The second conflict: Matthew 4:5–7
“Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple. And said unto him, if thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written [Ps. 91:11–12], that he will give his angels charge over thee, and with their hands they shall lift thee up, lest at any time thou shouldest dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him: it is written again [Deut. 6:16], thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:5–7).
These words contain the second conflict of Satan with our Savior Christ; for howsoever by Saint Luke this is put in the third place, which Matthew here places in the second, yet this breeds no difference between the evangelists, who tie not themselves to a strict observation of time, place, and order how everything was done which they relate. In the story of this conflict, Saint Luke respects the substance of it only, but Saint Matthew observes the order of it also. Now in this second conflict we are to observe three points: first, Satan’s preparation thereto; secondly, the assault itself; thirdly, Christ’s answer and repulse thereof.
Point 1. Satan’s preparation to this conflict is contained in the fifth verse:
Wherein we are to note, both the time, and the parts thereof; the time in the first word “then”; that is, so soon as the devil had received a foil of Christ in his first assault, presently he addresses himself unto a second.
Herein behold the exceeding malice of Satan in that the end of one temptation with him is but the beginning of another; he ceases not with one assault, but as he is a deadly foe to the church of God, so he shows himself by his continual seeking whom he may devour. He will never make truce with any child of God, upon any condition less than the hazard of his soul; neither is he weary of his work, but day and night is either plotting or performing some mischievous attempt against the child of God.
The consideration whereof must teach us, upon our victory and conquest over one temptation, presently to prepare for a new. This was the state of the Son of God our Head, and we His members may not look for better; our life in this vale of tears is a continual warfare against the enemy of our souls; we must not therefore here look for rest and ease, but ever keep watch and ward against their assaults. If this duty were well learned and put in practice, it would prevent much impatience and become the ground of much peace in our souls. Man’s nature cannot brook the doubling and renewing of sorrows; when one evil lights in the neck of another, oh then he thinks never any was in his case; but look unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of your faith [Heb. 12:2], He endured no less; and herein He is an example that you should follow His steps. If therefore you will be His disciple, prepare to take up your cross “every day and follow him” [Luke 9:23].
The parts of Satan’s preparation are two:
First, he conveys Christ from the wilderness to Jerusalem; secondly, he places Him on a pinnacle of the temple.
For the first, in these words,
“The devil took him up into the holy city,”
That is, into Jerusalem, as Luke expounds it (4:9). This the devil might do three ways: in vision; or leading Him up the ordinary way; or carrying Him through the air. First, it might be in vision; for that was usual with the prophets; so Jeremiah went to the River Perath65 [Jer. 13:4]; and Ezekiel was carried from Mesopotamia to Jerusalem [Ezek. 8:3]. But Christ was not thus transported; for then Satan’s persuasion unto Christ, “To cast himself down,” could have been no temptation.
Secondly, Christ might be led of the devil the ordinary way from the wilderness to Jerusalem, so much the words will bear; but (as I take it) He went not so, for if Christ were led by the devil, it was either willingly of His own accord, or by the devil’s persuasion. But of His own accord He would not go; for He came into the wilderness to be tempted, which as yet was not fully accomplished, and therefore would not willingly depart thence before that work for which He came was ended.
Again, He would not depart thence upon the devil’s persuasion; for Christ would never gratify the devil so much, as to do ought Himself, which the devil would have Him, as in all his temptations does appear; for this is a rule to be observed, we must not do anything which the devil persuades us to in his temptations, though in itself the thing be lawful and good.
Thirdly, the devil might carry the body of our Savior Christ through the air, by his power through God’s permission. This is the most likely way, and so thought to be of the best divines; and the words following confirm it much, for it is said,
“the devil set him on a pinnacle of the temple”;
Now if he had power to set Him there, why might he not also carry Him thither, God ordaining this as well as His temptation?
