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“When the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”
WHEN our Lord had fulfilled the forty days of His miraculous fast, “He was afterward an hungered.” He felt at that moment, more than all the sensations of languor and exhaustion to which long abstinence from food commonly brings our nature. It was a time of peculiar weakness, when, if ever, the tempter might hope to have advantage of this mysterious Person. When he came to Him, therefore, he took up the words which fell from heaven at His baptism. He said, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” It seems to have been partly for the sake of finding out what He truly was, and partly to prepare the way for other and worse suggestions. We cannot 96say how far Satan knew with Whom he had to do. Probably he could only gather His real nature by the manifestations which were revealed in this world. The tempter had, we may believe, no knowledge derived from his own intelligence who this mysterious servant of God might be. He was no longer privy to the secrets of Heaven; and no revelations in the unseen world had made him a partaker in those “things which the angels desire to look into.” His knowledge, it seems, was to be gathered from tokens and intimations given to mankind; as, the vision and song of the heavenly host at His birth, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, with the Father’s voice at Jordan. And here he came to put all this to the test, and to elicit something more. He came seeking a sign; and that sign, first of all, was a miracle, to be wrought by Christ upon the stones of the wilderness, to stay His hunger. But He who had compassion on the faintness of the multitude would not regard Himself. They had been with Him only three days, and He had fasted forty; but He would not outrun His Father’s time, or change His Father’s way. He knew, it would seem, that in the end of His temptation, when He had borne it all, and accomplished the mysterious conflict, there should come ministering angels to His succour.
But my object is not so much to enter upon the 97detail of this temptation, and to explain its circumstances, as to use it for our own instruction.
It may be taken as a sample of a class of temptations to which some of us are especially liable. In our Lord’s hunger we may see a type of the straits and necessities into which we sometimes fall in our worldly condition; and in the temptation of Satan an example of the unlawful and indirect ways in which men are tempted to escape from them. In one word, it may be taken as a sample of the temptations which beset those who have the part of Martha, who live in the world, charged with its temporal duties and cares, who have to provide for their own living, and for the support of others who belong to them. Our Lord’s conduct is an example of trust in the providential care of God, and of the duty of abstaining from all unsanctioned ways of providing for ourselves. We will go on to consider this subject somewhat more fully.
1. And first of all, this shews us the sin of seeking our livelihood in any unlawful ways. This is a subject on which the consciences of men are sometimes strangely blind. The pressure of want, the encumbrances and difficulties of an embarrassed fortune, the needs of others that depend on them, are very strong and urgent reasons for great and laborious efforts to obtain a maintenance in the world. And these are often much increased in 98the case of those who are, or have been, richer, whose birth lifts them above the lower kinds of employment and of temptation, and over whom the habits and expectations of society cast a powerful influence. What is more strongly felt and declared than that—“A man must live; I cannot afford to throw away any means of subsistence, or any office of emolument. If I could do so in my own person, I cannot for the sake of others. If I had nobody to think of but myself, I might withdraw from this, or abandon that, employment. Besides, the Bible tells us, ‘If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’4848 1 Tim. v. 8. It is not more a duty of reason than of religion.”
