Great Texts of the Bible
And straightway the Spirit driveth him forth into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.—Mark 1:12-13.
These two verses contain St. Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus. He does not describe the three separate acts of temptation which are given both in St. Matthew and in St. Luke. But he has some features of his own. They are expressed in the words “immediately,” “driven,” “wild beasts.”
Altogether St. Mark’s description of the Temptation contains five parts, which may be considered in order—
1. The Driving of the Spirit
2. The Wilderness
4. The Wild Beasts
5. The Ministering Angels
The Driving of the Spirit
“And straightway the Spirit driveth him.”
Our classical scholars have a recognised rule that they observe as often as they are engaged upon an ancient manuscript. The rule is to this effect: that the more difficult any reading is, the more likely it is to be the true reading. Now each of the three evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, has his own peculiar reading in the way he narrates to us the manner of our Lord’s entrance upon His time of temptation. And since that threefold variation of theirs allows, and indeed invites me to take my free choice among those three readings of theirs, I have no hesitation, for my part, in preferring the reading of Mark before the other two. For if his reading is at first sight the most difficult to receive, afterwards it becomes the most lifelike, the most arresting, the most suggestive, of the three offered readings. And all that goes to prove to me that Mark’s reading is the true and original reading, and that the other two readings have, so to speak, been toned down from it. “And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.”1 [Note: Alexander Whyte.]
1. “Immediately” (or “straightway,” R.V.) is one of St. Mark’s great words. He uses it forty-one times, while St. Matthew uses it nineteen times, and St. Luke only seven times. Matthew here uses “then,” Luke simply “and.” Each Evangelist, however, has some word of connection.
2. Immediately after what? Immediately after the Baptism. Now at the Baptism two things had occurred—the Spirit as a dove had descended upon Jesus, and a voice had come from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.” These experiences were inseparable, but they may be examined separately.
(1) The voice recognised Jesus as the Son of God in the sense in which the Messiah is spoken about as God’s Son in the Old Testament. That is to say, there is complete understanding between the Father and the Son, the fellowship of love. And that fellowship is not merely the emotion of love. The understanding between Father and Son is directed to the work which Jesus as Messiah is to do.
(2) Then follows the endowment of the Holy Spirit. It is new and unparalleled, just because the fellowship is new and unparalleled. And it is an endowment for the accomplishment of the work which the Father has given Him to do. The first energy of the Spirit, however, is not seen in the accomplishment of some Messianic act. If Jesus is conscious of being the Son of God, He is also conscious of being a son of man. And like all the sons of men, He must be tested. He must be tested as a man. He must face a man’s temptations, and stand or fall. Before He can go forth as the Messiah, that is to say, as the Saviour of the world, it must be made evident to Himself and to all the world that He Himself does not need to be saved. “And straightway the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness to be tempted.”
Why does the temptation come so soon after the blessing? Just to show that it is the sequel of the blessing. What was that in Jesus with which the Father was well pleased? It was the vision of what was to come, the vision of where the Spirit would drive Him. The Father saw that the dove-like peace which had fallen on the Son of Man would make Him fit for the wilderness; He blessed Him for what He would be able to bear. The shining on the banks of Jordan was the hour of His adoption, but the wilderness was the hour of His inheritance.1 [Note: George Matheson.]
Now understand me well—it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.2 [Note: Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road.]
When you have been at prayer, when you have made new resolves, when you have felt the uplifting of Divine grace, when you have taken the Blessed Sacrament,—then beware! For very likely Satan will try to upset you. It will be a grand success for him to take you by surprise and rob you of the good you have got. One has read of the old highway robbers, how they went to work. They always watched for a man who was coming along with plenty of money upon him, a man who had been to market and had been receiving payments.3 [Note: E. L. Hicks.]
There are three significant years in the life of St. Paul of which we are told nothing. He beholds the heavenly vision, which suddenly stands like a pillar of fire between his past and his future; in Damascus he learns in detail the truth which from that moment changes his whole life. And what does he do then? He goes into Arabia. He takes himself out of the sight of all men, whether Jews or Christians, out of the hearing of all human voices, into the bleak desert, into the land of rocks and solitude. And there he stays three years. In the history of his life the space of three years is blank, totally blank. So far as we know, St. Paul never spoke of that experience: he never told what happened. But we may guess. He was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. This new truth which summons you to contradict all that you have said and stood for, which calls you to a career of poverty and difficulty and tragedy—is it true? May there not be some mistake about it? And if it is true, what does it mean? What does it mean for you? The apostle went into the desert to meet the devil; and the devil asked him three questions. And it took the apostle three years to answer them. That was his temptation in the wilderness. First, the heavenly vision on the Damascus road; then the long contention with doubt and desire and the devil in Arabia.1 [Note: George Hodges.]
ii. The Spirit
The Authorized Version, using a small s at spirit, suggests that it was some evil spirit that drove Him into the wilderness. And it has been deliberately maintained that Satan himself was the driving power. Others have suggested some man or men under the influence of an evil spirit, one of His disciples, perhaps, as Peter or Judas, or even some member of His own family. But without doubt the Spirit is the Holy Spirit of God, with which He had just been uniquely endowed. The temptation is the first and necessary step in the fulfilment of the purpose for which Jesus had come into the world.
It is not true to say that the devil arranged the temptation. Temptation here is in the Divine plan and purpose. Jesus went into the wilderness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to find the devil. My own conviction is that if the devil could have escaped that day, he would have done so. It is a very popular fallacy that the enemy drove Christ into a corner and tempted Him. But the whole Divine story reveals that the facts were quite otherwise. God’s perfect Man, led by the Spirit, or as Mark in his own characteristic and forceful way expresses it, driven by the Spirit, passes down into the wilderness, and compels the adversary to stand out clear from all secondary causes, and to enter into direct combat. This is not the devil’s method. He ever puts something between himself and the man he would tempt. He hides his own personality wherever possible. To our first parents he did not suggest that they should serve him, but that they should please themselves. Jesus dragged him from behind everything, and put him in front, that for once, not through the subtlety of a second cause, but directly, he might do his worst against a pure soul.2 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan, The Crises of the Christ, 133.]
The initiative in this temptation was not taken by Satan; it was taken by the Holy Spirit. He displayed masterly generalship. He did not wait until the tempter came, but obliged the tempter to come. He forced the fighting. It was a fine bit of generalship. We ought to follow His lead far more there. Most of us, may I say, wait until we are tempted, and then, half-scared, seek for help. But we should always pray ahead, and take the ground before the Evil One can come. That is what the wondrous Holy Spirit does here. He forestalls the Evil One.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon.]
At one time Mr. Moody was on an ocean liner, in a great storm, and they were sure the boat was going to the bottom. They were all praying; everybody prays in a bad storm, you know. A gentleman has told that he went to one of the decks, and to his great surprise he saw Mr. Moody standing on the deck, not in the prayer meeting down below, but standing quietly looking out over the raging waters. And he said, “Mr. Moody, aren’t you down in the prayer meeting?” And in his quiet way Mr. Moody said, “Oh! I am prayed up.” There is a marvellous generalship in praying ahead.2 [Note: Ibid.]
1. The temptation of Jesus was part of God’s deliberate plan and purpose. So is the temptation of every man. Yet “no man can say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God.” Nor does the fact that God ordains the temptation relieve the instrument of his responsibility. After the crucifixion of Christ, Peter charged the Jews with having taken Him and by wicked hands having crucified and slain Him, although in the same sentence he said that He had been delivered to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.
And this distinction between the ordainer and the agent of temptation is not one of words. For not only does the withdrawal of anything, save positive sin, from the sphere of God’s will, affect the integrity of His moral government of the race, and relax the hold which God has on the progress of human affairs, but the teaching of Scripture is to be reconciled with itself only by bearing in mind that God may ordain a moral discipline for the soul, of which it is impossible He should be the instrument and immediate cause. We are told, for example, by St. James, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man”; and yet we are equally told, “It came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham”; and if it be said that this only means that God did try Abraham, the difficulty is removed but a step further back, for trial is always temptation, just as temptation is always trial. The true solution of the apparent contradiction seems to be suggested by the typical temptation of Christ, that whilst God Himself never does offer, and never can offer, personal seduction or inducement to sin to the soul—the supposition itself is utterly blasphemous—yet God may permit, and may will, that the soul should pass through temptation as the only means of that purifying and strengthening discipline to which we referred in the first chapter, as the chief object and result of all moral trial of every kind. And hence it is that the same temptation may be said, from one point of view, to come from God, and from another, to come from the devil.
Perhaps the most striking illustration of this truth to be found in Scripture is the numbering of the people by David. It is said, in the Book of Samuel, to have been the result of God “moving” David “against” Israel; whilst in the parallel history of the Book of Chronicles we read, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.”1 [Note: G. S. Barrett.]
Was the trial sore?
Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!
Why comes temptation but for man to meet
And master and make crouch beneath his foot,
And so be pedestaled in triumph? Pray
“Lead us into no such temptations, Lord!”
Yea, but, O Thou whose servants are the bold,
Lead such temptations by the head and hair,
Reluctant dragons, up to who dares fight,
That so he may do battle and have praise!2 [Note: R. Browning, The Ring and the Book.]
2. But we have to be careful that we do not seek temptation, under the impression that it is God’s purpose for us, or that it is good for our growth in grace. We may not know what is God’s purpose for us. Let us rather pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” and remember that Christ did not enter into temptation of His own will, but was driven into it by the Spirit. All three Synoptists emphasise the fact that the temptation of Christ was the result of Divine compulsion and not self-sought. The Spirit “led” or “drove” Him into the wilderness. He who taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” did not court temptation Himself. So may we expect God to help to “deliver us from evil” and to emerge from the conflict victorious, if our temptations come to us, but not if we go to them.
Once, while William of Orange was laying siege to a town on the Continent, an officer ventured to go with a message to the spot where he was directing the operation of his gunners. When the message was delivered, and the answer to it received, he still lingered. “Sir,” said the Prince, “do you know that every moment you stand here is at the risk of your life?” “I run no more risk,” replied the officer, “than your Highness.” “Yes,” said the Prince, “but my duty brings me here, and yours does not.” In a few minutes a cannon-ball struck the officer dead. The Prince was untouched.1 [Note: C. Stanford.]
“The Spirit driveth him forth.” Yet it was not some outside force. He had received the Spirit which now drove Him into the wilderness. It was a pressure from within, although it is not to be watered down into a mere desire of His own soul to be alone. It was that pressure of the Spirit of God, though here in larger, fuller measure, which drove the prophets to do their unwelcome duty and sent them to carry their burden. When Jesus sat down to speak in the synagogue of Nazareth, He applied the prophet’s words to Himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.… he hath sent me.”
Jesus was not driven forth in spite of His own will. H. J. C. Knight notices that Christ had to take account of four wills—the Father’s will, His own, the will of man, and the will of the devil.2 [Note: The Temptation of our Lord, 45.] The will of the devil He deliberately thwarted, and that on all occasions. The will of man He respected, drawing it by the bands of a man, which are the bands of love, but forcing it never. The will of the Father He made His own, bringing His own will into harmony with it.
But He had a will of His own—“Father, if it be possible … nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.” He was driven forth by the Spirit, because that was the will of the Father. But in the wilderness, as in Gethsemane, He made the Father’s will His own.
There is only one knob to the door of a man’s heart. That is on the inside. The tempter cannot get in unless the man within turns that knob and lets him in. And, be it remembered with greatest reverence, that our gracious God won’t come in except by the man’s free consent. Man is the battle-field. He decides which way the battle should go. No man can be whipped without his own consent. And every man may have victory, sweet and full, if he wants it.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon.]
O well for him whose will is strong!
He suffers, but he will not suffer long:
He suffers, but he cannot suffer wrong:
For him nor moves the loud world’s random mock,
Nor all Calamity’s hugest waves confound,
Who seems a promontory of rock,
That, compass’d round with turbulent sound,
In middle ocean meets the surging shock,
Tempest-buffeted, citadel-crown’d.2 [Note: Tennyson.]
iv. Driven to be Tempted
I. Why was Jesus driven forth to be tempted?
1. Because He was a man. Temptation is as inevitable to man as death. “Terrible to all men is death,” says Carlyle; “from of old named king of terrors.” But to some men at least the real king of terrors is not death, but temptation. Jesus was “in all things made like unto his brethren” (Hebrews 2:17).
To be human is to be tempted. It is a matter of fact, wherever you find a man you find a tempted being. God’s will has never been that we shall find it easy to do right and hard to do wrong. And the reasons lie in the nature of the case. For the making and training of moral beings, temptation is necessary. Virtue untried is no virtue; valour untested is no valour. Untempted virtue is at best what Milton calls “a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary.” We are destined to gain moral strength and a developed manhood by the overcoming of trials, difficulties, temptations. As Milton further reminds us, “Our sage and serious poet Spenser, describing true temperance under the guise of Guyon, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon and the bower of earthly bliss, that he may see and know and yet abstain.”
The temptation was involved in the Incarnation—it was necessary; it could not be avoided. That is purpose enough. If you meet a man in a steamer going to Europe, and ask him why he came to sea, he tells you what his business is in Europe—why he had to go there. The purpose of his going there is his purpose in crossing the sea. He could not do one without the other. And so we can well believe that the perfect holiness could not come into this wicked world to save us without coming to struggle with the sin of which the world is full. The Incarnation was a real Incarnation. Christ did not play at being made man. Into everything that really belongs to man He perfectly entered.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]
And so I live, you see,
Go through the world, try, prove, reject,
Prefer, still struggling to effect
My warfare; happy that I can
Be crossed and thwarted as a man,
Not left in God’s contempt apart,
With ghastly smooth life, dead at heart,
Tame in earth’s paddock, as her prize.2 [Note: R. Browning, Easter Day.]
2. He was tempted that we might know Him to be man, that we might recognise Him unmistakably as of ourselves, and take Him for an example. It is in temptation that we need His example most of all. And if He had not been a man in His temptation He would have been no example.
I believe it can be shown that these experiences so follow the lines of the generically human, of what is true for all men, and point the way to the solution of so many problems affecting human life universally, as to compel the conviction that this is, at least, one design behind the record of His career, namely, that it should exhibit once for all the central, archetypal human life in its victory over all incompleteness, and over all evil. This conviction is specially forced upon any one who ponders much on the story known as the Temptation of Jesus. Standing where it does in the record of His career, a résumé of the main elements in His soul-travail as He stood on the threshold of His life’s work, it reflects not His temptations only, but ours: setting forth, under the veil of parable, the universal human threshold fight, the multiform yet essentially threefold moral conflict which men everywhere must endure who would at the outset of their career place themselves in the path to true success.1 [Note: G. A. Johnston Ross.]
Sometimes we meet people of much piety and sweetness of character, who have lived quiet lives and gained much respect, but who do not carry with them a rebuke of sin, because sinners say, “They have never been tempted.” The poor, fallen woman sometimes says, as the world’s wife and daughter sweep by her with disdain, “They would have been no better than I, had they lived as I have done.” The thief thinks that magistrate and judge might have been in the dock with him, had they known what it was to be unable to get work and food. We look at the Lord Jesus, and say, “Man was never tempted as He was tempted,” and we hail Him as Saviour, not because Satan left Him alone, but because Satan assailed Him on every hand and was defeated.2 [Note: L. R. Rawnsley.]
“Get thee hence, Satan!” at His withering look
Hell’s tottering kingdom to its centre shook;
While from the myriad Angel hosts on high
Burst forth loud shouts of praise and victory.
’Gainst man the fiend had tried his worst in vain
And hope for ruined man shone forth again.
Dismayed, undone, the baffled tempter fled,
In lowest hell to hide his bruised head;
Crippled his power, his reign of darkness o’er,
The kingdoms of the world his own no more.
Yet not unscathed the Conqueror in the strife,
Who there had won for unborn millions life;
Crushed was the foe beneath His conquering tread,
But bruised the Victor’s heel by that foul head.
As Man, not God, He fought in that dark hour,
And braved alone the tempter’s utmost power;
The Woman’s Seed, the Virgin’s mighty Son,
As Man had fought, as Man the victory won;
Wielding that sword alone which man can wield,
Quenching the fiery darts with man’s own shield.
And still as Man, with fasting faint and worn,
His inmost soul by that fierce conflict torn;
Alone He stands upon the mountain now,
Cold drops of anguish on His suffering brow,
Sadly foreshadowing that tremendous night,
When drops of blood should start in deadlier fight.
Alone? no, not alone, for swift draw near
Bright Angel forms, to strengthen and to cheer;
To minister to all His wants and woes,
And soothe His weary form in calm repose.1 [Note: Sophie F. F. Veitch.]
3. He was tempted in order that we might feel assured of His sympathy. “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Carlyle was at one time strongly tempted to give up striving for success in literature: “No periodical editor wants me; no man will give me money for my work. Despicablest fears of coming to absolute beggary besiege me.” His Sartor was pronounced “clotted nonsense”; but at this critical juncture he received a letter from some nameless Irishman, recognising its merit, and this one voice renewed Carlyle’s strength. “One mortal, then, says I am not utterly wrong; blessings on him for it.” Every one knows what the sympathy of Kadijah was to Muhammad, how all her life he set her first: “She believed in me when none else would believe. In all the world I had but one friend, and she was that.” This is part of the aid which Christ’s sympathy brings to us: He believes in us; when others shake their heads, and we ourselves are in despair, He tells us we may yet succeed.2 [Note: Marcus Dods.]
As Christ’s temptation was vicarious, and when He conquered He conquered for others besides Himself, so it is with us. There are men and women all around us who have to meet the same temptations that we are meeting. Will it help them or not to know that we have met them and conquered them? Will it help us or not to know that if we conquer the temptation we conquer not for ourselves only, but for them? Will it help the master of a great business house or not to know that if he resists the temptation to cheat on a large scale it will help every clerk at the counter to resist his petty temptation to his little fraud? Will it help a father to keep sober or not if he knows that in his victory over drink his son’s victory becomes easier? The vicariousness of all life! There is not one of us who has not some one more or less remotely fastened to his acts, concerning whom he may say, as Christ said, “For their sakes I sanctify myself.”3 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]
The raw apprentice, who is trying his best, and finds a great deal in his work that is dull and difficult, is cheered at once if his foreman tells him, “I have gone through it all, my lad, in my time—it’s the only way of getting a good training. Go on, and things will be easier soon.” The youth in his teens, bewildered and surprised by the new and mysterious impulses that are surging up within him, confusing his conscience, engulfing his will, might be saved from years of sorrow by a word of sympathy from one older than himself. Why do not fathers speak frankly and calmly to their lads at that critical age, and assure them of their knowledge and their perfect sympathy? What a moral leverage it would confer, what a new power for victory!1 [Note: E. L. Hicks.]
Galahad is not the only hero of that medieval legend, called the Quest of the Holy Grail. It is told to the accompaniment of solemn music how Parsifal achieved the Grail. The most significant difference between the two is that Galahad wins with ease, but Parsifal with difficulty. Galahad is born good, and stays good, and never meets a champion who does him any serious hurt. On he goes, serene and confident, as if the Quest of the Grail were but a summer journey along a shady lane. But Parsifal is one of us. He has our human nature. He fights our human battles, while we hold our breath wondering whether he will win or not; he meets our own temptations and finds them terribly hard, as we do, struggles with them, wrestles with them, is weary and heavy-laden, hurt and bleeding. When he achieves the vision of the Grail, it is not with smiling face and shining armour. Parsifal is the true hero of the search for the Holy Grail, not the serene Galahad. In the story of the temptation, the Son of God shows us that He is the Son of Man. The Divine master, the Lord of life, assures us that He is of our kin and kind, flesh of our flesh. He suffers with us, as well as for us: and is perfectly good, but not easily good.2 [Note: George Hodges.]
4. He was tempted that Satan might be defeated. And now we have the great advantage of fighting a defeated foe. All the stinging sense of defeat, the disappointment and disheartening that defeat makes, he knows. And all the swing and spirit, the joyousness and elasticity of action, that come from an assured victory already won, we have in our Lord Jesus. We ought to sing as we fight.
I recall the experience of a man of matured years and well-seasoned judgment. He had been led to take an advance step in his Christian life which meant much of sacrifice. He has since then been used in Christian service in a marked way, and to an unusual degree. This experience came just after the step referred to had been taken. He was awakened in the night by a sense of an unwholesome presence in the room, or rather that the room was full of evil beings. A peculiar feeling of horror came over him, with strange bodily sensations. The air of the room seemed stifling. He quickly recognised that he was being attacked, rose from bed, and attempted to sing a verse of a hymn with Jesus’ Name in it. It seemed impossible at first to get his lips open, or any sound out. But he persisted, and soon the soft singing was clear and full, and the spirit atmosphere of the room cleared at once. And with grateful heart he lay down again, and slept sweetly until the morning. Yet he is a man of unusual caution, with a critical matter-of-fact spirit of investigation.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon.]
2. Two questions must be asked here—(1) Was the temptation of our Lord a reality? (2) What means did He use to win?
1. Was His temptation a reality? Yes, it was a real temptation. That is to say, it could not have been a temptation unless there was present the possibility of yielding to it. You can say on one side of the question that our Lord could not yield. Theoretically, ethically, you can say quite truly that He could not yield to temptation. But practically it was entirely possible for Him to yield. He was really tempted. He faced the question of yielding. He felt the power of each temptation. But He asserted His will, and in full dependence upon the blessed Holy Spirit, He met the tempter at every point. He did not meet the temptations as Son of God. When we are tempted, let us remember that He met every temptation as a man, just as we must meet ours, and as we may meet them in dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
We do less than justice to this sacred experience of Christ, less than justice to His perfect sympathy, if we lay no stress on the reality of His temptation. Sinless temptations may be the most severe. Jesus knew nothing of the terrible might and craft of a temperament naturally predisposed to some formidable vice, and pampered by long habitual indulgence into a despotism that brooks no resistance. Miraculously born a Holy Thing, with no evil stain contaminating His blood and driving Him to evil, how could He understand the helpless misery of those whose nature is stained through and through, and all whose propensities are towards evil? But it is a mistake to suppose that the most violent temptations are those which appeal to evil passions. The strength of temptation depends, among other things, on the strength of the feeling appealed to, and it is easy to show that pure and right feelings and natural appetites are more powerful and persistent than impure and acquired desires. The drunkard fancies that he must yield to his appetite or die, but that is a mere imagination. His acquired appetite may be resisted without fatally injuring him; but the natural appetite of thirst, if persistently restrained, destroys the physical system. If this natural appetite of thirst can be gratified only at the expense of another’s life, as has often happened in shipwreck, in this case the innocent thirst and the ungenerous means of quenching it form material of a temptation far surpassing in severity anything the self-indulgent profligate experiences from the cravings of a pampered appetite. The same law holds good in the higher parts of our nature. The richer a man’s nature is, the more interests, the finer susceptibilities he has, the more numerous connections he sustains to other men, and the more loving his attachment to them is, the more open is he to the severest temptations. And it was the wealth of our Lord’s nature, the tenderness and truth of His attachment to men, the universality of His sympathy, the vividness of His insight, the vastness of His undertaking, that made Him the object of temptations more distracting, persistent, and severe than those which assail any other.
Temptation does not necessarily imply the expectation of failure. It really means no more than testing. Take a simple illustration. A battleship has its trial trip before it is accepted by the government. The machinery is tested. Can the boilers stand the strain, and make the required speed? Can the guns carry the necessary distance? Can the armour plates withstand the shells? Can the bolts stand the shock of firing? The authorities do not anticipate failure, though there must be this possibility under trial. So it is with human characters. Are the convictions clear, and the will strong enough? Will the man rise up and live in accordance with the higher faculties of his nature, his reason, and conscience, or will he sink to the lower animal desires and instincts? Will he cling to the things that are seen and felt, or will he lay hold of the unseen and spiritual? We are not tempted to evil, but concerning evil.1 [Note: A. C. A. Hall.]
2. What means did He use to win? He used the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. To every form of temptation with which Satan assailed Him, He replied by “It is written.” He knew the promises of God, and He believed them. May we not know and believe them also? We have an additional guarantee, even Christ Himself. “For how many so ever be the promises of God, in him is the yea” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The only difference between us seems to be that, being full of the Holy Spirit, He was able to believe the promises utterly, and to use them with unerring effect. His whole heart was full of the thought of God, full of the letter and the spirit of the writings that speak of God. And then, when the assault came, it found Him fully armed with the remembrance and love of His Heavenly Father. We must follow that great example. Let us charge our hearts with the love of God and His will, by a habit of prayer and by saturating our minds with the Holy Scripture.
A mother once told me that her two sons, who were the joy of her life, differed only in one particular from one another. She discovered the difference when they were both away from home. She was able to trust one a little more than the other. One of them she knew confidently to be quite safe wherever he might be; the other she was not quite so sure about. One relied solely on his power of character and his sense of security in the keeping of God. The other relied a little too much on his own cleverness and strength of will. And it was this latter fact that gave the mother anxiety. Her own heart denned the difference, and told her that the only safety was in the strength of a pure life. A good man is safe anywhere.1 [Note: F. R. Brunskill.]
“The Spirit driveth him forth into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days.”
i. Jesus in the Wilderness
1. Jesus had always a strong desire for human fellowship. He appointed the twelve that they might be with Him (Mark 3:14). And He afterwards appointed unto them a kingdom because, He said, “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations” (Luke 22:28-29). The pain of His “Hour” as it drew near, was intensified by the thought that they would leave Him alone. And when all the agony was over, the promise which He made was, “Lo, I am with you alway.” For there was no promise He could make that would mean so much to them in the future; there was none that meant so much to Himself.
Jesus did not choose the wilderness to live in as John the Baptist did. He preferred the haunts of men. And because He lived amongst them they called Him “a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” John had sought the wilderness from his youth in order to the imperfect attainment of what Jesus had in perfection, even while He mingled freely with His fellows. It was a different necessity which drove Jesus into solitude, from that which denied the social life to His Forerunner. It was not that He had need to keep His hands clean from the sordid soiling of gain, or His lips from words that might be hasty and unkind, or false, or in any way injurious; nor that His heart needed to be retired from the reach of stains that might sully it; nor that His feet must be removed from paths where waywardness might stray into the snares of common life. Nor was it that the severities of nature’s wildness might ennoble His spirit and strengthen His will for lofty purposes. These were the ends that were sought by John, as they had been sought by many who were lesser than he among the prophets. But it was different with Jesus. He was driven to the Wilderness for the enacting of a drama which no eye might see save Heaven’s. The theatre of this temptation must be solitude. This is the explanation of the rigid solitude into which Jesus was driven by the Spirit of God.1 [Note: A. Morris Stewart.]
2. Yet He was much alone. The prophetic words, “I have trodden the winepress alone” (Isaiah 63:3), have always been applied to Him. And in St. Luke’s Gospel there is a significant remark that when Jesus was praying alone the disciples were with Him (Mark 9:18). For not only did He often go away to some mountain to be alone with the Father; but even when the disciples were beside Him, His prayer was solitary. In the deepest exercise of life, He never could associate even His disciples with Him. “Our Father which art in heaven”—that is not the Lord’s Prayer—it is ours; for it contains the petition, “and forgive us our trespasses.” So when the hour of His temptation came He was driven into the wilderness.
3. What wilderness was it? We cannot tell. If we may search for it geographically it seems to have been further from human habitation than John’s wilderness, for He was with the wild beasts. Many find it on the western shores of the Dead Sea. “Those denuded rocks,” says Pressensé, “that reddened soil scorched by a burning sun, that sulphurous sea, stretching like a shroud over the accursed cities, all this land of death, mute and motionless as the grave, formed a fitting scene for the decisive conflict of the man of sorrows.”
The place was a desert, waste, barren, shelterless, overhead the hot sun, underfoot the burning sand or blistering rock. No outbranching trees made a cool restful shade; no spring up bursting with a song of gladness came to relieve the thirst; no flowers bloomed, pleasing the eye with colour and the nostrils with fragrance: all was drear desert. Now, two things may be here noted—the desolation and the solitude. The heart that loves Nature is strangely open to her influences. The poet sees a glory in the light of setting suns, and the round ocean, and the living air, which exalts and soothes him; but a land of waste and cheerless gloom casts over his spirit a shadow as of the blackness of darkness. And Jesus had the finest, most sensitive soul that ever looked through human eyes. He loved this beautiful world, loved the stars that globed themselves in the heaven above, the flowers that bloomed in beauty on the earth beneath, the light and shade that played upon the face of Nature, now brightening it as with the smile of God, now saddening it as with the pity that gleams through a cloud of tears. Think, then, how the desolation must have deepened the shadows on His spirit, increased the burden that made Him almost faint at the opening of His way. And He was in solitude—alone there, without the comfort of a human presence, the fellowship of a kindred soul. Yet the loneliness was a sublime necessity. In His supreme moments society was impossible to Him. The atmosphere that surrounded the Temptation, the Transfiguration, the Agony, and the Cross, He alone could breathe; in it human sympathy slept or died, and human speech could make no sound. Out of the loneliness He issued to begin His work; into loneliness He passed to end it. The moments that made His work divinest were His own and His Father’s.1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn.]
ii. Why in the Wilderness?
1. Because, temptations are keenest in the wilderness. There is no human sympathy at hand. And where there is no human sympathy, it is the noblest that temptation assails most fiercely. The hermits fled to the wilderness to escape temptation. They fled to Satan’s chosen battle-ground, and the saintlier they were, the more was his advantage over them.
We are apt to think that Satan is most powerful in crowded thoroughfares. It is a mistake. I believe the temptations of life are always most dangerous in the wilderness. I have been struck with that fact in Bible history. It is not in their most public moments that the great men of the past have fallen; it has been in their quiet hours. Moses never stumbled when he stood before Pharaoh, or while he was flying from Pharaoh; it was when he got into the desert that his patience began to fail. David never stumbled while he was fighting his way through opposing armies; it was when the fight was over, when he was resting quietly under his own vine, that he put forth his hand to steal. The sorest temptations are not those spoken, but those echoed. It is easier to lay aside your besetting sin amid a cloud of witnesses than in the solitude of your own room. The sin that besets you is never so beseeching as when you are alone. You may say kind things in public to the man you hate; but you make up for it in the wilderness. It is our thoughts that hurt us; and we think most in solitude. Many a man who resists the temptation to drunkenness at the dinner-table is conquered at the secret hour. Paul says that the Christian armour is most needed after we have vanquished the outward foe, “that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.”2 [Note: George Matheson.]
2. It is through temptation that He must win His place among men. And first of all He must be separated from men, and He must feel the separation. That is the reason why He was driven into the wilderness. The separation was itself the temptation.
(1) He came to John’s baptism that He might identify Himself with men. “All the people were baptized,” says St. Luke; “Jesus also was baptized.” John knew that there was a difference. But Jesus would have it so. “For thus it becometh us,” He said, “to fulfil all righteousness.” It was not simply that He made Himself one with the multitude; it was that He identified Himself with them in their sin. It was a vicarious act—not the vicarious act, however, of one standing without the race. It was an act whose very vicariousness consisted in this, that He made Himself one of the race, a sinless One, content to be reckoned with sinners.
(2) But if He has already identified Himself with mankind, why is He now separated from men? Because before He begins His work as Saviour He must prove Himself to be a man. The identification in baptism is the identification of the Saviour with the race He has come to save. In return for that He received the voice from heaven and the endowment of the Spirit. But before He goes forward to His work as Saviour He must meet His own temptations as a man, and conquer. For He can never be the Saviour of others if He needs a Saviour Himself. Now, every man must meet his temptations alone. Jesus must be driven into the wilderness.
We must be solitary when we are tempted. The management of the character, the correction of evil habits, the suppression of wrong desires, the creation of new virtues—this is a work strictly individual, with which no “stranger intermeddleth,” in which the sympathy of friends may be deceptive, and our only safety is in a superhuman reliance. The relation of the human being to God is altogether personal: there can be no partnership in its responsibilities. Our moral convictions must have an undivided allegiance; and to withhold our reverence till they are supported by the suffrage of others is an insult which they will not bear. What can those even who read us best know of our weaknesses and wants and capabilities? They would have to clothe themselves with our very consciousness before they could be fit advisers here. How often does their very affection become our temptation, cheat us out of our contrition, and lead us to adopt some pleasant theory about ourselves, in place of the stern and melancholy truth!1 [Note: James Martineau.]
In the end each must do the work for himself, and in his own fashion. Only in solitude can the hardest part of the pathway to reality be trodden:—
Space is but narrow—east and west—
There is not room for two abreast.
No one of us is like any other, either in his needs or in the mode in which these needs must be satisfied. Every man bears the impress of his finitude, with its infinite variety of form. Hardly less is that impress borne by even the greatest and highest expression in which the truth is told to us. Yet if that truth be hard to reach—nay, even if the most genuinely strenuous effort to reach it must ever remain incomplete, and the work have to be done over again by each one for himself, we have no justification for despair, or for sitting in idleness with folded hands. For in the search for truth, as in all the other phases of our activity, we gain and keep our life and freedom only by daily conquering them anew.1 [Note: R. B. Haldane, The Pathway to Reality.]
(3) But more than that. The wilderness was necessary to the temptation, because isolation is death. What was the death He died for sinners on Calvary? It was separation from the Father. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—that was His death on Calvary. For fellowship with God is life; and the moment that a man sins he dies because he breaks that fellowship. As a Saviour our Lord identified Himself with man even in baptism; but that was only a foretaste. He drank the cup of identification on the Cross when the Father made Him feel His unity with sinners in their separation from God. But He is to be a man as well as a Saviour. Before He can enter into the fulness of fellowship with man He must be separated from man and feel the separation. He must of His own free will die to man that He may rise again into the enjoyment of human fellowship, and be indeed the Son of man. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” Unless Jesus had been driven into the wilderness He would have remained without the human family.
Thou wast alone through Thy redemption vigil,
Thy friends had fled;
The angel at the garden from Thee parted,
And solitude instead,
More than the scourge, or Cross, O, tender-hearted,
Under the crown of thorns bowed down Thy head.2 [Note: H. E. H. King.]
“Tempted of Satan.”
i. The Form of the Temptation
In what sense is the narrative to be taken? Many writers accept it as literal history, and suppose the tempter to have appeared in bodily form and to have conveyed our Lord, also in the body, both to the mountain top and to the pinnacle of the Temple. Others have regarded it as a vision; and intermediate views have been adopted by many. On one point, fortunately, we may be pretty confident. The substance of the history came from our Lord. The most unfavourable critics allow this, from the extreme difficulty of referring it to any other source. It cannot have been introduced in order to make the Gospel fall in with the Jewish notions of the Messiah, for there are no traditions that the Messiah should be tempted; and if the passage had been devised by men, the drift of it would have been plainer, and the temptations would have been such as men would feel might have come upon themselves. We have many accounts, in the legends of the saints, of the sort of trials which present themselves to the imagination of human writers; and they differ totally from these.
That Satan should have appeared in a bodily form is, to my mind, opposed to the spirituality of all our Lord’s teaching. Such an appearance presents endless difficulties, not only physical but moral. If our Lord knew the tempter to be Satan, He was, as I have said, forearmed; if He did not know him, that introduces other difficulties. He must at any rate have been surprised at meeting a specious sophist in the wilderness. Milton deals with the subject with great skill, from his point of view, in Paradise Regained. Certain points he leaves unexplained, and those I believe to be inexplicable. They are these. I cannot understand that our Lord should suffer Satan to transport Him to the mountain top, or to the pinnacle of the Temple, or that the Evil One should propose to Jesus to fall down and worship him.
I can, however, readily comprehend that our Lord should represent under this imagery and under these personifications what had passed within Himself. He could not indeed bring the lesson home to His hearers in any other way. To have represented mental emotions, to have spoken of the thoughts that passed through His mind, would have been wholly unsuited to His hearers. We know how difficult it is to keep up an interest in a record of inward struggles and experiences. Men want something to present to their mind’s eye, and they soon weary of following an account of what has been going on within a man’s heart, void of outward incident. A recital of what had passed in our Lord’s mind would have taken no hold of men’s fancy, and would soon have faded from their thoughts. But the figure of Satan would catch their eye, the appearance of contest would animate the hearer’s interest; while the survey of the realms of the earth, and the dizzy station on the pinnacle of the Temple, would take possession of men’s memories and minds.1 [Note: Henry Latham.]
The Apologue was to Orientals a favourite vehicle for conveying moral lessons; and we have a familiar instance in English Literature of the attraction of allegory. Would Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress have possessed itself, as it has done, of the hearts of whole sections of the British race, if, shorn of its human characters and its scenery, it had only analysed and depicted the inward conflicts, the mental vicissitudes and religious difficulties of a sorely-tried Christian youth?2 [Note: Ibid.]
It is wise not to allow this matter to assume an exaggerated importance. For to suppose such angelic appearances and communications as are related in the early chapters of St. Luke to be imaginative outward representations of what were in fact but merely inward communications of the “divine word” to human souls, is both a possible course and one which is quite consistent with accepting the narrative as substantially historical and true. No one who believes in God and His dealings with men, and who accepts the testimony of all the prophets as to “the word of the Lord” coming to them, can doubt the reality of substantive Divine communications to man of a purely inward sort. Such an inward communication is recorded in these chapters to have been made to Elisabeth, and the angelic appearances to Joseph, recorded by St. Matthew, are merely inward occurrences, i.e. they are intimations conveyed to his mind in sleep. No one, moreover, who knows human nature, can doubt that such inward communications could be easily transformed by the imagination into outward forms.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
ii. The Existence of Spiritual Beings
There can be no a priori objection against the existence of such spiritual beings, good and bad, as angels and devils. Many of us would say that the phenomena of temptation, as experienced by ourselves, cannot be interpreted without a belief at least in the latter. Above all, our Lord’s language certainly reaches the level of positive teaching about good, and still more about bad, spirits. As regards good spirits, not only does His language constantly associate angels with Himself in the coming and judicial work of the last day, but He talks of them with explicit distinctness as beholding the face of God, as limited in knowledge of the great day, as without sensual natures, as attached to children, ministering to the souls of the dead, attendant upon Himself at His request. As regards evil spirits, He must Himself have related His own temptation to His disciples, in which the personal agency of Satan is vividly presented. He speaks with great simplicity of the devil as disseminating evil and hindering good. He warns Peter of an explicit demand made by him upon the souls of the apostles. He deals with demons with unmistakable seriousness, emphasis, and frequency. He sees Satan behind moral and physical evil. He looks out upon the antagonism to good which the world presents, and says, “An enemy hath done this.” He recognises the approach of evil spirits in the trial of the Passion. But He knows that the power of the forces of evil is really overthrown and their doom certain.
The present writer, then, does not see how doubt about the existence and action of good and bad spirits is compatible with a real faith in Jesus Christ as the absolutely trustworthy teacher. There is nothing contrary to reason in such a belief. That it should have been associated with a vast amount of superstition and credulity is no more an argument against its validity than against religion as a whole. No one can deny that, in our Lord’s case, the teaching which He gave about spirits is guarded from superstition by His teaching about God and human responsibility.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
Evil thoughts come to us which are alien from all our convictions and all our sympathies. There is nothing to account for them in our external circumstances or in the laws of our intellectual life. We abhor them and repel them, but they are pressed upon us with cruel persistency. They come to us at times when their presence is most hateful; they cross and trouble the current of devotion; they gather like thick clouds between our souls and God, and suddenly darken the glory of the Divine righteousness and love. We are sometimes pursued and harassed by doubts which we have deliberately confronted, examined, and concluded to be absolutely destitute of force, doubts about the very existence of God, or about the authority of Christ, or about the reality of our own redemption. Sometimes the assaults take another form. Evil fires which we thought we had quenched are suddenly rekindled by unseen hands; we have to renew the fight with forms of moral and spiritual evil which we thought we had completely destroyed.2 [Note: R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 422.]
iii. The Personality of the Tempter
The assertion of the existence of a Tempter at all, of a personal Wicked One, of the devil, this, as is well known, is a stumblingblock to many. Not urging here the extent to which the veracity of Christ Himself is pledged to the fact, I will content myself with observing that it is not by Scriptural arguments alone that it is supported. There is a dark, mysterious element in man’s life and history which nothing else can explain. We can only too easily understand the too strong attractions of the objects of sense on a being who is sensuous as well as spiritual; the allowing of that lower nature, which should have been the ruled, to reverse the true relation, and to become the ruler. We can understand only too easily man’s yielding, even his losing, of himself in the region of sense. But there is a mystery far more terrible than this, a phenomenon unintelligible except upon one assumption.
All who shrink from looking down into the abysmal depths of man’s fall, because they have no eye for the heavenly heights of his restoration, or for the mighty powers of God that are at work to bring this about, seem to count that much will have been gained by casting out Satan; although it may be very pertinently asked, as indeed one has asked, What is the profit of getting rid of the devil, so long as the devilish remains? of explaining away an Evil One, so long as the evil ones who remain are so many?1 [Note: Archbishop Trench.]
Men don’t believe in a devil now,
As their fathers used to do;
They’ve forced the door of the broadest creed
To let his majesty through;
There isn’t a print of his cloven foot,
Or a fiery dart from his bow,
To be found in earth or air to-day,
For the world has voted so.
But who is mixing the fatal draft
That palsies heart and brain,
And loads the earth of each passing year
With ten hundred thousand slain?
Who blights the bloom of the land to-day
With the fiery breath of hell,
If the devil isn’t and never was?
Won’t somebody rise and tell?
Who dogs the steps of the toiling saint,
And digs the pits for his feet?
Who sows the tares in the field of time
Wherever God sows His wheat?
The devil is voted not to be,
And of course the thing is true;
But who is doing the kind of work
The devil alone should do?
We are told he does not go about
As a roaring lion now;
But whom shall we hold responsible
For the everlasting row
To be heard in home, in Church, in State,
To the earth’s remotest bound,
If the devil, by a unanimous vote,
Is nowhere to be found?
Won’t somebody step to the front forthwith,
And make his bow and show
How the frauds and the crimes of the day spring up?
For surely we want to know.
The devil was fairly voted out,
And of course the devil is gone;
But simple people would like to know
Who carries his business on.
1. There are three distinct ways of proving the personality of Satan.
(1) First of all there is the Biblical way. For those who are willing to accept the plain teaching of Scripture there is no need of going further. For this Book plainly teaches both his personal existence and his great activity and power. But for those who are not content to accept these teachings there are two other independent sources of evidence. And each of them is quite conclusive in itself, to the earnest, seeking man.
(2) There is the philosophical evidence. That is to say, there is no power apart from personality. That can be put down as a purely philosophical proposition. There may be manifestations of power without the personality being seen or recognised. That is very common. There cannot be power apart from an intelligence originating and directing it. And certainly there is an evil power in the world. That is plainly felt and recognised everywhere. Now that presence of an evil power argues plainly the personality of an evil being actively at work behind the scenes.
(3) There is still a third line of approach quite distinct from these two, and as irresistible in itself. That is the experimental, or the evidence that comes through experience. Let a man who has been yielding to temptation try to quit; let a man try to cut with the sin he has been indulging; and he will at once become aware that he has a real fight on his hands. He will become conscious of a real power attacking him with terrific force. About that the man himself will have no doubt. It will come with peculiar force, and drive, and cunning subtlety. It will hang on with great tenacity and persistence.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon.]
2. Very remarkable is the prominence which Satan assumes in the New Testament, compared with the manner in which he and the whole doctrine concerning him is kept in the background in the Old. In the Old Testament, after the first appearance of the adversary in Paradise, which even itself is a veiled appearance, he is withdrawn for a long while altogether from the scene; there is but a glimpse of him, a passing indication here and there of such a spiritual head of the kingdom of evil, through the whole earlier economy (as in Job 1, 2, Zechariah 3:1-2, and 1 Chronicles 21:1). He is only twice referred to in the Apocrypha (Wis 2:24; Sir 21:27). This may partly be explained by an analogy drawn from things natural, namely, that where the lights are brightest, the shadows are the darkest. Height and depth are correlatives of one another. It is right that first reveals wrong; and hate can be read as hate only in the light of love, and unholiness in the light of purity; and thus it needed the highest revelation of good to show us the deepest depth of evil. But this does not explain the reticence of Scripture altogether. No doubt in that childhood of the human race men were not yet ripe for this knowledge. For as many as took it in earnest, and as it deserves to be taken, for them it would have been too dreadful thus to know of a prince of the powers of darkness, until they had known first of a Prince of Light. Those, therefore, who are under a Divine education are not allowed to understand anything very distinctly of Satan, till with the spiritual eye it is given to them to behold him as lightning fallen from heaven; then, indeed, but not till then, the Scripture speaks of him plainly and without reserve.1 [Note: Archbishop Trench.]
In the New Testament there is not one single writer who does not speak of Satan and his work, not so much in the way of insisting on his existence, as, taking this for granted, building thereon exhortations and warnings. St. Peter bids us “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” St. Jude looks back to the fall of the angels. They were not always devils, they were created good; they “kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation.” St. James, the most practical of New Testament writers, bids us “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” just as he tells us, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” The one is as real and personal a being as the other. St. Paul, the philosopher of the New Testament, tells us that our real conflict is not with flesh and blood, not with fallen human nature in ourselves or in society around us, but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Behind the flesh, stirring up its unruly appetites; behind the world, organising it in independence of God, or spreading out its fascinations to bewilder and beguile us, the Apostle recognises the prince of this world. St. John, the theologian, declares the object of the Incarnation, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil”; and he goes on to distinguish between the children of God and the children of the devil by their moral likeness and affinity to the source from which they derive their spiritual character. “He that committeth sin,” he declares, “is of the devil.”
What is most remarkable is that it is in the pages of the Gospels and from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself that we are told most about the evil one, that we have the fullest and clearest teaching on this subject. This doctrine is taught in the parables, those earthly stories with a heavenly, spiritual meaning. In the very first parable, that of the Sower, the first reason assigned why the seed sown brings forth no fruit is because the birds of the air, which our Lord explains to represent the devil and his angels, snatch away the seed. In the parable of the Tares sown among the wheat, it is said, “An enemy hath done this”; the devil seeks, if he cannot destroy the truth, to pervert it. Many of our Lord’s miracles and works of mercy were the putting forth of Divine power to free those who had fallen under the influence of evil spirits, to restore them to their own self-control and self-possession. He tells His disciples the effect of the setting up of His Kingdom. “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” Speaking of His coming Passion, our Lord says, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” He shall try Me at every point, but he shall find My will unswerving in its allegiance to My Father. Our Lord describes the character of the devil: he was a murderer from the beginning, and a liar, murdering souls by the seduction of his lies.
If the Gospels trustworthily reflect His mind, nothing else than the conception of a personal will underlies the way in which Jesus uniformly spoke of the Evil One. To Him it was a will actively antagonistic to the will of the Father and His own will; one which rules and disposes, desires and purposes, and which as a will can touch the wills of men. Towards this will His attitude is one of uncompromising and irreconcilable hostility, and is incomparably summed up in the apostolic words, He partook of human nature “that he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” To His eye the Ministry was a war against Satan come down to conflict in all his lightning splendour; but He was conscious of having authority, and of capacity to bestow authority, “over all the power of the enemy,” a term (τοῦ ἐχθροῦ) which is itself evidence of the conception of a personal will. This “prince of this world” is to be dethroned; and Christ Himself, “if lifted up from the earth,” is to draw all men to Himself. So Christ moves through the Ministry as the stronger than the strong man fully armed, to establish the Kingdom of heaven. The resoluteness of this attitude is heightened by His facing from first to last the fact that this “bringing to nought” the devil is to be effected at supreme cost to Himself—“through death”—and a season of apparent triumph of “the power of darkness.” But He stands as one who has counted the cost, and whose purpose towards the hostile will is irrevocably fixed.1 [Note: H. J. C. Knight.]
3. It may relieve some minds if we tell ourselves with regard to this that it is not necessary to believe in the bodily appearance of Satan to our Lord. Indeed the belief in such is largely due to the impression on the imagination of the efforts of painting and poetry to reproduce this scene, and is in no wise required by the narrative itself. Yet we must not allow such needful reminders to weaken our appreciation of the power which Jesus encountered in His loneliness. To Jesus, evil was a force and an intention outside of man, though it had its allies within him. It was a power bigger than man himself could breed; which hungered for the souls of men, and could finally have them for its own with the same absoluteness as He, the Son of God and Saviour of the world, longed to make them His. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat.” Jesus said this from His own experience of the subtlety and covetousness of evil. In the earthly life of our Lord there are no moments so intense as those in which He felt the attempts of evil upon Himself. And it was out of this horror that, in spite of all His illustrations of the necessity and Divine uses of temptation, He bade His disciples pray not to be led into it.1 [Note: Principal George Adam Smith.]
iv. His Presence and Work
1. Consider some of the evidences that any one may recognise as proofs of Satan’s presence and work.
(1) Think of that mystery of iniquity, so to speak, in the sudden injection of evil thoughts, when no point of connection can be traced, no unguarded talk, or want of watch over the eyes. Yet horrid thoughts of blasphemy and unbelief, of impurity and rebellion and hatred, assail the soul at some sacred time, perhaps of prayer or Communion, when we would give anything to be free therefrom. “An enemy hath done this.”
(2) Think of the mystery of iniquity in the stirring up of curiosity, that so fruitful cause of evil, in a child’s mind, the invention of evil in a heart that was fenced against its entrance. Why should that book, that column in the newspaper, exert such a fascinating attraction? Whence this passionate desire to know both good and evil? Again, “an enemy hath done this.”
(3) Think of that further and more awful mystery of iniquity in the propagation of evil, when men and women, knowing in their own experience the misery of sin, of scepticism, it may be, or drink, or lust, seek to spread its influence and to blight others’ lives. Do you believe they do this simply of their own accord? Is it not at least as reasonable to suppose that they are used as instruments by one to whom they have sold themselves, that, having yielded to powers of evil, those powers claim their service? The tempted and fallen are used in turn to tempt others.
(4) Consider the chains of ignorance, the bonds of prejudice, in which not only heathen nations are fettered, but which keep back so many of our own countrymen from recognising the truth, so that, while rejecting the sweet reasonableness of the Christian faith as a badge of credulity, they take up with silly superstitions like those of Mormonism or Spiritualism. Is it not reasonable to recognise here the working of a lying spirit propagating error, instilling prejudices and misunderstanding, blinding the mind to the truth?
(5) Once more, the experience of those who are earnest in the service of God bears the mark of the intervention of an enemy who carefully and persistently manipulates temptation, and adjusts it to the special weakness of each person, to his circumstances and environment, to his disposition and temperament. We do not catch a sin as we catch a fever; there is an adjustment and dexterous arrangement of temptation that tells to the thoughtful mind of a personal spiritual foe who is constantly on the watch to ruin souls, seeking to mar God’s handiwork and thwart His purposes.1 [Note: A. C. A. Hall.]
It was cleverly said by a French priest to a young man who accosted him in a patronising tone with the question, “Surely, sir, you don’t believe in the devil?” “Thank God I do, for otherwise I should have to believe myself to be a devil.”
We all know the despair which successive submissions to temptation fasten upon the soul; and how, yielding to sin, men fall into a state of mind in which evil feels not only real and powerful, but indeed more real than anything else: the only possibility for them, the only thing with any reality left in it. One who had fallen very far into sin wrote thus of it:—
They say that poison-sprinkled flowers
Are sweeter in perfume,
Than when, untouched by deadly dew,
They glowed in early bloom.
They say that men condemned to die
Have quaffed the sweetened wine
With higher relish than the juice
Of the untampered vine.
And I believe the devil’s voice
Sinks deeper in our ear
Than any whisper sent from Heaven,
However sweet and clear.
2. All through the New Testament Satan is spoken of as an agent of evil to the body as well as to the soul. Our trials and tribulations, as well as our enticements to sin, are attributed to his malice. Our Lord Himself employs language which at least implies His acquiescence in this belief of His day: “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16). St. Paul uses similar language to describe his “thorn in the flesh,” doubtless a bodily ailment (2 Corinthians 12:7): “And lest I should be exalted above measure … there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” This idea is equally implied in the same Apostle’s language (1 Corinthians 5:5) in speaking of excommunication: “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Here “to deliver up to Satan” means to expose them to the peril of physical hurt and misfortune, unhelped and unprotected by the prayers and sacraments of the Church, so that by fear and chastisement they may be brought to repentance. And this further explains 1 Timothy 1:20 : “Of whom is Hymenæus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan” (i.e. have excommunicated) “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Even plainer still is the same meaning in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, where St. Paul is excusing his delay in revisiting Thessalonica: “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us,” The hindrances that occurred, whether they arose out of sickness or other external circumstances, are set down to the malice of Satan, who was always for obstructing so good a cause.1 [Note: E. L. Hicks.]
Let us not always say
“Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!”
As the bird wings and sings,
Let us cry “All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!”2 [Note: R. Browning.]
The Wild Beasts
“He was with the wild beasts.”
When our Lord was in the wilderness, He was not only tempted of Satan, but, as the evangelist takes pains to tell us, He “was with the wild beasts.” How far was He in danger from them? How far was He conscious of them? What share did they have in His great temptation? The fact that their presence is noted forbids us to regard Him as entirely indifferent to them. During the day they might be neither seen nor heard.
The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together,
And lay down in their dens.
Thou makest darkness, and it is night:
Wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
Faint, shadowy forms pass by, gleams of otherwise unperceived light are focussed and reflected from strangely luminous eyes, stealthy movements may be just detected by the strained ear, and the night trembles with distant howlings, or is perhaps startled by the hideous shriek of some jackal close at hand. How was He who had been driven of the Spirit into the wilderness affected by these sounds and sights? Did He think of these “wild beasts” as imperilling His safety, as we should probably have done had we, unhoused, unguarded, without companions, been spending the hours of darkness in the desert wastes?
What were they? In referring to Kuser Hajla, near Jericho, Tristram says: “In its gorge we found a fine clump of date palms,—one old tree, and several younger ones clustered round it, apparently unknown to recent travellers, who state that the last palm tree has lately perished from the plains of Jericho. Near these palm trees, in the thick cover, we came upon the lair of a leopard or cheetah, with a well-beaten path, and the broad, round, unmistakable footmarks quite fresh, and evidently not more than a few hours old. However, the beast was not at home for us. Doubtless it was one of these that M. de Saulcy took for the footprints of a lion. But inasmuch as there is no trace of the lion having occurred in modern times, while the others are familiar and common, we must be quite content with the leopard. Everywhere around us were the fresh traces of beasts of every kind; for two days ago a great portion of the plain had been overflowed. The wild boar had been rooting and treading on all sides; the jackals had been hunting in packs over the soft oozy slime; the solitary wolf had been prowling about; and many foxes had singly been beating the district for game. The hyena, too, had taken his nocturnal ramble in search of carcases. None of these, however, could we see.”1 [Note: Tristram, The Land of Israel, 245.] When in the Wady Hamâm, again, in the district of Gennesaret, he says: “We never met with so many wild animals as on one of these days. First of all, a wild boar got out of some scrub close to us, as we were ascending the valley. Then a deer was started below; ran up the cliff, and wound along the ledge, passing close to us. Then a large ichneumon almost crossed my feet, and ran into a cleft; and while endeavouring to trace him, I was amazed to see a brown Syrian bear clumsily but rapidly clamber down the rocks and cross the ravine. While working the ropes above, we could see the gazelles tripping lightly at the bottom of the valley, quite out of reach and sight of our companions at the foot of the cliff. Mr. Lowne, who was below, saw an otter, which came out of the water and stood and looked at him for a minute with surprise.”2 [Note: Ibid., 451.]
In Rome, in the catacomb of S. Callixtus, there is a painting of Orpheus, and round him are depicted the wild beasts, tamed and hushed to listen while he plays. Though the representation is an uncommon one, it is generally agreed on all sides that its subject is really our Blessed Lord. The assumption is that the artist, though on every side of him there were evidences of what following Christ meant, though perhaps in his ears was still ringing the cry “The Christians to the lions,” was so possessed with the idea of the love and protecting power of Him whom he owned as his Lord, that he painted Him as sitting unharmed though surrounded by wild beasts. His thoughts possibly went back to the old days when he had himself stood among the howling mob who, on a “Roman Holiday,” had seen some poor Christian writhing in utter isolation in the midst of the amphitheatre during that awful moment before the beasts were let loose upon their victims; and now, not knowing how soon his own turn might come to experience the same ordeal, he depicted for his own encouragement Christ sitting among the wild beasts. A writer in the Spectator (H. C. Michin, 13th December 1902) describes with vivid power what must frequently have been in such a man’s mind:—
The ranks are crowded, tier on tier,
And midst them in my place am I,
As oft before; we talk and jeer,
Waiting to see yon captive die
Who in the arena stands alone:
He turns his face—I see my own!
’Tis I that wait the roar and rush
When bars are raised; ’tis I that fall
Upon my knees, amid the hush
Of cruel tongues, on Christ to call;
Upon whose parted lips the while
There breaks a glad triumphant smile.
Some points deserve attention in this unexpected but most interesting statement that He was with the wild beasts.
1. His Recognition of their Presence.—It was the sudden perception of a soul in stress of conflict. Relaxing one moment from its intense agony, it saw, gathered around, the wild beasts of the desert. It remembered them in its after-thoughts on the deadly struggle with more terrible foes.
Can we recall experiences like this in our own life battle? At night, in a great suspense, when the soul is sick, blind, helpless, and the forces of being are warring with one another, there has come a momentary change of mood. The carving of some picture-frame, a face hung on the wall, the blazonry on some book, the chance phrase on an open page—trifles like these fasten themselves on our minds. We turn dully from them, but the impression is ineffaceable. Even when the memory of the trial grows dim, it is they that keep it living.
Or we have sought under a sudden blow to escape from “the world’s grey soul to the green world.” On the hillside or the moor we have sat with bowed heads and downcast eyes. It seemed as if we had outlived all loves, buried all hopes. Yet through some chink the flower at our feet enters into the heart, mingles with our thought, and strangely belies our misery. The cup passes from us, and again, again we live. These hours change us, but their memory clings round that single thing: the flower which we never see without the whole sorrow and relief returning. As Rossetti has expressed it in his poem, “The Woodspurge”—
The wind flapped loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walked on at the wind’s will,
I sat now, for the wind was still.
Between my knees my forehead was,—
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.
My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among these few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.
From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,—
The woodspurge has a cup of three.1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll.]
Above the altar the antique glass of the East Window contained a figure of the Saviour of an early and severe type. The form was gracious and yet commanding.… Kneeling upon the half-pace, as he received the sacred bread and tasted the holy wine, this gracious figure entered into his soul, and stillness and peace unspeakable, and life, and light, and sweetness filled his mind. He was lost in a sense of rapture, and earth and all that surrounded him faded away. When he returned a little to himself, kneeling in his seat in the church, he thought that at no period of his life, however extended, should he ever forget that morning, or lose the sense and feeling of that touching scene, of that gracious figure over the altar, of the bowed and kneeling figures, of the misty autumn sunlight and the sweeping autumn wind. Heaven itself seemed to have opened to him, and one fairer than the fairest of the angelic hosts to have come down to earth.2 [Note: J. H. Shorthouse, John Inglesant.]
2. Was He afraid of them?—“Be not afraid of them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Here for all time is the reprobation of physical fear, of mere cowardice in Christians; here, too, is the commendation of a right fear, “the fear of God” in the Old Testament sense, which flies from evil suggestion, which shrinks from dishonouring Him, a fear which is the realisation of both the holiness and the power of the Supreme Being. If there is one passage in the Lord’s life more than another where we may in all reverence associate such fear with His Person, it would be the occasion of His temptation in the wilderness. Fear is an essential factor in any real temptation. Of physical fear during that time our Lord knew nothing; the words, “He was with the wild beasts” point conclusively to this; but that He felt a godly fear during the awful contest seems plain, though this was cast out, in the issue, by the triumph of a perfect love.
I’ll to the wilderness, and can
Find beasts more mercifull than man;
He liv’d there safe, ’twas his retreat
From the fierce Jew, and Herod’s heat;
And forty dayes withstood the fell
And high temptations of hell;
With Seraphims there talked he,
His father’s flaming ministrie;
He heav’n’d their walks, and with his eyes
Made those wild shades a Paradise.
Thus was the desert sanctified
To be the refuge of his bride.1 [Note: Henry Vaughan.]
3. Had He not much sympathy with the wild beasts?—“Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” One who would entertain such a thought could not be without sympathy towards the dumb creatures. The fox is not a particularly lovable beast; yet the compassionate heart of Christ could enter into the grateful sense of home comfort which banished its brute cares and soothed its savage breast, as it crept into its “hole” for shelter and for rest. He had seen it slink out of sight, but sympathy had made His human heart bolder than His eye, and it, unseen and pitying, had tracked the poor beast to its inmost den. I do not know if anywhere this touching sympathy with “animals unhuman” finds better expression than in these lines of Burns—
Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreaths up-choked,
Or, thro’ the mining outlet bocked,
Down headlong hurl;
List’ning the doors an’ winnocks rattle
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
O’ winter war,
And thro’ the drift, deep-lairing, sprattle
Beneath a scar.
Ilk happing bird, wee, helpless thing!
That, in the merry months o’ spring,
Delighted me to hear thee sing,
What comes o’ thee?
Where wilt thou cow’r thy chittering wing,
An’ close thy e’e?
Ev’n you, on murd’ring errands toil’d,
Lone from your savage homes exil’d,—
The blood-stained roost and sheep-cote spoil’d
My heart forgets,
While pitiless the tempest wild
Sore on you beats.
“This poem,” said no less a critic than Thomas Carlyle, “is worth several homilies on ‘Mercy’; for it is the voice of Mercy herself.” And need I point out that the germ of that poem lies embedded in the sympathetic words of our Lord, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests”?1 [Note: H. Rose Rae.]
The impression that this touch in the picture conveys to me is rather of desolate isolation. I think of Him enduring a severe struggle, in which sympathy and ministry would have been comfort and help inestimable, conscious of being surrounded by creatures which have no interest in His thought, no sympathy with His feeling—creatures which, if attacked or aroused, would doubtless show themselves conscious of His presence and prove dangerous; but, being unmolested, simply avoid Him, wander by Him in unconcerned indifference. The laugh of the hyena proclaims and emphasises the lack of sympathy on the part of the wilderness world with the strife and the tragedy of the temptation.2 [Note: A. J. Bamford.]
My wilderness, in which I have learned a little of the meaning of this unsympathetic environment, has perhaps been the darkened house before which the world’s traffic has rattled, within sight of which the children have played, and on the roof of which the sparrows have twittered as though no home had been made desolate.
In the hush’d chamber, sitting by the dead,
It grates on us to hear the flood of life
Whirl rustling onward, senseless of our loss.1 [Note: A. J. Bamford.]
In the cave of Gouda dwelt Clement the hermit. By prayers, washings, flagellation, labours, he fought his temptations. Yet his despair deepened and his soul was well-nigh sped with the torment of temptation. But one morning, awaking from a deep, prolonged sleep, Clement held his breath. He half closed his eyes lest they should frighten the airy guest. Down came robin on the floor … he was on the hermit’s bare foot. Clement closed his eyes and scarce drew his breath in fear of frightening and losing his visitor. “Now, bless thee, sweet bird,” sighed the stricken solitary; “thy wings are music, and thou a feathered ray camedst to light my darkened soul.” And so the days rolled on; and the weather got colder, and Clement’s despondency was passing away. And presently his cell seemed illuminated with joy. His work pleased him; his prayers were full of unction; his psalms of praise. Hosts of little birds followed their crimson leader. And one keen frosty night, as he sang the praises of God to his tuneful psaltery, and his hollow cave rang forth the holy psalmody upon the night, he heard a clear whine, not unmelodious; it became louder and less in tune. He peeped through the chinks of his rude door, and there sat a great red wolf moaning melodiously with his nose high in the air.
Clement was rejoiced. “My sins are going,” he cried, “and the creatures of God are owning me, one after another.” And in a burst of enthusiasm he struck up the laud:
“Praise Him all ye creatures of His!
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”
And all the time he sang the wolf bayed at intervals.2 [Note: Charles Reade, The Cloister and the Hearth, chap. xciii.]
4. Did He not look upon them as sharers in the curse He had come to remove?—Did He not see in their eyes an appeal from their misery? Was He not quick to behold the earnest expectation of the creatures waiting for the manifestation of the Son of God? Did He not long for the day which Esaias saw in vision, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, when the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child put his hand on the basilisk’s den, and they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain,—that day when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea? We cannot tell; but surely the wild beasts were to Him as they will be to all in the regeneration. Even yet some men exercise strange powers over them; and when He, the creating Word, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, beheld them in His dumb agony, did they not cease one moment to groan and to travail, as if they saw their hope in His grief?1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll.]
5. The wild beasts are with us in all our temptations.—We need to take into account the magnitude of our exposure to the wild beasts. The tendency is to make a careless reckoning. St. Mark’s term “wild beasts” is a strong one, but none too strong to represent the facts. The unfriendly agencies that are about us are pitiless as the wild beasts. How often we find them destructive, dark, revolting, cruel, and deadly! The error of youth is to clothe the lion in sheepskin and the wolf in lamb’s wool.
What have the Scriptures to say concerning the “wild beasts”? The Book of Genesis opens the first account. Our first parents had to wage war with the serpent. Innocency was defeated by a wild beast. None of the heroes of the far-off ages of Abraham and Moses were free from the conflict. Daniel had his exposure to the wild beasts; but the lions in the den were as lambs compared with those that had their shelter in the king’s palace in the hearts of the king’s courtiers. Isaiah’s prophetic vision was interrupted by the growl of “the wolf, the leopard, the young lion and the bear”; but he saw the eternal highway called Holiness along which no ravenous beast should walk. And if we turn to the New Testament and have a moment’s interview with such men as St. Peter, we shall hear them say, “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” And St. Paul’s experience is the same. Even in his beautiful Philippian Epistle he commands mands the saints to “beware of the dogs.” And lastly the Saviour, when sending forth His seventy disciples, did not forget to warn them with the words, “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.”
J. M. Barrie has a beautiful chapter in Margaret Ogilvy, entitled, “How my Mother got her Soft Face.” It is a suggestive exposition of a sweetness of life that came through suffering and bereavement. The “wild beasts” tear our life and strive for the mastery, but we have the angel ministry to keep the soul in perfect peace. And in our day we have a great example in General Booth. What has he not suffered from the “wild beasts”? What shall we say of the hate and malice and persecution that he has borne? He has been in the wilderness with the foes and come out more than conqueror. It is the same story in each case, and apostles, martyrs, saints, humble mothers, and all sacrificial and sainted lives are proof of it.1 [Note: F. R. Brunskill.]
The Ministering Angels
“And the angels ministered unto him.”
One hardly thinks of the angels as indigenous to the wilderness, as are the hyenas and jackals, the lions and serpents. These heavenly ministrants were there because Jesus was there. It was He that peopled the wilderness with angels. They were there to minister to Him. And if there, where may they not be? The devil and the wild beasts and the angels followed our Lord into the Temple and along the hillsides and by the shore of the sea. He had ever to reckon with the hostility of those who understood enough to see that their gains were imperilled. He had ever to endure the keen grief of being incomprehensible to many whom He pitied, loved, and sought to serve, upon whose feelings His enemies could play, making them the tools of their enmity. He had ever to feel the chill of the cold indifference of those who neither knew nor cared. But He rejoiced ever in the truth of the words which the devil had sought to make the means of His destruction:—
“He shall give His angels charge over Thee,
To keep Thee in all Thy ways.
They shall bear Thee up in their hands,
Lest Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.”
1. We find here, therefore, the “Son of Man,” man as God meant Him to be, the ideal man of the Psalms, standing in suggestive environment—between the savage animals on the one hand, and the holy angels on the other, freely recognised and served by both—“with the wild beasts,” and at the same time “ministered unto by angels.” It is to be noticed that this same strange and remarkable association of man with the higher and lower orders of beings had already appeared in the Psalms. The same Psalm (91) which promises, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways,” goes on immediately to add, “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under feet” (Mark 1:11-13). And very similarly in Psalms 8, “Thou hast made him [but] a little lower than the angels,” is followed by “Thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field” (Mark 1:5-7).
Thus, what in a special manner proved true of the Incarnate Son of Man is in a measure and in a certain sense true of every son of man in his degree. We all stand between the wild beasts and the holy angels. The angelic will not let us sink utterly to the brutal, nor the brutal let us soar altogether with the angelic. And so we are in a strait betwixt two. But these elements preponderate differently in different men.
Some, like beasts, their senses’ pleasure take;
And some, like angels, doe contemplate still.
Therefore the fables turned some men to flowres,
And others did with brutish formes inuest;
And did of others make celestiall powers,
Like angels, which still trauell, yet still rest.1 [Note: Sir J. Davies, Nosce Teipsum.]
It may be true, says Dr. A. Smythe Palmer, that only by a slow development and evolution man passed out of the highest rank of animals into the lowest rank of humanity. It may be that sin is in some particulars a relic of heredity, an undestroyed residuum of his old animal stage—still, a spark of the Divine is glowing in him, the breath of God is stirring in him; his progress is ever upwards towards the angels.
If my body come from brutes, tho’ somewhat finer than their own,
I am heir, and this my kingdom. Shall the royal voice be mute?
No, but if the rebel subject seek to drag me from the throne,
Hold the sceptre, Human Soul, and rule thy Province of the brute.
I have clim’d to the snows of Age, and I gaze at a field in the Past,
Where I sank with the body at times in the sloughs of a low desire,
But I hear no yelp of the beast, and the Man is quiet at last
As he stands on the heights of his life with a glimpse of a height that is higher.1 [Note: Tennyson.]
The idea of angels is usually treated as fanciful. Imaginative it is, but not altogether fanciful; and though the physical appearance and attributes of such imaginary beings may have been over-emphasised or misconceived, yet facts known to me indicate that we are not really lonely in our struggle, that our destiny is not left to haphazard, that there is no such thing as laissez faire in a highly organised universe. Help may be rejected, but help is available; a ministry of benevolence surrounds us—a cloud of witnesses—not witnesses only but helpers, agents like ourselves of the immanent God.
Hidden as they are to our present senses, poets can realise their presence in moments of insight, can become aware of their assistance in periods of dejection—dejection which else would be despair. So it has been with one and another of the band of poets who, stranded and unknown in a great city, have felt the sting of poverty; to them at times have the heavens opened, the everyday surroundings have become transfigured,—as Cheapside was, in Wordsworth’s poem, at the song of the thrush,—and, to the vision of Francis Thompson, angels have ascended and descended in the very streets of London:—
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;—and upon thy sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross.2 [Note: Oliver Lodge, Reason and Belief, 43.]
2. In what ways may their ministry be thought of?
(1) They supplied His bodily wants.—The angels ministered to Christ; they brought Him that which He needed. Perhaps the truth to be learned is that when the unlawful gratification of the desires of our nature is resisted, the lawful gratification is a Divine thing. We feel that Heaven is giving it to us to enjoy. Or perhaps the truth is, that when we resist unlawful pleasures, God compensates us by sending into our souls, through His heavenly messengers, Divine joys and a spiritual fulness. It is sweet to have resisted temptation; the mind is filled with a heavenly satisfaction.
When we have carried on a long struggle, and have been pinched or in distress, and have felt as if we must give way, and have been upheld only by naming God every hour, saying God is able, God will not fail us; then, when the relief comes at last, there is a strange sense that it has come direct from God. Angels come and minister to us. The joy of resisting temptation is the highest joy man can feel. It is a moment when our little life here grows larger, and we feel ourselves lifted into a wider sphere; we have a sense of fellowship with higher beings, and are somehow conscious of their sympathy. All God’s creation smiles upon us, and appears made for our joy. Every pore of our nature seems opened, and there rushes into us a stream of joys that lifts us into another world. At such moments angels do minister unto us.1 [Note: A. B. Davidson.]
It is probable that on this occasion they brought food (cf. 1 Kings 19:5); the word in the original (διηκόνουν) may imply as much; and that word, “Man did eat angels’ food” (Psalm 78:25), may have thus received its highest fulfilment; nor less may they have celebrated with songs of triumph this transcendent victory of the kingdom of light over the kingdom of darkness. So much Keble has suggested:
Nor less your lay of triumph greeted fair
Our Champion and your King,
In that first strife, whence Satan in despair
Sunk down on scathed wing:
Alone He fasted, and alone He fought;
But when His toils were o’er,
Ye to the sacred Hermit duteous brought
Banquet and hymn, your Eden’s festal store.
(2) They succoured Him in His hour of darkness and depression.—It is always in His depression that we read of the angels corning—in the manger, in the wilderness, in the garden. Why do they come in His depression? Because there is a virtue in depression? Nay, the reverse—because there is a danger in it. God will not let me have a cross without the alabaster box; He fears the effect on me of unqualified pain. There is not in all His providence a night without a star. He plants a flower on every grave, and that flower is the boundary line beyond which grief cannot go.
(3) They brought Him the fellowship of Heaven.—So great were the love and desire that welled up in Jesus towards His Father, and so great was the response of God’s heart towards Him, that the place where He stood became heaven upon earth, while He stood there held out to God for His embrace. He was kindred with earth, but still more closely kin to Heaven. His call pierced the barriers of separation; the interposing powers of Hell were swept into an instant flight. Deep called to deep; like the flash of lightning between thunder-clouds, the fellowship of God rushed to meet the welcome of the man Jesus. He claimed it, and in answer it claimed Him.
That is what the coming of the angels means; and thus they came. The tide of heavenly love that rose in Jesus’ heart was met by a great tide of kindred love that swelled towards Him out of heaven; and these met in a visible concourse of angelic presences that gathered round the Man who first from earth had chosen, ay, compelled, the full fellowship of God. The angels did not compass the deliverance of Jesus; nor did they merely celebrate it in a pageant of glorious rejoicing. Their presence was His victory in its outward showing. In the hour of Satan’s majesty and insolent assault, the motions of Heaven were so strong in Jesus, that suddenly and with great strength He grasped the very heart of Heaven and drew it to Himself.
Can we believe that the glory of Heaven was only around Jesus at this time? Nay! It was upon Him and in Him, and shone out from Him. Long afterwards, in agitated prayer to God regarding the trial of the Cross which was before Him, Jesus was suddenly transfigured in company with Moses and Elias, and in the presence of a well-loved three of His disciples. And He was transfigured now, amid that band of bright angels. There was no man there to see and tell of it; and Jesus did not tell such things. Yet we may see our Lord clothed in transfigured radiancy, and in aspect not inferior to His visitants.1 [Note: A. Morris Stewart.]
3. The words of the text are better rendered: “Angels came and were ministering unto him.” The ministry was probably continued throughout the whole of Christ’s earthly life. It is reasonable to suppose that He who was made in all things like unto His brethren, and was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin, was in all points as we are ministered unto by the angels. Let us remember, however, the marvellous obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, which made Christ unwilling to invoke angel aid that would have been His to command, which made Him say to Peter, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”
Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild,
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted, and yet undefiled,—
Sunbeams scorching all the day,
Chilly dewdrops nightly shed,
Prowling beasts about Thy way,
Stones Thy pillow, earth Thy bed.
Shall we not Thy sorrow share,
And from earthly joys abstain,
Fasting with unceasing prayer,
Glad with Thee to suffer pain?
And if Satan, vexing sore,
Flesh or spirit should assail,
Thou, his Vanquisher before,
Grant we may not faint nor fail.
So shall we have peace divine;
Holier gladness ours shall be;
Round us too shall angels shine,
Such as ministered to Thee.2 [Note: George H. Smyttan and Francis Pott.]
Bamford (A. J.), Things that are Made, 129.
Barrett (G. S.), The Temptation of Christ, 45.
Brooks (Phillips), Sermons for the Principal Festivals and Fasts of the Church Year, 130.
Brooks (Phillips), The Spiritual Man, 47.
Davidson (A. B.), Waiting upon God, 109.
Dods (M.), Christ and Man 1:1.
Fairbairn (A. M.), Studies in the Life of Christ, 80.
Gordon (S. D.), Quiet, Talks about the Tempter.
Gore (C), Dissertations on Subjects connected with the Incarnation, 21.
Hall (A. C. A.), The Example of our Lord, 59.
Hall (A. C. A), Christ’s Temptation and Ours, 29.
Hicks (E. L.), Addresses on the Temptation, 1.
Hodges (G.), The Human Nature of the Saints, 61.
Jerdan (C.), Gospel Milk and Honey, 342.
Knight (H. J. C.), The Temptation of our Lord.
Latham (H.), Pastor Pastorum, 112.
Matheson (G.), Leaves for Quiet Moments, 99.
Matheson (G.), Times of Retirement, 68.
Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 97.
Nicoll (W. R.), Ten-Minute Sermons, 65.
Palmer (A. S.), The Motherhood of God, 33.
Pearse (M. G.), The Gospel for the Day, 60.
Rawnsley (L. R.), The Temptations of our Lord, 1, 55.
Ross (G. A. J.), The Universality of Jesus, 85.
Smith (G. A.), The Forgiveness of Sins, 51.
Stewart (A. M.), The Temptation of Jesus, 17.
Trench (R. C.), Studies in the Gospels, 1.
Vaughan (D. J.), The Present Trial of Faith, 174.
Whyte (A.), The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 105.
Wright (T. H.), The Shrine of Faith, 89.
Christian World Pulpit, xliii. 69 (Rae); lxix. 139 (Brunskill).
Expositor, 6th Ser., i. 193 (Whitefoord).