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"For in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted." --Heb. 2:18.
The connection, commencing back with the tenth verse of this chapter, presents Jesus as one of the brethren among his people and assigns reasons for his assuming human nature into union with his divine. Because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself took part of the same, to the end that by his own death He might destroy Satan who had power to make death terrible, and might so deliver his people from the fear of death though otherwise under its bondage their lives long. For indeed, of the race of angels Christ did not take hold, to save them; but He did take hold of the race of man. The former, falling by sin, sank to hell, unredeemed; the latter, tempted and fallen, the Son of God rushed to rescue and save. Hence the necessity of putting on their nature, since he had undertaken to rescue and save them. Therefore He must be made in all things like them, "that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people; For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted."
The subject presented in our text, if discussed fundamentally will embrace the discussion of several points.
1. The first respects the nature of sin.
Many seem to assume that temptation implies the presence of sin. They think no being can be tempted unless there be sin in his heart or constitution already, to which temptation makes its appeal. Now if this view be just, it follows that Jesus Christ had sin in his heart or constitution; a conclusion which I need not say is utterly unscriptural and revolting to reason and to fact. Hence we must look into this point.
What then is sin?
(1.) It is not something which belongs to the very nature of man--something mysteriously incorporated into his very being, so that nature is itself sinful. To assume this is the greatest nonsense. What is sin? Is it a created substance? What sort of a substance can sin be? And who must bear the blame of sin if it be a created substance? On this supposition, is it possible to avoid the conclusion that the blame of sin must attach to that creative agency which gave it existence?
(2.) Sin does not consist in any involuntary state of mind. It does not belong to the substance of the mind, nor to any activities of the mind, apart from the will. It does not pertain to any involuntary state of the mind, nor to any state or action of either its thinking or its feeling faculties. Mind thinks and mind feels; yet in neither of these, strictly speaking, does sin inhere and to neither does sin primarily belong. When the Scriptures say--"The thought of wickedness is sin," the language is used only in the same sense in which it is said that muscular action is sin--that, for example, the muscular action of the arm wielding a club to kill a neighbor is sinful;--it is simply the development of a sinful state or act of the will. The mind's intention or will, is the sin in the case. This sin belongs to the muscles of the arm in no other sense than that these are made the instruments of sin. So the plotting and devising of the intellect to accomplish murder are only the instrumentalities which serve a depraved will or intention to murder. The sin lies not in the intellect, but in the intention.
3. Sin is very clearly explained in the Bible; and if it were not, we should know what it is, for our reason and conscience would teach us. Ten thousand Bibles could not make it plainer than our own reason and conscience make it to every reflecting mind.
Sin is violation of law, and law of course has respect to voluntary action, and to this only. The Bible does not tell us what color our hair should be, or our skin. It never assumes to legislate on such points; nor does it decree what powers of mind we shall have, or ought to have, but only how we should use them. This is the legitimate province of law, and to this the Bible confines itself--with no deviation.
Duty must be known in order to become duty. It is the greatest nonsense to affirm that anything can become duty before it is understood by the mind. Prof. Stuart said, "Sin is violation of known law." But we need to go somewhat farther back and show what this "violation of law" is. Law prescribes the rule of voluntary action, and prescribes this rule of course to the will, or voluntary faculty. The will is the law-obeying or law-disobeying faculty. In the action of the will therefore must all sin, properly speaking, lie. Sin therefore always lies back of the external acts and back also of proximate violations.
The law of God requires that the will of his subjects be given up supremely to the doing of his will. This is precisely what the law requires and what it expresses in the language--"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind."
Sin is consecration to self--a state of mind that cares supremely for self. This is sin and this only. Muscular action is not itself sin. Strictly speaking, nothing is sin but this state of mind. Muscular action is only the development of sin in the external life.
2. We come next to the question of temptation. What is it?
Sin consists in self-interest and in the soul's voluntary committal of itself to secure self-interest at any cost. A mind in this attitude is powerfully attracted by any object which excites its sensibilities to selfish good. This attractive power we call temptation.
Temptation is not sin, though often confounded with it. Christ was really tempted. If then the question be asked, What is temptation? we must answer, All those states of excited sensibility which tend to draw the soul from God.
Take the case of Eve. Her first temptation found her in a holy state of mind. It consisted in an excited appetite and in the presence of beautiful food. Yet neither of these was sin; they were only temptation. Satan moreover suggested that this food was highly useful--"a tree to be desired to make one wise;" and he more than insinuated that God had prohibited this fruit through mere jealousy, lest Adam and Eve should become wise as Gods, knowing good and evil. As if He [he] had said--"Are you aware that God has forbidden you this fruit lest by eating it you become as wise as He is Himself?" Then he brought it near that she might see its beauty and perhaps that she might smell its fragrance; and then he extolled its mysterious virtue to make one wise, and she had been longing for wisdom. Thus she is tempted and thus she falls! She is under the charm of the devil; is really in a charmed state--all excited, so that she scarcely knows what she is doing. Her sensibilities are effervescing most intensely--and what does she do? All this excitement of her sensibilities is not itself sin; but the steps that followed were sin. When tempted thus, she resolved to violate God's command and take and eat the forbidden fruit, then she sinned.
The apostle said, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived was in the transgression." From this testimony and from the history it appears that the deception was practiced on Eve only, and then that she became Adam's tempter. Satan took advantage of her acute sensibilities and played upon them till his point was gained. He acted the part of a cunning devil. He knew that God had made woman a bundle of susceptibilities, and therefore he approached her on her weak side, and in the absence of her husband. Now I want you all to notice this case and study it closely, for here you may learn the nature of temptation. There stood Eve--in the presence of the forbidden fruit, her appetite for it powerfully excited; her curiosity to know if it would make her wise stimulated to great activity, the fascinations of the devil acting upon her to charm her soul into yet more burning excitement--Adam absent and she too much excited to wait for his return;--there in the fatal moment she ate and fell. Strange to say she is so much excited that she has no sooner tasted than she runs after Adam to find him and give it to him that he may eat. The thought of guilt for her act seems not yet to have entered her mind.
Now mark this. The law addresses itself to the will; but the will is reached through the sensibility, and this is excited to intense action by temptations. Yet temptation is not sin. No matter how great the temptation if the will resists and refuses to gratify the demands of the excited sensibility.
Let it then be understood, that nothing is temptation until it awakens a sensibility which allures the mind along into, or at least towards sin. If the mind is aware of this tendency towards sin, then there is sin in the very act of indulging the heightened sensibility, for it must be wrong to give indulgence to an excitement which we know tends to draw us into sin. But we cannot suppose that Eve had this knowledge of a tendency to sin in any form of indulgence, because to suppose this implies that she had already had some experience in sinning.
3. Again let it be considered, that temptations to sin are countless. On the one hand flattery; on the other abuse;--for flattery tends to make us think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, and abuse irritates the sensibility and provokes to anger. Poverty tempts men to repine against God's providence, while wealth tempts to pride. Honor bestowed excited to ambition, but dishonor stirs the feeling of resentment. All the little trials which occur in the family or in the class-room, myriads in number and endlessly various in character, are temptations, but they are not sins. If the feeling is controlled and the will refuses to yield; if the soul stands firm, steadfastly bearing up against the inducement to sin, then all is well. So long as the soul stands steadfast, immovable, holding on firmly to the arm of the Lord, there is no sin.
4. The Bible abundantly represents Christ to have been greatly tempted. We might infer that he must have been so, from the very fact of his having human nature. Especially strong is this inference when we consider that he assumed human nature for the very purpose of being tempted, that he might know how to succor them that are tempted.
A careful study of his actual history confirms this view of his case. How often do we see him abused in a manner which must have tempted him to anger. No one can read his history without seeing how great his temptations often became.
Among his sorest temptations was that in the garden of Gethsemane. This awful scene of struggle came not upon him without forewarning. He clearly anticipated its approach. He conversed about it with his disciples; before it came on it would seem that he did so for several days;--and we are distinctly informed that as the dreadful agony came upon him, he warned them of the danger and besought them to pray and watch with him at least one hour. Some time before this, he had said,--Lo, "the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me." He knows that I shall do my Heavenly Father's will.
The dread hour came on. He hastened to the garden whither he had been wont to resort for private prayer in the hours of his trial. Turning to his accompanying disciples, he said,--Tarry ye here and pray, while I go and pray yonder. He went himself to the loved retreat and there poured out his soul in most earnest prayer. Here his agony became intensely great. It is recorded that an angel came from heaven to strengthen him. Wonderful to tell;--he who could command twelve legions of angels is now in agony and weakness, and one from those angelic legions comes in sympathy to sustain him under the crushing weight of his burdens. O the man of sorrows! How does his heart sink under the awful agony of his temptation! Here it was that his "sweat became as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground."
It is perhaps impossible for us to tell precisely what this form of temptation was, but we know it must have been most fearful and terrible. It was a tremendous struggle.
Think of the illustration it gives us of the fearful power of Satan. An angel needs to come to resist the devil and give the tempted sufferer strength to overcome.
The Apostle evidently refers to this scene when he said, "Who, in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared." --Heb. 5:7.
5. The Bible informs us that one great object in Christ's being tempted was to teach him by experience how to sympathize with human flesh and frailty. He would have myriads of tempted children to care for and shield against the power of temptation. How desirable then that he should himself know what sore temptation means by experiencing himself the same. This was the divine plan, to make him a sympathizing and compassionate high-priest, fitted in every respect to be the refuge and the strength of his suffering saints. In fact he needed to know all those trials and temptations which men experience who are greatly tempted, yet without sin.
If the Bible had said no such thing as our text affirms, in respect to Christ's being tempted and his learning thereby how to sympathize and to succor his tempted children, even then we could not but know that God must sympathize with his suffering sons and daughters in their temptations, and so would Christ also. Every parent knows what this feeling of sympathy for a suffering child is. When they see their children suffering, how do their hearts cry out, O that I could suffer those pains myself and take them off by this means from the child I love! Now, from the very nature of benevolence, Christ must feel all this towards his children. He must feel it not only because he is benevolent but also because of the peculiar relation into which he enters with them as his redeemed children. Think how he has mingled himself as it were with them and his interests with theirs. Is it not said,--"And we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones"? No fellowship has He with their sins; but with them, as his redeemed sons and daughters he has a most intense and wonderful fellowship. To redeem them from all sin and to guard them most perfectly against it--these objects lie inexpressibly near his heart. O, if he could die for us, and suffer so much under Satan's fiercest temptations--all for our sake,--no wonder he should sympathize with us most intensely when he sees us in anguish. He feelings must be keen and intense just in proportion as he sees us under the agonies of trial and temptations, and his sympathetic sorrow for us must be according to the strength of his benevolence and the depth of his great sympathy for his beloved people.
He knows now how to succor those that are tempted. From experience he has learned how succor comes to the tempted. Having been himself strengthened in the hour of his agony, he knows how to strengthen others.
6.* We can confide in those who have had experience, when we know the fact. In such cases, nothing is more natural than to expect sympathy and to repose confidence.
In the domestic relations, one who has never had a wife cannot sympathize with one who has had but has lost the sharer of his deepest sympathies. The anguish of the bereaved husband no man can understand by a merely theoretic investigation. No man can tell his neighbor so that he shall be able to understand from the description merely, what this sorrow of heart is. Hence when one professes to sympathize with us, if we know he has had no experience of the sort, we know he does not understand our case. How can you, young woman, understand the sorrows of that mother who holds on her lap her dying child? You must first be yourself a mother and hold on your lap a dying child;--then you can know what these heart-sorrows are, and can sympathize with those who endure this sorrow.
The same law is developed everywhere. The young convert knows that unconverted sinners cannot understand his state of mind and the trials he experiences. If he falls under the power of temptation, he knows that one who has not experienced such temptation can by no means sympathize with him. He would not go to him for sympathy, nor for counsel and aid. None except those who have known the Christian's hopes and sensibilities and temptations can enter into them with true sympathy.
