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Oct 10 1920


(Matt.3: 13. Mark 1:12-13)

Of what follows Jesus' acceptance of His Commission, Mark gives us the briefest but the most vivid account.

"And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beast; and the angles ministered unto him" (Mark 1:12,13).

As I read these words I fell as if upon a screen before my eyes a crucial scene in a great drama had been flashed for a swift second and then withdrawn. No clear outline is left upon my mind. But a thrilling impression remains of intense emotion, titanic struggle, and dominant Deity.

Grouping, I try to recall similar epochs in the careers of the world's great leaders. I think of Cecil Rhodes dreaming his empire dream in the wilds of the South African veldt. I remember that Paul spent a mysterious three years in Arabia before starting upon his world-shaking journeys.

Would these experiences be worth investigating as affording possible parallels? I do not think so. The greatest of mortals are but actors playing their little fixed parts upon the stage and passing off it. To Jesus only do the words of General Foch, lecturing many years before the first World War in the Higher Military School in Paris, on the high position of the Commander-in-Chief, apply supremely: "The Generalissimo alone creates the art, the strategy in the complete sense of the word; all the others create the tactics, the prose. He alone is the composer and the chief of the orchestra, in which all the others play but a part."

When I turn to the narrative of the other gospels, I find considerably more details of a character which have led to the title "The Temptation in the Wilderness" being given to this chapter in the King's career. And yet even when I took at these, I feel as if I had in my hand not an actual picture of the scene, but rather what photographers call a negative, from which the picture itself has yet to be made.

I feel as if I had gone into the first headquarters of the Commander-in-chief and found them deserted and empty, still marked with the signs of a struggle, but with nothing left in the way of plans and papers except three fragments of discarded plans lying in the waste-basket.

When I pick these up and smooth them out, I find that they contain proposed movements written in an unknown script. Across them, in the firm clear hand of the Commander himself, is written the word "Rejected," and the reasons why they were rejected.

When we examine the first fragment we find that the suggestion discarded is contained in the words, "If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."

In His all-absorbing preoccupation of mind resulting from His intensified sense of mission, Jesus had omitted to provide himself with food, and it was now many days since He had eaten anything. The proposal that He supply His needs by the exercise of the supernatural power, which He now felt so conscious of possessing, will seem to us a not improper one. But He rejected it. Why?

Perhaps He thought that it would be like a quartermaster pilfering from army stores for his own use. Perhaps He thought it would be shirking some of the suffering of the rank and file with which He had identified Himself; and He was determined, like Garibaldi, to share all the hardships of the common soldier. The answer, which He, himself, makes, however, gives a reason quite different from these.

"It is written," he says, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proccedeth out of the mouth of God." In these words uttered under such significant circumstances, Jesus declares once and for all that food is not the first and greatest need of mankind. He places the spirit above the body, the need for God before the need for bread. At the very outset of His career, He refuses to become a mere physical philanthropist, a Bread King; and hooses to devote His life to telling men about God.

The second line of action rejected by Jesus is that put into picture form in the proposal that He cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, because it is written,

He shall give His angles charge concerning thee:
And on their hands they shall bear thee up,
Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.

In rejecting this proposal, Jesus flatly refuses to attract a following by a spectacular display of the miraculous power, which has been given Him. He knew that wonder is not faith, and that the hearts and lives of men are not changed from evil to good by watching hair-raising feats of an acrobat or the startling tricks of a conjuror. A magic-monger may easily draw a crowd; but an army for conquest is made by other methods.

It is true that Jesus in the years that followed performed many miracles. But not one of these was done for purposes of spectacular display. Each of them was called forth by some dire human need, and was designed to show the tender heart of God more than His mighty hand.

"Again, the devil taken him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, 'All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.'"

How often in the years behind Him had Jesus climbed to the top of Nazareth's hill and, watching the caravans of camels of the merchants, and the armies of the Empire, as they passed along the crossroads of three continents, going to and fro between the farthest countries of the earth, had pictured to himself the cities and thrones that set these in motion (see Chapter I). And now the conviction forced itself upon Him that all this world, the power and the glory of it, was His for the taking. How would He take it? Was he content to be no better than another Caesar, a kind of old-world Hitler, gaining a sort of a surface sovereignty by pandering to the powerful and beating down the weak? Or was another kind of kingdom possible -- a Kingship over human hearts won by unstinting sacrifice of self, a death of shame, and centuries of patient kindness to a careless, thankless race?

"Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.'"

To every young man and woman comes the task of Planning a Life Campaign. We may shirk it or put it off. But what chance of victory has a commander who attempts nothing more than to repel such attacks as the enemy may make, instead of watching every opportunity to seize the initiative and gain control of the situation? And of what use is the power of initiative and control when gained, unless we have determined upon some plan or purpose, which we set ourselves to carry out? Let us not allow ourselves to be discouraged by the apparent impregnability of circumstances, which we seem unable to control, or by the feebleness of our resources. Neither in war nor in life is it possible for us to set the stage to our liking. A general does not expect to be able to fix the strength of his enemies, or to direct their movements. He is rarely in a position to choose a battle-ground which will give him all the advantage. And the supplied of ammunition at his disposal are frequently inadequate. But these things do not prevent him from planning for victory and winning the victory. Or, to change the metaphor:

One ship drives east and another west,
With the self-same winds that blow;
'Tis the set of the sails
And not of the gales
Which determines the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of God,
As we voyage along through life.
'Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

What help can we get then, in framing our Life Plan and forming our own Life Purpose, from these records of the Great Master's treatment of the problems which faced Him in contemplating His career as a whole?

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that procceedeth out of the mouth of God." That is the first great Life Principle laid down by the Master of Life.

The day must not begin with breakfast but with the Bible. Our very life depends as much on a regular ration for the soul as upon a regular ration for the body.

The second proposal rejected by Jesus seems to involve two principles of conduct. Jesus, simply by declining to throw himself down from a dizzy height in the most public place in Palestine, seems clearly to refuse to win a following by spectacular display; and by this and His subsequent conduct He teaches that not show, but service, is God's way to true leadership. The words of His refusal, however, enunciate another life principle of vital importance. "It is written," said Jesus, "thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." An ordinary reference Bible will enable us to locate this quotation in Deuteronomy 6:16, "Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God as ye tempted Him in Massah." Here a further reference takes us back to the seventeenth chapter of Exodus, where a thirsty people murmured against Moses and against God, saying, "Is the Lord among us, or not?" This rebellious attitude, which would take the Almighty by the throat and demand a miracle from Him as proof of His presence, is what Christ so sternly condemns here. I knew a woman who once asked God to spare the life of her child; and because He did not do it, she refused ever to pray again. That kind of a course is simply mutiny. What right has a private in the ranks to question the conduct of the Commander-in-chief, even though his life is in peril, or the life of the one most dear to him is taken?

The last great Life Principle which Jesus adopts at the very entrance to His career is that no prospect of power warrants a compromise with evil. The end never justifies the means.

Let no man deceive himself by the specious argument that he cannot afford to be too scrupulous while he is making his way in the world, but that once he has attained a position of power and control, then he will be able to do the straight thing, and he will have so much more influence for good in a high position than in a low.

To every such suggestion, however subtly it may present itself, let us answer with our far-seeing Leader; "Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.'"

In these words we have not only the last of the great Principles which the Great Commander left to guide us in our Life Campaign, but we have the consummation of them all. Chemists of old sought a touchstone by which to distinguish gold from other substances. The phrase, "Him only shalt thou serve," is the touch-stone of all our conduct. It is the true test of the legitimacy of our business and occupations. It gives a place to the beautiful as well as to the useful, for the God we serve is the creator of both jewels and flowers. It shuts out dissipation but includes all recreation that recreates or refreshes us for the serious work of life.

But above all, it lifts our life to nobler plans by substituting for the sorbid service of self, loyalty to the most unselfish Sovereign that ever claimed allegiance from human hearts.

But obedience to the latter half of this injunction is possible only to those who observe the former half -- "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God."

If we would serve God, we must worship Him, presenting ourselves to Him every morning to receive His orders for the day, making the understanding of His wishes and commands the subject of our constant study, and closing the day by presenting our reports of what we have done and said, and seeking His approval and correction.

These fundamental principles which Jesus recognized at the very outset of His career have been dealt with at this length because of the conviction that in essence they remain unchanging. It is true of life, as General Foch declared it to be true of war, that in its conduct it remains obedient to the same laws as in the past. As this great master says, in comparing the art of war with architecture, "Forms evolve, directing principles are unchanged." There is this difference, however, between the arts of war and life, on the one hand, and that of architecture on the other. In life and war one cannot expect to carry out in detail complete plans fixed upon at the outset. In both it is possible to do little more than decide upon objective, ultimate and immediate, and accept certain directing principles of conduct as being sound and practical. Such principles of the art of living have been the subject of this chapter. The question of objective will be dealt with in the next.

1 The Table of contents of Calvin's book can be found with letter W-MCP2-3b.035.

For chapter 1, see Box 04-028.

For chapter 2, see Box 04-029.

For chapter 3, see Box 04-030.

For chapter 4, see Box 04-031.

For chapter 6, see Box 04-033.

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