HIS human spirit filled with overpowering emotions, Jesus sought for retirement, to be alone with God, and once more to think over His mighty work. From the waters of the Jordan He was ledaccording to the more intense and picturesque expression of St. Mark, He was "driven"by the Spirit into the wilderness.
A tradition, said to be no older than the time of the Crusades, fixes the scene of the temptation at a mountain to the south of Jericho, which from this circumstance has received the name of Quarantania. Naked and arid like a mountain of malediction, rising precipitously from a scorched and desert plain, and looking over the sluggish, bituminous waters of the Sodomitic seathus offering a sharp contrast to the smiling softness of the Mountain of Beatitudes and the limpid crystal of the Lake of Gennesarethimagination has seen in it a fit place to be the haunt of evil influencesa place where, in the language of the prophets, the owls dwell and the satyrs dance.
And here Jesus, according to that graphic and pathetic touch of the second Evangelist, "was with the wild beasts." They did not harm him. "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet." So had the voice of olden promise spoken; and in Christ, as in so many of His children, the promise was fulfilled. Those whose timid faith shrinks from all semblance of the miraculous, need find nothing to alarm them here. It is not a natural thing that the wild creatures should attack with ferocity, or fly in terror from, their master man. A poet has sung of a tropical isle that
"Nor save for pity was it hard to take
The terror or the fury of animals, though continued by hereditary instinct, was begun by cruel and wanton aggression; and historical instances are not wanting in which both have been overcome by tbe sweetness, the majesty, the gentleness of man. There seems to be no adequate reason for rejecting the unanimous belief of the early centuries that the wild beasts of the Thebaid moved freely and harmlessly among the saintly eremites, and that even the wildest living creatures were tame and gentle to St. Francis of Assisi. Who has not known people whose presence does not scare the birds, and who can approach, without danger, the most savage dog? We may well believe that the mere human spell of a living and sinless personality would go far to keep the Saviour from danger. In the catacombs and on other ancient monuments of early Christians, He is sometimes represented as Orpheus charming the animals with his song. All that was true and beautiful in the old legends found its fulfilment in Him, and was but a symbol of His life and work.
And he was in the wilderness forty days. The number occurs again and again in Scripture, and always in connection with the facts of temptation or retribution. It is clearly a sacred and representative number, and independently of other associations, it was for forty days that Moses had stayed on Sinai, and Elijah in the wilderness. In moments of intense excitement and overwhelming thought the ordinary needs of the body seem to be modified, or even for a time superseded; and unless we are to understand St. Luke's words, "He did eat nothing," as being absolutely literal, we might suppose that Jesus found all that was necessary for His bare sustenance in such scant fruits as the desert might afford; but however that may beand it is a question of little importanceat the end of the time He hungered. And this was the tempter's moment. The whole period had been one of moral and spiritual tension. During such high hours of excitement men will sustain, without succumbing, an almost incredible amount of labour, and soldiers will fight through a long day's battle unconscious or oblivious of their wounds. But when the enthusiasm is spent, when the exaltation dies away, when the fire burns low, when Nature, weary and overstrained, reasserts her rightsin a word, when a mighty reaction has begun, which leaves the man suffering, spiritless, exhaustedthen is the hour of extreme danger, and that has been, in many a fatal instance, the moment in which a man has fallen a victim to insidious allurement or bold assault. It was at such a moment that the great battle of our Lord against the powers of evil was fought and won.
The struggle was, as is evident, no mere allegory. Into the exact external nature of the temptation it seems at once superfluous and irreverent to entersuperfluous, because it is a question in which any absolute decision is for us impossible; irreverent, because the Evangelists could only have heard it from the lips of Jesus, or of those to whom He communicated it, and our Lord could only have narrated it in the form which conveys at once the truest impression and the most instructive lessons. Almost every different expositor has had a different view as to the agency employed, and the objective or subjective reality of the entire event. From Origen down to Schleiermacher some have regarded it as a vision or allegorythe symbolic description of a purely inward struggle; and even so literal and orthodox a commentator as Calvin has embraced this view. On this point, which is a matter of mere exegesis, each must hold the view which seems to him most in accordance with the truth; but the one essential point is that the struggle was powerful, personal, intensely realthat Christ, for our sakes, met and conquered the tempter's utmost strength.
The question as to whether Christ was or was not capable of sinto express it in the language of that scholastic and theological region in which it originated, the question as to the peccability or impeccability of His human natureis one which would never occur to a simple and reverent mind. We believe and know that our blessed Lord was sinlessthe Lamb of God, without blemish and without spot. What can be the possible edification or advantage in the discussion as to whether this sinlessness sprang from a posse non peccare or a non posse peccare? Some, in a zeal at once intemperate and ignorant, have claimed for him not only an actual sinlessness, but a nature to which sin was divinely and miraculously impossible. What then? If His great conflict were a mere deceptive phantasmagoria, how can the narrative of it profit us? If we have to fight the battle clad in that armour of human free-will which has been hacked and riven about the bosom of our fathers by so many a cruel blow, what comfort is it to us if our great Captain fought not only victoriously, but without real danger; not only uninjured, but without even a possibility of wound? Where is the warrior's courage, if he knows that for him there is but the semblance of a battle against the simulacrum of a foe? Are we not thus, under an appearance of devotion, robbed of One who, "though He were a son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered?" Are we not thus, under the guise of orthodoxy, mocked in our belief that we have a High Priest who can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, "being tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin?" They who would thus honour Him rob us of our living Christ, who was very man no less than very God, and substitute for Him a perilous Apollinarian phantom enshrined "in the cold empyrean of theology," and alike incapable of kindling devotion or of inspiring love.
Whether, then, it comes under the form of a pseudo-orthodoxy, false and pharisaical, and eager only to detect or condemn the supposed heresy of others; or whether it comes from the excess of a dishonouring reverence which has degenerated into the spirit of fear and bondagelet us beware of contradicting the express teaching of the Scriptures, and, as regards this narrative, the express teaching of Christ Himself, by a supposition that He was not liable to real temptation. Nay, He was liable to temptation all the sorer, because it came like agony to a nature infinitely strong yet infinitely pure. In proportion as any one has striven all his life to be, like his great Ensample, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, in that proportion will he realise the intensity of the struggle, the anguish of the antipathy which pervades a nobler nature when, either by suggestions from within or from without, it has been dragged into even apparent proximity to the possibilities of evil. There are few passages in the Pilgrim's Progress more powerful, or more suggestive of profound acquaintance with the mysteries of the human heart, than that in which Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death finds his mind filled with revolting images and blaspheming words, which have indeed been but whispered into his ear, beyond his own powers of rejection, by an evil spirit, but which, in his dire bewilderment, he cannot distinguish or disentangle from thoughts which are his own, and to which his will consents. In Christ, indeed, we suppose that such special complications would be wholly impossible, not because of any transcendental endowments connected with "immanent divinity" or the "communication of idioms," but because He had lived without yielding to wickedness, whereas in men these illusions arise in general from their own past sins. They are, in fact, nothing else but the flitting spectres of iniquities forgotten or unforgottenthe mists that reek upward from the stagnant places in the deepest caverns of hearts not yet wholly cleansed. No, in Christ there could not be this terrible inability to discern that which comes from within us and that which is forced upon us from withoutbetween that which the weak will has entertained, or to which, in that ever-shifting border-land which separates thought from action, it has half assented, and that with which it does indeed find itself in immediate contact, but which, nevertheless, it repudiates with every muscle and fibre of its moral being. It must be a weak or a perverted intellect which imagines that "man becomes acquainted with temptation only in proportion as he is defiled by it," or that is unable to discriminate between the severity of a powerful temptation and the stain of a guilty thought. It may sound like a truism, but it is a truism much needed alike for our warning and our comfort, when the poet who, better than any other, has traversed every winding in the labyrinth of the human heart, has told us with such solemnity,
"'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
And Jesus was tempted. The "Captain of our salvation" was "made perfect through sufferings." "In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." The wilderness of Jericho and the Garden of Gethsemanethese witnessed His two most grievous struggles, and in these He triumphed wholly over the worst and most awful assaults of the enemy of souls; but during no part of the days of His flesh was He free from temptation, since otherwise His life had been no true human life at all, nor would He in the same measure have left us an ensample that we should follow His steps. "Many other were the occasions," says St. Bonaventura, "on which he endured temptations." "They," says St. Bernard, "who reckon only three temptations of our Lord, show their ignorance of Scripture." He refers to John vii. 1, and Heb. iv. 15: he might have referred still more appositely to the express statement of St. Luke, that when the temptation in the wilderness was over, the foiled tempter left Him indeed, but left Him only "for a season," or, as the words may perhaps be rendered, "till a new opportunity occurred." Yet we may well believe that when He rose victorious out of the dark wiles in the wilderness, all subsequent temptations, until the last, floated as lightly over His sinless soul as the cloud-wreath of a summer day floats over the blue heaven which it cannot stain.
