Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1934.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The account of Our Lord's temptation in the wilderness came from His own lips. He was alone. No one saw or heard what went on. It is always so with temptation. The test is made in solitude. Great battles must be fought out alone. When Our Lord went into the wilderness He was marking out the road of redemption in order that we might follow without doubt or dismay. It was not a detour. It was part of the main road which began at Bethlehem, led through Nazareth and now out into the desert. This is the first point to remember.
And the second point is that the road runs through and out of the desert and on through regions of mighty works. The desert road was not a cul de sac. There was a way out. It is always so with temptation. God always makes with the temptation a way to escape. The way leads to freedom and the power to do the thing which would have been beyond the capacity for stability only developed by interior testing. Secret training is necessary before a public work can be successfully accomplished. We know this is true for temporal activities. It is supremely true for spiritual activities. This does not mean that we are to seek or superinduce temptation. But it does mean that we are to be prepared for temptation, that we are to be intelligent about temptation and to be prudent in mastering the technique of meeting temptation. It means that in moments of seeming security we are to take heed lest we fall. But it also means that we must harbor no morbid, timorous thoughts about temptation.
When temptations come, we are assured by the example of Our Sinless Lord that they are not sins. They are the opportunities for the exercise of virtue. Virtue means strength. We need to pray, not only for strength for temptation, but for strength from temptation. The strength extracted from, and exercised in, temptation is the strength which is to be used for the doing of all such good works as God has prepared for us to walk in. The way of escape from temptation is the way through temptation, out and into the service which is perfect freedom.
We need to rid our minds of the negative notion of resistance as an end in itself. We need to fill our minds with the positive idea that a temptation to a sin is the opportunity for capturing the opposite virtue. That virtue is worth all the agony of the struggle. That virtue when it is captured will bring a ten-fold increase in power for good. We do not resist temptation only to be good, but to be good for something, "My brethren," wrote Saint James, "count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations."
Sin is the perverted use of energy. It is the diverting into the wrong channel of energy which normally used produces goodness. The objective of each battle is to capture, hold and rightly direct and regulate the elemental energy at its primary source. The energy in itself is good but it must not be allowed to run amuck. It will be a perfect servant, but a murderous master. The enlistment of the elemental energy is the first move in dealing with temptation. After that the energy will cease to be an enemy and will become a firm ally. Once subdued to the spirit it will become normal and exercise itself at full strength for good. The delusions of suggestion and the illusions of delectation will lose their power over the mind and the emotions. The sanity of right living will be established. The process is one of transmutation, not repression. This is the key to the religious psychology of temptation. It is true psychology because it is true religion.
Affectionately in Our Lord,