Matthew 4:1. Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
THE agency of Satan in the affairs of man cannot be doubted by any one who really believes the representations given us in the inspired volume. His great employment from the very first has been to seduce men to sin. And from the success which he obtained over our first parents in Paradise, he is said by our Lord to have been “a murderer from the beginning [Note: John 8:44.].” Even our blessed Lord himself did he assault, in the hope of prevailing against him, and of thereby defeating the great ends and purposes for which he was sent into the world. This, in the counsels of the Most High, was permitted, in order that that great adversary of God and man, who had been the means of introducing sin into the world, might be himself confounded; and man, his wretched victim, be rescued from his dominion. I say, this conflict was permitted by God himself: for we are told in my text, that “Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
To unfold to you this mysterious transaction, I shall,
I. Consider it in all its leading circumstances—
Shew what interest we have in it—
The first thing to be noticed is the season which Satan chose for making his assaults on our blessed Lord—
[It was, in part, a season of peculiar elation, and, in part a season of more than ordinary depression.
Our Lord’s Messiahship had just before been audibly attested by a voice from heaven; “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased [Note: Matthew 3:17.].” Now this would appear to us the most unfit season that could be imagined, since by such a testimony as had been given him, our Lord’s mind, so to speak, would be doubly fortified against every temptation. But Satan knew, that exalted enjoyments are apt to put us off our guard; as David had evinced; “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved: Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong [Note: Psalms 30:6-7.].” Accordingly he is wont to embrace all such opportunities of assaulting man. It was when Paul had been caught up into the third heavens, that Satan buffeted him with more than ordinary force [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7.]. And he actually vanquished Peter immediately after the highest honour had been conferred upon him [Note: Matthew 16:17-19; Matthew 16:22-23.]. It should seem that Satan particularly availed himself of the occasion now afforded him, because he founded his temptations upon the testimony itself: “If thou be the Son of God,” do so and so.
To counterbalance this testimony, our Lord had now been left forty days without food: and consequently, it seemed as if he were neglected by his heavenly Father. Satan therefore took advantage of this circumstance to urge upon our Lord yet more strongly the expediency of dissipating without delay the doubt which the occasion suggested, and the expediency of giving to the world some satisfactory proof of his Messiahship. It was in the absence of her husband that he had prevailed against Eve; and he hoped to prevail against Jesus also, now that his heavenly Father had in appearance withdrawn himself from him. Thus, whether our Lord was in a state of light and joy, or of darkness and distress, Satan hoped to make his condition the means of forwarding the object which he had in view.]
The particular suggestions whereby Satan tempted our Lord must next be distinctly stated—
[The period allotted for this conflict being now come nearly to a close, Satan renewed with still greater energy the assaults which had more or less been made on our Lord during all the days of his temptation. He tempted our Lord, to a distrustful questioning of his Father’s care. Both Moses and Elijah, the one the giver, and the other the restorer, of the law, had fasted forty days: and it seemed good to Almighty God, that Jesus, when introducing a new dispensation, should fast in like manner, and for the same period of time. But Satan strove to impress our Lord with the thought, that he was forsaken by his heavenly Father, and that it was therefore expedient for him to relieve his own wants, by “commanding the stones to be made bread.” This, however, as casting a reflection on his heavenly Father, Jesus would on no account do. Indeed, without the Father’s blessing, no such supply would be of any avail. This our Lord shewed from the Scriptures of truth, wherein it is said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God [Note: ver. 4. with Deuteronomy 8:3.],” who alone can render any thing available for our real good.
Having failed in this, Satan urged him to an opposite extreme, even to a presumptuous tempting of the Father’s power. He took our Lord, doubtless with his own concurrence, as one man would take another, to a pinnacle or battlement of the temple, and urged him, in proof of his Messiahship, to cast himself down from thence, which he told him he might safely do, because God, on whom he seemed so confidently to rely, had promised to “give his angels charge over him, that he should not dash his foot against a stone [Note: ver. 6. with Psalms 91:11-12.].” But, in citing this Scripture, Satan withheld that part which restricted the promise to persons walking in the path of duty. For any person to expose himself to danger without necessity, in order to see whether God would preserve him from injury, would be the highest act of presumption. It would be, in fact, to tempt the Lord. And therefore our Lord repelled the temptation by adducing another passage of Scripture, more appositely and justly quoted, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God [Note: ver. 7. with Deuteronomy 6:16.].”
What Satan could not do by deceit he now endeavoured to effect by the greatness of his offers, whereby he would induce our Lord to an idolatrous rejection of his Father’s authority. He took our Lord to an exceeding high mountain, and “shewed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” most probably the kingdoms in and around Canaan, from whence the glory of all other kingdoms might be inferred; and promised to “give him all, if only he would fall down and worship him [Note: ver. 8, 9.].” This would have been, in fact, to renounce his heavenly Father, and to give to Satan the honour due to God alone. How offensive such a proposal must be to our blessed Lord, we may well conceive. But, though filled with indignation, our Lord still had recourse only to the written word for the repelling of this impious proposal, and, bidding him to depart, he gave him this as the rule to which every creature must adhere, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; and him only shalt thou serve [Note: Deuteronomy 10:20.].”]
The issue of these temptations comes now in the last place to be mentioned—
[Satan, foiled, was obliged to leave the field. He could not withstand the authoritative command of Jesus. Abashed and confounded, he, for the present, desisted from his enterprize. True, he departed only for a season, as the Evangelist informs us [Note: Luke 4:13.], and as the subsequent history of our Lord attests [Note: John 14:30.]. But on the present occasion the victory was gained by our blessed Lord; and, as I shall shew under my next head, immense advantage was obtained for the followers of Christ in all ages.
Now too, that evil spirit being vanquished, other spirits came down from heaven to succour and congratulate our victorious Lord. Whether they administered to his bodily wants, we are not informed: but they doubtless were God’s messengers to him to console his fainting spirit, and to animate him to all future conflicts.]
We may now proceed to consider,
What interest we have in this mysterious occurrence—
The account here given us is of far greater importance than we in general are apt to imagine—
1. It is a record of what the Lord Jesus Christ has effected for us—
[Satan, by overcoming the first Adam, had caused him and all his posterity to be excluded from Paradise, and to be consigned over to the curse due to sin. But Christ, the second Adam, by vanquishing for us that great adversary, has reopened for us the gate of Paradise, and caused his holy angels not only to abstain from prohibiting our entrance with a sword of fire [Note: Genesis 3:24.], but to aid us, and encourage us in our endeavours to regain the blessedness we have lost. From that time they have been “sent forth to minister unto the heirs of salvation [Note: Hebrews 1:14.], to uphold them under any difficulties to which they may be exposed in life, and to attend them in the hour of death for the purpose of bearing their departing spirits to the realms of bliss [Note: Luke 16:22.]. We before mentioned that Satan left him but for a season. At a subsequent period, he returned again to the charge, attended with innumerable hosts, even with all “the powers of darkness [Note: Luke 22:53.].” Yea, and he prevailed to “bruise the heel” of our most adorable Lord. But our Lord “bruised his head [Note: Genesis 3:15,]:” and even “by death overcame him that had the power of death, that is, the devil [Note: Hebrews 2:14.]:” yes, he then “spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them openly on his very cross [Note: Colossians 2:15.],” and in his ascension, “led captivity itself captive [Note: Ephesians 4:8.];” thus “judging and condemning the Prince of this world [Note: John 16:11.],” and leaving us nothing but a vanquished enemy to contend with. To appreciate this mercy aright, we should look all around us, and see what evil that wicked fiend has occasioned to the whole human race from the very beginning of the world; and then look down to the regions of the damned, to see what misery he has entailed on millions of immortal souls, and will entail on us also, if the Saviour make not his victories available for us. Surely in the contemplation of these things we cannot but feel thankful to our blessed Lord for having thus undertaken our cause, and by his victorious conflicts obtained for us a restoration, to our forfeited inheritance.]
