CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED
CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN TEMPTED WITH WORLDLY GRANDEUR AND POSSESSION.
"Again, the Devil takes Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and said unto Him, All these things will I give You, if You wilt fall down and worship me."-Matt. iv.8, 9.
From the temptation of our Lord to idolatrous worship, we pass to the argument by which it was urged. The argument was as insinuating as the proposal was base, and both illustrated the deep subtlety of the enemy, and established his claim to the title our Lord had given him as, "a liar from the beginning." The reward of Satanic homage thus held out to the eye of Christ was that of empire; in other words, the glory and sovereignty of the world. "Again, he takes Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and said unto Him, All these things will I give You, if You wilt fall down and worship me." It is impossible for the observant mind not to remark the genius and pertinacity of the Devil, the study of which cannot fail to be deeply instructive to those who, assailed by a like temptation, should not be ignorant of his devices.
Finding that neither privacy nor publicity-the solitude of the wilderness or the elevation of the Temple-were successful in the accomplishment of his dark and ignoble designs, the Enemy changed his tactics, and by some extraordinary power-the nature of which we are left to conjecture-led Christ from the pinnacle to the mountain, and set Him thereon. Which of the many "mountains round about Jerusalem" he selected for his purpose does not appear; nor is it of moment, since in all probability, had it been specified, it would have become, as was the brazen serpent which Moses erected in the wilderness, an object of blasphemous deification and superstitious worship. Suffice it to say that, doubtless, from its great elevation, it commanded a landscape view of the whole land of Palestine, of the most enchanting description, and with all its hallowed associations-embracing in its wide range the vine-clad hills of Judea-the spicy mountains of Arabia-the vast country of Gilead-the fertile plains of Moab-the river of Jordan, and the entire extent of the Red Sea. What a scenery of surpassing beauty-what kingdoms of undying glory-what events of historic interest-what hallowed associations and precious memories would in a moment of time burst upon the eye and unveil their grandeur to the mind of our blessed Lord! "All these things will I give You, if You wilt fall down and worship me!" In this proffer of dominion and wealth, as the price of Christ’s prostration of His soul at the feet of Satan-this attempted achievement of his infernal sovereignty over the inner being of our Lord-several things are singularly and instructively involved. The first was the attempt to subordinate the spiritual to the material-the union of the homage of the inner man with the grandeur, pomp, and circumstance of the outer world; in other words-the possession of human power, earthly glory, and worldly wealth, at the expense of conscience, principle, and the will and honor of God,-the noblest powers of the soul thus prostrate at the feet of the most degraded and tyrannous despot! Alas! does not the sad spectacle everywhere present itself of men acquiring worldly wealth, human distinction, and political power at the expense of the spiritual and eternal interests of the soul?-the high and noble powers of their being sacrificed at the altar of Mammon, or falling down before the ‘golden image’ of false greatness, religious skepticism, or superstitious worship, which the Nebuchadnezzar of this world has set up? "All these things will I give you, if you wilt fall down and worship me."
But a worse aspect of the subject presents itself. This temptation of our Lord-repeated every day in man’s history-was not only an attempt to subordinate the spiritual to the material-worldly position, wealth, and power purchased at the sacrifice of great spiritual principles-but, what is more serious, it was a subordinating the Divine to the human. This has ever been one of Satan’s most infernal designs and master-strokes of policy. Everywhere we see vigorously at work a species of practical atheism, the tendency and object of which are, to cast off God’s will, to renounce His sovereignty and to ignore His truth-erecting an ecclesiastical system, dogmatic creed, and religious worship "above all that is called God, and that is worshipped," in direct contravention of His Word,-thus subordinating God’s will to man’s, Christ’s righteousness to the creature, and revealed truth to human error-the intellect, conscience, and affections of the soul on their knees at the feet of Satan! What, we ask, is the idolatry of the mind, the adulation of the affections, the homage of wealth, and the glorification of self everywhere patent-but the old temptation-overcome by Christ, but overcoming man-"Fall down and worship me."
Another and scarcely less instructive feature of this temptation of worldly dominion to which our Lord was subjected, is the strong, withering light it throws upon the character of Satan as a cunning, insolent, and lying deceiver. He well knew that, when he offered all these kingdoms and the glory thereof to Christ as the bribe of His homage, the offer was made to Creation’s God, and the World’s Proprietor-and that of Christ’s own was he giving Him! He could not have approached our Lord on a side more invulnerable, or with a bribe less potent. What influence could this appeal to ambition and avarice have upon Him who owned the world-who was about to die for the world-taking out of it a Church redeemed by and for Himself-and then destroying the casket when He had secured the jewel?
But, as we have observed, the temptation to worldly grandeur and possession presented to Christ, is daily repeated in the experience of the Christian. Satan has no more ready, potent, or successful instrument of assault upon the personal religion and Christian usefulness of the believer than the world. Failing, in the case of our Lord, to secure homage and worship by the presentation of worldly blandishments, he plies his arts with His followers, wounding the Lord in the person of His disciples. The world, that had no attraction for Christ-save only its redemption-alas! constitutes one of the most seductive temptations of the Christian. Satan is constantly presenting it in endless forms of attraction, wearing as many disguises, and backed by every species of argument. It is his craft to present only the bright side of the world, carefully concealing the darker and more repulsive one; the flower without the thorn-the picture without the shading-its emptiness and heartlessness-its selfishness and malice-its deceitfulness and malignity-its ingratitude and baseness-its hollow friendships and its false loves. Oh! these are the thorns and these the shadows the cunning Tempter conceals when he presents the world and the glory thereof in exchange for the homage and the worship he asks. There is not a ruse he does not employ by which to bring the world to bear upon the Christian. The eye delighting in beauty-the ear ravished with sounds-the taste delicate and dainty,-"The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life"-are so many media through which the attractive power and ascendancy of the world attain an easy conquest in the mind of the Christian.
We are told that Satan "showed unto Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time." How rapid the movements of the Evil One! how soon-"in a moment of time"-can he draw the heart of the creature from Christ-the mind from devout meditation-and the whole soul from things that are divine, heavenly and eternal! There is no little cunning on the part of Satan in this rapidity of motion. The glory of the world is so flimsy-its pleasures so shallow-its promises so hollow-they will not admit of or allow a long survey. Satan will not leave time for reflection and prayer. Earthly things will not admit of inspection. Taking us off our guard-as "in a moment of time"-he unveils all the charms and attractions of the object to the mind, and says, "All these will I give you, if you wilt give up Christ-and religion-and heaven-and fall down and worship me." Oh, let us not be ignorant of his devices! Ere you are aware, he will present the temptation-the world-in some fascinating form, and in a moment you are spell-bound and ensnared! He will allow no time, no not a moment of calm consideration, due examination, and earnest prayer. The temptation is as rapid in its proposal as its possession is fleeting and its happiness unsubstantial! He is in too great a hurry to accomplish his purpose, to permit time for reflection. The favorable moment may be past; the flood-tide may turn, and the golden opportunity be lost of prostrating your religious principles and Christian profession-intellect, affections, and conscience-at his feet. How suggestive and solemn the words-"He showed unto Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time!" In one moment of time, and by a single temptation, how great a loser may you be! Seduced by its power, convinced by its arguments, ensnared by its glitter, the world has enchained you a slave at its feet. Thus captivated and bound, you have compromised your religious principles, injured your Christian profession, done violence to your conscience, destroyed your peace, dishonored Christ, and sinned against God. Oh, who-calmly and thoughtfully-would bid so high for this poor world-purchasing its baubles and its friendship at so costly a price?
But let us not be misunderstood. We are not
seeking to foster a supercilious contempt and ungrateful regard for the world.
This would be most dishonoring to God. He has not created this world-fashioning
it so wonderfully, endowing it so richly, and adorning it so beautifully-that we
should be blind to its grandeur, indifferent to its enjoyments, and ungrateful
for its blessings, flowing through a thousand channels. Far from this. If God
does not despise the world-fallen and sinful though it is-why should we? It is
said of the ungodly-"Because they regard not the works of the Lord, and the
operation of His hands, He shall destroy them, and not build them up." God has
garnished this bright world with pleasant homes, hallowed it with sacred
temples, and furnished it with countless mercies, all for the pleasure and
enjoyment of the beings He made to people it. Spenser has thus beautifully
embodied the idea:
"All the world by You at first was made,
And daily yet You dost the same repair;
Nor ought on earth that merry is and glad,
Nor ought on earth that lovely is and fair,
But You the same for pleasure did prepare."
The religion of Christ imposes not upon its disciples such atheistical indifference to, and reclusive isolation from, the world as would abandon its relations, ignore its duties, or even exempt us from its temptations and trials-"For then must ye needs go out of the world." Monasticism is not an institution of the Gospel-the order of monks is no appointment of Christ; but both are in direct antagonism to the genius, spirit, and obligations of Christianity. What were the words of our Lord as embodied in His sublime intercessory prayer-"Father, I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. As You hast sent Me into the world, so have I sent them into the world." Christ has sent His people into the world, not to model their lives according to its principles and religion, but to witness for Him, and with Him, that "the works thereof are evil." They are placed in the world as the school of their graces-as the theatre of their conflicts-as the field of their labors: the words of Him whom the world cast out and crucified ever ringing in their ears-"Ye are the light of the world-ye are the salt of the earth." And the prayer of every true-hearted disciple of Christ should be-"Lord, what wilt You have me to do? Here am I; send me-even me!"
