After the children of Israel left Egypt, forty years elapsed before they entered the Promised Land, and the greater part of this forty years was spent in the wilderness wandering. This wilderness epoch has been recognized and used as an illustration of a certain stage of experience that comes to every individual seeker and finder of Truth. It marks a transition period and its arrival is always a test and an opportunity. Its duration will be longer or shorter, accordingly as its test and opportunity are met with fidelity and understanding. Our text-book thus gives the significance of wilderness: "Loneliness; doubt; darkness. Spontaneity of thought and idea; the vestibule wherein a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence" (Science and Health, p. 597). This definition notes two phases of the wilderness experience,—that which was typified by the apparently aimless, bootless wanderings of the Israelites during the forty years, as the period of loneliness, darkness, and doubt; and the other phase, which comes out of the midst of this as the awakening consciousness of unfailing Love and Life brings the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy that "the wilderness, and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose." It will be well, therefore, to look at this "vestibule" experience of personal consciousness, the transition stage from a material to a spiritual sense of things, to see both what it is in itself and what leads into it and out of it.
In the life of Jesus we see clearly exemplified and defined all the experiences that mark the way from earth to heaven, out of the material into the spiritual. Jesus' "wilderness" experience stands forth as a vivid picture of the test that came to him just at the threshold of his work. It immediately followed his baptism in Jordan and the descent of the Holy Ghost, and marked an epoch in the Master's career. The time had arrived for him to fare forth and indicate to men the dividing of the ways, to show the upward spiritual way of Life which would be found only by the guidance of spiritual sense, leaving forever the downward earth-road with its behests and beguilements of material sense. Just at this point of breaking with the world and its false sense of substance, power, and good, at the portal of greater responsibility and higher opportunity, there came to Jesus an added baptism of Love and Truth, a new unfoldment of consciousness, a clearer illumination. Here, too, when through this spiritual baptism Truth was giving its call and impulse to go forth to higher service and achievement, when the door of what was at once a great possibility and a great renunciation stood open before him, came the test,—the beguilements of that false material sense from which he was forever turning away urged upon him their ultimate and most plausible inducements, and we know how these temptations were vanquished. Jesus thus met and conquered the world on the field of his own consciousness, and thence went forth a foreordained victor over its claims, wherever they should arise.
Our Leader has said, "Heaven's favors are formidable: they are calls to higher duties, not discharge from care" (Christian Healing by Mrs. Eddy, p. 3). When the baptism of light and power which shows the release from the old and the way into the new, comes into an individual consciousness, the experience always marks the entrance into "the vestibule wherein a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence." This transition stage of consciousness will certainly bring its temptations of "loneliness; doubt; darkness;" as the human sense turns away from the associations and conditions of the past and does not yet with full clearness grasp what is to take their place. The uncertainties and perplexities, the anxieties and fears of this period will be brief or protracted in proportion to the truthseeker's renunciation of the old and his unwavering following of the light that leads into the new.