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THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil.—Mat. IV. 1.
THIS scripture giveth us the history of Christ’s temptation, which I shall go over by degrees.
In the words observe:—
1. The parties tempted and tempting. The person tempted was the Lord Jesus Christ. The person tempting was the devil.
2. The occasion inducing this combat, Jesus was led up of the Spirit.
3. The time, then.
4. The place, the wilderness.
From the whole observe:—
Doct. The Lord Jesus Christ was pleased to submit himself to an extraordinary combat with the tempter, for our good.
1. I shall explain the nature and circumstances of this extraordinary combat.
2. The reasons why Christ submitted to it.
3. The good of this to us.
I. The circumstances of this extraordinary combat. And here—
1. The persons combating—Jesus and the devil, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It was designed long before: Gen. iii. 15, ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel;’ and now it is accomplished. Here is the Prince of Peace against the prince of darkness, Michael and the dragon, the Captain of our salvation and our grand enemy. The devil is the great architect of wickedness, as Christ is the Prince of life and righteousness. These are the combatants: the one ruined the creation of God, and the other restored and repaired it.
2. The manner of the combat. It was not merely a phantasm, that Christ was thus assaulted and used: no, he was tempted in reality, not in conceit and imagination only. It seemeth to be in the spirit, 259though it was real; as Paul was taken up into the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body we cannot easily judge, but real it was. I shall more accurately discuss this question afterwards in its more proper place.
3. What moved him, or how was he brought to enter into the lists with Satan? He was ‘led by the Spirit,’ meaning thereby the impulsion and excitation of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. For it is said, Luke iv. 1, ‘Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.’ He did not voluntarily put himself upon temptation, but, by God’s appointment, went up from Jordan farther into the desert.
We learn hence:—
[1.] That temptations come not by chance, not out of the earth, nor merely from the devil; but God ordereth them for his own glory and our good. Satan was fain to beg leave to tempt Job: Job i. 12, ‘And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power, only upon himself put not forth thine hand;’ there is a concession with a limitation. Till God exposeth us to trials, the devil can not trouble us, nor touch us. So Luke xxii. 31, ‘Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.’ Nay, he could not enter into the herd of swine without a patent and new pass from Christ: Mat. viii. 31, ‘So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.’ This cruel spirit is held in the chains of an irresistible providence, that he cannot molest any creature of God without his permission; which is a great satisfaction to the faithful: all things which concern our trial are determined and ordered by God. If we be free, let us bless God for it, and pray that he would not ‘lead us into temptation: ‘if tempted, when we are in Satan’s hands, remember Satan is in God’s hand.
[2.] Having given up ourselves to God, we are no longer to be at our own dispose and direction, but must submit ourselves to be led, guided, and ordered by God in all things. So it was with Christ, he was led by the Spirit continually: if he retire into the desert, he is ‘led by the Spirit.’ Luke iv. 1; if he come back again into Galilee, ver. 4, ‘Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.’ The Holy Ghost leadeth him into the conflict, and when it was ended leadeth him back again. Now there is a perfect likeness between a Christian and Christ: he is led by the Spirit off and on, so we must be guided by the same Spirit in all our actions: Rom. viii. 14, ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.’
[3.] That we must observe our warrant and calling in all we resolve upon. To put ourselves upon hazards we are not called unto, is to go out of our bounds to meet a temptation, or to ride into the devil’s quarters. Christ did not go of his own accord into the desert, but by divine impulsion, and so he came from thence. We may, in our place and calling, venture ourselves, on the protection of God’s providence, upon obvious temptations; God will maintain and support us in them; that is to trust God; but to go out of our calling is to tempt God.
[4.] Compare the words used in Matthew and Mark, chap. i. 12, 260 ‘And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.’ That shows that it was a forcible motion, or a strong impulse, such as he could not easily resist or refuse, so here is freedom—he was led; there is force and efficacious impression—he was driven, with a voluntary condescension thereunto. There may be liberty of man’s will, yet the victorious efficacy of grace united together: a man may be taught and drawn, as Christ here was led, and driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.
3. The time.
[1.] Presently after his baptism. Now the baptism of Christ agreeth with ours as to the general nature of it. Baptism is our initiation into the service of God, or our solemn consecration of ourselves to him; and it doth not only imply work, but fight: Rom. vi. 13, ‘Neither yield ye your members as instruments, ὁπλα, of un righteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God;’ and, Rom. xiii. 12, ‘Let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.’ Christ’s baptism had the same general nature with ours, not the same special nature: the general nature is an engagement to God, the special use of baptism is to be a seal of the new covenant, or to be to us ‘the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.’ Now this Christ was not capable of, he had no sin to be repented of or remitted; but his baptism was an engagement to the same military work to which we are engaged. He came into the world for that end and purpose, to war against sin and Satan; he engageth as the general, we as the common soldiers. He as the general: 1 John iii. 8, ‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, ἵνα λύσῃ, that he might destroy the works of the devil.’ His baptism was the taking of the field as general; we undertake to fight under him in our rank and place.
[2.] At this baptismal engagement the Father had given him a testimony by a voice from heaven: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;’ and the Holy Ghost had descended upon him in the form of a dove, Mark iii. 16, 17. Now presently after this he is set upon by the tempter. Thus many times the children of God, after solemn assurances of his love, are exposed to great temptations. Of this you may see an instance in Abraham: Gen. xxii. 1, ‘And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham;’ that is, after he had assured Abraham that he was ‘his shield, and his exceeding great reward,’ and given him so many renewed testimonies of his favour. So Paul, after his rapture, ‘lest he should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelations, there was given to him a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him,’ 2 Cor. xii. 7. So Heb. x. 32, ‘But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;’ i.e., after ye were fully convinced of the Christian faith, and furnished with those virtues and graces that belong to it. God’s conduct is gentle, and proportioned to our strength, as Jacob drove as the little ones were able to bear it. He never suffers his castles to be besieged till they are victualled.
[3.] Immediately before he entered upon his prophetical office. 261Experience of temptations fits for the ministry, as Christ’s temptations prepared him to set a-foot the kingdom of God, for the recovery of poor souls out of their bondage into the liberty of the children of God: ver. 17, ‘From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Our state of innocency was our health, the grace of the Redeemer our medicine, Christ our physician; for the devil had poisoned our human nature. Therefore, when he sets a-foot his healing cure, it was fit and congruous that he should experimentally feel the power of the tempter, and in what manner he doth assault and endanger souls: Christ also would show us that ministers should not only be men of science, but of experience.
[4.] The place or field where this combat was fought, the wilderness, where were none but wild beasts: Mark i. 13, ‘And he was there in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.’ Great question there is in what wilderness Christ was; their opinion is most probable who think it was the great wilderness, called the desert of Arabia, in which the Israelites wandered forty years, and in which Elijah fasted forty days and forty nights. In this solitary place Satan tried his utmost power against our Saviour.
This teacheth us:—
(1.) That Christ alone grappled with Satan, having no fellow-worker with him, that we may know the strength of our Redeemer, who is able himself to overcome the tempter without any assistance’ and to ‘save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him,’ Heb. vii. 25.
(2.) That the devil often abuseth our solitude. It is good sometimes to be alone; but then we need to be stocked with holy thoughts or employed in holy exercises, that we may be able to say, as Christ, John xvi. 32, ‘I am not alone, because the Father is with me.’ Howsoever a state of retirement from human converse, if it be not necessary, exposeth us to temptations; but if we are cast upon it, we must expect God’s presence and help.
(3.) That no place is privileged from temptations, unless we leave our hearts behind us. David, walking on the terrace or house-top, was ensnared by Bathsheba’s beauty: 2 Sam. xi. 2-4. Lot, that was chaste in Sodom, yet committed incest in the mountain, where there were none but his own family: Gen. xix. 30, 31, &c. When we are locked in our closets, we cannot shut out Satan.
II. The reasons why Christ submitted to it.
1. With respect to Adam, that the parallel between the first and second Adam might be more, exact. They are often compared in scripture, as Rom. v., latter end, and 1 Cor. xv.; and we read, Rom. v. 14, that the first Adam was τύπος τοῦ μέλλοντος, ‘the figure of him that was to come.’ And as in other respects, so in this; in the same way we were destroyed by the first Adam, in the same way we were restored by the second. Christ recovereth and winneth that which Adam lost. Our happiness was lost by the first Adam being over come by the tempter; so it must be recovered by the second Adam, the tempter being overcome by him. He that did conquer must first be conquered, that sinners might be rescued from the captivity wherein 262he held them captive. The first Adam, being assaulted quickly after his entrance into paradise, was overcome; and therefore must the second Adam overcome him as soon as he entered upon his office, and that in a conflict hand-to-hand, in that nature that was foiled. The devil must lose his prisoners in the same way that he caught them. Christ must do what Adam could not do. The victory is gotten by a public person in our nature, before it can be gotten by each individual in his own person, for so it was lost. Adam lost the day before he had . any offspring, so Christ winneth it in his own person before he doth solemnly begin to preach the gospel and call disciples; and therefore here was the great overthrow of the adversary.
2. In regard of Satan, who by his conquest got a twofold power over man by tempting, he got an interest in his heart to lead him ‘captive at his will’ and pleasure, 2 Tim. ii. 26; and he was made God’s executioner, he got a power to punish him: Heb. ii. 14, ‘That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.’ Therefore the Son of God, who interposed on our behalf, and undertook the rescue of sinners, did assume the nature of man that he might conquer Satan in the nature that was conquered, and also offer himself as a sacrifice in the same nature for the demonstration of the justice of God. First, Christ must overcome by obedience, tried to the uttermost by temptations; and then he must also overcome by suffering. By overcoming temptations, he doth overcome Satan as a tempter; and by death he overcame him as a tormentor, or as the prince of death, who had the power of executing God’s sentence. So that you see before he overcame him by merit, he overcame him by example, and was an instance of a tempted man before he was an instance of a persecuted man, or one that came to make satisfaction to God’s justice.
3. With respect to the saints, who are in their passage to heaven to be exposed to great difficulties and trials. Now that they might have comfort and hope in their Redeemer, and come to him boldly as one touched with a feeling of their infirmities, he himself submitted to be tempted. This reason is recorded by the apostle in two places: Heb. ii. 18, ‘For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.’ Able to succour; that is, fit, powerful, inclined, effectually moved to succour them. None so merciful as those who have been once miserable; and they who have not only known misery, but felt it, do more readily relieve and succour others. God biddeth Israel to pity strangers: Exod. xxii. 21, ‘Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye were strangers m the land of Egypt.’ They knew what it was to be exposed to the envy and hatred of the neighbours in the land where they sojourned: Exod xxiii. 9, ‘For ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ We read that when King Richard the First had been, on the sea near Sicily, like to be drowned, he recalled that ancient and barbarous custom, whereby the goods of shipwrecked men were escheated to the crown, making provision that those goods should be preserved for the right owners. Christ being tossed in the tempest of temptations, knows what belongs to the trouble thereof. The other place is, Heb. iv. 15, ‘We have not an 263high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.’ Christ hath experienced how strong the assailant is, how feeble our nature is, how hard a matter it is to withstand when we are so sorely assaulted. His own experience of sufferings and temptations in himself doth entender his heart, and make him fit for sympathy with us and begets a tender compassion towards the miseries and frailties of his members.
4. With respect to Christ himself, that he might be an exact pat tern of obedience to God. The obedience is little worth, which is carried on in an even tenor, when we have no temptation to the contrary but is cast off as soon as we are tempted to disobey: James i. 12 ‘Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.’ And Heb. xi. 17, ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son.’ Now Christ was to be more eminent than all the holy ones of God, and therefore, that he might give an evidence of his piety, constancy, and trust in God, it was thought fit some trial should be made of him, that he might by example teach us what reason we have to hold to God against the strongest temptations.
III. The good of this to us. It teacheth us divers things, four I shall instance in.
1. To show us who is our grand enemy, the devil, who sought the misery and destruction of mankind, as Christ did our salvation And therefore he is called ὁ ἔχθρος, the enemy; Mat. xiii. 39, ‘The enemy that sowed them is the devil.’ And he is called also ὁ πονηρὸς, the wicked one, Mat. xiii. 19, as the first and deepest in evil. And’ be cause this malicious cruel spirit ruined mankind at first, he is called ‘a liar and murderer from the beginning.’ John viii. 44. A liar because of his deceit; a murderer, to show us what he hath done and would do. It was he that set upon Christ, and doth upon us as at first to destroy our health, so still to keep us from our medicine and recovery out of the lapsed estate by the gospel of Christ.
