AS we have entered upon the season called "Lent," during which some of the members of our Church profess to use more abstinence than during other portions of the year, I may as well explain what the word means, and give you my own opinion upon fasts and festivals before I enter upon an explanation of my text. The word "lent" is derived from a Saxon word signifying to lengthen, and is applied to this period of the year because the days begin to lengthen. But the word is used chiefly to denote the fast lasting for forty days, i.e., from Ash Wednesday to Easter, observed by Roman Catholic and other Churches. It must be confessed that this Lent is a remnant of Popery; but no enlightened person in the Church of England ever thinks of following the custom of the Roman Catholic Church in this particular. To me it is utterly absurd to use abstinence for days or weeks, and then to launch out into festivities, for every real Christian ought at all times use such abstinence as becomes one whose aim is ever to bring the body into subjection to the Spirit.
But now to our text. Here we have the record of Christ's temptation. What was its design? It was to test the strength of Christ. If Satan had succeeded, no man could have been saved, for Jesus there and then stood as man's representative. But blessed be God for having laid help upon One who is mighty! Poor sinner! Inasmuch as your Head overcame, you overcame; all the results of this temptation will be put to your account. As Adam's defeat in Eden's garden was put to your account, so Christ's victory in a howling wilderness will be put to your account. The inference from this is obvious, viz., If Christ represented every man, then every man must be saved; but, as this will not be, it must follow that Christ did not represent every man, but His own family. But how did Satan tempt Christ? (1) Some fancy Satan presented himself in a visible form; (2) others in a vision similar to that of Ezekiel or Zechariah; (3) a third partly supposes that all occurred in the way of suggestion. I am inclined to the last view, and I think the apostle's expression, "He was in all points tempted like as we are," supports the idea, for we know that Satan has never appeared to us in personal form, or in a vision, but that all his temptations come by way of suggestion. This, too, however, is a matter of little or no moment, but I have thought it desirable to throw out the hint, for by adopting it we certainly shall be released from the difficulties attending the literal view.
Ver. 1. We must bear in mind that God tempts no man. Christ was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. This was a part of the great drama of redemption. The great adversary was permitted to have his full swing against Christ, so that it might be proved that Christ was stronger than the strong man, and was above the power of the evil one.
Ver. 2. Why did Christ fast so long? That Satan might not have it to say he had not had full advantage against Him. There is perhaps no trial greater than that of extreme hunger without prospect of relief.
Ver. 3. Mark the subtlety of Satan. He doesn't suggest that Christ should create a feast for indulgence, but bare necessaries. It is as if he had said, "You are ready to perish with hunger. Is that your Father's care for you?" How often does he tempt God's people thus--taunting them with the neglect of their heavenly Father. But, dear brethren, let us remember Christ's answer.
Ver. 4. Man's life depends upon God and not upon food. God can sustain life without food: but food cannot sustain life without God. Had Christ performed this miracle He would have shown distrust of His Father.
Ver. 5,6. Observe this was by suggestion. Satan now changes his plan. He now injects the thought into the mind of Christ that, if He would only perform this miracle, all Jerusalem would acknowledge Him to be the Messiah. "There can be no danger," insinuates Satan; "for God has promised to keep Thee," etc. Here, again, observe the subtlety of the evil one. He had heard Christ quote Scripture, and he would do the same. But it is of importance to note that he mutilated the word; he omitted a portion of the sentence, "In all thy ways." (Ps. 91:11,12)
Satan does so to the present hour. He can quote Scripture, but he is sure to mutilate it. He only gives part of a passage. This is illustrated by three notorious examples: John 1:12; John 6:37; and Phil. 2:12,13. Let us beware of handling the word of God deceitfully, or being carried away by bits and scraps of Scripture. It is the scope of the whole we are to look for. And mark again: Satan could tempt Christ to cast Himself down, but he could not cast Him down. So is it with us!
Ver. 7. Again, Christ meets Satan's attack with the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, "Thou shalt not tempt," etc.; we must not run into needless danger. We must not make improper requests. We must not expect miraculous interpositions. "In all things Christ was our example, that we should follow His steps." So, my hearers, let us beware how we tempt God. When we do not use proper precaution we tempt God. When we do not use proper means to grow in knowledge we tempt God. When we recklessly rush into danger we tempt God.
Ver. 8,9. Suggestion again: a literal interpretation is impossible. Even if Christ had literally ascended the highest mountain in the world, He could not see all the kingdoms of the world, for many were below the natural horizon. But Satan suggested to Him what worldly power and pomp He might be possessed of, if He would give Himself up to the god of this world. Had Satan power to give? Certainly not. This was an audacious lie. (Dan. 4:25) God has never surrendered His providential government into any creature's hand. The fact of Satan's keeping this temptation for the last, clearly shows that it is his strongest. The pomp and glory of this world is the greatest of all temptations; and, even supposing Satan had it in his power to give, what then? "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
Ver. 10,11. How remarkable that the Lord should employ the written word on all three occasions to repel the attacks of Satan. A few words of Scripture were of wondrous efficacy. Let us follow the example. Let, "'It is written' thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt now steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet," etc, etc., be our rebuke to the enemy when he comes upon us with his temptations.
II. Speak upon the reality and power of Satan.--It is a melancholy fact that in this day of high profession, the existence of Satan is not only disputed but openly denied! The cant of the day is, that "God is too merciful, too benignant, too loving a Being either to punish sin, or to suffer a malignant creature like Satan to harass or tempt or annoy or ruin anybody." But I, for one, can see beneath this Satan in his most cunning device. It is his policy to have his existence ignored, that he may the more effectually carry on his accursed plans! The masterpiece of his devices is to make men unbelieving as to the reality of his existence or the extent of his power. But let me remind you that we have as clear a proof of Satan's existence as we have proof of God's existence! As the heavens declare the glory of God, so do misery and ruin and sin declare the existence of Satan. But the Scriptures positively assert the existence of Satan. From Genesis to Revelation he is spoken of; and we have no more warrant to suspect his reality than we have to suspect the reality of God. Is God a myth? Is Christ a myth? Is the Holy Spirit a myth? If not, then Satan is no myth, but an awful and terrible reality!
Some have got it into their heads that Satan and his angels are not persons, but principles. A similar effort has long been made to negative the Holy Spirit. Oh, beware of it! First. I ask, Was it a principle and not a person who disputed with the angel for the body of Moses? Secondly, Was it a principle and not a person who tempted the Lord in the wilderness? Thirdly, Were they principles and not persons who besought the Lord not to torment them before their time? And, fourthly, Were they principles and not persons who asked permission to enter the swine? Oh, what absurdity will wicked men countenance in order to get rid of what they do not wish to acknowledge! If language have any meaning, Satan and his angels are as decidedly persons and powers as well as God and Christ and the Holy Ghost! Satan's power is enormous. 1. He has power to suggest evil. 2. He has power to inflict physical evil. 3. He has power to blind our understandings. 4. He has power to accuse us before God. 5. He has power to transform himself into an angel of light; but he has not power to wrench a soul out of the hands of God. This last is one of the most awful phases of his of his power; for he thereby overcomes thousands whom he could not tempt by the grosser sins. If he were to try to make us believe that there is no God, no hereafter, perhaps he would not succeed, for we are inclined to be religious; so he sets to and supplies us with false religion, a false creed, which is just as useful to him as any other snare, and he catches us. I believe he has caught, and is catching, thousands in this very net. Oh, how we have necessity to look to our Great Representative to keep us by His power! Oh, how needful was the apostle's exhortation, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God." (1 John 4:1) There are at this moment myriads of well-meaning men whom Satan has fast in his snares, and yet they are unconscious of it, and are going about preaching and teaching in the name of Christ. Fearful, terrible temptation!
But, dear brethren in the Lord, you know in whom your help lies. In the Mighty One who conquered Satan for you; who stood firm amidst all assaults, and finally led captivity captive! Blessed be God, you and I are strong in Him. When Satan comes upon us, we know whom to appeal to. But, whilst we have this impregnable fortress to flee into, let us manfully use the sword of the Spirit with which He Himself has provided us, and we must be conquerors through Him who loves us.