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Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology

John Cosin, Works, Sermons, Volume One
pp. 58-70



Transcribed by Dr. Marianne Dorman
AD 2003

Matthew iv.6

If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down headlong, for it is written, He shall give His Angels charge over Thee, and with their hands they shall hold Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.

So the devil upon a day tempted Christ, so the devil every day tempts us, whose whole life is little else but a time of temptation from our cradle to our grave; and though many and various the temptations are which we suffer from him, yet most an end he works upon us with such as this was, to make us presume upon God's mercy, make us believe that we are the sons of God, and then that we may cast ourselves headlong into what sins we list, that we should be never a whit the worse for it, but as often as we fell down, He and his Angels would take us up again.

I know we will all confess that this should not be, that presumption is a high sin; yet if any such temptation comes, I know not how it comes about, but for all that, we will presume to die for it, we will be venturing to have our will, come of it what will come: and the mischief is, that we have no sense of the devil's device in it, or that there comes any devil to us for the matter.

In which regard, it may do some good to let you see both how the devil deceives you, and how you deceive yourselves; [58/59] how his way is like a serpent's way over the stones, that over is come, indeed, but a man cannot tell how; that goes so slyly, and creeps so slow, that a man sees him before he knows what way he gat in:--and how your way is like the downfal of a rock, or the fearful way from the height of a pinnacle, where (for all the devil's fair words) there are no Angels to hold you up, but them that will take you by the feet, and dash your head against the stones.

And a better way to let you see both the subtilty (as I say) of his way, and the danger of your own, I cannot take, than in this place of Scripture, where they are both laid out to the open view of all, that when you have seen them and looked upon them, you may (as you use to do in other ways of danger) decline them, and come there no more. If any of you be so presumptuous that he will keep on his old way still, yet (that which for this time concerns rue) I shall have quitted myself of an office; and as the man of God told the king, I shall let you understand where the trains are laid for you.

And it will be a good commodity, this, for them that will use it, to have notice beforehand of an adversary's forces, and of the manner of his fight; we shall ward oft his blows the better, when they come; and though his darts be fiery, yet if we make preparation, they may be quenched, as St. Paul speaks, and Satan shall not circumvent us.

For the test then; it is the temptation of the pinnacle, a temptation that the devil uses to bring men to presumption and wantonness withal.

It hath three general parts. The first is, the colouring and oiling of it over, to make it come on the better, by a pretext of being the son of God: 'If thou be the Son of God.'

The second is the temptation, and the very fiery dart itself: Make no more ado, but cast Thyself down headlong.

And the third is the cost which he bestows upon it, to make it fly and pierce the better, by are allegation of a choice piece of Scripture, (which is a cost that he bestowed upon neither of his other temptations,) 'for it is written,' (I have it here in the Psalms to shew you,) 'He shall give His Angels charge over Thee, and with their hands they shall [59/60] bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.'

These three; and these three to be the heads, from whence all other parts of the text, as they shall come in order, and all the parts of our ensuing discourse, are to flow. Of these then, that we may speak that which shall be honourable to Almighty God, and profitable to ourselves, I shall desire you, &c.


1. 'If Thou be the Son of God.' For the better understanding of which words, and what the devil meant by them in this place, we must a little reflect upon the former temptation. There He used the same phrase before; and here he is up with it again; 'If Thou be the Son of God.' He was much troubled with it, it seems, and a great mote it was in his eye, that by a voice from heaven, as a little while since at His baptism, Christ should be said and proclaimed to be the Son of God. That voice bred all this mischief; and no sooner was it sent from heaven, but up comes the devil from hell to send it back again; and because it came out of the clouds, ye shall see what ways and turnings the devil has to wrap it up in the clouds again, that it might be no more heard of here on earth.

(1) He comes first like a desperate and a murmuring devil, with a few stones in his hand, and an 'if' of doubt and desperation in his mouth, and tells Christ that sure the voice from heaven was but a deceitful voice; that it could not be that He should be Filius dilectus, the well beloved Son of God; for the children of God do not use to be so dealt withal as He was, to have nothing but a heap of stones set before him, when they desire food to eat; for what man is there, who if his son ask him bread, would give him a stone and therefore that He was but some hunger-bitten child, who was cast out of the world, and no such beloved Son of God as the voice from heaven made him believe He was. This was his first 'if;' 'If Thou be the Son of God;' to bring Him by a [60/61] doubt to despair of it, and to resolve with himself that the Son of God He was not. And this way would do no good.

Now seeing that would not prevail, he goes another way to work; and here He comes like a fine white devil, like a pure, smooth-tongued hypocrite, with no more doubting 'ifs,' whether He were the Son of God, or no; but an 'if' of flattery in his mouth; that surely the Son of God He was; 'If Thou be the Son of God;' an 'if' of concession and granting, that He would have Him make no question of it, but that He was the very Son of God indeed. So you see the difference betwixt these two 'ifs,' and the sense of it, as it is to be taken in this place.

That you see; and you may see withal the wonderful device of the devil, who can transform himself with one and the same saying in his mouth, to two several shapes. Before, He was not the Son of God, by these very words; and now He is the Son of God, by these very words again, He makes them serve for two contrary purposes; there, he would make it serve for desperation; and when that would not do, here he would make it serve for presumption; that one way or other, he might prevail. In the former temptation he cane out like a malcontent and a murmurer, but here he comes forth like a flattering parasite. Well then, if Thou be the Son of God, as I doubt not but Thou art, as now I grant indeed, I was in some doubt before, but now I confess Thou art, now I am of the Voice's mind, which did pronounce Thee to be so at Thy Baptism,--You are His well-beloved Son, and He will be well pleased with whatsoever You please to do. So now He shall have too much of it, as before He had too little; and when the light will not out by taking away the oil, He shall have too much of it, He shall swim in the oil of ostentation, to see an that would put it out.

A case that happens to us all. When a man will not be presumption, then he is a fit subject to be brought unto despair; and when he will not he distrustful, then make him to presume. If he will not superstitiously dote upon the Church, then bring him to that which our people are most an end brought unto, make him not care for it at all; or [61/62] not that, send him over sea and make him dote again. There might be many more instances; still he comes in extremes and contraries, that if he be refused and known to be a devil in the one, ye may at least accept him, and think him to be an Angel in the other; for who would think it, that he were the man that should tempt anybody to presumption, that had before laboured for distrust? or that he would make the flame fly out of the chimney, and set the whole house a-fire, that had so lately set his foot on it, and done his endeavour to put it quite out? Marry, he that is acquainted with the devil's devices will think it, and know it too; for though it be not the same temptation, yet it is the same devil in both places; and the sudden alteration from one contrary to another, is but to colour the device over, and make its believe they cannot both be ill.

But seeing that by both the devil seeks our destruction, we are to take a like heed of both; though his two 'ifs' be contrary to themselves, yet are they both also contrary to the Word of God, which will neither have us to distrust Him, nor presume upon him.

(2.) Secondly, 'If Thou be the Son of God,' may be taken as an outfacing argument; as when we would importune a man to do any thing, we use to press and urge him with that which he must not for shame deny; if you be such and such a man, if there be any spark of a good spirit in you, if there be any honesty in you, you will not refuse to do it. So the devil comes as if he must have no denial at all, unless Christ would confess Himself to be none of God's Son, and then the devil had had his end; just as the Jews by his counsel, I make no question, dealt with Pilate, 'If thou let Him go, thou art no friend to Cesar,' and, if He had not been a malefactor, we would never have brought Him unto thee.' No, the devil he desires you to do nothing but what you must needs yield to yourselves, that, it is very requisite to be done; if it were a matter unfitting, he would never ask it at your hands; and this is the strongest tempta-tion of all; though it would not outface Christ, yet it will outface us. And therefore above all other, heed is to be taken of an outfacing temptation.