2. That all men, none excepted, are subject to temptations. If any might plead for exemption, our Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God might; but he was assaulted and tempted; and if the devil tempted our Saviour, he will be much more bold with us. The godly are yet in the way not at the end of the journey; in the field, not with the crown on their heads; and it is God’s will that the enemy should have leave to assault them. None go to heaven without a trial: ‘All these things are accomplished in your brethren that are in the flesh.’ 1 Pet. v. 9. To look for an exempt privilege, or immunity from temptation, is to list ourselves as Christ’s soldiers, and never expect battle or conflict.
3. It showeth us the manner of conflict, both of Satan’s fight and our Saviour’s defence.
[1,] Of Satan’s fight. It is some advantage not to be ignorant of his enterprises: 2 Cor. ii. 11, ‘Lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.’ Then we may the better stand upon our guard. He assaulted Christ by the same kind of temptations by which usually he assaults us. The kinds of temptations are 264reckoned up: 1 John ii. 16, ‘The lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life.’ And James iii. 15, ‘This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.’ With these temptations he assaulted our first parents: Gen. iii. 8, ‘When the woman saw that the tree was good for fruit, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.’ And with the same temptations he assaulted Christ, tempting him to turn stones into bread, to satisfy the longings of the flesh; to fall down and worship him, as to the sight of a bewitching object to his eyes; to fly in the air in pride, and to get glory among men. Here are our snares, which we must carefully avoid.
[2.] The manner of Christ’s defence, and so it instructeth us how to overcome and carry ourselves in temptations. And here are two things whereby we evercome:—
(1.) By scripture. The word of God is ‘the sword of the Spirit,’ Eph. vi. 17, and 1 John ii. 14, ‘The word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.’ It is good to have the word of God abide in our memories, but chiefly in our hearts, by a sound belief and fervent love to the truth.
(2.) Partly by resolution: 1 Pet. iv. 1, ‘Arm yourselves with the same mind,’ viz., that was in Christ. When Satan grew bold and troublesome, Christ rejects him with indignation. Now the conscience of our duty should thus prevail with us to be resolute therein; the double-minded are as it were torn in pieces between God and the devil: James i. 8, ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.’ Therefore, being in God’s way, we should resolve to be deaf to all temptations.
4. The hopes of success. God would set Christ before us as a pattern of trust and confidence, that when we address ourselves to serve God, we might not fear the temptations of Satan. We have an example of overcoming the devil in our glorious head and chief. If he pleaded, John xvi. 33, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world;’ the same holdeth good here, for the enemies of our salvation are combined. He overcame the devil in our natures, that we might not be discouraged: we fight against the same adversaries in the same cause, and he will give power to us, his weak members, being full of compassion, which certainly is a great comfort to us.
Use. Of instruction to us:—
1. To reckon upon temptations. As soon as we mind our baptismal covenant, we must expect that Satan will be our professed foe, seeking to terrify or allure us from the banner of our captain, Jesus Christ. Many, after baptism, fly to Satan’s camp. There are a sort of men in the visible church, who, though they do not deny their baptism, as those did, 2 Pet. ii. 9, ‘Who have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins,’ yet they carry themselves as if they were in league with the devil, the world, and the flesh, rather than with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; with might and main they oppose Christ’s kingdom, both abroad and at home, in their own hearts, and are wholly governed by worldly things, the lusts of the flesh, and the lusts 265of the eye, and the pride of life. Now these are the devil’s agents, and the more dangerous because they use Christ’s name against his offices, and the form of his religion to destroy the power thereof; as the dragon in the Revelation, pushed with the horns of the Lamb. Others are not venomously and malignantly set against Christ, and his interest in the world, or in their own hearts, but tamely yield to the lusts of the flesh, and go ‘like an ox to the slaughter, and a fool to the correction of the stocks.’ Prov. vii. 22. We cannot say that Satan’s work lieth about these. Satan needeth not besiege the soul by temptations; that is his already by peaceable possession; ‘when a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.’ Luke xi. 21. There is no storm when wind and tide goeth together. But then there is a third sort of men, that begin to be serious, and to mind their recovery by Christ: they have many good motions and convictions of the danger of sin, excellency of Christ, necessity of holiness; they have many purposes to leave sin and enter upon a holy course of life, but ‘the wicked one cometh, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.’ Mat. xiii. 19. He beginneth betimes to oppose the work, before we are confirmed and settled in a course of godliness, as he did set upon Christ presently upon his baptism. Baptism in us implieth avowed dying unto sin and living unto God; now God permitteth temptation to try our resolution. There is a fourth sort, of such as have made some progress in religion, even to a degree of eminency: these are not altogether free; for if the devil had confidence to assault the declared Son of God, will he be afraid of a mere mortal man? No; these he assaulteth many times very sorely: pirates venture on the greatest booty. These he seeketh to draw off from Christ, as Pharaoh sought to bring back the Israelites after their escape; or to foil them by some scandalous fall, to do religion a mischief: 2 Sam. xii. 14, ‘By this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme;’ or at least to vex them and torment them, to make the service of God tedious and uncomfortable to them: Luke xxii. 31, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat’—to toss and vex you, as wheat in a sieve. So that no sort of Christians can promise them selves exemption; and God permitteth it, because to whom much is given, of them the more is required.
2. The manner and way of his fight is by the world, per blanda et aspera, by the good or evil things of the world. There is ‘armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.’ 2 Cor. vi. 7, as there are right-hand and left-hand temptations. Both ways he lieth in ambush in the creature. Sometimes he tempts us by the good things of the world: 1 Chron. xxi. 1, ‘And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.’ so glorying in his might, and puissance, and victory over neighbour kings. So meaner people he tempteth to abuse their wealth to pride and luxury; therefore we are pressed to be sober: 1 Pet. v. 8, ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’ The devil maketh an advantage of our prosperity, to divert us from God and heaven, and to render us unapt for the strictness of our holy calling. Sometimes he tempts us 266by the evil things of this world: Job i. 11, ‘Put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.’ Satan’s aim in bringing the saints into trouble is to draw them to fretting, murmuring, despondency, and distrust of providence, yea, to open defection from God, or blasphemy against him; and therefore it is said, 1 Pet. v. 9, ‘Knowing that the same afflictions,’ &c., because temptations are conveyed to us by our afflictions or troubles in the flesh.
3. His end is to dissuade us from good, and persuade us to evil. To dissuade us from good by representing the impossibility, trouble, and small necessity of it. If men begin to apply themselves to a strict course, such as they have sworn to in baptism, either it is so hard as not to be borne, as John vi. 60, ‘This is a hard saying, who can bear it?’ Whereas, Mat. xix. 29, ‘Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, &c., for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.’ Or the troubles which accompany a strict profession are many. The world will note us: John xii. 42, ‘Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.’ Whereas we must not be ashamed of Christ: 2 Tim. ii. 12, ‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.’ Or that we need not be so strict and nice, whereas all we can do is little enough: Mark xxv. 9, ‘Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you.’ In general, the greatest mischiefs done us by sin are not regarded, but the least inconvenience that attendeth our duty is urged and aggravated. He persuadeth us to evil by profit, pleasure, necessity; we cannot live without it in the world. He hideth the hook, and showeth the bait only; he concealeth the hell, the horror, the eternal pains that follow sin, and only telleth you how beneficial, profitable, and delightful the sin will be to you: Prov. ix. 17, 18, ‘Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell.’
4. While we are striving against temptations, let us remember our general. We do but follow the Captain of our salvation, who hath vanquished the enemy, and will give us the victory if we keep striving: ‘The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly,’ Rom. xvi. 2. Not his feet, but ours: we shall be conquerors. Our enemy is vigilant and strong: it is enough for us that our Redeemer is merciful and faithful in succouring the tempted, and able to master the tempter, and defeat all his methods. Christ hath conquered him, both as a lamb and as a lion: Rev. v. 5, 8. The notion of a lamb intimateth his sacrifice, the notion of a lion his victory: in the lamb is merit, in the lion strength; by the one he maketh satisfaction to God, by the other he rescueth sinners out of the paw of the roaring lion, and maintaineth his interest in their hearts. Therefore let us not be discouraged, but closely adhere to him.267
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