Observe, 1. The great humiliation of the Son of God, how exceedingly was he humbled by the horrid temptations wherewith he was assaulted, than which nothing could be more grievous to his holy heart. What could be more burdensome to him that was brought up from eternity with God the Father, than to be shut up in a wilderness with the devil, there to be baited by him so many days, having his ears files, though not defiled, with horrid blasphemies spit upon the holy and reverend name of God! Oh deep abasement and wonderful humiliation of the Son of God!
Observe, 2. The time when Christ entered the lists with Satan, implied in the word then! that is first, immediately after his baptism; he is no sooner out of the water of baptism, but he is in the fire of temptation:
secondly, immediately after the Spirit descended upon, and the Father had by a voice from heaven, manifested his complacency and satisfaction in him: This is my beloved Son, &c.
Note thence, That great manifestations of love from God, are usually followed with great temptations from Satan.
Observe, 3. The place where this combat was fought, and that is, in the wilderness.
Learn thence, That no place can privilege us from temptation, or be a sanctuary from Satan's assualts: the solitary wilderness has a tempter in it, yea Satan sometimes makes use of men's solitariness, to further his temptations: a cell, a nunnery, or a cloister, are as open to Satan as the open fields, and the persons that live in the have a tempter without, and an inticer within as well as other men.
Observe, 4. The efficient cause of Christ's going into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan: He was led up of the Spirit, says St. Matthew: The Spirit drove him, says St. Mark: that is, the Holy Spirit of God, not Satan the unclean spirit, for the devil is seldom if ever called the spirit, but usually some brand of reproach is annexed, as the evil spirit, or the unclean spirit.
Christ was led by the Spirit; that is, he was carried by a strong impulse of the Spirit of God into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan.
Learn hence, 1. That none of the children of God are assaulted, are ordered by divine and special dispensation. Satan could not assault our Saviour till he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for that end; and he shall not assault any of his members, but by divine permission.
Observe here, How the divine power upheld the human nature of Christ without food. What Moses did at the giving of the law, Christ doth at the beginning of the gospel namely, fast forty days and forty nights.
Christ hereby intended our admiration, not our imitation: or, if our imitation, of the action only, not of the time. Christ teaches us, by fasting and prayer to prepare ourselves for a conflict with our spiritual enemies; as he prepared himself by fasting to grapple with the tempter, so shall we.
Observe here, 1. The occasion of the temptation.
2. The temptation itself.
The occasion was our Savior's hunger and want of bread.
Learn thence, That when God suffers any of his dear children to fall into want, and to be straitened for outward things, Satan takes a mighty advantage thereupon, to tempt and assualt them.
But what doth he tempt our Savior to?
To the sin of distrust, to question his sonship; If thou be the Son of God; and next to distrust his Father's providence and care. Command that these stones be made bread. As Satan had said, "How unlikely is it, that thou shouldst be highly favoured, and yet deserted? What! the Son of God; and yet ready to starve! Certainly if thou canst not supply thy necessities, thou art nothing akin to God.'
Learn hence, 1. That Satan's grand design is, first to tempt the children of God to doubt of their adoption; and next, to distrust God's fatherly care over them and provision for them; and last of all, to use unwarrantable means to help themselves.
Thus Satan dealt with Christ, and thus he deals with Christians: for for to work a miracle at Satan's direction was not a lawful means of providing food for himself.
Observe here, The weapon which our Savior made use of to repel the temptation, and to vanquish the tempter and that is the word of God, It is written.
Learn, That the scripture, or the written word of God, is the only sure weapon wherewith to vanquish Satan, and to beat back all his fiery temptation.
Satan himself has not the impudence to oppose scripture: What monsters of impiety then are they who ridicule and deride it! They not only run counter to the practice of Christ, but outdo the devil himself in impudence.
That is, Satan, by God's permission, took up his body and carried it in the air, and set it upon one of the battlements of the temple.
Learn hence, 1. What a mighty power evil spirits have over our bodies, if God permits them to excute and exercise their power upon them.
2. That it is owing to the gracious care, and watchful providence of God over us, that we are not hurried away bodily by Satan.
Thanks be to God, though the devil's malice be infinite, yet his power is limited and bounded: and as he cannot do all the mischief he would to the bodies and souls of men, so he shall not do all he can. Question But why is the holy city and holy temple chosen by Satan to be the scene of this temptation?
Answer I cannot tell, unless he apprehended (as he might) that the holiness of the place would aggravate the sin. No place so sacred, no duty so holy, as to protect us from Satan's assaults. This enemy pursues us even to the horns of the altar.
Lord! How ought we at all times and in all places, to be upon our watch and guard, especially in thy presence, because then and there Satan is most active and busy, and most desirous to draw us into sin.
Here we have observable, first, the sin which Satan tempts Christ unto; and next, the argument which he tempts him from.
The sin tempted to, is the sin of self-murder; Cast thyself down.
Whence we learn, That self-murder is a sin which Christ himself was, and the best of saints may, by Satan, be tempted to the commission of.
But forasmuch as Satan tempted Christ to murder himself, but had not the power to do it himself,(do thou cast thyself down,) we learn, That though Satan may tempt, yet he cannot compel; he may entice, but cannot enforce any to sin, without their own consent.
Observe, 2. The argument which Satan uses; it is a scripture; argument; he quotes the promise of God. He shall give his angels charge over thee.
What a marvel is here, to find Satan with a Bible under his arm, and a text of scripture in his mouth! Christ had alleged scripture before to Satan; here Satan retorts scripture back again to Christ: It is written, says Christ; It is written, says Satan.
Learn thence, That it is no wonder to hear heretics and hypocrites quote scripture, when Satan himself durst recite it: he that had profanely touched the sacred body of Christ with his hand, sticks not presumptuously to handle the holy scripture of God with his tongue.
Yet observe, How wretchedly the devil wrests, perverts, and misapplies, the scripture. When God promises his angels shall keep us, it is in viis, non in praecipitiis; 'tis in all God's ways, not in any of our own crooked paths.
Note here, That although the children of God have the promise of the guardianship of holy angels, yet then only may they expect their protection, when they are walking in the way of their duty, and using the means for their own preservation.
Observe here, Though the devil had wrested and abused scripture, yet still Christ alleges scripture. The abuse of the holy scriptures by heretics and seducers is no argument against the use of them. We must not throw away our Bibles because the devil quotes scripture: but as Christ here compares scripture with scripture, so should we, in order to find out the true sense and meaning of it; for scripture is the best interpreter of itself; scripture is nost clearly expounded by scripture . This Satan knew full well, and therefore dares not make any further reply.
The next sin, which Satan tempts our Saviour to, is the sin of idolatry, even to worship the devil himself. O thou impudent and foul spirit! To desire thy Creator to adore thee, an apostate creature! Surely there can be no sin so black and foul, so gross and monstrous, but that the christian may be tempted to it, when Christ himself was tempted to worship the tempter.
St. Matthew reads the words, If thou wilt fall down and worship me: St. Luke, If thou wilt worship before me.
Whence we may gather, says Dr. Lightfoot, That if to worship before the devil be to worship the devil, then to worship before an image is to worship the image.
Observe, 2. The bait which Satan makes use of to allure our Saviour to the sin of idolatry; and that was, in representing to his eye and view all the glories of the world in the most inviting manner, and that in a moment of time; to the intent it might affect him the more and prevail the sooner.
Learn thence, That the pomp and greatness, the glory and grandeur, of this world, is made use of by Satan, as a dangerous snare to draw men to a compliance with him, in his temptations unto sin. When Satan sets thee upon a pinnacle, look to thyself.
Observe here, 1. With what zeal and indignation of spirit our blessed Saviour repels and beats back this temptation of Satan: Get thee hence.
Note thence, That the greater the sins are which the devil tempts us to, the greater our zeal and indignation ought to be in opposing and resisting the temptation to them. A great temptation must be withstood with great resolution.
Observe, 2. The weapon with which he repels and beats back the fiery dart of Satan's temptation, and that is, with the shield of scripture: It is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God.
Learn thence, That God is the sole object of religious worship: it is so peculiarly the Creator's due, that to give it to any creature is gross idolatry, and repugnant to the scriptures. No creature is to pay divine adoration to any but his Creator; hence it appears that Christ is not a creature, divine worship being given to him.
Observe here, 1. The issue of this combat; Satan is conquered, and quits the field! Then the devil leaveth him: teaching us, That nothing like a vigorous resistance of temptation causes the tempter to flee from us; Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Observe, 2. Our Lord's triumph over his enemy: Behold, Angels came and ministered unto him; food to his hungry body, and comfort to his tempted soul. They came no sooner, lest it should be thought he needed their assistance; they came now, because he was now pleased to make use of their assistance.
Learn hence, That those who in the hour of temptation do hold out in resisting Satan shall find the power and faithfulness of God will not be wanting to them, to send in succour and relief in the end.
Observe here, 1. Our Savior, hearing of John's imprisonment, provides for his own safety, by departing into Galilee. As our holy Lord avoided persecution, so may we.
Observe, 2. The place in Galilee he comes to, Capernaum. Christ had three cities which he called his own; Nazareth, where he was bred; Bethlehem, where he was born; and Capernaum, where he dwelt: this was a sea-coast town in the bordes of Zabulon and Nephthali.
Observe, 3. The special providence of God in this change of our Saviour's habitation; for by that means the prophecy, Isaiah 9:1 was fulfilled, which declares, that in that dark part of the country, the Messiah, the true light, should shine forth.
Learn hence, 1. That a people destitute of the saving knowledge of the gospel are in great darkness, how great soever the light of their outward comforts may be. This people had natural light enough, and civil light enough; they had an abundance of wealth and riches, peace and plenty; but they wanted the light of Christ and his gospel,and therefore are said to sit in darkness.
2. That wherever the gospel is preached amongst a people, it is a light springing up and shining forth among them; quickening and enlivening, reviving and cheering, the souls of those who entertain it, how great soever their outward darkness and distress may be. The people that sat in darkness saw great light, and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up, &c.
Here our Savior begins to enter upon his prophetic office, and by preaching to make known the will of God to mankind; and observe, the doctrine which he preached is the same that John the Baptist did preach, namely, the doctrine of repentance, Repent ye: and the argument is the same also, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand: that is, now is the so much expected time of the appearing of the promised Messiah.
Learn hence, That the doctrine of Christ and his ambassadors is alike, and the same in substance: they both teach the doctrine of repentance to a lost world, as most suitable to the time and dispensation of the gospel.
Our blessed Saviour, as he was the great prophet of his church, had power and authority to appoint teachers under him; and accordingly here he begins to call his apostles to that great work; and in his call we have several particulars very observable: as, 1. The meanness of the persons whom he calls, illiterate fishermen; not a Paul, that had long studied at the feet of Gamaliel, is first called; but Peter, who was a stranger to eloquence and human learning.
Hereby our Savior took effectual care that his gospel should be known to be the power of God, and not the wisdom and device of man; and that the instrument should not carry away the glory of the work.
Observe, 2. How our Savior calls his apostles by couples, two and two, Peter and Andrew, James and John; to let us understand, that the work of the ministry requries the concurrence of all hands that are called to it; all the ministers of God should put their hands, join their hearts, and set their shoulders, as one man, to this great work; and all little enough to carry it on with advantage and success.
Observe, 3. The work which they were called to, from being fishermen to being fishers of men. They catched fish before with the labor of their hands; they shall catch men now with the labour of their tongues.
Observe, 4. Our Savior's command: first to follow him, before they are sent out by him: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. We must be Christ's disciples before we are his ministers; his followers before his ambassadors. We must learn Christ before we preach him; otherwise we may fish for a livelihood, for honour and applause, but not for souls; if we be not first inclosed ourselves in the net of the gospel, we can have but small hopes of bringing in others.
Observe, 5. The promise which Christ gives the apostles for their encouragement:
1. To qualify them, I will make you fishers.
2. To succeed them, I will make you fishers of men.
Faithfulness and care, diligence and endeavour, is our part: but the blessing and success is Christ's. "Our labour is only in the cast, Christ's power is wholly in the draught. Some fish cleave to the rocks, others play upon the sands, and more wallow in the mud; and we shall labour all our days and catch nothing, if Christ doth not bring our fish to the net, and inclose them in it, as well as assist us in the throwing of it."--Bp Hall.
Observe, 6. The apostles' ready compliance with our Savior's call, Straightway they followed him. Whom Christ calls, he calls persuasively and effectually; whom he calls, he draws, and works them to a willing compliance with their duty.
Lastly observe, Upon their call to the ministry they leave off their trade, they forsake their ship and their nets, and lie close to their ministerial employment.
Teaching us, that the ministers of the gospel should wholly give themselves to their work, and not encumber themselves with secular affairs: nothing but an indispensable necessity in providing for a family can excuse a minister's entangling himself with worldly business.
Our Savior having called Peter, James, Andrew, and John, to be disciples in order to their being apostles to preach the gospel, in the foregoing verses; this verse acquaints us how he went himself along them forth as his curates to labour, and lie at home himself upon his couch at ease. What shall we say to those lazy fishermen who can set others to the drag, and care only to feed themselves with the fish, not willing to wet their hands with the net?
Our blessed Savior, when he sent forth his apostles, went along with them, and laboured himself as much as any of them.
Observe here, 1. That although our Savior's doctrine needed no confirmation beyond his own authority, yet he was graciously pleased to exert the power of his godhead in working miracles for the establishment of our faith.
Observe, 2. That the miracles which Christ wrought were not judicial, but beneficial to mankind, Moses' miracles were as great judgments as wonders; but Christ's miracles were salubrious and healing, full of goodness and compassion, and very advantageous to the world: he dispossesed devils, healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame.
O blessed Savior! thy life in all instances was a life of universal serviceableness and beneficialness to all mankind.
Observe here, How affecting our Saviour's ministry was at first: multitudes throng after him; they come from all parts to attend upon his ministry, when he first began to preach among them. His ministers find it thus also; at their first coming amongst a people, their labours are most acceptable, and they do most good: our people's affections are then warmest, and our own zeal perhaps is then greatest. Happy is that minister that improves all opportunities and advantages for the good of souls: "for he that winneth souls is wise."
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany