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THE PURPOSE OF THE TEMPTATION.
was no power in the universe that could make him otherwise than as he was. He had passed through a great crisis. Years of prayer and devout meditation had gone by, and daily and hourly his aspirations had been growing purer and mounting higher. Now he had been brought to concentrate the whole divine force of his being in a solemn act of the will, prompting him to a public vow of self-devotion. And this act had been followed, in the unchangeable truth of things, by unspeakable peace, the divine testimony, the voice of God. But then also the thought was brought home to him that now there was no retreat. The knowledge of himself could not be escaped. He could not unessence his being. And, being what he was, what he knew himself to be, what a career was before him, what awful relations did he sustain to God and to the world! Well do we read, (in Mark) "And immediately he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. So profound was the sense he now had of his destiny that it gave him no rest. He recognised it as the voice of God, the impulse of the Holy Spirit; and it so moved him that he forsook the common ways of life, or rather was carried away by the force of his feelings into the deepest retirement, leaving the abodes of men, and wandering into the wilderness in communion with thoughts such as has never visited any other spirit.
The history represents the temptations by which he was assailed in the Desert, as the end and purpose for which he was led thither by the Spirit. But in the Scriptures, certain and inevitable consequences are very often represented as the results specially intended. Thus Jesus himself says, "I come not to bring peace but a sword." The purport of this declaration is
INCREASE OF STRENGTH.
merely to state impressively how certain it was that discussions would ensue. They would as surely arise, and be as bitter and fierce, as if he had come expressly to produce them. He was impelled to seek the seclusion of the desert for relief from the pressure of the exalted thoughts which thronged in upon him. They rushed upon him almost to overwhelming, and drove him away from the haunts of men. And it is obvious that he went into the desert to seek, not temptation, but relief, support, strength. And the Spirit drove him thither not to tempt but to confirm him. But in the solitude of the wilderness, in the weakness of his body after long fasting, and the exhaustion of a mind borne down by a sense of things invisible, temptations arose so naturally and unavoidably, that in accordance with popular modes of speech, they are represented as the express and final cause of his being led into the wilderness, when they were only the incidental consequences.
The chief result of his temporary seclusion was an acquisition of great inward strength, and this may be regarded as the end and object of the Temptation. In his subsequent career, nothing is more impressive than the habitually calm and self-possessed deportment of Jesus. In intimate union with the Infinite, in the exercise of divine powers and the enjoyment of such gifts as had never before been bestowed on man, he maintains a uniform composure. He did indeed give way at times to the expression of strong emotion. But then these seasons of excited feeling were very brief. His uniform appearance is of a man quiet and composed. And we cannot but marvel at his calmness. We wonder that the sense of his own greatness, of his vast superiority to all around him, continually forced in the most imposing manner upon his notice, never disturbed
THE TEMPTER COMES.
him that he remained so simple and collected when thronged by multitudes, and when thousands of hearts were beating and thousands of eyes kindling at the wonders wrought by the touch of his hand and the word of his mouth, and he read his own greatness in the countenances of all men as in a mirror. But the Temptation explains the marvel in a degree. We find that it was not always so with him, that there was a time when he was well nigh overwhelmed by the consciousness of his unequalled destiny. When the spirit of truth and power descended upon him in new and abundant measure, as it did at his baptism, and the knowledge of himself as the chosen One, which had been gradually dawning on him, at last rose full upon his soul, and was made perfect and entire, wanting nothing, then was he impelled to forsake the world for awhile, to plunge into the desert, so exceeding was the weight of glory. Thither he fled, borne, "driven by the spirit" to ponder his extraordinary situation-to consider his high office, to calm and command his spirit. This was no ordinary task. It demanded effort. It was attended with struggles. And it was in the strictest course of nature that, in that wild solitude, with a physical frame worn down by fasting, the tempter should come to him. He not only gained the victory but he reaped lasting advantages therefrom. In this great struggle at the threshold of his career, he collected the strength that afterwards bore him divinely through the blackness that gathered round him. We perceive now that his subsequent composure was no constitutional insensibility, but the heavenly fruit of effort, of self-resistance and self-mastery.
'The Tempter came to him.' The temptations that assailed him were nowise different from those which
THE FIRST TEMPTATION.
assail all other men. He was tempted as we are. But the evil thoughts that rose in his mind are represented as the proposition of an evil being. This representation is in accordance with the universal belief of the place and the age. Moral evil was attributed to the agency of a malignant spirit. It is of little moment how we suppose it to originate, if we only recognise its existence and influence. However it comes, whether out of our own nature, or by the instigation of a malignant being, its relation to the human will is the same, and “it has no more power over man than he chooses to give it." But there appears to be a peculiar significance in ascribing the temptations of Jesus to an evil spirit. To his holy nature, evil thoughts must have indeed appeared foreign, and we cannot wonder that they should have been regarded and represented as the suggestion of another, not indeed personally visible, but whispering in the ear of the soul. I have said that this representation was conformable to the belief of those times. Who shall presume to decide that it is not conformable to truth? The origin of evil is an unfathomed mystery. Clouds and darkness rest upon it. Were it not so repugnant to our feelings to believe that there are in the universe of God beings so inveterately opposed to him as to find delight in tempting and corrupting others, I know not why evil thoughts may not be attributed to malignant influences from without. So subtle, so active and so perilous are they, that, if we were indeed encompassed by viewless foes, our condition could not be more exposed. At all events, as I have just remarked, we cannot help perceiving a peculiar propriety in describing the temptation of Jesus as originated in this way.
The first temptation came in the shape of Hunger.
He had fasted forty days, subsisting on the scanty produce of the wilderness. Why,' said he to himself, or said the Tempter to him, 'why shouldst thou bear this painful craving for food? If thou art what thou knowest thyself to be, the Son of God, then use the power which belongs to thee as such, and convert these stones into loaves and satisfy thy hunger at once and without more ado.' But this suggestion is instantly silenced by the thought that bread, physical subsistence, is not man's only or chief want. Bread alone cannot sustain the life of a Son of God, which lies in something infinitely higher. If so,' we may suppose the blessed Saviour to have communed with himself—if I am the Son of God, then a mere animal life is not the end of my being to which I am to devote my powers. The divine faculties and gifts of the Son of God are destined not for private and finite uses, but for vast and comprehensive purposes correspondent to gifts so great and rare. They have not been bestowed on me merely to support this perishing clay, and to exercise them for an object comparatively so worthless would be sacrilege. The life of the Son of God is not in the life of the body but in the life of the godlike soul, and that is sustained by the consciousness of being true to the Divine Will, the word written on the heart. No, I will not desecrate my power by putting it to a mean use. Better were it for me to perish than to forget my true destiny. My dependence is not on bread alone, or principally, but on the consciousness of being true to God.'
This temptation, in an infinite variety of forms, lays in wait for the children of men, and over what hosts does it gain the victory! In comparison with the other creatures on this globe, the meanest man that lives is verily a son of God. He is furnished with faculties, moral and intellectual, whereby he is qualified for god