Page images
PDF
EPUB

it, to acknowledge the divinity of the Saviour. Had he known with whom he had to do, Durst he have undertaken to tempt and seduce him? By "the Son of God," therefore, he understands only a prophet of distinguished rank, superior to all others, of pre-eminent virtue and merit, endowed with higher gifts and powers, chosen and commissioned of Providence for the conversion and salvation of the world, and of consequence infinitely dear to God. In this persuasion his object is an attempt to defeat the plan of Providence, to counteract the measures of Heaven, and, as he had succeeded in the seduction of the representative head of the human race, he entertained the infernal hope of prevailing also over its Restorer and Redeemer. He would dive, therefore, to the bottom of the character of Him, for whose appearance in the world such mighty preparation had been made, and whom a series of cir cumstances the most extraordinary had pointed out as the peculiar care of heaven. The operation of a miracle will one way or another serve to clear this up. The conversion of stones into bread appearing to him an impossibility, if Christ refuses to perform it, an imputation lies against his power; if he undertake without effecting it, his divine mission is rendered questionable. Can he be God's beloved Son, if he withheld the concurrence of omnipotence in a situation where it is of such high importance to determine what he in truth is? And again, on the other hand, if Jesus pay any attention whatever to the suggestions of Satan, he cannot be the Son of God, for that were to betray ignorance of the person who accosts him, and of the design which he entertained.

Mark still farther "the depths of Satan." He too, unhappily, knows what is in man: and he well knew what a stimulus it is to a mind ever so slightly tinctured with pride or vain-glory, when placed, especially in eminence of station, to have the power and authority of that station called in question. The temptation

has, in this view, the air of a challenge to Christ, to support his high pretensions by corresponding actions, and thus he would draw Him into a rash imprudent, vain-glorious display of his power, without a reason and without an end. Miracles are intended, and performed for the conversion of the incredulous, at least for their conviction, and to render them inexcusable. Unless this be in view, power ceases to be under the direction of wisdom. Accordingly we find that whenever haughty, determined unbelievers expected or demanded a sign, it was constantly denied them. What, has the Father entrusted him with his authority, to satisfy a malignant curiosity: and shall that power be lavished away, in humouring the obstinate and incorrigible, which is designed for the instruction and confirmation of such as love and seek the truth? How, Satan call on Christ to work a miracle? and for what end? that he might believe in him? Was the object of his mission to restore "angels who had left their first estate." Had Christ, then, at the requisition of Satan, performed a miracle, he could have nothing in view but an ostentatious exhibition of the gifts committed to him, which was all that the tempter wanted.

This leads to a general observation on the wisdom and moderation which ever governed our Lord's conduct, in this respect. As he never employed his power for the purposes of his own glory, because he sought only that of his heavenly Father, so he never exercised it to promote his own advantage; Charity, not selflove, dictated all his words, all his actions. He withdraws, he retires, when he meant to provide for his own safety; and He remains upon the cross when infidelity defied him to come down. An amiable view of the Son of God! In Him all power appears enthroned, with wisdom standing on the right hand and charity on the left; and it is acting continually in conformity to their advice. How then does he How then does he escape the snare laid for him by the devil with such dexterity and

artifice? By an answer artlessly simple, but at the same time exactly pointed, and directly to the purpose. The Israelites, when pressed by famine, bread failing them in the wilderness, were sustained for forty years by manna falling day by day from heaven; God substi tuting in place of bread, the common aliment of man, a celestial food, denominated in Scripture "Angel's bread," probably because it was prepared and dispensed by the ministration of angels. This gives occasion to Moses to observe, in recapitulating the conduct of Providence toward that people, "the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know, that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live,"

16

Jesus was now in a situation exactly similar to that of the Israelites, in the barren wilderness, conducted thither by the Spirit of God, following the destination of divine Providence: hunger presses, and the demon urges him to find a supply by converting stones into bread. There is no occasion to have recourse to this, or to any other extraordinary, uncommanded means," is the Saviour's reply, "the unlimited power of my father in heaven is not subjected to the necessity of supporting those who are following the leadings of his Spirit and Providence, by bread alone; it has an infinity of other methods to supply their wants, to provide for their subsistence. Knowest thou not what he did to the fathers in the desert, as I now am, and what the Scripture saith upon the subject. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," that is through any other me dium, "and by any other substance which he shall

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

""

please to appoint, and to which he shall affix his blessing." It is thus that Jesus instructs his disciples to wield" the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;" thus he confounds the tempter, and, without calling himself the Son of God, or proving that he was so by working a miracle, he satisfies himself with making the adversary feel it by the wisdom of his answer, by his confidence in God, and by a patient and profound submission to his will.

How mortifying is the contrast between the perseverance of wickedness in the worst of causes, and the faintness and langour of human virtue in pursuing the best! We are easily discouraged, we are soon weary of well-doing, but the enemy of our salvation is indefatigable, he goeth about continually, he returns still to the charge. He has failed in his first attempt, but he is determined to make another. He goes on a principle but too strongly verified by melancholy experience, that every man, and in Christ he sees nothing yet but a man, that every man has his weak side, some sin that doeth more easily beset him, some leading propensity that rules him at pleasure, and which makes interest, and reason, and conscience, and every thing bend to it. Let the tempter but find this out, and the whole man is his own. He finds Jesus invulnerable on the side of sense and vain-glory he has escaped the snare by the wise and seasonable application of Scripture; but may not a net be woven to entangle him, whose cords shall be drawn from Scripture itself? Here, in my apprehension, lies the force of the second temptation. It is of a piece with the temptation which prevailed over "the man of God" who exclaimed against the altar which Jeroboam had erected, “I am a prophet also as thou art, and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord," and the tempter flattered himself it would be as readily believed, and therein the deceiver deceived himself.

"Then the devil taketh him," says the evangelist,

"6

up

into the holy city, that is, Jerusalem, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple," probably the summit of one of the porticos, which terminated in a platform, and were surrounded by a battlement, for the pinnacle of the temple properly so called, was inaccessible, being finished in form of a dome, stuck full of sharp points gilded over to prevent the birds from perching upon it. Josephus represents these porticos, especially that on the south, as of a height so prodigious, from the depth of the valley below, that no head could look downward without becoming giddy. It was to this awful eminence that Satan was permitted to transport from the wilderness the Son of God, and there to propose to him to make experiment of the power, truth and faithfulness of God, saying, "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." The proposal was wild and extravagant in the extreme; but not less artful than extravagant. The import of it is plainly this, if Jesus Christ be the Son of God, must he not repose confidence in the promises which He has made, and rest assured of his constant care and protection? If he does not, it must be from a secret distrust of his power and goodness, from a disbelief of Scripture promises, which were in effect to renounce his character as the Son of God. The design of the tempter is apparent: he means to destroy, if he can, the object of his fear and envy. Persuaded that a fall from such a height must prove fatal, and feeling his power limited to art and insinuation, he tries to inspire a presumptuous confidence in heaven, and thus to bring to an open test what he really was, the beloved of God, concerning whom he had given his angels charge, and thereby terminate his own hopes, or ruin a rash and fallible man, like every other whom he had so successfully tried, and thus complete his triumph over frail humanity.

« PreviousContinue »