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THE NATURE AND LIMITS OF TEMPTATION.
ST. MATTHEW iv. 1.
"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be temptec
of the devil.”
This deeply mysterious passage of our Lord's humiliation can never be understood by us more than in part. It is full of truths only partially revealed; and, from our inability to comprehend them, we must refrain from offering too boldly to interpret the nature of His temptation.
Certain great truths, however, we may learn from what is here written. That same Spirit with Whom the Son of God was one from everlasting, and by Whom also He was anointed at His baptism, was here His guide to the place of His spiritual conflict with the Evil One. When it is said, He was led of the Spirit, it is to be understood in the same sense as when it is said, He was anointed, tempted, and the like the man Jesus Christ being susceptible of all these, by reason of His true and proper humanity. That same Spirit by which He was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor,* was also His guide in all that it behoved the Messiah to do and to suffer for the sin of the world. St.
* Isaiah lxi. 1.
Paul tells us that it was “through the Eternal Spirit "* that He offered Himself to God; and that He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead : "that is to say, by the Divine Nature in which the Son and the Spirit are one and indivisible. Thus, through the Spirit He was led
up of His own free will to be teinpted of the devil. It was the onset of the warfare which was to end in the destruction of “ him that hath the power of death.”
There is an evident relation, partly of coincidence and partly of contrast, between the temptation of the first Adam in the garden, and of the second Adam in the wilderness. The first Adam was tempted through the senses, and by the allurements of self-exaltation, and covetousness of gifts which he did not possess. So with Christ : He was tempted to satisfy His hunger by a miracle; to display His divine nature, by suspending the laws which govern our state, to which He had made Himself subject, and to forsake His Father for the offer of earthly greatness. In the two first temptations it does not at once appear in what the sin to which He was tempted consists. It may be that Satan sought for proof that He was the very Christ, and that he hoped either to destroy or to draw Him from God. His temptations were therefore put in a tone of incredulity and provocation, like that of the rulers who derided Him upon the cross, saying, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save: let Him save Himself, if He be the Christ, the chosen of God:” and the malefactor also who “railed on Him, saying, If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us."I These words express a great depth of contumely, mixed with incredulity and fear. It would appear that Satan half knew and half feared lest He were the Christ, and so
* Heb. ix. 14.
† Rom. i. 4.
# St. Luke xxiii. 35, 39.
shaped the temptations as to goad Him, as he thought, into a manifestation of Himself, and in ways that would destroy the pure integrity of His obedience to God. The temptation lay not so much in the particular form, as in the moral character and effect of the act. So it was in the first temptation of man: the act was in itself, it may be, indifferent; the spring of it was disobedience, and the end was death. In this instance it would have been a renouncing of subjection to His Father, and a defeat of the ends for which He had become incarnate.
Now, this temptation in the wilderness was a part of the humiliation of the Son of God. As He took our nature with all its infirmities, it was needful that He should make full trial of our state. As He prayed, wept, and hungered, so also He was tempted. It belonged to the truth of our nature, and to the realities of our state in this world of sin, that He should suffer as we suffer. And this is specially mentioned by St. Paul, who encourages us by saying that He " was in all points tempted like as we are.”* It was needful that He should learn by experience the full misery and hatefulness of sin, and the weakness and susceptibility of our nature: for this even the Omniscient, because of the perfection of His own nature, learned “by the things which He suffered.” What humiliation can be greater than that He "who cannot be tempted with evil,” should be solicited by the horrible and hateful suggestions of mistrustful, presumptuous, self-exalting thoughts, and that with the taunts and allurements of the devil? What is more afflicting to holy minds than the haunting suggestions or visions of evil ? And yet surely no such trial was ever so afflicting to any other as to the Holy One of God. The absolute holiness of the Godhead was then brought into contact with sin, as the
* Heb. iv. 15
divine immortality was brought into the neighborhood of death upon the cross. It is impossible for us to measure the intense humiliation and spiritual anguish of such a familiarity with the Wicked One. None but God, in whose sight the heavens are not clean, can know the hatefulness of sin as it was manifested to Christ, or the depth of sorrow and abhorrence which was excited in the soul of Him who was without sin.
Again : this temptation, it may be, was as necessary to our redemption as the Passion upon the cross. parallel to the temptation of Adam in Eden in this point, that as he by falling subjected us to sin and death, so Christ by overcoming has delivered us from the same. The first Adam was our head unto condemnation; the Second is our Head unto everlasting like. Now it is to be observed, that our Lord was tempted as a man, and as a man He overcame. He did not put forth divine powers of miracle, nor support Himself by divine interpositions. He might, indeed, have let loose twelve legions of angels against the tempter ; but how then should He have been the example and pledge of mastery to us that are tempted ? His victory over the devil was gained by the preparations of prayer and tasting, and by the power of patience and steadfast obedience to God. The same shield, and the weapons of offence, we also possess. His mastery was gained, as His temptation was endured, strictly within the conditions of our humanity.
That this conflict was complete is evident from the fact, that though St. Luke says Satan “departed from Him for a season,” we no where read that our blessed Lord was ever again solicited by his allurements. He was buffeted and blasphemed by the malignity of the devil; contradicted and pursued by the hatred of men; all the powers of dark
ness were in activity against Him; yet we no where find that He was again tempted to withdraw his obedience from His Father in heaven. Even in the last night of agony in the garden, in the midst of exhaustion, fear, and anguish, when the tempter might have seemed to have found a season of peculiar weakness, he did not appear: his work lay elsewhere; he was busied in another direction. He had compassed the death of Him whom he could not overcome; he had “ entered into the heart of Judas;" he was counterworking, as it might seem, to destroy One whom he could not defile. Now this perfect overthrow of Satan, by a person in our nature, is a mystery out of which our masteries over temptation are derived, as our falls are derived out of the first transgression. Christ has overcome for us; and by virtue of our union with Him, He daily overcomes Satan in and through our regenerate nature, and therein perpetually repeats and carries out His first mastery in the wilderness. It was this great warfare and victory that St. John saw in vision. • There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world : he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ : for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”* Apostles, prophets, martyrs, and saints,
* Rev. xii. 7-11.