Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, Yes, has God said…
1. We may consider that the fact is established that man was created with a nature capable of temptation, and placed in the highest possible probation for the discipline of that nature. Our first parents stood as a stately oak upon a plain, beat upon by an impetuous storm, but meeting it with all the vigour and power of original uprightness. The hurricane beneath which they sunk may have been more severe than ours, but the bias of their nature made their probation less difficult. What, then, is that nature in us to which temptation addresses itself?
2. Who is the being that applies that temptation? And what are the instruments and modes of his attacks, and of our self-defence? These are questions of no small moment. Temptation implies the existence of two natures to which adverse powers and influences appeal, and in Holy Scripture these two natures in us are called the "flesh and spirit"; that they exist in more or less activity in every one of us an examination of ourselves will prove. We all know it; but more than this, they are contrary one to the other. It is this very perverseness in our nature which shows more than anything the contradictoriness of sin, and the warfare between the flesh and the spirit.
3. The personality and individuality of the tempter are points which it is most important to establish. That tempter is our constant companion, he has gauged his word to bring his one victim a bound captive to the gate of hell. The only solace, if we may use such a term, to his miserable eternity will be the consciousness that by his side is one who shares forever the intensity of his agony, though not one throb of anguish will be alleviated in himself. It will be something that every throe is but a reflex of the torture of his companion; his delight is in suffering, his sympathy is in woe; he rejoices, if joy can be felt in hell, in iniquity and pain. That tempter, if he loses his one victim, has no other which he can effect, unless he can regain his entrance into the home from which he has been expelled.
4. But I pass on to the next point, the medium through which the tempter acts. That he has power to affect every portion of our being, and to cast the deepest shadow over it, as an evening cloud can obscure the radiance of the setting sun on the marble columns of some eastern temple, there is no doubt. The lustful thought, the disrelish for heaven, the positive dislike for goodness, the deep despondency, are, with a thousand other infirmities and sins, traceable to the connection of the spirit with the body; and in proportion as that body is subjugated by discipline, the power of those sins will be weakened, and when the spirit will be freed from the present corruptible body, it will be wholly liberated. But all this is widely different from the doctrine which would teach that the bodies of men or matter generally are materially and actually wicked. They are instruments, and that is all. We have the same kind of power over them as we have over the staff we lean on, or the glass we use to aid the eyesight. Let us conceive the case of some instrument which has the greatest possible degree of connection with ourselves, and the greatest possible power to influence us, yet over which we have perfect control: such a case will be a very fair analogy for our relation with the body. Our bodies are temples; we may neither worship them nor despise them. They are instruments, as we use them, for good or evil. They are given for the discipline of the soul; for its aid, or for its hindrance. They are its school house, in which it is taught to spell the syllables of heaven. But more, it is manifest that Satan affects the spirit independently of the body. There are dreams when the soul realizes that awful state of separation from its physical condition, and ranges unfettered up and down the universe. Then sometimes Satan pursues it in its flight, and suggests awful thoughts. There are sudden unaccountable bursts of passion; injuries long since forgotten; exciting feelings for vengeance; dislikes for holiness, for good men; unaccountable desires to swear; without a cause to curse; for its own sake to steal, though the next instant the object for which honesty was bartered is thrown unvalued aside to rot and decay; there are strange wanderings when we would pray, in the church, in the chancel, at the altar, the spirit yet wings her flight to every region of the imagined universe, the corners furthest removed from God: all these are influences of Satan. Satan does tempt the spirit independently of the body; for these temptations, many of them, show no trace of physical cause. But that spirit, too, is in our power to bear us heavenward, or to the gate of hell, as we would have it. It may be the wing of the archangel soaring to the gate of paradise, or, it may be as the waxen wing of Icarus bringing us down to destruction. It is as we would have it. Has Satan ever power to tempt body or spirit in such a manner as we have no power to resist? It seems that he has. There are faint foreshadowings of that power in the cases of Pharaoh and Judas. There are cases in the experience of most of us, where the drunkard, after years of resisted conscience, has so entirely become the victim of the tempter, that the resolution formed daily with the bitter weeping of remorse, pales off each evening before the fire of the tempter, until at last, he passes from the hell on earth to the hell of eternity.
5. Satan binds us first with cords of silk; ere long they have become coils of rope; a little while and they are cables, scarcely to be bent; another interval, and the rope has become a chain, and the chain a bar of iron which no human power can resist. He creeps upon us.
6. Another favourite mode of his attack will be, as Jeremy Taylor quaintly illustrates, through the outward circumstances of a man. Adam, says he, so fascinated by the beauty and meekness of his new wife, was easily ensnared by her solicitations, and Satan consequently made use of her as the instrument of the fall of man. Over the stumbling stones of their partial affection for their younger born, even Rebecca and Jacob successively fell; and the same overweening love which the mother bore to her child was inherited and transmitted to its cost to Joseph and Benjamin. To us a favourite scheme, an idolized child, a friend on whom we lean, an honest calling, a noble aim, a brilliant yet well-directed talent, may, each one of them, from at first being planets clear and radiant in our sky, turn into baseless meteors and falling stars. They may be the fire damps of our ruin when they were the guiding stars of our salvation.
7. But I must mention a third mode through which the tempter will affect our spiritual nature independently alike of disposition or circumstance. He often acts, as was suggested above, in a sudden and unaccountable manner, and, as the Arab who kneels at the muezzin on the sand of the desert, over whose crimson sea the setting sun is shedding its ray without a cloud in the sky or an object on the earth, would be startled at the sight of a shadow fleeting over the bosom of the wilderness; so we are often startled by the sudden suggestion of lust, of doubt, of anger, of intense pride, of ruthless bitterness against another, of dislike to God, when within five minutes of the passing shade we thought we were kneeling in the cloudless sunshine of prayer, meditation, or communion. Nothing so shows the actual existence of the tempter as this. Against these unexpected attacks the habit of holiness and prayer can alone be a protection. We cannot tell where the weed will grow in the most highly cultivated garden; at any point may spring couch grass and the nettle; it is only by a state of general cultivation and purity that we can depend on the produce of our soil. The fever, the pestilence, may fall on the best ordered house and the most abstemious body, yet we know cleanliness and temperance are the best preservers. Apply the same rule to your spiritual life. One word of high encouragement and I have done. The eyes that watch us like lamps around our path; the watching eyes of the holy and the just, like starlight gleaming above us; the quiet gaze of the blessed in paradise, beaming like the moon that shines in softness with its borrowed lustre; the hosts of unfallen angels, like the sun that shines in its strength; the eye of Jesus and the Father from the great white throne, watch us daily. The page of man's brief annals teems with instances of suffering, borne to its last throb without a sigh, and all because the world around or the generations to come would smile on or admire the deed. The eyes that gaze on us are more radiant and more holy; they are the eyes of eternity; let us not disappoint them, they watch us. Perhaps but another day and our strife may be ended!
(E. Monro, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?