1. The exhaustion of a long fast would have acted more powerfully on the frame of Jesus from the circumstance that with Him it was not usual. It was with a gracious purpose that He lived, not as a secluded ascetic in hard and self-inflicted pangs, but as a man with men. Nor does He ever enjoin fasting as a positive obligation, although in two passages He more than sanctions it as a valuable aid (Matt. vi. 16-18; ix. 15). But, in general, we know from His own words that He came "eating and drinking;" practising, not abstinence, but temperance in all things, joining in the harmless feasts and innocent assemblages of friends, so that His enemies dared to say of Him, "Behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber," as of John they said, "He hath a devil." After His fast, therefore, of forty days, however supported by solemn contemplation and supernatural aid, His hunger would be the more severe. And then it was that the tempter came; in what formwhether as a spirit of darkness or as an angel of light, whether under the disguise of a human aspect or an immaterial suggestion, we do not know and cannot pretend to say-content to follow simply the Gospel narrative, and to adopt its expressions, not with dry dogmatic assertion as to the impossibility of such expressions being in a greater or less degree allegorical, but with a view only to learn those deep moral lessons which alone concern us, and which alone are capable of an indisputable interpretation.
"If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made loaves." So spake the Tempter first. Jesus was hungry, and "these stones" were perhaps those siliceous accretions, sometimes known under the name of lapides judaici, which assume the exact shape of little loaves of bread, and which were represented in legend as the petrified fruits of the Cities of the Plain. The pangs of hunger work all the more powerfully when they are stimulated by the added tortures of a quick imagination; and if the conjecture be correct, then the very shape and aspect and traditional origin of these stones would give to the temptation an added force.
There can be no stronger proof of the authenticity and divine origin of this narrative than the profound subtlety and typical universality of each temptation. Not only are they wholly unlike the far cruder and simpler stories of the temptation, in all ages, of those who have been eminent saints, but there is in them a delicacy of insight, an originality of conception, that far transcend the range of the most powerful invention.
It was a temptation to the sensesan appeal to the appetitesan impulse given to that lower nature which man shares with all the animal creation. But so far from coming in any coarse or undisguisedly sensuous form, it came shrouded in a thousand subtle veils. Israel, too, had been humbled, and suffered to hunger in the wilderness, and there, in his extreme need, God had fed him with manna, which was as angels' food and bread from heaven. Why did not the Son of God thus provide Himself with a table in the wilderness? He could do so if He liked, and why should He hesitate? If an angel had revealed to the fainting Hager the fountain of Beer-lahai-roiif an angel had touched the famishing Elijah, and shown him foodwhy should He await even the ministry of angels to whom such ministry was needless, but whom, if He willed it, angels would have been so glad to serve?
How deep is the wisdom of the reply! Referring to the very lesson which the giving of the manna had been designed to teach, and quoting one of the noblest utterances of Old Testament inspiration, our Lord answered, "It standeth written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." And what a lesson lies herein for usa lesson enforced by how great an examplethat we are not to be guided by the wants of our lower nature; that we may not misuse that lower nature for the purposes of our own sustenance and enjoyment; that we are not our own, and may not do what we will with that which we imagine to be our own; that even those things which may seem lawful, are yet not all expedient; that man has higher principles of life than material sustenance, as he is a higher existence than his material frame. He who thinks that we live by bread alone, will make the securing of bread the chief object of his lifewill determine to have it at whatever costwill be at once miserable and rebellious if even for a time he be stinted or deprived of it, and, because he seeks no diviner food, will inevitably starve with hunger in the midst of it. But he who knows that man doth not live by bread alone, will not thus, for the sake of living, lose all that makes life dearwill, when he has done his duty, trust God to preserve with all things needful the body He has madewill seek with more earnest endeavour the bread from heaven, and that living water whereof he who drinketh shall thirst no more.
And thus His first temptation was analogous in form to the last taunt addressed to Him on the cross"If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." "If"since faith and trust are the mainstay of all human holiness, the tempter is ever strongest in the suggestion of such doubts; strong, too, in his appeal to the free-will and the self-will of man. "You may, you canwhy not do it? On the cross our Saviour answers not; here He answers only to express a great eternal principle. He does not say, "I am the Son of God;" in the profundity of His humiliation, in the extreme of His self-sacrifice, He made not His equality with God a thing to be grasped at, "but made Himself of no reputation." He foils the tempter, not as very God, but as very man.
2. The order of the temptations is given differently by St. Matthew and St. Luke, St. Matthew placing second the scene on the pinnacle of the Temple, and St. Luke the vision of the kingdoms of the world. Both orders cannot be right, and possibly St. Luke may have been influenced in his arrangement by the thought that a temptation to spiritual pride and the arbitrary exercise of miraculous power was a subtler and less transparent, and therefore more powerful one, than the temptation to fall down and recognise the power of evil. But the words, "Get thee behind me, Satan," recorded by both Evangelists (Luke iv. 8; Matt. iv. 10)the fact that St. Matthew alone gives a definite sequence ("then," "again")perhaps, too, the consideration that St. Matthew, as one of the Apostles, is more likely to have heard the narrative immediately from the lips of Christgive greater weight to the order which he adopts.
Jesus had conquered and rejected the first temptation by the expression of an absolute trust in God. Adapting itself, therefore, with infinite subtlety to the discovered mood of the Saviour's soul, the next temptation, challenging as it were directly, and appealing immediately to, this absolute trust, claims the illustration and expression of it, not to relieve an immediate necessity, but to avert an overwhelming peril. "Then he brought Him to the Holy City, and setteth Him on the pinnacle of the Temple. "Some well-known pinnacle of that well-known mass must be intended; perhaps the roof of the Stoa Basilikè, or Royal Porch, on the southern side of the Temple, which looked down sheer into the valley of the Kidron below it, from a height so dizzy that, according to the description of Josephus, if any one ventured to look down, his head would swim at the immeasurable depth; perhaps Solomon's Porch, the Stoa Anatolikè, which Josephus also has described, and from, which, according to tradition, St. James, the Lord's brother, was afterwards precipitated into the court below.
"If"again that doubt, as though to awake a spirit of pride, in the exercise of that miraculous display to which He is tempted"if thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down." "Thou art in danger not self-sought; save Thyself from it, as Thou canst and mayest, and thereby prove Thy Divine power and nature. Is it not written that the angels shall bear Thee up? Will not this be a splendid proof of Thy trust in God?" Thus deep and subtle was this temptation; and thus, since Jesus had appealed to Scripture, did the devil also "quote Scripture for his purpose." For there was nothing vulgar, nothing selfish, nothing sensuous in this temptation. It was an appeal, not to natural appetites, but to perverted spiritual instincts. Does not the history of sects, and parties, and churches, and men of high religious claims, show us that thousands who could not sink into the slough of sensuality, have yet thrust themselves arrogantly into needless perils, and been dashed into headlong ruin from the pinnacle of spiritual pride? And how calm, yet full of warning, was that simple answer, "It is written again, 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.'" The word in the original (ékpeiráseisMatt. iv 7; Dent. vi. 16) is stronger and more expressive. It is, "Thou shalt not tempt to the extreme the Lord thy God;" thou shalt not, as it were, presume on all that He can do for thee; thou shalt not claim His miraculous intervention to save thee from thine own presumption and folly; thou shalt not challenge His power to the proof. When thou art in the path of duty trust in him to the utmost with a perfect confidence; but listen not to that haughty seductive whisper, "Ye shall be as gods," and let there be no self-willed and capricious irreverence in thy demand for aid. Thento add the words so cunningly omitted by the tempter"shalt thou be safe in all thy ways." And Jesus does not even allude to His apparent danger. Danger not self-sought is safety. The tempter's own words had been a confession of his own impotence"Cast Thyself down." Even from that giddy height he had no power to hurl Him whom God kept safe. The Scripture which he had quoted was true, though he had perverted it. No amount of temptation can ever necessitate a sin. With every temptation God provides also "the way to escape:
"Also it is written,
3. Foiled in his appeal to natural hunger, or to the possibility of spiritual pride, the tempter appealed to "the last infirmity of noble minds," and staked all on one splendid cast. He makes up for the want of subtlety in the form by the apparent magnificence of the issue. From a high mountain he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and as the kosmokrátor, the "prince of this world," he offered them all to Him who had lived as the village carpenter, in return for one expression of homage, one act of acknowledgment.
"The kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them!" "There are some that will say," says Bishop Andrewes, "that we are never tempted with kingdoms. It may be well, for it needs not be, when less will serve. It was Christ only that was thus tempted; in Him lay an heroical mind that could not be tempted with small matters. But with us it is nothing so, for we esteem more basely of ourselves. We set our wares at a very easy price; he may buy us even dagger-cheap. He need never carry us so high as the mount. The pinnacle is high enough; yea, the lowest steeple in all the town would serve the turn. Or let him but carry us to the leads and gutters of our own houses; nay, let us but stand in our windows or our doors, if he will give us so much as we can there see, he will tempt us thoroughly; we will accept it, and thank him too. . . . . A matter of half-a-crown, or ten groats, a pair of shoes, or some such trifle, will bring us on our knees to the devil."
But Christ taught, "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
There was one living who, scarcely in a figure, might be said to have the whole world. The Roman Emperor Tiberius was at that moment infinitely the most powerful of living men, the absolute, undisputed, deified ruler of all that was fairest and richest in the kingdoms of the earth. There was no control to his power, no limit to his wealth, no restraint upon his pleasures. And to yield himself still more unreservedly to the boundless self-gratification of a voluptuous luxury, not long after this time he chose for himself a home on one of the loveliest spots on the earth's surface, under the shadow of the slumbering volcano, upon an enchanting islet in one of the most softly delicious climates of the world. What came of it all? He was, as Pliny calls him, "tristissimus ut constat hominum," confessedly the most gloomy of mankind. And there, from this home of his hidden infamies, from this island where on a scale so splendid he had tried the experiment of what happiness can be achieved by pressing the world's most absolute authority, and the world's guiltiest indulgences, into the service of an exclusively selfish life, he wrote to his servile and corrupted Senate, "What to write to you, Conscript Fathers, or how to write, or what not to write, may all the gods and goddesses destroy me, worse than I feel that they are daily destroying me, if I know." Rarely has there been vouchsafed to the world a more overwhelming proof that its richest gifts are but "fairy gold that turns to dust and dross," and its most colossal edifices of personal splendour and greatness no more durable barrier against the encroachment of bitter misery than are the babe's sandheaps to stay the mighty march of the Atlantic tide.
In such perplexity, in such anguish, does the sinful possession of all riches and all rule end. Such is the invariable Nemesis of unbridled lusts. It does not need the snaky tresses or the shaken torch of the fabled Erinnyes. The guilty conscience is its own adequate avenger; and "if the world were one entire and perfect chrysolite," and that gem ours, it would not console us for one hour of that inward torment, or compensate in any way for those lacerating pangs.
But he who is an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven is lord over vaster and more real worlds, infinitely happy because infinitely pure. And over that kingdom Satan has no power. It is the kingdom of God; and since from Satan not even the smallest semblance of any of his ruinous gifts can be gained except by suffering the soul to do allegiance to him, the answer to all his temptations is the answer of Christ, "Get thee behind me Satan: for it is written, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.'"
Thus was Christ victorious, through that self-renunciation through which only can victory be won. And the moments of such honest struggle crowned with victory are the very sweetest and happiest that the life of man can give. They are full of an elevation and a delight which can only be described in language borrowed from the imagery of Heaven.
"Then the devil leaveth Him"St. Luke adds, "till a fitting opportunity""and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him."