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Sec. 3.—The Temptation.
The very difficult problem now awaits our consideration, whether Jesus ever experienced any inclination to sin? Our 124business is specially with the application of the idea of temptation to Jesus, and the difficulty lies in the question as to whether He could be really tempted, and yet remain absolutely sinless. Temptation implies allurement to evil; allurement involves a minimum of evil itself, and that is inconsistent with perfect purity.
We may very easily get rid of this difficulty by refusing to recognise one or the other of the two sides which should here be held in conjunction with each other; i.e. by affirming either that Jesus was not really tempted, or that we must not be so precise in our view of sinlessness. And there are not a few who do either deny the reality of the temptation, or sacrifice the strict conception of sinlessness. But the problem is not solved in this way. On the contrary, since Scripture teaches both the temptation and sinlessness of Christ, it becomes the duty of theology to furnish an answer to the question whether both can be held without prejudice to either, or whether the one necessarily excludes the other. Our proper guide in answering this question is the well-known passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews.163163 Heb. iv. 15. See on this subject Riehm, Lehrbegr. des Hebr. Br. i. pp. 317, etc., and 321, etc. Jesus was tempted in all points, yet without sin; i.e. He was tempted so as it is possible to be without the entrance of sin. We must conceive of His endurance of temptation with the qualification that He continued free from sin; and of His sinlessness, as having stood the test of every species of temptation. According to this, there must be temptation without sin, and temptation with sin: there is a limit within which temptation is without sin, beyond which it involves sin. Our task is consequently to determine the point at which temptation does become sin; and in order to accomplish this, we shall need to examine more closely the relation between sin and temptation. If our investigation be conducted on right principles, it will 125tend greatly to diminish the difficulty presented by the narrative of the actual temptation of our Lord.
Our inquiry into the nature of sin has shown us that, although its focus is in the will, we are not to regard it as confined to that faculty. The life of the man in all its essential aspects must be taken into consideration. Reciprocity is the law of our constitution; and in virtue thereof, not only does the will, when affected by sin, act prejudicially on the other spheres of our life, but these latter also, when they are sinfully incited, exercise a corrupting influence upon the will. Sin does not take place simply by an abstract act of the will,—it is consummated only where there is a simultaneous darkening of the intelligence and imagination, by means of a stirring up of false and sensual emotions. The actual influence exerted by these different sides of our being varies according to the peculiarities of individual constitutions, and to the measure of our sinfulness. At the same time, however, with respect to the various spheres of our life, we must carefully distinguish between that which arises from their natural orderly action, and that which is already a beginning of sin.
We cannot consider it sinful that that which is evil should present itself to the understanding and imagination, partly as objectively existent, and partly as a possibility; for this is just one of the things which man, as a moral being, cannot avoid. Nor can it with any greater reason be looked upon as in itself sinful, that a sense of the opposition between pleasure and pain should be called forth within us by distinct thoughts or images, and that the one should exert an attractive, and the other a repulsive, influence. Such experiences owe their existence to the fact that man is endowed with sensibilities and a physical body, which being inalienable parts of his nature, must be recognised as of Divine ordination.164164 In the fact that Jesus had a body, and consequently sensibility, no ground or direct occasion of sin was involved. Σάρξ is ascribed to Him in a perfectly good sense, with reference, of course, to human limitations and lowliness, but with no reference at all to sin. In opposition to this, it is maintained by some, chiefly persons tinged with fanaticism,—as for example, formerly, by Dippel, Eschrich, Fend, and Poiret, and recently by the well-known Irving, through whom this point became the subject of a religious controversy in England,—that to Christ must be ascribed not simply flesh, but sinful flesh; and that, though in respect of His spirit and will He is to be held perfectly free from actual and habitual sin, it must yet be granted that in the matter of the senses and their sinful impulses, He was not different from other men. It is plain that these persons are somewhat lax in their views of sinlessness; for it is involved in the true idea of sinlessness that the sensuous impulses do not act independently of, and in opposition to, the spirit, but are altogether ruled by it. Moreover, the words of the apostle, to which they appeal, do not furnish a sufficient warrant for the doctrine. In the passage, Rom. viii. 3—ὁ Θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας—the word ὁμοίωμα refers only to σαρκός, and not at the same time to ἁμαρτίας, and the meaning is, ‘God sent His Son in such a form of flesh and corporeity, as was of like kind with ours, which have, through sin, departed from their original condition,—not like with respect to sinful inclination, which would make the apostle contradict himself (2 Cor. v. 21), but of like kind with respect to finiteness, limitation, the wants of physical life: Christ, though not sinful Himself, was yet a man just like us who are sinners, and subject to the same conditions of sensuous existence. Compare Flatt, Tholuck, and other commentators on this passage. For more extended discussions of this point, see Müller’s Doctrine of Sin, i. 407 ff., and especially pp. 434-459, third ed.; and Nitzsch’s System of Christian Doctrine, § 129. J. E. W. Gericke, in an article on the effects of the death of Christ with respect to His own Person (Stud. u. Krit. 1843, ii. pp. 261, etc.), has lately brought forward the view that, in virtue of His participation in the flesh of the human race, its hereditary corruption—though only in the smallest degree—was transmitted to the human nature of Jesus; yet that this sinful incentive in Him, ever conquered and kept far from His person by the Divine principle within Him, was fully abolished by His death and resurrection. This view also, apart from other objections, is without a firm scriptural foundation, and inconsistent with the fundamental views of the New Testament.126The presentation of evil through the understanding or imagination only implies sin, when the thought or image rises from within ourselves. Then we consider its presence sinful, because it presupposes the groundwork of our soul to be corrupt. But in case the thought or image is suggested by the surrounding world, we are only chargeable with actual sin if we dwell thereon with approval; for then our moral 127judgment begins to be darkened, and an inclination towards evil to be felt. In like manner, the sensations, whether mental or bodily, of pleasure and pain, of the desirable and repulsive, can only be called sinful when they owe their rise to an opposition between spirit and flesh, already active in our personal life; or, at all events, they first acquire a sinful character when they prepare the way for the action of this antagonism, and produce desires whose satisfaction would be a transgression of the Divine order of our life.
It cannot be denied that evil does enter man through the channels of thought and imagination, of feeling and sensibility. At the same time, however, it must not only be acknowledged that the real decision of the matter rests with the will,—because it is only by a determination of the will that man really appropriates evil, and makes it an internal or external act for which he is responsible,—but we must also keep in view the fact, that in the spheres of thought and imagination, of emotion and sensibility, there are boundary lines very clearly separating between that which is natural and that which is sinful.
Our inquiry concerns, then, the relation which temptation bears to evil. In order to answer this question, we must bring before our minds the idea and nature of temptation.165165 For the usage of the expressions πειράζεσθαι and πειρασμός in the New Testament, see Tholuck’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, pp. 432 ff., and Kern’s Brief Jacobi, p. 125 ff. This subject is also further discussed in Köster’s Bibl. Lehre von der Versuchung, Gotha 1859, and Palmer’s article, Versuchung, in Herzog’s Theol. Real-Encycl. By temptation, we mean every influence by which a personality intended for moral action may receive an impulse from good towards evil, every enticement to sin produced by any kind of impression, and especially such a one as, proceeding from some other person, is purposely designed to lead to sin. That which tempts may lie either in the man himself, 128in the form of disorderly desire or inclination;166166 This is the ἐπιθυμία of which St. James speaks as the usual commencement of sin in man (Jas. i. 14). This kind of temptation presupposes a germ of evil already within the man himself, and is irreconcilable with moral perfection in the strict sense. or be presented from without, in the shape of a motive to sinful action. Still, a temptation coming from without, must enter the mind through the medium of thought or fancy or sensuous impression, or else it is as good; as not present. It must also exhibit the appearance of good; for mere evil, as such, does not tempt any but natures already Satanic. If evil is to tempt at all, it must appear as good; it must take the illusory form of a desirable possession, enjoyment, or other coveted result.
Every being is liable to temptation whose nature is on the one hand susceptible of good, and does not on the other necessarily shut out the possibility of evil. God cannot be tempted, because the holiness of His nature exalts Him above all temptation. Irrational creatures cannot be tempted, because, being incapable of true good, they are also below temptation to evil. Man alone, free to choose, can be tempted, because he is a moral, though not yet in his inward nature a holy, personality. Temptation begins for him when evil is presented, at some point of his inner or outer life, in such a way that he can directly take it up into his own being. But man is exposed in two ways to the possibility, and seductive power, of evil. On the one hand, he may be drawn to actual sin by enticements; and, on the other hand, he may be turned aside from good by threatened, as well as by inflicted, suffering. The former may be termed positive, the latter negative, temptation. The one is notably illustrated in the story of Hercules at the two ways, the other in the sufferings of Job.167167 Luther places temptations through suffering on the left hand, and those through pleasure on the right, and thus declares the latter to be the stronger and more dangerous (Works, B. vii. p. 1165). As evil, when it lays hold upon us, affects our 129life in its entirety, so does temptation assail us at different points, in order to gain possession of our will. Hence we may be tempted as truly through the thoughts and imaginations as through the emotions and senses; and in each case the temptation may be either a seduction to evil or a preventive from good, by means of either pleasure or pain.
Where, then, is the point in temptation at which sin begins, or at which it becomes itself sin? It is there where the evil which is presented to us begins to make a determining impression upon the heart. We do not say an impression in a general sense,—for without making this, it would be no temptation at all,—but a determining impression, that is one which, first creating commotion in the mind in general, then seizes upon the will in particular, and inclines it towards an opposition to the Divine order.168168 Luther well distinguishes between sentire tentationem and consentire tentationi. Unless the tempting impression be felt, there is no real temptation; but unless it be acquiesced in or yielded to, there is no sin. Then we find that a conflict is awakened in man which is inconceivable without the presence of sin, be it only in the least degree. Disorderly desire and inward bias towards evil are themselves the beginning of sin; and if such desire has its root and source in our own inner being, it not only leads to sin, but presupposes the ground of our life to be already corrupt. At this stage it is sin itself that entices to sin,—sin as a condition leading to sin in act. But temptation does not imply sin, when the evil, as a thing coming from the world without, merely offers its allurements, and is repelled by the indwelling energy of the spirit; or when we are shaken by sufferings, whether of body or soul, and instead of giving way to ungodly states of feeling and tendencies of the will (as in certain circumstances we might do), endure patiently, and are sustained by our inner moral power.
Contemplating the life of Jesus from this point of view, 130we can understand how He might be tempted, and yet remain free from sin. He was tempted in all points,—that is, He was tempted in the only two possible ways, specified above. On the one hand, allurements were presented which might have moved Him to actual sin; and, on the other hand, He was beset by sufferings which might have turned Him aside from the Divine path of duty. These temptations, moreover, occurred both on great occasions and in minute particulars, under the most varied circumstances, from the beginning to the end of His earthly course. But in the midst of them all, His spiritual energy and His love to God remained pure and unimpaired. Temptations of the first order culminated in the attack made on Jesus by Satan; temptations of the second order assailed Him most severely during the struggles of Gethsemane, and when He felt Himself forsaken by God on the cross. It will therefore be necessary to consider these two events more closely.
At present we shall consider the narrative of the temptation169169 Matt. iv. 1-11; Mark i. 12, 13; Luke iv. 1-13. only in one aspect, namely, in its relation to the sinlessness of Jesus, with respect to the difficulty it may present in the way of a full recognition of that sinlessness.170170 The following essays, which advert to my own earlier view, may be compared in this connection: Usteri, Ueber die Versuchung Christi, Stud. u. Krit. 1829, 3, and 1832, 4; Hasert in the same, 1830, 1; Hocheisen, Bemerkungen über die Vers. Gesch., in the Tübingen Zeitschrift f. Theologie, 1883, 2; Kohlschütter zur Verständigung über die Vers. Gesch., in Käuffer’s Bibl. Studien, Jahrg. 2. The most recent discussions of the subject are by E. Pfeiffer in the Deutsche Zeitschrift, May 1851; and by Rink in the same periodical, September 1851; also by Laufs in the Studien und Kritiken, 1853, 2. At the same time some reference to the different modes of understanding that narrative will be unavoidable. In some explanations the sinlessness of Jesus is regarded as beyond all question; in others, on the contrary, it is imperilled. On this ground it 131 will be necessary to pass the different interpretations briefly in review, and to decide to which our adherence shall be given.171171 At present briefly; more fully in a special appendix.
Among such views of this narrative as are by no means at variance with the doctrine of Christ’s sinlessness, may be regarded those which see in the accounts of the evangelists no actual occurrence, but simply a product of early Christian thought. The opinions of those who take this view are divided as to whether the account originated with Jesus Himself under the form of a parable, or with His immediate followers under the form of a myth. Whatever our judgment may be of explanations of this nature, it is quite clear that they do not endanger the sinlessness of Jesus. Neither as a parable, in which Jesus set forth the fundamental maxims according to which all efforts on behalf of His kingdom should be regulated, nor as a myth, in which His Church glorified Him as the conqueror of Satan, would it involve anything really at variance with His sinlessness. But though circumstances have helped to decide the preference of some recent theologians, amongst whom are Schleiermacher and Usteri, for the parabolical mode of interpretation, we cannot see our way clear to the adoption of such a method of escaping the difficulties; and simply for the reason, that we hold the view which underlies it to be an utterly inadmissible one: The entire character of the narrative, and especially the position it occupies between the baptism and public appearance of Jesus, argue too strongly that we have to, do with facts, and not with parable or myth. And even if it be true, which at present we do not stop to consider, that some portions of the account cannot be in every respect regarded as actual history, and must be looked upon as drapery, still we should have to hold fast a kernel of fact. When we reflect that it was involved in the human nature of Christ that He should be tempted; further, that the Gospels 132throughout know nothing at all of a Saviour who was not actually tempted; and finally, that it lay in the nature of the case, that that which could be a temptation to Him should present itself with special force at the commencement of His career,—we shall see the necessity of maintaining a substratum of fact in this history.
But even when maintaining that we have before us the report of actual temptations undergone by Jesus, there are still, as is well known, a variety of possible explanations from this point of view also. Before entering on an examination of these, it will be advisable to come to some decision as to the essential meaning of the history, and thus to ascertain clearly that which must hold true under all circumstances, whatever may be the mode in which single points are treated.
The narrative is undoubtedly set forth as an essential item of the gospel of Jesus as the Christ, as a constituent part of the life of Jesus as the Messiah. In this quality it is placed between that baptismal act which should, and did, inaugurate the Messiah, and the actual appearance of Jesus as the Messiah. By this we are indirectly, but notwithstanding plainly enough, taught that the temptation bore reference to Jesus in His Messianic character; that it was not merely a trial of the general human kind, but specially a trial of the Messiah. This is clear from the third temptation,—the offer of worldly dominion. But it is also distinctly hinted at in the two others, in the words, if Thou be the Son of God (Matt. iv. 3, 6); for these words do not relate to the human nature which Jesus had in common with us all, but to His higher dignity. Moreover, both these latter temptations manifestly presuppose a person, like the Messiah, endowed with extraordinary powers from God, and under special Divine protection. We may accordingly determine the essential feature of the temptation in one aspect to be, that Jesus, at a point of His career in which His whole future was involved, repelled, 133with all firmness and decision, the seductions of an external conception of Messianic glory, as ungodly and sinful, and decided, once for all, upon aims and modes of operation which were pure and well-pleasing to God.
Linked together in this way, the individual temptations may be conceived as follows. The first, which was the temptation to change stones into bread, contains a call to the Messiah to employ His miraculous endowments for the satisfaction of His own immediate and pressing wants. In the second temptation, which was to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, He is urged to put that protection which is promised to God’s chosen One to the test, by wilfully running into manifest danger.172172 The supposition that the second temptation calls for a miracle of display, now seems to me to come far behind the explanation given above. Compare Kohlschütter in Käuffer’s Bibl. Studien, Jahrg. 2, pp. 75, 76. The third temptation, in which the kingdoms of the world and their glory were exhibited before Him, appeals to Him to employ worldly, means for the realization of His idea of a world-wide theocracy. The rejoinders show that such is the significance of the temptations. To the first, Jesus answers that man does not live by bread alone, by that which only relieves ‘his physical necessities,—but by every word that cometh from the mouth of God;173173 According to another view, we must not anticipate the command of God, who has a thousand means of preserving life. to the second He replies that we may not tempt the Lord our God,—we may not tempt arbitrarily, and unnecessarily call for His protection; to the third He rejoins,—making reference to the fact tl?at an external empire like those which had been spread out before Him could only be established by the service of the Prince of this world,—Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. All three temptations converge in one central and fundamental thought—the thought of a kingdom which, although 134apparently Divine, is in reality only worldly, and opposed to the true kingdom of God, which is first founded in the hearts of men, and thence attains external visible realization.174174 Compare Neander’s Life of Jesus, fifth ed. p. 118. The only way to the establishment of such a kingdom was through the prostitution of His higher Messianic endowments to the satisfaction of the desires of His physical nature and self-love; through a presumptuous confidence in Divine protection in paths of danger chosen by Himself; and finally, through a league with, and an entrance into, the service of the Prince of the world. On the contrary, it was only in a spirit of voluntary self-denial in the way prescribed by God, and by a distinct rupture with all the power and glory of this world, that the true kingdom of God could be founded. It was, consequently, the essential opposition between a kingdom which, corresponding to the views of the carnal mind, might be speedily and compulsorily set up, and one of self-sacrificing love, which could only be gradually established from within, and in the divinely ordered way, that now presented itself to the mind of Jesus. He who was sent to found a true theocracy was thus called upon, as He entered on His mission, for a distinct, full, and final decision on one side or the other.
This is unmistakeably one aspect of the temptation of Jesus; but we cannot confine ourselves to it. Were we to do so, our conception of the whole matter would be far too abstract. The Tempter does undoubtedly appeal to Jesus as the Son of God, and very obviously endeavours to influence Him as such; but there must be no separation made between. the Son of God and the Son of man. In fact, the temptations endured by Jesus were real and genuine, for the simple reason, that whilst they tried Him in His character of Messiah, they also assailed Him as a man. A merely theoretical choice between a false and a true conception of Messiah would have 135been no temptation at all. It was indispensable that the false conception should have in it something of a blinding and bribing nature,175175 Special emphasis is rightly laid on this point by Kohlschütter, pp. 68-71. something that might prove seductive to the self-love of His sensuous nature. That such an element was present, is as unquestionable as it is evident that Jesus could only be open thereto so far as He shared the general human sensibility to pleasure and pain, to joy and sorrow. Only on this supposition could it be said of Him that He was tempted in all points like as we are.176176 Heb. iv. 15, where the words καθ᾽ ὁμοιότητα are not employed without purpose. In this sense His temptations have a general human as well as a special Messianic character. They exhibit the spiritual Head of our race as tried like our natural, physical head, but with contrary results.
The seductive element in the several suggestions seems, so far as its human aspect is concerned, to have consisted partly in that which would prove tempting to human nature in general, and partly in that which would be specially alluring to men of a higher order, who are called to a higher vocation. There was, first of all, the inclination to use the gifts of God in the service of self; then there was the liability to entertain the fancy, that One entrusted with a Divine mission, and under the special guardianship of God, might unhesitatingly incur any danger, and even arbitrarily expose Himself thereto; and lastly, there was the desire for this world’s power and glory. To temptation of the first kind men ‘are exposed, as men; to seductions of the second kind, those are peculiarly liable who have the consciousness of a higher mission; by allurements of the third kind, those are mainly affected who feel themselves destined to rule. Jesus was exposed to all alike, for He was a man like ourselves; He had the certain consciousness of the 136highest mission, and He could say of Himself, I am a King. Here, however, again, the three temptations converged and united in one all-inclusive and fundamental temptation; and this lay in the choice between enjoyment and sacrifice, between self-will and the Divine order, between the service of the Prince of this world and the exclusive service of the holy God,—between the one as the essential principle of a kingdom of this world, and the other as the essential principle of the kingdom of God.
We may hold, however, that this is the true significance of the temptation, and at the same time that the history is substantially a record of facts, and yet form very different conceptions of the facts themselves. For instance, the matter has been represented as follows: that Jesus brought before His own mind the chief features of the Messianic notions of His contemporaries, and consequently that the choice between a false and true Messiahship was made as a purely mental transaction. Such a view is, however, evidently too spiritualistic, and out of harmony with the character of the Gospel narrative. The words of the evangelists undoubtedly demand that we should form a more realistic conception of the whole event. They point out that the seductive thoughts were brought to Jesus from without, by means of an objective and personal power exterior to Himself. Thus to have contended with him who is in the highest and most general sense the Tempter, gives, too, to the conflict and victory of the Lord Jesus an unmistakeably sublime and universal significance, with respect both to the person concerned and the principles involved. Nevertheless, whatever stress we may lay upon the objective feature of the transaction, we must always at the same time admit that if it was anything more than the mere semblance of temptation, and is to be regarded as real, the seductive thoughts must have entered into the mind of Jesus, in such a manner that He did not merely hear, but 137also thought and felt them,—that, in short, they made an impression upon Him. Then there arises the question, which for us is the most important of all: Could such seductive thoughts, in whatever way they came, enter the soul of Jesus without sullying His moral purity, without putting an end to His sinlessness?
