YIELD NOT TO TEMPTATION
Horatio Palmer, 1834 -1907
Yield not to temptation, For yielding is sin; Each victory will help you Some other to win ...
Yield Not to Temptation" was written shortly after the Civil War. Horatio Palmer, a professional musician, said the song came to him as "an inspiration." His recollection of the day draws a stark contrast between musical theory and music.
"I was at work on the dry subject of "Theory" when the complete idea flashed upon me, and I laid aside the theoretical work and hurriedly penned both words and music as fast as I could write them. I submitted them to the criticism of a friend afterward, and some changes were made in the third stanza."
In Palmer's explanation ("I laid aside the theoretical work") I see hints of a larger reality: our Christian faith will never "be music" to anyone's ears if we do not get beyond theories—the details of doctrines or traditions. But there's more. We need to get beyond the momentary "flash" of insight or feeling and test our faith in the real world.
Palmer lived in an era when the church was willing to sing itself a real, not theoretical, challenge. A lot has changed since then, including church music. Tim Stafford noticed this recently, as he perused a section of a sixty-year-old hymnbook. He was startled at "how different these hymns are from any my church sings today. We sing praise songs and hymns, sweet words of love for God, but we have few of these bracing sermons in song.' "4
Stafford ultimately stings his reader, concluding that we do not sing many bracing sermons because "we are too fat and too comfortable... .We do not want to be saints or heroes."
A life of faith involves more than hearing or singing "sweet words of love for God." Maybe we need to revive the sentiment of Palmer's musical sermon: "Yield not to temptation."
Brace yourself; Palmer starts his challenge in a commanding tone: Yield not. Fight onward. Shun the evil. Disdain the bad. Be earnest. One gets tired thinking about the effort it takes to stay the course and live by biblical restraints: "Don't grumble against each other" (James 5:9); "Put off falsehood" (Ephesians 4:25); "He who has been stealing must steal no longer" (Ephesians 4:28);"Don't show favoritism" (James 2:1). Not to mention the baser prohibitions. The list is long, even if one reads only the New Testament epistles. Yes, sometimes I'd rather stick to the theory of restraint and not actually practice it.
Ultimately we all have to make a personal choice. Do we really want to resist temptation? Do we really want to be holy—say nothing of heroic?
For those of us who can answer yes, Palmer provides something more than a terse "buck up." Ultimately Palmer's song is reminiscent of a seventeenth-century exhortation by Fenelon, who said that there are "two things that we can do against temptations. The first is to ... [avoid] all exposure to temptation." (He further clarifies that not all temptations can be avoided.) Our second defense, he continues, "is to turn our eyes to God in moments of temptation, to throw ourselves immediately upon the protection of heaven, as a child, when in danger, flies to the arms of its parent." And such heavenly help is the overriding theme of Palmer's gospel song refrain:
Look ever to Jesus, he will carry you through. Ask the Savior to help you, Comfort, strengthen, and keep you; He is willing to aid you, He will carry you through.
The choice is ours. We can live in the world of religious theory, never testing our faith. We can choose to "avoid" tempting situations. We can choose to brace ourselves and "yield not." But the sermon isn't complete without the reassurance that we are not stranded, abandoned in our resistance to the tempter. "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Maybe being a saint isn't as formidable as we fear.
LORD give me your strength in the face of temptation.
From the book: "Spiritual moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence.