The Wild Beasts and the Angels

Mark 1:13.---' He was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.'

'He was with the wild beasts,' says St. Mark, who alone gives us the vivid picture, 'and the angels ministered unto him.' Life always hovers between the beasts and the angels; and, however wolfish may be the eyes that affright us in the day of our temptation, we may be sure that our solitary struggle is watched by invisible spectators, and that, after the baying of the beasts, we shall hear the angels sing.

'Wild beasts' and 'angels'! In his own picturesque way the Evangelist describes the conflict, yet he has a larger purpose in view. He suggests the great antagonism, but he does not fail to offer a message of hope. He does not write as if he were reporting a local event, but as one who saw the universal value of the conflict. The conflict was wrought in the Savior's life, as it is in every life, and the victory won is our victory and our hope. There is the universal exposure to the 'wild beasts.' It is all so understandable in the light of our own experience. For we have lived through days and nights which are only interpreted to our puzzled minds by the great fact that he was tempted in all points like as we are. And we never fail to gather insight and inspiration for our struggle from the record of His redeeming resistance and loyalty. For we learn from it that in itself temptation is not sin. We see that tests are entirely necessary to the development of faith. We realize it is by disciplined souls the Divine purposes of human redemption and blessing are carried out.

Wild beasts and angels together form an impressionist picture of human personality. In every man there lives the beast dormant or rampant---the beast of passionate desire, easily aroused and hardly silenced---the beast which immediately feigns tameness, only to break out on a favorable opportunity in ferocity and strength. Who does not know the surprise of its awakening at the challenge of a thought or the suggestion of a look? Who has not been overmastered by its power, so that words have been spoken which from then on have filled life with vain regret, and plans carried out which for ever afterward have covered the face with shame, and filled the heart with unavailing remorse? The dictum of the heathen philosopher, "Man, know thyself," is for most men a counsel of perfection. For who can know the heights and depths of his nature, its amazing disloyalties and antipathies, its startling affinities and potentialities, its unexpected feebleness and indifference? The arousing of the beast, however awakened, if for most men a swift and frightening revelation, of the dark possibilities of their being. Too often in consequence they regard themselves as inevitably condemned to moral surrender. Resistance appears futile; and they simply yield to the beast's sway as though no alternative offered.

And yet in every man there is, too, something akin to the angel. In our zeal for the truth let us not be afraid to recognize that there are in human nature affinities with God as well as differences. To insist upon total depravity as though this term covered the whole realm of human life, or explained the whole problem of human personality, is simply to deliver all men to the beast. God made man in His own image; else there would be no stirring of desire for Him, no prompting of conscience when confronted by moral alternatives, no effort after the things that are pure and lovely and of good report. It is this which alone interprets the conflict between the lower and the higher calls which each hears in his own nature. This, moreover, explains alike our moral failures and successes.

In all this, Christ means everything to us. For we see Him---with glory laid aside that He should have no greater resources in the struggle than are available to those He came to redeem---ministered to by angels. And the glorious truth of the gospel is that when we begin to yield to the angels, reinforcement of our every effort is realized. Thus personality is built up. The obligation of personal choice as to life's central control rests upon every man.

The opposition of wild beasts and angels is a half-tone engraving of the common experience of temptation. The wilderness may be situated amid the busy haunts of men or in Nature's lonely solitudes, as well as in the quiet homes of all the world. It simply stands for that solitariness of heart of which all know something, in which life's fiercest battles are always fought. And it is never so real as when one is in a crowd. In the big city frowning, snarling, leering beasts are all around. Every day brings some fresh and searching experience. Voices and influences from out the past urge us to make sin's fatal experiment. Misgivings and fears about the future make the present seem altogether desirable, and its delights worth every moral sacrifice. The consciousness, too, that abandonment to the beast would end the oppressive loneliness of life is a strong incentive to yield. And in many lives is the beast victorious! How often have we ourselves fallen to him!

As we ponder over these things it leads us to inquire what the Divine purpose is in all this exposure. We recall the prayer of Jesus: 'I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.' Probably we are not far from the truth when we say that moral antagonism awakens our best gifts. It has always been a law in devout human life to find the best graces of life coming to the light through much conflict.

If we turn to the Acts of the Apostles what a wondrous story is told! What mighty antagonisms, what a host of armed enemies against the saints! Who ever thought that Peter had the graces and gifts of a saintly hero? It needed a winter blast, a mighty hurricane, a dead opposition to bring all his best gifts into full view. And John, Stephen, Timothy, Paul! What of their great powers of life? They were the fruit of an antagonism that almost seemed designed by God for that purpose alone.

The wilderness is doubly peopled. There are angels as well as beasts, for God does not leave Himself without witness. The tragedy is that so few recognize them. We are assured that the soil which produces every poisonous plant known to botanical science bears also its antidote. In every hedgerow we see the healing docken growing close to the stinging nettle. And it would seem that when the beast draws near to destroy, the angel is at hand to defend. In other words, temptation and the grace to conquer is always come to men together. They may look into the blazing eyes of the beast without quailing, for at hand is their present help. And the keenest joy in life, and its strongest cordial, is successful resistance of temptation in the power of heavenly aid. On every hand we recognize the angels drawing men to goodness and to God. They may be disguised, but they are there. Think of all the friendship in the world. Feel the clinging hands of little children, tugging away at heart-strings as though to pull open closed portals for the entrance of a new life. Linger among the simple joys which spring from thoughtful kindness and generosity--- and the world is full of such. And in all these see 'angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee.' Then turning toward Him, how bright is the angel that seems to reside in His written Word, how strong and life-giving the persuasive ministry of His Spirit! Truly, life is for us all a new attitude of the soul. Around us are the angel hosts.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha