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THE FASTING AND TEMPTATION OF JESUS.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.”—Math. iv. 1-2.
I think I do not mistake, when I assume that this particular chapter of the gospel history, commonly called the temptation, is just the one that a good many theologians, and a much larger number of Christian disciples, do really, if not consciously, wish had not been written; that which most stumbles their speculation, and least fructifies their spiritual impressions; that which wears the most suspiciously mythic look, that which they skip most frequently in the reading, or, if they read, only gather up their minds to go on with due attention, after they are through with it.
Jesus Immanuel, the eternal Word incarnate, innocence itself and purity, the only perfect being that ever trod the earth, fasting! opening his great ministry of life in a fast of forty days, and a conflict with the devil for so long a time! Coming down, as he himself declares from heaven, to set up the kingdom of God among men, he goes to his work as if it were a deed of repentance—out of a desert, out of a fast—inaugurating his sublime kingship by austerities and fierce mental conflicts, such as guilty souls might undergo for their chastening. The picture is incongruous, many think, and revolting to faith. Besides they have a settled disrespect to fasting itself.
What I propose then at the present time, is a careful inquiry into the matter.—The fasting of Jesus in the wilderness. My hope is, that I shall be able to clear this remarkable scene of what many regard as its forbidding, or unwelcome aspect. I even hope to open up a conception of it that will place it along side of the agony and the cross, and will make it correspondently dear to all most thoughtful, practically earnest souls.
In the descent of the Spirit upon him at his baptism, he passes his great inward crisis of call and endowment, the effect of which the gospels report, in terms that require to be distinctly noted; saying, one that he is “led up,” [transported,] another, that he is “led,” [taken away,] another, that he is “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness. Under all these rather violent forms of expression, the fact is signified, that the Spirit, coming here upon him in the full revelation of his call, raises such a ferment, in his bosom, of great thoughts and strangely contesting emotions, that he is hurried away to the wilderness, and the state of privacy before God, for relief and settlement. He was not wholly unapprised of his Messiahship before, but had come to no adequate impression of what, as Messiah, he was to do and to be. He began at twelve years of age, to talk, in words profoundly enigmatical to his friends, of being “about his Father’s business.” He was reading also, from that time onward, the prophets, so often quoted by him afterward, and his soul was making answer more and more consciously to their words, even as a bell that chimes responsively to some quivering harmony of sound that is felt upon the air. Still he was so far from expecting a public inaugural in John’s baptism, that when John objects, saying “comest thou to me?” he only pleads the common reason of the multitude, a desire “to fulfill all righteousness,” in the accepting of John’s righteous ministry.
As he was human, so there was to be a humanly progressive opening of his mind, and a growing presentiment of his great future. All which makes the revelation, when it comes, only the greater and more astounding, because he is just so much more capable of taking the fit impression of it. Nor does it make any difference what particular account we frame of his person. If there is a divine-nature soul, and a human-nature soul, existing together in him as one person, that one person must be in the human type, unfolding by a human process, toward the consciously great Messiahship he is going to fulfill. If he is pure divinity incarnate, he is not simply housed or templed in the flesh, but inhumanized, categorized in humanity, there to grow, to learn, to be unfolded under human conditions of progress.
And then it is only a part of the same general view, that when his endowment settles upon him, as it does in the scene of his baptism, it raises in his feeling just the same kind of commotion that is raised in any very great and really upright human soul; as for example, in that of a prophet when his call arrives. There has been a mighty apprehension waking gradually in him before, and now there is a mighty breaking in, as it were at once, of the tremendous call; all the great movings attendant—sentiments, misgivings, joys of hope, agonies of concern—coming in with it, like the coming in of the sea. The surges break all round him, and the little skiff of humanity that he has taken for his voyage quivers painfully—quivers even the worse that it feels the heavy armament aboard of so great purpose and power.
An amazing transformation is suddenly wrought in his consciousness. As heaven opens above to let forth the voice, and let down the power, and the gate is set open before him to let him forward into his great future as a world’s Redeemer; as every thing opens every way to prepare his mighty kingship, and he feels the Messianic forces heaving in his breast, he reels so to speak, under the new sense he has of himself and his charge, moved all through in a movement so tremendous that every faculty groans in the pressure, like a forest swaying in a storm. And the result is that he does what he must—tears himself utterly away from the incontinent folly of human voices, and the sorry conceit of human faces, and plunges into the deep silence and solitude of the wilderness; there to settle his great inward commotions and compose himself to his call. He is “driven of the Spirit,” only in the sense that the crisis brought upon him by his call and felt endowment drives him. And he goes “to be tempted of the devil,” only in the sense that, being so mightily heaved by his inward commotion, he both is and will be tempted thus, till he finds his point of rest, and settles into his plan of sacrifice.
As to the fast itself, it is not likely that he had any thought of fasting, when he betook himself to the retirement of the wilderness; he only found, when there, that a fast was upon him, and since it might help him to subdue his partly intractable humanity more completely to his uses, he took it for his opportunity, refusing to come out into the sight of the world’s works and faces, to obtain his customary food. The great inward tumult he was in held him thus to his fasting for a whole forty days, and so deep was the stress of his feeling, that he does not appear to have been particularly conscious of hunger, till the very last of it; when as we are told “he began to be an hungered”—all which, as many are forward to say, is a myth, or, if not, a perfectly incredible story; no mortal organization being able to subsist for so long a time without food. And yet we hear every few months, of cases well attested that correspond. There appears in fact, to be a possible state of mental and nervous tension, that allows the subject to maintain life without food, for a much longer time than he could in the quiet equilibrium of a more natural state.
But what is Christ doing in this long solitude and silence of the wilderness? To say that he is fasting does not satisfy our inquiry. The fast we can see, is total; not a fasting from food only, but from the comforts of human habitations, from conversation, from society, and even from public worship in the synagogue, where “his custom” was, even from his childhood, to be always present. Isolated thus from the great world, and closeted with God in that grim wilderness, there is of course, no one to report him and he has not chosen to report himself; save that, in the very closing scene of his exhaustion, which is often called “the temptation,” he allows the veil to be lifted.
Who has not wished many times, that he could have the record of these forty days? And yet they may be worth even the more to us, that the record is not given—left with a veil hung over it, left to the imagination; by that only, as the purveyor to faith and sympathy, to be explored and pictured as it may be in its scenes, for there is nothing so fructifying as the supplying fondly of what is not given us in our Master’s history, but is left, in this manner, to our creative liberty. In this view, certain blank spaces were even necessary, it may be to our complete benefit in the record of his life. Had he kept a complete diary for us of the forty days experience, it might have been a far less fruitful chapter, than the almost total blank he has left us to range in, loosing our love in tender explorations and reconnoisances, and constructing a history for our faith, out of the scantiest helps given to our understanding.
Among the few things given, or which we sufficiently know, are such as these; that he is not bewailing his sins; that he is not afflicting himself purposely in penances of hunger and starvation; that he is not wrestling with the question whether he will undertake the work to which he is called. The first he can not be doing, because he has no sins to bewail; nor the second, because he is no believer in the doctrine of penance; nor the third, because his choices are concluded always, by the simple fact that any thing right or good is given him to do. If by reason of his human weakness he suffers, for a time, great revulsions of body and mind, that do not pertain to his voluntary nature, that is quite another matter. We shall find reason to think it may be true.
But these, are negations only, and I think we shall be able to fix on several very important points, where we know sufficient in the positive, to justify a large deduction, concerning the probable nature of the struggle through which Jesus is here passing.
1. He has a nature, that in part, is humanly derived, so far an infected, broken nature. He has never sinned, he has lived in purity, under this humanly impure investment; growing more and more distinctly conscious of those higher affinities by which he thus dominates over the human, unable to be soiled by its contact. But now it is opened to him in his call, that he is here not as here belonging, that he is sent, let down into the world, incarnated into human evil, into the curse. There must have been some time at which the sense of this fact became fully developed in him; doubtless it was partly developed before, but it could not be completely till now, because his Messiahship, or mission of salvation to sinners, requiring him to be incarnated into the very fall and broken state of sin, was not before opened to him. Now it is opened, and the whole relation he is in flashes upon him. Before he had the contact of evil in a simply quiet mastery, now he has it in the grim discovery, that he is membered into it! Feeling himself incorporated thus into the corporate evil of the world, to bear its woe and shame, and hate and wrong, as being of the common humanity, he shudders in horrid recoil and revulsion—takes himself away into the desert, there to wrestle with his feeling, till he gets ready to bear the sin of the world with a mind leveled to the burden of its ignominy. For a time, he is just as much more disturbed and revolted, probably, as he is more consciously divine. In those forty days of trial, instinctively withdrawn from men, how often looking out upon them, did his divine chastity recoil from the fearful and even shocking relationship into which he was come. This in great part is the cross—not the wood, nor the nails, nor the vinegar, but the men, and the breath of hell, their malignity is breathing upon him.
2. It is not to be doubted that he had internal struggles of a different nature, growing out of his hereditary connection with our humanly disordered and retributively broken state. I refer, more especially, to what must have come upon him under the law of bad suggestion. How it was with him in the closing scene, after he began to be an hungered—the bad thoughts that came to him, as by satanic suggestion—we are expressly told. And it is not to be doubted that his very call and spiritual endowment, raising, as they did, the sense of his kingly dignity and power, would also call out from his infected humanity, whole troops of bad thoughts or treacherous suggestions, even as the history declares. Raised in order and power, it is only human to be tempted by suggestions of the figure he can make, and the prodigious things he may do. It is not probably true that Jesus was contending, for the whole forty days, with such kind of temptations as came upon him at the close. But as certainly as his mind had a man-wise way of thinking, he must have had many thoughts coming upon him that required him to repeat his “get thee behind me,” and turn his great nature home upon God and his work closely enough to pre-occupy it, and take away the annoyance. Neither let us shrink from such a mode of conceiving him, as if it were a derogation from his perfect character. Mental suggestion is not voluntary, but takes place under mental laws, going where it will, and running more or less wildly, where there is any contact of the nature with disorder. No crime is incurred by evil suggestion, when there is no encouragement of it, or yielding of the soul to it. As then Jesus was to be tempted in all points like as we are only without sin, it is even a fact included, that, when his tremendous call took him, an immense irruption of evil suggestions, bursting up from his low born humanity, must have taken him also. And this, I conceive, is what is meant, when he is declared to have been driven of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. The very call of the Spirit brought this contest upon him. I do not exclude the possibility of some access of bad spirits concurrently working with the bad thoughts; for he was tempted just as men are, and as being a man. And he gained his victory, doubtless by a struggle often renewed and variously protracted.
3. It is not to be doubted that his human weakness made a fearful recoil from the lot of suffering, and the horrible death now before him. Human nature is keenly sensitive to suffering; but we manage often to bear a great deal of it, because we do not know of it beforehand, but have it coming upon us by surprises, or turns of Providence not expected. Hence there is nothing so common as the remark, from one or another, that he could not have borne such trials as have come successively upon him, if he had been advised, of them and had them in full view beforehand.
But the call of Christ, as it now opened, was a call to suffering; a call to be fulfilled by sorrow and pain, and consummated by the ignominy of a cross. The great Messiahship in which he was inaugurated, was to be a power of salvation for the world, as being a sublime tragedy of goodness. In this respect, his career of suffering was different, widely, from that of any mortal of the race, in the fact that he came into it with a full knowledge flashed upon him, of all that he was to bear from the sin he was to conquer. As we hear him speak in one of his earliest discourses of being “lifted up,” recurring more than once to the same thing afterward, and using the same expression, calling his disciples also, many times over, to “take up the cross” and follow him, we can see for ourselves how the sorrow, and buffeting, and shame, and cross, all met him and stood in their appalling certainty always before him, from the first hour of his call onward. The recoil of his human nature from such a prospect must have been dreadful—mortally regarded, insupportable.
Let us not be misled, at this point, by the fact that be is a superior nature incarnate, imagining that he must also be superior, in that manner, to suffering. He has taken the human nature, and taken it as it is, by inheritance, and though it is good for symbol, as being the express image of God—better than all nature up to the stars beside—still it is weak for the matter of suffering, and is, in fact, only the more perfect for his uses on that account. Good, therefore, as symbol, it has to be conquered as organ. It wants staunching, for so dreadful a service, by some strong mastery, be it that of a fast, or of any other kind of discipline. Otherwise, being all weakness, it would even be treason if. it could. Nothing could be farther off from the heroic in sacrifice, more susceptible to fear, more instinctively averse to the hatred of men, more unwilling to die, and die hard, and die low. And what shall he do more naturally, in the confused struggles of his feeling, than withdraw till the terrible revulsion is quelled or, what is the same, till he gets the poor, unsteady, low bred organ of his life brought up, into the scale of his sacrifice.
4. There comes upon him also, at the point of his call or endowment, still another and vaster kind of commotion, that belongs even to his divine nature, holding fit proportion with the greatness and perfection of it. The love he had before to mankind, was probably more like that of a simply perfect man. Having now the fallen world itself put upon his love, and the endowment of a Saviour entered consciously into his heart, his whole divinity is heaved into such commotion as is fitly called an agony; answering, in all respects, to the agony of the garden. How differently do we feel for any subject of benevolence the moment we have undertaken for him. He lies upon our heart-strings night and day, as a burden. We watch for him with a painful concern, we agonize for him. So when Jesus takes the world upon his love, it plunges him at once, into what may be called the suffering state of God; for it belongs to the goodness of God, just because it is good, to suffer, as being burdened in feeling for all wrong-doers and enemies. Every sort of love, the maternal, the patriotic, the christian, has for its inseparable incident, a moral suffering in behalf of its subjects. God has the same, in a degree of intensity equal to the intensity and compass of his love. And it is this moral suffering that now comes upon Christ, and is to be revealed by his incarnate ministry. The stress upon his feeling is too heavy to be supported by the frail and tender vehicle of his humanity. It rolls in like a sea, and his human nature can not breast the heavy surge of it. He goes apart in the terrible recoil, both of his divine feeling and his human nature, sinks away into the recesses of the wilderness, crushed by the burden that has come upon his agonizing heart. As was just now intimated, his experience corresponds with that of his agony; for it was the same burden returning upon him, at that crisis, that threw him on the ground, and wrenched his feeling, in such throes of concern for his enemies, that his too feeble body gave way, and the gates of the skin flew open before the terrible pressure on his heart. I do not say that any such scene is transacted here in these forty days. I only know that Christ has the same weak body, and the same great feeling, burdened now for men, and, what is much to be considered, it has come upon him just as suddenly as the investiture and official endowment of his call. I do not see his prostrations. I do not catch the wail of his prayer, “let this cup pass from me,” I only see that a great and dreadful commotion must be upon him—leaving him to cope with it as he best may, in that mysterious silence and solitude into which he has retreated from our human inspection.