In view of this great principle, we can see how fitting and beautiful is the divine economy in making Jesus our great High Priest, familiar with the Christian's trials by experience. He placed himself in circumstances like ours that He might know what sorrow is and what sore temptations mean. He has Himself endured temptations, excitements, sorrows and persecutions. He knows in his own experience what the assaults of Satan are. The Bible says that one great object of this plan was that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in behalf of a suffering and tempted people.
7. Who does not know how natural it is for us to seek sympathy from those who are known to understand our case by experience. Young Christians naturally do this. They fly to those who can appreciate all their trials and enter deeply into their sympathies. This is true not only of all Christians but of all men, under all circumstances of life.
This principle in our nature gives a rich and h[e]ightened beauty to all Christ's earthly experience. When we see Him passing through all the various trials of mortal life and understand why He subjected Himself to all this, we cannot fail to see a manifestation of benevolence and a proof of his most abundant fitness for his work--such as would charm our souls into love and trust, and away from all unbelief. Think how He endured the trial of being unpopular, and also of being popular; how He was both caressed and commended on the one hand; slandered and condemned on the other; how with patient step He trod the varied paths of human life, toiling and suffering even more than falls to the lot of most men--breasting the storms of affliction; closing in with every form of conflict--joining battle with the world and putting it down beneath his feet; resisting Satan's assaults and foiling him at every step: thus onward He moved through the scenes of earthly trial, tasting each cup of human trial and sorrow, till He should know them all in their extremest form--that He might be able to succor those that are tempted.
8. Let us notice next some of the ways in which Christ gives succor to his people in temptation. He does this,
(1.) By assuring them of his presence. O what a wonderful charm and power there is in this! What a safeguard against discouragement, for whose heart can ever sink within him while he is conscious of his Savior's presence? In their seasons of sorest trials, Christians are wont to feel a thick and almost sensible darkness round about their souls; but the light of the Savior's presence scatters this away: for how can it be night to our souls when Jesus reveals his presence? When he manifests Himself as one who sympathizes with us in our trials, what a blessed charm is wrought upon us! How strong we feel to bear our burdens; how powerfully sustained under all our trials! O how congenial to every feeling of the heart! It becomes a pleasure to endure for Jesus' sake.
"I can do all things or can bear,
All sufferings if my Lord be there."
(2.) Christ sustains us by reminding us of what He has done and suffered for us. He brings before us the scenes of his agony, and thereby not only assures us of his true and actual sympathy with us, but also of his suffering on our behalf. I recollect being present when the limb of Mrs. C. was amputated.
It is well known here that she was extremely weak and great fears were entertained that she would not survive the operation. Efforts were made to render her insensible to pain by means of mesmeric influence, but all in vain. The hour came and the work must proceed. I sat down by her bedside, and began to talk to her about the sufferings of Christ her Savior. He suffered, said I to her, far more for you than you are suffering now. The effect of this consideration upon her mind was truly wonderful. As long as it could be kept before her, it acted like a charm. She scarcely felt her physical pains. The surgeon said that this was better than mesmerism.
So the whole system may be in the extremest agony, but if the eye of faith can look through its tears and see Jesus, and realize how he suffered, it charms the soul away from its sorrows, and bathes it in an atmosphere of peace and joy.
(3.) Christ breaks the power of temptation by revealing the hatefulness of sin. If he can only get the mind's attention, and bring himself and his deeds of love before its view, then sin is made to appear exceeding sinful and the temptation vanishes away.
Some of you know how this principle was illustrated in the case of Bro. H. and his pipe of tobacco. He had been long addicted to this indulgence, and had often resolved to break away, but to no purpose. At length as he was musing on the matter, pipe in mouth, the thought flashed on his mind: "Did Jesus die to purchase for me such a filthy indulgence as this?["] In an instant the power of temptation was broken, and away went pipe and temptation together. Neither ever returned again. The charm had gone, the snare was broken, and the bird escaped on wings--to be imprisoned no more. In that one thought, Christ came with power to the soul and burst its fetters asunder.
How often is the mind in agony under the power of its temptations! It groans out in a tearless agony, as if there could be no deliverance and no power to endure much longer--till suddenly Christ comes, the soul bursts its fetters and is at peace. Then she sings of victory! victory! through Jesus Christ her Lord.
1. Temptation, or at least, a strong tendency towards it, may be constitutional and probably often is so. Probably ever since the fall of the first human pair, there has been in the human constitution an increased excitability towards temptation. By this means the race are exposed to strong temptation, some more strong in one direction and some in another; one to licentious indulgence, another to ambition, another to the abuse of power. Yet let it be strictly observed, all this tendency to temptation, however strong, is not itself sin. For however great these temptations and tendencies are, yet if they are resisted and steadfastly opposed, all the more does the soul soar aloft in the triumphs of victorious grace.
If these temptations are firmly resisted, they are not to be regarded even as calamities. Take the case of a man born with a strong tendency in his constitution towards the excitement of intoxicating drink. If he resists this temptation, he grows in moral strength and in true moral elevation of character, with every successive resistance. The original tendency is more a blessing than a curse to him.
2. One great design of God in sending these temptations upon us, is to augment our moral strength. Who does not know that under the discipline thus obtained, men become ten thousand times stronger than they would otherwise be? The Bible teaches us that saints in their future inheritance of glory are to be raised above most other orders of beings. Hence they are tried and proved here for the very purpose of becoming fitted for their exaltation there. Apostles begun this career of discipline, to fit them for what awaited them in the world of their exaltation. Forth abroad they went, through perils by land and sea, perils of robbers, perils of persecution, perils of scorn and hate and malice of wicked men--all this to test their fidelity to their Great Master, and prepare them to be chief officers in the future church of God, to sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Often did our Lord inculcate this principle of his government: "He that is faithful in the least, is faithful also in much." "Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things."
Following in their footsteps, see that great company of struggling, toiling saints and martyrs. They wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. In every age the work goes on, and myriads are being trained and disciplined under the providential agencies of earth for the corresponding rewards and glories of heaven. Kings and priests shall they become under the exalted reign of their Lord.
Let none of them, therefore, complain of trials and discipline though they pass through ever so much temptation and sorrow here. You will go up at last, praising God that He gave you a sympathizing High Priest, under whose sustaining hand, every trial was borne triumphantly and every sorrow endured with patience. As you move along the eternal hills, your brow bathed in the sunlight of heaven, and your hand bearing one of those golden harps, you will not regret that your pathway on earth lay through the fires of tribulation.
Will these young men and women be there? Shall we see you mounting those glorious hills, and sounding forth the melodies of heaven, on harps of gold? And must some of you go in the very opposite direction, hiding your heads for shame, and crying to the rocks and to the mountains--"Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sits upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb"? Alas, that any of you should choose such a doom when you might have the joys of the blessed just as well, if you would!
3. The sympathy of Jesus can never be over-estimated. Aye, never, NEVER. How deep must I let down the lead and line to fathom the depth of your sympathy for your children? A long line it must be, doubtless. But suppose you cast your line into the great deep of Jehovah's love;--where will you find its bottom? Who can mount up to its heights, or go down to its mighty depths? Had you an angel's powers, this effort would be all in vain. And are you then in danger of over-estimating the love of Jesus Christ and his sympathy for his people? O, you have only thought as a child and formed conceptions as a mere pigmy does--yea, though your heart be all dissolved with sympathy and responsive affection.
4. To lack confidence in the sympathy of Christ is utter ruin to the soul. Let this confidence be wanting and suddenly you are driven away and dashed on the rocks of ruin! You have let go your anchor, and away you drift, dashing and plunging--like a ship on a lee shore and breakers close ahead under her bow.
But if your pilot is on hand, true to his work, and all is made safe through his skill and care and your confidence in him, then you may laugh at all these terrors. They can be no terrors to you. So if ye who are Christians, professedly, fail to believe in Christ, Satan will surely drive you upon the rocks, and triumph over your eternal ruin.
5. Faith often needs encouragement. Christ understands this perfectly. He knows that although his people believe in him somewhat, and of course must have some faith in Him, or they cannot be his people at all, yet they often greatly need encouragement to greater faith. He knows that they need to have their hearts powerfully penetrated with the love of God and brought under the full impression of this great truth. When this impression is fully made on the heart and you come to see how much is meant in God's infinite love to lost souls and to his redeemed people, then, O then, what a wonderful relief comes to the troubled soul! Then faith finds an everlasting rock on which it may repose. The effect on the mind is as when old ocean, long tossed with the tempest and thrown into the utmost commotion, is hushed all suddenly, the clouds dispersed and the winds falling to a dead calm. Then how old ocean sinks to rest. So does the soul when God's love is seen and faith finds its firm footing on God's everlasting promises, and those promises are seen to emanate from his unbounded love.
6. If Christ did not sympathize with sinners, when would they ever be converted? Sinners often get the impression that though Christ has much sympathy with his converted people, yet he has none for themselves. He may have sympathy, they say, with those who already love Him, but I am a sinner, and how can He care for me? But see. Look at the case of those very saints with whom you admit Christ now has sympathy. I put to you this simple question:--Did Christ's care and compassion for them begin after their conversion, or before? If you say it began after their conversion, then I ask you, how they ever came to be converted at all? How came they to be saints? Surely you must admit that Christ sought them while they were in their sins; else they had never been found and brought into his fold. Will you not then believe that Christ cares for you, though He knows you are yet in your sins? He knows that you are lost, condemned, unable to save yourself; totally, utterly unable to make any atonement for your sins, and hence unable to rescue yourself from the terrible ruin into which your sin has plunged you. He knows too all your natural aversion of heart to come to Him for pardon; and He understands perfectly the kind of dependence on Him which you have on this account. And now, does He not care for your soul? Yes, ten thousand times more than you do for your own. Infinitely more ready is He to pour out his soul for you than you are to shed one tear for yourself, and O how much more ready to die for you than you are to lift a finger for Him! Before your very eyes He takes his stand, with his bleeding heart all gushing out before you in love and sympathy for you, and yet you scarcely ever see it! And even now, what are you doing and of what are you thinking? Do you fall back in your seat and say to yourself--"This is a long and tedious sermon; how little interest I find in these things!" Alas, alas! that the things of salvation should be so unmeaning to you! that they should awaken so little thought or care! O, if it were possible, after you have reached your final abode and after the gates have been closed on you forever;--if after that dread hour it were still possible that you might hear a voice, saying, Go back to Oberlin for one more Sabbath; once more for a single day you may take your place there among God's people and hear the choir sing, and bow your soul in prayer for mercy and listen to the gospel offers, once more occupying the position of a sinner under reprieve with offers of mercy held out before him;--if I say, all this were only possible, and it might be your privilege, would you not shout for joy and welcome it? Do you not to day believe most assuredly that you would consecrate such a day of mercy most solemnly to the work of repentance, making sure of salvation with all your might? No doubt you would, and no doubt you now believe you would. Then why not do so now? Now you have that privilege. Now the door of mercy is just as really open to you as it could be if you were to come back from hell for one more day's grace. But you know that the supposition I have made is utterly impracticable. You know that no sinner since the world began has ever come back to take his place again even for one hour in the house of God to seek and secure his own salvation. You know therefore that now, not then; that here, not there, is your accepted time and your day of salvation.
What, therefore, do you say now? Will you come to meet Jesus now? He reaches down his hand; will you put your hand in his, saying, I give thee my heart? Am I entirely mistaken in assuming that some of you do say this to day--that some sinners are ready to cry out, Yes, Yes, YES: thou sayest, "Seek ye my face; my heart replies, Thy face, Lord, will I seek."
Now I want you should tell me whether you will deal honestly and truly with Jesus, my master, or whether you will not? Let me know what you will do, and what you will not do. Will you come to Jesus Christ to day?