Let it be observed, I am not speaking of acts of direct robbery,—stealing, fraud, peculation, nor of the ruder or more naked forms of dishonesty by which needy men are often tempted to seek their living in unlawful ways; nor of gambling and living by chance, and the like:—all these are self-evidently wicked; but of a finer class of temptations. Sometimes men of a high-toned profession in life allow themselves to participate in trades, speculations, undertakings, which are perhaps connived at by those who execute the laws of the land, though they are forbidden by the laws themselves; 99or they consciously suffer profits to be made over to them which they know are not their due. They let others make mistakes against themselves with out setting them right; they leave them under false impressions of the value of things which pass between them by way of sale; they let mistaken notions, arising from their own words, remain uncorrected; or by acts they imply, in matters of business, what they would not say. They are willing to be parties, if it so happen, to unequal bar gains; or they are not considerate of the quality of those they treat with, or of their ability to protect themselves; or they conceal knowledge which would change the whole intention of those they deal with, while they themselves act upon it. Many of these things have no distinct names. They are practised—I will not say, permitted—in commerce and trade by a sort of lax interpretation of duty; and though not pronounced to be fair, are nevertheless treated as if they were the necessary fortunes of offensive and defensive warfare, which the buyers and sellers, and merchants, and money-changers, and traffickers of this world are compelled to carry on and to submit to. The market, and the exchange, and the receipt of custom, are perilous places, having an atmosphere of their own; and in it things are strangely refracted: precepts and obligations are often seen edgeways, or sideways, or 100inverted altogether. Or, again, the finer forms of integrity are dimly seen, and treated as visionary, unpractical, inapplicable to the affairs of the world; and a peculiar sort of character is formed, which is long-sighted, far-reaching, ready, sharp, dexterous, driving, successful. All things seem to turn in their direction; and they are prepared for every fluctuation, reaction, and change. Now it is very seldom that such men persevere in strict integrity. The temptations to make great gains by slight equivocations, and the manifold and complex nature of the transactions they are engaged in, give so many facilities for turning things unduly to their own advantage, that many fall.
The same may be said, also, of those who obtain the means of life by compromises of opinion and of principle, by slight suppressions of conscience, and tampering with their own sincerity. All these are so many forms of commanding stones to be made bread. They are a withdrawal of trust in the providence of God, who never forsakes those who look simply to Him, and persevere in their own pure intention of heart, in spite of golden opportunities and alluring offers of gain. We read in the book of Proverbs, “He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.”4949 Prov. xxviii. 20. And why, but because a precipitate following of wealth makes 101men bold, speculating, unscrupulous? They are not nice in their measures if there seems a chance of success. They follow up their points with an urgency that leaves them too little time to scrutinise the means: indeed, the means seem to force themselves upon their hands. Many a great for tune will bear little scrutiny or retrospect. It must be looked at only on the outside, and under the fair aspect of its present appearance.
But we may dismiss these examples, hoping that they, though too often seen, are not of very frequent occurrence, and go on to a more common temptation.
2. We may learn, then, further, the sin of seeking our living in any way which implies mistrust of God’s care for us. It is most certain that, in our lawful calling, we may be exposed to this temptation. We may be tempted not only to mistrust the providence of God, but also to endeavour to secure ourselves, by our own foresight and management, against the surprises of want and the changes of worldly fortune.
And this we may do, for instance, by hoarding. Now here is an acknowledged difficulty. Holy Scripture says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise;”5050 Prov. vi. 6. which seems to teach us that it is a duty to be both diligent and 102foresighted: to lay up for dark days and wintry seasons. So, indeed, it is; and all the more as we have others to care for. Yet it is plain that this must have its limit. Holy Scripture, while it sends us for wisdom to the ant, forbids greediness, warns us against love of riches, condemns covetousness. We read: “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows;”5151 1 Tim. vi. 9, 10. again: “No covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God;”5252 Eph. v. 5. and our Lord teaches the same in the awful parable of the rich man, who said, “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?”5353 St. Luke xii. 18-20. Now that which is condemned in these passages is a hoarding spirit, which is excited and kept alive by a desire 103to secure ourselves against all contingencies of God’s providence; as if men should lay in stores, and provision a stronghold, against the invasions of God. This is the “trusting in uncertain riches, and not in the living God,”5454 1 Tim. vi. 17. which St. Paul condemns. Men that leave all thought of God out of their calculation when they are making a for tune, inevitably shut out all thought of His future providence in their schemes for securing the for tune they have made. They begin in an unthankful, self- trusting way, and they end in relying upon their own prudence and worldly wisdom. This is a mere trying to make stones into bread. They are no safer from poverty than the poorest: no more secure from hunger, nakedness, destitution, than the man that cannot reckon pence against their thousands of gold and silver. Both rich and poor depend for the morrow equally upon God. It is not in the power of man to make himself more secure. He will have just so much as God wills, and he will hold it just so long. A frugal man who lives of what God gives him, and disposes wisely of the rest, distributing part to others, and laying up such a proportion as may remain, subject to such uses and demands as God may design he is safer far than the richest, whose yearly hoardings cannot be told: for a trust in 104the Father of lights shall never be disappointed. It contains in it the virtues of the treasuries of heaven. Out of these there shall be ministered an abundant store, when the money-bags of the rich shall be unawares found empty. This, then, is an evident temptation. It is an unbelieving mistrust of God, and an over-confident trust in ourselves.
Another particular form of the same temptation is, to withhold our alms from the poor and destitute, under a plea that we must be provident for ourselves. There is something shocking in the very statement. And yet it is to be feared that there are persons who refuse all applications for alms of all kinds, both for the bodies and for the souls of men, on the plea that they cannot afford it; that “charity begins at home,” and the like. They do so in the belief that what they save in this manner is laid up in store for their own future security, forgetting that they thereby rob God of His due; that they tempt Him in a high degree to strip them of the wealth they use so unworthily; that they provoke Him to send the moth, and the canker, and the rust, to eat away their stored treasures, and to leave them naked and poor. There are, I say, some people who systematically refuse all alms, especially those that are asked of them for spiritual mercy, for the spreading of Christ’s kingdom 105by missions among the heathen, and for the ministry of repentance among our outcast and fallen people.
But we must not limit what has been said to those that absolutely refuse to give alms at all. There are others, making up indeed the greater part of society, who do give, but upon no rule of proportion to their wealth. They give in all forms of charity sums incalculably small compared with the outlay made upon themselves, their dwellings, families, tables, pursuits, refinements. They stint themselves in nothing so much as in almsgiving. When they make retrenchments, it is with their alms that they begin. It is here they first feel the pinch of poverty. Their charities are cut down first. What would they not give to the poor, or to the work of the Church, if only they had the means; if only their ability were as large as their compassion! And yet, perhaps, they never give an entertainment to their rich friends and neighbours at less cost than their whole year’s charity. They live up to their income in every thing else. It is in the fifth or tenth which they might give back to God, that they begin their provident economy, and lay up for themselves hereafter that which is due to Christ’s poor now. What ought to be the bread of the hungry, they turn into a stone: and so in the day of their own necessity they will find it.106
And to take one more instance: What is the anxious carefulness by which the majority of men are beset, but the same temptation? God has passed His word that they shall not lack; but they cannot wait His time, nor leave in His hands the way. They charge themselves with the two fold work both of their own labour and of His providence. And they leave nothing undone or untried to lift themselves above the danger of being poor. Early and late, by day and by night, waking and sleeping, their whole powers are centred in the one thought, dream, desire, and toil, to secure themselves from being poor. Now there is no fault to be found with industry. Rather it is to be commended; but it is the carefulness, the anxiety, the furrows on the brow, the foreboding in the heart, the undue magnitude, in their esteem, of the things of this world, the faint faith in God, and the habitual reliance on their own management—this is the thing to be lamented and reproved.
It seems as if the Divine providence had a peculiar chastisement for those that will not trust simply in Him. Wealth ill gotten soon perishes: goods heaped up by unrighteousness waste away: storehouses filled in forgetfulness of God are soon emptied: riches not sanctified by alms eat themselves through:—worldly carefulness is a spendthrift after all. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, 107Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and “bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. . . . Ye looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. . . . One came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; . . one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty.”Haggai i. 5, 6, 9; and ii. 16. So certain it is, that they who attempt by worldly prudence and selfish forethought to secure to themselves the bread of this life, withdraw their faith from God, and forfeit His favour and benediction; and in this loss lose all.
Now this suggests to us what may be called two great laws of God’s providential kingdom.
(1.) The first is, that all sustenance of life is as absolutely in His gift as life itself. Whatsoever He has created He still sustains “by the word of His power.” “In Him all things consist.” The power which conserves the state of the world and the teeming life which is in it is His. All creatures, animate and inanimate, are sustained by Him. All this we know; but, like all other great laws, it is too broad for us. We cannot, though weakness 108of faith, bring it into the particulars of our daily life; especially as in our case it admits of being interwoven with the moral action and probation of mankind. There is hardly any thing that men so much affirm in theory, and so much contradict in practice. It is in the mouth of every miser, hoarder, and worldling; yet their whole life is a direct denial of it. When our Lord said, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” and again: “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you;”5555 St. Matthew vi. 25, 26, 31-33. if our Lord, when He said this, had intended any conditions, restrictions, qualifications, to be put upon His meaning, He would, doubtless, have put them Himself. What He intends us, therefore, to under stand is, first, that we ought not to busy ourselves 109and to bestow care and attention on the clothing and nourishing of the body; and next, that what ever is needful God will give us. It is clear, then, that we have no warrant from this to look for superfluous indulgences, for needless provisions to sustain an artificial state in life, or to keep up an appearance which is assumed by our own choice, and out of deference to the customs of men or the pomp of the world. But we have a most certain warrant to believe that we shall never want what is really necessary for us. In giving us the breath of life, He gave us a pledge of the sustenance required for it. And this extends beyond our own persons to all who depend on us, such as children, servants, and others whom the providence of God has committed to us. So long as it is His will that we should exist in this earthly life, we have a certain promise and pledge that He will, in ways known to Himself, provide for us all necessary things. There seem to be only two conditions of this promise: first, that we seek it from Him in the mea sure and proportion that befits us; and next, that we labour diligently in the calling He appoints for us. If we be peasants, we must not look for the fare of princes; nor if our lot be plain, must we expect or desire to live freely and be clad in soft clothing as they that are in kings’ palaces. And again: labour is the condition of man since the 110fall. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;” “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”5656 Genesis iii. 19. And this most righteous penalty, like sin itself, has penetrated every state of life. It is not the tiller of the earth only, but the princes of this world likewise, who feel its power. The ground that was cursed is the whole sphere of man’s mortal life and labour; all his employments, business, studies, callings, undertakings, the whole range of his toil in his personal and social state. Care and weariness, disappointment and the sweat of his face, are the conditions of all the works of man, both in body and in mind, whether he be learned or unlearned, whether he be lord or serf, ruled or ruler, buyer or seller, merchant or craftsman, teacher or learner, bishop or doctor, pastor or penitent, husband or wife, master or servant. To labour and to be lowly, to eat his bread in weariness and by measure, is his portion; but in lowliness and in labour shall be his rest. God will provide. “His bread shall be given him, and his water shall be sure.” “I have been young, and now am old; and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.”5757 Psalm xxxvii. 25. To those, then, who faithfully do the work which God has appointed them, and keep within the sphere and 111range where He has cast their lot, this great law of God’s kingdom is pledged and sure. They shall never want whatsoever is needful, safe, and expedient for their support, and for the maintenance of all that legitimately falls within the condition assigned to them by the will of God.
(2.) The other great law I referred to is this, that the most truly expedient course is often one which is most inexpedient according to the measures of the world. What but this does the example of our Lord teach us, Who in His hunger refused to relieve His wants and faintness by the speaking of a word? How does the world oppress a man with its exhortations to “spare himself,” to take advantage of natural powers, to seize on opportunities, to reap the benefit of great offers, to shew himself to the world, to let himself be made popular, to get on in life, and to make himself a name, a house, or a fortune I And how does it lament, or expostulate, or reproach him, if he refuse to turn these stones into bread! “So long as thou doest well unto thyself, men will speak well of thee.”5858 Psalm xlix. 18. But if a man turn away from money, ease, comfort, or competency, and the like, he is straightway improvident, reckless, eccentric, or ostentatious, fanciful, or proud. Nothing the world resents more than scrupulousness in money-getting. 112It is a very searching and wide-spread rebuke. One such man, by one such act, before he is aware, pricks the conscience of half the neighbourhood. The world cannot endure to be slighted, to be held cheap, to be valued at its own true price. Therefore, in self-defence, it keeps up a loud and plausible worship of expediency; and because what is right is always expedient, by a cunning sleight it sets forward what is expedient as the index of what is right. Now, nothing can be more contrary to this philosophy than to decline great stations, rich offers, large trusts, profitable employments; or again, to make costly offerings, to give great alms, to lay by little, to aim at extensive works. But what says Holy Writ, that true and only philosophy of human life? “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”5959 Prov. xi. 24. There are two kinds of lenders, two kinds of usury, two great debtors who take up the gold and silver of men—the world and God. The more men invest in the world, the more they lose; the more they lay up, the more they waste; the more they hoard, the more they squander. It “tendeth to poverty.” Great figures, vast credit, thousands by the year, and the man is none the richer; he is not wiser, better, happier, healthier, 113safer from ruin, poverty, destitution. His great barks founder in a calm; or the mountain of his wealth is driven away in an hour, “as a rolling thing before the whirlwind.” Or, let all these prosper to the full; let all his rich cargoes come into the haven, and all his ventures turn in the mart to gold, he can neither eat nor drink, nor in any way enjoy, more than the poor man at his gate. “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners there of to their hurt.”6060 Eccles. v. 10-13. The world is a false-hearted debtor, paying not only no usury on its loans, but restoring nothing again. All that it borrows, it consumes “upon its lusts;” and all that it gives to its creditors is tinsel, and noise, and flatteries.
Not so with God. The only sure investment for our worldly goods is in works of mercy to the poor of Christ. “He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the Lord; and look, what he 114layeth out, it shall be paid him again.” “Whosoever shall give to drink a cup of cold water in My name shall in no wise lose his reward.”6161 St. Mark ix. 41. The whole history of the Church is witness. Who made such gains as they that sold all they had, and gave to the poor, that they might bear their cross in following the Lord? Who found houses and lands an hundredfold, but they that forsook all to follow Him? What was it that brought in the gold and silver, and lands and goods of the earth, without measure, to the use and service of the Church, but the first great venture of faith, the first full and confiding investment which they made in the beginning who “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need;”6262 Acts ii. 45. or being “possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need?”6363 Acts iv. 34. It was the voluntary poverty of the first Christians that endowed the Church. We live of their usury, and on the profits of their investment. The land of Barnabas has borne the tithe of Christendom. I am not now speaking of the lasting returns which are laid up in heaven “in bags that wax not old;” I am speaking strictly 115of this world. And it is most true to say, that they will find at last the best return of all their ventures who go counter to the false expediency of this scheming, calculating world, and lay out their incomes with a thankful and trustful heart for the service of God and the consolation of His poor. When the prophet came to Sarepta, he asked food, in a time of famine, of a lone widow, who had a son depending on her; both were ready to perish. In her barrel was a handful of meal, in her cruse a little oil. Yet the prophet said, “Make me a little cake first, and after that make for thee and for thy son.”6464 1 Kings xvii. 13. What request could be more untimely, exacting, unreasonable? Was she not a widow, and her son an orphan, and both destitute? Must she not first care for her own child, especially in a time of famine? So the world would argue; and for its reward receive an empty barrel and a dry cruse.
To conclude, then; let us ever bear in mind that the probation of many men lies, for the greatest part, in the matter of their temporal affairs; in the way in which they seek gain, and use the goods and possessions of the world. Their chief dangers arise from the largeness of their personal wants, and the scale they have pitched for their appearance in the sight of the world. When once men have committed 116themselves too far in this point, it becomes every day more difficult to withdraw; and then they are put to all manner of expedients, shifts, and schemes, to maintain themselves in their position. This drives them into ambiguous lines of business, and into acts of an equivocal meaning; slight, it may be, at first, but by degrees enlarging into a wide surface of dangerous practice, and into concealed embarrassment. Money is the poison of thousands, whose character, in other respects, is high and admirable. It is strange over what minds money keeps its hold; and how near a man may go to moral greatness, and yet be crippled and stunted by this one passion. Money is his measure; and with all his gifts and enlarged views of mind, and his almost great points of character in other respects, money ascertains the real standard of his moral being. Beware, then, of money, and the desire for it, of carefulness and mistrust of God. Give alms of all that ye possess. Labour in your lot, be content with such things as ye have, and be careful for nothing. He who fasted in the wilderness, and for the five thousand made five loaves to be enough, is with you. He will feed you with the bread that came down from heaven, even that meat “which the Son of man shall give unto you; for Him hath God the Father sealed.”6565 St. John vi. 27.117
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