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ST. MATTHEW iv. 8-10. “ Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain,
and showeth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him, All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve."
This temptation seems to be an offer of worldly power on an unlawful condition. The tempter addressed himself to that inclination of our nature which, when perverted in us, is ambition and vainglory. We are wont to call ambition an infirmity which lingers last and longest of all, even in minds that are noble and pure. It has in it, as we think, nothing low, mean, or little. It is closely allied with the consciousness of great powers, right intentions, high purposes of unselfish devotion for the welfare of others; it is upon a large scale, and takes a wide sweep and range in its aims and endeavors; it thereby lifts itself out of the common level of mankind, and rises above all lesser inducements, and the motives which sway other men; its whole tone and bearing has a breadth, dignity, and grandeur nearly allied to moral greatness. Perhaps it was in the
belief that our blessed Lord was at least susceptible of some such pure and exalted allurement, that Satan presented to Him “the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.”
He “taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain.” We shall do best to understand this as we read it. The truest interpretations are those that are nearest to the letter. We do not know by what laws of motion or of place this mysterious passage was controlled. All the conditions of the spiritual world are inscrutable to us. As in the book of the prophet Ezekiel we read of his rapture to Tel-abib “ The spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place. I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing. So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.
Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished ainong them seven days "*—and again, of his rapture to Jerusalem : “ And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the color of amber. And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the
* Ezek. iii. 12-15.
visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain. Then said be unto me, Son of man, lift up thine eyes now the way toward the north."* Moreover, we read of the rapture of St. Philip to Azotus, and of St. Paul into the third heaven;t of the mysterious visitations of our Lord after His resurrection, and of His ascension to the right hand of God. It is, therefore, more natural to believe, that as our Lord was
up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted,” so Satan was permitted to take Him to the pinnacle of the temple and to the mountain-height, to consummate the mystery of His temptation. And we shall do best simply to believe, that from some vast summit, looking down upon a boundless reach of earth, the tempter did show the kingdorns, and pomp, and riches, and splendor, and glory of the world. It was a vision of worldly power and greatness, full of allurements and promises; of unbounded means of doing good to mankind, of wielding such dominion as perhaps man never wielded before. Whether Satan had any power to fulfil this promise; whether any indirect means, through the agency of evil, of bestowing the kingdoms of this world; whether any control was permitted to him over the collective actings, as over the individual acts, of men, so as to give him a sway in the disposal of earthly crowns—we know not. It may be that the promise was mere guile—fair and false; but this matters little. The temptation was simply this, that our blessed Lord should obtain the powers and gifts of the world by transferring His obedience from God to Satan. And this brings the * Ezek. viï. 1-5.
† Acts vïï. 39, 40; 2 Cor. xii. 2.
nature of the temptation within the sphere of our ordinary trials. It is, in fact, the peculiar temptation of those who love and seek after greatness, power, dominion, that is, of the ambitious; and as such we will go on to consider it.
Now of those that seek after worldly power, some seek it in unlawful, some in lawful ways; some with motives wholly selfish ; some with a persuasion that they desire it for the good of others and for the glory of God. And perhaps these latter, whatever they might admit in regard to the former kind of men, would very much resent being told that they are in danger of falling down and worshipping the tempter. Perhaps this would be generally thought to be a harsh judgment, and untrue. And yet there will be found in it more truth than they are aware of; it is therefore well worthy of our consideration: for there is “an excceding high mountain" in the heart of every inan, from which he is ever looking out upon manifold temptations.
1. First of all, it is obvious that to seek for worldly power and greatness by the use of unlawful means is a direct revolt from God. It is a deliberate disobedience to His will; a withdrawal of allegiance, trust, fear, hope, reverence, and worship from Him. It may not, indeed, be followed by any perceptible addresses to the prince of this world, or by acknowledged commerce with him. Men may not, by any deliberate compact,
“ make a covenant with death,” “be at agreement with hell;" nor, like Saul, when he had forsaken the Lord, go disguised, and inquire by night of those that have a familiar spirit: nevertheless they do, in the most real and effectual way, fall down and worship the powers
of darkness. For what do men really acknowledge, in the fact of using unlawful means, such as force, wrong, falsehood, deception, equivocation, to accomplish their aims, but that these things have power and efficacy to
aid and foster their designs ? and what are these but powers of darkness, in which they trust, and venture their hopes of success ? Take the case of Jeroboam. It was God's will to give him the kingdom of Israel; but in His own time and way. Jeroboam took it by rebellion, and retained it by idolatry. He used the policy of the devil to accomplish a promise of God. He fell down and worshipped him, that he might have the kingdom at once. And "he bequeathed this wicked policy, and the plausible necessity of maintaining it, to the kings of Israel for ever; so that he stands recorded as “ Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” No doubt, after him, great reasons of state were found to keep open the schism from the temple, and to maintain the calves at Dan and Bethel; wise men, and astute counsellors, were not wanting to lament the necessity, and to perpetuate the sin, till a whole people fell down and worshipped the powers of evil, from generation to generation. Wars of acquisition, crafty diplomacy, the most dazzling splendor of earthly rule, many of the mightiest exploits in the history of nations,—what will all these appear in the day of judgment, but a worship of the world ? And what will the princes of this world, their “governors, and captains, and judges, and treasurers, and counsellors, and all the rulers of the provinces,"* be seen to be in that dayexcept the few that have been saints in secret-but worshippers of power, and darkness, and vainglory?
But this is as true of private men as of public and notorious offenders. How few men, with the baits of power, elevation, applause, before them, can resist the allurement of indirect means, such as compromises, abandonment of pledges or obligations, and the like! It is a melancholy and most instructive fact, that there is hardly
* Dan. iii. 3.