A man is just as strong as his weakest moment. You could hardly say that Esau was a man of mere sensuality, who had no appreciation at all of the birthright or the blessing. That could not have been so, for we read of the bitter remorse that afterward seized him because he had once despised his birthright, and how, carefully and with tears, he besought Isaac to give it back to him. He was not a man of pronounced and uninterrupted materialism and animalism but a man who, in the temptation of a moment, threw away his birthright. He was just as strong as that weak moment when he came, hungry and thirsty from the fields, and smelled the pottage of his brother. A man's character is just as strong as the weakest link in it. It is arresting and solemnizing to remember that in the last analysis we are to be judged and tested not by our excellencies, not by our so-called strong points, but by our weakness. The real trial will be the trial and test of your weak place and your weak moment. A battle line is just as strong as the weakest point or place in die whole length of the line.
Once when a soldier was going off to the wars his sweetheart gave him a talisman which he was to take with him as a protection against temptation. The talisman consisted of a moth suspended between a star and a flame. When the soldier's heart inclined toward evil the moth sank toward the flame; but when his heart inclined toward good and resisted evil, the moth rose toward the star.
Perhaps the most beautiful paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer ever written is that to be found in the eleventh canto of Dante's Purgatory, where the souls that are being purged of their sins repeat the Lord's Prayer, not so much for themselves as for those who come after them on the dangerous path of life. Dante's rendering of the sixth petition is as follows:
Our virtue, which so soon doth harm receive,
Put not to peril with our ancient Foe;
But from his evil sting deliverance give.
There is a legend that Augustine, accosted on the street by a former mistress shortly after his conversion, turned and walked in the opposite direction. Surprised, the woman cried out, "Augustine, it is I."
But Augustine, proceeding on his way, cried back to her, "Yes, but it is not I."
What he meant was that there was a new Augustine, and that this new Augustine would avoid the very territory and appearance of evil.
There is an old legend of a monk who, when assailed by the devil in a low and immoral theater, asked the devil how he could be so bold as to tempt a servant of the Lord. The devil answered, "What business has a servant of the Lord in my territory?"
The command given to the man and the woman was not merely that they should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but diat they should not even touch it.
William Jennings Bryan used to tell of a man in his home town in Illinois who had been the victim of drink. He reformed, signed the pledge, and apparently was delivered out of his evil habit. But when he rode into town he continued to hitch his horse to the rail in front of the tavern. He pitched his tent toward Sodom, and soon was again a drunkard. The way to avoid evil is to avoid the appearance of it.
A man would not jump into the Niagara River above the falls, and then expect that by some miracle God would keep him from being swept over the falls. A man would not put a match to a keg of powder and then expect that God would keep him from being blown to atoms. And yet there are rational men and women, who have—outwardly at least—turned away from evil and given their allegiance to God, who walk in the way of temptation and seem to expect that they will be delivered.
To say "Lead us not into temptation (Matt. 6:13) is to ask that God will keep us from reading those books, going to those entertainments, meeting those associates, that stir up the evil which in every man's nature, for every soul has its own ladder down to hell.
We can lead ourselves, or permit others to lead us, into circumstance where temptation is certain to strike and where sin is almost equally certain to wound us. The thing is to avoid those circumstances.
There is not much use in a man's trying to row when his boat is only a hundred yards above Niagara Falls. When evil passions are once on the wing they are not easily recalled. When the desire for evil is roused within a man's breast through his own willfulness and carelessness, he may not be able to restraint his evil desires any more than a man can persuade an enraged, blood-excited tiger not to leap, or induce a hooded cobra not to strike.
Trochilus, one of the disciples of Plato, miraculously escaped from a storm at sea in which the ship was sunk and he himself almost perished. When he reached home, the first thing he did was to order his servants to wall up two windows in one of his chambers which looked out upon the sea. His fear was that on some fine, bright day, looking out upon the sea when it was calm and tranquil and flashing in the sunlight he should again be tempted to venture upon its treacherous waters. There are not a few windows looking out upon the sea of temptation which the soul would do well to wall up.
One of the noted publishers of Greal Britian tells the story of how he came as a youth from Scotland to take a job in London. One of the first companions that he fell in with took him one night to a house of shame; but as soon as he realized the nature of the place, without a moment's hesitation, he fled from it. To that quick and immediate decision he attributed his subsequent life of success and of honor.
The trees once rebelled against the ax and formed a league binding themselves that none of them would allow the ax to have wood for his helve, or handle. But the ax attended the convention of the trees and persuaded them to give him wood for his handle, so that he could cut down just the small bushes and trees which hid from view the stately splendor of the ash and the oak and the cedar. Thus beguiled, they gave him wood for that purpose. But the moment he was thus furnished he fell to and chopped down the trees, sparing none of them. Watch the beginnings of evil. If you avoid the very appearance of evil, as the Bible puts it, you will escape the reality of evil.
If the thought of a godly father, or a praying mother, or a faithful wife, or an innocent child, will sometimes hold a man back from sin, how much more will the thought of the presence of Christ deliver the soul in the time of temptation.
Every night at sunset four bugles are sounded from the castle rock at Edinburgh as night comes down over the great rock and the picturesque city. There is a tradition that after the fourth bugle has sounded over the darkening city those on the streets below can hear the sound of a fifth bugler—a bugler who long ago was slain. That is mere legend. But when a tried, troubled, tempted, or sin-wounded soul sounds the trumpet of resistance and repentance and recovery, out of the unseen comes the clear and unmistakable note of another trumpet. It is the answer of Christ to the soul which turns to him and seeks in the battle of life his presence and his help.