CHRIST THE VICTOR OVER TEMPTATIONS
FIX your mind on Christ in the Wilderness. The first Adam was cast out of Paradise. The second Adam came to identify Himself in His outcast position. Consequently as the first Adam was born in a garden, the second was born in an outcast stable cave. The first underwent His trial in the Garden, the second had His first in the Wilderness. The first Adam was tempted when full of bodily strength, the second when reduced to weakness after forty days' fast. Each was assaulted by the temptations of the Evil One. To our Lord, He came probably disguised as an Angel of Light, or as a Prophet. He began sympathizing with Him, bidding Him in virtue of His Messianic powers turn the stones into bread. A life and mission so valuable as His must not perish. Act on the inherent powers He must possess, and work this miracle. But our Lord had been led into the Wilderness by the Holy Spirit Whom He was to trust. It was not by earthly food alone the body was to be sustained. Man lives by the Word of God. Placed on the pinnacle of the Temple, Satan then bids our Lord descend. If God can sustain Him without food, He can sustain Him as He descends to the people. Let Him act in fulfillment of Daniel's great prophecy. Let Him come down before the worshipping multitudes, and He will receive their homage and be welcomed as from on high. But as it was not ordained that He was so to come, it would be tempting God to act in this manner. When Satan is thus rebuked, as beaten and surrendering, he proposes to give up his Kingdom to Christ. "Why," he says in effect, "take the way of the Cross; gain your object by receiving the kingdom of the world from me. By that act acknowledge my power and right, and then I will resign it to you." Thus Satan disclosed himself. And our Lord said, "Get thee hence, Satan, for it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." Thus in His weakness, our Lord conquered Satan, and Angels came and ministered unto Him.
In considering our Lord's temptation, we are met with a theological difficulty. How is it possible that He Who was Almighty God should be subject to a real temptation? And if not capable of being tempted, how can He be an Example to us? Now the teaching of Holy Scripture and the Prayer Book is clear. We read in Hebrews that Christ "was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." In our Litany we pray for deliverance, by Christ's baptism, fasting, and temptation. His temptation thus must have been a real one, and part of His great redemptive action. But how could it be that, while absolutely sinless, He should feel the strain involved in rejecting a temptation without which a real temptation could not be said to exist? There are two ways in which this was possible.
I. Christ, in redeeming mankind, was to be true to the way ordained. He did not come like some earthly Reformer, having a plan of His own for the benefit of mankind. Nor did He come groping His way to it, as it opened before Him. The great scheme of man's redemption and deliverance was laid down for Him. It came out of the depths of the Godhead. It was revealed by the old law, in the Holy Scripture by the Prophets. Every feast day, every sacrifice, the daily offering, the Day of Atonement bespoke Himself. All the details of His Passion were set forth, from His coming into Jerusalem till "It is finished." He said, He shall come "binding the foal unto the Vine, and His ass's colt unto the choice vine; He washed His garments in wine, and His clothes in the blood of grapes."
"Rejoice," says Zachariah, "behold thy King cometh unto thee. He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." He shall be plotted against and sought to be entangled in His talk, as it is written. "Without cause have they hid from me their net in a pit which they have digged for my soul." He should be compassed about with words of hatred. He should be betrayed for money. "They weighed for my price twenty pieces of silver." His garments were to be made bloody by their flagellation. "Thy garments were like Him that treadeth the wine-fat." He was forsaken by the disciples. "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." He will be unjustly condemned. "False witnesses did rise up: they laid to my charge things I knew not." He should be silent before His accusers. "Oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth." He is grossly insulted. "I hid not my face from shame and spitting." Judas' money was to buy a potter's field. "Cast it unto the potter, a goodly price that I was priced at of them." He is brought before Herod and Pilate.
"The kings of the earth stood up, the rulers took counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed." Most terribly was He scourged. "I gave my back to the smiters, they ploughed upon my back and made long furrows." He is despised and rejected of men. "Not this man, but Barabbas." He was delivered up by Pilate. " He was taken from prison and from judgment. He was cut off from the land of the living." He refuses the stupefying potion. "They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink." At his emaciated figure they were astonished. "They stand gazing upon me." "Busy mockers gnashed upon me with their teeth." They drove the sharp nails into His Blessed Body. "They pierced my hands and my feet." "I may tell all my bones, they stand staring and looking upon me." He was taunted and bidden to come down from the Cross. "He trusted in God that He would deliver Him. Let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him." He redeemed mankind. "He poured out His soul unto death, and His soul was an offering for sin." He was crucified between two thieves. He was numbered among the transgressors. The sun is darkened. Just as a star appeared at His birth, so the sun veiled its face at His death. "It shall come to pass in those days, saith the Lord, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, I will darken the earth in the clear day." (Amos.) He shall be afflicted with agonizing thirst. "I am weary with crying, my throat is dry, my sight faileth me for waiting so long upon God." "When I thirsted they gave me vinegar to drink." The soldier shall break the legs of the thieves, but "not a bone of Him shall be broken." He will finish His work. "His soul shall be made an offering for sin." These prophecies our Lord obeyed. "It is therefore," He would often say, "that the Scriptures might be fulfilled."
From childhood up, He had ever before Him the Father's will and the Father's business. His Rule was, "Lo I come to do Thy Will." This involved a perpetual trial. We see it brought out in the garden of Gethsemane. Then as the Representative Penitent of the human race, he accepts the awful penalty due to sin. No thought of ours can reach the terrors of that agony. How it tried His human nature to its very depths. "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless," as Victor over the temptation, He says, "Not my will but Thine be done." Another source of temptation lay in His duty to be true to the human nature He had assumed. He came as the Second Adam, identifying Himself with us as outside of Paradise to fight over again our lost battle, and bring man back through the guarded gates to the presence of and Communion with God and to His final elevation in Glory.
God had made man. Man had failed to render the obedience due and to attain to Eternal Life. He was consequently shut out of Paradise. God then makes the race over.
Christ identifies Himself with man as so cast out. He is born in a stable. He formally receives baptism, which was for repentance, from the hands of John the Baptist. In the weakened condition of His Body after His long fast, He meets Satan in the wilderness. Why did He not respond to Satan's suggestion to turn the stones into bread? Why not? Because He was, as man, to fight out man's lost battle. He might work miracles providing food for the famishing multitudes, but He must not use His Divine power to sustain His own human nature. God had created man an intelligent being endowed with free will, who by choice should be perfectly obedient to Him. Christ fulfilled the Divine design. In Him the created purpose found its accomplishment.
O Loving wisdom of our God
When all was sin and shame
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! that flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.
II. His being true to His human nature presented a continued temptation. As a babe, He must be true to the law of infancy. No danger threatening His dear Mother must lead Him to break His silence. Coming not in Kingly state, or endowed with wealth, He must labour for His and her support.
For thirty years, He must remain in obscurity, perhaps exposed to the tongues of His fellow townsmen. He must leave at the appointed time His Blessed Mother and go out on His great Mission. He had no place to lay His Head. He suffered from fatigue and hunger--became an outcast on the earth. It was a great trial to His human affections. He was obliged to leave His Blessed Mother to the Providence of Almighty God. His loving Human Heart was tried by the opposition He met from the men He came to save. They misrepresented His words. They accused Him of breaking the Mosaic law. He was a Sabbath breaker, a gluttonous man, a winebibber, friend of publicans and sinners. They sought to entangle Him in His talk, and plotted the destruction of His Life. He loved Jerusalem, and when He thought of its ingratitude and blindness of heart, He wept over it. God ordained a trial also for His Soul. If anything He might lawfully desire to know, it would be when the end and final triumphant day would come. He might have known at any time by looking into His Divine Nature with which He was hypostatically united. But concerning that day, He was to restrain His natural curiosity. "Of that day and that hour," He said, "knoweth no man, not even the Son of man." Not less a trial was His solitariness. No one could enter into His Life to sympathize with Him. In one sense He was companionless. Also before Him was the knowledge of His Cross, and His human nature suffered all the agonies of a long apprehension. His moral nature was also to be severely tried. He knew who He was and what was due to Him as God. He might lay aside His glory, but could not lay aside His Divinity and the honour due to it. When He was mocked, struck, spitted on, blind-folded, hustled about the room, taunted, lied against, He felt it all and felt it acutely. Righteous indignation is only a manifestation of the Justice of God. But He suppressed this rightful and natural feeling, and in His meekness "as a Lamb before her shearers, is dumb." Moreover His spiritual nature undergoes a terrible and awful trial. From the moment of His birth, His human nature had enjoyed, by union with His divine nature, the Beatific Vision. What was it that took place in those darkened moments when in bitterest desolation He cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
To dwell for a little upon the severity of His scourging. The whole band of the soldiers gathered to inflict this terrible punishment. They had been baffled, indeed overcome, by our Lord's words at the time of the arrest. At the declaration of Himself, "I am He," they had gone back and fallen on the ground. Doubtless they attributed it to magic, but now He was in their power. Now they would make Him feel, now make Him cry out as, conquered, for mercy. So they stripped His Blessed Body and bound Him to the pillars. They took the cords, armed with points, to do their cruel work. Strong and vindictive, they lashed His Blessed Body.
How terrible was the pain! They continued, determined to make Him cry out for mercy, until that Blessed Body was covered with a winding sheet of blood. He endured, conquering the pain by a marvellous calmness. The soldiers' arms fell weary at their sides. He had uttered no cry. He was the Conqueror over pain and its trial. It is a terrible temptation and a wonderful victory.
So when we approach the thought of His Crucifixion, what a spectacle! There He hangs, nailed, with pierced hands and feet. His Body is racked in every part. There is no whole part in it. Body, head, eyes, mouth, face, shoulders, arms, hands, feet,--pierced and strained, every nerve a source of pain, every moment a new agony. It goes on hour after hour, and there He hangs. His Virgin-Born Body, excessively sensitive, suffering untold agonies. Think sometimes of any pain we have endured and multiply it one hundred fold.
But within were His greatest agonies. We cannot measure that mental suffering. Evil seems to have triumphed. Man has turned against His God. He came to save them, and they put Him to death. It is the terrible attempted sin of Deicide, and not men only, but evil, has assaulted Him. Invisible legions of evil spirits hover around, and perhaps help to create the darkness. "Why suffer," they say, "for a world that hath despised Thee?" "What has come of all thy teaching and compassionate miracles?" Hear their vile taunts, reproaches and blasphemies. "Thou art in the grasp of the kingdom of darkness, and Thy work will fail." Hear His answer. "I lay down my life for them." The evil spirit continues his tauntings. "Yes! but they will reject and despise Thee." But the answer. "God commendeth His love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." From the Divine Heart is the answer. "He loved the Church, and gave Himself for it."
We must try, however imperfectly it may be, to realize the awful pains of Body and Soul that affected our Lord and then to remember that He, if He called upon His Divine power, could at any moment have dismissed the pain. Bring it home to your own case. Have you ever been in suffering? Have you ever had to endure any pain? Suppose you had the power, by a single wish, to deliver yourself from it, would you have done so? All our Lord had to do was to wish for relief, and He might have hung on the Cross free from pain. Herein was the great temptation, the temptation that had beset Him all through life. He must not call upon His Divine power to help Him out in the struggle, to deprive Him of bodily and mental pain. What was it that enabled Him to endure it? It was Love, Love, Love. Love triumphing over pain, anguish, suffering, neglect. Had our Lord given way at any time during His Life or one moment yielded to temptation when suffering His terrible agonizing, excruciating death, the work of redemption would have been undone. Christ would have failed in absolute continued obedience. We should have been lost eternally. O, as you kneel before Him, say in your heart, "He died for me, He loved me and gave Himself for me." Well may we sing, when we reflect on His countless victories over temptations, "Crown Him with many crowns!"
The Virtues exercised and developed in Christ through His temptations He transmits to us. Do we wish to be like Him? We are not merely to follow His Example, as a copyist endeavours to reproduce some great original painting. Christ communicates His own life and His virtues to us. Go then to the Blessed Sacrament, and ask that the virtue manifested at any time in our Lord's Soul may pass into you. Make a Litany in this form: "Meekness of Christ, make me meek. Patience of Christ, make me patient. Fortitude of Christ, make me enduring. Unselfishness of Christ, make me unselfish. Prayerfulness of Christ, make me prayerful. Compassion of Christ, make me compassionate. Love of Christ, make me all-loving." Thus shall we become extensions of the Lord's own life. So will the whole Church, finally, as the Bride of Christ, be like her Lord.