Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man:…
Archbishop Trench points out that many words, which when first used bad an innocent and even commendable meaning, have come by use to carry a doubtful or malignant sense; and in this degradation of our words he sees a proof and illustration of human depravity. The word "temptation," both in Greek and English, is a case in point. According to its derivation and original use, the word simply means "test," whatever tends to excite, to draw out and bring to the surface, the hidden contents of the heart, whatever serves to indicate the ruling bent. But in process of time the word has come to have a darker significance. For if there is much that is good in us, there is also much that is evil. And because, in their intercourse with each other, men are too often bent on provoking that which is evil in each other, rather than on eliciting and strengthening that which is good, the word "temptation" has sunk from its original plane, and has come to signify mainly such testings and trials of character as are designed to draw out the evil that is in us; trials and tests skilfully adapted to our besetting infirmities, and likely to develop the lower and baser qualities of our nature. It is because of this double meaning of the word that we meet in Scripture such apparently contradictory phrases as, "Lead us not into temptation," and, ' "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." It is in this double meaning of the word, moreover, that we find the key to the apparently contradictory statements that God does tempt men, and that He does not tempt them. He does tempt us all in the sense that He puts us all to the proof, and compels us at times to see what manner of men we are. But if, in this sense, God tempts every man, there is a sense in which "He tempts no man." For it is never the design of the trials to which He puts us to bring out and confirm that which is evil in us. It is always His purpose to bring out and confirm that which is good in us; or, if He show us wherein we are weak, it is not that we may remain weak and foolish, but that we may seek and find strength and wisdom in Him. When we have fallen into "temptation," in the bad sense of that word — when, that is, we have yielded to an evil influence, and have suffered our baser passions to be excited — we are apt to say, "I am tempted of God," to plead: "Well, after all, He made me what I am. Am I to blame for my passionate temperament, or for the strength and fierceness of my desires?" Or, again, we say: "Circumstances were against me. The opportunity was too tempting, my need or my craving was too importunate, to be resisted. And are not our circumstances and condition appointed by Him?" Thus we charge God foolishly, knowing and feeling all the while that it is we ourselves who are to blame whenever the lower part of our nature is permitted a supremacy against which the higher part protests. God tempts no man, affirms St. James, and assigns as a reason, "for God is unversed in evil," or, "God is incapable of evil," or, "God is untemptable with evil"; for in these three several ways this one word is translated. His implied argument is sufficiently clear, however we may render his words. What he assumes is, "Every one who tempts another to do evil must have some evil in his own nature. But there is no shadow or taint of evil in God, and therefore it is impossible that God should tempt any man." But if the evil temptations we have to encounter do not come from God, whence do they come? St. James replies, "Every man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lust, and enticed" — the man's lust being here conceived of as a harlot who lavishes her blandishments upon him; "then the lust, having conceived, bringeth forth sin; and the sin, when it is mature, bringeth forth death." The origin of sin is in man's own breast, in his own hot and extravagant desires for any kind of temporal or sensual good; and the apostle traces the sinner's career through the successive steps that lead down to death.
1. First, the man is drawn aside. James conceives of him as occupied with his daily task, busily discharging the duties of his daily calling. While be is thus engaged, a craving for some unlawful or excessive gratification, for a gain that cannot be honestly secured, or an indulgence which cannot be taken soberly and in the fear of God, springs up within his mind. The craving haunts his mind, and takes form in it. He bends his regards on it, and is drawn towards it. At first, perhaps, his will is firm, and he refuses to yield to its attraction. But the craving is very strong; it touches him at his weak point. And when it comes back to him again and again, it swells and grows into what St. James calls a "lust." It is "his own lust," the passion most native to him, and most potent with such as he — the love of gain, or the love of rule, or the love of distinction, or some affection of a baser strain. For a time tie may resist its fascination; but ere long his work is laid aside, the claims of duty are neglected, the warnings of conscience unheeded. All he means is to get a nearer view of this strange, alluring visitor, to lift its veil, to see what it is like and for what intent it beckons him away. And so he takes his first step: he is drawn aside from the clear and beaten path of duty.
2. Then he is enticed, "allured," as the Greek word implies, "with pleasant baits." His craving waxes stronger, the object of desire more attractive, as he advances. All specious excuses — all that moralists have allowed or bold transgressors have claimed — are urged upon him, until at last his scruples are overborne, and he yields himself a willing captive to his lust.
3. Then lust" conceives." The will consents to the wish ' the evil desire grows toward an evil deed. He can know no rest till his craving be gratified. The good work in which he was occupied looks tame and wearisome to him. He is fevered by passion, and absorbed in James 2:4. Having conceived, "lust bringeth forth sin." The bad purpose has become a bad deed, and the bad deed is followed by its natural results. Coming to the light, his evil deeds may be reproved. When the sin is born, the man may recognise his guilt. He may repent, and be forgiven and restored.
5. But if he do not turn and repent, the last step will be taken, and sin, being matured, will bring forth death. Action will grow into habit, the sinful action into a habit of sinning. As sin grows and matures, it will rob him of his energy. He will no longer make a stand against temptation. He will wholly surrender himself to his lust, until all that makes him man dies out of him, and only the fierce, brutal craving remains. Hogarth has left us a familiar series of pictures entitled "The Rake's Progress," in which the career of a profligate spendthrift is sketched from its commencement to its close. Were I an artist, I would paint you a similar series on a kindred but wider theme — the Sinner's Progress.
(S. Cox, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: