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TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST.

"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil (Matthew 3:1)."

"Then." It seems to be more remarkable that Christ should at that particular time have been tempted, and especially in regard to his sonship. In the preceding chapter we are informed of his baptism by John, in Jordan, and of the incontestable demonstration of that relationship. The Eternal Father, in an audible voice from heaven, had testified that he was his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased. And the heavens were opened unto him, and "he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him." But even then "was Jesus led up of the Spirit." We are not to understand that Jesus was led at any time by any other spirit than that which had at his baptism descended on him like a dove. And this was the same of which he testified, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath anointed me," etc. Although he encountered the wicked spirits of men and devils, he was never led by any unholy power or influence.

In all this let us notice as we pass, Jesus, as the Leader of his people, goeth before them, and they follow him. As followers of Jesus the heavens were first opened to us, or when being born of the Spirit we first had a view of the kingdom of God, and the Dove-like Spirit of our God descended upon us. By that Spirit we were enabled to rejoice in God our Savior, and we received from God the testimony of our sonship, not in an audible voice, but in a still small whisper to our hearts, by which the spirit of adoption was given and received, and by which we cried Abba, Father. And when with all this evidence of our relationship to God, through Christ, our cup was full, we followed our Savior's footsteps to the baptismal waters, and there enjoyed in our measure the same approving testimony of divine approbation of our obedience to Christ our Lord. We little thought that we were also to follow him into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil; but so we have found it.

Let us carefully look over the pathway marked out by our Lord, and as we note the manner of his temptations, let us inquire whether we have been with him in any or in all of them.

Mark the wondrous feast at Jordan, when the bread of Heaven came down in rich abundance, and when John saw and bore witness of him. But how very soon fastings and sore temptations were to succeed. "Immediately," according to Mark 1:12. That is immediately after his baptism, at which the Spirit descended upon him, and the Father from heaven proclaimed, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." "And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness, and he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan, and was with the wild beasts," etc. An apostle says, "He was in all points tempted like as we are." We are not therefore to understand that the devil literally had power to place his person on the pinnacle of the temple, or in one moment to show him all the glories of the world, but in the temptation, the same as when we are tempted of him. How frequently and how painfully has this been illustrated in our own experience. When we have had a clear, full and satisfactory evidence of our acceptance with God, through Christ, and the Dove-like Spirit from above has descended upon us, and the voice of God in melting expressions has assured us that we are his sons. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God." As in the day of our espousal and of the gladness of our hearts, as when we followed him into the baptismal waters, and were cordially welcomed into the felČlowship of the saints, and to all the privileges of the church of God. When we received such evidences of our relationship to God as we thought would last us all our days. How were we surprised when we passed into the wilderness state, and the wild beasts of the forest, or to speak without a parable, or figure, the corruptions of our own carnal nature, like wild, untamed and furious beasts, began to show their hideous forms; when we had to cry out in the words of the psalmist, "Thou makest darkness, and it is night; wherein all the beasts of the forests creep forth." Lurking in the dark places of our fleshly nature were hidden evils, which we thought were dead, or tamed - pride, passion, envy, wrath, strife, seditions, and unbelief, infidelity, carnal lusts, all warring against the newborn principles of love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, etc. How like a waste-howling wilderness did this state of things appear to us! How tedious and tiresome were our hours, and yet hour after hour, and day after day passed and still we fasted. No cheering streams to allay our thirst, nor heavenly manna came down, and we were still fasting, doubting, fearing, desponding, despairing. And then, to take advantage of our weak and trembling condition, came the sly and treacherous adversary, saying to us, as he had said to our dear Lord, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." This suggestion would scarcely have the power to tempt if presented to a full soul. Our Savior had fasted forty days and as many tedious nights, and was hungry; and could, in the weakness of that nature which he had taken on him, feel the force of the temptation; but he was able successfully to resist it. But how has it been with us, when in a spiritual sense we have been long fasting and fainting in our wilderness condition, combating the wild beasts of our carnal nature, and starving for the bread of life to revive and strengthen us? How has the cruel tempter hurled his fiery darts, saying to us, If ye be the children of God, why thus tried? Test this matter at once; command these stones to be made bread. The sons of God have no occasion to hunger; if you were a son, you would have bread. These stones, on which the fiery precepts of the Sinai covenant were written, by a little means-using, would become food to sustain and comfort you. You cannot be a Christian, or you would be able to live on bread of your own procuring. You would have all the religion you live for; or all the food you need could be easily procured by the use of means. How often has the devil tempted the children of God by insinuating to them that if they were indeed what they hoped they were - Christians, they could feed and grow, and rejoice in the works of their own hands - that they could gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles - that they could feed and feast as deliciously upon the doctrines of men, and the institutions of anti-christ, as do others who profess to be Christians. These are severe trials and temptations to God's children; but it is cheering to know that our great High Priest has felt the full force of them in the days of his flesh; and that he will bring them all off more than conquerors, and bruise Satan under their feet.

But as we understand the statement of the temptations endured by our Lord in his person, to indicate every variety of temptations encountered by him, in his mystical body, we will speak of them in their order.

Unsuccessful in attempting to take advantage of the hungry and fainting condition of our Lord, the wily tempter next attempts to carry his point by tempting him to test his sonship by casting himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. This temptation he urged on the ground that it was written that God had given his angels charge, in their hands, to bear him up lest at any time he should dash his foot against a stone. This temptation was successfully repelled by a quotation from the law, forbidding to tempt the Lord our God, thus evidently implying that a compliance with the suggestion of Satan would involve a transgression of the law of God.

The people of God have not been free from temptation of the same kind. Perhaps no suggestion is more frequently made to them by their adversaries than that of presumption. Says the Arminian, If I believed the doctrine of predestination, election and salvation wholly by grace, I would indulge in sin. If you are to be saved, you will be saved, and if you are to be lost, you will be lost. But they are not aware that God has put his fear in the hearts of his children, that they shall not depart from him; and that they would shudder at the thought of sinning in order that grace might abound. With the apostle they would rather say, "How can we who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" Although the perfect love of God shed abroad in them has cast out the slavish fear of hell, the fear of the Lord still abides with love in their hearts. Not as a servile fear that hath torment, but a reverential and filial fear which is the beginning of wisdom, and which trembles at the word of God. Still we are mistaken if God's dear children are not sometimes beguiled by the tempter to cast themselves down from some pinnacle of the temple, on some very similar plea.

Let us suppose a few cases for illustration. Christ has commanded all who love him to keep his commandments, among which is that which requires them all to follow him in the ordinance of baptism. But here is one who has received the love of God, and feels its power, causing him to love God, to love his word, his ordinances and his people; but Satan suggests that there is a very potent if in his way. If I only knew I were a son or child of God, I would delight to go forward, but if I am indeed a child of God, and an heir of glory, baptism is not a saving ordinance, and I shall be saved notwithstanding my disobedience. I will therefore cast myself down from birthright privileges in the church of God, live in disobedience to his holy commands, and trust that I shall not be permitted to dash my foot against a stone. Or, if baptized and in membership in the church of God, loose and careless about assembling with the saints, for the Lord can provide for me as well at home. If my brother has offended me, I will not tell him his fault, as I am commanded to; the angels or provisions of mercy will bear me up, and also my offending brother; I may neglect the ordinance of the Supper, if it be inconvenient to attend to it; and I will leave others, better qualified, to attend to the order, discipline and ordinances of the church than I am; for my salvation does not depend on my obedience.

Once more. I am a member of the church of God, and have a hope in Christ, and desire to serve him faithfully, but an opportunity is presented to gratify my carnal desire for the vanities of the world; the accumulation of riches, or the satisfaction of my passions in some unlawful gratification, now presuming on the boundless mercy of God to bear me up and bring me through, I yield to the tempter, and cast myself down, presumptuously relying on God to prevent my sin from sealing my final and everlasting ruin.

The pinnacle of the temple is a dangerous place for a poor weak and trembling child of God, who is easily beset with temptations; yet Satan will be sure to elevate us to such giddy and dazzling eminencies, if permitted, that he may get an advantage over us. It is far better and safer for the saints to lay hold of the horns of the altar and pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," than to tempt the Lord our God by our presumption.

"Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." The version in Luke 4:5-7 reads, "And the devil taketh him up into a high mountain, and showeth unto him all the kingdoms of the world, in a moment of time: and the devil saith unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine." We have often heard it said that the devil had no power or right to dispose of what he was offering; but we are free to confess that Satan has done much to vindicate his claim. As prince of the power of the air, he has generally managed to fulfill his engagements with all who do fall down and worship him; and we are not prepared to dispute that the power to lavish the glories of this world on his worshipers has been given him for that purpose. And although he could not, and did not, succeed in tempting the Son of God to take him at his word, it can scarcely be denied that he has a very large and respectable host of devout worshipers, scattered abroad throughout all the kingdoms of this world, who hold the power and glory of this world as their reward. And today, if any class or denomination of professed religionists desire the wealth, the splendor, the applause, or the friendship of this world, or the power and patronage of the kingdoms of this world, they know the price.

The standing offer still holds good; and all who will reject the truth of God, and embrace the doctrines of devils; ascribe the miracles of Christ to Beelzebub, the prince of devils, ascribe salvation to men and means, which are under his direction, pervert the truth of God, and drink of the cup of devils, and worship in any one of his numerous synagogues, they can secure the glories of this world, the mammon of unrighteousness, splendid and costly church edifices, tall and towering steeples, fine musical instruments, and the admiration and applause of an ungodly world. But if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution. They, and only they, of all the religious professions on earth who worship Satan, receive these rewards of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the daytime. Spots they are, and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings. Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin, beguiling unstable souls; a heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children (see II Peter 2).

All who worship the true God worship him in spirit and in truth, and must all worship in the same way, and constitute but one church; and they are the circumcision which worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. These only are true worshipers; all other worshipers are false worshipers; and as all false worship and falsehood of every kind is of the devil, who is a liar, and the father of it, there is but barely one church and religious order of people on earth who worship God in spirit and in truth. All others worship by another spirit, and are in falsehood and error; and instead of worshipping the true God, they are the worshipers of devils; and if they do not get their pay according to contract, it is because Satan has deceived and swindled them.

When the deluded sons of Belial proudly point the humble followers of the meek and lowly Lamb to the splendor of their lofty domes, their worldly grandeur, and human applause, we tell them that all this was offered to the Old Primitive Baptists by their master more than eighteen hundred years ago, at the same price which he exacts of them; and his offer was rejected.

Still as this temptation of worldly honor and glory was presented to our divine Lord when he was here in the flesh, we may rest assured that, as a temptation, it will be presented to his children, who, although born of God, and led by his Spirit, still have unslain elements in their earthly nature, lusting after these earthly glories, and willing to accept them on the terms which Satan proposed to our Lord. And were it not for his preventing grace, they also with the world lying in wickedness, would all go in the way of Cain, and run greedily after the error of Balaam for a reward, and perish in the gainsayings of Core. How often are God's children subjected to the trial and temptation as Moses was, when he by faith refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter - choosing rather to suffer afflictions with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.

Middletown, N.Y.
August 15, 1868.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 242-249