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This entry is part 11 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

In previous chapters we have described holiness as that state of grace in which all sin is excluded from the heart, but there is always a positive as well as a negative aspect of spiritual life. This is true both of the new birth and entire sanctification. In conversion the negative aspect is pardon; the positive is regeneration, the impartation of the life of God to the soul. There are no degrees of pardon: it is full, perfect, and complete; but on the positive side perpetual increase is in order: there is “life,” and “more abundant life.” In like manner, while the negative aspect of holiness is the purging of the heart from all that is carnal—and this a full, complete, and entire work, without degrees and gradualism—there is also a positive aspect of holiness which is never separate from the negative; the one always implies the other. The positive blessing is the complete filling of the soul with the life of God. Justification is our coming to Christ; sanctification is Christ coming to us. Entire sanctification is to be entirely possessed by Christ—so filled with His life that sin and Satan are cast out. We must not simply possess life, but the life must possess us. Sin flies before the Divine presence as darkness flies before the light. All would be darkness but for the presence of the light; and all would be sin within us but for the presence of the life.

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This entry is part 27 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

T

he maintenance of a good conscience towards God from day to day is essential to the life of faith.  True spirituality cannot exist unless accompanied by scrupulous conscientiousness, the purpose to do right at any cost.  Archbishop Temple 1 has truly said, “It is always a duty to obey conscience; it is never a duty to disobey.”  Conscience requires that we mean well, and do our best.  It requires not only that we follow all the light we have, but all that we can obtain, and that we do this gladly.  Conscience claims regency in everything that a man should aim to do or to be.  “The word ought is the sovereign of all vocabularies.”

Conscience guarantees only good intentions.

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Perfect Love: Ch. 9 of “New Testament Holiness”

This entry is part 12 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

In the New Testament there are two words for love. One is philos, which is the word used to express natural human affection. This exists in greater or less degree throughout the entire animal kingdom, including all natural affections of human nature apart from Divine grace. The other word, agape, is invariably used to express a Divine affection, imparted to the soul by the Holy Ghost. Natural love existed within us before we were regenerated, as it exists in human nature generally; but of Divine love we had none until we were born into the Kingdom of God. The love of God was then “shed abroad in our hearts” [Romans 5:5], and by this alone can we claim the title of children of God, as partakers of His nature [cf. 2 Peter 1:4]. “The love of God here means not our love to God, nor exactly the sense of God’s love to us, but God’s love itself for us.” “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us” [1 John 3:1], not manifested or demonstrated, but bestowed, imparted, given to us as a gift. What a wonderful truth this is, that God’s love for us shall be in us, and become our love to others. Was this not what our Lord asked for when He prayed, “that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” [John 17:26]? The truth declared is that God gives us His love to love with; He has made His love our property, absolutely given it to us, so that it is now ours. Who can tell all that this means? Inspiration itself can only find relief in adoring gratitude. “Behold what manner of love.”

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Testimony: Ch. 25 of “New Testament Holiness”

This entry is part 28 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

 

T

he Rev. John Fletcher once said to Mrs. Hester Ann Rogers, “Come, my sister, we will covenant together to spread the sacred flame, and testify before men and angels ’the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.’” 1 [1 John 1:7]  With flowing tears Mrs. Rogers repled, “In the strength of Jesus I will”; and she did, until she went “sweeping through the gates washed in the blood of the Lamb.” 2 It seems to have been the custom among early Methodists to make humble, prudent, but frank acknowledgement of the work of entire sanctification, when it was wrought in their souls by the power of the Holy Ghost.  We give a few testimonies which come first to hand:—

“The Lord for whom I waited came suddenly to the temple of my heart, and I had an immediate evidence that this was the blessing I had for some time been seeking.” [continue reading…]

This entry is part 13 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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by
Evangelist Thomas Cook

The Scriptural terms “holiness,” “perfect love,” “perfection,” may be used synonymously, because they all point to the same state of grace. John Fletcher says: “We frequently use, as St. John, the phrase ‘perfect love’ instead of perfection; understanding by it the pure love of God shed abroad in the hearts of established believers by the Holy Ghost, which is abundantly given unto them under the fulness of the Christian dispensation.”2 But while these terms may be used indiscriminately in speaking of full salvation, each one indicates some essential characteristic and emphasises some different aspect of the truth. Perfect love is expressive of the spirit and temper, or the moral atmosphere in which the entirely sanctified Christian lives. Perfection signifies that spiritual completeness or wholeness into which the soul enters when the last inward foe is conquered, and the last distracting force is harmonised with the mighty love of Christ, every crevice of the nature filled with love, and every energy employed in the delightful service of our adorable Saviour. This implies not only complete deliverance from all spiritual pollution, but the possession of the unmixed graces of faith, humility, resignation, patience, meekness, self-denial, and all other graces of the Spirit.

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This entry is part 14 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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by Evangelist Thomas Cook

At the Council of Jerusalem (Acts xv. 8,9) Peter, in giving an account of his visit to Cornelius, and the work of God upon the hearts of those assembled, said: “And God, who knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did to us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”

Two facts are here stated:—

  • That the same fulness of the Spirit which the apostles received at Pentecost was imparted to Cornelius and his household.
  • That the work wrought was the purifying of their hearts by faith.

The conclusion is inevitable that the baptism of the Holy Ghost includes entire cleansing from sin, or, in other words, that the fulness of the Spirit is a synonym for entire sanctification. Since there are but two forces which can sway the soul, the flesh and the Spirit, to be completely filled with either is to exclude the other. All inward renewal is the result of the Holy Spirit’s operation; He is the indispensable agent in the production of spiritual life, both in its beginnings and in its fulness. Theologians speak of God, the Father, as the originating cause of salvation; of Christ as the procuring cause; of the Holy Spirit as the “executive of the Godhead.” This latter phrase, coined by Dr. Hodge,2 of America, very aptly describes the work in the Third Person of the Trinity in the renewal and sanctification of those who trust in Jesus. He comes to the heart in sanctifying power, excluding the evil and filling it with Divine love, when we believe the blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all sin, just as He comes in regenerating power when we believe for forgiveness, and are adopted into the family of God.

The first point to be recognised, as clearly set forth in the Scriptures, is the fact that all Christians do possess the Holy Spirit. They have not only been brought under His influence, but they have received the Holy Spirit Himself. This is a truth which needs to be particularly emphasised. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” [Romans 8:9]. And the converse of this is necessarily true, that if any man belongs to Christ, he must have the Spirit of Christ. “It is remarkable,” observes Professor Godet,3 “that the Spirit of Christ is here used as an equivalent of the Holy Spirit in the preceding proposition.” Christ dwells in us by His representative the Holy Spirit, so that a Christ-possessed and a Spirit-possessed soul mean exactly the same thing.

When Ignatius4 was on his trial at Rome, he was asked by the Emperor, “What is the meaning of your name, Theophorus?” (God-bearer). He promptly replied, “He who has Christ in his breast.” And all Christians are God-bearers, whether they realise it or not. The unspeakably glorious mystery of an indwelling Holy Ghost is the possession of even the weakest and most failing child of God. The mistake has often been made of looking upon the incoming of the Holy Spirit as an experience subsequent to conversion, as an arbitrary bestowment rather than a necessary vitality. But the Scriptures plainly teach that the Holy Spirit is a universal gift to all believers, one without which they cannot be believers at all. At the same time, we must recognise the fact that to possess the Holy Spirit is one thing, but to be filled with the Spirit is quite another. Before Pentecost the Holy Ghost had been given to the disciples. Christ had breathed upon them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” [John 20:22]. But Pentecost made an unspeakable difference to them. The visible tongues of fire were only emblems of what had passed within. What new creatures they then became! How their gross conception of Christ’s kingdom was purged away, and how they were raised from earthliness to spirituality! Their intellects were flooded with Divine light, their souls throbbed with Divine sympathies, and their tongues spoke so wonderfully of the things of God, that all who had known them previously were amazed, saying, “What meaneth this?” [Acts 2:12] They were all raised to a new altitude; a new energy and force possessed them. Each one became strong as an iron pillar, “the weakest as David, and the strong as the angel of the Lord.”5 They met together as the sincere, but timid and partially enlightened followers of Christ, but they left the upper room full of light, and power, and love. They were now filled with the Holy Ghost as an all-illuminating, all-strengthening, all-sanctifying presence. The baptism of fire had consumed their inward depravity, subsidised all their faculties, and filled to the full each capacity with Divine energy and life.

“Baptised with” and “filled with the Holy Ghost” are often convertible terms in the Acts of the Apostles, but it is instructive to note that they are not always so. The apostles received but one baptism, but they were “filled” with the Spirit over and over again. The baptism of the Holy Ghost was, and still is, a sort of initiatory rite to the life of Pentecostal service, and fulness, and victory. Christian life begins at Calvary, but effective service begins at Pentecost. Before Pentecost there was not much service rendered by the apostles that was worth the name. But with the Spirit’s baptism they entered upon a new phase of life and service. The analogy of the sacrament of baptism connects the baptism of the Spirit with a new era in Christian life. Pentecost [Acts 2], and the visit to Cornelius [Acts 10], when the baptism of the Spirit is spoken of, were not only historical events, but great representative occasions, which may be held to typify and signify the beginning of the Spirit-filled life.

Almost all prominent Christian workers whose labours have been pre-eminently owned of God bear witness to the reception of a distinct definite blessing which they received subsequent to conversion, and which inaugurated a new era in their spiritual life. If questioned, they would give different accounts, probably, of how they received this experience, and describe it differently, but they suddenly became bold, mighty, aggressive, and conquering. They had received their Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit was in them the fire of love, the light of assurance, and the unction of power.

As far as God is concerned, there is no reason why weary wastes of disappointing years should stretch between Bethel and Peniel,6 between the Cross and Pentecost. It is not the will of God that forty years of wilderness wandering should lie between Egypt and the promised land. In apostolic days there was generally a brief interval between conversion and the baptism of the Spirit, but new converts were introduced at once to this fulness of blessing, and taught to expect it as a positive, conscious, and present experience. Under the preaching of Philip in Samaria [Acts 8:4-13], many were converted, and “when they believed, they were baptised both men and women” [verse 12]. The successive steps through which they passed are mentioned; attention to the word, faith, great joy, and baptism with water. But before they should be disheartened by difficulties and demoralised by defeat, Peter and John were sent unto them from Jerusalem for the special purpose of leading these newly-saved ones into the fulness of blessing. They prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost, and they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost [Acts 8:14-17].

St. Paul’s first question to “certain disciples,” which he found at Ephesus, was “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” [Acts 19:1-2] “Jesus hath sent me,” said Ananias to the newly-converted Saul of Tarsus, “that thou mayest be filled with the Holy Ghost” [Acts 9:17]. How many backslidings would be prevented if we returned to primitive methods, and urged our converts to seek this experience at the beginning of their Christian life! None can deny that the ordinary Christian in our churches, weakened as he is by doubt and palsied by fear, with his worldliness and backslidings, far more resembles the condition of the disciples before Pentecost than after it. Who can read the Acts of the Apostles without coming to the conclusion that the Apostolic Church enjoyed a much larger measure of the Spirit’s fulness than is generally experienced by Christians today? We claim to be sharers in Pentecostal privileges, and yet how few enjoy the fulness of blessing which Christ is exalted to bestow! If we are not filled with the Spirit, at whose door does the blame lie? The question is not, “Has God given?” but, “Have we received?” The might of God was not exhausted on the day of Pentecost. That baptism was simply a pledge and earnest of what God intends to do for His people. We are still in the dispensation of the Spirit, and the promise still stands: “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts ii. 39). The promise is as far-reaching and extensive as the need, and means that by virtue of our new birth it is our individual privilege or birthright to be filled with the Holy Ghost. Each believer has the right to aspire to this, the right to pray for it, and the right to expect it today.

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It is interesting to note the gradation in the teaching of St. John’s Gospel. In chapter iii we have the “life” in its beginning—the new birth (John iii.7). In chapter iv we have “life abundantly”—“a well of water springing up” [John 4:14]. We fill our cup and drink, and keep on drinking from this inexhaustible supply. Those who have learned to do this shall never thirst. The well is for the supply of personal need. But Christianity extends beyond the individual; provision is made for the needs of those about us. Hence we are taught in the seventh chapter that rivers of blessing shall “flow out” from all believers who are filled with the Spirit. “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” [John 7:38]. Blessing is promised here on a magnificent scale. Notice its hugeness, its Godlike vastness! “Rivers,” not a babbling brook or a streamlet; not even a river, but “rivers.” What Divine prodigality! In this experience, “Grace, not in rills, but in cataracts rolls.”7 If it means anything, it means that there is no limit to the blessing God can send, through the feeblest of His servants, if they are prepared to receive what He is ready to bestow. There shall not only be fulness, but overflow. Spirit-filled believers carry life, and satisfaction, and gladness, wherever they go. Their presence is life-giving, fructifying,8 refreshing, even as a river which blesses as it flows. “Everything shall live whithersoever the river cometh” [Ezekiel 47:9]. The weakest, feeblest member of the body of Christ may be so instinct9 with the most vigorous life, that there shall come forth from him a holy river-like abundance to the blessing of the souls of others.

Let us not confuse this fulness of the Spirit with any particular modes of blessing. Sometimes His coming distils as the dew, or it may be like the gentle summer shower, or as the mighty rushing wind. Some have an overwhelming sense of His presence; to others He comes, as it were, without observation, in quiet gladness and confidence. Souls are brought into this blessing with as much diversity as sinners are brought into pardon and peace. He Who blesses knows best what we need, and will adapt His gifts to us with infinite wisdom. But though His modes of coming vary, when He does come in fulness to the soul, all its chambers are filled with light, and not a taint of impurity remains.

We often speak and act as if it were the most difficult thing in the world to obtain the fulness of the Spirit, and yet it is certain that there is no blessing which the Father is so ready to bestow upon those who ask Him as this very gift. More willing is He to give the Holy Spirit to each believer than a mother to give the healing medicine to her dying child, or a father to give food and raiment to his soldier son who has just returned from the war. “If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” [Luke 11:13]

 


Footnotes:

This entry is part 15 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

There were two kinds of sacrifice in the Levitical economy—of atonement and of acknowledgment. The former found their fulfilment and their end in the Lamb of Calvary, and are to be offered no more; but the sacrifice of acknowledgment is perpetual in the Church.

Having clearly demonstrated, in the Epistle to the Romans, that justification could not come by the law, the apostle shows that the Gospel absorbs into itself the sacrificial ideas of the law, spiritualises them, and in their most perfect form re-issues them as the rule for the Church in succeeding ages. “Present,” he says, “your bodies” [Romans 12:1], not your oxen, and sheep, and goats—the one great sacrifice on Calvary hath swept these away for ever. The sacrifice required now is not blood but service, not death but noblest life. “A living sacrifice” refers to the contrast between the death of the victim under the law and the life which is now to be presented to God; and to be consumed not by fire, but in doing God’s will, and in the service of humanity. Just as the Jew brought the body of the dead sheep and laid it on the altar to be consumed, “a whole burnt offering,” so we are invited to bring our living bodies, and present them to God to be consumed in a life of perfect deeds and continual self-denial and devotion. [continue reading…]

This entry is part 16 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

Holiness is not only a state but a way, and not only a way, but a highway, wherein the redeemed are to walk; and walking along that highway we shall always have Christ at our side.

We get into the highway of holiness by a definite act of consecration and faith, and walk upon that highway by continuous surrender and trust. Christ is the door, and He is the way. Walking with Him, we shall grow more and more unworldly and heavenly-minded, more transformed, more like Christ, until our very faces shall be radiant with Divine glory. As with Moses, who “wist not that the skin of his face shone” [Exodus 34:29-30] with the reflected radiance which it had received when he was in the presence of Jehovah, so from those who walk with God there emanates an unconscious influence which makes the ungodly tremble before them just as Satan in “Paradise Lost,”2 when he saw the sinless pair in Eden, “trembled to behold how awful goodness is.”

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Beulah Land: Ch. 14 of “New Testament Holiness”

This entry is part 17 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

Those who have read Bunyan’s immortal allegory will remember how he brings his pilgrims, before they crossed the river of death, into the land of Beulah. In that region they were “clear out of sight of Doubting Castle”; the gates of the Celestial City were full in view, the sun shone by night as well as by day. They heard continually the singing of birds, and in their walks they encountered several groups of the shining ones. As they walked to and fro in this goodly land they found it to be “a most pleasant, mountainous country, beautiful with woods, vineyards, fruits of all sorts, flowers also, with springs and fountains, very delectable to behold.”2 It may seem at first sadly at variance with facts to describe Christian experience on earth in such glowing colours, but there is a high and serene inheritance “common to and for all the pilgrims,” a promised land, towards which we are beckoned, where, as Dean Alford would say, “Materially we are yet in the body, but in the spirit we are already in heaven—only waiting for the redemption of the body to be entirely and literally there.”

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Soul Rest: Ch. 15 of “New Testament Holiness”

This entry is part 18 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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by Evangelist Thomas Cook

When all our powers are harmonised, each with each, and all with God, the soul enters upon a condition of undisturbed rest which is beyond the reach of doubt and fear. Among the many characteristics of the spirit-filled life there is none more marked than this feeling of rest which is developed in our personal consciousness. We sing of rest beyond the river, but we must not transport to the other shore the things which God has prepared for those who love Him on this side of the river. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. These words are often quoted as though they had reference to the heavenly world. “But,” says the Apostle, “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” [verse 10], indicating clearly that the believer’s heaven on earth is meant, not some experience beyond the grave. “We which have believed do enter into rest” [Hebrews 4:3]. This rest is described in the Epistle to the Hebrews as “God’s rest” (Heb. iii.11), “My rest” (Heb. iv.1), “His rest,” “Christ’s rest” (Heb. iv.10), “a Sabbath rest” (Hebrews iv.4,9). In the same Epistle we are taught that…

I. …Soul rest implies cessation from our own works.

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This entry is part 19 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

Matthew Henry says “that when Christ died He left a will, in which He bequeathed His soul to His Father, his body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes fell to the soldiers, His mother He gave to John, but to His disciples, who had left all for Him, He left not silver and gold, but something that was infinitely better — His peace.”2 “My peace I give unto you” [John 14:27]. Elsewhere this peace is described as the peace of God [Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15], because He is its source and origin. It is the peace which Christ had with the Father from the beginning, the peace in the heart of the Eternal, the stillness of eternity entering the spirit, causing a waveless, breathless calm. It lies not in the emotions, nor in the absence of the emotions. It is a peace not springing up in the course of nature, but handed down from heaven, and implanted in the believing soul. [continue reading…]

This entry is part 4 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

C. H. Spurgeon once wrote as follows: “There is a point of grace as much above the ordinary Christian as the ordinary Christian is above the world.” Of such he says: “Their place is with the eagle in his eyrie, high aloft. They are rejoicing Christians, holy and devout men doing service for the Master all over the world, and everywhere conquerors through Him that loved them.” The experience to which Mr. Spurgeon refers has been described as the higher life, entire sanctification, Christian perfection, perfect love, the rest of faith, and by numerous other names or terms. Modes of expression have been selected by various Christians which have best coincided with their theological views. There may be shades of difference in their import, but, generally speaking, the terms mean one and the same thing. [continue reading…]

This entry is part 20 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

The question is often asked, “How are we to keep our converts from lusting for the flesh-pots of Egypt, the leeks, the onions, and garlic of their former life?” [Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4-5] There is but one answer, the joy they have in God must surpass all the pleasures of sense. We read in the old myth that the Sirens sang men to death, but died themselves if they failed. When the Argonauts passed by them, Jason ordered Orpheus to strike his lyre. The enchantment of his singing and music surpassed theirs, and the Argonauts sailed safely by; whereupon the Sirens cast themselves into the sea and became transformed into rocks. We cannot make the Sirens fail unless we carry a charm with us greater than theirs. Joy must conquer joy, and music must conquer music; the Christian must have a music in his own soul far sweeter than any Siren-song of this delusive world. [continue reading…]

This entry is part 5 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Evangelist Thomas Cook

It is a mistake to suppose that there is any state of grace this side of heaven which puts a Christian where he is exempt from temptation.  So long as a soul is on probation, it will be tested by solicitations to sin.

It is true, when the heart is cleansed from all evil, the warfare within ceases. The struggle with the flesh, or inbred sin, or depravity, by whatever name it may be called, comes to an end when all antagonisms to God are expelled from the soul, and Christ reigns without a rival. But there are other enemies than those which exist within, against whom we shall have to fight strenuously to the end. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness (wicked spirits) in high places” [Ephesians 6:12]. This implies temptation, but temptation cannot be inconsistent with holiness, because Jesus was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” [Hebrews 4:15].

The Christian life is a long battle, but that fact does not imply that we are sinful, or inclined to sin. The nearer we live to God, the thicker and faster will Satan’s arrows fly. Some Christians do not live near enough to God to be the subject of a downright spiritual struggle. There is no better evidence of grace and progress than that we are much harassed by Satan’s emissaries. He does not need to employ his forces against nominal and inconsistent professors of religion. Severe temptation often precedes, or follows, special and signal blessing. Christ’s great battle with Apollyon occurred immediately after the descent of the Holy Ghost at His Baptism. As soon as He had received the signal anointing, which was to prepare Him for His great mission, “then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” [Matthew 4:1]. His temptation was evidently a part of the Divine plan, not only permitted, but arranged for. Experience was gained in His conflict with Satan, which could not have been obtained in any other way. Having “suffered being tempted,” [Hebrews 2:18] He is now able to succour those who are tempted as would have been impossible had He not resisted Satan’s fiery darts Himself.

Temptations are permitted for a purpose. None can come without Divine permission. Did not Satan complain that God had set a hedge about Job which he could not pass without a special permit [Job 1:10]? The Indians say that when a man kills a foe, the strength of the slain enemy passes into the victor’s arm. In that weird fancy lies a great truth. Each defeat leaves us weaker for the next battle, but each conquest leaves us stronger.

“Did Jesus Christ know that Judas was a thief?” [John 12:4-6] was a question asked at one of our recent holiness meetings. The reply was in the affirmative. “Then why did the Master, if He knew that, give him the bag?” continued the interrogator. The reply was as follows: God allows the bag to be put in every life—by the bag is meant that which is constantly testing our loyalty to Him—and usually the temptation comes in the weakest place of our character. God permits this because He knows we can only gain strength in the weak place by overcoming temptation at that point. Each new triumph brings an increase of moral power, and makes victory the next time easier. This is probably the reason why Bunyan2 places nearly all the great combats which Christian fought with Satan early in his journey. The first years of Christian life are the formative period of Christian character, when the assaults of the tempter are fullest of possibilities of benefit to the believer.

Samuel Rutherford3 writes: “The devil is but a whetstone to sharpen the faith and patience of the saints.  I know that he but heweth and polisheth stones all the time for the New Jerusalem.”

Some sincere souls are in constant bondage because they have never been taught to discriminate between evil thoughts and thoughts about evil. We must discern between things that differ. So long as we are in this world, and so long as we have five senses coming in contact with a world abounding with evil, Satan will be sure to use these as avenues of temptation. But no taint comes on the spirit from temptation which is at once and utterly rejected. It may and should be instantly repelled.

Milton4 says:

Evil into the mind of God or man
May come and go, so unapproved, and leave
No spot or blame behind
.5

It may seem difficult to some to ascertain whether certain states of the mind are the result of temptation, or the uprisings of the evil of their own nature. But when suggestions of evil awaken no response and kindle no desire, when they cause a shudder and a recoil, when they are opposed to our usual inclinations and desires, and cause pain, we may safely conclude that they are from without and not from within, and no self-reproach need ensue.

An evil thought springs from evil existing in the heart, but a thought about evil is a suggestion, flashed upon the mind by what we see or hear, or by the law of association, or by the enemy of our souls. Those who are holy have no evil within, consequently no evil thoughts; but intruding thoughts and whispers of evil will often need to be resisted. These are an unchangeable condition of probation.  Provided proper caution has been used to avoid occasions of temptation, “no spot or blame” [2 Peter 3:14] is left behind, any more than the shadow of a cloud passing over a beautiful lake disturbs or defiles it. It is not temptation, but the yielding to it that is sinful, and there is a condition in which we may, with St. Paul, always triumph [2 Corinthians 2:14].

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Temptation is first presented to the intellect, flashed it may be in a moment, the thoughts are appealed to—this is the earliest stage of temptation. Thence it is transmitted to the sensibilities, in which region it operates upon the senses, appetites, passions, or emotions. There is danger lest these be excited with a desire for gratification. A critical stage of temptation is now reached, but no guilt is necessarily contracted. In the case of those whose hearts are not entirely cleansed from sin, the temptation finds more or less inward sympathy, but there is no guilt incurred unless the evil suggestion is cherished or tolerated. The will has yet to be challenged, and upon its decision depends entirely whether the tempter is to be successful or not. If the will says “No” to the temptation, the tempter is foiled and defeated, and the soul comes off more than conqueror.

Though it is possible for the fully-cleansed soul to listen to Satan, and to reason with him until he again ejects sin into the heart as of old—he “beguiled Eve by his subtlety” [2 Corinthians 11:3], whose heart was perfectly pure—still it is not so likely that he will be successful as before the heart was cleansed from sin. There is no porter Parley6 within the citadel then, to open the castle gates to the enemy who is without. Holiness makes none so secure as that they cannot sin, but it gives them to possess all the elements of strength and stability. Though the warfare be long and severe, yet, by abiding in Christ, victory may be constant and complete; and as storms help to root the trees, we shall find that the best helps to growth in grace are the affronts, the crosses, and the temptations which befall us.
 


Footnotes: