"Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation."
The weakness of the flesh was not an encouragement for sleeping, but an argument for awaking. If the body in all its functions were a perfect instrument for a spirit perfectly willing—strong, unwearied, free from impulses and passions by which the devil tempts the spirit—there would not be such need of the exhortation; but because of the body's weakness, the spirit has the more reason to watch and to pray.
The devil assailed the Savior in the wilderness through the weakness of the flesh, when hunger was felt after long fasting. Save yourself this pain! And now again, when the flesh was still more weak, the devil renewed the assault with a similar suggestion, Drink not this cup! Out of His own consciousness of human weakness, Jesus warned His disciples to imitate His own example of watchfulness and prayer.
The devil quoted and misapplied scripture, when he tempted Christ to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the temple. And he has often perverted these words to encourage slumber in those whom the Lord sought to awaken. Satan says, "Your flesh is weak, but you mean well. God will take the will for the deed. Nature craves indulgence—indulge it; hunger asks food—take it. You cannot help feeling thirst—slake it. You are weary—rest. You are drowsy—sleep. Take comfort from the conviction of what is right, and from a general desire to do it when the difficulty is not too great; but when feeling weak, especially so very weak in the garden of grief, be content with wishing to be vigilant, and with a good conscience settle yourself to slumber."
Our Lord's argument was the very reverse. "Because the spirit is willing, let its will be firm. Because the flesh is weak, let the spirit be the more strong. Because feeling drowsy, be the more resolute to watch. Because in slumber your danger is increased, let your vigilance be increased. Because the flesh is weak, watch and pray that you enter not into temptation."
An Alpine climber, after hours of exertion, may be so weary that he can proceed no further until he recruits his strength. But he must beware of sleeping on the ice-slope, or the precipice's edge. Cold and exhausted he pauses on the snow-field, but he must keep up the circulation by exercise. If he lies down to slumber—he may not wake again. The more weary he feels the—more watchful must he be.
A friend of the writer was overtaken by night on a lofty mountain-ridge. The path behind was too perilous to be retraced in the dark; and the way in front was obstructed by a rock, which he was too weary to scale. His resting-place was a steep slope towards a fearful precipice. One careless movement might be fatal. As the darkness deepened, the danger was disguised. With a lessening visible sense of peril he felt increasing drowsiness. How he had to stir up his mind to a conviction of the need of unremitting vigilance! What efforts were his during those long hours to drive off sleep! Thus it is with those who are weary with wrestling with temptations, with enduring afflictions. In the darkness of the garden of grief they are in special danger, and therefore specially need to watch and pray.
The storm may seem to slumber, but woe to the pilot who presumes on the lull, and is sleeping at the helm when the elements awake with renewed violence. There may be a pause in the battle, but woe to the army which sleeps while the foe is busy in reloading his guns, and gathering his troops for a renewed charge. In our grief there may come intervals of relief, but woe to the sufferer who allows weariness so to take advantage of the respite as spiritually to slumber, and be beguiled by the devil's plausible arguments to enter into temptation.
In the garden of grief, with body and mind weakened by woe, there is great danger of entering into temptation, by impatience and distrust of God. These are the beginnings of paths leading away from God's garden of trial into the devil's wilderness of flattering but false and fatal ease.
Others have entered into temptation by seeking solace in trouble from poisonous pleasures and perilous delights. They would mitigate the bitterness of sorrow's cup by another, which may for a time dull the sense of pain and grief, but which has often tied and bound in the chain of evil habit the sufferer who has had life-long reason to regret, that by such relief from suffering, he fell into such depths of sin. Others, to divert the mind from anxious and sorrowful thoughts, have welcomed the visits of some ungodly but gay companion, whose jokes and tales have engendered a lasting preference for such society. Others again have sought relief in worldly pleasures, in more than questionable entertainments, in trashy tales suggestive of evil, which, after the transitory diversion, have left permanent wounds on the soul.
Temptation itself cannot be avoided. It is inherent to our human nature. It assailed the holy Christ. But it is one thing for temptation to come to us, and quite another for us to enter into it. Once willingly enter and we may ramble further and further among thickets, bogs, and precipices; whence if we return it will be with garments muddied and torn, with wounds and bruises and saddest memories. "See that you ENTER not into temptation."
"A green log is safe in company of a candle;" yes, but with a few shavings and some dry sticks the green log yields to the flames. Satan seldom assails first with great temptations. Skillful general! he makes his approaches gradually, by zig-zag trenches creeps towards the fortress he intends to storm, and then suddenly unmasks his batteries. After defeat he fakes retreat, but lurks in secret ambuscades. Though the flame has been extinguished, the ashes may be smouldering. Our old sins may be conquered—yet not quite killed. We have rejoiced over their funeral; but, unless we watch, they may rise up from their coffins, and with all the added horrors of the grave, may seek to bring us back, hopeless captives of death. All along the path we need the reiterated warning—Watch!
The chief danger is the first, and the first is yielding to drowsiness. Extinguish the feeble flame which might cause a conflagration. To safeguard the citadel, resist the preliminary assault on the outworks. To escape the plague, breathe not infection. To keep from sin, enter not into temptation; and therefore slumber not, but watch!
Avoid what are called LITTLE sins. No sin can be really little, committed against the holy laws of conscience and of God. Little faults may be the beginnings of great ones; to save the big ship, stop the small leak. The deadly upas-tree is in the seed, the poisonous serpent in the egg, the fierce tiger in the playful cub. A number of little wounds may kill—as surely as one deep gash; a small vein kept open, may drain away the life-stream as fatally as a main artery.
The greatest peril is the slumber which renders us indifferent to all temptation. It steals on us by imperceptible degrees; pleads the excuse of necessary repose; flatters by the hope of fitting for future toil; asks but a brief indulgence. It binds with films of such silken softness that we dream we can break them when we will; but alas, what mighty cords can be twisted from these thin threads! Some dangers are limited to certain portions of our pilgrimage—this haunts the whole. When once overcome by it all other foes are ready to start from their hiding-places to wound, if not to capture or to kill.
Occasional explosions in coal-mines indicate the danger always lurking there. One candle carelessly exposed may rouse the lurking foe. Into the daily atmosphere of life may suddenly be injected the inflammable vapor of deadly temptation. Our only safety-lamp is the grace of God watchfully held. We carry about with us easily besetting temptations, highly combustible, which an accidental rub may ignite! If we cannot throw them off, how necessary to watch lest they burst into flame!
Watchfulness implies EXERTION. A sailor on the watch sees the rocks ahead, and warns the pilot to alter his course. The captain of a ship observes the fall of the barometer, and gives his orders to take in sail. A soldier on the watch spies the foe, and resists the attack. And a Christian on the watch not only observes but acts, conquers as well as detects evil, does his duty as well as recognizes it. As the householder in the parable, keeping watch, he "does not allow his house to be broken into;" as the faithful servant, he improves his talents, and when his Master knocks, is watching that "he may open to Him immediately."
Watchfulness and prayerfulness are intimately connected, and must not be separated. Watchfulness represents the human phase of the religious life; prayer the Divine. The former prompts effort, the latter dependence. Watch! as if salvation depended on ourselves; pray! as if it were to be accomplished entirely by God. Both are one. To watch without prayer would be sinful self-reliance; to pray without watchfulness would be sinful indolence.
We must pray in order to watch, because this is spiritual life in exercise, and prayer for the Spirit of life sustains it. We must pray to continue to watch, for the increase of the willingness, for support in the weakness. How can we keep watchful in drowsiness, and resist the foe in weakness, without prayer to One mighty to save? "My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He who keeps you will not slumber." Our Fellow-Sufferer, now on the throne, "is able to save to the uttermost, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for us." And "the Spirit helps our infirmities." We do not pray alone.
We must also watch that we may pray. "Be sober and watch unto prayer. Continue in prayer, and watch in the same." Watch against distracting thoughts in prayer. Chrysostom says, "The devil knows how good a thing is prayer, therefore he so greatly tries to hinder it." Watch for opportunities to pray. Plausible pretexts abound for neglect, especially in seasons of great sorrow and weakness. Besides fixed seasons for prayer let us watch for opportunities amid the labors of the day. Rowland Hill used to commend spontaneous prayer, because "it flies up to heaven before the devil can get a shot at it." Watch for answers to prayer. Watch to fulfill the duties arising from such answers. If blessings are given, watch to be grateful; if strength, to exert it; if knowledge, to use it; if opportunities, to improve them. Greater spiritual mercies demand greater self-sacrifice. If we feel more love, do we render more service? If comforted, do we the more try to comfort others?
As our Lord went again and again to the disciples whom He had commanded to watch and pray, so He is ever going the rounds of His camp and sees whether His soldiers, whom He still bids to watch with Him, are vigilant and active in resisting the tempter, guarding His Church, promoting His kingdom, and preparing for His coming. As affliction is a season in which we may specially glorify Him, so also it is a season in which we may sadly fail by sleeping when we should watch and pray.
How great was the loss of the disciples! Such a privilege as keeping watch with the Savior in His great struggle, helping Him by their vigilance, comforting Him by their sympathy—was offered only to those three, of all mankind. When Jesus, in preexistent form as the Angel of Jehovah, appeared to Moses "in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush," the prophet turned aside "to see this great sight why the bush was not burnt." He hid his face with reverence, and took his shoes from off his feet, and listened to all the words of God. But there was a greater wonder in Gethsemane when, not an olive-tree, but the Angel Jehovah Himself was enduring the flames from which He came forth unscathed and glorified—a sight which angels watched with wonder, which eternity will celebrate.
The opportunity never returned. This was the very last hour in which the disciples would be alone with Him. He was now to be delivered to His foes. Would not the neglect of such a privilege, the failure of love and duty at such a time, be a constant regret?
When Jesus returned to them "and found them asleep again He left them and went away again." Emphatic congruity—a double "again"—their sleeping and His leaving them. If the first sad remonstrance availed not, was it as likely another would rouse them as it was that it would increase their guilt? A third time He returned—and still they were slumbering. It was now too late. The traitor was at hand. What grief of disappointed love is in the words, "Sleep on now, and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners."
From the companionship of friends, who should have watched and wept with Him, He was to be seized by foes who would mock and slay Him. The disciples might now sleep on, so far as any help they might have rendered was concerned. Sleep on now—if you can! They would not rouse themselves at the voice of the Savior—now they are to be roused by the voice of the betrayer. Yet even now their Lord cares for them. They would be in danger of being captured if they remained in the garden. "Rise, let us be going; behold he who betrays me is at hand." Those who will not rouse up at the voice of Jesus are likely to be roused by that of calamity. But, "better be alarmed by swords and spears than left to perish in false security."
By lack of watchfulness they fell into sin. Christ left it to their choice, to sleep on, or to go to their homes, or to keep near Him in His trial. This last they would have done had they been prepared for the trial by watchfulness and prayer. But they all "forsook Him and fled." By lack of watchfulness the most zealous of them fell into the perilous folly of smiting with the sword, and afterwards into profane denial of all knowledge of his Lord. Spiritual slumber is the precursor of sin. After the first awakening of the soul from death there is constant need of the rousing call—Awake! "Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober."
Trial that is sanctified is a great blessing; but when we do not, by watchfulness and prayer, seek sanctifying grace, it may be an occasion of grievous injury. Sorrow is not safety. Affliction is no barrier against temptation. The garden of grief is not so fortified that the foe cannot gain access. The slumber of grief may be troubled by dreams of sin, in which fancies may appear facts. Vain desires, evil imaginations, self-indulgent impulses may enter the encampment if the sentries slumber, to pollute, to injure, to steal, if not to slay.
Eve must have been unwatchful when the arch-enemy
suggested taking the forbidden fruit. Milton represents the guardian angels
as detecting Satan in the act of whispering evil to her when asleep in
Surely if the tempter could thus enter the Garden of Eden, as yet unclouded by sin, we have special reasons, in our garden of grief, to watch and pray.
In our grief we may be comforted by our Lord's injunction in Gethsemane. He who says "Watch" is watching over us. He who bids us "Pray" is interceding for us. The more we watch, the more of His words of comfort we shall hear. The more we pray, the more of His supporting grace we shall receive. The more we watch and pray in our tribulation, the more conscious communion with Him we shall enjoy, the more ready we shall be to embrace opportunities of serving Him, the more comfort we shall obtain by comforting others, and so forgetting our own troubles in ministering to theirs.
"Christian, seek not yet repose,