"Make use of me, my God!
Let me not be forgot,
A broken vessel cast aside,
One whom You needest not.
"I am Thy creature, Lord,
And made by hands Divine;
And I am part, however mean,
Of this great world of Thine.
"You usest all Thy works,
The weakest things that be
Each has a service of its own,
For all things wait on You.
"You usest the high stars,
The tiny drops of dew,
The giant peak and little hill-
My God, oh use me too.
"All things do serve You here,
All creatures great and small
Make use of me-of me-my God!
The weakest of them all."
"All these things will I give you, if you wilt fall down and worship me." Such is the world’s echo of Satan’s voice! No higher ambition has the world than the supreme homage of its slaves! What will it not promise as a bribe for their devotion and their worship? It says to the man of business-"Worship me, and I will give you wealth." To the scholar-"Worship me, and I will give you fame." To the politician-"Worship me, and I will give you place and power." To the lover of pleasure and the serf of sensuality-"Worship me, and I will give you happiness." To the heartbroken and downcast-"Worship me, plunge into my pleasures and excitement, and I will give you peace and comfort." How simple and facile seems the concession! It is but a little thing-"Only worship me!" It was but to bend the knee to him for one moment that Satan asked the Son of God. The request granted, what mind could have calculated the issue involved in that simple and instantaneous act? All Heaven would have been robed in sackcloth, and all Hell would have shouted for joy!
It is in this artful, unsuspicious way the world-Satan’s great weapon-approaches the Christian. It will not startle you-seeing you are a religious professor, a constant communicant, a disciple of Christ-by enforcing too hard or too conspicuous a compliance with its demand. No! Like the Despot by whom the world is governed, it is too wily and cautious to unmask its designs. It asks no great thing at your hand, as a recognition of its authority and as an expression of your homage. All that the world proposes is just a slight relaxing of Christian consistency-a little concession of puritanical strictness. "It is but a little thing," argues the world, "only a quiet hand at whist-a little innocent dance-an attractive theatrical-a popular opera-a harmless venture on the Turf; is it not a little one? Only bend the knee and do me homage." And thus this wicked, Christ-rejecting, God-ignoring world, travels the entire circle of humanity, offering as a bribe for its homage and its worship gifts it has none to bestow-rich in promises it never can fulfill. Oh, what a liar is the god of this world! and what a lie the world he rules! Has it ever realized one expectation it held out, or made good one pledge it has given? Pursue the inquiry! Ask the millionaire if his colossal fortune has brought him full satisfaction? Ask the statesman if his grasp of power has realized his ambitious hopes? Ask the scholar if his senior wranglership has met the highest aspirations of his soul? Ask the brilliant courtier if the smile of royalty has kindled sunshine in his heart? Ask the daughter of pleasure and fashion if the splendid dress, the exciting dance, the enchanting music, the incense of admiration and flattery, have given unalloyed pleasure to her heart, or imparted repose to her throbbing brow? "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and vexation of spirit," will be the melancholy response of each and of all! And yet the worshippers of mammon, the slave of sensuality, the daughter of gaiety, and the aspirant of literary honor and political power, goes round the wide circle inquiring-"Who will show me any good?" And thus will it ever be.
"Attempt how vain-
With things of earthly sort, with aught but God,
With aught but moral excellence, truth, and love,
To satisfy and fill the immortal soul!
To satisfy the ocean with a drop;
To marry immortality to death;
And with the unsubstantial shade of time,
To fill the embrace of all eternity."
Be it the diadem of the sovereign, the coronet
of the peer, the mitre of the priest, the golden hoard of the miser-uneasy lies
the head with no pillow of repose save the rotation of office, the uncertainty
of wealth, the knee of human adulation, or the breath of popular applause:
"What is this passing scene?
A peevish April day!
A little sun, a little rain,
And then night sweeps along the plain,
And all things fade away!"
But easy lies the head whose treasure is in Heaven-whose Portion is God-whose Savior and Friend is Jesus, and whose hope beyond the grave is, "Glory, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life." Oh, cease, my reader, to be the world’s poor slave! It will exact health and fortune, reputation and happiness, as the conditions of its favor! And when it can exact no more, like Samaria’s calf, will "cast you off," and all that gave to earth its charm and to life its existence. And then when you have nothing more to give-when riches have cast you off, and health has cast you off, and desire has cast you off and friends have cast you off, and you lie down in sickness and want-the world you loved so fondly, and worshipped so ardently, and served so faithfully, will draw around you the curtains of gloom, and leave you to die alone, a deserted and poverty-stricken death!