2. A pledge of what he will effect in us—
[There is a striking correspondence between the assaults which Satan made upon our Lord, and those which we also, each of us in our measure, have to contend with: for so saith the Scripture; “In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren [Note: Hebrews 2:17.]:” and “in all points he was tempted, even as we are [Note: Hebrews 4:15.].” In fact, the reason of his submitting to these trials was, that by means of them he might acquire a sympathy with us in our conflicts, and “being touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” attain both a disposition and ability to afford us the succour which we stand in need of [Note: Hebrews 2:18.]. In our conflicts with the world, he bids us look to his victories over it as a pledge of what he will vouchsafe to us: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [Note: John 16:33.].” So, in like manner, he tells us that “the prince of this world is cast out [Note: John 12:31.];” and that, provided only we “resist him, he shall flee from us” also [Note: James 4:7.], and in due season “be bruised under our feet” for ever [Note: Romans 16:20.].
Let us not then be discouraged at the thought that “we have to wrestle, not with flesh and blood only, but with principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places [Note: Ephesians 6:12.]:” for there is armour provided for us, even the very same that Jesus himself made use of: from the Holy Scriptures we may take, as it were, “the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 6:16-17.]: and, fighting in the strength of the Lord Jesus, we shall be enabled to withstand all the powers of darkness, and stand victors over all [Note: Ephesians 6:13.]. Yes, we shall rise superior to them all, even as Jesus Christ himself did, and, as assessors with him in judgment, shall unite with him in pronouncing the sentence which shall doom them all to that lake of fire into which they have in vain laboured to plunge our souls [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:3.].
Are any of you then under circumstances of temptation to distrust, as persons forsaken by the Lord? Know that “your God will never leave you nor forsake you [Note: Hebrews 13:5-6.].” If the vision tarry ever so long, wait for it: for it shall surely come, and not tarry “one moment beyond the fittest time [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.]. If, on the other hand, you are tempted to presumption, and to run uncalled into scenes of bodily or moral danger, remember that, whatever stress you may lay on garbled extracts from God’s word, you cannot hope to be preserved, except in the ways that God himself has prescribed. If, like Israel of old, you go against your enemies unsent, you shall, like them, assuredly, meet with a repulse [Note: Deuteronomy 1:42-44.]. Finally, if, like Demas, you are tempted to apostatize from God, and to prefer the things of this world as your portion, reject the proposal with abhorrence, and, instead of yielding, like him [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.], determine, through grace, to live only for Him, who lived and died for you.]
THE CALL OF FOUR APOSTLES
Matthew 4:18-22. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
IT has pleased God on many occasions to give marks of his special approbation to persons while they were employed in their worldly callings. David was taken from his father’s sheep-folds, when he was appointed to feed and govern the kingdom of Israel. The shepherds were watching over their flocks by night, when a choir of angels announced to them the Messiah’s birth. And four of the Apostles were occupied in spreading, or in mending their nets, when the Lord Jesus selected them for his stated and most intimate attendants. We do not mean to say, that a discharge of earthly duties can merit any thing at the hand of God, or that he will have respect to it in that view: but certainly, to fulfil the duties of our respective stations is a service highly pleasing and acceptable unto God; nor are we ever more likely to receive blessings from God, than when we are occupied in performing the offices which he himself has assigned us.
But it is not so much to the season when these Apostles were called, as to the call itself, that we now propose to direct your attention. For this end let us inquire,
I. How far the call given to them is applicable to us—
We must consider our Lord’s address to them as relating, in part, to the high office to which he had destined them as his Apostles. The world at large were not called to renounce their worldly occupations, and become itinerant ministers of the word: on the contrary, the great body of Christians were repeatedly bidden to “abide in the calling wherein they were called,” yea, “to abide therein with God.” Thus far, therefore, the command given to them is not properly applicable to us. But, in part, the command referred to their general duty as Christians: and in that sense it is given to every one to whom the Gospel itself is sent. We may consider our Lord as at this moment addressing us, and requiring us,
1. To embrace his religion—
[We cannot follow Christ one single step, without first coming to him as the Saviour of the world. We must regard him as the true Messiah; we must view him as invested with all power in heaven and in earth, that he might redeem us to God by his blood, and deliver us by his almighty grace. We must consider him as having all fulness treasured up in him for us, that we may receive out of it, according to our respective necessities, “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” It is not merely to give an assent to certain truths that we are called, but to realize them, and to live upon them. We must not merely acknowledge that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that “he has reconciled us to God by his blood,” but we must determine, with the Apostle, to know nothing but Christ crucified, to trust in nothing but his righteousness, and to glory in nothing but his cross — — —]
2. To walk in his steps—
[Next to our believing in him is that obedience which we are to render to his commandments. If faith in him is the root, obedience to him is the fruit, which must immediately and with increasing abundance, proceed from it. Our blessed Lord came, not only to save us by his meritorious death and passion, but, to “set us an example that we should follow his steps.” To follow him, therefore, we must “walk as he walked.” Behold his zeal for the glory of his God and Father; it even “consumed him,” so ardently did it burn within him: such should be our zeal also: it should be “our meat and drink to do our Father’s will.” Behold his humility [Note: John 13:4-5; John 13:15.], his self-denial [Note: Philippians 2:5-8.], his meekness [Note: John 18:23.], his patience [Note: Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 53:7 and 1 Peter 2:21-23.], his compassion [Note: Luke 19:41.], his love [Note: Ephesians 5:1-2.]: in all of these we are to resemble him; and to be progressively “changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of our God” — — — O that all who profess themselves his followers were more like Him in the whole of his spirit and temper! It is this that marks the Christian: all without this is hypocrisy and delusion.]
3. To devote ourselves openly to his service—
[It is well to be Christians in our secret chamber: but we must remember, that “our light is also to shine before men.” We must confess Christ before men: and if we are ashamed or afraid to do so, we cannot be his disciples. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” His name, his cause, his people are despised by an ungodly world: and we must share in their contempt: we must “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” There is no occasion to affect singularity in trivial matters; (that should rather be avoided:) there are points enough of importance in which we must be singular; we cannot resemble him without being singular; because the ungodly world are as opposite to him as darkness is to light: of course, therefore, we must be “as lights in a dark place, as cities set upon a hill.” Nay, we are not to be contented with “abstaining from fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; we are actively and boldly to reprove them;” and must shew ourselves on the Lord’s side; endeavouring to maintain his honour, and to advance his interests in the world — — —]
These are points of universal and unalterable importance: and we are required to follow Christ in these respects, no less than the Apostles themselves. This call, I say, is given equally to us; and it becomes us all to inquire,
In what manner we should obey it—
We need only notice the conduct of these holy Apostles, and we shall be at no loss how to regulate our own. The command itself is plain; and we must obey it,
1. Instantly, without delay—
[We see not the smallest hesitation in any one of those whom Jesus called, in our text. Elsewhere we find that one expressed a wish “to go first and bid farewell” to his friends; and another desired to “go first and bury his father [Note: Luke 9:59-61.].” But there is no time for compliment on an occasion like this. The call of God is of paramount obligation: nothing is for a moment to interfere with our obedience to it. We know not but that it may be the last call we ever shall receive. The persons invited to the marriage supper wished to excuse themselves for that time; but they were never invited again: on the contrary, the founder of the feast resolved, that “no one of them should ever taste of his supper [Note: Luke 14:18; Luke 14:24.].” A similar resolution may at this very moment be formed by the Lord Jesus Christ, if we now refuse to become his followers. “His Spirit will not always strive with man.” There is “a day when the things which belong to our peace may be for ever hid from our eyes;” and our “God may swear in his wrath, that we shall never enter into his rest.” O that that day may never come with respect to us! O that we may not foolishly dream of “a more convenient season,” which shall never arrive! But let us “to-day, while it is called to-day,” comply with this divine call. Let us imitate the man after God’s own heart, whose experience is recorded in those memorable words, “I made haste, and delayed not, to keep thy commandments.”]
