'No sin in being tempted'

Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In these entries from the Regina Shober Gray [1] diary, we find her analysis of a sermon at King’s Chapel as well as reflections on a yearned-for musical performance of the Handel & Haydn Society, the latter foregone as she was in mourning for two members of her family back in Philadelphia.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 10 May 1865: Poor Lottie Hemingway [sic] was buried at noon yesterday. [It] was a pouring rain, and I suppose no one dared to go to the house – the disease is so fearfully malignant. If sympathy could comfort, her poor mother might be consoled, for all our hearts ache for her. And she must be so anxious for the other children. It seems Lottie did not sicken till Wednesday and [her sister] Amy[2] slept with her as usual till that time – spotted fever with violent spinal inflammation.

Our precious daughter[3] comes home tomorrow from her week’s visit to Annie Dixwell.[4] We shall be glad to get her back – she leaves an awful blank in her absence.

Sunday, 21 May 1865: A warm but breezy day. We had a splendid sermon this morning from Mr. Chaney[5] of Hollis St. church; the text “tempted in all things, like as we are yet without sin.” I wish I could recall it better; it was a sermon full of original thought, forcibly expressed & often so tersely as to give his sentences the point of an axiom. He said it was no derogation to our ideal of Christ, to speak of him as tempted because He has taken upon him[self] our humanity – and the suggestions of temptation were inseparable from the condition of humanity.

There is no sin in being tempted – the sin is only in harboring & yielding to tempt’n. Christ was without sin though tempted, because [of] the perfection of his nature & of his power. The strength of tempt’n to Him was in the consciousness of his power. Other men may be hungry – but would not find tempt’n in a suggestion to turn stones into bread, knowing they had not power to do so. But to Christ the power was the element of temptation.

There is no sin in being tempted – the sin is only in harboring & yielding to tempt’n.

To us it comes from the weakness, incompleteness, want of balance in our faculties – often, as History shows, from the exaggerated exercise or misdirection of what is in itself noble, lovely, and of good report. Often mere opportunity is [an] almost irresistible temptation that our human passions, affections, appetites, aspirations, often tempt us to do wrong [yet this] cannot be sin in us, unless we indulge and act upon the thought – if so, Adam sinned before he fell, before eating of the forbidden fruit, merely in the fact that Satan offered it to Eve & she to Adam, and that refers sin directly back to God’s creative power and takes it out of the domain of man’s volition.

Without struggle there is no victory, without sin no salvation from sin, without moral effort and resistance, there is no soul-growth; so he suggests the startling thought that temptation ceases not with this earthly life – that it may be a part of the soul’s progress in the higher life – spiritual struggles adapted to & growing out of our wider, purer spiritual needs, and met & overcome in a higher, holier strength.

Without struggle there is no victory, without sin no salvation from sin, without moral effort and resistance, there is no soul-growth...

Now there is a great deal in this idea – one cannot accept the idea of sluggish inaction as the soul’s blessedness in the Heavenly Life – it is in conflict & effort we grow strong – without temptation to oppose aspiration, where is the strengthening, growth-giving conflict? And yet the “Rest” of heaven has always been one of its most alluring aspects to me – and it is rather disheartening to be told that even when we have shaken off this mortal coil, it will still be not rest but struggle, not assurance but aspiration – not the fullness of perfected spiritual life & completeness but still the ceaseless straining after higher development, whereby the soul shall achieve its calling to growth in grace, and draw ever nearer the infinite Father!

Mr. Eayrs[6] was kind enough to bring us tickets for the rehearsal of the Handel & Haydn [Society] to-night. Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise[7] &c – Mary & Frank [Gray][8] went, and have come home delighted – a chorus of 600, wonderfully managed by the indefatigably patient and gentlemanly [Carl] Zerrahn.[9] It will be a grand occasion for music lovers, this great Jubilee festival to celebrate the 50th year of the H. & H. I wish I could go – it would be such real delight to me – and such an occasion will never return for me. But I cannot think it right to go – it seems to me wanting in respect to my dear brother’s memory, leaving dear Aunt’s death even out of consideration.[10]

Mr. Edward Dexter[11] died yesterday. How our contemporaries are dropping off!

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Amy Hemenway (1848–1911) married Louis Cabot in 1869.

[3] The diarist’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923).

[4] Anna Parker Dixwell (1847–1885), who studied with William Morris Hunt and Carolus-Duran.

[5] The Rev. George Leonard Chaney (1836–1922), later a close associate of Booker T. Washington.

[6] William N. Eayrs, who kept a private school in Boston.

[7] Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, called Lobgesang (1840).

[8] Mrs. Gray’s eldest son Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[9] The conductor Carl Zerrahn (1826–1909), who led the Handel & Haydn Society 1854–95.

[10] The diarist was in mourning for her brother John Bedford Shober, who had died in November 1864, and for her aunt Hedwiga Regina Shober, who died on 17 May.

[11] Edward Amory Dexter (1819–1865) died on 19 May.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward