William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.Matthew Chapter 4
There are two things that we may notice before our Lord is tempted of the devil. The first is that He is most emphatically recognized as the Son of God by His Father; secondly, that He is anointed as man by the Holy Ghost. Now a similar thing is true of the believer - of course in an inferior way. Still the believer is owned as a son of God, and has the Spirit of God given to him before he becomes the proper object of the enemy's temptations. And this is an important distinction to bear in mind. Strictly speaking, the relation which the sinner bears to the enemy is not as subject to be tempted. He is a captive; he is led by the devil at his will. This is a very distinct thing from temptation; for it supposes a person thoroughly under the power of Satan. We are tempted when we are out of the enemy's power, and because we are sons of God. Thus, you see, all men have to do with Satan in one way or another. The mass of mankind are his slaves; but those delivered by the power of God, those who by grace are God's children, become the objects of his assault in the way of temptation. It is not so much his power that such have to dread; for when the soul has received Jesus, Satan's power is really void; it is completely broken for the believer. And therefore it is that we are warned rather against his wiles. In certain cases there may be the suffering from his fiery darts; but even this is not his power, which is nothing to the believer while he is looking to Christ; he has only to resist, and the devil will flee from him. If Satan had really power, it is clear that he would not flee. But he has lost it as regards the soul that has received Christ. But then, while to faith the power of Satan is a thing destroyed in the cross of Jesus, his wiles are a very serious matter; and we ought not to be ignorant of his devices. Now God has been graciously pleased to give us his manner of dealing with our blessed Lord. That this is intended for our use, and the great pattern and principle of the temptations of Satan at any time, is clear from many obvious and weighty considerations.
Besides, we know from the Gospel of Luke that in the case of our Lord there was a very long-continued temptation of Satan, of which we have no details. We are only told the fact that Jesus was tempted of the devil during forty days. But the great temptations which the Holy Ghost has been pleased to record for us are those that took place at the end of the forty days. May we not gather hence that in the temptation of our Lord there were two parts: first, that not common to man, but peculiar to our Lord? For we are subject to no such circumstances as being driven into the wilderness for forty days. But, secondly, we are exposed to such as are given to us at the close. The Lord seems to cast a veil over the first, and discloses carefully what in principle every child of God may be tempted by some time or another. We shall see that these three temptations, presented by Matthew and Luke in a different order, give us an admirable insight into the ways of Satan when he thus assails the children of God. But it is exceedingly sweet to see that before Satan is allowed to tempt at all, the blessedness of the Son's recognition by the Father is most fully brought out. And indeed it is something akin which renders any one obnoxious to the hatred of Satan. The enemy is well aware when God converts and quickens a soul hitherto dead in trespasses and sins; and at once he is prepared with his temptations. They need not, of course, come in the same order as our Lord's; but they seem to be, more or less, of a similar character with those revealed here.
It is clear that the first temptation grew out of our Lord's actual circumstances. He had been all this time in the wilderness without food, and at the end of the forty days he was a hungered. When Moses was without food on the mount for the same time, he was with God, and miraculously sustained. But the wonderful thing here is that the time was spent with the enemy. None had ever been so, or will be so again. To be all that time in the presence of Satan, dependent on God, was the greatest moral honour, though the severest trial, that man had ever passed through. Throughout the Lord is seen as Son of man, though also as Son of God.
The introductory notice shows us that temptation was going on all the time our Lord was in the wilderness. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward a hungered. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." Whatever may be the aim of Satan, this is one main part of his tactics - he insinuates a doubt, a doubt of our own relationship with God. "If Thou be the Son of God." Now, search the word of God as you may, never will you find His Spirit leading a soul to doubt. Nor can anything, indeed, be more opposed to His way than sanctioning mistrust of God. And it shows the exceeding subtlety of Satan that he has actually made the children of God themselves to be his instruments, not only by permitting doubts in themselves, but helping to raise them in others, often on the mistaken plea that not to be confident with God is a sign of humility, and of a desire to be lowly! But faith says, "We are always confident." Not that we are to shrink from self-examination: we do find this pressed in Scripture. Thus, in 1 Cor. 11 the believers are evidently exhorted to examine themselves, but not with any idea of producing doubt. On the contrary, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat"; for the question was about the Lord's Supper. On the strength of His grace, the believer is to examine himself in the thought of going to the table of the Lord. It is not a question whether he is to go or stay away: we do not find this in Scripture. Nor do I find, on the other hand, that because I am a Christian it is no matter what state I may be in spiritually. But a man is to examine himself, and so to eat. He is sure to find that which calls for humiliation. It is important for a soul to draw near to God, and to have His light cast upon all that is there. This will give ground for humbling oneself, not for staying away. Such is what the Spirit of God lays down as a general rule for the Lord's Supper. Of course, I am not speaking now of cases of open sin, where the vindication of the Lord's glory is required. These suppose a man's practising sin, and not examining himself. But I am speaking now of the ordinary walk of the child of God, and what we read there is careful inquiry as to what he finds within himself; but "so let him eat."
"If Thou be the Son of God." Our Lord did not look like it. There was nothing outwardly to carry the demonstration of it. If it had been so, there would have been no room left for faith at all. Satan takes advantage of the lowliness of our Lord in the place that He took as man. And indeed nothing could be more singular than His being found in the wilderness ', and, as we read in Mark., with the wild beasts. If He was really the Son of God, Maker of heaven and earth, what a place to be in, and led there by the Spirit, after the Father had spoken from heaven and acknowledged Him to be His beloved Son! But so it was. And so it is now, in a lower sense, with the children of God. For no matter how much blessed they may be of God, or how truly owned as His sons and having His Spirit dwelling within them, they also, in their measure, have their wilderness. "As My Father hath sent Me into the world, even so send I you into the world." Not into some pleasant place where there is no room for trial, but the very contrary. Because we belong to God and to heaven, because we have the Holy Ghost sealing us unto the day of redemption, we have to encounter Satan, but with the certainty that his power is broken, and that his wiles are what we have to resist. This questioning the relationship of Christ with God shows how truly Satan was at work. But the Lord does not pronounce him to be Satan until open rebellion is manifested against God. When it is mere subtlety, He does not call him Satan. There are two ways in which the enemy is described in Scripture. He is called Satan and the devil. The latter is the term which implies his accusing character and his wiles; the former refers to his power as adversary.
We must wait, even when we suspect it is the power of evil at work, before we pronounce it absolutely. For if there is such a fact as the devil tempting, God also puts a soul to the test, and this may be very sharp. Moreover, even God Himself does not act till a thing is manifest. He shows wonderful patience, most contrary to the haste of man. He comes down to see whether the evil is so great, as in the case of Adam, yea, of Sodom and Gomorrah. But it always remains true that whatever God may be in other things, quick as He is to hear the cry of His own in sorrow, He is exceedingly slow to judge; and there is nothing that more marks the knowledge of Christ practically, and the effect of it in our own souls, than where the same thing is made true in us. Hastiness to judge is man's way in proportion to his want of grace; and patience is not a question of knowledge, but of love that lingers over another, unwilling to pronounce till every hope is gone. The rising in the flesh, which looked so threatening, might turn out after all to be only on the surface, and not deep-seated. So here we see patience even in our Lord's dealing with the adversary. It is only when he thoroughly makes manifest what he is - only when he demands the worship due to God alone - that our Lord says, "Get thee behind Me, Satan." The adversary then flees instantly. But the Lord lets him thoroughly discover himself first. This is divinely wise. Because, although the Lord knew him to be Satan all the time, what pattern would this be for us? The Lord is here the blessed man in the presence of Satan, showing us how we have to carry ourselves in the temptations that come upon us as saints of God.
And let me say another word with regard to temptation. In the sense we have it here, it is entirely from without. Our Lord never knew what it was to be tempted from within. He was "in all points tempted like as we are." But the Holy Ghost qualifies this by adding, "yet without sin."* It was not merely that He did not yield to sin, but He never had the principle of it - never the least motion of any thought or wish contrary to God. He never knew sin. It is in this we so differ from Him. We have cause of deep humiliation sometimes, because, besides having to do with the devil without, we have an evil nature within - what Scripture calls "the flesh," i.e., the self, the spring of insubordination and of enmity against God. It is the fountain of unloving, wilful, ungodly desires in us, which naturally never seeks God's will , save only in a spirit of fear; never seeks it as that which is loved - we never do till born of God. Even afterward the same wicked principle is still there; but we have a new life implanted of God in our souls, which delights in His will.
*The exact translation of the Greek expression is, "Who was in all things like-tempted, sin apart." - [Ed.
But though the temptations of our Lord which we have here were from without, still Satan adapted them to the circumstances in which our Lord then stood. He had been for forty days without food, and the first word of the tempter is, "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (vers. 3, 4). Our Lord refers to Deuteronomy, alluding to the manna, the daily food of Israel, which involved dependence upon God, and showed that Israel did not need the resources of the world to sustain them. They did not require some rich country to supply them out of its abundant harvest; neither did they depend upon gold and silver. Israel, before they had a land to cultivate and the means of gathering from it, were taught alone with God. In the wilderness, where He had brought them out as His first-born son, He puts them to the proof; and the way of it was, whether they were content with God and with the fare that God provided for them day by day. Alas, they were not!
Here the scene is entirely changed. It is a man in the wilderness; and Satan is there - not God. In spirit He ever dwelt with His Father; for even when on earth He was "the Son of man which is in heaven." He combined thus two things in His own person. Day by day He was the man dependent upon God for everything. And this was the first great temptation of the devil - the appeal to His earthly natural warts. It was no sin to be hungry; but it would have been a sin to distrust God because of the desert place. Did not God know that there was no bread there'? and was it not His Spirit who had lead Him there? Had God told Him to leave the wilderness, or to make the stones into bread? He would not use His own power independently of God's word. And it is the constant mark of the way of the Holy Ghost in the children of God that they do not use miraculous power for themselves or for their friends. If we look at it in the New Testament, we find Paul working miracles and using the power of God to heal the sick around. But was it ever used for his own circle? On the contrary, Paul leaves Trophimus sick at Miletus, and displays about him all the anxiety of one who might never have had power to heal the body. When Epaphroditus was sick, we see the exercise of a faith which knew that the will of God, with acquiescence in it, was worth a thousand miracles. Miracles had not in themselves the high character of exercising the soul in dependence upon God. To obey God, to submit to Him, to have confidence in Him, is that of which the natural man is incapable. Power alone never reaches so high. Therefore, in the case of our Lord Himself, we never find that He puts His works of might on a level with obedience. Nay, He even speaks of His disciples as those who should do greater works than He Himself had done. But obedience was what characterized Christ: this never was found in a mere child of Adam.
Here, in the face of Satan, our Lord finds His strength; not in doing miracles, or in any provision that He might have made for Himself, but in the word of God. Hunger might have legitimate wants, but here He was, tried by Satan, and He will not step out of the trial till it is over; He will not shift His circumstances or lift one finger for Himself: He waits upon God. "Man shall not live by bread alone," He answers, "but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." God's word had led Him there, for the Holy Ghost acts by the word, and He would not leave the wilderness till God's word led Him out. This completely set aside Satan's temptations. But more: it brought out the real secret of living in dependence upon God day by day, for the food of the new life is the word of God. Of what immense importance this shows the written word to be, and having it as our household bread day by day; not merely reading it as a task or formal duty, but, as it is indeed, the divinely-suitable provision for the child of God! It is good for every one to study it, because it is in every way for the good of the soul day by day to read it intelligently, heartily, as those that receive it from God Himself. And God does not give that which the heart of man cannot take in, but what is adapted to our daily wants, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
This, then, is the answer of our Lord to the first temptation. Why should He turn the stones into bread? He hung upon God's word: His Father had not told Him to do so. So should it ever be with us. Where we have no clear expression of the mind of God, it is always our place to wait till we have. Sometimes it may show our weakness that we do not know the mind of God, and this is distasteful to us. Restlessness would like to go somewhere, or do something, but this is not faith. Faith proves itself in waiting for God to manifest His will.
The next temptation was not a personal one, but connected with religion, as the first had been in respect of bodily wants. We shall find that the order is different in Luke. But here, in the second temptation mentioned, is what I may call the religious temptation. The Lord had said that man should "live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." The devil then takes Him up into the holy city, sets Him upon a pinnacle of the temple, and founds his temptation upon that very point in our Lord's answer - the word of God. He says, as it were, Here is a word of God for you: "He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee, and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone." Very true. It was God's word, and evidently spoken of the Messiah. But what was Satan using it for? He says, "If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down; for it is written," etc. This was making a move without God - doing something by oneself. Scripture did not say, Cast Thyself down, because God has given His angels charge concerning Thee, lest Thou shouldst dash Thy foot against a stone. The Lord would not turn aside from Scripture because Satan had misused it. He shows us, in the most instructive way, that we are not to be moved from our stronghold because it may be turned against us. Our Lord does not enter into nice distinctions, nor analyze what Satan had said, but He has given us that which ought to be, if I may so say, the standard mode of dealing for every Christian man. There are those who might have spiritual discrimination to see that Satan was perverting the scripture which he quoted; but many might not. The Lord takes a broad ground in dealing with the adversary. He stands upon what each Christian should know and feel, and this is, "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord Thy God . He cites a plain positive word of God which Satan was destroying by the use he made of psalm 91. Now that is the stronghold of a believer who may have to do with one that reasons subtly from Scripture, "It is written again." He can appeal to that which is palpable and clear. It will be found that where a person systematically misapplies Scripture, he destroys some fundamental principle of the word of God. Whatever is false is contrary to some plain passage of Scripture. Now this is a great mercy. The believer holds fast to what is sure; he will not quit what he does understand for something that he does not. He may be perplexed by what the adversary is producing, and may have only a growing suspicion that he is wrong. But he may say to himself, I never can give up that which is beyond a doubt for that which I do not know. In other words, he holds the light, and refuses the darkness.
It is thus, it seems to me, our Lord deals with Satan. He could at once have set him aside on grounds of reasoning, and have shown the perverted end to which Satan was applying Scripture; but He rather deals with him on moral grounds, which every Christian is capable of judging. Do I find a scripture used for the purpose of making me distrust God? At once I take my stand on "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." What is meant by this? I am never to doubt the Lord will be for me. If I do anything to prove Him, to see whether He will be for me, this is at once unbelief and disobedience. It is an allusion to Israel's history again, and another quotation from the book of Deuteronomy. Indeed, our Lord quotes every answer to the temptations, as has been long ago remarked, from the book of Deuteronomy. You will find in Exodus 17 that the Israelites tempted the Lord by asking, Is He among us or no? This does not mean that they provoked Him by idolatry, or refusal to do His will. It is not a question there of open sin, but of unbelief of His goodness and presence - unbelief, in a word, of God's being for us. This is exactly what our Lord pleads. Cast Myself down in order to find that the scripture is true and that the angels will bear Me up! I do not need to do such a thing; I am very certain that if I were cast down the angels would be there to sustain Me. If you have a person whom you suspect of dishonesty on your premises, you may perhaps be disposed to test him in some way or other. But who would think of testing one that he had full confidence in? Now that is exactly the import of our Lord's answer, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." His soul resented the idea of trying God, to see whether He would sustain His Son. God might try Him; Satan might put Him to the test; but as to His tempting the Lord, as if the Lord His God required to be put to the proof whether He would be true to His word - away with such a thought! He would not hear of it for a moment.
The temptation which is second in Matthew, Luke gives as the third. Why is this? Surely we ought not to read Scripture as if such differences were not intended to suggest inquiry. We have to take care that we do not misinterpret Scripture; but Scripture is meant to be understood. I say of these different orders in which the temptations are put, both are right, both are inspired of God. If they were both intended to report the temptation exactly as it took place, it is clear they are not right; but God had a much higher object. God wrote for our instruction, and God has been pleased, in the different Gospels, to put the facts in the way that is most instructive. Matthew simply gives the temptation historically, as it took place. Therefore in Matthew we have notes of time: "Then the devil taketh Him up," etc. In Luke there is no such thought; it is simply, "And the devil," etc. This word at once prepares us for it. It is clear there were these different temptations, but Luke puts them so as not to tell us the order in which they occurred.
This is a general remark, true of the whole Gospel of Luke, that he habitually departs from the mere order of fact to give an arrangement suited to the design which he had in view. As a whole, the Gospel of Luke is characterized by' putting the facts of our Lord's life in an order that suited the doctrine He was teaching. Thus you will find in Luke that even the genealogy of our Lord is not given in its regular place; there is a departure from the mere natural series; and there is, instead, a moral order. Take the case of the Lord's prayer: Luke puts that in a totally different place from Matthew, who gives it in the wondrous discourse commonly called the sermon on the mount; and as prayer formed a most important part of the new principles the Lord was bringing out, so it formed one of the main subjects of the Lord's discourse. Luke reserves that prayer till Luke 11, because our Lord is pointing out there the grand means of spiritual life, how it is to be kept up and sustained in the soul. And this he shows us from the history of Martha and Mary (Luke 10). Why was it that Jesus approved of the path and walk of Mary rather than of Martha? It is not that He did not love them all, nor was it that Martha had not a real personal love to the Saviour, and that her heart was not true to Him. But there was an immense difference between them. What and why was it? Luke gives us the moral difference. When Martha was all busied with what she could do for the Lord, to show her love to Him, Mary was occupied with the Lord Himself - seated at His feet, listening to His word. The one was full of what she could do for Christ; the other, full of Christ Himself; and nothing that she could do was of the smallest consequence in her eyes, compared with Christ Himself. Thus we find, in another instance, Mary breaking the alabaster box to anoint the feet of Jesus - an action little accounted of by others; yet what she had done should be recorded throughout the whole world. Our Lord brings out in Luke this great point - the word of God, the waiting upon Jesus, being the first great means of strengthening the new and spiritual life; and therefore, immediately after this account of these sisters, we have the request of the disciples to be taught how to pray. It really took place long before; but they are put together in that special form by Luke to mark the connection of the word of God with prayer.
So, in the temptation, Luke departs from the order of fact and gives us the moral sequence. Matthew simply names the facts here as they took place. Luke puts them in the order of magnitude, and rises from the natural trial to the worldly one, and then to the religious temptation. For it is perfectly plain that the temptation by the word of God was much harder for one who valued His word above everything than that which lay in an appeal to natural wants or to worldly ambition. Therefore Luke keeps this temptation to the last. In Matthew it is not so, but we have, in the third place, the temptation by the world. "Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him, All these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me" (vers. 8, 9). Here at once the devil was manifest. The very idea of presenting any object of obeisance and worship between the soul and God was at once to detect that he was either the devil himself or an instrument of the devil. The Lord therefore at once pronounces him "Satan." "Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve" (ver. 10). If it had been an apostle, it would have been just the same. If such a one had been so completely led away as to hint such a thing, the Lord would have said "Satan" all the same. Is not this most solemn with us in dealing with Christians even who may have become for the time instruments of Satan? The Lord did not hesitate on one occasion to say, "Satan" to Peter himself; and yet he was the chief of the twelve - the first in dignity among the apostles of the Lamb. And yet our Lord Himself, after He had put signal honour, upon Peter and given him a new name, does not hesitate to say "Satan" to Peter as to the enemy himself. All this brings out an important principle, for our own ways in having to do even with a child of God.
In answering the third and last temptation, our Lord still confines Himself to the book of Deuteronomy. Why? Because Deuteronomy is the book that regards Israel after they had completely failed under the law, and when God brings in the new principle of grace and shows not the mere righteousness of the law, but that which is of faith. The apostle Paul also quotes from Deuteronomy for the same purpose. It is the book that indicates the place of obedience when it is no longer a mere question of observance under the law. The Lord Jesus is here taking that very place. He is not witnessing what He could have done as a divine person. As such He would have taken ground where we could not follow Him. But throughout this temptation He takes the posture that becomes us and all that desire to follow Him. The only thing right and becoming for a godly man, in meeting temptations, is the ground of the obedience of faith: one thus stands in the confidence of what God is in His goodness. The Lord would on no account swerve from what was the due and comely place for a servant of God in Israel. If a person was godly, his place was to confess and to be baptized with the baptism of repentance. Our Lord at once finds Himself with such, though in His case it was the fulfilling of righteousness, while with us it is the acknowledgment of sin. He who alone could have taken His stand upon legal righteousness, takes it as in every way vindicating God, not upon the mere righteousness of man. Satan may put temptation before Him in every form; but it is of no use. His only care is to vindicate God, and never to arrogate anything to Himself. The enemy was foiled, to God's glory, by an obedient and dependent man.
I believe that the principles brought before us in this chapter are of the greatest practical importance for the children of God. The few remarks I have made may help to direct souls to the value, practically, of these temptations of our Lord for guidance in our own path. I therefore commend the whole subject to the attention of the reader, as one that, although it may have come before us many a time, and we may have often meditated upon its practical value, may still claim our thought, as it will surely repay our prayerful study.
It may be instructive to compare the different ways in which the Holy Ghost introduces our Lord's ministry in the Gospels. And when I speak of His ministry, you will understand that I mean His public service, for there was much appertaining to the Lord - miracles performed and remarkable discourses uttered - before His ministerial course was formally entered on. What I desire now to notice is the wisdom with which He has given us a distinct view of our Lord in each of these different inspired accounts. We may reverently follow Him who has been pleased to furnish them so variously - omitting certain statements in some, and presenting them in others; altering now and then the order of narrating events to accomplish thus His purpose more perfectly. In comparing these accounts we may see that the Holy Ghost always preserves the grand design of each Gospel, and this is the basis of all just interpretation. We shall find, steadily keeping in view what He is aiming at, that we have in this the principle on which the Gospels were written, and consequently what alone will enable us to understand them aright.
I have already shown, to commence with the Gospel of Matthew, that throughout the Holy Ghost is setting before us the Messiah with the fullest proofs of His mission from God, but, alas, a suffering and a rejected One, and this specially by His own people; and, among them, rejected most of all by such as, humanly speaking, had most reason to receive Him. Were any peculiarly remarkable for their righteousness in the estimate of the nation? If Pharisees were so, who so bitter against Him? Were any celebrated for their knowledge of Scripture? The scribes were those combined with the Pharisees against Him. The priests, jealous of their position, would naturally oppose one who brought out the reality of a divine power, administered by the Son of man upon earth, in the forgiveness of sing. Now all these things come out with striking force and clearness in the Gospel of Matthew. But although we are not arrived at these details as yet, still the main design of the Holy Ghost discovers itself in the manner in which our Lord is presented as entering upon His public ministry in the portion that is now before us.
First of all, no notice is taken in Matthew of all that passed at Jerusalem. Humanly speaking, Matthew was as likely to have known and inquired into the earlier circumstances of our Lord, and particularly His connection with that city, as the beloved disciple John. Yet of a great deal given in John not a word appears in Matthew. In the fourth Gospel we have a deputation from Jerusalem to see John the Baptist first, and then our Lord is acknowledged as Lamb of God and as He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Then we have our Lord making Himself known to various persons; among them, to Simon Peter, after Andrew his brother had already been in the company of the wondrous Stranger. Then Philip is called, who finds Nathanael; and thus the work of the Lord spreads from one soul to another, either by the Lord attracting to Himself directly, or through the intervention of those already called. All this is entirely omitted here. Then, again, in John 2 is given the first miracle, or sign, in which Christ set forth His glory - the turning of water into wine; after which our Lord goes up to Jerusalem and executes judgment upon the covetousness that then reigned even in the boasted city of holiness. We have also a little incidental view of what our Lord was doing during this time at Jerusalem. He was working miraculous signs there, and many were believing on Him, though in a natural way. Jesus, it is said, "did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men"; but He does open the great doctrine of the new birth, and brings out the cross - Himself to be made sin thus, as the serpent had been lifted up by Moses in the wilderness, that whosoever believed in Him "should not perish, but have everlasting life." All this took place before the circumstances recorded by Matthew. When this is seen, it must strike any observing reader of the word of God. It could not be that those things were unknown to Matthew: they could not fail to be named and dwelt on if, apart from inspiration, you look at him as a mere disciple. Andrew, Peter and John, and the rest, would have conversed on their first acquaintance with the Saviour over and over again. Yet Matthew does not say one word about it; neither does Mark or Luke - only John. Now, when we examine the Gospels themselves, we find the real solution. It is not the ignorance of one Evangelist, nor the knowledge of another, that accounts either for the omissions or for the insertions. God gives such an account of Jesus as would perfectly impress the lesson He was teaching in each Gospel.
Why does all we have noticed appear appropriately in John? Clearly because it falls in with the truth that is taught there. In John we have the utter ruin of man - of the world - from the outset. The first chapter shows us the practical evidence of what Judaism was - the Lord not received by His own, however duly coming, and thus calling His own sheep by name, and leading them out. For the testimony of John Baptist had no abiding effect upon the mass; it might pass from mouth to mouth, but it fell unheeded upon the ears of those that had no faith: "Ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you." Now we have the sheep individually called by name, and one of them receiving a new name thoroughly in keeping with the character of John's Gospel. In Matthew we have none of these striking incidents, because therein the Holy Ghost brings before us Jehovah-Jesus, the Messiah, working miracles, accomplishing prophecy, expounding the kingdom of heaven - but in want, despised, and the companion of such in Galilee; for He is not seen here as the Son of God, whether from everlasting or as born into the world; but He Himself takes a place in separation, to make good the great oracle that the prophet Isaiah had been inspired of God to reveal hundreds of years before. For you will remark that our Lord's leaving Nazareth and coming to dwell in Capernaum is brought in here as the fulfilment of that which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, "The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles." It was outside the regular allotment of Israel, in that part of it which is yet to belong to Israel, which certain of the tribes had taken possession of, though, strictly speaking, it was beyond the proper limits of the promised land. The Lord goes through Galilee of the Gentiles, and in all that He was doing He fulfilled the prophecy. The Jews ought surely to have known it. The people which sat in darkness thus "saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. "
Now, if we turn to the prophet Isaiah, we shall find the importance of this quotation somewhat more. It is part of a grave prophetic strain, in which the Lord lays bare the exceeding rebelliousness of Israel, and the judgments falling upon His people, because they would not hearken to His voice. His hand was stretched out against them: "For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still" (Isaiah 5:25). In the midst of these dealings of God we have the glory of the Lord revealed (chap. 6). Now we know, as John 12 declares, that this glory is in the person of Christ. Accordingly it is announced in Isa. 7 that there was to be a birth wholly above nature. It was no longer One sitting upon a high throne, removed from men, though men receiving a message of mercy from Him in the midst of judgment, but chapter 7 reveals the great fact of the incarnation. The King of glory, Jehovah of hosts, was to become a babe, born of a virgin. The next chapter reveals another fact. Israel no more cared for the glorious Child of the virgin than for the warnings of God before. On the contrary, they despised and rejected Him. Consequently, chapter 8 supposes a godly remnant more and more isolated in the midst of a fearful state of things in Israel, who, joining with the Gentiles, will be saying, "A confederacy." Israel then takes the place of utter unbelief. The Jews will be leaders in this rebellion against God. But in the midst of it all, what is He doing? "Bind up the testimony, seal the law among My disciples. And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and wonders in Israel, from the Lord of hosts which dwelleth in Mount Zion." That is, there is a distinct declaration that God will be pleased to have a little remnant in the midst of Israel; and while Israel rejects the Messiah, a separated remnant appears, and the blessing would come at last in all the fulness of grace. Still it would be a small, despised thing in the beginning; and this is exactly the circumstance that our Lord now was bringing out in evidence. "And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits . . . should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Accordingly the prophecy goes on: "Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first He lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light [the Messiah]: they that dwell in the. land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." He shows afterward in this prophecy that (while the Gentile affliction upon the nation would be heavier than ever, and the Roman oppression far exceed the Chaldean of old, yet) the Messiah would be there, despised and rejected of men, nay, of the Jews, and that at this very time, when thus set at naught by the people that ought to have known His glory, great light, would spring up in the most despised place, in Galilee of the nations, among the poorest of Israel, where Gentiles were mixed up with them - people who could not even speak their own tongue properly. There should this bright and heavenly light spring up; there the Messiah would be owned and received. Thus we can see how thoroughly this prophecy suits the Gospel we are considering. For we have here one who is Jehovah-Messiah, a divine king - not a mere man, but slighted by the nation and despised by the leaders, making Himself known in grace to those who were the most scorned in the outskirts as you go out toward the Gentiles. What kings had looked for in vain, what prophets had desired to see, it was for their eyes to look upon. The Lord begins to separate Himself a remnant in Israel in Galilee of the Gentiles. This keeps up and confirms the object of Matthew from the first.
But there is more than this. "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (ver. 17). It is clear that this begins His public preaching. The discourse to Nicodemus was entirely different. Why have we nothing like the Samaritan woman in Matthew? How does it fit in with the Gospel of John? In Matthew the subject is the accomplishment of the prophecies about the Messiah, and God showing there was on His part no failure of testimony till the Baptist's work closes. Jesus awaits this in Matthew. In John He waits for nothing. He gives there the grandest possible testimony about the kingdom of God; the necessity of a life which man has not naturally, that God alone can give; and the necessity of the cross as the expression of God's judgment of sin in grace to sinners - to the world. So that the discourse in John 3 consists of these two parts - a life given of God that is perfectly holy; and Jesus dying in atonement for the sins of the old life, which never could enter into the presence of God. For though believers must have the new life, yet this cannot blot out sin. Death is needed as well as life, and the Saviour provides both. He is the source of life as the Son of God, and He dies as the Son of man. And this is what He strikingly brings out in the beginning of John's Gospel.
In Matthew, as I have said, we have Jesus waiting till the testimony of John the Baptist is closed, and then He enters upon His public ministry. These things are perfectly harmonious. If it had been said our Lord preached the kingdom of heaven to Nicodemus, there might have seemed to be a contradiction; but He did not. To him He showed the necessity of a new birth for any to see the kingdom of God. But in Matthew He is looking at what concerns the earth - the kingdom of heaven according to the prophecy of Daniel. He therefore waits till his earthly forerunner had finished his task. Hence Matthew leaves out all allusion to anything public about Christ before John is cast into prison. He presents to the Jews the kingdom of heaven as that which was according to their prophets.
In the Gospel of Luke let us see how our Lord's ministry is opened. Chapter 4 will suffice for my purpose. The Lord returns in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: "And there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up." This is a previous scene; He is not in Capernaum yet. Matthew leaves it all out. This is the more striking because Luke was not one of those personally with our Lord, while Matthew was. But unless you believe that it is God who has guided the hand of every writer, and put His own seal upon it, you are incapable of understanding Scripture; you will add your own thoughts, instead of being subject to the mind of God. What we want is to confide in God, who is shedding on us His own blessed and infinite light. Why does God give us this incident at Nazareth in Luke and nowhere else? Is it the Messiah? No; such is not the object of Luke. Nor is it His ministry in the order in which it occurred: this you will find in Mark. But Luke, as well as Matthew, changes the order of events, for the purpose of bringing out the moral object of each Gospel. Luke gives us this circumstance in the synagogue; Matthew does not. If any one has read the Gospel of Luke with spiritual intelligence, what is the uniform impression conveyed to the mind? There is the blessed Man, anointed of the Holy Ghost, who goes about doing good. Indeed, this is precisely the way in which Peter sums up the life of Jesus in the Acts, when preaching Him to Cornelius - "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him." And then he gives an account of His wonderful work in His death and resurrection, and its fruits to the believer.
Opening, then, Luke's Gospel, what is the first incident of our Lord's ministry recorded there? At Nazareth, the most despised village in Galilee, the place where our Lord was sure to be scorned - in His own country, where He had been living all the days of His private life of blessed obedience rendered to man and of dependence upon God - in this same place He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read from the prophet Isaiah where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor: He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, . . . to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book." He stopped in the very middle of a sentence. Why so? For the most precious reason. He was come here as a herald of grace, the minister of divine goodness to poor, miserable men. There was judgment mingled with mercy in the prophecy of Isaiah. The Gospel of Matthew points out judgment upon the Jews and mercy to despised Galilee. But here it is a larger thing. In Luke there is not a word about judgment; nothing appears but the fulness of grace that was in Christ. He was come with all power and willingness to bless: the Spirit of Jehovah was upon Him for the purpose. He was sent to preach the acceptable year of the Lord - and there and then He closed the book. He would not add the next words, which announced "the day of vengeance of our God." He most significantly stops before a word is said of that day. As to the actual errand on which Jesus was come from heaven, it was not to execute vengeance: this was only what man would by and by compel Him to do by refusing grace. But He came to show divine love flowing in a perfect, unceasing stream from His heart. This was what our Lord opened out here. Where does such a scene as this suit? Exactly the place where it occurs - the Gospel of Luke only. You could not transplant it to Matthew, or even to John. There is a character about it that pertains to this Gospel and none other. Some of the circumstances of our Lord's ministry are given in all the Gospels, but this is not: because it flows in the current of Luke, there it is found, and there alone.
This will help to illustrate the characteristic and divinely-arranged differences of the Gospels. Harmonizing is the attempt to squeeze into one mould things which are not the same. Thus, if I may add a few words as to the account in Luke, we have more in corroboration. While they hung upon His lips to hear the gracious words, as the Holy Ghost characterizes them, all eyes fastened upon Him. "He began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. . . . And they said, Is not this Joseph's son? "Such was their blindness of heart. He was despised and rejected of men; not only of the proud men of Jerusalem, but even at Nazareth. This is Luke's object, who demonstrates the deeper thought still - that it was not only men who might be built up in the law, but that the heart of man was against Him wherever He was. Let it be at Nazareth, and let Him utter the most gracious words that ever fell from the lips of man, still scorn followed. "And He said unto them, Ye will surely say unto Me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also, here in Thy country." We learn here that the Lord had done many things elsewhere, and things that had taken place previously to this; but the Spirit of God records this first at length. The Lord accordingly brings in another thing that I must refer to. He takes instances from Jewish history to illustrate the unbelief of the Jews and the goodness of God to the Gentiles: "I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up; . . . but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta," etc. That is to say, He shows that in the unbelief of Israel God turns to the Gentiles, and that they should hear. There was this grand point in Luke's Gospel - not only the display of the fulness of the grace that was in Jesus, but God going out to the Gentiles, and in mercy to them. The first recorded discourse of our Lord in Luke brings out the very object of the Gospel. Accordingly, when the Lord uttered these words, they "were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong. But He, passing through the midst of them, went His way, and came down to Capernaum." And then we have the Lord dealing with a man that was possessed with a devil. This is the first miracle detailed here; and it is only in the next chapter that we find our Lord calling Simon Peter, Andrew, and the rest, to follow Him; all which is given with the greatest possible care. At once we are struck with the difference.
For when we turn back to Matthew there is not a word about Nazareth, or the casting out of a devil from a man possessed; but simply our Lord, when He began to preach, was walking by the sea of Galilee, and "saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (vers. 18, 19). The account is given very succinctly. The particulars are not found; but we do get them in Luke, and, I presume, for this reason, that his is specially the Gospel where we see the moral analysis of the human heart. There are two things specially brought out in Luke - what God's heart is toward man, and what man's heart is naturally toward God; and, besides this, what he becomes through the grace of God. Take the parable of the prodigal, for instance. Have you not there God's grace and the wickedness of man's heart fully brought out? and then his coming to himself and being lost in the goodness of God toward him? This is just the Gospel of Luke, the sum and substance of the whole book. It is one reason why you have the experience of Peter when first called to service; how the Lord met his fears, and fitted him to become a fisher of men. And Peter is there made a prominent person: such experience is worthless except in an individual. Experience must be a thing between the soul and Christ; and the moment it becomes vague, or a matter of public notoriety, all is gone; it becomes then rather a snare for the conscience. There is the danger of repeating what we have heard from others, or of keeping back what is bad as to our own souls. It must be a matter of individual conscience with the Lord. Hence Luke gives us one individual singled out, and the minute account of what he passes through with the Lord.
This is not Matthew's point. There it is the rejected Messiah, now that His forerunner is cast into prison, who. will Himself soon find that there is worse than a prison in store for him. But for all that, the Lord will accomplish the prophecies. He is, in the most despised place, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that predicted the law bound up among His disciples at the very time that the Lord was hiding His face from Israel. Now He wants to have persons who are suited to be the representatives of this godly remnant in Israel. Therefore He calls first two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother. It would be a mistake to suppose that this was our Lord's first acquaintance with them. They knew the Lord long before. How do we know this? John tells us. If you examine the point, you will find that all the incidents in the first four chapters of John's Gospel occurred before this scene. The circumstances recorded of our Lord in Jerusalem, in Galilee, and with the woman of Samaria even, all took place before Simon and Andrew were called away from their work. In order to call for a special line of service, there is a second work of Christ necessary.
It is one thing for Christ to reveal Himself to a soul; it is another to make that soul a fisher of men. There is a special faith needed in order to act upon the souls of others. The simple saving faith that appropriates Christ for one's own soul is not at all the same thing as understanding. the call of Christ summoning one away from all the natural objects of this life to do His work. This comes out here. The Lord, in His rejection, calls, and causes His voice to be heard by these four men, and by others also. They had already believed in Him, and had everlasting life; but even with everlasting life a man may be following a good deal of the world, and, being occupied with what contributes to his own ease here below, remain a member of the society of men. Many that are godly still continue mixed up with the world; but in order for the Lord to make them to be the companions of His own service, and to fit them for carrying out His own objects, He must call them away. But they have got a father: what is to be done? No matter; the call of Christ is paramount to every other claim. They were casting a net into the sea; and He saith unto them, "Follow Me." But they might have caught ever so much fish: what of that? "They straightway left their nets, and followed Him. And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them" (vers. 20, 21). No doubt it was a struggle. They were mending their nets with their father when the Lord called them; but they immediately left their nets and their father, and followed Him. And for this reason: they knew who Christ was; that He was the Messiah, the blessed object of hope that God had from the beginning promised to the fathers; and now the children had it. He called them. Could they not trust all they had in His hands, and confide in His care for their father? Surely they could. The very same faith which gave them to follow Jesus, not alone as a giver of everlasting life, but as One to whom they now belonged as servants, could enable them to confide all that they had pertaining to them in this world into His keeping. Surely, if the Lord called them, His call must be superior to their natural obligations. This was an extraordinary case. We do not find that persons in general are called to such a work as this; but it may be there are occasions where the Lord has those that He summons to serve Him in this special way. How could one be of use to the souls of others unless he have known somewhat of this trial for his own soul? The Lord is presented here as thus forming this godly remnant for Himself from the very beginning. "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel." This was what the Lord was now doing; but it is not all. "Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those which had the palsy, and He healed them" (vers. 23, 24).
Now, mark, there is nowhere, except in Matthew, such a series of the Lord's works and teaching compressed into a couple of verses. In Matthew they are crowded into a cluster, before we have the teaching commonly called "the sermon on the mount." Why is it that the ordinary current of the Lord's ministry is brought before us here in this comprehensive form? It is intended to show, after the Lord had called these disciples, the universal attention that was drawn to His doctrine. The Lord had been giving a full testimony everywhere through all Galilee, and his fame had spread through all Syria; persons had been attracted from all quarters; and the Holy Ghost then gives us the outline of the kingdom of heaven in its objects and character. The circumstances are so arranged by the Holy Ghost as to show the universal attention directed to it. When all are on tip-toe to hear Him, then the Lord unfolds the character of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew knew perfectly well that the sermon on the mount was really uttered long after. He heard it himself. Yet Matthew's own call is not given till chapter 9. It was subsequent to the call of the twelve disciples that our Lord took His place upon the mount; but Matthew records it long before. The object is to mark, not the time when our Lord uttered this discourse, but the change announced. There were, first, all these mighty deeds that witnessed to His being the true Messiah; and then His doctrine was perfectly brought out. The sermon on the mount need not be considered, historically, as one continuous discourse, but may have been divided into different parts. It is nowhere said that it was all uttered in strict consecution. We have only the general fact that then He spoke thus on the mount, and there He taught the people. It may have been given in several discourses, with the circumstances giving rise to this part or that omitted in Matthew. The human mind compares these things together, and finding that in Luke different portions of it are given in a different connection, while in Matthew all are given together, instead of confiding in the certainty that God is right, jumps at once to the conclusion that there is confusion in these scriptures. There is really perfection. It is the Holy Ghost shaping all according to the object He has before Him.
Another time I hope, if the Lord will, to enter carefully into this most blessed discourse of our Lord's, to evince its grand importance in itself, and its appropriateness in Matthew, where alone we have it so fully. In Mark and John it is not given at all; in Luke only in detached fragments; in Matthew as a whole. But now I merely commend to you the subject we have been looking at, trusting that the general remarks Already made may prove an incentive to further and prayerful examination. May the hints thrown out help some to a more profitable reading of God's word, and more intelligent entrance into His mind, beside., giving a key to apparent difficulties in the Gospels.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;
And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.
And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.