Matthew relates in the fourth chapter of his gospel an experience which is of peculiar interest to the Christian Scientist. It is the account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, wherein is shown the powerlessness of evil to deceive or to dominate God's man; wherein is also revealed the deliverance for humanity consequent upon refusal to consent to evil's plan, when this refusal is based upon spiritual understanding.
First, let us note the situation in which Jesus found himself. He was in the wilderness, which Mrs. Eddy defines on page 597 of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" as "loneliness; doubt; darkness." Evil holds such a situation to be propitious for the suggestions of temptation, but no possibility of Jesus' surrender is intimated in connection with the statement that he was to be tempted. When error sought first to gain an admission that man needs something besides spiritual understanding to sustain and comfort him, that sin can be partaken of without harm, and that material possession enriches man, these palpable lies made not an instant's appeal to the consciousness of Jesus, for he already knew through demonstration that man lives by the word of God, that evil cannot tempt man, and that God is the only source of the kingdom's power and glory. To state it quite plainly, Jesus was asked to deny God's allness. This is always error's primal effort and its only chance to become master; but Jesus, knowing that evil does not exist in reality, was not deceived by its pose as a giver of good or of evil.
Just what was evil's part in the encounter? Here was its opportunity to use all of its boasted arts of animal magnetism and mental suggestion. Mortal mind has attributed to the devil in the role of tempter subtle activities, resistless tides of circumstance, clever manipulations resulting in tragedies; but as the reader proceeds with the Biblical account he becomes aware of total disability on the part of evil. There is no compulsion, no effort so much as to touch Jesus. There is no description of his being thrown or lured down from the pinnacle of the temple, no record of his being browbeaten or tricked into yielding allegiance to the devil. Error's supreme effort seems to consist simply of this,—a suggestion to Jesus to cast himself down. Had Jesus acted upon this suggestion, he would have been the victim of temptation by his own consent.
The searchlight of spiritual understanding turned upon this narrative shows evil to be a suppositional enemy without resource or power, its propaganda fruitless, its attack harmless, its autocracy dethroned, and its surrender complete. It possesses no method by which to conquer the Christ-idea mentally, morally, physically (so called), or spiritually. As a fact, evil has no power whereby to produce a fallen man. It ceases even to seem to exist as tempter or temptation as the safety of man in the realm of spiritual dominion is revealed. There is no degree in the Christ victory; it is absolute.
The apostolic account embodies the emphatic pronouncement that the God-governed individual consciousness everywhere can refuse righteously and effectively the temptation to sin, to suffer, or to die, not through will power, be it well understood, but by the strength of divine knowing. An invitation always implies the privilege of refusal. There is no evil power to enforce the acceptance of the temptation of error, and so without individual consent thereto, error's plan becomes inoperative. Jesus' refusal to comply with the suggestions of evil terminated the encounter, for the text reads, "Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him."
Matthew's definite portrayal of the nonentity of temptation is in striking contrast with the world's belief in its power, but the apostle's account is the truth, and it is time for humanity to awake and believe the good tidings. The fact that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin, is a blessed assurance of coincidence, not of difference, between Jesus' human nature and ours. All of the spiritual power which he claimed for himself he claimed for all. He, therefore, who says within himself, "I could resist temptation if I were only home, if I were with some one stronger than I, if I were any place but here," should remember as did Jesus, his elder brother, the omnipotent ever presence of good and the consequent nothingness of evil. This is his divine right also, to endure without sin. Let this sweet confidence companion him as it did the Master in his time of trial before Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above." And God never gives power to evil nor does He use it in His plan.
Every approach of evil, whether in the guise of a malignant disease, a bitter disappointment, a sensual pleasure, a great fear, or a swift bullet, has done all it can do when it has presented its testimony in any case. It owns no element with which to press its argument. When it is met by the understanding of the perfection of Life and the spirituality of man, its short career is ended. Refusal to believe the statement of error, and refusal to cast one's self down from the height of conscious spiritual realization, means an end to the temptation. On page 6 of "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany" Mrs. Eddy says: "To abide in our unselfed better self is to be done forever with the sins of the flesh, the wrongs of human life, the tempter and temptation, the smile and deceit of damnation."
The brave Christian warrior of to-day is holding the line of righteousness as Soul conquers sense in the individual and universal experience, is also being "led up of the spirit into the wilderness;" he is being called by his very allegiance to Principle to go into the places of darkness, fear, and temptation to master would-be evil. Here Christian Science brings deliverance because it teaches him that fasting from mortal listening and believing while feeding upon the word of God will fit him to conquer quickly his unreal adversary. He, too, will find that such an encounter instead of casting him into the valley of sin brings him to the mountain of holiness. Neither will he be conscious of loneliness in the struggle, for God's angels of spiritual intuition will abide with him and gently minister unto him. So his wilderness, from which the tempter and temptation of false belief have fled, will, in our Leader's words (Science and Health, p. 597), be transformed into the place of "spontaneity of thought and idea; the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence."
Copyright, 1918, by The Christian Science Publishing Society, Falmouth and St. Paul Streets, Boston, Massachusetts. Entered at Boston post office as second-class matter. Acceptance for mailing at a special rate of postage provided for in section 1103, Act of October 3, 1917, authorized on July 11, 1918.