Now we come to the seventh and last circumstance. It may seem strange that being about to present Himself to the world as Prince, Priest and Prophet, that He would make His progress into the wilderness, and begin with a fast; for this was clean contrary to the course and fashion of the world, which useth when any great matter is in hand to make a preface or præludium with some great solemnity. As when Solomon came first to his crown he went to the chief city and gathered a solemn convent, so Christ should rather first have gone to Jerusalem the holy city, and there should have been some solemn banquet. But Christ from His baptism began His calling, and fasted forty days and forty nights. This His fast by late writers is called the entrance into His conflict.
[490/491] The manner of the Church hath always been, that at the first institution or undertaking of any great and weighty matter there hath been extraordinary fasting. So Moses when he entered into his calling at the receiving of the Law, fasted forty days. So Elias, at the restoring of the same Law, did the like. And so when they went about the re-edifying of the Temple, as appeareth from Ezra, the eighth chapter the twenty-first verse. So in the New Testament at the separation of Paul and Barnabas. And, as Jerome reporteth, St. John would not undertake to write the divine work of his Gospel, until the whole Church by fasting had recommended the same unto God.
So likewise, at the entrance into a conflict, for the obtaining of some victory, as Jehoshaphat did when he overcame the Amorites. So did Esther when she went about the deliverance of the Jews; as in Esther, the fourth chapter and sixteenth verse. And Eusebius reporteth that when Peter was to enter disputation with Simon Magnus, there was fasting throughout the whole church generally.
Whether at the entrance into a calling, or to resist the devil, St. Peter's rule, mentioned in this first Epistle and fifth chapter, ought to take place, we must use prayer and fasting.
And as at all times we are to use watchfulness and carefulness, so then especially, when we look that that the devil will be most busy; and the rather, for that in some cases there is no dealing without fasting, as Mark, the ninth chapter and twenty-ninth verse, there is a kind of devil that will not be cast out without 'prayer and fasting.'
As for the number of days wherein he fasted, just forty, curiosity may find itself work enough; but it is dangerous to make conclusions when no certainty appeareth.
Some say there is a correspondency between these forty days and the forty days wherein the world was destroyed by the deluge. But it is better to say, as Moses fasted forty days at the institution of the law, and Elias forty at the restoration, so Christ here. And because He came but in the shape of a servant, He would not take upon Him above His fellow servants. Contrary to our times, wherein a man is accounted nobody except he can have a quirk above his fellows. But it [491/492] is more material to see how it concerneth us. It is a thing rather to be adored by admiration, than to be followed by apish imitation.
This fast here was not the fast of a day, as that of Peter and of Cornelius, but such as Luke the fourth chapter and second verse describeth, 'He did eat nothing all that time,' St. John the Baptist, though his life were very strict, 'did eat locusts and wild honey.' Ours is not properly a fast, but a provocation of meats, and therefore there can be no proportion between them. But as it is, what is to be thought of it?
Socrates and Irenæus record that at the first the Church did use to celebrate but one day in remembrance of Christ's fast, till after, the Montanists--a certain sect of heretics, who thereupon are called Encratitæ--raised it to fourteen days. The zeal of the clergy after increased it to forty, after to fifty; the monks brought it to sixty, the friars to seventy; and if the Pope had not there stayed it, they would have brought it to eighty, and so have doubled Christ's fasting.
When the Primitive Church saw the heretics by this outward show go about to disgrace the Christians by this counterfeit show of holiness, they used it also; but, saith Augustine and Chrysostom, they held it only a positive law, which was in the Church to use or take away, and not as any exercise of godliness.
Only a doubt resteth now, because of the hardness of men's hearts, whether it were better left or kept. Some would have abstinence used, and one day kept for the sabbath, but left to every man's liberty what time and day, and tied to no certainty; but that were, upon the matter, to have none kept at all.
Notwithstanding, the reformed Churches, as that of France, have used their liberty in removing of it, for that they saw an inclination in their people to superstition, who would think themselves holier for such fasting, like the Pharisees. The Church wherein we live useth her liberty in retaining it, and that upon good reasons: for since God hath created the fishes of the sea for man, and giveth him an interest in them also as well as in the beasts; since the death of fish was a plague wherewith God plagued Pharaoh, and so contrawise the increase of fish is a blessing; God will have fish to be [492/493] used, so that He may have praises as well for the sea as for the land.
If we look into the civil reason, we shall see great cause to observe it. See, Numbers the eleventh chapter and twentieth verse, the abundance of flesh that was consumed in one month. The maintenance of store then is of great importance, and therefore order must be taken accordingly. Jerusalem had fish-days, that Tyrus and such like living upon navigation might have utterance for their commodities; for Tyrus was their maritime city, till after Alexander annexed it to another city, and made it dry.
The tribe of Zabulon lived by navigation, which is a thing necessary both for wealth (and made Solomon richer than any other king) and also for munition; that tribe therefore had need of maintenance. And therefore our Church and commonwealth have taken order accordingly, and the rather for that our times require it, for the times that forbade marriage and the abstinence of meats (are past; we rather live in the age of self-love, in intemperance, and filthy pleasure.) There is more fear of a pottingerful of gluttony, than of a spoonful of superstition. This no fast, but a change of meat.
'Then came to Him the tempter' etc. Before we come to the particular temptations, we have four general points to be considered. First, the changing of the devil's name from 'devil' to 'tempter;' secondly, that it is said he 'came unto Him,' thirdly, that he came when He was fasting; fourthly, the diversity and order of the temptations.
I. First, in James the first chapter and thirteenth verse, it is said that 'God tempteth no man;' and yet in Deuteronomy the thirteenth chapter and third verse, it appeareth that 'God doth tempt some:' we must then make a difference between Gods temptations and the devil's. The devil indeed tempteth us, but God, as our English translation hath it, trieth us. The latter is to commend us, or rather that our tribulation may bring forth 'patience,' and patience hope. It makes us know that to be in ourselves which before we knew not, as we see in Job. So the [493/494] Lord proved the Israelites, to see if they loved Him or no. The devil's temptation is to know our corruption; for knowing the innocency of Adam, he went about to corrupt him. It is like the Israelites' proving of manna, to try conclusions. God's is like the trial of 'gold,' which the oftener it is tried the purer it waxeth; the devil's like that of manna, which stinketh and corrupteth by trial. God's is like the trial of the 'fan;' the devil's like that of the sieve, which lets go the flour and keeps the bran.
II. Secondly, the devil hath two shapes: in the one he tempteth and allureth, and in that he came down to our Saviour; in the other he assaileth us, that is, by assault and violence. The first is the temptation of hypocrites: 'shall we pay tribute to Caesar?' The second of Judas, who in the garden assaulted our Saviour. So Satan sets on Christ by violence. He came unto Christ by casting sparks of fire into Him, for He was devoid of any wicked and vain thoughts coming forth of Him.
Two ways may a man be tempted; either by doubts arising in our hearts out of us, or by a 'sop' entering into us. Christ could not be tempted the first way, for He was devoid of any wicked and vain thought coming forth of Him. To us the devil needs bring but a pair of bellows, for he shall find fire within us; but to Christ he was fain to bring fire too.
III. Thirdly, he then came to Him where He was fasting, which discovereth the devil's desperate boldness, as also his craftiness, in that he waited his time, to stay till He was hungry. Notwithstanding Christ was new come from His baptism, and was full of the Holy Ghost and even now in His exercise of mortification, yet had the devil courage to set upon Him. There is no place so holy, nor exercise so good, as can repress his courage, or give a stay to the boldness of his attempts; as we see Mark the fourth chapter, and fifteenth verse. Then word is no sooner sown but Satan comes immediately and takes it out of their hearts: which must needs be done in the church. For the word is out before they be out of the church; so that he is not afraid of hearing the word, but can abide it well enough, yea, better than many. And though they carry the word out of the [494/495] church he will wait on them home, and 'choke the word' with cares and riches and voluptuous living, like the seed that fell among thorns.
And no more doth he care for the exercise of prayer; for even then, immediately after the repetition of forgiveness, when we have made even with all the world, when God hath forgiven us, and we others, then doth the devil give us occasion to say, 'Lead us not into temptation,' as standing by there ready to tempt us.
And as little cares he for the Sacraments; for presently after they had received the Sacrament and sung the hymn, Christ tells them they shall 'all be offended in him that night.' Thus we see his courage serves him at all times, nothing is able to quail it.
As this ought not to discourage the children of God, having so faithful as Assistant to take their part; so it giveth them this caveat, that they be at no time secure, but always to keep a sure guard. St. Bernard in the midst of a sermon was solicited to vain glory because he thought he pleased his auditors, and thereupon brake off his speech and turned it to the devil, saying, Non propter te hoc opus coeptum est, nec propter te, nec in te finitur.
And as he is courageous, so he is subtle; for, notwithstanding his eager desire, he stayed the fittest time, wherein consisteth a chief point of wisdom. So when he tempted Eve he stayed till her husband was away, and till he could shew her the fruit which was so pleasing to the eye. So when David lay with Bathsheba, Uriah's wife, he tempted him in the evening, and after his sleep, a very fit time for the purpose. So when they were asleep, 'the enemy sowed tares.'
And as he is wary in choosing his time, so is he as cunning in choosing the means, observing the dispositions of men. For wanton and voluptuous men he hath the 'daughters of Moab,' a bait fit for their humours, whereby to tempt them to idolatry. For men secure and careless he hath a net that sufficeth to throw over them, and snare them in. For others, that have more care to seek and enquire into things, he hath quills to blow them up, as 'knowledge' which 'puffs up.' Yea, even the best things can he make serve for his purpose, and to be occasions of temptations, so that he may find better [495/496] entertainment for the good exercises' sake that come with him. He will come sometimes shrouded in the necessity of nature, as here; for when a man is hungry, nature requireth somewhat to assuage it.
Prayer no man doubteth to be a godly exercise, yet thereby he tempted them that loved 'to pray in the synagogues' and make much babbling and repetition. In like sort doth he abuse the name of good counsel, as in Peter to Christ, who as a friend wished Him to spare Himself and live our His time.
Thus can he put on a fair show, the sooner to beguile. And for good reason, for if he should come unmasked in his own likeness he would be rejected; as, if Jehoram the king of Israel has come himself without Jehoshaphat, Elisha would not have looked on him: so by a good pretence the temptation shrouds and insinuates itself, otherwise it would not be looked on.
IV. Now we are to consider the diversity and order of the temptations, and then will we handle them particularly. And first we are to note that, though there are but these three recorded, yet He endured divers others. His whole life was full of temptations, as may appear by Luke the twenty second chapter and second verse, that He was 'tempted forty days of the devil,' whereas these three temptations here set down were not till after the end of forty days. These only are mentioned, but there were other not written, as divers of His miracles are unwritten. Only so much was written as was expedient.
These three are a brief abridgement of all His temptations. As it is true that Paul saith, that Christ resembles Adam, and was made a 'quickening Spirit,' as Adam was 'a living soul,' (and the bringing of the children of Israel out of Egypt by being called out of Egypt) so may Christ and Adam be compared in these three temptations. For they both were tempted with 'concupiscence of the eye, and pride of life.' In Adam the devil first brought him into a conceit that God envied his good, [and of purpose kept him hoodwinked lest he should see his good,] as we see falconers put hoods over hawks' eyes, to make them more quiet and ruly [496/497]. Secondly, he lulls him on to a proud conceit of himself, by persuading him that by eating he should be like God. Thirdly, he sheweth the fruit, which was pleasant. So in Christ's temptation: first, he would have brought Him to murmur against God; secondly, to presume and thirdly, to commit idolatry; all which are set down in the first of Corinthians the tenth chapter and seventh, ninth, and tenth verses. And under these three heads come all temptations.
To some of these extremes will the devil seek to drive one, First, by distrust he will seek to drive us to use unlawful means for the obtaining of necessary things, as bread is when a man is hungry. Or if we be in no such want, that that temptation cannot take place, then through superfluity he will tempt us to wanton and unnecessary desires, as to throw ourselves down, that the Angels may take us up; and having prevailed so far, then he carrieth us to the devil and all. 'All this will I give Thee:' there is his 'all.' 'Fall down and worship me:' there is the devil with it. So that in this respect it may well be said, that 'the way of a serpent is over a stone.' He goeth so slily that a man seeth him in, before he can tell what way or how he got in. First he wraps himself in necessity and thereby winds himself in unperceived, then he brings us to make riches our god.
Now let us see his darts. The first is, of making stones bread: this may well be called the hungry temptation. The stream of the doctors make Adam's offence the sin of gluttony, but Bucer thinks that this temptation is rather to be referred to distrust and despair. There is small likelihood that one should sin in gluttony, by eating bread only. The devil's desire was only that the stones might be turned into bread, and that after so long a fast; and then, if the temptation had been to gluttony, Christ's answer had been nothing to the purpose, the devil might well have replied against the insufficiency of it. For gluttony is to be answered by a text willing sobriety, whereas this text which Christ answereth by containeth rather an assertion of God's providence, and therefore our Saviour should have seemed very unskilful in defending Himself. The temptation therefore is to distrust.
This standeth well with the devil's cunning in fight; for [497/498] by this he shooteth first even at the throat, and at that which is the life of a Christian, to wit, his 'faith'--as a man would say Jugulum petit--even at that which 'overcometh the world.' He tempted Him to such a distrust as was in the Israelites, when they asked if God were with them or no? So he made Adam think, God cared not for him; so here the devil premiseth a doubt to shake his faith, wherein Christ made no doubt, Si Filius Dei es.
Indeed You heard a voice say, You were the 'beloved Son of God' but are You so indeed? or was it not rather a delusion? You see You are almost starved for want of bread: well, would God have suffered You so to be, if You had been His filius dilectus? No, you are some hunger-starved child. So Luke the twenty-second chapter and thirty-second verse Christ prayed that Peter's 'faith might not fail:' it was that the devil shot at. He is a 'roaring lion, seeking to devour' us, whom we must resist by faith. It is our faith that he aims at; for having overthrown that, disobedience soon will follow. Having abolished the establisher of the law, the breach of the law must needs follow. He hath then fit time to set us awork about making stones into bread, that is, to get our living by unlawful means. First, shipwreck of faith, then of obedience.
The devil here seeing Him in great want and hunger, would thereby bring in doubt that He was not the Son of God: which is not a good argument. For whether we respect the natural tokens of God's favour, we see they happen not to the wisest, and men of best and greatest knowledge, as appeareth in Ecclesiastes the ninth chapter and eleventh verse, or the supernatural favour of God. We shall see Abraham forced to fly his country into Egypt for famine. So did Isaac: and Jacob likewise was in the same distress. Notwithstanding that God was called 'the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,' yet were they all three like to be hunger-starved. Yea, not only so, but for their faith many were burned and stoned, 'of whom the world was not worthy.' So fared it with the Apostles: they were hungry, naked and athirst. But what do we speak of the adopted sons of God, when as His own natural Son suffered as much, nay far more? Here we see He was hungry, also He was 'wearied' with travel, and [498/499] fain to rest; He had no house to hide His head in, whereas 'foxes have holes.'
'If thou be the Son of God,'&c. The heathens have observed, that in rhetoric it is a point of chiefest cunning, when you would outface a man or importune him to do a thing, to press and urge him with that which he will not or cannot do for shame deny to be in himself: as by saying, If you have any wit, then you will do thus and thus; If you be an honest man, or a good fellow, do this. So here the devil, not being to learn any point of subtlety, comes to our Saviour saying, 'If Thou be the Son of God,'--as it may be doubted, You being in this case--then 'make these stones bread.' No, no, it follows not; a man may be the son of God, and not shew it by any such art. So when Pilate asked who accused Christ, they answered, 'If He had not bee a malefactor, we would not have brought Him before thee.' They were jolly grave men, it was a flat flattery: and in John the twenty-first chapter and twenty-third verse there is the like. This ought to put us in mind, when we are tempted in like manner, that we take head we be not outfaced.
In the matter itself, we are to consider these points: first, the devil sets it down for a ground that, follow what will, bread must needs be had. Therefore Christ first closeth with him. Admit He had bread, were He then safe? No, We live not 'by bread only;' so that bread is not of absolute necessity. Well, what follows of that? Bread You must needs have, You see Your want, God hath left off to provide for You. Then comes the conclusion: Therefore shift for Yourself as well as you can. First, he soliciteth us to a mutinous repining within ourselves, as Hebrews the third chapter and eight verse: 'Harden not your hearts, as in the day of temptation,' &c. whereby he forceth us to break out into such like conceits as, Psalm one hundred and sixteen an eleventh verse, 'I said in my distress that all men be liars;' and Psalm the thirty-first and twenty-second verse, 'I said in my haste, I am cast off.' Thus closely he distrusted God, in saying His Prophets prophesy lies, till at last we even open our mouths against God Himself, and say, 'This evil cometh from the Lord: shall I attend on the Lord any longer?' hunger and shame is all we shall get at [499/500] God's hands. And so casting off God, betake themselves to some other patron, and then the devil is fittest for their turn. For when we are fallen out with one, it is best serving his enemy, and to retain to the contrary faction. Then we seek a familiar (with Saul) to answer us.
But what did the devil then tell him? did he bring comfort with him? No: he tells him that to-morrow he and his sons should die. So here doth the devil bring a stone with him. 'What father,' saith Christ, 'if his son ask him bread, would give him a stone?' Yet the devil doth so; Christ was hungry, and the devil shews Him stones.
Here is the devil's comfort. Here be stones for Thee: if Thou canst devise any way to make these stones bread, Thou art well. Whereas we do not use to make bread of stones, but of wheat, to work it with the sweat of our brows; to get it so, we learn from Genesis the third chapter and 19 verse.
By extortion and usury we may make stones into bread--that is the devil's alchemistry; or haply we may make bread of nothing, when a man gets a thing by another's 'oversight.' Or else, what and if we can overreach our brother in subtlety, and go beyond him with a trick of wit or cunning? 'Let no man defraud or oppress his brother in any matter; for the Lord is avenged of all such.' The one is called 'the bread of violence' and oppression; the other 'the bread of deceit.' They are indeed both made of stones, for they still retain their former property, as the event will declare. For though in the beginning such bread be pleasant, yet after, his mouth is but filled with gravel. After which will consequently follow gnashing of teeth.