of the air, and clothes the lilies of the field, and tempers the breeze to the shorn lamb, would not leave us to nakedness and famine.” Oh! how few are the Christians of whom it would be said under such trial, In all this Job sinned not, nor cursed God in his heart.
There are temptations of prosperity. Perhaps it is more difficult for the believer to be faithful when the world smiles upon him than when it frowns. Prosperity places the means of sinful indulgence within our reach. We are very apt to think better of ourselves when prospered, as if Divine Providence would not thus distinguish us were we not more deserving than others. There are also correspondent duties which prosperity imposes; and there is no little danger that we shall fail to serve God in proportion to the ability he puts into our hands. I wish I could write this sentence in letters of eternity before the eye of the church in the present day. There is no little danger that we shall fail to serve God in proportion to the ability he puts into our hands! How many rich men are extremely tempted to cherish ideas of pride and independence, and forget their reliance upon God! How many of them are in danger of being unfaithful in their stewardship, using their possessions as if God had not given them! It is no small matter to resist the temptations of prosperity. Many a tempted and tried professor of piety is manifesting to us how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
There are temptations of youth. When life is young, when the blood flows in healthful currents, when the spirits prompt us to seize on enjoyment, when the world is smiling on us, when the sun of life is rising unclouded in the heavens, it is extremely difficult to look on this world only as a tabernacle in the wilderness, and seek first the kingdom of God.
There are temptations of middle life. The business, in preparation for which youth has expended so many of its hours and its energies, is apt to claim an undue importance. How many men, full of this world’s business and hopes, are putting off the service of God and preparation for eternity till old age shall furnish them with leisure! When their best days have been spent upon the world—when their energies are gone—when, trembling with age, they are standing upon the borders of the grave, worn out and good for nothing, they intend to offer themselves for the service of God, and abandon their worldliness! Oh, what an offering! giving to God what the world will not have!
There are temptations of old age. How difficult for the man of years to give up the world! It is woven round his heart! He clings to it from habit. The feeble knees—the failing mind—the dimmed eye, already dusky with the shades of death, are not demonstrations strong enough to turn the whole soul forward to that house not made with hands.
There are temptations of health. How easy it is to flatter ourselves that our tabernacle stands strong! We do not live as if we were mortal. We imagine that we have many energies to spend upon the world, and that when the pains of illness shall come upon us, it will be time enough to prepare for our latter end. Even the finger of God in the pestilence, when many a man rises in the morning in health and slumbers before sunset beneath the sod—even this is not sufficient to impress a due sense of danger.
There are temptations of sickness. The sufferer will hope against hope that he shall recover. His distressed body is his apology for not thinking of his sinful soul! How can he pray, how repent, how seek God, while his anguish and his remedies demand all his thoughts? Indeed there is no situation between our cradle and our coffin, where there are not temptations to try us, difficulties to be endured and overcome, if we would enter into the kingdom of heaven.
5. If we look at the course in which God has led his own people, we shall find that they have been tried so as by fire. Can we find among the biographies of the saints anyone that entered into his rest by a smooth path? Behold Moses. His journey is in the wilderness; his station that—(no uncommon thing, I assure you, with men of God)—his station that for which he feels himself by nature disqualified. Hunger, and thirst, and the accusations of those who feared he was leading them to ruin, and more than all, his own impatience under difficulty when the unsanctified will rebel, present alarming obstacles to his fidelity, and make it hard for him to serve God rather than sin against him. Behold Job. The possessions of the rich man are swept away; the health of the vigorous is gone; his children, over whom the heart of the father yearned, are dead. In the dust, sick, bereaved, abandoned, and hearing from the lips of his wife even the impious counsel: Curse God and die, was there nothing of difficulty in having grace enough to say: Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil also? Behold Abraham. His home must be abandoned; its delights sacrificed. Not knowing whither he went, he must leave possession and live on promise, and, after all, not be accepted if he refuses to sacrifice his own son upon the altar at the command of God. Behold David. At one time in the wilderness, pressed by famine, and hunted by his foe like a partridge upon the mountains—at another time upon the throne, tempted to every indulgence, it could not be easy to resist evil or find grace amid royal pleasures to repent of sin. Behold Samuel, Elisha, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul, Silas—who of them ever found a way into heaven not beset with most perilous snares? Temptation ought to be expected by God’s people. Wherever we look we find no indication that the heart of the believer will be left free.
II. Now the object of all these is our trial: When he is tried, is the language of our text. There may be some obscurity lingering around this idea which it belongs not to us to explain. At any rate we will not at present attempt it. Certainly our God does not try us for the same purposes that men make trials. He knows perfectly what we are and what we shall do in every situation, and needs not the evidence of a trial to enlighten him or confirm his knowledge. Still Christians must be tried; and this is the object of all our difficulties and our temptations to sin. Without pretending to discuss this matter, we will mention two ideas in relation to it.
1. The trial may be designed for our improvement. For aught we know the economy of grace is such, and the nature of our hearts is such, that without enduring temptation we never could be fitted for the kingdom of heaven. Surely, those who have had the most mature fitness (so far as we can judge) for entering into the assembly of the first-born, have been indebted for it, under God, to those times and circumstances of difficulty which “tried men’s souls.” Grace is a gift, but it is the nature of grace to improve by action. No man can be of strong body whose muscles have not been used to hard work. No mind can attain much vigor without much severe exercise. And the temptation which tries grace may be necessary for that perfection of grace which fits for heaven.
2. The trial may be designed as a proof to the creatures of God. The day is coming when crowns of life are going to be distributed in heaven. Angels, men and devils shall witness it! And then they shall see that those who receive them have only a proper though a gracious reward; for they have been tried and found faithful. They shall walk with Christ in white, for they are worthy. But,
III. Whatever may be our trials or the design of them, both duty and interest demand our unshaken fidelity. God is a righteous rewarder. And while he bestows the crowns of life upon those who have endured temptation and been faithful unto death, the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. There is no difficulty or temptation which will excuse us for unfaithfulness. There is no want of gracious resource in God. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. Drawn away of his own lust and enticed, is the manner in which the unbelieving sin.
Amid the strange overturnings of the world and the stranger wickedness that is in it, no doubt every man will meet with many things that oppose his fidelity to Christ. But his heaven is at stake! Just as valuable as that is, just so important is his faithfulness in the midst of temptations: He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
IV. What shall we do? What shall be our resource amid the temptations that beset us—these outward fightings and inward fears? The text tells us (it is the last idea I mentioned): it holds up a crown of life upon our view; it points to the promise and speaks of the love of God. Listen to three ideas on this point.
1. You will find but little, my fellow sinners, to fortify your souls by hope against temptation, if you do not look beyond time. Here few joys will you have. Your peace will be often interrupted—your pleasures vanish—tears flow from your eyes and many a poisoned arrow enter into your hearts! But there is another and a better world. Look forward to it. Prepare for it. There is your home. There is your crown. There is your Saviour, scarred with wounds and bloody, waiting to welcome you to his rest. He was once tempted. He endured the cross, despising the shame; and you may consider him, lest ye be weary and faint in your minds. He was tempted for you; he endured for you; he died for you; and now in heaven he reigns and waits for you. You shall soon go up to him, and rush into his arms. Oh! how little would the trials of this world be, if we would only bring heaven down upon our hearts! Endure temptation then by remembering your home is in heaven—your seat ready—your crown woven, and the hand of Christ holding it, when death has done with you, to drop it upon your brow!
2. And remember, the gift is certain. The test mentions a promise. It is the promise of Him who cannot lie. Resort, then, to the promises of God when temptation assails you. Do not be afraid of doing it as if the promise were not for you. It is for you. Learn to live upon it. Be comforted by it. Learn to oppose the promise of heaven to the prospects of the world. Contrast the crown of life with the richest diadem that ever glittered with the diamonds of earth. Look forward to that city which hath foundations, whose gates are of pearl, whose foundations are precious stones, and whose walls are of jasper; and let the prospect throw all the glory of the world into contempt! Oh, if men would remember their souls and the high birthright that God has prepared. we should not have in the Church so many mournful instances of worldly conformity and failure under trial!
3. But hope and faith need assistance. Things unseen and eternal are not, always, as living realities to such creatures as we. And amid the difficulties that meet us, faith may not be able, always, to embrace the promises that are afar off. Hence the text says, To them that love him. You ought to have no hope, my brethren, that you are going to endure to the end if you have not the love of God in your heart. You may muster resolution, array arguments, multiply resolves, and do whatever else you will for your security; but the love of God is worth more than all. Christians often resort to vain contrivances. Religion, and fidelity in it, are very simple things. Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Let the love of God be shed abroad in our hearts and it will vanquish the love of the world. But if the love of God be not in you, inevitably you must fail! To the eye of man you may seem to endure, but the eye of God will behold your emptiness, and when you are judged you will be cast out from the presence of God—no crown of life for you.
My hearers, ought you not to apply these truths with the utmost candor to your own souls? Is it not true that some of you, who at times attempt to seek God, have very little idea of encountering difficulty? Do you not stop and turn back when some unwelcome doctrine, opposed to pride, or some severe duty opposed to carnality, meets you? You can never become Christians in this way. You may be deceived, but you cannot be saved! If you think to get to heaven without trouble, you are mistaken! It will cost you many a struggle! That depraved heart will bleed before it will relinquish sin! It must break before it will be bound up and healed by the balm of Gilead! Salvation is indeed free; the blood that bought it flowed freely from the offered heart of the Son of God. Pardon is easy, but the repentance and faith that embrace it must surmount many obstacles. Never was striving more requisite than in a sinner with a wicked heart and in a wicked world, endeavoring to lay hold on eternal life!
And are there not those who bear the name of Christian whose course is very unlike that we have been contemplating? In these days not a few seem to imagine that it is easy to follow Christ. Their religion gives them little trouble. What trial means—what enduring means, they cannot tell! There is no spot in all their experience where they can say they were tried! There is no leaf in all their history which tells the tale of their endurance! When religion does not form a most distinct and important business with us—when we do not find it demanding effort—when it makes no calls but such as are easy to answer—when it leaves our whole heart sound and our whole life untouched with trouble—when it permits us to flow on with the world, like them to gather its possessions, and like them to prize and enjoy them—where shall be our evidence that we are enduring trial, to be proved for the day of Christ? When I behold the easy life and untroubled mind of many who hope they shall be saved, I cannot but tremble for what is before them! So much like the world, and their hearts so much on it, can it be that they are the sons of God and their hearts on heaven? In Scripture times believers found difficulties. Temptations assailed them, hard to be overcome. Their eye was cheered with nothing in this world. They were only comforted by the promises, and promises which they could not inherit till they were dead and gone! And has religion changed its nature—or the heart its sin—or Heaven its mercy? It does seem to me that some of us find so little trouble in being Christians that we have need to tremble! What temptation has tried us? What endurance has demonstrated our faith? What furnace has kindled upon us, to burn up the dross, and brighten the spirit for its heaven?
But if you are enduring temptation, take the consolation of the promise. You shall not endure in vain. The day dawneth. Its light breaks upon your eye afar off. It shall light your pilgrim steps till it has lighted you down into the sepulcher—nor be extinguished there! It shall brighten up the dark valley—for the grave is Christ’s. Fear not, then. If you do love God and live upon his promises, and by doing so, are held above the world and enabled to endure temptation, go on—go and prosper—go, mortify the flesh—go, resist the devil—go, vanquish the world—go, endure temptation, and, when you are tried, go and receive the crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Oh God, grant it to us all, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.