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MATTHEW iv. 1.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wil
derness, to be tempted of the Devil.
AMONG the wonderful instances of humiliation to which our blessed Saviour vouchsafed to submit, in the great work of our redemption, his temptation in the wilderness is one of the most extraordinary and the most mysterious. It forms, however, a most important link in that chain of evidence by which his pretensions were confirmed and verified; and in no instance, perhaps, did he more signally prove himself to be “ the Captain of our “ salvation?.” Whatever difficulties, therefore, may seem to attach to it, we are encouraged to approach the subject with confidence, though with that reverential caution which befits us in the investigation of any matter so far removed from our own personal observation and experience. The time, the occasion, the circumstances, and the purpose which seems to have been intended by it, combine to give an interest to the inquiry, and to connect it intimately both with our faith and practice.
a Heb. ii. 10.
The occurrence, it appears, took place immediately after our Lord's baptism. “ Then,” says St. Matthew, “ was Jesus led up of the
Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of “ the Devil.” At his baptism, a voice from heaven, accompanied with the visible descent of the Holy Spirit, declared him to be “ the “ beloved Son” of God. Thus was he solemnly ordained to the office and ministry he came to fulfil; and the time now approached when he was to open his commission to the world, and enter upon the great work his heavenly Father had given him to perform. Then also he was gifted with those miraculous powers, by which he was to establish his claims to be received as the Saviour of mankind. “ Being “ full of the Holy Ghost,” says St. Luke, “ he
returned from Jordan, and was led by the
Spirit”—the Holy Spirit which had just descended
him—“ into the wilderness b." Thither, no doubt, he went, to prepare himself by prayer and meditation, by seclusion
b Luke iv. 1.
and abstinence, for a work infinitely surpassing, in difficulty and importance, all that could be conceived or executed by human powers.
The period of forty days, during which our Lord abode in this place of solitude, we may conceive to have been designed for the accomplishment of the types in the persons of Moses and Elijah. Moses, the giver of the Jewish Law, “ abode in the mount forty days “ and forty nights, and did neither eat bread
nor drink waterc.” Elijah, the chief of the Prophets under the same dispensation, “ went “ in the strength of the meat that he had “ eaten forty days and forty nights unto Ho“ reb the mount of Godd.” These were acts of humiliation, the former for the sins of the people in the wilderness, the latter for similar offences under their idolatrous kings. Our Lord, who came to be an expiation for the sins of the whole world, vouchsafed to submit to a similar act of humiliation. In the former instances, as in this, the support must have been miraculous : and in each case a sure testimony was given of Divine authority imparted to the individuals so distinguished. But Moses and Elijah, while thus upholden by the manifest sanction of the Almighty, were also thus marked out as precursors and figurative c Deut. ix. 9.
d 1 Kings xix. 8.
representatives of Him in whom the Law and the Prophets were to be fulfilled. They were also permitted afterwards to behold Him here on earth, in the glory of His transfiguration, and to hold converse with Him on the actual accomplishment of those things which before had been revealed to them only in type and in figure.
It was during this important work of preparation and self-discipline, that our Lord was assailed by the tempter. This evil spirit, constantly represented in Scripture as the great adversary of mankind, having from the beginning been the immediate cause of their fall and degradation, persevered with unceasing malice in endeavouring to complete and perpetuate their overthrow. As chief of other fallen and accursed spirits, he is described as “ going about, seeking whom he
devour:” and however inconceivable to us may be the means which such a being can employ of working evil to the whole human race ; yet the word of God so repeatedly states, that to a certain extent he is permitted to exercise this power,
that the fact is not to be disputed. The original grounds of this hostility to mankind and to their Redeemer, the Scriptures have not distinctly revealed. That it was the result of despair of his own condition, and of
envy in contemplating the happiness first prepared for man in his state of innocence, and afterwards renewed to him through a propitiation for sin, may be inferred from his being represented as the Deceiver and the Accuser of mankind, the Instigator and the Perpetrator of evil, the Tempter to sin, and the Tormentor to inflict its punishment. Nor can the evidence of this be set aside by any thing the scoffer may allege as to its militating against the moral attributes of the Supreme Being. That man should have been created subject to trial, from within and from without; and that after he had fallen from his integrity such trials should still be permitted, implies nothing repugnant to the Divine perfections, supposing, in each case, sufficient ability to have been given him to withstand temptation. And of this the Scriptures fully assure us.
Neither in his state of innocence, nor in his fallen state, was man ever “ tempted
above that he was able to bear." In the former state, besides the natural, though limited perfection of his moral endowments, it is probable that the help of Divine grace was at hand to enable him to resist evil. In the latter case, we know that it is so; it being one especial purpose of the Gospel dispensation to entitle him to this aid, through faith