2. Fully, without reserve—
[Whilst some are wishing to defer their compliance with this command, others make exceptions against it in some particulars, and would gladly have it lowered to their taste and convenience. Thus it was with the Rich Youth, who, when required to “sell all and give it to the poor, and to look for his treasure in heaven,” accounted it a hard saying, and parted with Christ and heaven rather than with his wealth. “One thing he lacked;” and that one thing as effectually ruined him, as ten thousand would have done. O that we may learn from his fate, not to make any exceptions or reserves; but to “follow the Lord fully,” even as Caleb and as Joshua did! It was a great trial to Peter and Andrew to leave their nets; and to James and John to leave their father also: but the grace of Christ was sufficient for them;, and they willingly forsook all for him. Thus must we do: we must give a preference [Note: Matthew 10:37-38.], a strong and decisive preference [Note: Luke 14:25-27; Luke 14:33.], to Christ, above all earthly relatives, or worldly possessions. We cannot now be called to act as Levi did; but the zeal of Levi must be in us [Note: Deuteronomy 33:9-10.], and all things, not excepting parents or life itself, must be hated in comparison of Christ [Note: Matthew 16:24-25.]. We are plainly warned respecting the terms on which alone our Lord will consider us as his [Note: Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13.]; and we must “count the cost,” gladly parting with every thing, that we may obtain “the pearl of great price.”]
3. Perseveringly, without end—
[Religion is not for a day or a year, but for the whole of our lives. “Our hands being once put to the plough, we must look back no more:” God warns us, that, “if we draw back, his soul shall have no pleasure in us.” “It is he who endures to the end, and he only, that shall be saved” at last. As for a temporary obedience to this command, it would be worse than a continued opposition to it: “It were better not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to depart from it.“” The latter end of an apostate is worse than his beginning.” We are particularly told to “remember Lot’s wife,” who was made an everlasting monument of his vengeance, not for going back to Sodom, but for looking back, and thereby shewing, that her heart was yet cleaving to the things which she had left behind. Happy will it be for us if we bear her in mind, and consider the danger of departing even in heart from the Lord — — — If our trials be multiplied, we must cry the more earnestly to God for help, that through his all-sufficient grace we may say with David, “All this has come upon us; yet is not our heart turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way [Note: Psalms 44:17-19; Psalms 119:51; Psalms 119:157.].”]
Those who think that such obedience is impracticable—
[See how powerfully the word of Christ wrought on them — — — It is no less powerful now — — — Pray that it may come to your hearts in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.]
2. Those who are hesitating whether to obey or not—
[If it appear formidable to you to follow Christ now, think what it will be to be hidden to depart from him hereafter — — — That you will meet with trials is certain: but your losses shall be repaid a hundredfold in this life, besides a proportionable weight of glory in the world to come [Note: Mark 10:28-30.]. Thousands can attest the truth of this — — — O choose the better part, which shall never be taken away from you!]
3. Those who are engaged in following the Lord—
[Though you may not be called, as preachers, to be “fishers of men,” yet in your several stations God will make you instrumental to the salvation of men. A holy life will operate on many who would never have been wrought upon by the preached word [Note: 1 Peter 3:1-2.]. None prove such stumbling-blocks as you, if your lives be unsuitable to your profession, and none such blessings, if you walk worthy of your high calling — — — “Seek therefore more and more to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things [Note: Matthew 5:13; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3; 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:15.].”]