(3.) Now, thirdly, if Christ were the Son of' God, as the [62/63] devil confesses Him to be, what had he to do with him? They cry out ere long, 'What have we to do with Thee, O Thou Son of the living God?' No, nothing to do with Him when he comes to torment him. Do but resist the devil and he will fly from you, he will not come near you. Marry, an ye be willing (as Christ made himself here for our warning of the danger) to go along with him, then he has to do with you in a hundred different ways; be what sons of God ye will, that one way or other, he may make you, as himself is, the sons of darkness; and for the better bringing of his ends about, he will be still sure in all his talk to make an 'if' of it, and so wind in with an ill consequence at last; and by often bringing it into question, whether we be the sons of God, he may at last make it out of question, that we are not the sons of God; bring his si sis into a ne sis and make us like himself. And so much for the first part of the devil's device; a wonderful and a strange device, to persuade us that we are the sons of God, and by that very persuasion to make us the sons of the devil.

II. For you shall see what his induction is; 'If Thou be the Son of God cast Thyself down headlong;' and this is the second part, the very fiery dart of the devil's temptation.

And here we have three points to consider.

The first is, the ill consequence of the words, that if He were the Son of God, He should presently give a leap front the pinnacle, and work a miracle.

The second is, the presumption which he persuades him to, to take no ordinary way to go down, but to make no more ado but cast Himself down, and put himself upon providence.

The third is, that earnest suit which he makes for it; he would not thrust Him down, but of his own accord he himself must cast Himself down.

(1) The first then, it was no good consequence we say, that if he were the Son of God, He should presently cast Himself down. 'Yes,' says the devil, 'by this, all the world shall see that You are the Son of God, if You can leap down and get no hurt.' So this was his drift, because Christ was the Son of God, to make Him brag of it, and carry it [63/64] out with an ostentation, that the Son of God He was, and not like other men; a device that he has for us, when we are somewhat nearer to God than other men, persuade us not to be content with that, but to blaze it abroad the world and make a boasting and a show of it, as such do that love to be called the professors of the Gospel, and the dear children of God, dearer and whiter and purer sons, and so bolder sons, than any other men whatsoever. But to see now what a non sequitur this is, Christ was the Son of God, well what of that? therefore he must needs shew himself to be so, and work a miracle when there was no necessity of having any wrought. What a consequence was this here! At other times, indeed, miracles were done by him, they were all to good ends; but here it could be for no other end but vainglory and ostentation; no other use could have been made of it; and if Christ had yielded to it, or if any man else in the like case should yield to the devil's temptation, he should shew himself indeed, but he should shew himself to be none, of the sons of God. So this is no good logic, it is an argument of an ill consequence; let us not be carried away with it, if at any time it happens to be our case, as here it was Christ's.

(2.) Second, 'cast Thyself down;' this is that he looked for, the very temptation itself, that being now aloft, he would make no more ado but presume upon His Father, and pitch his head upon the ground. So now we are come to know why he brought Him up, that it was for nothing else but to have Him down again the faster; it was the way that he took of old for himself, and ever since his device hath been how to get more after him; he would needs exalt himself above the stars, and down he fell lower than the earth; that if he could have got Christ down with him now, he knew by experience (whatsoever his pretence was) that all the Angels of heaven could not have him up again. But this is it which we are here to observe; by such dealing as this was, we may see to what end all the devil's exaltings come. If he brings any man to the pinnacle, it is but to send him down head-[64/65] long, faster than ever he came up; by little, and little he lifts a man up, first to this preferment, and then to that, and then to that, and then to a higher yet; and so when he has gotten him aloft, he can send him downwards again in an instant; not by degrees, as he came up, but like lightning, as he came down himself, and was undone by it for ever. Perhaps he may let us alone a while, and let us stand upon a pinnacle, to our thinking as safe as them that walk upon the ground; but as soon as a little wind of trouble and adversity comes, their oft we go, and we shall be sure to pay for our high standing. This is the devil's course with them that are at league with him, and will follow his devices. Now God has taken another course with His, for He humbles a man first, and then He exalts him afterwards. 'He bath exalted the humble and meek,' said the blessed Virgin; and 'he that humbleth himself shall be exalted,' saith our blessed Saviour. But the devil, he exalts a man first, and then humbles him after; lifts him up on high, est lapsu graviore ruat, that he may cast him headlong down again. So he lifted up Adam and Eve to eritis sicut dii, with a conceit that they should be gods themselves, the very height of perfection; and when all came to all, it was for nothing else but that he might bring them down again a great deal lower than they were before, even to be compared unto the beasts that perish.

The lesson is, that if we would not be cast down by him, we must take heed of being any way, or in any matter whatsoever, lifted up by him; for we must not all think to escape as Christ did; He had power to throw the devil down, and He went not up with him for any other purpose but to shew us the danger and the hazard men are in, when they will follow the devil to a pinnacle, or their ambition, and other sins they love, to the height. This one may be sure on, that in all manner of sin and temptation there is a casting down; and the devil never allures us to commit a sin, but he makes us withal to throw ourselves down; headlong; headlong from the spirit to the flesh, from the commandments of God to the vanities of the world, from high virtues to base vices, and so from being the sons of God and of light, to become the sons of hell and darkness; and he never allures us upwards the [65/66] other way

But to cast ourselves downwards. And this is the second.

(3.) But now, in the third point, there is a little more comfort yet, that the devil must become a suitor to Christ, that He would cast Himself down. A man may wonder, and the devil had such a mind to have Christ down, why he did not throw him down himself? But alas! it was beyond his power, that; or if it had not, yet that would not have served his turn; for then Christ should not have been in the fault, and it was not the fall, but the fault that he looked after. It is our ease, the devil winds us up, and he would gladly have us down again, but he would have us to cast ourselves down, or else the fall may do us some hurt, perhaps, but it can do him no good. It is our sin that he looks after, and he knows it too well, that there must go two persons to a sin, or else it will never be done. It is the devil and man that make up a sin; it is not the devil alone; and sure it is, he can never throw us down unless we consent on to it ourselves. And therefore, though it be one of St. Chrysostom's paradoxes, yet it is a marvellous good one and a Christianlike, that nemo læditur nisi a seipso, that if we throw not ourselves away, the devil hath no power to do it which is no more than St. Austin and all the ancient Fathers say, that omne peccatum est voluntarium, when we sin the fault is in our wills, for we should not have consented, and then no sin would follow; and therefore it is a wicked and a most pernicious opinion that some of our new masters have brought up of late, (an opinion fit for devils and not for Christians,) that some men are forced and necessitated to sin, and throw themselves away, whether they will or no. I shall beseech you to take heed that they which teach you such [66/67] things be not listened after, for they savour of the lake, and your souls will be destroyed with the scent. It is not true; God doth not, and the devil cannot, necessitate anybody to sin; and therefore we see in Genesis that he did not cram the forbidden fruit into their mouths, whether they would or no, but he persuades them to take it, and eat it themselves; for full well he knew their own eating, and their own wilfulness, and neither his subtlety, nor his violence, would get them the fall. And when it is said in the Gospel, that the Evil Spirit enters into a man, it is not said that he breaks open the door, or that he does so much as draw the latch, but that he finds it empty and open already, and all things swept and garnished, ready for his entertainment. So that if we reach not out our lands to welcome him when ho comes, and set not our doors open to let him in when he knocks, his temptations can never do us hurt; he can but entreat us, as here he did Christ, and if we fall, the fault is our own, we cast ourselves down headlong into misery and sin. That's for the devil's part.

Then for God's part. We may be sure that He, of all enters, will not cast us down, if we will keep ourselves up; for He desires not either the death, or the overthrow of any man. And therefore, as it was His command of old in Deuteronomy, that when a material house were built, there should be battlements made upon the roof, for fear of falling down when any man went up, and spilling his blood; so in His spiritual buildings, He hath set Himself and His own assistance for our battlement, hath made a hedge about us, as the devil said concerning Job; that unless we will take our raise ourselves and leap over it, or break it down and throw ourselves headlong through it, we are safe enough. This Christ knew well enough, and therefore He trusted to this, that we might learn of him, how ill a thing it is to trust to ourselves. And that's the third thing and the last there.

Now you shall see what course the devil takes to get this trust away from Him; and so we come to the third part of the text; the cost which he does bestow upon his temptation, to make it enter the better.

III. He comes with a Psalm-book in his hand and a piece of Scripture in his mouth to tell Him that since He would [67/68] needs trust, he would set him a-trusting, trust as much as He would; that is, He should trust too much. And as in the former temptation brought Him to the waters of Meribah, to murmur and distrust; so here he brings Him to the waters of Massah, to be wanton and trust beyond his battlements. By the one he would persuade both Him and us, as St. Augustine saith, Donna non affuturum ubi promisit, that God hath no care of us according to His promise; by the other, he would persuade us, Deum affuturum ubi non promisit, that God would take any care of us, even against his promise: and so by the first he slandereth the God of heaven, as if he were some step-father, a hard man and a god of iron; and by this he slanders him, as if he were a father to be commanded at a beck, and a god of clouts to be put to base and contemptible offices. First, that we are none of His children, and that if we do trust in Him, He will fail us at the end; and then that we are such beloved children, such dear darlings, that trust in Him, and presume upon Him as much as we will, throw ourselves down headlong into what sin we list, He will he our good father still, He will have mercy at last, and will never suffer us to come unto any hurt for it. This is the sum and the scope of his tempting speech. Now if the time would serve, we should consider it a little more narrowly; I will but begin it and end in at a more [convenient opportunity.]

'For it is written.' With the self-same armour that Christ bare off his other dart, with alleging of Scripture, doth the devil sharpen this dart, and throws it in to maintain his argument that presumption is good divinity: since Christ brought Scripture to resist him, he would make his part good with Scripture too; and therefore here he brings it in. Now it is to be noted he doth not so (as l told you at first) in any of his other temptations, and therefore we are to look for some great matter from him here in this. A great matter indeed, and a great deal to be said of it, so much that it will require one whole sermon for itself; and therefore I dare but name it now, and tell you in brief that the reason why the devil hath bestowed such cost upon this temptation, more than upon the rest, is, because he knows a presumptuous sin is a costly sin indeed to us, and would be gainful to him above [68/69] any else. Therefore it is that, before all others, David desires God to keep him from presumptuous sins; for if it comes to this once, the devil has his end, and we have ours an end, that he had, by the very same sin; which is a fearful downfal from heaven and from the mercies of God withal. The sin of presumption, as divines say, being one, or very near one, of the sins against the holy Ghost, which shall not easily be forgiven. For a conclusion then, since we see thus much already, that above all other sins which the devil would have us commit, this is that he sets his greatest care upon, and, as we say, spends his wits, his learning, his cunning in the Scriptures, his wet and his dry upon it; in that regard are we also to set our greatest care against his, to set watch and ward about our souls: and above all other things, to keep ourselves from presumptuous sins, that is, from a wilful casting ourselves into sin; and when we stand safe already with God's graces and favours, like battlements rolled about us, to break them all down, and throw ourselves headlong into mischief, where God knows what will become of its. Let us not deceive ourselves, and hope for Angels to come and take us up again, because the devil hath here alleged Scripture for it; for if you will but look into your Psalter anon after you are gone, you shall find that he hath both abused us, and the place too, and hath cast out the principal matter that made against him, for that Psalm does not say that the Angels shall have an absolute charge either of Him or us, a charge without any limitation at all; that they must hold us up, come we down which way we will, headlong or any way over God's bounds which he hath set us; but that they should hold us up in all His ways. We must keep us here, and then they will look to us. So that out of God's way, the Angels have no charge over us. The way then will be to keep us there in His ways, and not to run a wanton course in our own; and then we shall be sure of them; they shall stretch their wings over us, and pitch their tents round about us to defend us. They shall preserve us from the snare which we see not, as it is in that Psalm, From the terror of the night, and from the arrow that [69/70] flieth by day, (and which at this time we have great need on,) from that dæmon meridianus, the plague that killeth in the darkness, and the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day. All these comforts, and more than these, even the comforts of heaven, shall be to them that so put their trust in God as that they fear him withal, and walk in His ways, according to that of the Psalmist, Blessed are they that fear the Lord and put their trust in his mercy; fear Him first and keep His way, and then trust in Him that He will keep us.

To which fear and to which trust, and from all other fears and trusts but these, He bring us That hath purchased mercy for us, Christ Jesus, &c

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