Perfect Prayer, by Chauncey Giles

from Chauncey Giles Perfect Prayer. How Offered: How Answered  (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1903)

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Perfect Prayer.
How Offered: How Answered

by Chauncey Giles

XI. Temptation: Its Cause, Nature and Use

And lead us not into temptation.” — Matthew vi. 13

The instruction which our Lord gives us in these words is of supreme importance; it touches our vital and eternal interests. In some form and in some degree every one is tempted, and no one can be regenerated without passing through its fires, enduring its torments, resisting its allurements, and subduing the enemies who cause it. It is a subject about which little has been known or can be known without some true knowledge of the sources of our life, the spiritual forces which are continually operating upon us, and the spiritual beings who are intimately associated with us on the spiritual side of our nature, and who, consequently, touch the secret springs of thought and affection, and exercise a controlling influence in the formation of a wicked or a heavenly character.

The New Church has truths to teach upon this subject which throw much light upon it. They place us in a central point of view above the illusion of appearances, where we can see effects in their causes; where we can learn the origin and understand the nature of temptations, and see the foes who assault us. They put weapons into our hands which the tempters cannot resist, teach us how to wield them, and where to find wisdom to foil their most cunning strategy, and strength to resist their most powerful attacks. I ask your devout and earnest attention to what our doctrines teach upon this subject. We cannot offer this petition with our hearts and understandings without a clear and true knowledge of what temptation is. The first point for our consideration must, therefore, be, What is temptation?

The doctrines of the New Church give a clear and specific answer to this question, an answer founded in the nature of the human mind, of man's relations to the spiritual beings with whom he is associated, and the teachings of the Lord in the Sacred Scriptures. Temptations are the conflicts of the internal man with the external, or of the spiritual man with the natural. Some knowledge of the organization of the human mind is essential to a clear understanding of this definition. The human mind is composed of three planes or degrees entirely distinct from each other, as distinct as the bones, flesh, and nerves in the material body. They were made to act together as one, as all the degrees of organic forms in the material body act together as one. But still they are so distinct that they can act separately; they can even act in opposition to one another. Each degree is so full and variously organized that it is a man in itself, and is capable of performing all the functions of a man. It has a will and understanding, affections, desires, thoughts, and acts appropriate to that degree of life. These degrees or planes are called the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial man respectively. The natural man is not the material body which constitutes no essential part of our nature, but the lowest degree of the human mind. The complete man is, therefore, a threefold or trinal being.

These three degrees of the mind exist in potency in every human being, but the natural degree is first in the order of creation. This is necessarily so, because it forms the basis for the higher degrees of the mind, and through its instrumentality the means are provided for their creation, as the material body is the instrument by which the natural man lives in this world and can use material things for the formation of natural ideas and affections. The natural man was intended to be the servant of the spiritual man, and the spiritual man of the celestial, and in a true order of life these three planes of the human mind act in perfect harmony with each other, and all with the Lord. But the natural man has become wholly evil. The organic forms of his nature have become wholly deranged and inverted. This degree of man’s nature he derives from his parents, and it is full of hereditary evils. This is the part of man’s nature which has fallen. The spiritual and celestial degrees have never become false and evil; they have never lost their purity and heavenly perfection, because they remain as a mere possibility in everyone so long as he continues in sin, like the germ of a seed which never grows. This is the new man who is born from above. This degree of man’s nature is organized according to all the substances and forces and order of heaven, as the natural man and the material body are organized with relation to the substances and forces and order of the material world. They are entirely distinct in their capacities, they dwell in distinct worlds. They are as distinct as the eye and the ear. The eye dwells in the world of light, the ear in the atmospheric world, and neither of them can perform any of the other’s functions, or know anything of the other’s joys.

As the natural plane of the mind, which, as I have said, was created to be the servant of the spiritual mind and to act in subordination to it, has become evil and false, full of the love of self and of the world, and seeks its own gratification in all its desires and activities, it is hostile to the spiritual mind. It is directly opposed to it in all its ends, methods, and desires. The natural man hates what the spiritual man loves. All their principles, ideas, and activities are diametrically opposite. Consequently, as soon as the spiritual man begins to manifest any life, and to take possession of the natural man and use him as his servant, bring him into obedience, and direct his affections, thoughts, and actions, there arises a combat, and this combat is temptation. It is a conflict between evil spirits and angels for the possession of man’s soul. Man’s own nature is the battle-field, and the weapons the combatants wield are the evils and falsities, on the one hand, and the good affections and truths on the other, which they can find in his own mind.

All our life comes from a spiritual origin. We are so intimately connected with spirits and angels that all power of thought and affection is due to their influence. Man has no more self-derived power to will, think, and act than a statue of marble. If his connection with the spiritual world and its inhabitants was entirely severed, he would have no more power to perform any mental or natural act than the material body has when the spirit has left it. This combat is waged, therefore, by the spiritual beings who are in the most intimate connection with him, who touch by their influence the most secret springs of his nature. It is not a conflict of words, an argument for and against certain dogmas or courses of action, but of influence over man. The evil spirits act upon his lusts and false principles; endeavor to excite them into activity and lead man to act wickedly. They breathe into his love of self and try to kindle it into a consuming flame. They flow into his love of the world and awaken an intense desire for wealth and power. They excite his natural passions and appetites, and stimulate his ambition, his vanity and pride, and by the most cunning art blind him to the truth; make the false appear as the true, and the true as the false. They labor to fix his attention upon some natural or sensual delight, and then they magnify it and glorify it to make it appear to be essential to happiness. They offer a present delight, and hold it so closely before the mind’s eye that it conceals the inevitable and terrible consequences. They solicit with almost superhuman skill, and weave enchantments around the soul with surpassing cunning. They quiet fears, they kindle hopes, they promise the kingdoms of this world with their power and glory, they offer bread for stones, and protection from every harm. They are constantly present, and unremitting in their efforts to destroy us body and soul, under the guise of ministering to our happiness and making us as gods. It is not great crimes alone which are due to their influence. They awaken pride, they foster vanities, they inflame hatreds, they excite revenges, they taint the innocent souls of boys and girls with impurities, and urge them along in the currents of their natural desires. Could young men and women see them as they are in all their horrid deformities; could they know that the power which excites their love of self and the world was the hot and rank breath of infernal beings who, under the guise of friends leading them to happiness, are poisoning their souls and planting in their affections the seeds of ruin, sorrow, and despair; could they see this they would stop their ears against their siren voices, they would cry out to them, “Get thee behind me Satan;” they would flee from them as they would flee from pestilence and eternal death.

The angels, on the other hand, seek to awaken every good affection, and to place before the attention every genuine truth. Some act directly upon the affections, the secret springs of life. They seek to bring into consciousness the innocent affections implanted in the mind in infancy and childhood. Many a young man and woman has been saved from spiritual death by the memory of a mother’s love and unselfish devotion. In some critical moment, when the decision hung in even balance, the scale has been turned in favor of heaven and eternal life by the recollection of some tender ministry of a mother’s quenchless love, or some truth gained from a father’s instruction. Do you suppose that influence came of itself? Did that recollection leap from the memory where it had been buried for years under the dust and decaying forms of false principles and evil deeds? No. Some angel came in the guise of the mother’s patient loveliness, and spoke in the tones of her remembered voice, brought into vivid light some Divine truth learned from the Bible or taught in the Sunday-school, or lisped at the mother’s knee, called into activity all the innocent affections associated with it, and the tempter was foiled and the soul was saved.

It is the office of other angels whose genius fits them for the special service, to act upon the intellectual faculties. With bright and keen intelligence they run through the mind and discover every idea of truth existing there, and by heavenly skill bring it out from the dark recesses of the memory, and place it in bright and clear distinctness before the attention that it may gain recognition, and that the mind, darkened by error, may see as in a mirror some glimpses of the order and beauty and substantial good of heaven. They are diligent and faithful in their office, for they delight in it. They love us with an unselfish and an unchanging love, and it is the joy of their hearts to render us any service.

Their influence and service does not, however, come to the attention with the distinctness and gross power of the evil spirits, because they operate upon the more interior and unconscious parts of our nature; but their influence is none the less powerful. The reluctance which is at first generally felt against the commission of sin, the drawing back of the thoughts and the affections as by some attraction, the fears which are excited, the shame which follows detection, the resolutions to shun the evil, and the manifold influences which operate upon the mind to awaken and develop heavenly affections, to fill the understanding with the light of heavenly truths, as the sun quickens to life every seed by its warmth and reveals the beauty of material objects by its light, is due to the influence of the angels. When we are striving to suppress the love of self and the world, when we feel ashamed of our vanities, our unkindness, our indifference to the wants and unhappiness of others; when we feel kindly towards others, and seek to render them a service, when we try to elevate our thoughts and affections to the Lord, and desires are awakened to do His will, we may know that the angels are present with us with as much certainty as though we could see their faces glowing with heavenly love, and hear their voices sweet and winning, with heavenly melodies.

O, my friends, we are girt about by awful mysteries. Every human being is beleaguered by hosts of spiritual beings who are contending for his possession. The evil spirits would blast every hope and destroy every capacity for heaven, drag us down to hell, and make miserable slaves of us forever. The angels seek to develop every germ of goodness, and unfold every faculty in the order and beauty of heaven. They seek to restore the lost image and likeness of our Heavenly Father, and make us His children and heirs of His infinite wealth of goodness and truth.

Such being our position, the questions naturally arise: Are we then the passive objects of these contending hosts? Are we simply a neutral territory with no agency in the conflict? By no means. We decide the battle. Neither devil nor angel can take possession of us without our consent. The Lord constantly gives us this power. When evil spirits inflame the lusts and passions of the natural mind and incite us to evil, we can refuse to follow their counsels. We can refuse to cherish the evil affections, to indulge in the impure and false thoughts, and especially to do the wicked deeds they incite us to commit. When we resist these enemies they leave us for a season until they can find some new avenue of approach. As they recede the angels draw nearer and take a firmer and more secure possession of our natures, and imbue them with the love and wisdom, the purity and harmony of a heavenly life. If, on the other hand, we consent to the wiles and allurements of our spiritual enemies, they grasp us with a more relentless power, they darken our understandings and weave around our affections a web of influences which seem soft as silk at first, but which in the end harden into fetters of iron. They benumb our spiritual faculties and close their doors against influx from the angels, and through them from the Lord. Every time we resist the efforts of our spiritual enemies to gain possession of our affections which constitute the citadel of life, we weaken the force of their hold upon us; every time we yield to their solicitations we come more fully into their power. We stand between these two contending hosts as Moses stood upon the hill during the battle between Israel and Amalek. When we hold up our hand, that is when we use the power the Lord has given us, and lift up the standard of Divine truth, our enemies are discomfited; when we let down our hand, Amalek, which is only another name for our most subtle enemies, wins the victory. Our hands often grow weary in this conflict, and we should utterly fail if we were not supported by the Divine truth, represented by the stone upon which Moses sat, and “Aaron and Hur who stayed up his hands, the one on the one side and the other on the other side.”

Such, in general, is the nature of temptation. It is not merely allurement to evil; that is only one side of it. It is not merely a conflict between the abstract qualities of good and evil, truth and falsity. There is no power in external objects, in themselves, to excite the lusts of selfish and worldly affections; they are only the instruments which intelligent beings use to accomplish their purposes of good or evil. Abstract qualities have no existence separate and distinct from their subjects. Good and evil, truth and falsity, have no existence except in personal and intelligent beings. I present this subject, therefore, as it is, as a conflict between human beings for the possession of a distinct object. The conflict of two nations for a boundary-line, or a piece of territory, or dominion over the other, is not more personal, distinct, and real than the hostile hosts who are contending for the dominion of every human soul. It is a real conflict waged by substantial human beings on the spiritual plane of life, with art and skill and strategy, and weapons of keener edge than Damascus blades, and it is a conflict that is waged to decisive victory. It is a conflict for dominion over a larger and more precious kingdom than the whole world. Yes, my friends, we are the objects aimed at in this war. One party desires to make every one of us, our sons and daughters, miserable slaves and consign us to hopeless bondage. The other, to free us from every burden, and hindrance, and sorrow, and bring us into perfect freedom, and endow us with the beauty, the order, the riches, the joy of heaven, and the companionship of the angels.

Temptation is of various degrees; its special quality is determined by the plane of the mind on which the battle is fought. There can be no real temptation until the distinctly spiritual degree of the mind begins to come into actual existence. Natural allurements are not properly temptations. “Misfortunes, sorrows, and anxieties which arise from natural and corporeal causes and bodily pains and diseases” are not temptations, though they serve in some degree to subdue and break the life of man's pleasures and cupidities, and determine and elevate his thoughts to interior and pious subjects. But there is no internal conflict between good and evil, truth and falsity, for there are no grounds for it. If there is any conflict it is between the natural gratification and natural fears of punishment, or loss of reputation, or favor, or some natural good.

Spiritual temptation takes place in the understanding, and is a conflict between truth and falsity, or between those evil spirits who act specifically upon man’s intellectual faculties, and the angels in the corresponding plane of the mind. The evil spirits bring forth all man’s falsities, and erroneous opinions and dogmas, and endeavor to persuade him that they are truths. They change truths into falses, and by the most alert and cunning legerdemain defend error, and make the true appear to be false and the false to be true. Herein lies the great difficulty in gaining a reception for a new truth. It cannot be done until the old error is removed. But our opinions and doctrines are entrenched in habits of thought, and entwined with associations from which it is difficult to break away. This temptation is often very severe, and the conflict continues for many years. Many of you, doubtless, have passed through this warfare and know by experience what it is. You were educated in a different faith from the one you now accept, and the transition has been more or less painful. First arose doubts about the truth of the old faith. It did not seem rational; it did not answer your questions, or satisfy the wants of your heart. So you doubted and feared, clung to the old faith and tried to make it appear to be true; turned here and there; fled for refuge to some new phase of thought, to find it untenable, and it may be, after many fruitless efforts, settled down in a state of despair of ever finding the light. But it came, as it always will come to every earnest and sincere seeker for it. All these varied experiences did not spring up spontaneously in the mind. They were the effects of spiritual conflicts between the angels of truth and error for the possession of the understanding.

The third and most severe temptation takes place in the will and the affections. The evil spirits excite man’s appetites, desires, and carnal lusts; they inflame and intensify the love of self and the world, and so involve his whole consciousness in them that he cannot see any other good than their gratification. On the other hand, the angels defend and protect him by calling into activity the good and innocent affections that were awakened in infancy and childhood, and the truths which had been stored up in the memory. They turn the light of these truths directly upon the evil and false principles excited by wicked spirits, and in every possible way seek to disclose their impurities, deformities, and the terrible consequences which must result from their indulgence. This temptation is often attended with the most exquisite suffering, for it touches the most sensitive part of our nature. It is described in the Word by the most intense physical pain and the surrender of the most precious possessions. It is selling all we have and giving to the poor; it is leaving father, mother, houses, and lands, and following the Lord. It is cutting off the right hand, plucking out the right eye, taking up the cross, and laying down the life. With every regenerate soul it continues until he comes into states of despair, and the prayer is wrung from the tortured spirit, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” or the more despairing cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Such being the nature of temptations, it is evident that no one can be regenerated without undergoing them. The distinctly spiritual plane of our being can be brought into substantial existence and conscious activity only as the loves of self and the world are subdued, and the natural mind, with its thoughts, affections, and cupidities, submits to be guided by the spiritual and heavenly. This conquest can only be effected “little by little,” as the native inhabitants who represent our evils and falsities were driven out of the Land of Canaan, and after many severe and terrible conflicts. Temptations, which are not merely allurements to sin, but actual conflicts with those who inflame our evil passions, are an essential means of regeneration. By temptations the diseased, inflamed, and perverted forms of the natural or external man are separated from the internal man, as the hard and coarse shell of a nut is separated from the internal and essential part of it by the power of frost. Temptations tend to give the good in us dominion over the evil, and the true over the false. They give us a clearer apprehension of truths, and lead us to practice them, while at the same time they subdue our evil affections and disperse the false principles derived from them. The spiritual man gains strength by the conflict. The organic vessels which compose the spiritual degree of the mind are developed and opened for the reception of larger currents of power from the angels and the Lord. The hardness and obduracy of the natural mind is softened in the fires of the conflict, and the loves of self and the world are subdued. The evil desires and cupidities become quiescent, and when the conquest is fully completed the heavenly man reigns supreme in the plane of natural life. Love to the Lord and man become the dominating motives in all natural pursuits; the Lord’s will begins to be done on the earth of the natural mind as it is in the heaven of the spiritual mind.

But while it is true that we cannot be regenerated with out temptations, the Lord never tempts us or leads us into them. He is in the constant effort to lead us out of them, and to deliver us from evil. He never assaults the wicked, nor do the angels who are His agents and ministers in leading men to heaven. They protect and defend man from the assaults of his enemies; but they never commence the attack. When evil spirits assault us and try to rob us of our priceless treasures, those who defend us do not lead into the conflict and are not responsible for it. Our Lord was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, but the temptation was caused by the devil. Every action must be judged by the motives of the actor.

But it may be asked, “If the Lord never leads us into temptation, why did He teach us to ask Him not to do that which He never does?” This is a question which there have been many unsatisfactory attempts to answer. The answer doubtless is that this is spoken according to the appearance to us from a natural point of view, and is of the same character as a multitude of other passages in the Word in which qualities of character and changes are attributed to the Lord which take place in men. The fiercest passions which rage in the human heart are attributed to the Lord. He is represented as jealous, angry, revengeful, furious, as hating, tormenting, sending famine, pestilence, and war, and punishing with eternal death. He is also said to perform human and finite actions. He comes and goes, hides and manifests Himself; sends messengers to inquire as though He were ignorant, resolves and repents, and performs many other actions which would be wholly inconsistent with an omnipresent, omniscient, and infinitely wise Being. In all these cases the Lord is represented as He appears to man, and not as He is in Himself. The changes and actions which take place in us are attributed to the Lord, because it so seems to us. The Scriptures are written from a human as well as a Divine point of view. If they had not been, man could not have understood them in any sense, and they would not have been a revelation to him. The genuine truth is that the Lord does not lead man into temptation. He is in the constant effort to lead us into the peace and rest of heaven. But this cannot be done without temptation. The obstacles which lie in the way must be removed, the enemies must be overcome. From a natural point of view the trial, the conflict, the self-denial are all we can see. He says we must forsake father, and mother, and earthly possessions, and take up our cross and lay down our life. It seems to the natural mind that He is leading us into these privations and trials, and we can see no light, no peace, no good beyond them. They are the limits of our vision. It is natural that we should shrink from the sacrifice and conflict. Our Lord Himself did, and prayed that if possible He might be spared from drinking the bitter cup. The Lord has accommodated His Word to our limited apprehension. But in other places He has revealed the genuine truth, by which we can correct the natural appearance as science corrects the illusions of the senses.

From our point of view, and according to our limited vision, the form of the petition is the true one; it is adapted to our state, it is the form which the Divine love and mercy must take in coming down to our apprehension; it is the negative side of the positive truth, expressed in the next clause, “but deliver us from evil.” That is what the Lord is in the constant effort to do. He does not lead us into temptation, but He leads us while we are in it, He protects and supports us while we are undergoing it, and though He seems to have forsaken us and left us to struggle alone, yet He is really nearer to us than at any other time. He sympathizes with us, for “He was tempted in all points as we are.” He has passed through every possible form of temptation, He has been where we are, and He knows how to succor and lead us. We cannot be delivered from evil until we overcome the enemies who cause it. The Lord is on our side in this conflict, and He is fighting against our enemies. We cannot find peace until the evils which disturb our repose are removed. The Lord is constantly saying to us, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,” and He employs every possible agency to bestow it upon us in the fullest and richest form.

How, then, shall we offer this prayer? By avoiding every allurement which leads to evil, by rejecting from our thoughts every suggestion of evil. When such thoughts arise in our minds we must attribute them to the presence of some evil spirit. Our thoughts are the words of the spiritual beings who are present within, and we must give them a prompt and indignant rejection. We must arm ourselves with weapons from the Word, and use them as our Lord did. A “thou shalt not” from the Lord is a sufficient reason for rejecting every evil suggestion. We must ask the Lord to deliver us from the evils or wicked beings who tempt us. In the degree we do this, we shall pray to our Father in secret, and He will reward us openly.

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