Read CHAPTER IV - THE UNIVERSALITY OF TEMPTATION of The Warfare of the Soul Practical Studies in the Life of Temptation, free online book, by Shirley C. Hughson, on

I. The Common Lot

“So long as we live in this world we cannot be without tribulation and temptation.Whence it is written in Job, ’The life of man upon earth is a temptation.’"

Man did not have to wait for the full revelation of God in His Son before knowing this truth.Holy Job testifies to it out of his own experience, and the Son of Sirach gives the warning, My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation." The constant and definite warning and promise of our Lord and His Apostles were to the same effect.In the only prayer He taught His disciples, a prayer He commands us to use daily, they are taught to say, “Lead us not into temptation"; and on the night in which He was betrayed, full of tender solicitude for their souls, He warns them, “Pray that ye enter not into temptation."

In all His teaching He takes it easily for granted that temptation is an inevitable factor in the life of those who would follow Him.In the parable of the Sower He assumes, without so much as making the statement, that temptation must come to every heart in which the seed of the Word is sown.

Everywhere His Apostles give us the same teaching.St. Paul testifies to the presence of temptation in his own life, and warns and comforts his converts concerning it, telling them of the sweetness and loving care of God in it all:“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able." And further, God reveals to us the depth of our Lord’s temptation as a source of comfort and encouragement:“In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted"; and again, He “was in all points tempted like as we are."

So likewise is it through the writings of all the Apostles.St. James assumes the universal fact, and points out the way of temptation as the way of joy; St. Peter shows how temptation leads on to “praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ"; and the Epistles of the Beloved Disciple, tender and full of all gentleness as they are, ring with the suggestion of the Satanic antagonism, the warfare and the victory.What a trumpet call there is to the elect lady and her children:“Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought." It is like an echo of the revelation on Patmos, the message to the faithful Philadelphians, Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."

II. Enduring Hardship

It is a part of the temptation itself that, as we contemplate the fact of its universality, the question should arise in the soul, weary with the battle, sore with long buffeting, “Is there no rest, no cessation from the strain and stress of the warfare?”

The question comes from Satan.Assuming the rôle of a comforter, he whispers to us of the hardness of the ceaseless struggle.It is a temptation to induce us to forget our character as the followers of our Lord.When we were baptized we were signed with the Sign of the Cross in token that we should manfully fight under Christs banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and continue Christs faithful soldier and servant unto our lifes end."

In short, at our Baptism we were enlisted and sealed as soldiers, and a soldier who never fights has no reason for existing.A soldier who turns himself back in the day of battle is not only unworthy of his name and character, but is by this act reversing the whole principle of his life and vocation.We are members of the Church Militant, the fighting Church.The Son of God has gone forth to war, the trumpet-call to His soldiers has sounded.It were shame upon the soldier of an earthly army should he, at such a time, linger and repine because of the battle, and surely those who contend for no earthly laurel, but for the “crown of glory that fadeth not away," cannot afford to do less.

Let us never forget that we are members of an army, that it is a time of war; our Captain has gone forth with His host; “The ark and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house to eat and to drink?"

We must not, however, leave the matter at this point, lest some be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow," and find only despair where they looked for consolation.In the spiritual combat, unceasing as it is, there are many considerations which offer comfort.These we shall not here meditate upon at length.They will find their place before we close our study of this holy warfare.But it will help and encourage us to remind ourselves that in this struggle the exercise of strength does not exhaust the soul.

In the moment that we seem weakest, then are we strong, because Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Then it is that God teaches us our own insufficiency that we may look not to anything that we have or do, but to Him that He may send us “help from the sanctuary and strengthen us out of Sion." Great strain upon bodily strength depletes it, but the more unsparing the call upon our spiritual energies, the more are they confirmed and increased.Then again, the harder the battle, the more splendid the victory and the reward.Every Satanic device and energy that is directed against us does but swell the opportunity for a more glorious place in the Kingdom.So a Kempis says:These help to virtue; these test the young soldiers of Christ; these fashion the heavenly crown."

Thus does evil react upon itself for its own destruction, and surely none but a pusillanimous soul will desire to flee the honour of being used as the sure occasion and instrument of the glory of our God, and of the overthrow of Satan.

III. The Sufferings of the Saints

The holy author of the “Imitation of Christ” tells us, “No man is so perfect and holy as not sometimes to have temptations." The universality of temptation is found not only in respect to outward condition and circumstance, but also in respect to the character of those against whom Satan directs his malice.Saintly souls longing for a still greater saintliness, if they truly discern the things of the Spirit, will not fall into the snare of thinking that perhaps some day in this life they will become so like our Lord that temptation can never more vex and torment them.To become like Him will be to invite more desperate attacks.The more we are conformed to His likeness, the more must we expect to arouse the hatred and malice of the Evil One.He who is the Holy of Holies was, just because of that fact, tempted as never other man was tempted.

Not only is our greater conformity to Christ the signal for Satan’s attack, but we must expect the particular occasions of God’s outpouring of grace upon us to be also the occasions of special and perhaps immediate assault.

It was so with our Lord.There are few words in the narrative of stronger or more valuable significance than the adverb with which St. Matthew begins the fourth chapter of his Gospel:“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”

Bishop Andrewes says:“When as Christ was but newly come out of the water of Baptism, and immediately after the heavens had opened unto Him, and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in the likeness of a dove, and while He was yet full of the Holy Ghost, did the devil set upon Him"; and saintly old Leighton warns us:“Thou shalt be sure to be assaulted when thou hast received the greatest enlargements from heaven, either at the Sacrament or in prayer, or in any other way; then look for an onset. This arch-pirate lets the empty ships pass, but lays wait for them when they return richest laden."

Thus the soul that has received special blessings of God must expect special attack, not only because it is natural for Satan to seek promptly to offset and quench the divine grace, but because when God gives us special spiritual strength He gives it in order that it may be used, and He Himself will supply the opportunity by permitting Satan to make his attack.“It is God’s property to look for much at his hands to whom He hath given much.When He gives a man a large measure of grace, He gives the devil withal a larger patent."

The like experience has ever been suffered by the Saints.We read of their struggles with temptation, and of the methods the adversary employs against them, and they sound often impossible and grotesque.We are inclined to dismiss them as the product of the childish imagination of some mediaeval chronicler; but how do we know the method of the devil with the Saints?He never has occasion to deal with us in any unusual way.He is able to overthrow us daily with the most ordinary and commonplace temptations; how then dare we say how he might approach those against whom no common temptation can avail?

Thus are we taught not to look forward to growth in holiness as a means of escape from temptation.Such expectation would in itself be sin, because we should then be seeking God’s gifts for our own selfish ease and indulgence, and not for His honour.If He should vouchsafe us the grace to attain to great achievement in the spiritual life, it would be a base return for His goodness to shut those graces up in our hearts (were such a thing possible), instead of using them in more extended endeavour for the glory of His Kingdom; instead of arming ourselves by their means for more complete and crushing conquests of His enemies.

The Saints are led along the path of sanctity that they may be more effective soldiers; not that they may by such progress escape from the presence of the foe, and find a pusillanimous peace in this life, while all the powers of evil are storming at the gates of the Kingdom, and making captives of the King’s children.

Peace is to be had indeed, and in this life, for the Kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," but, says a Kempis, “he that knows how to suffer will possess the greatest peace.”Endurance of hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ is the only passport to honourable peace in this life, the only pledge of the “peace of God which passeth all understanding" in the life to come.

IV. Satan in the Sanctuary

Thomas a Kempis tells us again, There is no order so holy nor place so secret where there be not temptations."

It would seem that the energies of Satan against God would, from the nature of things, find themselves paralysed under certain conditions.Surely, one should think, the devil could introduce his temptations more readily in a brothel than in a church, in ordinary secular employment rather than when we are engaged in the service of the sanctuary.

Such, however, is not the case.Amid the common employments of the carpenter shop in Nazareth we should scarcely have wondered had He been tempted; but that the enemy should have approached the Incarnate Son of God while in the midst of His great retreat in preparation for His ministry does fill us with astonishment. Or if it seem not unnatural that He should have been tempted in the desert solitudes, yet we do marvel at the audacity that led the tempter to bear Him to the holy precincts of the temple, and seize upon the circumstances there to tempt Him to seek other than His Father’s will.But so it was with the Master, and so shall it be with the disciple.

Who has not been tempted at the holiest times and in the most sacred places?Is it not, furthermore, the common experience that Satan the more eagerly and readily pursues us under such circumstances?There is a principle in it, and a most natural one.It is a favourite device of the enemy to assault us at such times for two reasons.

First, because he knows that could he induce us to sin under such circumstances, his victory would be greater, the dishonour of God would be deeper, the hurt to the soul more serious.Many a soul has been startled while kneeling in the very act of receiving the Blessed Sacrament by the swift, sudden onslaught of some strong temptation.To yield at such a time would not only bring upon it the guilt of the sin itself, but there would be added to it something of the nature of sacrilege.Satan knows this, and is keen to gain every advantage from it.

Secondly, he seeks to lead us into sin under these conditions because he fears especially what is going on in our souls.God is drawing near to us, and we are drawing near to Him. We are hearkening what the Lord God will say concerning us, and He is preparing to speak in our souls with the Voice that is mighty in operation," with the Voice of which it is said, “He spake the word and they were made, He commanded and they were created."

Satan knows how that Voice in the attentive heart can speak into being new creations of divine grace, and of strength unto the battle; and it is to his utmost interest that our hearts be turned aside from hearing the divine Voice within.It is a great blow to his power for a soul to make a good Communion, to pray a holy prayer, or to be able to listen piously and without distraction to a spiritual instruction or exposition of God’s holy word.Such acts are acts of offensive warfare against him, and it is no wonder if he then rouses himself and his evil agents to check this inroad into his kingdom.

So let us not be surprised if many distractions come in these times of devotion, and if they endure long.Nor must we expect to be freed from them as long as we live, for they constitute one of Satan’s favourite modes of attack.St. Francis de Sales was once asked by a Sister of the Visitation how she could be rid of distractions in prayer.With that wise humour so characteristic of the Saint, he replied, Die and be saved." He knew of nothing short of this, that could free one from Satanic interruption.To be clean delivered from it, says Walter Hilton, so that he shall feel no suggestion, nor jangling of fleshly affections, or of vain thoughts at any time, that can no man come to in this life."

Let us remember, however, that involuntary distraction is not sin.If as soon as we are conscious that the mind has wandered we bring it back again, our souls are clear.We may wander again the next minute, but as long as we continue by acts of the will to bring the attention back again, no sin is upon us.

The sin, at such times, lies in being disheartened, but a little reflection on the principle involved will keep us safe.Satan seeks to interrupt our prayers because he fears them; and God help the poor blinded soul who is happy and satisfied because the Evil One does not think his devotions are worth interrupting.

V. The Sacrament of Temptation

If temptation be so universal, and if, as is usually the case, it is a condition which is attached more particularly to the lives of those who are making the greatest effort of conformity to the divine will, we are irresistibly drawn to the conclusion that there must be some signal blessing to be gained from enduring it.

St. James tells us, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. "This apostolic beatitude can hardly be said to refer only to the blessedness that comes from so meeting temptation as merely to escape sin.This would make the beatitude a poor thing that might be supposed to belong as truly to the man who is never tempted at all.The Apostle is, we can be sure, speaking of a special blessing that comes from bearing a part in the spiritual warfare; and he goes on to say that the crown which constitutes the reward is not one that is promised to those who succeed in the negative work of merely avoiding sin, but to those who excel in the positive service of God, and exercise love, “the crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.”So we see that the crowning blessing derived from being tempted is that it affords us the best possible opportunity of exercising that divine love which must be the motive underlying all our spiritual life and action.

So it may be said that the temptation of the present moment is the sacrament of the present moment.A sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; and temptation, if met with the right disposition, is a sign of a special grace with which God desires to adorn our souls, a grace which we make our own whenever we fight valiantly, and by the power of God gain the mastery over the temptation.

Satan seems never to have realized this truth, or else for the maintenance of his own kingdom he would refrain from his assaults on Gods people.So has sin blinded the very Prince of Sin.He assaults the Saints of God.In a strength not their own they drive him back baffled and defeated, and the turrets of the infernal citadel topple and crash.In the age-long conflict with God, he has never learned how the divine purpose is using him and his malice, nay, giving direct permission for its exercise against Himself, in order that the eternal Kingdom may be the more surely built up among men.