We answer that this is quite conceivable. Two suppositions must, however, be most carefully avoided in connection with this matter. The one is, that the producing cause of these seductive thoughts was in any sense in the soul of Jesus Himself; and the other, that they gained any determining influence over the heart, the will, the life of Jesus. That neither was the case may be clearly shown.
Undoubtedly, if the thoughts in question were produced in the soul of Jesus, the conviction would be forced upon us, that its ground was morally impure, corrupt, and that sin was present in Him in the shape of evil desire. But there is nothing whatever to warrant such a supposition. And further, we strike at once at the root of a hypothesis of this nature, when we hold by the recognition of a tempter who appeared objectively to Jesus. If we were even to admit that it was by the agency of His own mind that the Lord Jesus brought forward the false idea of the Messiah as an object of contemplation, any misgiving which might thereby arise is immediately obviated by distinguishing between the presentation and the origination of a thought. The expectation of a worldly Messiah was not a notion which had yet to be conceived; on the contrary, it was one everywhere rife, and which Jesus must have inevitably encountered on all sides in the world around. Nay, He could not carry out the true idea of the Messiah in its full extent, without also taking up into His thoughts its spurious counterpart. The full and decided appropriation of the one necessarily involved the rejection of the other; consequently, also its 138presence before His soul. In any case, then, we have only to do with the thought of something already actually-existing; and such a thought, though its object might include every element of sin, could not, of itself, be by any possibility defiling.
There is of course another thing yet to be taken into consideration. If we are not to deem the moral purity of Jesus to have been stained by the presence of the seductive thoughts, we must not suppose them to have exerted any determining influence on His inner life: and this seems difficult to maintain, when we take the idea of temptation in right earnest. One concession must be made in this connection—viz. that the mere thinking of evil does not in itself constitute a temptation, and that, in order to its being a temptation, the evil must appear adapted to, and must be enticing to, the self-love of our sensuous nature. The false conception of Messiah, whether suggested by the devil or by the world, was of this nature. Moreover, there can be no doubt that Jesus, as being a real man, was susceptible of its influence. For to the nature of man enjoyment is always dearer than privation, honour than disgrace, and a throne than a cross. Not that we are to conceive the enjoyments of life, honour, and rule to be essentially sinful. They are that only under certain conditions. Nor do we necessarily contract defilement through our sense of the pleasantness of these things. Only when it has a corrupting effect on the moral feelings, disturbs the judgment, and gives an ungodly bias to the will and activity, can this be affirmed. But the narrative of the temptation exhibits the direct opposite of all this. Not like the first parents177177 Gen. iii. 6. of mankind, did Jesus dwell with pleasure on the temptation which was laid before Him. That was precisely the cause of their fall. Neither did He suffer a ‘yea, hath God said,’ to arise in His mind. With a quick resolution that is obvious from the whole narrative, 139without any lingering or longing hesitancy, He trampled the allurements under foot; and so directly did He in the thrice repeated ‘It is written’ oppose to each seductive suggestion the sword of the Spirit, that no ground whatever is left for the assumption that evil entered within so as to disturb and stain His feelings or imagination, His heart or will.178178 Therefore, as Hocheisen justly observes in the Tübingen Theolog. Zeitschrift, 1833, 2, p. 115, no parallel can be drawn between the temptation of Christ and Prodikus’s story of Hercules and the two ways; for a hesitation of choice between two ways cannot be spoken of in connection with Jesus. In order to anticipate and cut off possible difficulties, Menken, in his Betrachtungen über den Matthæus, i. 104, would have the whole transaction termed trial instead of temptation. But the Scriptures do not sufficiently justify this change. Inasmuch as Satan comes before us πειράζων, we may fairly apply the distinction made even by Tertullian: Deus probat, Diabolus tentat. It is, however, the character of His whole subsequent life, and the moral consciousness expressed in every part of it, which is our strongest guarantee that His purity was maintained on this occasion also. So spotless was the purity that shone through all His acts and words, that it is inconceivable that the temptation, though real, should have involved for Him aught like the beginning of a fall, or aught of sin.
The positive temptations of Jesus were not, however, confined to that particular point of time when they assailed Him with concentrated force.179179 In Luke iv. 13 it is said Satan departed from Jesus ἄχρι καιροῦ: and Jesus Himself speaks of His temptations in the plural number (Luke xxii. 28). They returned as often as impressions were made on Him from without, whose tendency was to draw Him away from complete faithfulness to His love of God, and from pure and holy activity on behalf of the kingdom of God. But still more frequently in after times was He called to endure temptation of the other kind,—the temptation of suffering; and this culminated on two occasions—viz. in the conflict of Gethsemane, and in that moment of 140agony on the cross when He cried, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
The whole life of Jesus, as depicted by the evangelists, was pervaded by suffering. They were griefs of the intensest kind which pierced His soul during the contest of His loving will with the sin of the world; and to these were added bodily pains. Both conjoined reached their climax in the tortures of the cross,—than which no agonies can be conceived higher or more intense. Jesus never expressly sought, or capriciously exposed Himself to, suffering. Nor did He need to do so, for it came unsought. Still less did He purposely avoid it, seeing in it as He did an essential constituent of His Divine calling. He resigned Himself cheerfully to all that befell Him, and thus displayed a power of endurance, which, whilst never inconsistent with the human, always ensured victory to the Divine.
The two events in question might be alleged as revealing a state of mind at variance with our assumption,—namely, the conflict of Gethsemane, in which suffering of soul is peculiarly manifest, and the moment on the cross in which the physical pain, added to the agony of soul, reached its highest point. In both instances Jesus seemed not to maintain the strength of mind consistent with sinless perfection, but to succumb to the weakness of human nature.
There have not been wanting those who have found in the conflict of Gethsemane,180180 Matt. xxvi. 36-47; Mark xiv. 32-43; Luke xxii. 39-47. especially in the supposed struggle against death, something inconsistent with the greatness of Jesus in other respects; and in order to remove from the image of Jesus a feature which, in their view, disfigures it, they have resorted to the desperate means of declaring the whole incident unworthy of credit.181181 See Usteri, Studien and Kritiken, 1829,3, p. 465. Usteri thinks that if the tradition were true, he must rank Jesus under Socrates. On the other side, compare the beautiful parallel between the death of Jesus and that of Socrates, in de Wette’s Wesen des christlichen Glaubens, § 53, p. 270. Rousseau says, in his pithy manner, ‘If Socrates suffered and died like a philosopher, Jesus suffered and died like a God.’ But the portion of the 141Gospel narrative in question is too well attested, both externally and internally, to justify any such violence. We must therefore endeavour to understand this paradox also of the life of Jesus. And in fact, when we look at it with an unprejudiced mind, it not only loses much of its strangeness, but gives besides a peculiar significance to the Person of Jesus, and to the relation in which He stands to ourselves. The incident exhibits Jesus to us in the full truth of His humanity, in His perfect nearness to men. Jesus, as a man, could not have had a heart filled with holy love, without feeling sorrowful, even unto death, at the hatred He encountered in return for His self-sacrifice,—a hatred manifesting, as it did, the dreadful degree to which the power of sin prevailed in the world. He could not have possessed that fulness of fresh and sensitive life which He everywhere revealed, without shuddering at the approach of a death of torture. But there is nothing sinful in the grief felt by love at unmerited hatred; nor in the wrestlings of a lofty soul with the sin of the world; nor in the natural recoil from death experienced by one whose life is healthy and energetic,—for this must not be confounded with a reflective shrinking from and resistance to death.182182 Hasert justly remarks, Studien and Kritiken, 1830, 1, p. 72, that the impulse of our physical nature to secure itself against destruction is a natural expression of our life, belonging essentially to its character, and therefore not necessarily involving sin. These are purely human conditions, and as such they were involved in the fact that the body and soul of Christ were of like nature with our own. They would have passed into sin, only if they had produced some alteration in feeling or will. And that such was not the case,—that, on the contrary, the spiritual nature of Jesus and His love to God rose victorious over the agitations of 142His feelings and the pains of His body,—is testified by the words, Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt. These words cast a light and a glory on all that preceded them,—they tell of the complete inward victory gained by the Lord Jesus,—and prove that, even in the midst of such mental agony as this, He maintained a spotless purity.
But the sufferings of Gethsemane were only a foretaste of those which in full reality and force preceded and accompanied His death on the cross. And on the cross His agony rose to such a point that He had a sense of being deserted by God,—to which feeling He gave utterance in the well-known words of the 22d Psalm, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Desertion by God must not, in this case, be conceived of strictly, as objective, actual withdrawal of God from the Person of Jesus, but only as a subjective feeling of desertion. Efforts have, however, been made to do away even with this, on the supposition of its being unworthy of the Lord. Jesus, it is said, though He certainly cried out only in the first words of this Psalm, yet had in His mind its whole contents, and especially its close, which, far from being of a desponding nature, expresses the utmost confidence in the future victory of God’s kingdom. To give matters this turn is, however, perfectly arbitrary, and, in opposition to the situation, transposes the whole from the sphere of direct spontaneous feeling to that of reflection.183183 Matt. xxvii. 46, and Meyer’s Commentary on this passage. We ought rather to take that which is historically recorded in all its significance and force, and at the same time to adhere to the rule of not treating a single saying as isolated and cut off from the connection in which it is found.
The frame of mind and exclamation in question are manifestly an intensified counterpart of the agony of Gethsemane. Jesus had in fact, for the moment, the feeling that He was deserted by God, when physical tortures burst in upon Him 143in all their fearfulness, in addition to the deepest sorrow of heart. But this feeling was only a momentary one with Him whose whole being was rooted in God, although, in the circumstances and at the time, it made its presence known with the involuntariness of a force of nature. In no sense did it continue, or exert any influence over His inner life. It immediately gave way before, and yielded its due place to, a sense of His true relation to God. As in the conflict of Gethsemane the full submission to the will of the Father soon triumphed over His natural reluctance to drink the cup, so here, that sense of Divine desertion which rose involuntarily in His mind was at once swallowed up in the higher feeling, expressed first of all in the words, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,184184 Luke xxiii. 16. and then in the crowning exclamation, It is finished.185185 John xix. 30. Nay, it is manifest that the higher feeling had already begun to work, from the words in which Jesus expressed the sense of desertion; for He did not exclaim simply, O God ! O God!! but, My God! my God! He thus appropriated the God by whom He felt Himself forsaken as His God, and clung firmly to His fellowship with Him, notwithstanding the sense of desertion. Moreover, this feeling was something in itself so thoroughly strange to Him, that He expressed it, not in the form of a positive assertion, but of a question: thus hinting at its incomprehensibleness,—one might almost say, at its impossibility.186186 Both, in fact, were implied in the passage from the Psalms, of which Jesus availed Himself yet if it had not fully expressed His actual feelings, He would either not have used it, or have altered it to suit His need. But even the passage in the Psalms itself does not express the feeling of desertion alone, nor speak of this as a permanent state of mind, as the whole context plainly shows. Even in the Psalmist’s mouth, the saying cannot be taken in an absolute sense, much less in that of the Lord Jesus.
The perfect purity of Jesus shone forth, therefore, even in such circumstances as these. At the same time, we see and 144feel throughout that He was a man, and, as such, mightily moved and keenly sensitive. Nor could it be otherwise. The whole delineation of the Gospels forbids our making of the character of Jesus an ideal of stoical apathy and imperturbability.187187 As among the Fathers, Clement of Alexandria was inclined to do, and therefore applied to Christ the expression, ἀνεπιθύμητος. For examples, see Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines, §§ 66 and 67. In respect of wants and woes, of the susceptibility of His mind to emotion, and the sensibility of His body to suffering, He was a perfect type of humanity. We cannot, however, for this reason consider Him as ranking below, but above, the wise man of the Stoics. It is precisely in this particular that the morality of the Stoics is untrue. Man’s highest moral task is not to realize the anti-human, but the purely human,—it does not consist in repressing his natural capacities, which, because natural, are ordained of God, but in employing them in, and glorifying them by, the service of the Divine Spirit and holy love. This is what we find in Jesus; and the most rigid moral judgment, so far from seeing therein anything sinful, must rather confess that it is this that brings Him so near to us, that shows Him to us as our Brother, and makes Him capable of being a real example to man. Nay, only on this condition could He also be a truly human Redeemer,—a High Priest who was Himself tempted and tried, who Himself in the days of His flesh offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, and is therefore touched with the feeling of our infirmities.188188 Heb. iv. 15, v. 7.
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