“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.”
This word was spoken by Christ to His disciples who had been sleeping while He poured out His soul in prayer to His God in the garden of Gethsemane. This sleeping of the disciples was not merely because of physical exhaustion. This is evident from what the Saviour adds in verse 41: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This flesh, the contrast of spirit, is ethical flesh, refers to what is carnal. The devil had lulled the disciples to sleep because he would deprive the Saviour, in this hour of agony, of their fellowship and prayers. And, therefore, our Lord admonishes them to watch and pray, that they enter not into temptation, succumb to this evil attack of the tempter.
Temptations and trials, although always occurring together and characterized by the same external circumstances, can be distinguished sharply. A child of God is always tempted and tried at the same time and through the same circumstances. Trials, however, always have a good connotation. As one tries, proves metals with the intention of separating the pure from the impure, so trials are various experiences of the church and the child of God in the midst of the world whereby the Lord proves His people, with the divine intention that we may be purified by means of these afflictions, that the pure may be separated from the impure. Of course, God only proves; He only intends the good. Temptations, however, refer to the same outward circumstances but as they are used by the devil for the purpose of leading God’s people astray, away from the path of God’s kingdom and covenant.
How real is temptation—there is really a being as the tempter! This awareness of the devil’s existence is hardly characteristic of the church today. I speak, of course, of the nominal church. In the past Satan was a greatly feared individual—the church was vividly conscious of his existence. This can hardly be said to characterize the church today. This is not because the devil was more active years ago. But it is surely due to the lukewarmness, the lackadaisical attitude of the church, the lack of consciousness of sin, the failure to recognize the power of evil and lack of concern about it, the wiping out of the antithesis and of the line of demarcation between the church and the world, the seeking of the pleasures and treasures of this world, the contentment and complacency of the church in the midst of the world today. Temptation, however, is very truly a reality! “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” is the sober, very earnest and solemn exhortation of the Christ unto His church of all ages. We must not minimize its reality, Jesus means to say to us. The awful possibility of entering into temptation is continuously present.
This admonition of our Saviour is, we must understand, not in conflict with the Scriptural exhortation of James 1:2, exhorting us to rejoice when we fall into diverse temptations. Diverse temptations are all the varying, different kinds of effort on the part of the powers of evil to lure us away from the sphere of the service and covenant of our God. To fall into them means that we are surrounded by them. And it also implies that we do not seek them. The child of God does not walk about “with a chip on his shoulder,” seeking or looking for them. He falls into them, because of his name and position in the midst of the world. Here, however, we read of our entering into temptation. This means that we succumb to the wiles of the devil, walk in the ways of sin, do not simply “fall” into them. Perhaps we are inclined to ascribe our sins to a weakness on our part, to our “peculiar character.” Perhaps we would believe that we really could not help it—we simply “fell” into sin. If this, however, be true, how can we watch and pray? How can we be on our guard against something when we are wholly passive? Jesus, however, warns us not to enter into temptation. Any succumbing on our part to the wiles of the devil is always accompanied by a definite choice of our own will. We are responsible beings, also for our failure to walk in the ways of God’s covenant.
How tremendous is the danger of our entering into temptation! There are, first of all, the tremendous forces of sin that are allied, united against us. The world of sin is superbly organized. At its head stands Satan, the prince of the powers of the air, an evil genius indeed! With him is his host of evil spirits, who have access into our inner life. And also at his disposal is the world, led and controlled by the power of sin and the hatred against God and His covenant in the midst of the world. And this is not all. This formidable enemy has a wealth of material at his disposal. These forces of evil assail us through all the attractions, beauties, glories, pleasures and treasures of this present time. Think of all the literature, spiritual and secular, in modern churches and schools, in books and magazines, in which the truths of the Word of God are undermined, cleverly torn to shreds, proclaimed either openly or subtly! Think of all the filth and corruption and immorality, presented to us in the movies, over the radio and upon the television screen! Then, there is also the power of the world, their ability to use force, the sword. They cannot kill the soul, but they can kill the body. Indeed, how dangerous is the position of the church of God in the midst of the world! And to this must be added the fact that the people of God are so ill-prepared to meet this continuous assault of the forces of darkness. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. We are but few, in comparison with the world, a “little flock,” and holy only in principle. How little strength we have!
This preservation from temptation takes place only in the way of watching and prayer. Now this certainly emphasizes, on the one hand, the utter futility and folly of attempting to resist temptation in our own strength. To resist temptation we must watch and pray. To resist temptation and evil in our own strength means that we will fight sin, that we will continue in the narrow way of the Lord’s commandments . . . This implies that we will resist temptation without watching and prayer, inasmuch as we consider ourselves well qualified to fight the good fight in our own strength. Peter and the rest of the disciples of the Lord were of this mind. And the result? Peter denied his Lord three times, and the rest of the disciples fled. Besides, at this moment they were sound asleep in the garden. How impossible it is to ward off the tempter in our own strength! Of course! To imagine ourselves able to do so would surely reveal an utter lack of understanding of our position in the midst of the world. It would reveal a sad lack of understanding of the powers of evil that are united against us. And it would surely also reveal a sad lack of understanding of ourselves, our own weakness and incompetence.
Indeed, we must watch and pray. To watch means that we must be awake, sober, continually on the alert. We must give strict attention to, observe closely the enemy of sin and darkness. We must be spiritually on our toes, have our eyes open, be ready for the enemy whenever and in whatever form he may appear. And the devil is very clever, his mode of attack very subtle. He often appears as a wolf clothed in sheep’s clothing! So, .we must watch, be wide awake. Of course, this implies that we must watch through the Word of God, the Scriptures. On the one hand—and this is fundamental—we must know our calling. We must know the will of God, what the Lord requires of us in the midst of the world, and this applies to everyone of us in the church of God. We must study the Scriptures diligently . . . And, studying the Scriptures, we must watch and observe all about us. Always we must test the spirits, whether they are of God. We must recognize the foe and be able to confront him and deal with him. How absolutely necessary this is! How true it is that we must be very distinctive!
And we must pray. Of course! He who understands the Christian’s position in the midst of, the world, longs for and seeks the living God and would serve Him, realizes how far short he falls of the glory of God and how miserably weak and frail he is in himself, will surely understand how impossible it is of himself to cope with the enemy, and that, therefore, he must seek all his help outside of himself. He must pray. This does not mean that we will pray that we may never fall into temptation. The premillenarian entertains the hope that he will be delivered from the great tribulation. This is hardly Scriptural. No, we pray that we may not enter into temptation. This means, first of all, that this must be the purpose of our praying. We must pray with this in our hearts and in our minds. Our prayers are often so superficial; we often do not mean what we say . . . And, on the other hand, this also implies that we pray for grace to fight temptation and evil. We must remember that we do not merely fall into temptation. We enter into temptation; we choose for the things of the world and of this time. And to pray in order that we enter not into temptation must imply, therefore, that we are aware of the forces of evil, within us and all around us, that we observe these forces closely in the light of the Word of God, that we know our calling in the midst of the world, that we pray that we may not enter into wickedness, but receive from God the grace to fight sin, within us and all around us, and to conduct ourselves as of the party of the living God.
Heeding this exhortation of the Saviour, the fruit is sure: we will surely be preserved from temptation. We will increase in knowledge. We will increase in the knowledge of our calling. Of course! Increasing in the knowledge of the Scriptures, we will increase in the knowledge of the will of God and, therefore, of our calling wherewith God has called us. Our calling in the midst of the world will stand ever more clearly before us. Then we will also increase in our knowledge of the evil world. The more clearly we know the Scriptures, the abler we will be to discern the lie from the truth, unrighteousness from righteousness, what is our calling from that which is not our calling. And in that measure we will also increasingly understand the clever and subtle character of the world, the wiles of the devil, his approach in whatever form he may appear. We will surely increase in our spiritual soberness and watchfulness.
Increasing in knowledge, we will also increase in grace. In the measure that we watch, we will pray. We will surely learn to know ourselves better and more clearly in prayer. We will understand increasingly our calling, the powers of evil and sin and our own weakness and inability to cope with the enemy. And we will pray, pray to the living God, constantly. And then we will increase in grace because the Lord will hear our prayer. He will hear us and bless us, notbecause we pray, but through our prayers and in the way of prayer. This is His promise, as we may read it in Matt. 7:7: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Seeking God in prayer, looking to Him constantly for help, we will be assured of His promise that He will never leave or forsake us. Then nothing will be of us, and all will be of God. And He will receive all the glory!