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How is it, then, that some people escape all these temptations, and keep themselves so pure and true and generous and good ? Not by directly fighting with Satan, or by merely saying, “Get thee behind me!” It is by loving good things, true things, noble things. They overcome evil with good. They put Satan under their feet by rising above him into an atmosphere so pure that he cannot enter it. They keep themselves in the presence of God, and see his glory and goodness in all nature, all providence, all life. It is well sometimes that we should try to understand our special temptations and sins, and so I have pointed out some of them to-day. But it is best not to dwell upon them too much or too often. The true rule is, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not be subject to the deeds of the flesh.” Finally, brethren,” says the apostle, “whatsoever things are good, honest, pure, peaceable, lovely, of good report - think of these things.”
Put good thoughts into your mind; so you will escape bad ones. Live with good people; seek out good companions ; read good books; choose the society of the pure the noble, the generous; love to be with men better than yourself in order to get good out of them, and with people worse than yourself in order to do good to them. The talisman which will protect us more than anything else is faith ; faith in God's providence, and ceaseless inspiration; faith that if we have souls open to him, we shall be fed with the bread of life, and eat angel's food. Believe there is more good in the world than evil, for there is ; believe that there is a soul of goodness in bad things, for there is; believe that God is in your heart, for he is—and then Satan will be obliged to get behind you, and help instead of hindering you.
Thus, my friends, let us say to Satan, “Get thee behind me.” Put him where you cannot see him. Look
away from him to God and Christ. When he is behind you, then forget what is behind, and reach forward toward what is before. It is necessary to fight Satan in this world, but not to be always fighting him, or thinking about him. The name of God, the thought of God, the sense of the love of God: these, when they fill the soul, make us safe from the assaults of all evil.
BIRTHRIGHT GOODNESS AND GOODNESS WHICH WE
“THE CHIEF CAPTAIN ANSWERED, 'WITH A GREAT SUM OBTAINED
I THIS FREEDOM.' AND PAUL SAID, 'BUT I WAS FREE BORN.'”
'HERE are two kinds of goodness: that which comes
struggle; goodness born of nature, or made by will.
Some people seem to be good by nature. They are free born. Children of a good blood, born in families educated during many generations to be true, just, generous, respectful; the stamp of the race appears in their habits of thought and action. Conscience has been supreme so long that at last it has become part of the bone and blood. They could not be very bad if they tried. They are Sunday children; angels or semi-angels from the cradle.
But others are less fortunate. They come from a bad stock, and the poor blood of bad ancestors runs in their veins. They are by nature peevish, egotistical, vain, wilful, irritable, sensual. Some people inherit a tendency to intemperance; others a tendency to falsehood; others, a tendency to gluttony; others, yet again, a tendency to revenge, covetousness and cruelty. They are base coin, with alloy in their nature, the fine gold dim, an infusion of copper mixed with it. They are aware of their proclivities; they struggle against them; they resist them with heroic courage. They succeed, with immense effort, in conquer
ing this demon in their organization, and contrive to become moderately good people. They succeed in conquering their tendency to steal, to swear, to drink, to cheat, to lie, and make themselves truthful, honest, decent, pure men and
With a great sum they purchase this freedom from evil. They are emancipated by their own heroic efforts, and are not the slaves of sin, but have become the freemen of the truth.
It is evident that those who have thus emancipated themselves by their own efforts deserve more credit than those who are born with the possession of all sweetnesses and all purities. They may not succeed in becoming very noble nor very good ; the old Adam may be very apparent in them ; but they are like the woman in the gospel who put into the treasury of God the two mites which was all her living, and of whom it was said that she cast in more than all the rest; for the others of their abundance cast into the treasury, but she of her penury put in all that she had.
This is the encouragement for those who find a great deal to contend against in their nature or their circumstances. When the spirit is willing, but the flesh weak; when the law in the member wars against the law of the mind; when, though you would do good, evil is present with you; when some irresistible current seems to be setting you down, away from what is good and right; then remember that
you need not despair; that you are not asked to do more than you can, but only what you can ; that haveing little, you are to give diligence gladly to give of that little, and that your reward will be greater if you use your one talent aright, and improve it to the utmost, than those will obtain who, having a great endowment of power and faculty, make little use of it.
All this is true; but it will not do to push this truth too
far. If one deserves great credit who obtains his moral freedom with a great sum, expending time, effort, self-denial, self-control therein, it is also a great blessing to be freeborn. I am often asked, "Which kind of goodness is the best and highest, that of nature or that of effort? say that the goodness of struggle and effort is the best, because it has most temptations to resist and to conquer, then we must ask what temptations God has to resist ? He “is not tempted with evil" at all. The goodness of God, which is so, high that no other deserves to be compared with it, is not the goodness grown up in struggle and conflict; not the goodness of effort, but that of his own nature. It is the impossibility of going wrong or doing wrong. Angelic goodness is of the same kind, if of lower degree. The angels are good because they cannot help being good. Moreover, if we say that that goodness is greatest which has most temptation to resist and most evil to conquer, then it would follow that as we grow better we grow worse.
For as we grow better, we rise above temptation, and conquer our tendencies to evil, and at last become emancipated from bad habit, and find it easy to do right. Well, have we become better by this change ? Certainly we have. Yet now we have less temptation to oppose, less sin dwelling in us to restrain ; our goodness has grown easy; our life is no longer a battle, but an easy growth. Therefore, if the best goodness is that which has most evil to resist, we have grown less good by growing more good. By forming a true and pure character, we have lost ground, By becoming "pure in heart," “merciful,” “meek” “humble," "generous," “kind,” we have ceased to be good because we have lost the virtue which consists in resisting temptation. This is absurd. Therefore it follows that, while there is more moral merit in resisting evil, there is more moral beauty is not having any evil to resist.