In our previous post, we began looking at the hymn, “In the Hour of Trial.” There, we considered the first verse, and its references back to Peter’s “hour of trial” during Jesus’ trial, as well as the application to our own hours of trial. Now, we turn our attention to the second verse. With this verse, Montgomery meditates on how Jesus can “with a look recall.”
With forbidden pleasures
Would this vain world charm,
The first situation is when the world seeks to entice us with temptation. Montgomery’s original text is “With its witching pleasures.” Each phrasing conveys something slightly different about the pleasures of the world. “Forbidden pleasures” carries with it a connotation similar to “forbidden fruit”; something being prohibited makes it more desirable. This was how Satan tempted Eve, by presenting the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as something beneficial God was holding back from her and Adam.
The idea of “witching pleasures” carries the natural idea of something that enchants us (in fact, “enchanting pleasures” might have been a better substitution). This takes us (as in verse 1) to the picture of James 1, with us being led away by our lusts/desires. Additionally, we have this from John in 1 John 2.15–17: “Don’t love the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love isn’t in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, isn’t the Father’s, but is the world’s. The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does God’s will remains forever.” The world’s pleasures enchant us. We see the desires of our physical bodies that, uncontrolled, lead us away from God; our eyes are frequently presented with desirable images, images that have been the ruin of many; the lie that this life is all that there is lures many away from following God. But ultimately, this world is passing away.
Or its sordid treasures
Spread to work me harm,
The Bible is replete with admonitions against “sordid treasures,” i.e., ill-gotten gains. Men who would be elders among God’s people must be “not greedy for dishonest gain” (Tit 1.7). David penned in Psalm 62.10, “Don’t trust in oppression. Don’t become vain in robbery. If riches increase, don’t set your heart on them.” God’s people are repeatedly told not to covet.
Ultimately, such earthly treasures (and one might make connections to Matthew 6.19, but I don’t think Jesus is focusing on illegitimate earthly treasure), can only cause us harm. For starters, gain by such means is sin. It doesn’t matter how we try to justify it, that’s what it is. Further, we usually find that the benefit of such gain is outweighed by the harm it does; this harm isn’t just the financial loss and penalty if discovered, but the emotional and mental toll that either accompanies or is caused by such action, to say nothing of the aforementioned rending of the relationship with God (if that alone were not enough).
This whole first quatrain is an antecedent to what is to follow. It’s phrased unusually to our ears, but it’s all one big “if”: If this vain world would charm me with forbidden pleasures, or harm me by the spread of its sordid treasures…
Bring to my remembrance
If the world’s pleasures and treasures might entice us to turn away from Jesus, the response is to turn to Jesus. There are a couple of directions this thought can go in. One direction is to consider the suffering that Jesus was willing to endure on this earth. Paul brings our mind to this in Philippians 2, where he writes of Jesus emptying Himself. Jesus was willing to give up heavenly glory to be a “man of sorrows” (Isa 53.3). Consider the agony with which He prayed in the garden.
But there’s an added dimension to this when we think about all His disciples at this moment. Three of His closest followers were a short distance away, sleeping, while He prayed in agony. Another was preparing to turn Jesus over to the Jews, all for 30 pieces of silver. None of them were there, immediately with Him, in Jesus’ “hour of trial.”
Or, in darker semblance,
In this final couplet, Montgomery takes us one step further down the road. The parallels are intensified. Jesus isn’t just in agony; He is undeservedly dying a death of shame on a cross. His disciples aren’t just sleeping; most of them have completely abandoned Him in this darkest hour.
So how do these images help us resist the influence of the world? When we think of all that Jesus was willing to give up to be obedient to the Father’s will, are we willing to give up any less? Or putting it another way, is Jesus expecting any more from us than what He did? And do we want to be like the disciples who slept, betrayed, and abandoned Jesus in those hours?
Or, do we want to be like Moses? The writer of Hebrews said in Hebrews 11.24–27, “By faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill treatment with God’s people, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a time; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith, he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.”