Once more, the mind of Jesus, in his forty days retirement and fasting, must have been profoundly engaged and powerfully tasked in the unfolding of the necessary plan. He can not bolt into such a work, embracing such an immense reach of territory, and time, and kingly rule, without considering, beforehand, and distinctly conceiving the what, and how, and when, and why, of his work. Doubtless there is a divine plan ready for him, and has been even from before the world’s creation, but he, as being man, must think it consecutively out, step by step, in a certain human way of reception, or development, else he is not in it. No matter if the plan lay perfect in him as the Ancient of Days before he came into the world, still the counsel of it lay, not in words, or specific judgments, but in the infinite abyss of his boundless intuition. Now, in consenting to be man, he consents to be unfolded gradually in body and mind, to grow as he feeds, and know as he thinks. Nor does it make any difference if his thinking draws on the infinite; for to think the infinite into the finite, deific light into form and particularity, is a very considerable work that will not soon be done. His plan, therefore, must be thought, in order to be humanly had. Yesterday he had it not, to day the call has come that requires it, and a great soul-labor begins. Doubtless he has thought much, coasting round the subject before; he has read the Messianic prophets, and had their visions opened to his understanding, probably, as no other ever had before; his every faculty is clear, and broad, and deep, and rapid, in a degree surpassing all genius. Still, making all such allowance, how far off is he, at the coming of his call, from having any complete fact-form plan ready for it. The matter of it includes even the reasons of the creation, also the last ends of the creation, what between has been already done and what remains to be, in the great new future; all that affects God’s relations to men, and men’s to God, and the eternal kingdom as connecting both. In this great salvation-problem, therefore, touching always the infinite and finite together, what he shall do and teach; what, and when, and how, he shall suffer; by whom he shall organize, and for a time how long—in this problem, to be wrought out in a train of finite human thinking, his forty days will have enough to do, pour in fast and free as the stupendous revelation will. Full of all heaviest commotion therefore, on the side of his feeling, the great deep of intelligence also in Jesus must be mightily heaved, that his counsel may be adequately settled. O thou grim solitude of wilderness, what work is going on, these days, in thy silence!
How great and rapid the movement of his counsel has been, we may see, when coming out, after the forty days, into his ministry, he opens his mouth in his beatitudes and goes on with his wonderful first sermon, speaking, how decisively and calmly and with what evident repose; then beginning straightway his miracles, calling his apostles, and organizing his cause; evidently master of his plan even as a practiced general of his campaign-ready in all ripe counsel, to spread himself out on the great world-future of his kingdom.
Beginning thus at the call of Jesus, and making this large induction from what we know concerning him, I think you will agree, my friends, that these forty days of his in the wilderness must have been the most eventful days of his Messiahship, including beyond question, a vast, unknown, scarcely imaginable, but necessary and sublime, preparation for his work. No other chapter, I may safely say, in the whole history of Jesus, has a more fascinating and mysterious interest to our feeling, covered though it be in dimness and silence.
I have alluded once or twice to the agony of Jesus. I might also refer you to hours when the same deep conflict more than once, rolls back on him for a space, and his mighty “soul is troubled,” venting itself in words. I can not resist the impression that the real agony of Jesus took him at the very first. How he bore himself in it for so many days in those desert wilds, his attitudes, his sleep or want of sleep, his prostrations and prayers, his groanings in spirit, his spaces of brightness and victorious courage and peace, his deep ponderings by day or night, sitting under the grim rocks—none of these are given us, but our heart will indulge itself in them and rightly may.
Some few incidents are given us which, taken together, signify much. Thus, he is not hungry, he is too powerfully wrought in by his thoughts and emotions to have the sense of hunger.
He is also alone. In the agony of the garden he has his friends with him, and looks to their sympathy for support. Here he has no friend with him, because he has not yet any friend enlisted, who can at all understand him, or yield him even a word of comfort. I said he was alone—no he is not alone, but as Mark very casually intimates, “he is with the wild beasts.” And this word with indicates a strange concomitancy, by which they are somehow drawn to come about him and be with him, in a way of harmless attention. For the term “wild beasts” does not mean simply wild animals, but the savage beasts of prey, such as lions, panthers, wolves, and the like. These are with Jesus, coming about him. in his prostrations, drawing near in the moanings of his sleep, fawning about him tenderly when he sits in silence; going back, as it were, to the habit of paradise, and symbolizing, by their harmless companionship, that future paradise which he is to restore. Glad sign most surely, they, to his struggling heart.
Still another and very different class of beings come to him—I mean the angels. These we are told ministered unto him. Great joy was that to the angels! and it must have been as great to him! In such a state of long, long conflict and trial, how blessed were these visitors from the great world of peace above, their communications how sweet, how rich in assurance! So between the beasts and the angels, men being wholly away, Jesus gets tokens of sympathy that minister comfort, and help him to compose himself to the opening tragedy of his life.
We come, at last, to the final crisis of the trial, which many, by what appears to me a very great mistake, call the temptation; as if it covered the whole ground of the forty days. Exactly contrary to this the history says expressly—“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights he was afterward an hungered.” Or according to another gospel,—“when they were ended, he began to be an hungered.” The three temptations follow. So powerfully had his mighty soul been wrought in, that he had not, till this time, been conscious of hunger. But now, at last, he is spent, and nature breaks under exhaustion. The representation appears to be that the fevered, half delirious state of hunger is upon him; and the phantoms of lying suggestion rush into his weakened brain, to bear down, if possible, his integrity. But it is not possible; even his broken, reeling, faculty is too strong in its purity for the utmost art of his enemy. And his triumph is thus finally completed, in the fact that any shred of his sinless majesty is seen to be enough to hold him fast, when the shattered vehicle of his humanity has quite given way.
That this, or something like it, is the true account to be taken of the story, is hardly to be questioned. It must have been derived from his own report; for no one else was privy to the matter of it. And he simply meant, I have no doubt, in the three temptations recited, to report what appeared to him, visionally speaking; or how they stood before his fevered brain. To believe that he was actually taken up by the devil, and set on the pinnacle of the temple, when fifty miles away; or that he was taken up into a mountain so exceedingly high, that he could see all the kingdoms of the round world from the top, is fairly impossible. He only reported the seemings of his hunger-fevered state. All temptations are but seemings. The devils bait their hook, never with truths, always with illusions. Nor were the temptations any the less real, or satanic, as being phantoms of exhaustion. This, in fact, was to be his victory, that not even his unsettled, weakened, faculty could be seduced by such phantoms, whether of internal or external suggestion. In this victory the trial of Jesus was finished—“And when the devil had ended all the temptations, he departed from him for a season.” Now therefore he is ready, and the great Messianic ministry begins.
Scarcely necessary is it, my brethren, to say that it will be such a ministry as the great first chapter of the fast prepares—such and no other. I know not any point beside, in the history of his life, where you may take your stand and see the whole course of it open, with such intelligible unity and clearness. As the dawn prepares the day, so the forty days prepare the three wonderful years. Taking the fast for your initial point, and carefully distinguishing what goes on there, and is done or made ready, every thing appears to come out naturally, in a sense, from it. Here, in fact, as you may figure, Christ officially young, levels himself to his aim; and then, as age is not the count of years but of works, puts himself into his great ministry with such momentum and constancy, giving so much counsel, expending so much sympathy, suffering so great waste of sorrow, that he dies, at the end of three years, like one ripened by full age. The unsteadiness, the overdoing, the romance, of unpracticed energies, nowhere appears, but the regular gait of sagacity, patience, sound equilibrium, as of one who has his counsel ready, brings him on to his close. Whether this maturity is unfolded by the very rapid development of his crowded, heavy-pressing, all-doing ministry, or was really prepared, for the most part, in the fiery forty days of his trial, it may be difficult to say. Only this is abundantly clear, that he came out of that trial, to make his beginning, both strong and ready. If he did not seem to be as old when he gave the sermon on the mount as when he answered before, Pilate, he was as thoroughly assured, and as completely master of the situation. From that time onward his equipoise is perfect, and his movement restful and smooth—never hurrying after counsel not yet arrived, but visibly set on by counsel, such as leaves no room for surprise, or a moment’s faltering. The sweetness, and repose, and readiness he is in, are such as indicate a mental graduation into counsel, and victory already accomplished—as he had, in fact, conquered, beforehand, the world, and the devil, and his own humanity, and had come to such kind of settlement as a victor only gets. Many martyrs have borne themselves heroically when the doom was on them, and the pressure of the hour riveted their firmness. But Christ was a martyr at large and beforehand, who had taken the sentence of death in the wilderness, and bowed himself in consecration upon it, coming out to live martyr-wise; but as strong, as steady, as free, as the felt mastery both of death and of himself could make him. Figuring himself to himself, deliberately, as a grain of wheat falling into the ground to die, and so to live again more fruitfully, he settles calmly into his appointment, without misgiving or regret. Having also a great baptism, as he knows, to be baptized with, he is no wise appalled by the prospect, but only oppressed by the delay; exclaiming, “how am I straitened till it be accomplished.” In all which we may see, that the highest nerve of courage, endurance, and resolute equability, may be set, only in the silence and solitude of a complete self devotion, never in the noisy tumult of commotions and great throes of public excitement. What other being among men ever graduated into such glory of public life as Jesus, when he came out of the desert and his forty days of silence!
I do not mean, of course, in hanging so much upon the temptation of the forty days, to say that Jesus was never tempted before, or after that time. All such temptations were casual, matters by the way, having a certain consequence, but no principal consequence in fixing the tenor of his life. But the forty days temptation had this distinction, that it took him at the point of crisis, so that every thing was turned by the settlement, and went with it. There could be only one such crisis, and the turning of it rightly was the grand inaugural of all that came after, in his wonderful and gloriously consecrated ministry.
In just the same manner, there is, I conceive, in the life of almost every Christian disciple, a crisis, where every thing most eventful, as regards the Christian value of his life to himself, and of his consecration to God, especially hinges, and where, as we may figure, his grand temptation meets him. Other temptations have gone before, others will come after, here is the temptation of his personal call, and opportunity. What it will be, or in what form it will come, can not of course, be specified; enough that it will commonly bring the strong present conviction with it of a great Christian crisis arrived, on which all the heaviest results of character and service done for God are depending. At such a time, there is to be no haste or precipitation. The time for a grand, practical, settlement of the life has come, and if the man has any gravity of meaning or high aspiration, he will meet the crisis practically, and if possible, understandingly. To let go society, pleasure, profit, and the table, nay, to get away from them, will be a kind of relief. Any thing, any campaign of prayer, and thought, and self-devotement, will be accepted heartily, and be long enough protracted to settle the result finally and firmly. One great reason, brethren, why we make so poor a figure of fitfulness and inconstancy, is that we go by jets of emotion, or gusts of popular impulse, or sallies of extempore resolve; we do not settle our question upon a footing of counsel, and inward consecration, and, in fact, do not take time to settle any thing; least of all, any such great crisis of life. Moses drew off into the wilderness and was there forty years, getting ready for the call that was already half uttered in his heart. Paul retired into Arabia, and was there three years, gathering up his soul and soul’s fuel, for the grand apostleship of word and sacrifice. So the Christian, every Christian, who has come to his crisis, will take time for the settlement of his plan, and the equipment of his undertaking—if not forty days, then as many as are wanted.
Having this high work upon you, brethren, silence and solitude will be congenial, and the fasting of Jesus will be remembered by you with a strange sympathy—all in the endeavor to come out on your future, thoroughly consecrated to it, even as he was to his. Drawn to him in such profoundest sympathy with his temptation, O how tenderly and approvingly will he be drawn to you, pouring, as he best may, all the riches of his forty days struggle and consecration to sacrifice upon you. “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.” Any life is great and blessed, into which you are entered, upon this high footing with Christ your Master. You can not be worse handled by men, or by what is called fortune, than he was; can not be more faithful to God’s high purpose in you, or more consciously great, and happy, and true; and that, if I am right, is the only kind of life at all worthy of you. And then, at the end, it will be yours to say, in the sublime confidence also of your Master—“I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
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