THE PURPOSE OF LENT
‘Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.’
Our Lord before He entered upon His public ministry was tempted. He faced the great enemy of souls that He might be our example. Lent is for:
I. Self-examination.—Every year we set aside the forty days of Lent that we may examine ourselves and see where our temptations are assailing us. It is not merely our deeds we have to look at, but our thoughts and feelings. Picture St. Paul’s struggles on coming to Christ. It was hard for him to kick against the pricks of conscience.
II. Battling with besetting sin.—We find on self-examination there is much that is inconsistent with Divine command—e.g. great faults of temper, selfishness, faults belonging to our fleshly character. These things must be fought, and as we fight we learn the power of sin and the weakness of human nature, and this should draw us nearer to God.
III. Prayer.—Prayer goes along with the struggle and must never cease. Christians at such a time as this must add somewhat every day to their ordinary prayers—frequent prayer to God to help us in our preparation to come nearer than before to His great and wonderful love.
IV. Self-discipline.—The Church calls upon us to practise self-restraint; to restrain ourselves from anything which makes our self-examination, or our battle, or our prayers, less effective than they would otherwise be. The purpose of the Christian fast is to discipline the body and the mind. It is a time when whatever hampers the body or soul should be given up altogether. The purpose of fasting is to bring us nearer to the Lord. To be like Christ is the consummation of the Christian life.
‘You may say, “But, after all, interesting as this narrative of Christ’s temptation may be in itself, of what practical value is it to me? What lesson does it teach; what encouragement does it give to such as I? Jesus Christ and I stand on a totally different platform—I am mere man, He is the God-man. And as such, He had all the resources of the Deity to fall back upon, and was therefore too strong to be overcome by any temptation. It is not so with me; and I do not understand that I am any better for having the example of His steadfastness before me.” That is the question. The answer is this—the one thing Christ did not do was to draw upon the resources of his Godhead. He was there in the wilderness as a servant, not as the equal of the Father; and the success of His enterprise hung upon His maintaining that position of subordination, of dependence, of submission, to the Divine Will. To induce Him to shift that position and to assert independence was, throughout, the aim of the tempter. The plan had succeeded with the first Adam—it might succeed with the second and last Adam. But it did not. And Christ stood in a circle of safety, which could not possibly be broken into, by simply maintaining a constant attitude of filial dependence upon His heavenly Father. And it is just so with the people of Christ.’
THE CONFLICT AND THE VICTORY
I. The greatness of the conflict.—The reality of the struggle is the first point which must arrest our attention. It is a single combat upon which everything depends. But into it there enters, in concentrated form, almost every kind of temptation to which we throughout our lives are subjected. Alone does our Divine Master go into the wilderness. It is alone we shall gain our greatest spiritual experiences. It is alone we shall have our severest battles with ourselves. It is when alone we shall best measure our true relation to God, and discover what are the hindrances that keep us back from God and from the fulfilment of His purposes for us. Alone, on our knees, with all worldly considerations and interests excluded must we learn of God how to bring ourselves into true harmony with the will of God: for alone we shall often have to stand for God’s cause and alone shall we stand before his judgment-seat. As the Captain of our salvation, and to indicate how we may share in His virtues, our blessed Lord there stands alone to meet the attacks of the great enemy of souls.
II. The victory.—With a recognition made in subtilty of His Divine status and authority, the devil spreads before Him three grave temptations to win to Himself in some other way the world He had come to redeem and save by His great humility and self-sacrifice.
(a) The first approach is through the body of humanity with which He had clothed Himself. When ‘an hungered’ through His long fast, the devil bids Him exempt Himself from the ordinary suffering of mankind. In the reproof of the temptation by the assertion of an eternal principle which is never, never to be disobeyed, our Lord reveals to us how we may overcome those pressures of our temporal necessities or of our bodily passions, which for the time seem to us so irresistible. Quoting those sacred words which are to be the guide of our lives, Christ replies, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ Are we never similarly tempted? Are there no times at which we are tempted to follow in a wrong way the inclinations of our bodily appetites? If such times come to us, then let the vision of the Lord in His endurance of temptation rise in our minds.
(b) Not less insidious and enticing is the next temptation to win adherence by wonder working, and the claim for Divine interposition, even when the path taken was not that ordered of Divine purpose. Bidding the Lord cast Himself down from a pinnacle, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God’ is the utterance again of a divine principle, by which the Lord Christ, as much as His humblest followers, must ever be influenced. Never could that principle be departed from by Him. Are we never tempted in our degree in a similar way? Do we never try to get influence over others by unworthy means? Are we never inclined to take some line of action which seems likely to bring us some speedy if specious result, though it be not in the strict and plain way of God’s Commandments? Or again, are we never found to be tempting God by voluntarily placing ourselves within reach of any form of evil which we know to be a dangerous snare to us? And are we not, then, just infringing upon the principle here laid down by Christ and tempting God? The thought of this temptation of our Lord should surely make us endeavour to walk humbly with our God. And (as some one has observed) there is both a warning and an encouragement in the expression ‘Cast thyself down.’ It must be our own doing, therefore beware. It can only be our own doing, therefore never despair.
(c) In the last of the three great temptations the evil one is making his boldest stroke. He is appealing to the great soul of the true King of men.
And His answer here, ‘Get thee hence, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve,’ is the clearest indication to us of the only course we can follow whenever the devil tries to put similar false issues before ourselves.
—Bishop G. W. Kennion.
‘No sooner is Christ out of the water of baptism, than He is thrust into the fire of temptation. So David, after his anointing, was hunted as a partridge upon the mountains. Israel is no sooner out of Egypt than Pharaoh pursues them. Hezekiah had no sooner left that solemn pass-over than Sennacherib comes up against him. St. Paul is assaulted with vile temptations after the abundance of his revelations; and Christ teaches us, after forgiveness of sins, to look for temptations, and to pray against them. While Jacob would be Laban’s drudge and pack-horse, all was well: but when once he begins to flee, he makes after him with all his might. All the while our Saviour lay in His father’s shop, and meddled only with carpenter’s chips, the devil troubled Him not; but now that He is to enter more publicly upon His office and mediatorship, the tempter pierceth His tender soul with many sorrows by solicitation to sin.’
‘AS CHRIST OVERCAME’
The temptation in the wilderness! There have been those who have seen in the narrative no more than a striking legend without any real historical basis. The suggestion has a prima facie likelihood, which disappears on further investigation. In the first place, we can hardly doubt the temptations to misuse His powers. In the second place, although the subject-matter was one round which legendary creations would be likely to gather, yet they would be wanting in that depth and dignity which characterise the Gospel record.
Let us glance—no more—at each of the three temptations.
I. Temptation to misuse His powers.—The first was a suggestion to misuse His miraculous endowments—endowments of which He was aware—for the purpose of satisfying His own bodily needs. In other words, He was tempted to a violation of trust. His peculiar powers were not assigned to Him that He might make His own path easy, that He might spare Himself the completeness of Self-denial, that he might avert from Himself some physical suffering. And never, from first to last, were His powers used by Him for His own advantage. Whatever others gained from them He Himself gained nothing. Never does He take the edge from any of His own trials or blunt the sharpness of any Personal anguish. Always does He show the strict Self-control, the rigid Self-limitation which underlay His first reply to the Tempter, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’
II. Temptation to abuse the consciousness of privilege.—The second temptation was somewhat similar in character. Like the first, it was a temptation to abuse the consciousness of privilege. But it was directed not so much to bring about a misuse of power, as to inflate the assurance of special protection into overweening presumption. Christ stood in imagination on one of the pinnacles of the Temple—perhaps on the point from which the priests used to watch for the first rays of the dawn that they might signal to those below to commence the morning sacrifice. He pictured the sacred courts filled with worshippers. Did He cast Himself headlong down and descend unhurt into the midst of the throng, it would be a proof of His supernatural mission which none would gainsay. He would then be the accepted and trusted leader of His people. What had he to fear from such an enterprise? Was not angelic protection promised to Him? Not by any such means as those suggested to Him was His victory over the hearts and consciences of men to be won. He could indeed command the obedience of an innumerable multitude of angels; but the proposal made to Him was outside the bounds set by true religious sentiment, and was therefore an incentive to provoke the Divine anger. ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’
III. Temptation to apostacy.—The third temptation was perhaps less subtle in its nature; but it was one of immense force. There spread itself before the mind of the Lord a vision of the kingdoms of this world. His thoughts went out not merely to Israel but to the nations which lay beyond. There was Rome with its vast power, but vast infamy. There was Greece with its noble political and philosophical traditions. There were the realms of the great Parthian monarch. There were the inhabitants of the Arabian and Scythian deserts. All these—and more than these—formed themselves into a vast vista which stretched before His eyes. There suggested itself to Him the possibility of an easy victory, of a rapid attainment to widespread dominion, at the price of moral and spiritual apostacy. ‘All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.’ But our Lord meets the pressure of the temptation, as He had met that of the others, with a few words of Scripture, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.’ Thus the victory was won. Thus He proved Himself ‘without sin.’ Thus was He led through temptation to the peace of a complete triumph.
IV. Tempted like as we are.—He walked in our path and not in some wholly isolated one. He realised our pitfalls and was not guided by by-paths which spared Him the ordinary perils of mankind. His reliance upon His Father was perfect, yet He was not spared. So is He able to help us in our hours of grievous trial. So can He uplift and uphold us. So can He sympathise with each and all. So can He ever be the perfect human Friend, to Whom none upon earth can possibly compare. So is He the continuous sustenance of our souls in their many and severe struggles. Let us find help and strength in the memory of, and in communion with, the tempted but victorious Redeemer. If we are to be led up into some wilderness we need not be overwhelmed by the perils contained in it. Across the ages come His words of reassurance, ‘Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’
The Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.
‘An incident of the Battle of Creci may be quoted: From the Black Prince’s division, where the fight was raging fierce and doubtful, there came to the English king an urgent request for a reinforcement, Edward, who from a windmill watched the chances of the battle, and the movements of the armies, inquired if his son were killed or wounded. The messenger replied “No.” “Then,” said he, “tell Warwick that he shall have no assistance; let the boy win his spurs. He and those who have him in charge shall earn the whole glory of the day.” The king had led his son into temptation. He had brought him into the battle to try what metal he was of, to give him the chance fairly and honourably to win his spurs. The ordeal was a severe one for the young soldier. He felt himself failing under it. The desire to be relieved at the critical moment was natural enough. The refusal of such a request might well seem hard. But the king looked at things as an old soldier looks at them.… All this is obvious enough. Why, then, is it less obvious that the dealings of the Heavenly Father with His children may oftentimes be even of this sort?’
The record of our Lord’s temptation must needs be momentous—first in its import, for the comprehension of the spirit of His ministry; and secondly, in its example to mankind. The narrative would seem to possess the unique character of being autobiographical. There were none but heavenly witnesses of the mysterious experiences of those forty days; by whom, then, could the narrative have been communicated to the evangelists except by our Lord Himself? Our Lord knew, as none else could possibly have done, what were the essential elements in the temptation to which He was subjected.
I. The evil of the suggestion.—The first temptation was addressed to our Lord’s sense of physical necessity and sufferings, combined with His consciousness of the possession of miraculous power by which He might have relieved them. And in what did the evil of the suggestion consist? There were other times in our Lord’s life and ministry in which he did not hesitate to have recourse to His miraculous powers, but our Lord’s answer points to the fact that the use of His miraculous power on this occasion would have been inconsistent with the express will and word of His Father. It is to be explained by the fact that He was ‘driven into the wilderness by the spirit to be tempted of the devil.’ This endurance, for reasons beyond our full comprehension, had been imposed on Him by the Spirit of God. Alike in the simplest wants of human nature and in its intensest trials He exhibited the power of absolutely submitting His human will to His Father’s will and to His own higher will.
II. In what life consists.—It would seem obvious that this is an example of the earliest and simplest, and yet in some respects the most persistent, temptation by which ordinary human beings are beset. Men’s only safety consists in grasping the principle which our Lord here asserted in answer to the tempter, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. A man’s life does not consist in the mere gratification of his bodily craving, or even the natural desires of his mind and heart, or even in his life here. The essential life of his nature consists in his living and acting in harmony with the will of God. So far as it is necessary for him to live here all natural provision that is essential for him will be made by His Father in heaven. It is unnecessary for him to take thought. No man or woman can expect to have our Saviour’s promises fulfilled to themselves in a higher degree than that in which they were fulfilled in Himself.
III. Man destined for eternity.—The life of man is not to be measured by the wants and cravings of his present experience; it has an eternal character and is destined for an everlasting sphere. There, whatever it may have forgone here, in obedience to the word of God and God’s will, will be abundantly made up to it, and it will be seen that man’s true life consists eternally in every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
‘Bishop Ellicott remarks, (1) that the temptation was no vision or trance; (2) that it was an assault from without by the personal agency of the personal prince of darkness; and (3) that it was addressed to the three parts of our nature—to the body, “of satisfying its wants by a display of power which would have abjured its dependence on the Father”; to the soul, of Messianic dominion, “accomplishing in a moment all for which the incense of the One Sacrifice on Golgotha is still rising up on the altar of God”; to the spirit, “of using that power which belonged to Him as God to display by one dazzling miracle the true relation in which Jesus of Nazareth stood to men, and to angels, and to God.”’
‘Led up of the Spirit to be tempted of the devil.’ It is the history of mankind. It was the challenge of the Spirit of God to the spirit of evil; it was the struggle which was bound to take place for the supremacy of the world. It is vain to speculate upon the form or character of the spirit of evil, for whatever theory we may have as to its origin or form, whether it be a permeating essence or a person, nothing alters the universal result of all experience—that it is a fact. And it is just as vain for man to speculate upon its nature, as to mistake what that nature is. Poverty, obscurity, disappointment, care—these things are often deemed evil by the world, and yet they are not evils in themselves. Many of them have proved the greatest of blessings with which God has endowed the human family; but it is the material which goes into the crucible that shows in the result. If mean spirits go in, it is mean spirits that come out; if nobility goes in, it is nobility refined and purified that comes forth.
I. The struggle.—The Lord Jesus Christ, Who looked into the very eyes of the tempter, never made light of evil, and it is well for us to remember that men who succeed in this great battle, only succeed after a struggle—a struggle with a really terrible enemy. The trouble is that men are so often their own tempters. Bad as he is, the devil is often falsely charged and falsely accused; when men are to be blamed alone they cast on him the sins that are their own. The pitiful thing is that so many of us go through the world, and see its evil, and forget that, sooner or later, evil comes home to them that give it an abiding place within them.
II. Lenten discipline.—It is well that we should withdraw ourselves from the world, that we should gather together, and see the evil within us, that we should face the penalties that go with the evil and cry aloud for penitence and for pardon. Those who have known the struggle will welcome this season as a means of grace, and for those who have been amongst the fallen, there will be the pleasing remembrance that Lent is not only the recruiting ground for the good, but it is a fresh starting-place for those who have done wrong. It may mean to them that God will use it as a means of instruction; that He will help them to reckon rightly, to estimate accurately the blessings and the evils that are around them; and when men do that there is little doubt that, however busy they may be with their work, however engrossed with their pleasures, they will at least find some time in which to remember the petition of the Litany—‘That it may please Thee to give us true repentance, to forgive us all our sins, negligences and ignorances, and to endue us with the grace of Thy Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to Thy Holy Word.’
III. The victory.—Victory is possible; that goodness after all is not a dream. The threefold temptations of our Lord show us that body, soul, and spirit of man—each the abiding temple of the Holy Ghost—may be assaulted in its turn. So Jesus Christ has given us, as He gave to His disciples, that short pattern prayer on which men have moulded their petition to God from that time to this: ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
The Rev. James Hughes, LL.D.
‘During these forty days let us do something that will bring us some definite, direct result. Let us each one make a new rule of life and keep it through Lent, and let the result of that rule be that we may be a little better at the end than at the beginning; our wills a little more in the direction of God than they were before. Our task is to bring under our body, and to keep it in subjection. How may we do it? We are often told that we must withdraw from the world. May I suggest that that is wrong? We must be alone with God sometimes, but take care when you are alone with God you are not alone with self, because in the end you will fall again and be no better at the end of Lent than at the beginning. Do not shut out the world altogether, because God is there. God has put us into it, and we are to fight against the temptations that the world suggests, calling to our aid in resistance the strength of God. Why was the temptation of Jesus Christ undergone? To show us that there is a greater power than Satan. He is very powerful; but there is a Greater, and when we are very near to the clutches of Satan, that Power will come and resist for us, and put us on our feet again. Jesus Christ went through His temptation to show us how to live; He went through it in order that He might leave us that great example.’
CHRIST’S SYMPATHY WITH THE TEMPTED
This must be regarded as one of the most marvellous pages in the Saviour’s history, and to a large portion of the Church of God, not less precious and soothing. Christ was tempted of the Devil. Our temptations from Satan often flow from indirect sources, from sin within or incentives to sin without; our Lord’s were direct from Satan. He had come to destroy the works of the Devil, but He must first confront, bind, and virtually destroy the Devil himself. What were His temptations?
I. Tempted to distrust Providence.—What was Satan’s first assault upon our Lord? It was the temptation to distrust the providence of God. The temptation was timely, plausible, and strong. It had been as easy for Christ to have established the fact—not denied by His adversary—of His Divine Sonship by turning the stones into bread, as subsequently He did by turning the water into wine. But He would not! How Godlike and sublime is His reply! And is there not a page in our experience corresponding to this? How often by the same Adversary we are assailed with the same temptation! Are we in affliction and sorrow?—he tempts us to question God’s goodness and love. Are we prostrate on a sick and suffering couch?—he tempts us to doubt the wisdom and kindness of our Father. Are the providences of our God trying, painful, and mysterious?—he tempts us to carnal reasoning. Are our temporal resources straitened, our wants pressing, our position trying and critical?—he tempts us to unbelief, distrust, and despondency.
II. Tempted to self-destruction.—The second temptation of our Lord was to self-destruction. ‘Cast Thyself down—destroy Thyself! Presume upon the providence and power of God to preserve Thee. Commit the act, and leave Him to shield Thee from its consequences.’ With what holy horror must the Son of God have recoiled from the temptation to this rash, sinful, appalling crime! And yet with what dignity and power He repels and silences it! There are few temptations by which our race is assailed more common, and none more dire, than this.
III. Tempted to idolatry.—The third temptation of our Lord was—idolatry, with the promise of temporal territory, glory, and power. This would seem to have been the climax of horror, the sin of sins, to the holy Son of God. No sin has Jehovah so emphatically forbidden, or has marked with such signal and overwhelming indications of His hatred, displeasure, and wrath. And are the saints of God entirely exempt from temptation akin to this? We believe not. Assailing us through our senses, easy and accessible avenues are open to this arch-foe of Christ and of the Church.
IV. We learn (a) that our great adversary and accuser is—a defeated foe. From this onslaught upon Christ he retired foiled, vanquished, and abashed. The seed of the woman had bruised the serpent’s head. Learn thus the paralysed power of your tempter, that you be not disheartened and dismayed.
(b) That Satan’s suggestions can be met by the ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.’ But he too can quote and apply Scripture, only to misquote and misapply it. The moment, then, that a text of God’s Word is suggested to your thoughts in favour of sin, of distrust of God, of disbelief of Christ, of self-injury, repel it with holy indignation. God’s Word will fortify, strengthen, and succour you in temptation. It is the Book of the tempted.
(c) That prayer is a girding of the soul in the temptations of Satan. Take your temptation, drag the tempter to the throne of grace, and you are safe. The shadow of that spot is too divine, too pure and holy, for a temptation to live a single moment. There the Wicked One will cease to trouble you, there your weary soul will sweetly rest.
—The Rev. Octavius Winslow, d.d.
‘The texts quoted by our Lord were all from the section of the book of Deuteronomy which was especially taught to all Jewish children, and which, therefore, He had Himself learned as a boy. Stier beautifully says: “The Living Eternal Word vested Himself in the written Word.” Satan obviously quoted Scripture because Jesus evidently held it in such reverence. From this we learn that the Devil can use texts when they suit his purpose; and from the omission of the words “in all thy ways,” that he can cunningly misquote them too. Plumptre observes that the words might well appear likely to lead astray one who had already moved unhurt among the “lion and adder,” the “young lion and the dragon” (see Psalms 91),’
THE ATTACK ON DIVINE SONSHIP
‘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.’
Herein Christ and Satan represent two great antagonistic principles. The whole object of Christ is to unite God and the sinner; but Satan is always doing the reverse.
I. The attack on sonship.—At our Saviour’s baptism, only a few days before the Temptation, there had been a voice from heaven, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!’ If Satan heard those words, he heard them with bitterness; and by a bold and wondrous stratagem, he made that very voice, which assured the world of its restoration, the base of the plan by which His own truth should be frustrated: ‘If Thou be the Son of God.’ Observe the depth of the intention of that question. It opens at once a dilemma. ‘Canst Thou be thus without bread, and yet be the Son of God?’ Or, ‘Art Thou indeed the Son of God? Make these stones bread.’ On that same fulcrum, Satan will very often apply his fatal lever to your soul. His great aim is to cut off the sense of sonship. Therefore, he does everything in the world to check that confidence in a man’s soul. He will disparage baptism; he will deny your conversion; he will darken your evidences; he will make light of still, small heavenly voices; he will misrepresent the character of the Father; he will arm against you external circumstances; or, he will try to attain the same ultimate end by a directly opposite method of attack. ‘You are a child of God. Enjoy your liberty; take your fling: “command that these stones be made bread.”’
II. The sin of yielding.—What would have been the result? Where would have been the sin of it? It would have been (a) to do what Christ never did, to work a miracle for Himself, and exert His omnipotence only for His own gratification; (b) it would have been distrustful of the Divine Providence; (c) it would have placed the material above the spiritual.
III. Ample provision made by God.—It was chiefly to this last part of the sin of the compliance that our Lord directed His reply. He reminded Satan of whit God said respecting Israel, when Israel, in another part of the same wilderness, was in an exactly parallel position. Then, there was no natural bread. But hear what God said: ‘He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna; which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word,’—word is not in the original; it is larger—by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.’ Therefore ‘the manna’ was evidently, in the first instance, part of the ‘everything’ which ‘proceeded out of the mouth of God.’ ‘The manna’ came at the simple word of God; so that those who ate it, fed at God’s mouth. But that ‘manna’ was itself the emblem and the type, both of the Written and the Living Word. How this sublime answer fits our necessity!
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
‘To bring in here His Divine power, or to suppose that He fasted otherwise than as a man, is to rob the transaction of its whole meaning. Upborne and upholden above the common needs of the animal life by the great tides of spiritual gladness, in the strength of that recent Baptism, in the solemn joy of that salutation and recognition from His Father: He found and felt no need for all these forty days.’
(2) ‘The second Adam, no less than the first, had to pass through His probation. That probation of the Incarnate Son is by no means easy to understand. It is clear that Christ could not sin, being a Divine Person. But his very Divinity made it possible for Him more fully than for others to taste the ingredients of human life. And though by His freedom from original sin He had none of the vicious and depraved desires which are congenital to us, and could only think of such with an instinctive abhorrence, yet, being human, He could not fail to be tempted by the same things which had tempted our first parents. The crafts and assaults of the Tempter were more artfully and persistently concentrated upon Him than any other.’
‘THE SON OF GOD’
‘If Thou be the Son of God.’
Our Lord at the baptism in Jordan had been conscious of new powers bestowed upon Him by the Spirit of God, and of a divine Voice which said to Him, ‘Thou art My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ And the temptations in the wilderness which immediately followed were trials addressed to this newly-confirmed conviction that He was in a peculiar sense God’s beloved Son—a newly-confirmed conviction, not a new conviction.
I. Our Lord had enjoyed this sense of Sonship from boyhood. ‘Wist ye not,’ He said to Joseph and His mother when they lost Him from their company, ‘wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?’ a saying which He had not learned from them, because they found it strange. From boyhood, then, the characteristic, so far as we can judge, of our Lord’s religious consciousness was this sense of Sonship to God, and He could not have lived long among His fellows without becoming aware that the consciousness was unique; and then as He read and pondered the Scriptures He must have come to realise that, if He were the Son of God, a mission had been laid upon Him by the Father, because the Son of God was spoken of in the Bible, and spoken of especially in the Psalms as One who was to redeem Israel and sit upon the throne of His Father David (Psalms 2, 89).
II. And this was the meaning that the title ‘Son of God’ would therefore convey to any Israelite who knew the prophetic hope and waited for the promised redemption. Nathanael, when he was amazed at our Lord’s insight into His character, acknowledged His claim in the words, ‘Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel,’ as though the titles were equivalent. Well, then, if that was the sense in which the title must be interpreted, if God’s Son be God’s elected King, we can see the force of the temptation that came when our Lord, after the solemn announcement of the kingship, retired to meditate in the wilderness.
III. What were the kingly prerogatives which Jesus claimed to exercise as God’s anointed during the opening of His ministry? As St. Luke tells the story in the synagogue of Nazareth, there was delivered to Him the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, and He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me.’ We are not surprised, then, to find that God’s kingdom, being a kingdom of love and peace, Jesus would never take to Himself the title of Son of God because of the associations of earthly sovereignty, by which it was coloured in the minds of the people, and only once did He allow it to be applied to Him—namely, when the High Priest adjured Him to confess whether He were the Christ, the Son of the Blessed; and then He accepted the title because to accept it was not to receive an earthly kingdom, but to mount the throne of the Cross from which He knew that He should indeed rule the world. Nevertheless, though, in order to avoid misunderstanding, our Lord did not allow Himself to be called by this name, it was not because He did not regard Himself as King, and as King by right of His Divine Sonship. All through the Gospels, in page after page, you find evidences of a personal claim upon man’s allegiance. He uses ‘For My sake’ and ‘For the kingdom’s sake’ as equivalent terms. He regards service between the citizens of the kingdom as service done to Himself. ‘Then shall the King say, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto Me.’ And this kingship He declared to rest upon the intimate and unique union between the Son and the Father. ‘No man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.’ It is only God’s anointed who can be king in God’s kingdom, because no one else can have the Divine wisdom, or the Divine power, or the Divine devotion.
IV. There is no repudiation of the Divine kingship.—In reality it is its most emphatic assertion, because the Divine kingship was to be distinguished from a mere earthly sovereignty by this great fact above all, that it reflected the sovereignty of God which is a sovereignty of love. ‘In all their afflictions He was afflicted,’ said the prophet, speaking of God’s love for Israel. In His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bore them and carried them all the days of old. The King, then—and this is a great lesson for us all—the King, then, just because He was Divine could not exempt Himself from any human need.
V. The real sting of the suggestion.—‘If Thou be the Son of God’ is not so much that it attempted to cast doubt into our Lord’s mind as to His relation with the Father, and the reality of His authority and power, as that it would fain have substituted an unworthy idea of God to that vision of mercy and truth which was ever before His mind. The attractiveness of the Gospel of Jesus to the human heart is, that it answers to our longing that the Almighty power behind the world may be known to be a power of righteousness, and wisdom, and love. If Jesus be the Son of God we have that assurance. Before His righteousness, and His wisdom, and His love our hearts bow themselves, and when He says to us, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,’ we are ready to believe that it is so, and that it must be so. We echo the testimony of the first disciples: ‘We beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
‘In St. Paul’s view the condition of being filled with the fullness of God is that Christ should dwell in the heart through faith, because in Christ, and alone in Christ, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. If we know anything of ourselves, we know that our nature requires something more than growth to become divine. Is not the great difference between Jesus Christ and other men this—that He was without sin, and we are not? And, if so, is it not a difference which needs explanation? The most striking defect of the “new” theology is, that having no doctrine of Atonement it must either minimise the evil of sin or deny the remedy of forgiveness, and by doing that it takes away that whole side of Christianity which the experience of the world shows to be not its least important side, that whole side of Christianity which is represented by the hymn “Jesus, lover of my soul.” We do, indeed, claim to be the children of God by creation, for it is He Who hath made us, and not we ourselves—made us not like the rest of creation, but in His own image, endowed our nature with reason, and will, and conscience, so that we can feel what goodness is. “Virtue in her shape how lovely!” And we claim to be children of God in the more intimate sense through the Spirit of the Son which God sends into our hearts. “Beloved,” said St. Paul, “now are ye the sons of God.” But it is through the only Son that we are sons: He is, in St. John’s great phrase, “the only Son.” There is none like Him; there is none second. He is the very Word, and expressed Word, of the Father, and we, as matter of simple history, are sons by adoption, accepted in the Beloved. Let us acknowledge this, and then our hope will be, that as we attain more and more to see Him as He is we shall be drawn more and more into His likeness.’
SIN AS A VOLUNTARY ACT
‘Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city … Cast Thyself down: for it is written … Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’
It is evident that ‘the tempter’ had no power to throw Christ down from the Temple, or to force Him to take the flight; but he plies his argument, and then says, ‘Cast Thyself down.’
I. Sin is voluntary.—There is no sin which is not voluntary. The circumstances, which connect themselves with the sin, will often seem, afterwards, to have necessitated you to do it. You will like to think it was so. But there was a point in that sin somewhere, when that sin hung in the balance, and your free-will held the scales. Those points—where the power to do, or the power to forbear, still lives—are sometimes very small. But they are the crises of every man’s moral history; and if you fell, there was a point where you did precipitate yourself!
II. Sin is presumptuous.—Every sin is ‘presumptuous.’ If it be not against light, it is not sin; and if that sin be done against light, it is ‘presumptuous.’ Nevertheless, though all ‘sins’ are ‘presumptuous,’ there are some which are, distinctively and characteristically, ‘sins of presumption.’ And of these this second temptation of our Lord was intended to be the type. Directly, it was to do that to which He had no proper call; indirectly, it was to expect a Divine interposition in His behalf, at a time, and in a way, in which He had no warrant to look for it.
III. Modern pinnacles.—Let me instance one or two cases as beacons. A young Christian stood on a very ‘pinnacle’ of holy joy. An inward call led him to some particular undertaking, which he thought a ‘mission.’ He left his present position, to go forth into that wider enterprise. That emotion of the heart may not have been of God. There is need for accepting caution, lest that higher flight be only a suggestion of the tempter, jealous of his joy, and anxious to destroy it. Take another, and rather different example. A Christian at the beginning of his career, thinks that his principles are now exceedingly strong. He can walk to the edge of the precipice, and not fall ever it. But I marvel if some very humbling experience does not soon teach him, that our Lord’s words are still true—that the way to heaven is a ‘narrow’ way, and the gate is very ‘strait!’
IV. Follow God’s teachings.—It is a dangerous tempting of the Most High, when we ever press too far any wish of our own. We then go into regions of which we know not the nature, and of which we cannot estimate the result; yet we venture there! Far better is it to follow the plain leadings of God’s will, than, going before, and perhaps contrary to His mind, to expose ourselves to the tremendous risk of praying to our own idol, and choosing our own altar.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
‘Two persons marry. The one is a child of God, and the other is unconverted. The pious one makes the marriage, in the full hope and feeling that the worldly one will soon be brought to God. There are already kindliness and openness in the natural heart; and surely, under such influences,—as will now be brought to bear,—it must become religious! The one, perhaps, almost holds marriage as a “mission” to convert the other; and beguiles itself into the thought that it is a righteous work to marry that person. But, see the true character of that act in God’s sight,—its folly, its hopelessness, and its sin! It is an assumption, that you can command the infinitely sovereign operations of the Spirit of God. Nay, it is more. It is doing a thing,—in itself confessedly forbidden,—on the unwarrantable conclusion that God will bless you in a dubious road, and give you the highest dignity of reward,—when you deserve punishment,—in bestowing the Holy Ghost, the only Author of real conversion, in answer to your wishes and prayers. Therefore, it is not one in ten thousand of such marriages which ever proves a happy one! When the husband and wife are both unconverted,—and one becomes a Christian,—it often, very often happens, by God’s blessing, that the grace extends itself to the other. But you who marry out of the Lord,—and yet expect the Lord in your marriage,—you have “cast yourself down”; and you must take the consequences! You have “tempted the Lord your God”; and the grieved Spirit, so far from acting on your partner’s heart, will be diminished, and strained,—if not destroyed, and lost,—in your own bosom!’
‘I WILL KEEP THEE’
It was a master-piece of Satan to take Christ to that temple. There was the spot which God loved best on the whole earth. At that very moment, the sacred light of Divine Presence was shining in its inner sanctuary.
I. Temptation in the unlikeliest place.—If there be a temptation which, to you, seems of all the unlikeliest,—if there be a place so very sacred, or a person so very good,—that you feel, ‘Here, at least, I am quite safe!’—if there be a contingency of evil which appears to you so remote, that it amounts to an impossibility,—there let the foot be steady, and the eye wary, and the heart braced for the conflict, with all its armour on; for never was the enemy so near, as when every circumstantial thing would tell you he was furthest!
II. The argument from Scripture.—Of all arguments, if it be not the best, a Scriptural one is always the worst. It is the bounden duty of every one, when he refers to God’s Word, to do it, not hastily, but cautiously; not lightly, but very measuredly and discriminatingly. Nothing is easier, nothing is more deceiving, nothing has done more evil in the world, than a plausible application of Divine words, and a misapprehension of the intention of the reasoning of the mind of God. In all your reference to Scripture, follow certain rules. Be slow to use the Bible in ordinary conversation; and never, unless your mind is in a reverent frame,—remembering that it is a very solemn thing to quote God. When you do refer to it, take care that your mind includes, not the text only, but also the context. Do not let a scriptural reason ever range as one amongst others; but give it its true dignity and ultimate position. And be sure that you repeat the verse accurately, and in its complete integrity.
III. God’s keeping.—God has undertaken to ‘keep’ us,—both in our bodies and in our souls. And without that ‘keeping,’ what safety or what peace could there be in the world? But He adds,—‘in all thy ways.’ Observe that ‘thy’, and that ‘all.’ It must be ‘thy way’; thine own proper, appointed way of usefulness and holiness. And then, ‘in all’:—that is, in every way of duty,—however many, however difficult, however dangerous, and however too much for you. The great question, therefore, to ask, at the entrance of everything, is,—‘Is this my way?’ If it be not, do not deceive yourself with any general and vague idea of God’s goodness. The promises are only to ‘thy way.’ But if it be ‘thy way,’ go down it,—whatever it may be,—without a fear; feeling sure, and singing as you go,—‘The Lord is my keeper; I will trust, and not be afraid. He is my defence upon my right-hand.’
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
(1) ‘Jesus stands on the lofty pinnacle of the tower, or of the Temple-porch, presumably that on which every day a priest was stationed to watch, as the pale morning light passed over the hills of Judæa, far off to Hebron, to announce it as the signal for offering the morning sacrifice. If we might indulge our imagination, it would be just as the priest had quitted that station. The first direct temptation had been in the grey of breaking light, when to the faint and weary looker the stones of the wilderness seemed to take fantastic shapes, like the bread for which the faint body hungered. In the next temptation Jesus stands on the watch-post which the white-robed priest has just quitted. Fast the rosy morning light, deepening into crimson and edged with gold, is spreading over the land. In the priests’ court below Him the morning sacrifice had been offered. The massive Temple gates are slowly opening, and the blast of the priest’s silver trumpet is summoning Israel to begin a new day by appearing before the Lord. Now then let Him descend, heaven-borne, into the midst of the priests and people. What shouts of acclamation would greet His appearance! The goal can at once be reached, and that at the head of believing Israel. Unseen by those below, Jesus surveys the scene. By His side the Tempter, watching the features that mask the working of the spirit within. And now he has whispered it.’
(2) ‘To “a pinnacle,” or, as it might be translated, to “a point” in the roof, or gable,—“of the temple,” the great adversary now took up our Lord. On which side of the temple “the pinnacle” stood, it is not very easy to ascertain. On the east side was Herod’s portico,—looking down perpendicularly, at a dizzy height, into the vale of Kedron. Here, according to tradition, Simon Magus is said, in aftertime, to have cast himself down. The south side of the temple overhung one of the courts of the sacred edifice; and here, again, was the spot from which, Josephus relates, James the Just was thrown down. A fall from the eastern side, would be far the deepest; on the western, the more open to public gaze.’
THE PATH TO VICTORY
‘Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain.… All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.… Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.’
What is the significance of this temptation? Whence did it derive its force?
I. The recognition of Divine sonship.—We shall gain a clearer understanding of what this mysterious trial was, if we look back for a moment to those which preceded it. Both the other voices were prefaced by the words, ‘If Thou be the Son of God.’ No doubt is here expressed or implied as to that Divine Sonship; the consciousness of it must, we can but reverently believe, have been ever present with the Christ. But the temptation was to draw upon that store of supernatural power which was ever within His reach. Nor would such yielding have been to all outward appearance a renunciation of His claims. The desire for food is innocent in itself; trust in the Divine Providence is the soul’s best strength and stay. But to have followed either suggestion would have been to turn aside from His appointed course. The first two trials were more subtle than appears at first sight. The victory lay in the refusal to separate Himself in His sorrows from mankind; it lay in that complete ‘self-emptying’ of which St. Paul speaks. And when we turn to the third and final conflict, we seem to find that it too was a far more terrible conflict than any which can come upon men, though it be full of the deepest teaching for us all. The Lord was in truth the Son of Man. He had taken upon Him that nature which is the flower and the crown of created life. Through this Incarnation it should receive new strength; fresh gifts were thus placed within man’s reach, for it is in Christ that men become partakers of the Divine nature. So is the Church in fact the Body of Christ. Why should it not be established then and there? The Gospel of an Incarnate Word might now be preached. Is not this the Gospel itself?
II. The fact of sin.—But for one fact, it would be the Gospel. That fact is the fact of sin. And does it not seem plain that the suggestion of evil which came to the Sinless One was that He should recognise the rights of sin in the universe of which He was the Creator? Was it, indeed, necessary that the Incarnation should be fulfilled in the Atonement, that the condescension of the Divine Charity should stoop to the Cross? The devil only departed for a season, and we know that more than once this very temptation assailed the Redeemer. The Shadow of the Cross was ever with Him; and in the earlier, as in the later days of ministry, the greatest, supremest trial of Jesus lay in the submission to the Cross and all that it involved. To have refused the Cross would have been to have left evil unconquered; it would have been a recognition of its right to a place in God’s world; and thus it would have left humanity unredeemed. And it is deeply significant that the two occasions on which the Lord was comforted by a ministry of angels were the two great occasions on which He resisted the impulse to shun the Cross, and thus leave the work of Redemption but half done. But the path to victory is ‘the royal road of the Cross.’
‘Once more the scene changes. They have turned their back upon Jerusalem and the Temple. Behind are also all popular prejudices … They no longer breathe the stifled air thick with the perfume of incense. They have taken their flight into God’s wide world. There they stand on the top of some very high mountain. It is in the full blaze of sunlight that He now gazes upon a wondrous scene. Before Him rises from out the cloud-land at the edge of the horizon, forms, figures, scenes—corn, woods, sounds, harmonies. The world in all its glory, beauty, strength, majesty, is unveiled. Its work, its might, its greatness, its art, its thought, emerge into clear view. And still the horizon seems to widen as He gazes; and more and more and beyond it still more and still brighter appears. Foiled, defeated, the enemy has spread his dark pinions towards that far-off world of his, and covered it with his shadows. The sun no longer glows with melting heat; the mists have gathered on the edge of the horizon, enwrapped the scene which has faded from view. And in the cool shade that followed have the angels come and ministered to His wants, both bodily and mental.’
THE GREATEST DANGER IN LIFE
You have a ‘kingdom’; your greatest danger in life lies in the matter of that ‘kingdom,’ and that, in exactly the same way as the trial was presented to our Master—the temptation of ‘taking the kingdom’ too soon—or compassing it by a forbidden path—or by receiving it upon wrong terms.
I. The time of the kingdom.—In that ‘kingdom,’ which is coming, doubtless a part of the happiness will be, that there will minister to our joy everything which can please the natural senses. But are we, then, to grasp at these things now, when the indulgence can only be obtained at the sacrifice of the spirituality, if not of the life, of the soul? May I go into the pageant, and into the glitter, of life? May I allow myself brightness and music, where God is not? No. ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ Or, take a young Christian, just going forth into the battle. He knows—and truly knows—that the victory, and the triumph, and the trophy, are already his. Is he, therefore, to walk now in his high confidences? Is he to be full of the elation of the assurance of a final perseverance? ‘Let not him that girdeth on his harness, boast himself as he that putteth it off.’
II. The way to the kingdom.—But the danger may lie, not so much in respect of the time, as of the way to ‘the kingdom.’ Between Christ and that ‘kingdom’ there lay a long and difficult road. It was a deep valley that He had to cross to reach the height, which lay before His view. In the journey to heaven, beware of taking the line which seems often the shortest. Whatever bright things are before you; and however near they look, depend upon it, you have to go lower before you can go higher. If even He was ‘made perfect through sufferings,’ shall we wonder that we must pass to our rest through much tribulation? Be content to go through the needful education of your soul. Be busy with your own proper duties. Then you will be ready to take ‘the kingdom.’
III. Happiness can be too dearly purchased.—Never accept anything, by accepting which, you would make a compromise with your conscience. Immediately, the value of it will be gone, and the bloom will perish! There are men of business. They amass great fortunes; and then they spend their fortunes nobly in the promotion of God’s glory. But, in the way in which they get their fortunes, and realise those earnings, their consciences are grieved, and their souls are damaged, in the seeking. It is a beautiful temptation! But, to get a fortune badly, and spend it well—is ‘worshipping Satan’!
IV. Have a fixed principle.—Observe our Lord’s mode of dealing with the suggestion, which would do an evil that a good might come. He lays down one great fixed principle. ‘God’—only God must be ‘worshipped.’ Whatever trespasses on His solitary majesty, whatever detracts, in one iota, from Him, that must never be! Admit of no possession, no joy, no privilege, no honour, temporal or spiritual, which does not, in some way or other, glorify God. If your love and reverence for God be diverted one hair’s breadth, by any proposition that is made to you, that proposition is a lie! Suspect anything—however pleasant, however great, however good—which does not directly glorify God. ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.’ Act with it as you would act with a viper. Fling it off! Fling it off in a moment. ‘Get thee hence, Satan!’
V. Victory.—‘Then,’—before that holy firmness,—‘the devil leaveth Him, and behold angels came, and ministered unto Him.’ God knows well how to make up to His own child—when He is alone with Him afterwards—for all He has been passing through, in the day, for His sake! What a little sanctuary will his own room be to him that night! Look at the matter thus, you, who are tempted; lay in strength for the battle again, you, who are being comforted: for so it must be, so it will be, to the end. The battle will never close,—the lights and the shadows will fulfil their courses: peace and trouble, trouble and peace, alternating, as the tide—till He comes—till He comes in His ‘kingdom.’
The Rev. James Vaughan.
(1) ‘It is utterly idle to attempt to reduce to any natural law, or even to a definite idea, the circumstances which attended this third temptation. I am inclined to think that the transit of Christ was to a real mountain, and that there was an actual prospect of exceeding grandeur and beauty lying at its foot: but that, aided by the scene it sought, the imagination was carried further than the landscape, either to the glories of the Roman Empire, then called “the world,” or, wider still, to certain great transcendant kingdoms, such as shall be hereafter. The pattern, therefore, submitted to the view will be neither altogether material, nor altogether ideal, but a part true, and the more the mirage.’
‘Just as almost all the seductions are, which do play before our minds. There is a reality, no doubt, in the rich, and gay, and pleasant things which this world presents, to lure away the young heart. But, oh! if a little, a very little of it, is solid, how large, how cruelly large is the fiction which surrounds it!’
(2) ‘A world of exceeding loveliness is appointed to you, where, even now, your prepared throne stands waiting for you. There, every desire that ever played upon your imagination, shall more than realise itself; and all the capabilities, of which you are conscious in yourself, will find infinite satisfaction in the perfected will of God. Brighter things than fancy ever drew,—loves, sweeter than you have ever conceived,—an elevation of knowledge that no thought has ever touched,—and power and might greater than the archangels,—and purities spotless as the throne of God,—and pleasures sweet and fresh as the rivers of paradise,—and light that never shall be dimmed, ministering to all, that is yours—not very far off! But, between all this and you, Satan has spread his fatal counterfeit. Too well it mimics the true!’
A LIFELONG CAMPAIGN
‘Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.’
The long trial in the wilderness was over. Our Lord had met and had resisted the threefold temptation, and lo! now, ‘the devil leaveth Him, and angels came and ministered unto Him.’ We have all known some such high moments as these. It is a high experience, and it is full of blessing; yet may there not be a danger even here, a danger of thinking that now, at least, there is a time for rest, for unbuckling the armour, which we had assumed?
I. Ceaseless activity of evil.—Though the devil departs, he departs only for a season (St. Luke 4:13), and it reminds us of the ceaseless activity of these powers of evil. No victory over evil or over sin is ever final or complete. It is a truth which is evidenced very much in the history of communities or in the history of individuals.
II. In the history of communities.—Take the history of communities. Think of the attempts made from time to time to get rid of social evils. What is the history, for instance, of all social reform? Is one victory ever final? Earnest men gradually learn that it is not by one great stand or striking victory, but by constant work, by pounding away day by day and year by year, that any permanent improvement can be effected and maintained, and though the devil may indeed depart, it is only for a season.
III. In individual life.—What is true of corporate or public life is true also of the individual. It is also true to say that the forces of evil, though they may sometimes be quiet or quiescent, are never inactive.
(a) Revival of old sins. There is the strange revival of old sins which had seemed to be finally subdued. A man finds, by a terrible personal experience and personal failure, that his sin is not dead, but sleeping.
(b) Different stages of evil. Or there is the fact that Satan appears so to vary his attacks that the temptations of one stage of life disappear only that they may make room for a different kind of temptations in another stage of life. The sins of youth perhaps disappear, but only that they may make room for the sins of middle age. The flesh is, perhaps, less troublesome than it used to be; but the world becomes more insistent. The forms of evil change everywhere. A cynical French writer once remarked that in the life of a Frenchwoman there were three stages: first coquette, then atheist, and then devotee; and who shall say in which of those three stages Satan may have found his best opportunities?
IV. Falls and failures.—We can discern the perpetual activity of this kingdom of darkness in the constant fall and failure of those who, perhaps, till comparative late periods, have led what seemed, at least, to be a spotless life.
V. A lifelong campaign.—These falls are surely a warning to us to take life seriously, and to be prepared for a lifelong campaign. There is never a place or a time for laying down our arms, for victory can only be a starting-point for fresh endeavours.
The Rev. H. R. Gamble.
THE MINISTRY BEGUN
‘Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum.’
We approach now the beginning of our Lord’s ministry. He left His quiet country home and went forth to the great work He had come to achieve. As priests of old were washed and anointed in preparation for their priestly office, so Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King, was washed in the Jordan, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and went forth to win for us a great victory in the wilderness over Satan and sin. Matthew does not tell us the actual beginning of His work. St. John (chaps, 2, 3, 4) shows that Christ had worked at Jerusalem, in Judæa, in Samaria, before He made Capernaum His centre.
I. Why Christ left Judæa.—Herod Antipas had shut up John in prison; the Pharisees seemed to be getting jealous of Christ’s growing influence (St. John 4:1-2), and He goes northwards, where He could pursue His work with less risk of interruption. Where would He most likely go to in Galilee? Surely to His own town, Nazareth. Yet He did not stay there. St. Luke (Luke 4:29) tells us why. What place did He then make His centre? Capernaum, a town on the extreme north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. In our Lord’s day it was a fruitful and lovely spot; a splendid centre of trade and population, with the great main roads running through it.
II. The prophecy.—The circumstances under which Isaiah delivered this prophecy (Matthew 4:15-16) are exceedingly interesting. Ahaz was on the throne of Judah. The neighbouring kingdom of Israel, aided by the Syrians, attacked him in his capital. Isaiah foretold the speedy destruction of Judah’s enemies. He told how at first the two northern tribes of Zebulon and Naphthali were to be ‘lightly afflicted’ by the Assyrian invader, and how afterwards they should be ‘more grievously afflicted’ when the Assyrians returned later and made an end of the northern tribes by carrying them away captive to Assyria. Yet was there comfort for these afflicted lands; ‘a great Light’ was to appear, ‘the Prince of Peace’ was to arise there. That prophecy was fulfilled in our Lord’s days. It was ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ even in the prophet’s day; for, lying on the borders of the heathen world, many Gentiles had flocked into it. In Christ’s days Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Phœnicians, abounded. Probably the foreign element was larger than the Jewish. This explains why the ‘darkness’ was probably darkest in Galilee; why it still deserved Isaiah’s description as ‘the region and shadow of death.’
III. The Sun of Righteousness arose in Galilee.—Upon the darkness of heathenism the Light shone and bright Life and Immortality to light through the Gospel.
(1) ‘For some time opinions as to Capernaum were about equally divided between Tell Hûm, at the north-east, and Khan Minyeh. Thomson (Land and the Book, p. 352) advocates the former; Robinson (Bibl. Researches, vol. iii. p. 348) the latter. Recently, the investigations of the Palestine Exploration Fund have pointed to Tell Hûm; but Mr. Macgregor (Rob Roy on the Jordan, p. 374), whose long and minute exploration of the Lake—its waters as well as its shores—makes him a very great authority, argues almost conclusively for Khan Minyeh; and Dr. Tristram, who advocated (Land of Israel, p. 442) a different and third view, has yielded to his reasonings.’
(2) ‘The little city, Capernaum, rose under the gentle declivities of hills that encircled an earthly Paradise. There were no such trees and no such gardens anywhere in Palestine as in the land of Gennesareth. The very name means “garden of abundance,” and the numberless flowers blossom over a little plain which is “in sight like unto an emerald.” It was doubtless a part of Christ’s divine plan that His ministry should begin amid scenes so beautiful, and that the good tidings, which revealed to mankind their loftiest hopes and purest pleasures, should be first proclaimed in a region of unusual loveliness. “The cities,” says Josephus, “lie here very thick; and the very numerous villages are so full of people because of the fertility of the land.” Through this district passed the great caravans on their way from Egypt to Damascus; and the heathens who congregated at Bethsaida Julias and Cæsarea Philippi must have been constantly seen in the streets of Capernaum. In the time of Christ it was, for population and activity, “the manufacturing district” of Palestine, and the waters of its lake were ploughed by four thousand vessels of every description, from the war-vessel of the Romans to the rough fisher-boats of Bethsaida, and the gilded pinnaces from Herod’s palace.’
CHRISTS FIRST SERMON
‘Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent.’
It is interesting to note that our blessed Lord ‘began to preach’ immediately the voice of the Baptist was silent (Matthew 4:12).
I. Christ the Preacher.—He was not a teacher only, He was a herald, a proclaimer of a Divine message. As a model Christian preacher, we notice that—
(a) Our Lord had a Divine message, and the full conviction of its truth. He had something to say for God, and He knew that He had. This is essential for all true preachers.
(b) Our Lord had a Divine ordination. Such we regard the solemn scene as being which succeeded His baptism by John. And still the true preacher waits for the inward Divine call and disappointment.
(c) Preaching became His entire life-work. Unhindered by earthly claims, He devoted Himself wholly to it.
(d) His own character gave force to His message. ‘Never man spake like this Man.’ The man in the words made the words powerful.
II. The subject of Christ’s preaching.—The same as the Baptist’s, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ But observe—
(a) The oneness of the message God sends to men, whoever may be His instrument. This is really the message—‘God is become your Redeemer; return then, in penitence and trust—return unto Him.’ Estimate the differences in the tones of the message as it came from the lips of John and of Jesus. John was a ‘voice crying aloud in the wilderness’; Jesus ‘would not break a bruised reed.’ So to us the sound and the form may vary, but we know the truth is one in Christ Jesus.
(b) The different standpoints the speakers may make. The Baptist laid stress on Repent, and enforced by references to the ‘kingdom.’ Christ laid stress on the kingdom of privilege, and thereby sought to win men to repentance and faith as the means of entrance into it.
What then is the Gospel message on the lips of preachers still? It is this, ‘Repent!’ ‘God commandeth all men everywhere to repent.’
(1) ‘Picture to yourselves a teacher who is not merely under the official obligation to say something, but who is morally convinced that he has something to say. Imagine one who believes alike in the truth of his message and in the reality of his mission to deliver it.’
(2) ‘The fact that Christ was a preacher has dignified preaching-work for ever. The modern notion is that education and literature are supplanting the pulpit, but the power of the living voice, proclaiming Divine messages and personal convictions, will never fail while the world lasts. It is still true that “by the foolishness of preaching God saves them that believe”; and there is no higher, no more gracious power for the persuasion and the blessing of mankind, than that put forth by the preachers of truth and righteousness.’
THE CALL OF ST. ANDREW
‘Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother.’
Of St. Andrew’s life and doings next to nothing is known. After the day of the Ascension we read no more of him. Yet we seem to discern in the few notices three points in his character which deserve study.
I. His courage.—It is the first step which costs, and the first step was taken by St. Andrew. He was the leader of the forlorn hope of Christendom, the first to storm the citadel of the kingdom of heaven, taking it as alone it can be taken—taking it by force. Be not deceived. Only the violent enter therein, only the brave, resolute soldiers who make straight for truth and righteousness and love, come what may, who are ready to lose their lives that they may save them. St. Andrew was the leader, the foremost man in the foremost rank of the mighty army of God. What was it which inspired such courage? (1) The sense of the sinfulness of sin. (2) The sense of the power of redeeming love.
II. His sympathy.—He had that which mediates; the attraction of character which draws others together. After the first meeting with Christ, every subsequent notice of St. Andrew specially brings out this feature in his character. It is not that he does any great thing himself, but that he is the means of getting great things done for or by others.
III. His humility.—He who brought others forward was content himself to retire. So it is truly said that the world knows nothing of its greatest benefactors. They are lost in their work, or are lost in others. Unknown, these shall be well known. Is it not ordered so in the Kingdom of Heaven? ‘The first shall be last, and the last first.’ This effacement of life is the crown of the Christian spirit.
ST. ANDREW’S EXAMPLE
The festival in honour of the memory of St. Andrew is one of the earliest recorded in Church history. Its institution took place about the middle of the fourth century; and it appropriately opens the series of the festivals.
I. St. Andrew’s life.—St. Andrew was a native of Bethsaida of Galilee, and was a son of Jonas, and a brother of Simon Peter. He was the first of all the Apostolic band to begin the work of evangelisation. ‘He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.’ But his call to the work of an Apostle did not take place for a year after his first introduction to Christ. During that time he occupied himself in his ordinary pursuit of fishing. In the narrative of the Gospel, St. Andrew is spoken of in connection with the call of the first disciples (St. Matthew 4:19-22). Then on the occasion when Jesus sat upon the Mount of Olives, over against the Temple, and predicted the fall of the Holy City (St. Mark 13:3-4). He is also said to have been present at the feeding of the five thousand, for he was the disciple who felt so anxious for the comfort of the famishing multitude (St. John 6:8-9); and in the Holy Week, when certain Greeks ‘would see Jesus,’ Andrew was the first to tell Jesus of their desire (St. John 12:21-22). These are most, if not all, of the instances in which St. Andrew is noted in the Gospel.
II. St. Andrew’s death.—Ecclesiastical history states concerning him that when the division of the world was made among the Apostles, St. Andrew undertook Scythia and the adjacent countries as his sphere of labour. Like St. Paul, he was ‘in labours more abundant.’ Ægeas, the proconsul of Achaia, because of St. Andrew’s wonderful success in his Master’s work, condemned him to be scourged and afterwards crucified. And, in order that his death might be as painful and protracted as possible, he had this noble martyr fastened with cords—not nailed, as was usual—to the cross, which was of the peculiar kind called decussate, and known afterwards by the name of St. Andrew.
III. The lesson of his life.—From the conduct of Andrew we may learn that it is the nature of true religion to desire that others may possess it. It does not lead us to monopolise it, nor to hide its light under a bushel; but it seeks that others also may be brought to Jesus. It does not wait for them to come to Him, but it goes for them; it seeks them out, and leads them directly to Him.
‘When the executioners were conducting St. Andrew to this cross, and he was within sight of it, it is said that he apostrophised it thus: “Hail, precious cross! thou hast been consecrated by the Body of my Lord, and adorned with His limbs as with rich jewels. I come to thee exulting and glad; receive me with joy into thine arms. O good cross! since thou hast received beauty from my Lord’s limbs, I have ardently loved thee. Long have I desired and sought thee; now thou art found by me, and art made ready for my longing soul. Take me from among men, and present me to my Master, that He Who redeemed me on thee may receive me by thee.” In this brave and sublime manner St. Andrew died.’
FISHERS OF MEN
‘I will make you fishers of men.’
The object of the preaching of the Gospel is to catch men.
I. Only Christ can make fishers of men.—Christian people should be willing to give up their cleverest and brightest boy to preach the Gospel, but when they have done all, all is not done, for it is only Christ who can make ‘fishers of men.’ ‘Apart from Me,’ says the Lord, ‘ye can do nothing’ (St. John 15:5, R.V.). Christ is indispensable; we cannot do without Him.
II. Hiding self is the secret of catching men.—The true fisherman will tell you his great secret is to hide himself: and certainly self-forgetfulness is the essence of the highest preaching. If the preacher does not forget himself his hearers will not. Sometimes men are caught by some consistent life and not by preaching.
III. Without love men cannot be caught.—You remember how in St. John 21 our Lord asks St. Peter three times the same question—‘Lovest thou Me?’ The Greek word translated ‘love’ in Matthew 4:15-16, is not quite the same. In Matthew 4:15 our Lord says to St. Peter, ‘Lovest thou Me more than these?’ St. Peter answers, ‘Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that Thou art dear to me.’ Then in Matthew 4:16 our Lord says the second time, ‘Lovest thou Me?’ St. Peter answers, ‘Yea, Lord; Thou knowest Thou art dear to me.’ Then the third time Christ uses St. Peter’s own word, ‘Am I dear to thee?’ And St. Peter replies, ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that Thou art dear to me.’ If Christ is dear to us, then and only then shall we win souls for Him.
—The Rev. F. Harper.
(1) ‘An old man was trout-fishing, pulling them out one after another briskly. “You manage it cleverly, old friend,” said a passer-by; “I have passed a good many below who do not seem to be doing anything.” The old man lifted himself up, and stuck his rod in the ground. “Well, you see, sir, there be three rules for trout-fishing; and ’tis no use trying if you don’t mind them. The first is, keep yourself out of sight. The second is, keep yourself further out of sight. And the third is, keep yourself further out of sight still. Then you’ll do it.”’
(2) ‘The density of shoals of fish in the Sea of Galilee can scarcely be conceived by those who have not witnessed them. Frequently these shoals cover an acre or more of the surface, and the fish, as they move along slowly in masses, are so crowded, with their back fins just appearing on the level of the water, that the appearance at a little distance is that of a violent shower of rain pattering on the surface. We obtained fourteen species of fish in the lake, and probably the number inhabiting it is at least three times as great.’
THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
This incident brings to our mind three distinct points in connection with the Christian ministry.
I. The aim of the ministry.—As fish in the waters, so the souls of men are plunged and wandering in this world of sin, both oceans equally vast, and alike troubled and agitated. To ‘deliver them from this present evil world’ and gather them into the Kingdom of God is the task of the minister of the Gospel, and the aim of all his efforts. The true aim of this vocation is the salvation of souls. The mission of the minister has various aspects; his means of action are diverse; but all must be subordinate to the supreme end we have mentioned and defined.
II. The source of its efficacy.—‘I will make you fishers of men.’ This promise sums up the whole of the work of grace which Christ accomplished in His disciples, and which He accomplishes still in every minister of the Gospel who is worthy of the name. Let us mark its principal stages.
(1) Conversion. To become fishers of men we must, as it were, have been caught ourselves.
(2) Calling. ‘Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you,’ said Jesus to His disciples.
(3) Preparation and spiritual education. The education of the disciples was, if not the most brilliant, at any rate the most important, part of Christ’s ministry, and the triumph of His charity and wisdom.
(4) He grants success.
III. The condition of its efficacy.—‘Follow Me.’ Follow Jesus, that was in reality the sole business of the apostles, and it is also ours.
What is faith? Following Jesus with the thought.
Love? Following Jesus with the heart.
Obedience? Following Jesus with the will.
Sanctification? Following in His steps and imitating His example.
Self-denial, the spirit of sacrifice? Leaving all to follow Him, as did the fishermen of the sea of Galilee.
CHRIST’S CALL OBEYED
‘He called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.’
Whom did He call? The text refers to St. John and St. James.
I. An example and an encouragement.—These two apostles afford an example and an encouragement to those who follow Christ, in two sorts of trials, more particularly those which arise from a thriving condition in the world, and those which attend, sometimes, on a quiet and comfortable home. To obey our Lord’s call, they left both ‘the ship and their father’: both the business to which they had been brought up, and on which they might depend, if not for wealth, at least for a comfortable maintenance; and the consolation of being with their parents, and living peaceably at home with them.
II. The call obeyed.—It might seem almost presumption for such as we are to take to ourselves, as if intended for our pattern, the example of those great and holy saints, brought so very near the person of our Divine Saviour Himself. But we know that it is not presumptuous, since even Christ’s own example, and that of the Eternal Father, are set before us for our study and imitation. Does any man ask how he can imitate these apostles, he, a private Christian, not called to be an apostle, not summoned by the providence of God to any one great sacrifice, which might gather, as it were, into one the self-denials of a whole life? Let such a one think this within himself, that there may be, there probably are, occasions in which his worldly business, whatever it be, is apt to interfere, more or less, with his duty to our Saviour. The memory and fancy of his shop, his plough, his garden, his loom, or his office mingles unseasonably with his prayers and holy readings, and tries to hinder him from attending to his Saviour’s voice, inwardly whispering, ‘Follow Me.’ Well, on all such occasions, let us manfully put aside the intruding thought, and determine to follow Him.
III. Christ’s favour.—Persons who, in sincerity and truth, make sacrifices of this kind, who really prefer not their own fancy, but Christ’s will, even to family comfort, may find great encouragement in the favour which our Lord showed to these holy apostles. Their prayers for light and strength, they have every reason to hope, will be bountifully answered. ‘Christ will make Himself present to them, in all His works, both of mercy, of wonder, and of judgment.’ Whether He raise the dead, or show Himself in agony or in glory, or come to judge Jerusalem, those who have made great sacrifices for Him will be favoured and honoured witnesses.
WHAT CHRIST JOINED TOGETHER
‘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.’
The ministry of Christ is begun, and He begins with blessing men in their souls and their bodies. Let us consider the Union of Teaching and Healing which the ministry of Christ joined together.
I. Christ regarded man in his whole nature.—He did not sink the spiritual in the material; He did not sink the material in the spiritual. He regarded man as God had made him, with his material body and his reasonable soul, and addressed Himself to the wants and woes of the spirit and the flesh. In dealing with man’s higher nature, Christ ‘taught in the synagogues, and preached the Gospel of the kingdom.’ The one is not a reiteration, a variation of the other; there is a real distinction. Christ addressed Himself to the intelligence of His hearers, showing from the Scriptures the mind and will of God; but He also preached a Gospel to men, offered sinful men mercy, called them to enter His kingdom of grace. The world needs teaching, instruction, in the things of God, an intelligent declaration of truth; but the world also needs preaching, an earnest enforcement of the truth upon the conscience and the heart. The one is not enough. Teaching without preaching often leaves men unmoved. Preaching without teaching is unsatisfactory, is superficial and transient in its influence, is attended with many evils.
II. The union of teaching and healing.—Healing demonstrated the truth of the teaching. Men could not consistently deny the latter where they beheld the former. “Rabbi,” said Nicodemus, “we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” Christ’s healing made clear and real to men the invisible and spiritual truths He taught. Men found less difficulty in believing what they could not see, because they saw so much that was wonderful, and wise, and good. This was the force of Christ’s memorable challenge when in the face of an act of Divine power there were muttered charges of blasphemy on the part of Pharisee and Scribe.
III. A pattern for his church.—The religion of Christ teaches us to respect man’s entire nature. Nothing human is common and unclean. The work of teaching and healing began with Christianity. The Christian Church must not stand aloof from, but lead, efforts for relieving human need and suffering. Christ’s work on the bodies of men is an image of His work in the souls of men. Sin continues in itself all the evils that afflict the bodies of men. It is blindness, palsy, leprosy, death itself. But as Christ healed ‘all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease,’ so is He able also to conquer sin’s power and sin’s effects in human souls.
‘The Rev. R. Hack, c.m.s., Central Provinces of India, narrates the following instructive experience: “The people received our party most churlishly, refusing to give one of our number a drink of water or to supply the ordinary necessities of our camp. Before our preaching commenced I noticed that the rajah’s father-in-law was suffering from fever and in some pain. I at once attended to him, and sent for the medicine chest. Almost immediately everybody seemed to change his attitude towards us; chairs were brought out, profuse apologies given for all the inconvenience to which we had been put, and not only had we an attentive audience, but also a ready sale for all our books.”’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany