Our Saviour Christ by His nativity took upon Him the shape of man; by His circumcision 'He took upon Him' and submitted Himself to the degree of 'a servant.' By the first He made Himself in case, and able to perform the work of our redemption; by the second He entered bound for performing of it. All was to this end, that He might restore the work of God to his original perfection. In the bringing of which to pass it was decreed by God in the beginning as a thing necessary, that the head of the serpent, by whose means it was violated and defaced, should be bruised. And 'for this cause' saith St. John, 'appeared the Son of God that He might loose the works of the devil,' whereof this was the first. For in Genesis, the third chapter, we read that his first work after his fall was enviously to tempt our first parents, and thereby to overthrow all mankind. And here, [479/480] straight after our Saviour was baptized, he with like envy setteth on Him. Christ therefore first beginneth with overcoming of that; and for that purpose He is here led forth to be tempted, that so being tempted He might overcome.
Our Saviour makes this question upon their going out to see John Baptist; 'What went ye out to see?' As if He should have said, They would never have gone out into the wilderness, except it had been to see some great and worthy matter: and behold a greater and worthier matter here. If there by anything in the wilderness worthy the going out to behold, this is matter much worthy of it. Or if there be any matter worthy the hearing, it is worthy our attention to hear, not 'Michael the Archangel disputing about the body of Moses with the devil,' but our own matter argued by two such cunning adversaries; to see the combat betwixt our grand enemy, 'who goeth about like a roaring lion seeking to devour us,' and our Archduke--for so He is called in Hebrews the twelfth chapter, and second verse; to see our 'King of old,' the pawn of our inheritance, and our prince of new, or prince by usurpation, 'the prince of this world' enter the lists together; to see the wisdom of the New Serpent match the craftiness and subtlety of 'the old serpent;' to see 'the Lion of the tribe of Judah' combating with the 'roaring lion.' If any thing be worthy the sight, it is this.
Though there should come no profit to us by the victory, yet were it worth the sight in this respect, only to behold how these champions behave themselves; that so we may be warned beforehand by seeing the strength of our adversary, and that also seeing the manner of his fight and of our Saviour's defence we may be instructed how to arm ourselves, and how to ward accordingly. For let us be surer that since the devil spared not to tempt our Saviour's, he will be much more bold with us; if he have done this to the 'green tree,' what will become of 'the dry?' If he have sought our overthrow in Christ, how much more will he do it in ourselves? If our days here be but as 'the days of an hireling,' and our whole life be but as a continual warfare, then is it behoveful for us to have some intelligence of our enemy's forces and drifts. It is said his 'darts' are 'fiery.' Here we may see the manner of his casting them, that so Satan should not circumvent us. [480/481] Let us mark how our Saviour wardeth and defendeth Himself, that so we may be 'armed with the same mind.' Let us therefore go out into the wilderness to see it.
'Then Jesus.' This is the description of the entry into the temptation, and it containeth as a weighty history many circumstances importing great matters, which may be reduced to seven branches or heads. First, the two champions; first Christ; and secondly, Satan; thirdly, the leader of Jesus into the lists, who is said to be the Holy Ghost; fourthly, the end, which was the conflict itself, that is, 'to be tempted;' fifthly, the day of battle, expressed under the word 'then;' sixthly, the lists themselves, that is, 'the wilderness;' seventhly, Christ's preparation to it, that is, His fasting.
1. First, for the party defendant Christ, Who as God 'giveth food' to every living creature, and as God and man with five loaves and two fishes fed 'five thousand men besides women and children.' He that is said to be the very meat itself, whereby we live eternally, is here said to be hungry. He before Whom 'thousand thousands' are said to 'minister,' and ten thousand thousands are said to stand before Him, hath here for His companions 'the wild beasts'--for so saith Mark, chapter the first, verse the thirteenth. He to 'Whom the Angels minister' is here assailed with devils, which offer unto Him matter of great indignity; and the indignity which He suffered leads us to the consideration of the grievousness of our sins and of the greatness of His love, both which are measured by the greatness of those things He suffered for us; as that He was cast out from among the company of Angels -for so Mark, chapter the first, verse the twelfth, hath it--into the desert, to be a companion of beasts, and so led forth to be tempted; where He suffered in His body hunger, in His soul temptation: what is it else but a proclaiming of His great love towards us? As if He should exulting say, What is it that shall separate Me from the love of men? Shall temptation? shall solitariness? shall hunger? shall wearisome labour, and travail? shall watching? shall anguish of mind, and bloody sweat? shall mocks? shall whips? shall nails? sharp spears? shall principalities? That we also might use the same challenge with Paul doth in the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans, the thirty-fifth verse [481/482] 'What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? shall anguish or persecution?' These two profitable points grow out of the consideration of the person of the defendant.
11. Secondly, the party assailant is the devil, who is called by reason of his foul mouth in defaming; for so doth the diabolus import, whereby we have occasion to detest the sin of infamy; and it sheweth what name they deserve, and how to be esteemed of, in whom that quality is found. St. Paul foretold that in the latter day there should be men devils, foul-mouthed men, evil speakers; and in the first Epistle to Timothy, the third chapter and eleventh verse, he speaketh of women-devils, because of their calumnious speeches. In the tongue wherein Christ spake these words, namely the Syriac, the fittest word that He could find to signify the devil's name is a word that He could find to signifies divulgator; so that 'a publisher of infamous reports' is a good Syriac for 'the devil;' as when a man lightly conceives a reproach, either forging it himself by misconstruction, or credulously receiving it upon the report of others, and then is not sorry for his brother's ill, but rather insulteth, not considering that he himself may fall into the like temptations; and so becomes 'puffed up,' and at last falls a blazing his brother's imperfections. These come right to the devil's quality, they take upon them the abetting of the devil's quarrel.
It is the devil's occupation to defame us first with God, as he did Job, as if he had been a hypocrite and had served God only for gain; and so stands he continually accusing us. And he also defameth God with us, as if He were a God That did envy our good; and so he here defameth God to Christ, as if He were careless in providing for Him, in suffering Him to be hungry. And from these two defamations proceeds all evil whatsoever, as well that which the divines call malum poenæ (as Job the first chapter and eleventh verse, accusing Job that he would curse God, if He handled him roughly, and so got power over his gods) as that which they call malum culpæ. For his defaming God with us was the cause of all sin; and every where still we see he laboureth to persuade us that God is an unkind God, that so we may burst forth into those terms, This good did I get at God's hands, to wit, hunger. To this doth he tempt Christ. And as to [482/483] desperation, so sometimes to the contrary, presumption; as verse the sixth, 'Cast thyself down' & by bringing us to have a baser conceit of God, defaming Him as if he were a God of clouts, not to be reckoned of; as if He were a man to wait upon us, and to take us up as oft as we list to throw ourselves down, that we may say in our hearts as they that were frozen in their dregs did, 'He neither doth good nor hurt,' it is all one to serve Him and not to serve Him. He tells us that he will 'give' us all this if we will 'fall down and worship him,' as though he were very liberal in rewards, and as though God were unkind or ungrateful, not once regarding us for all our service, but suffers us even to starve. Which brought men to that pass as to say that 'It is but in vain to serve God, what gain is in His service?' If he cannot prevail this way against us, then he will try another way; for when, seeing that this temptation succeed not, the devil left Christ, he departerd not for altogether, but went to come again--as apeareth in Luke the fourth chapter and thirteenth verse 'he departed for a time.' Christ was too cunning for him in disputing: he meant therefore to take another course; for as James noteth, there be two sorts of temptations, one by enticement as a serpent, another by violence as a lion, if he cannot prevail as a serpent, he will play the lion. He had also another hour at Christ in the garden, 'the hour of darkness:' there he bruised His heel.
111. Thirdly, we are to consider the leader: 'He was led by the Spirit.' In which we are to note five things; not making any question but that it was the good Spirit, for so it appeareth in Luke the fourth chapter and first verse.
First, that the state of a man regnerate by baptism is not standing still. 'He found other standing idle in the market place, and He said to them, Why stand ye idle all day?' We must not only have a mortifying and reviving but 'a quickening' and stirring 'spirit' which will move us and cause us to proceed; we must not lie still like lumps of flesh, laying all upon Christ's shoulders. We must 'walk' forwards, for 'the kingdom of God' consists 'not in word but in power.'
Secondly, as there must be a stirring, so this stirring must not be such as when a man is left to his own voluntary [483/484] or natural motion: we must go according as we are lead. For having given ourselves to God, we are no longer to be at our own disposition or direction; whereas before our calling we were 'Gentiles' and were carried into errors, we wandered up and down as masterless or careless, or else gave heed to 'the doctrines of devils' or else 'led with divers lusts;' but now being become the children of God we must be led 'by the Spirit of God, for so many as be the sons of God,' are led thereby, We must not be led by the spirit whence the revelation came, the sixteenth chapter of Matthew and twenty-second verse, from whence revelations of flesh and blood do arise; but by the Spirit from whence the voice came, 'This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.' It came not by the Spirit That ministered wise counsel, but by that which came down upon them.
Thirdly, the manner of leading is described to be such a kind of leading as when a ship is loosed from the shore, as Luke the eighth chapter and twenty second verse; it is called launching forth: so in the eighteenth chapter of Acts, the twenty-first verse, Paul is said to have sailed forth.
The Holy Ghost driving us is compared to a gale of 'wind,' which teacheth us that as when the wind bloweth we must be ready to hoist up sail, so must we make us ready to be led by the Spirit. Our hope is compared to an 'anchor' which must be haled up to us; and our faith to the sail, we are to bear as great a sail as we can. We must also look to the closeness of the vessel, which is our conscience; for it we have not a good conscience, we may make 'shipwreck' of faith, religion, and all. And thus we are to proceed in our journey towards our country, the spiritual Jerusalem, as it were seafaring men. 'Now behold, I go bound in spirit to Jerusalem;' to which journey 'the love of Christ' must 'constrain' us.
Fourthly, that He was 'led to be tempted' His temptation therefore came not by chance, nor as Job speaketh, 'out of the dust,' or out of the earth, nor from the devil, [for he had no power without leave], not only over Job's person, but not so much as over his goods. He had no power of himself, no not so much as over the hogs of the Girgashites, who were profane men. Hence gather we this comfort, that the Holy Ghost is not a stander by, [484/485] as a stranger, when we are tempted, tanquam otiosus spectator, but He leads us by the hand, and stands by as a faithful assistant. He makes an issue out of all temptations, and 'will not suffer us to be tempted beyond our strength.' And he turneth the work of sin and of the devil too under our 'good,' so that all these shall make us more wary after to resist them: and hell, by fearing it, shall be an occasion unto us to avoid that might bring us to it; and so they shall all be fellow-helpers to our salvation. So that temptations, whether they be, as the Father call them, rods to chasten us for sin committed, or to try and sift us, and so take away the chaff, the 'fan,' being in the Holy Ghost's hand; or whether they be sent 'to buffet' us again against 'the prick of the flesh;' or whether they be as matters serving for our experience, not only for ourselves that we may know our own strength and 'to work patience' in us, but to the devil also that so his mouth may be stopped, as in Job the second chapter and third verse: 'Hast thou marked My servant Job, how upright he is, and that in all the world there is not such an one?' howsoever they be, the devil hath not the rod or chain in his hands, but the Holy Ghost, to order them as they may best serve for His glory and our good; and as for the devil, He bindeth him fast.
Fifthly, by the Greek word here used is set forth the difference between the temptations of the saints and reprobates. In the Lord's Prayer one petition is 'Lead us not into temptation,' but there the word importeth another manner of leading than is here meant. We do not there pray against this manner of leading here, which is so to lead us as to be with us and to bring us back again; but we pray there that He would not cast or drive us by withdrawing His grace and Holy Spirit as He doth from the reprobate and forsaken.
IV. The fourth point is the end, that is, the conflict, as it concerneth Christ, insomuch that He was `led to be tempted.' In which temptation Augustine saith Habemus et quod credentes veneremur, et quod videntes imitemur, 'There be two things for faith to adore, and two things for imitation to practise.'
[485/486] First for faith, that the temptations of Christ have sanctified temptations unto us; that whereas before they were curses like unto hanging on a tree, now since Christ hath been both tempted and hanged on a tree, they be no longer signs and pledges of God's wrath but favours. A man may be the child of God notwithstanding, and therefore he is not to receive any discouragement by any of them.
Secondly, besides the sanctifying, it is an abatement, so that now when we are tempted they have not the force they had before; for now the serpent's head is bruised, so that he is now nothing so strong as he was to cast his darts. Also the head of his darts are blunted. 'Death where is thy sting? Hell, where is thy victory?' For as His death and resurrection had a mortifying force against the 'old man' and a quickening force towards the 'new man,' so hath His temptation a dulling force to the devil, and a strengthening force to us.
For our life and imitation there are also two.
First, compassion, for Christ knowing in what sort we were tempted, as having felt by experience both how strong the 'asssailant was who thrust sore at Him that He might fall,' and how feeble our nature is to make resistance, being nothing but 'dust,' He is moved thereby to lay away severity, and to put on the bowels of compassion. So that now, 'we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with our infirmities, but was tempted in like sort.' So we, which were before stony judges, and too rough for physicians, ought in like sort, having been tempted ourselves, to look upon others' defects with a more passionate regard.
The second thing we are to imitate, Christ is our fellow-helper in all our necessities and temptations; Who as He sheweth us his sleights and darts, so He teacheth us how to avoid them. This is no small comfort to us, when we consider that He is with us, and will be, 'till the end of the world,' Who hath 'overcome the world' and the devil; if any temptation happen, that He will bear us out, we may be of good cheer. This was it that did so animate Job: Do Thou but take my part, and who shall touch me? When as [486/487] both Christ and we draw together in one 'yoke,' what can hurt us? Yet if we afraid for that we see the enemy coming, let us call for the help of our assistant, and as it is said in Psalm the sixty-eighth, verse the first, we shall see 'God will arise and His enemies shall be scattered; they shall vanish like smoke,' and melt like 'wax.' When they are ready to attack us, let us say, 'Save me, O God, for the waters are entered even into my soul.' When we are feeble, then let us say with Hezekiah, 'O Lord, it hath oppressed me, comfort me.' Or though they have wounded us, let us say with David, 'Bring out Thy spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me; say yet to my soul, I am thy salvation.' So that we have not only an example but a comfort too.
V. The fifth point is the day and time when this was done, in which we are to note two things. The word 'then' relateth as well to the end of the chapter next going before, as to the present instant.
First then, when as Christ was but newly come out of the water of baptism, and immediately after the heavens had opened unto Him, and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in the likeness of a dove, and while He was yet full of the Holy Ghost, did the devil set upon Him. When as the voice from heaven had pronounced, 'This is My beloved Son in Whom I a well pleased,' the devil straight addeth, In Whom I am ill pleased; and so addresseth himself against Him. And it is God's property to look for much at his hands, to whom He hath given much. When He gives a man a large measure of grace, He gives the devil withal a large patent. Our Saviour had great gifts, and the devil is like a thief, that will venture most for the greatest booty.
Secondly, in regard of the present, we are to note than in thirty years the devil did nothing to our Saviour; but now, when He goes about to 'gird' himself with our salvation (according to Psalm the forty-fifth, verse the third) then doth the devil gird on his sword also; that is as much to say as, the better the work is the more resistance it shall have. Ten repulses did the Israelites suffer, before they could get possession of the promised land of Canaan; and as many did David ensure, before he was invested in the promised kingdom. Many lets came before the temple was re-edified, as [487/488] is to be seen in Ezra and Nehemiah. Yea, saith the devil, hath God 'anointed him with the oil of gladness above His fellows?' I will see if I can anoint him with the oil of sadness above His fellows. Hath He been baptized of water and the Holy Ghost? I will provide another baptism for Him, namely of fire. Hath God sent down the Holy Ghost upon Him in likeness of a dove? I will cause tribulation, and a crown of thorns to light upon his head. Hath a voice come down from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son?' I will provide a voice for Him that shall ascend from the foot, that shall say, 'If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.'
VI. The sixth is the place, the lists, to wit, the wilderness, that so He might be alone, and that there might be no fellow-worker with Him in the matter of our salvation, that He alone might have the treading of the 'wine-press.' So in the transfiguration in the Mount He 'was found alone,' so in the garden in His great agony He was in effect alone, for His disciples slept all the while, that unto Him might be ascribed all the praise.
Secondly, we will note here, that there is no place privileged from temptations. As there be some that think there be certain places to be exempt from God's presence--as was noted in the dream of Jacob--so the monks and hermits thought that by avoiding company they should be free from temptations: which is not so. For although Christ were alone in the wilderness and fasting too, yet was He tempted we see. And yet it is true, that he will live well must shun the company of the wicked.
When the Angels had brought Lot and his family out of the doors, they charged them not to tarry, nor to stand still, nor once to look back. So after the cock had crowed, and put Peter in mind of his fall, he went out of the doors and 'wept bitterly;' his solitariness was a cause to make his repentance the more earnest, and helped to increase his tears: and company is commonly a hindrance to the receiving of any good grace, and to the exercising and comfirming us in any good purpose. But as true it is that temptations are, and may as well be, in the deserts as in public places: not only in the valleys [488/489] but in the mountains; and not only in the country but even in 'the holy city,' yea, and sometimes full, and sometimes fasting; yea, in paradise, and in heaven itself, for thither doth the devil come and accuse us before God. We are therefore always to stand upon our guard; for in Luke the eleventh chapter, verse the twenty-fourth, he is said to 'walk through dry places,' lest happily some might be escaped from him thither; and though we could go whither he could not come, we should not be free, for we carry ever a tempter about with us. And when we pray to be delivered from temptation, it is not only from the devil but from ourselves; we carry fire within us. Nazianzen and Basil were of that mind once, that by change of the place a man might go from temptations; but afterwards they recanted it, affirming that it was impossible to avoid temptation, yea though he went out of the world, except he left his heart behind him also.