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excerpt from 
By Charles Williams
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Grand Rapids Michigan, 1942.

THERE is no space here to study all the records of that Life in terms of Forgiveness, nor indeed could anything of the sort be properly done except after years of attention; the danger of the invention of neat morals and pretty metaphysics is too great. But certain incidents in that Life stand out. It was the Life that was the fact—of Forgiveness as of everything holy else, and there was no moment in that Life which was not, towards men and women, a fact of Forgiveness, or at least a fact of the offer of Forgiveness. It proceeded steadily towards the consummate Forgiveness and the consummate Reconciliation, but they were not apart from the Life.

The Temptation, for example, is precisely, among other things, a temptation of Forgiveness, an effort to turn Forgiveness into something other than itself. All temptations are, in a sense, the same; they all depend on the rousing of some false hope, and on some action for its satisfaction. The order of the three temptations in the Canonical Writings cannot be of first importance, or we should not have been given two different accounts; we may presumably use each for edification without denying the other. The first temptation of Forgiveness then is to procure, through its own operation, some immediate comfort. The stones—let us say, the stones of offence—which are in the way are to be turned at once into bread. They are to perform the office of bread and not of stones. No doubt something like this may eventually happen to the holy soul; no doubt, in the end, the very stones themselves become nourishing. The nourishment derived at last from that hard strong state which can be described as “ stones “ may be found to be much superior to that easier appeasement of natural hunger described as “ bread.” Our natural hunger desires immediate comfort. Yet any haste after this comfort is apt to destroy the whole act of forgiveness. It may often be easier for us to forgive than not—easier because more comfortable; nor is it always wrong to do so, any more than it is wrong to eat bread. But to pretend to forgive for the sake of one’s own comfort is nonsense. “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”; that is, by God’s knowledge of sin and forgiveness. It may be possible to return to that point presently.

The Second Temptation, let us say, is the setting on the pinnacle of the Temple; this is the order in St. Matthew. The principle of this is that the Son of God should “tempt” God; that Forgiveness should presume on its own nature instead of referring all to God’s will. It assumes that it will be sustained by the divine messengers; nay, it assumes that the divine messengers will be there to support it. Inconceivable as it may seem that the humanity of the Son of God should feel that temptation, yet we must believe that he did, or the whole thing is false. But for us this temptation is probably even more common than the first; the worse temptations are always the commonest. The first was a kind of Sloth; this is Pride. Pride is the besetting sin of Pardon, almost the infernal twin of Pardon; it is its consciousness; rather, say, its self-consciousness become its only consciousness. It is the condescension, the de haut en has element, which is with so much difficulty refused. After all, if one has been injured, if one has suffered wrong? “ Cast thyself down,” the devil murmurs, “the angels will support you; be noble and forgive. You will have done the Right Thing; you will have behaved better than the enemy.” So, perhaps; but it will not be the angels of heaven who will support that kind of consciousness, unless by a fresh reference of ourselves to Forgiveness. “ Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”

The Third Temptation is not perhaps so common. The false hope of comfort, the false hope of superiority; and now? The false hope of freedom, but a freedom given by the devil. Can Forgiveness worship the devil? all the virtues can worship the devil. Was not the Incarnate tempted? and is one to suppose the temptation was not real? No; in some sense Forgiveness is promised the kingdoms of this world; and how? Precisely by being set free from grudges and resentments, from bitterness and strife. This certainly is the proper nature and the proper result of Forgiveness, but than also Forgiveness which primarily desired that would not be forgiveness at all. It is but the mere point of whom one adores, the very last point, so small, yet so much all. It is the” having nothing yet possessing all things “ of St. Paul turned into a maxim of personal greed. If one could achieve that state one would be completely free, one would no longer be hurt by others. To be, or to desire to be, free from being hurt by others, is to be, or to desire to be, free from the co-inherence of all human souls, which it was the express intention of Christ to redeem. In the perfect redemption, no doubt we all shall be free so; and when all, then each one. But till all, none. The achievement would be exactly hell; it would be to desire something other than he. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.”

Such then were the temptations he rejected, the delusions he would not choose. He exhibited delusion as delusion; he left the Church to declare what delusion was. It has not done it, or it has; the discussions on its fidelity or apostacy need not detain us here. He himself exhibited the facts of existence. Neither comfort nor pride nor detachment were to interfere with them; if they did, the facts would combine with the delusions to bring about hell. Yet he restored what was permissible; the first of the marvellous works did but increase enjoyment. He did not merely give men wine; when they had already drunk wine, he gave them more and better wine. He who would not make bread for himself would make wine for others. “ Others he saved; himself he could not save.”

All this matter of the Temptation was, in our sacred Lord, after its own and central kind, and indeed must still remain so. No definition or dogma can explain to us how Forgiveness was tempted not to be Forgiveness, and Love not to be Love. We only know that he maintained his exact function; he remained free. He remained free, that is, to proclaim forgiveness—free to derive that power from his Father, free to exercise it towards us. When he had returned to his public life he began to do so: notably, in the case of the man sick of the palsy....