But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
It was a good service that Elisha did, to tell the king of the trains laid for him, when they lay in ambush against him. And even this is the first use that we have of our Saviour's temptation.
It warns us aforehand of the devil's coming, so that we may have time to prepare ourselves accordingly. For as at that time the devil came upon Christ when hunger pinched Him, so where we are in any distress we are to look for temptations.
This temptation hath two parts: first comes Si a distrust; secondly follows unlawful means. Having laid this foundation, that bread is necessary to be had when one is hungry, he inferreth that God helpeth not nor supplieth the want: [501/502] therefore God is not Thy Father, and therefore depend no longer on Him, but shift for Yourself. This is the effect of the devil's argument.
The Fathers upon the words, 'Take the shield of faith, to quench all the fiery darts of the devil,' do note that about every one of the darts or temptations of the devil there are, as it were, balls of wildfire. For being to assault our obedience, and knowing that faith is our shield, to that end he useth the arrow-head, which is distrust in God, about which is fire; to wit, the using of unlawful means to consume our obedience, which will consume our shield of faith, and so make way for the dart to kill or wound us. So that his drift is, to bring our adoption or sonship to a Si.
There is no doubt but Christ was able to have turned stones into bread: but why would He not then follow the devil's advice? The devil by saying, 'Say unto these stones,' seemeth to acknowledge that He had the force to have done it, even by His bare word: for even stones are said to hear the voice of God and obey His commandment, and not only God's but even God's servants; as when the man of God had pronounced that the altar should rent in sunder, it did so. And 'when Jesus cried out with a loud voice, the veil of the temple rent in twain, the earth did quake, and the stones were cloven.' The dead men are worse than stones, yet they in their graves heard His voice.
And not only was He able to turn stones in to bread, but into man also; as 'children to Abraham, of stones.' If therefore it had pleased him, He was as well able at this time to have turned stones into bread, as after He turned water in to wine.
It was no less possible to Him, no doubt, to have saved Himself, when the Jews scoffingly bade Him, as to have 'saved others;' and to have 'come down from cross' being alive, as it was after for Him, not only being dead and buried, but a great stone being over Him, to remove it and come out of the grace. He had power to both, but not will alike to both.
But why would He not here use His power for the satisfying of His hunger, and follow the devil's advice? In setting down the history of turning water into wine it is thus further said, that He did it that His disciples might believe in Him. [502/503] That was the reason that moved Him to the working of that miracle, and because there was no such cause here He did it not. For the devil would not believe in Him, He knew, though He had done it. The devil desired Him but to have Him shew what He could do for a need only, for a vaunt of His power: wherein we see the humour of pride, that made him at the first to fall.
It is the same temptation that his kinsfolks used: 'No man doth any thing secretly, that seeketh to be famous. If Thou dost these things, shew Thyself to the world.' But see how unfitly the temptation hangeth together. He should rather have said, If You be hungry, than 'If You be the Son of God;' and then rather have bid Him fast forty days more, than turn the stones into bread. If it had been to have made a son of God, Christ would have done it; but not to have shewed Himself to be the son of God.
But it may be asked, Why did Christ vouchsafe to give him any answer at all, whereas He might have commanded him to silence, and tormented him, 'before his time,' and have punished him for his sauciness? When Peter tempted him, He cut him up, very sharply, saying 'Come, behind me, Satan.' Why did He not answer the devil so? He might have enjoined him, and thrown him into the bottomless pit, or at least bidden him, 'Avoid, Satan.'
Augustine answereth this doubt, that Christ answered in the like time to teach us to answer; willing us thereby, as Abimelech did his soldiers, to do as he had done before. So Christ is our example, and bids us to do as He had done. Christ is our captain, He hath gone before us and shewed us how to behave ourselves in fight. When the devil assaulteth us with distrust, then are we to ward it off with a text of God's providence; and so of the rest, as He hath done before us. Our Saviour's shield whereby, we see, He beareth off all the devil's darts, is covered all over with Scriptum est. We have here a brief view of the Church's armoury of 'the tower of David' built for defence. Here be the shield wherewith Solomon's temple was hanged, and which Paul calleth 'the weapons of our warfare, not carnal, but mighty through God to cast down holds.'
They are in number five: first, a preparation of ourselves [503/504] by the use of God's sacraments, that we may be the more strong to sustain and bear off temptations, and to hold out to the end without fainting; secondly, a withdrawing ourselves into the desert, or some other solitary place, there by meditation to kindle good thoughts; thirdly, fasting; fourthly watchful prayer; fifthly, the perfecting ourselves in the scriptures. These be the five shields wherewith Solomon's temple was hanged.
Now as for the Scripture, we are to note that where God speaketh of any good that we are to receive out of it, it is recommended to us as a storehouse whither we are to make our resort for the bread of life and the water of life, whereof he that tasteth shall never thirst. And from thence are we to draw the waters of comfort, 'out of the fountains of salvation.' When there is any ill spoken of which we are to resist, then it is commended to us as an armoury, whence we may fetch any kind of weapon which we shall need, either offensive as 'a sword,' or defensive as 'a shield.'
The Scripture is the broad plate that is to bear off 'the darts;' our faith is the braces or handle whereby we take hold, and lift it up to defend ourselves withal. For the Scripture is a shield, non quod dicitur, sed quod creditur. Dicitur--there is the strong and the broad matter, fit to bear off; and creditur--that is handle or braces to it, 'God spake once, or twice I have heard it, power belongeth unto God.' So that it sufficeth not that it be spoken only by God, but we must hear it too; neither must we hear it as the voice of a man (as Samuel at the first did, who when God called him thought it was a voice of Eli) but as the voice of God, that we which were dead in our sins, He hath quickened, and forgiven us all our trespasses. This is the perfection of our faith.
Generally of the Scriptures this is Christ's opinion, confirmed by His own practice, that if the devil come as a serpent, here is a charm for him; or if he come as a 'lion,' here is that is able to prevail against him. And that the devil knows well enough, as appeareth by his malice that he hath always borne it, before it was Scripture, when it was but only dictum. For so soon as God had said, 'Let Us make man in Our likeness,' that word was straight a whetstone to the devils' envy. And after the fall, when the 'Seed' was promised, [504/505] that was and is the cause of all the devil's 'enmity;' so when the promise was reiterated, that was the cause he so turmoiled all the patriarchs.
But when the word was to be written, and to become Scripture then his malice began to grow very hot, insomuch that he caused it for anger to be broken. For the Fathers are of opinion, that all the devil's busy endeavour in making the Israelites to commit idolatry with the golden calf was to the end that he might so heat Moses in his zeal, as that in his anger he should break the tables of the Law by casting them hastily out of his hands. We are to note therefore, that there is a forcible sound in the word, which the devil cannot abide; and not only the sound, but the sight also.
It is written of Augustine that lying sick on his bed he caused the seven penitential psalms to be painted on the wall over against him in great letters; that if after he should become speechless, yet he might point to every verse when the devil came to tempt him, and so confute him. Blessed is he that hath his quiver full of such arrows, they shall not be ashamed. Blessed is he that hath the skill to choose out fit arrows for the purpose, as the Fathers speak out of Esay, the forty-ninth chapter and second verse.
Christ saith affirmatively of the Scriptures that 'in them is eternal life.' Negatively, that the cause of error is the not knowing of them. David saith it was that that 'made him wiser than his enemies,' than 'his teachers,' and than 'the ancients.' Knowledge of the truth is the way to amendment after a fall. There is much calling now-a- days for the word, and others find fault as fast that it is no better hearkened unto. For as the want of obedience and all other abuses (which are so much cried out against) proceed not only from the not hearing of the word, but as well from the not mingling of 'faith' with it, without which mixture it is nothing worth, it profiteth not, so the error of the former times was in yielding too far to the devil's policy, by sealing up the Scriptures and locking the storehouse and armoury of the people. It is the policy Christ tells us of, in the eleventh chapter of Luke's Gospel, verse the twenty-second. A strong man puts 'the strong armed man' out of his house and 'takes away his armour from him;' then he needs not fear him.
[505/506] The like policy we read of, in the first book of Samuel, the thirteenth chapter and nineteenth verse, when the Philistines had taken away all smiths and armour: then they thought they were safe. So, in the time of darkness, the devil might let them do their good works and what they list, and yet have them still under his lure, for he might offend them at his pleasure that had no armour to resist him. All the children of God had a right and property in the Law of God, as appeareth by Christ's words, John, the tenth chapter and thirty-fourth verse. He answereth them, that is, the common people, 'Is it not written in your Law?' As though He should say, The Scripture is yours. To the young man (in the tenth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel and twenty-sixth verse) that asked Christ what he should do to be saved? Christ answereth, 'What is written in the Law? How readest thou?' Whereunto to answer that we cannot read, or that the book is 'sealed' up, is as the devil would have it. Then hath he a fit time to offer us stones to make bread of. But this answer with our Saviour Christ will not be allowed of.
Now come to the special point of Christ's answer, 'It is written, Man lives not by bread only &c.' There is no better kind of reasoning, than that when one grants all that hath been said by his adversary, and proveth it to make on his part, and upon a new conceit avoids all that his adversary said. Here our Saviour might confess all that the devil objected, as that He is the Son of God, and admit the stones were made bread, and that bread were of absolute necessity, and that it were so to be come by, which is untrue: were we then in good case?
This indeed is the devil's position, wherewith he would persuade all those that have animam triticeam as the Fathers call it, that those external things are necessary to be had, and that if they have enough thereof they are well enough; as we see it to be the mind of the rich man. This man having a wheaten soul, having corn enough, bade his soul take rest, and live merrily 'for many years.' But Christ goeth further, and saith, Though the stones be made bread, it will not avail; except it please God by the blessing of His word to give virtue, and as it were life unto the bread, there is no difference between it and a stone.
[506/507] It is not the plenty or quality of victuals, howsoever some dote upon such external means, as they did which 'sacrificed to their net, and burnt incense to their yearn because by them their portion was fat, and their meats plenteous.' For what said Job? 'If I had rejoiced because my substance was great, this had been an iniquity.' So that our life is not maintained by bread alone, descended out of the mould of the earth.
The nature of bread and stones are not much unlike, they come not out of one belly, that is to say the earth, and of themselves the one of them hath no more power than the other unto life; for we know that the Israelites dies even 'while the flesh of quails was in their mouths,' and manna, heavenly fare, being far better than our bread. It is the devil's craft policy to bury a man's life under a loaf of bread, and as it were to fetter the grace of God to the outward means; whereas they of themselves are of no more efficacy without the operation and grace of the word, than a hammer and a saw without a hand able to employ them.
David saith, 'the eyes of all things wait on God for their meat in due season, and Thou fillest them:' With what? with bread? No, but 'with Thy blessing and goodness.' Our hearts must be 'stablished with grace, not with meats,' It is God's prerogative, that as all things had their 'beginning' from Him, so He supporteth and sustaineth them.
This is a further point than all philosophy teacheth us. For they having laid down the four elements, bare and simple essences tanquam materiam, by compounding and tempering of them, they bring forth a certain quintessence or balm full of virtue. But divinity leadeth us to a quintessence, without which all the quintessences and balm in the world can do us no good.
To the question that Jeremiah propoundeth, 'Is there no balm at Gilead? Is there no physician there?' the answer may be, Man's health is not recovered by balm or physic only, 'but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,' if we weight Christ's argument aright. For we may see Asa died for all his 'physicians' that were about him. So if it be asked, Are there no horses nor chariots in Gilead? we may answer, Warlike victory consisteth not in warlike [507/508] furniture only but in 'remembering the name of the Lord God.' A horse is a vain thing to save, without the power of this word. And so when man thrives not or prospers not in his actions, it is not often for want of labour or care. Psalm the one hundred and twenty seventh and first verse tells him 'Except the Lord build the house &c.' Augustine adviseth his auditory to believe it in time, lest by woeful experience they find it to be true, when as they shall have such a consumption that no meat shall do them any good, or such a dropsy that no drink shall avail them.
The power and virtue of this word is called 'the staff of bread' and it is meant of a chief staff, such a one as is set in the midst to bear up all the tent. The plainest similitude I can use to make you understand the force thereof is this: When we go to the physic for any disease, we are bidden see the such herbs in running water, and then to drink the water; we know it is not the water which helpeth, but the decoction or infusion. So it is not the bread (considered barely in itself) that nourisheth us, but the virtue and grace of the word infused into it. We are not therefore to stick to the means like the glutton, but to pray for this blessing. And to this end God, in the establishing of nature, hath thereout reserved four special prerogatives to His word.
At first, with a very little of the means to go far in operation, with a little oil and a little wheat He fed Elias, the poor widow, and her son, a great while. And, Matthew the fourteenth chapter and seventeenth verse, Christ made 'five loaves and two fishes' serve 'five thousand' persons. The heathen man thought no certain proportion was to be set down for a family, because when a heavenly hunger cometh on men they eat more at one time than at another. But whatsoever the heathen have spoken wisely, we have far more wisely uttered by the Holy Ghost in one place or other. In Psalm the seventeenth and fourteenth verse this is set down, where there is mention made of a certain hidden treasure wherewith men's 'bellies be filled;' and Haggai, the first chapter and sixth verse, saith, 'Men eat much, yet have not enough; drink much, but are not filled.' This is the first prerogative.'
His second is, He takes order as well for the quality as for [508/509] the quantity: coarse meats and fine are all one with Him, for the Israelites, notwithstanding their quails and manna, died, and Daniel and his fellows that fed with coarse meats, 'looked better than all the children that were fed upon the king's own diet.'
Thirdly, without means He worketh sometimes. Therefore Asa had said little or nothing to the purpose if he had said, 'God helpeth by many or few'--if he had not put in too 'and sometimes by none.' For there was 'light' before any sun or moon, though after it pleased God to ordain them as instruments. And so the earth was fertile, when as then no 'rain' had fallen on the earth, nor any such ordinary means. Let Moses be on the mount and but hear God, and he needeth no bread.
The fourth is, that He can bring His purpose to pass even by those means whose natures tend to contrary effects, as to preserve by stones. Coloquintida, being rank poison, in eating whereof is present death, was by the Prophet made matter of nourishment. So Christ, by those things which were fit to put out a seeing man's eyes, as dust, made a blind man receive his sight. And so doth He make 'light to shine out of darkness,' one contrary out of another. Thus we see the devil answered. Now let us apply these things to ourselves.
Christ's answer doth import two words, and so two mouths, and two breaths or spirits; and these two be as two twins. He that will be maintained by the one, must seek after the other. The first word is the same decree whereby the course of nature is established, according to Psalm the one hundred and forty-seventh and fifteen verse: 'He sendeth forth His commandment upon earth, and His word runneth very swiftly; He giveth snow like wool,' &c.
Secondly, the other is that whereof James speaketh, to wit, 'the word of Truth,' wherewith 'of His own will He begat us.' The one proceedeth from the mouth of God's providence, creating and governing all things, 'He but speaking the word, and it was done;' the other proceedeth out of the mouth of God's prophets, who are as it were His mouth, 'Thou standest before Me, as if thou wert My mouth.'
From the first word all things have their beginning and being; as when He sent forth His spirit or breath they were [509/510] created and had their beginning, so He teacheth us that so, soon as 'God hides His face, they are troubled. And if He takes away their breath, they die and return to dust.'
The other Spirit, that is, the sanctifying Spirit, ministereth unto us supernatural life. Now therefore to set them together, every man is thus to think with himself: If I get my living contrary to God's word, that is, by any unlawful means, surely God's other word will not accompany such gotten goods. That is, these two words be twins: if we get not our goods by the one word, we shall want the blessing of the other word, and then we were as good eat stones; it will be but gravel in our mouths or quails. We are then to use the means according to the second word.
Abraham, we see, went forth to sacrifice according to God's appointment, the word was his direction; therefore when Isaac asked, Where was the sacrifice? he might boldly answer, God would provide one; as we see even at the very pinch He did. Whereupon it came to be a proverb, that even In monte Jehova providebit.
The Israelites went out of Egypt by the warrant and appointment of God's word. How then? First, they had a way made them, where never was any before, through the Red Sea; they had bread downwards out of the clouds, whereas it useth to rise upwards out of the earth; their garments in 'forty years' never 'waxed old;' they had water whence water useth not to come; by striking the rocks 'the water gushed forth.' So that it is true which the Prophet David saith, 'there is no want to them that fear God.'
Though God peradventure will not use the same means He did for the Israelites, yet the children of God walking after His will shall have some way of relief always. And therefore Christ would not distrust the providence of God, for He knew He was in the work and way of God. For we read that He was 'led into the wilderness by the Spirit' and therefore could not lack; as indeed He did not, for the eleventh verse of this chapter. So either the crows shall minister to our wants as they did to Elias; or our enemies, as the Egyptians did to the Israelites or else the Angels themselves, as they did here.
[510/511] But to grow to a conclusion. 'Let us seek the Kingdom of God, and all other things shall be ministered unto us.' And in all like temptations we may learn a good answer out of Daniel, the third chapter and seventeenth verse: 'That God That we serve is able to relieve and deliver us, even from the burning fire.' But, if it should not be His will so to do, yet we will not use unlawful means, or fall to idolatry, or turn stones into bread.
In this answer, again, Christ would teach us here to be resolute, howsoever God's blessing doth not concur with our gettings, as it doth not when we get them by indirect means, contrary to God's word. To goods so gotten, God will add sorrow; for 'the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and He doth add no sorrow with it.' When God gives riches, He gives quietness withal; but if God give them not, we were as good be without them, whether they be gotten by oppression or 'violence' or by fraud and deceit; for these two be the quicksilver and brimstone of the devil's alchemistry. God will add sorrow to them for though they be 'pleasant at the first,' and money gotten by stinking means smells like other money, as an emperor said, and bread so gotten tastes like other bread, yet in the end a plain conclusion and experiment will make it manifest that it was made of stones, and had sorrow mingled or added to it. And therefore it shall be either an occasion or matter of the disease called the stone; or it shall 'turn his meat in his bowels, and fill him with the gall of asps;' or as Asa's oppression by delicacy became an occasion of the dropsy or gout; or else shall 'the extortioner catch all that he hath, and the stranger spoil him;' or 'spend them upon physicians' or on lawyers; or else, though God suffer them to enjoy them quietly all their life time, and even to die by their flesh pots, yet on their deathbed they shall find such a grudging and torment in their conscience, that they will wish that they had starved for hunger before they had begun to use any such means. Or of God in His judgment, for their greater torment, suffer them to die in their beds, without any remorse of conscience, like blocks, or like an ox dying in a ditch, at the last day they shall feel a gnashing in their teeth, and then they will know it was made of stones.