But there is One who will never cast you off! Make God your soul’s portion, Christ your heart’s rest, and as this world of shadows and dreams fades upon your earthly sense, they will unveil to the eye of your spirit a world of reality, splendor, and holiness, where hearts never break, and love never is false; where hopes never wither, and sin never taints. Fly to Jesus! Shelter beneath His outspread wing, nestle within His loving heart. Soon you pass from this present evil world. The spell that holds you so closely and so strongly will be broken, and you will "give up the ghost, and in that very day all your thoughts will perish." All your thoughts of enterprise, all your thoughts of gain, all your thoughts of ambition, all your thoughts of pleasure, all your vain, irreligious, skeptical thoughts-all, all will perish! Oh, what a stern fact is Death! What a solemn anticipation is Eternity! How near to us its realities-Judgment, Heaven, Hell-nearer than the grave,-for the soul reaches its final and changeless destination ere the body mingles with its kindred dust. Did we think and feel aright, each oscillation of the pendulum, would awaken serious reflection, since it records how precious is time, and how swiftly the little and unheeded moments are shortening the preface of eternity! Into that eternity you cannot carry the title you bore, the scepter you swayed, the wealth you hoarded, the false religion you cherished! Naked you came into the world, and naked you leave it. Where, then, will you leave your glory and your wealth?
"‘He died rich’-that loudest laugh of hell."
The herald-at-arms may pronounce your titles, the sculptor perpetuate your virtues, the biographer record your achievements, and the journalist announce how rich you were; but, if you have not ‘laid hold upon eternal life,’ and in your vain attempt to ‘gain the world have lost your soul,’ oh! what avails it all?
Once more be persuaded to set your mind upon things above and not upon things on the earth. Implore the Holy Spirit to impart to you a new and Divine nature-a sense of sin-faith in Christ-and love to God. Henceforth, you will live no longer to yourself, to the flesh, to the world; but rising to the dignity of a responsible, accountable, and immortal being, you will wake from the long dream of your life to a conviction of the reality, solemnity, and endlessness of the life to come. There is hope for the most sinful and unworthy! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and if, turning to Him, penitent, humble, and believing, He will save you. When health casts you off, and riches cast you off, and friends cast you off, and you lie down to die alone-Jesus, in whom you have put your trust, will draw near, make all your bed in sickness, strengthen you on the couch of languishing, and when your spirit departs hence will receive it into glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life.
But a vital question yet remains to be
considered. How may the Christian resist and overcome the world? How are its
attractions to be withstood-its temptations resisted-its duties and obligations
met? We dare not reply to these interrogations in language other than God’s
Word. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." To repel
an allurement so fascinating, to foil a foe so deadly, demands a weapon of
Divine temper, and an arm to wield it of supernatural strength. We possess both
in these words-"This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith."
But faith in who?-and faith in what? In the first place, faith in the Crucified
One. "Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is
the Son of God?" It is by looking to Jesus-by the power of the cross-by the
grace that the Savior imparts-by the love that He inspires-by the glory that He
unveils, that the believer can grapple and overcome this seductive and powerful
foe. In the light of the cross, oh, how does the tinsel and glitter of the world
fade! To love Christ and to cling to the world-to be loyal to the one and a
follower of the other-is a contradiction in terms, a moral impossibility. The
worldling’s life and the Christian’s life are, in their principles, spirit, and
end, as wide as the poles asunder-as essentially distinct as light and darkness,
holiness and sin. Who by faith can look at Jesus-can study His unearthly life,
His unworldly religion, His crucifixion to the world and by the world, and then
court the smiles, and seek the pleasures, and adopt the principles of that world
that wove a crown of thorns, and erected a cross of ignominy for Him? That the
Christian must, necessarily, be in the world-sustaining honorably its natural
relations-discharging faithfully its moral obligations and diligent in its
business-admits not of a moment’s doubt. But this implies no union with-love
for-or conformity to-the world. He is in the world-but-
"Distinct as the swimmer from the flood,
The lyrist from his lyre."
Another, and not less effectual, mode of resisting the temptations and overcoming the power of the world is faith in the unseen realities of eternity-"looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." Oh, how do the shadows and dreams of earth and of time dissolve and vanish into their own emptiness before our believing and realizing view of death, judgment, and eternity! Not that the ‘power of the world to come’ will lessen the legitimate importance, or render us indifferent to the proper interests, duties, and obligations of the present life. So far from this, faith in the future will dignify, hallow, and elevate the natural and lawful pursuits and duties of the present; and he who lives the most for eternity, will live the best for time!
Realizing that you are dead with Christ-are risen with Christ-and that even now you are reigning with Christ-oh! come out of the world-live above the world-and let your heavenly life evidence that you "seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God:" that you have set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth; and that your heart is where its precious treasure is-with Christ your Beloved in the heavenlies. Thus looking at Calvary-and beyond it to the crown-the palm-the harp that await you in glory, you will exclaim in the glowing language of the Apostle-"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world."
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved