CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED
THE TEMPTER, OCCASION, AND SCENE OF CHRIST'S TEMPTATION.
"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil" —Matt. iv. x.
No chapter of our Lord’s brief yet eventful life-if we except the narrative of His Death and Resurrection—is replete with such marvelous interest, profound instruction, and rich comfort to the Christian Church, as His conflict with Satan in the wilderness. Nor will this appear surprising if we weigh the fact that Christ was a representative Person. In no instance of His life did He act other than in His official relation. Thus all He taught, did, and endured had a substitutionary reference to His people, and in no instance was exclusively of a personal and private character. That our Lord’s Temptation was an indispensable part of His mediatorial work,—that it entered essentially into the lesson of "obedience He was to learn by the things which He suffered,"—and, moreover, that it constituted an absolute element of His personal fitness to "succour them that are tempted, being in all points tempted like as we are," will not admit of a doubt. Yet, nevertheless, all that He taught, did, and endured was as the legal and accepted Representative of His Church, in whose place, as its "Head over all things," He stood. Turn we now to the study of our Lord’s Temptation, as endured, not exclusively for Himself, but as in mystical union with His people,—"tempted in all points like as we are." The inspired narrative is simple and concise. The Evangelist Matthew, with inimitable simplicity, thus introduces the remarkable event: "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the Devil."
"To be tempted of the Devil"—The language of the inspired narrator admits of no reasonable misconception. He speaks of the Tempter in terms perfectly intelligible. There are individuals who, in their judicial blindness and supercilious self-conceit—influenced, perhaps, in their opinion in many cases by the terror which guilt inevitably inspires have found it convenient and soothing to ignore the positive existence of Satan altogether, affirming that there is no Devil! Others, while admitting the existence of a Prince of Evil, whose ravages they dare not deny, whose subtlety they cannot explain, and whose malignity baffles their astutest comprehension, yet reject the idea of personality, substituting for it the vague, incoherent notion of a principle of evil—an impersonal influence-a phantom of power! That our Lord was not acted upon by an abstract principle of evil—a shadowy, impalpable foe-all the circumstances of this most wonderful transaction clearly demonstrate. But the doctrine of the personality, equally as the actual existence of Satan, admits of the most rational and simple proof.
Among the angels "who kept not their first estate, and are now reserved under chains and darkness to the judgment of the great day," Satan, or the Devil, must be numbered; to whose pre-eminent dignity and power—the "tall archangel" of Milton-was conceded by his compeers the rank and supremacy of the Prince, or Leader of the countless legions spoken of as "the Devil and his angels." It is impossible intelligently to study the agency and power of Satan as recorded in the Bible, and yet predicate that agency and power as a mere influence, or abstract principle of evil! That the personification of a principle of evil, according to a well—known figure of speech, may exist apart from any claim to a real and personal existence, we fully concede. The Book of Job supplies numerous instances of this personification, where wisdom-height-famine-death, &c., are thus personified. But no obscurity veils the sense in which the figure of speech is here employed: every intelligent reader understands that the impassioned language is merely designed by the writer to impart a poetic animation and effect to his discourse. But how vastly different the style and force when Satan is the subject both of Christ and the inspired penman! Can language like this be predicated of a mere attribute-influence-a principle of evil: "Satan sins from the beginning." "Ye are of your father the Devil, and the works of your father ye do: when he speaks of a lie, he speaks of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it." "Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil." Does this language of Christ and the Apostle sound like a figure of speech—a principle—an influence,—or, is it of a personal existence-a being of vast intellect, consummate subtlety, fiendish malignity, clothed with a power, exerting an agency and ruling over an empire, second only to God Himself-of whom the sacred writers speak, and against whose machinations the Apostle thus warns us: "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the Devil as a roaring lion walks about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith." Accept the Unitarian hypothesis of an abstract principle of evil, a mere influence or attribute, as all that is meant in the Bible of the Great Tempter, and as affording a correct interpretation of these passages we have quoted proving his personality, and we have an example of reductio absurdum of the most felicitous description!
O Christian! forget not that in the great moral conflict in which you are enlisted, you are opposed by no mere principle, or influence, or phantom of evil, but by a Foe possessing a distinct personal existence, to whom—without the slightest deification—we ascribe an intelligence, power, and presence second only to the Divine Being Himself: whose presence is everywhere and at the same moment; who is conversant of your every action, and who reads your every thought, volition, and purpose, with all the ease and accuracy of a book! "Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
Passing from this view of the Tempter, let us consider the Temptation itself.
The Occasion of our Lord’s Temptation was remarkably significant,—it was on the solemn and holy administration of His Baptism. Immediately after His submission to this sacred rite—immediately following His "fulfillment of all righteousness," immediately after the heavens had opened and the Spirit had descended upon Him—and the Father had testified to His Divine Sonship, and His well-pleasing-immediately that He had thus, by His Baptism, inaugurated His public ministry—lo! "He was driven into the wilderness, to be tempted of the Devil!" How similar and impressive this feature of Christ and the Christian's temptation! Our Lord, as the Mediator of His Church, had lessons to learn which could only be learned in this fiery conflict—a fitness to be attained as the sympathizing High Priest of His people, which only could be acquired as He Himself was tempted in all points as we are. No wonder, then, that, while His robes were yet streaming with the baptismal waters, and the halo of the Spirit’s glory yet encircled His head, and the cadence of His Father’s voice yet lingered upon His ear, that He should be led into the depths of the forest—the abode of wild beasts-to battle with the "Prince of Darkness," surrounded and backed by the confederated host of countless demons!
Is not this often the experience of the believer? In nothing, perhaps, is the identity of Christ and the Christian more signal. Have not some of our sharpest temptations, and sorest trials, and heaviest afflictions immediately succeeded a season of high, holy, spiritual exercise? After we have discharged some pious duty—have obeyed some Divine command—have performed some Christian service,-after a season of close communion with God, and a gracious manifestation of the Savior to the soul: lo! we have descended from the Mount, and are led into the wilderness to be assailed and wounded by some deadly shaft of the Devil! Thus was it with Paul: descending from the third heaven-glowing with its effulgence, and filled with the rapture of the scenes he had beheld, and the music he had heard-lo! he is led yet deeper into the wilderness, to become a shining mark for the enemy’s flaming shaft-"the messenger of Satan to buffet him." Be not surprised, then, if thus it is with you, O Christian! Never have we greater need to be whole nights in our watch-tower-to be more strongly fortified against the assaults of the Devil, than when descending from the mount of transfiguration, or emerging from a fresh baptism ‘in the sea and in the cloud’ of God’s love.
"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the Devil." The relation of the Holy Spirit to the Temptation of Christ—and thus His association with us in all our temptations—is a most remarkable and instructive feature. In the symbol of a dove He had just appeared in the baptismal scene of our Lord; and now, in a not less remarkable and significant way, He appears on the field in one of the most important events of Christ’s life. The forms of expression which record it vary, yet all agree as to the personal and actual relation of the Holy Spirit with the circumstance. Matthew records the more gentle influence of the Spirit—"led by the Spirit into the wilderness." Mark expresses it in stronger terms—"the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness"-impelled Him, as it were, by a strong, irresistible influence. Luke says, "Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returning from Jordan," &c. The original text, perhaps, more literally and expressively renders it—"Then was Jesus carried as by the Spirit." But whatever the force which the Holy Spirit employed, enough that He was personally connected with our Lord in His conflict with the Evil One—sustaining, comforting, and crowning Him with victory. Descending upon Him in the emblem of a dove at His Baptism, He now appears in the closest sympathy with His Temptation—a twofold baptism thus imparted to our Lord,—the baptism of water, and the baptism of the Spirit!
And thus, beloved, associated with all our temptations, is the Holy Spirit our Shield and Comforter. Not a shaft can touch, not a temptation befall us, but the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us as His temple, is present to quench the dart, or, if it wounds us, to heal, comfort, and sanctify. Thus in all the assaults of our great adversary the Devil, every Christian has the same Holy Spirit that led Christ to the scene of His trial, to prepare us for, to maintain us under, and to bring us through, the fiery ordeal; never for a moment withdrawing His presence, or averting His eye from the course of the winged arrow, or the inflamed wound of the victim.
The place of Christ’s temptation was "the wilderness." Our Lord was already upon the border of the wilderness of Judea: but it was necessary that He should be led deeper into its remoteness and solitude—a depth so profound and desolate, that one of the Evangelists records the fact that He was "with the wild beasts," far removed from the abode and intercourse of man. The Son of God herding, as it were, with the brute creation—the companion of the untamed denizens of the forest!—O Thou glorious tempted One! to what abasement did Thou not submit, that, thus trained in the school of temptation, Thou might be one with Thy saints in theirs!
It is in this wilderness of the world we too find the scene of our temptation. The world itself is not the least successful agent of temptation employed by Satan to accomplish his hellish designs. The world is one of the greatest snares of the Christian. Its scenes—its grandeur—its show—its refinement—its friendship—its science—its pleasure—its wealth, its pomp-yea, its very religion, all conspire to give significance and force to the warnings of God’s Word: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away." "And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed." But, apart from the world itself there is nothing in our individual history which Satan may not make the occasion and instrument of a temptation. Our social position in the world may be one of peculiar snare; our calling in life especially so: our sore trials, crushing afflictions, and pressing needs all may furnish ample material for the purpose and devices of the Enemy. Yea, there is nothing that may not be an instrument of sore temptation—our poverty and wealth; our exalted position and our low estate; the publicity, the privacy of our life; our loves and hatreds, friends and foes may all become powerful engines of evil in the hands of our great, terrible, powerful, and unslumbering Enemy. The books we read—the literature we cultivate—science we pursue-the recreations we indulge;—yea, the very religions we profess, and the Christian serviced we promote,—may, with all their apparent innocence and sanctity, but conceal from our eye the slimy trail and the deadly venom of the serpent! Then, "let us not be ignorant of Satan’s devices."
Settling in our individual consciousness, scripturally and honestly, the momentous question, on whose side we are arrayed—that of the Great Tempter, or that of the Great Tempted One;—let us, treading in the footstep of Him who was in all points tempted like as we are, "put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places; wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
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