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I have nothing to object to bis first and second sections, in which he remarks on the common modes of explanation; he has indeed very well refuted tbem; but in his third section, he at. tempts to shew that by the words, “ Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness,” Matt. iv, 1. the evangelist means to intimate that the events subsequently described took place in vision. This does not seem a very natural mode of interpretation; and by comparing this passage with others in which the same phrase occurs, we may find, I think, a more probable signification ; for instance, Isaiah xlviii. 16. “ The Lord God and bis Spirit hath sent me;" Luke, iv. 18. spirit of the Lord is upon me ;' i. e. I am under a divine influence, I am sent by God. In like manner, I cannot but think it was the intention of the evangelist to signify merely ibat our Saviour was led into the wilderness by a divine impulse. That the Jews did not use the phrase "in the spirit,” to signify in vision, seems to be proved by Ezekiel xi. 24. " Afterwards the spirit took me up, and brought me in vision by the spirit of God into Chaldea, to them of the captivity." In vision is here added to the spirit, and by the spirit of God. These phrases therefore alone do not signify in vision. *
Dr. Farmer adds, that it was a vision presented by God; and, as the evangelists declare, and the whole narration plainly indicates, that there was an actual and real temptation, he would stand liable to the charge of saying that the Almighty tempted his beloved Sone but to escape from this, he urges that it was an instructive and symbolical vision. Sec. 4. This is an idea which, to say the least, the evangelists do not suggest, and it seems to me to be in opposition to their meaning. They all say that it was a scene, not of instruction or of prophetic communication, but of templation, and nothing else. How does it appear that instruction of any sort was conveyed to Jesus? He was left to himself, be answered from his own mind the suggestions and instigations of the evil one. Com. pare this scene with the vision of Peter, Acts x. 9-16, the object of wbich was to convey a moral lesson. We see the use of this from the error into which Peter feil, and which was innmediately corrected by the voice from heaven. But Jesus fell into no error, and, as far as appears, received no instruction. “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet with. out sin.”
Apother objection to Dr. Fariner's theory, is the agency by which he supposes the instruction to be conveyed. He does Rot, to be sure, maintain the actual presence of Satan, but he conjectures that our Saviour saw him in vision; that is, be supposes Christ to have seen an image of what I conceive never existed. I do not intend to give elaborately the arguments against the existence and agency of the Devil, but I will just hint at some of the reasons which induce me to regard the doctrine as false. First, the unreasonableness and apparent absurdity of supposing that there is a being able to cope with, and even to thwart Omnipotence itself. This, I grant, would weigh but little against the express declarations of Scripture, but I think it may be easily shewn that the idea bas originated from an abuse of the language of the bible. Satan, in the He. brew, means nothing more than an adversary, or opponent, and so it is frequently translated. Thus Numbers xxii. 22. “The angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary to Balaam.” Satun in the original. Thus it is rendered likewise in 1 Kings xi. 14. 23. 25. Compare also 1 Chron. xxi. i. with 2 Sam. xxiv. I. In one of these places the anger of the Lord, and in the other, the instigation of Satan, is referred to as the cause of the same effect. In the New Testament, Satan is said to have entered into Judas, John xiii. 27 ; and Peter says to Ananias, “Why bath Satan entered into thine heart," Acts v. 3. W bat can be the meaning of these passages, unless we suppose Satan to mean evil intentions, or bad passions ?
* See Cappe's Critical Remarks, Vol. 2. p. 58.
Great stress is laid upon the unclean spirits or devils, so often mentioned in the gospels. By these I think are meant diseases of various kinds, which were supposed by the Jews of that age, to be owing to possession by devils. A spirit of uncleanness, or an unclean spirit, was used by them in the same manper as a spirit of infirmity.* Luke xiii. 11. 12.
This doctrine, which has arisen from a misconception of the language, seems to me to be in direct opposition to the spirit of the holy Scriptures. Nothing can be more explicitly contradicted than is this doctrine, wbich savours so strongly of Ma. gianism, by Isaiah xlv. 7. “ I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil, I the Lord do all these things ;” and by Amos iïi. 6. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord bath done it? St. James says, i. 13. 14. “ Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth he any man; but every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust.” A strong and almost necessary inference from this passage is, that our own corrupt hearts, our own vicious inclinations, are the only tempters to whose influence we are exposed, the only adversaries to God and holiness to whose power we are subjected. From these passages, we may infer that the apostles and evangelists merely adopted the popular phraseology of their times, without intending to imply any assent, or give any confirmation to the doctrine, which, in its literal meaning, this language supposes.
* See Lardner's Discourses on the Dæmoniacs mentioned in the N. T.
But whether the personal existence of the Devil be believed or not, the theory which supposes his agency in this transaction, either real or visionary, must still be regarded as equally faulty. For how is it possible to believe that such a being as Satan could offer temptation to our Lord? Who can suppose that even the weakest and most worthless of men could listen, with any other feelings than those of horror and aversion, to proposals regarded as proceeding immediately from Satan, whether really appearing in a bodily shape, or whether only imagined thus to appear. It is necessary, therefore, either to give up the idea of the personal appearance of Satan, whether in reality or in vision, or to contradict the assertion of the sacred historians, who declare that this transaction was properly a temptation. Dr. Farmer seems somewhat perplexed between these alternatives, and unsuccessfully attempts to shew that the objection, the weight of which he allows with respect to the common mode of interpretation, does not apply to his. He, at one moment, regards this scene as an actual temptation, and at another, as designed to convey prophetic and moral instruction. This produces a confusion and want of simplicity, which is another important objection to his system.
The reasons, then, which oblige me to regard bis theory as erroneous, are, 1. that there is nothing in the evangelists to justify bis supposition that the scene took place in vision; on the contrary, every thing indicates that it was, in some way or other, a real transaction; 2. that there is nothing which looks like a design to convey instruction, whether prophetic or moral; that none was either needed or given ; 3. that neither reason nor scripture authorizes the belief of the existence of any evil principle like our idea of Satan, and it is therefore unreasonable to suppose that God would produce a visionary repre. sentation of such a being; 4. that he could possess no power of tempting our Lord, either in his own person, or in a visionary representation ; 5. that there is a great want of simplicity and perspicuity in Dr. Farmer's manner of explaining the narrative.
I will now propose what seems to me a preferable mode of exposition. I suppose that Jesus, immediately after his baptism, being full of the holy spirit, was led by a divine influence to the wilderness. It is natural and easy to conjecture that he spent the forty days in prayer, meditation, and direct.comNew Series-vol. I.
munication with the Deity ; that it was a scene of preparation for his ministry. He bad just received his miraculous powers, and his commission to preach the glad tidings of salvation. He was in an entirely new and untried situation. What more patural than that he should retire to the solitude of a desert, to meditate on the trials, temptations, and sufferings that he knew must await him, and to pray for strength to do the will of his heavenly Father? Emaciated by fasting, enfeebled in body, and worn down by long exertion of mind, some doubts or hesitation might have occurred to him with respect to the proper use of the miraculous powers with which he had just been endued. “Why should I not, he might have said, exert my powers for my own benefit. Why should I not at least supply the present necessities of my body, and command these stones to be made bread? If I am indeed the Son of God, if I bare not been deceived by my own imagination, it will surely be done at my command. But no, the Son of wan came not to be ministered unto, but to minisier, and to give even his life a ransom for many. My powers have been given me as proofs of the divinity of my mission, and not to relieve my own necessities, or for my own benefit. In these respects I must trust like others to the providence of God, who will supply my wants, and preserve my life, by such means as may seem to Him most fit.”
Again, Jesus compared his present, solitary, deserted, and enfeebled state, with the splendour and magnificence which the Jews expected in their Messiah. “Are they not right? Would the king of God's peculiar people be left in this neglected, and seemingly wretched condition? How grand and how striking a proof would it be, that I had come to be their king and deliverer, were I to cast myself down from a pinnacle of the temple, and astonish and dazzle the gazing multitude with the attendance of legions of angels ! But it cannot be. The Messiah, the Saviour of the world, is not to appear with the splendour of royalty; he is not to receive honour in this world. He is to be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, he must be oppressed and afflicted, and at last cut off out of the land of the living. I will not then, though I am encouraged to it by a passage of Scripture, I will not tempt God by demanding of him a proof of his favour, which he does not choose to give. Father, not my will, but thine be done.”
He afterwards made some reflections on the effects which his miraculous powers might produce upon the world. “I can, by means of these powers, raise for myself a kingdom which shall embrace all the nations of the earth, which shall surpass
glory all that has ever been seen or known. But it must be by breaking my allegiance to my heavenly king, it must be by disobeying the commands of Him by whose authority I am enabled to work these miracles. I am satisfied. My kingdom is not of ibis world. I look for my eternal reward at the right hand of the majesty of heaven."
This explanation is simple, clear, and to me satisfactory. It is free from all those inconsistencies and contradictions which arise from supposing either the real or visionary interposition of the Devil, and it is justified by the use of similar phraseology both in the Old and New Testament, where the suggestions of the Devil, or of Satan, are put for the temptations to which we are exposed from ourselves. Let not any one say that it degrades the character of our Lord and Master.. Dr. Farmer has shewn, and none can deny, that he was subject to temptation. He bore our nature, and there is not a single feeling or affection which belongs 10 man, however innocent or even praise-worthy, but may become the source of temptation and sin. It is not of the slightest consequence whether the temptation proceed from within or without. It cannot be charged to us as a sin, that a thought of what is evil has passed through our minds. It is in cherishing those thoughts till they become wishes, and those wishes till they ripen into actions, that guilt consists ; and there cannot be a higher or nobler effort of virtue, there cannot be a stronger proof of our love to God, and our aspirations after the purity and perfection of his nature, than that we should banish the thought and conquer the desire of evil, as soon as it rises within us.
It seems to me impossible that this temptation of our Saviour should have arisen except from his own thoughts. Let any one reflect a moment upon what would be his own sensations, were the very principle of evil bimself to stand before him, either really or in a dream or vision, and offer him the kingdoms of this world, and the glory of them, upon the condition of his paying to the offerer the homage due to God alone. Would not his whole soul revolt from the proposal ? What other ideas than those of horror and disgust would enter his mind ?Could then the pure and perfect Jesus be liable to tenptation from such a being? God forbid that I should think so. Who is chargeable with imputing to our Lord what is disgraceful and degrading, if not he who maintains that the worst of spirits had power to affect his mind for a moment?
I have thus, my friend, briefly stated my objections to Dr. Farmer's exposition, and my own views of our Saviour's templation. That they may receive the sanction of your approbation is the hope of,
Yours as ever,