By this we see, that men may be transported by the devil from place to place, as the records of all ages do report: this one thing yet observed (wherein the common opinion fails) that the devil cannot convey a man alive so far in a little time, as many men think; as a thousand or two thousand miles in an hour. For no man is able to endure such violent motion and yet live, as experience teaches; let a man fall from some high steeple, and his breath will be gone and he dead before he comes at the ground, by reason of the violence of his motion. Indeed the devil can carry a man very swiftly, but yet for the safety of man’s life he must prolong his time far more than otherwise of himself he needs to do.
Secondly, hence we learn that by God’s permission, the devil may have power over the bodies of God’s own children which are true believers, to transport them from place to place; for dealing thus with the Head Christ Jesus, why may he not do so with any of His members? Besides, we find (that God permitting him) he has done more than this to the saints of God; he may possess their bodies, as he did the woman of Canaan’s daughter (Matt. 15:22). He may torment them long, as he did exceeding grievously bow the body of a daughter of Abraham eighteen years (Luke 13:16). Yea he may kill the body, as he did to Job’s children, who no doubt were holy persons (Job 1:19). And therefore much more may he transport them from place to place.
Here this question may fitly be answered: whether a true believer may be bewitched.
He may: there is none upon earth so faithful and holy, but if God permits, Satan can afflict their bodies grievously, and therefore also they may be bewitched. It is but the fancy of presumptuous persons, when they say, their faith is so strong, that all the witches in the world cannot hurt them: for if God permits, Satan can grievously afflict man’s body, as he did the body of Job; yea he can kill the body, as has been shown.
Solomon speaking of outward things says truly, “All things come alike to all, and the same condition is to the just and to the wicked” [Eccl. 9:2]. Now the wicked man may be bewitched, as all will grant; why then may not the godly also, seeing it is but an outward evil? This therefore must abate their pride that stand so much on their strong faith; behold this act of Satan to the holy body of Christ, and hereby learn for your humiliation, that if God permits, Satan is able to bring upon your body great affliction.
Further, observe the place whither Satan carries our Savior Christ,
“into the holy city,”
That is, “Jerusalem.”
Why is it called “holy,” seeing now it was a polluted place full of sinful people?
It is called “holy” for these causes. First, because here was the Lord’s temple, the place of His solemn worship, wherein were the holy rites and ceremonies prescribed for God’s worship.
Secondly, in Jerusalem, as also in all the synagogues of Judea, was Moses’ chair; the Law and the Prophets were read and expounded.
Thirdly, Jerusalem was the mother city of all the world in respect of religion; here God ordained that His church should first be planted, and from hence must religion be derived to other nations.
Hence we may observe, that at this time Jerusalem was the true church of God; indeed it was very corrupt both for doctrine and manners, as Christ’s severe reproof of both does plainly show (Matt. 5:21; 23:13–14), and yet a true church, else the Holy Ghost would not have called it the “holy city.” Now if Jerusalem at this time were the true church of God, then may we well say, that in England God has His true church: for, let the corruptions of our church be as they are, yet shall it match Jerusalem in the prerogatives of God’s church.
They had the Law and the Prophets read and expounded; so have we, and the gospel also which is the power of God to man’s salvation. They had the sacraments and ceremonies of the Law; answerable thereto we have the sacraments of the gospel, and also a true and holy form of serving God.
Their Jerusalem was a mother city; and though we cannot say so much in that behalf, yet has our church been a nurse to neighbor churches in Germany, France and other places round about, for many years; in regard whereof, the Lord, no doubt, has bestowed many blessings upon us. And therefore though our sins and abuses be many and grievous, yet in regard of church prerogatives we may be called a holy nation, and a true member of the church of God; so that as our Savior Christ and His disciples joined themselves to the congregations of the Jews in their legal service, and forsook them not till they became no church, so ought it to be among us, till we separate from Christ, none should sever themselves from our church ministry and service of God.
Those therefore that make a separation from our church because of corruptions in it, are far from the Spirit of Christ and His apostles. If any shall say, this makes well for the Church of Rome, if so corrupt a place as Jerusalem, in regard of church prerogatives was a holy city, for they have as many prerogatives for religion, as the Jews then had, and therefore are the church of God, and so we do not well to separate from them.
Some indeed, that are no papists, say the Church of Rome is the church of God; but the truth is the present Church of Rome is spiritual Babylon, the mother of abominations [Rev. 17:5], no spouse of Christ, but a strumpet. But they plead their prerogatives: as first, their succession from Peter; secondly, true baptism for substance according to the first institution; thirdly, the Apostles’ Creed which they hold and believe; fourthly, the Word of God, in the writings of the prophets and apostles; and lastly, that theirs is the mother church.
All this is nothing when the truth appears; for first, succession in person without succession in doctrine is no note of a church—now let them show succession in the apostle’s doctrine, and we yield.
Secondly, their baptism alone, though for substance true baptism, cannot prove them a true church: circumcision was the sacrament of God’s church, yet Samaria and Colchis were not the church of God, though they used it; again, the thief may show the true man’s purse, but that proves him not to be true and honest; no more does baptism justify the Church of Rome to be a true church.
Lastly, though they have outward baptism, yet indeed they overthrow inward baptism, the life of that sacrament, to wit, imputed righteousness and renewed holiness, which in God’s church must go together with the outward element, else it is nothing.
Thirdly, for the Apostles’ Creed, they have it in word, but they deny it in deed; for though they say, they believe in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, yet in effect they deny both God and Christ. For the God of the papists is an idol God, and the Christ of the papists a false Christ, as we have shown in handling of the Creed.
Fourthly, for the Scripture; we must know the Word of God stands not in bare words and letters, but in the true sense and meaning of the Holy Ghost contained in the Scripture of the prophets and apostles. Now though they have the books of Scripture, yet in sundry main grounds of religion, they overthrow the foundation of the prophets and apostles. Again, they keep the Scripture as a lantern holds a candle, not for itself but for passengers; so is the Scripture with them, not for their synagogue, but for God’s secret ones among them, for even in the midst of popery has God ever had some of His elect, who have not embraced their cursed doctrine.
Lastly, for their plea to be the mother church, we must distinguish between the ancient Church of Rome, and the strumpet that now is; the ancient Church of Rome to whom Paul wrote, was a true and famous church, and a mother church; but she is now dead and buried; and the now Roman Church is no mother church, no spouse of Christ, but the “whore of Babel,” the “mother of abominations,” from which we are commanded to depart (Rev. 18:4).
Secondly, in that Christ is brought to Jerusalem, that holy city, there to be tempted, we learn, that no holiness of place on earth can debar the devil from his temptations; he brings Christ from the wilderness to tempt Him, in the holy city even upon the holy temple he will thrust himself on “Joshua’s right hand to resist him” [Zech 3:1], though Joshua stands before the angel of the Lord to minister to the Lord. And therefore the folly of papists is egregious, that think the sign of the cross, holy water, relics, and such massing enchantments have virtue in them to free their houses, or their bodies from the assaults of Satan.
Lastly, hereby we see that change of place is but a silly cure for a troubled mind; indeed change of air may much further bodily cures; but a troubled mind has conflicts with the devil, who will not leave for change of place; Jerusalem will fit his turn as well as the wilderness.
The second part of the devil’s preparation to this conflict is this,
“and set him on a pinnacle of the temple.”
The word translated “pinnacle,” signifies properly a wing of the temple; whereby, some take to be meant, the sharp brouches and spires on the top of the temple, whereof there were divers; but these (as I take it) are not here meant; for such a spire cannot well be called a wing; others take it for some part of the battlement, made on the top of the temple, which was flat, as the Jews used to build, to keep men from falling; others take it for any top corner of the temple; and whether of these it was we cannot certainly define. But this we must hold, that it was some dangerous steep down place on some corner of the temple, or on the battlements, from which a man might easily cast himself. Whereby we see the devil will omit no advantage that may further his temptations; which should make us the more careful of our standing against him.
“And said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, that he will give his angels charge over thee, and with their hands they shall lift thee up, lest at any time thou shouldest dash thy foot against a stone” (v. 6).
These words contain the second main point in this conflict, to wit, Satan’s assault upon Christ: wherein we are to observe, first, his temptation; then the reason whereby he does enforce it. His temptation here is framed as the former was, in a kind of reasoning, thus: If Thou be the Son of God, then show the same by casting Thyself down from this pinnacle of the temple; but as I see Thou art certainly persuaded that Thou art the Son of God, therefore cast Thyself down, and thereby declare it.
Seeing this is a distinct temptation from the former, I doubt not but it must be thus framed with this conclusion, for if it had the same conclusion with the former it should be the same temptation. Satan’s meaning then is this, as if he had said: I have made trial to see expressly whether Thou be the Son of God or not, and it seems Thou dost undoubtedly believe that voice of Thy Father to be true, which said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Now if this be so indeed, it is convenient Thou shouldest confirm the same by some miracle, and the fittest place Thou canst do it, is this; therefore cast thyself down headlong from this pinnacle, and yet preserve Thyself in safety without all hurt in the fall.
The drift of Satan in this temptation was to bring our Savior Christ to a vain confidence in His Father’s protection, and indeed to flat presumption upon His extraordinary providence in the neglect of lawful ordinary means, as by Satan’s conclusion, and the answer of Christ will easily appear.
And hereby we may observe that one main drift of Satan in his ordinary temptations in God’s church, is to carry men to presumption, and vain confidence in the love, favor, and mercy of God. This appears by the strange reasonings for liberty in sin which many frame to themselves, and some are not ashamed to utter; as first, God is merciful, and Christ shed His blood for their redemption, and therefore they will not be so strict and precise in hearing sermons, and reading and conferring about the Word as many are, but they will take their pleasures and seek the profits of this life. Thus reasoned some in the apostles’ days: “Let us continue in sin that grace may abound” [Rom. 6:1]; of such Jude complains, saying, “They turn the grace of God into wantonness” [Jude 4]. Such there have been ever since, and at this day they do everywhere abound.
Secondly, some say, they are either ordained to salvation or damnation; now if to salvation, they are sure of it however they live; and if to damnation, they cannot escape it, though they live never so holily, for God’s decree is unchangeable; and therefore they will take their pleasure and live as they list.
Thirdly, others say they have ever found God’s goodness towards them, and they are persuaded He will never see them want, and therefore they will not toil themselves with labor and care as others do, but take their ease and pleasure while they may have it; and so neglect their charge and calling, and give themselves wholly to their sports and pleasures, to company keeping or such like. Yea, by this temptation to presumption, Satan oft prevails with the better sort; for if a man favors the truth, and gives himself to know religion in any sort, the devil will straightway go about to persuade him, that that which he does is sufficient to his salvation, and thus will keep him from using further means to come by the certain knowledge of his election, and full affiance in Christ Jesus, to become a perfect man in Christ, which is the end of God’s holy ministry (Eph. 4:13), whereunto we should give all diligence (2 Peter 1:10). See the truth hereof in the five foolish virgins, who carried “burning lamps, but took no oil with them” [Matt. 25:1–2], never minding that till it was too late; and so do most men content themselves with the blazing lamp of an outward profession, never looking for the oil of grace, till the time of grace be past.
Hereby then we are all taught, in special manner to beware of presumption; this is the common snare of the devil wherein he entangles many a soul. It is true indeed that he oft prevails by bringing men to desperation, but a thousand perish through presumption, almost for one by desperation; for despair is a painful thing to flesh and blood, and as the devil knows well, does sometimes turn to a man’s more sound conversion. But to presume is sweet and pleasant to the flesh, and most agreeable to man’s corrupt nature, in regard whereof we ought to keep our heart with all watch and ward, as David prays, “Keep thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Ps. 19:13).
Again, observe the order of Satan’s temptations by comparing this with the former. There he sought to overthrow Christ’s faith, and to bring Him to distrust the truth of God’s Word uttered from heaven; but finding he could not that way prevail, here he takes the clean contrary course, and seeks to bring Him to presume.
This serves to discover unto us, the deep guile and subtilty of the devil, that can so cunningly turn himself from one extreme unto another. And look as he deals here with Christ the Head, so does he continue towards all His members, if he cannot bring them to one extreme, he will assay them hard in the other. If he cannot bring a man to covetousness, and keep his heart to the love of money, then let him beware of riot and prodigality. Is a man given to pleasures and delight, and at length is deprived of them? Then let him beware, the devil swallows him not up with overmuch grief, as he sought to do with the “incestuous person” of Corinth [2 Cor. 2:7, 11]. Does a man come to love religion, that formerly was given to looseness of life? Then if it be possible the devil will carry him to schism and heresy.
The devil cannot abide that a man should keep the mean according to God’s Word (Isa. 30:21). He would have our first parents to be gods, or nobody (Gen. 3:5). And so still he labors to bring a man to some extreme. We therefore in all estates during life, must labor to keep the golden mean, as Christ here did, neither doubting on the one hand nor presuming on the other, but retaining still that blessed faith, whereby His blessed heart was firmly settled in these assaults.
Thus much for Satan’s drift. Now come to the words of this temptation.
“If thou be the Son of God, then cast thyself down”;
That is, show by this miracle that Thou art the Son of God. Mark here, the devil persuades Him not to show Himself to be the Son of God by doctrine in the execution of His ministry but “Cast thyself down,” that is, show a miracle wherein we may behold the very lively image of that natural disposition which is in all impenitent persons; they affect Christ’s miracles, but they care not for His doctrine.
Herod longed to see Christ, “and was glad of his coming” [Luke 23:8], when Pilate sent Him; yet not to hear His doctrine, for that he could not endure; else he would not have imprisoned John, and also put him to death, but “he hoped to see a miracle.” The wicked Jews desire a sign, that put Christ to death for His doctrine; yet “if he will come down from the cross,” and so miraculously save Himself, then “they will believe” (Mark 15:32).
And this venom of the old serpent has poisoned the hearts of many students in the Scriptures, who care not at all to ground themselves in the fundamental points of religion, as faith and repentance; and yet are wonderfully eager after quiddities and difficulties, wherein may appear some outward show of wit and learning; like the hypocritical Pharisees, that would “tithe mint and rue, and yet pass over judgment, and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). And the cause hereof is the want of sound grace, for natural men indeed cannot savor the things of the Spirit of God; the knowledge of Christ crucified seems foolishness unto them.
Secondly, the devil took occasion of his former temptation from Christ’s infirmity of hunger; but perceiving Christ’s sure faith in His Father’s Word by His gracious answer to that assault, here he borrows his temptation from that profession of His faith; as if he should say, Thou seemest to be resolved of the truth of Thy Father’s Word that Thou art the Son of God; and if that be true indeed, then show it by this miracle, “Cast thyself down.”
Here then behold another trick of Satan; if he cannot prevail by assaults drawn from our infirmities, then will he assay us by temptations drawn from God’s good gifts and graces in us; if he cannot keep a man in ignorance that has good gifts of wit and memory, then will he seek from his knowledge to puff him up with pride, and so mingling his poison with God’s good gifts, does cause many a one to become a bane to God’s church, that otherwise might have proved an excellent instrument therein, as might easily be shown in sundry particulars.
Thirdly, here mark how Satan’s malice is restrained, and his power limited: by God’s permission he is able to carry Christ from the wilderness to Jerusalem, and there to set Him in a most dangerous place on a wing of the temple; the thing he now desires is His destruction by casting down headlong, but that he cannot do, and therefore persuades Christ to cast Himself down, wherein we see the special providence of God over Christ Jesus in all these temptations, restraining His enemy in the thing he most desired. And the same providence does He still continue over His church for the effectual preservation of Christ’s members in all their temptations.
The devil’s unwearied desire and drift is, to bring contentions, hurliburlies and ruins into all societies in church and commonwealth; therefore the peace and tranquility of these is, and so must be acknowledged, a notable fruit of God’s blessed providence restraining the spite and malice of Satan.
Again, hence it is evident, that in temptation Satan cannot go beyond the permission of God: he can tempt Christ, yea transport His body, and set Him in a dangerous place, for thus far God permits him to go; but to cast Christ down from the pinnacle he cannot, therein comes God’s restraint. So it fares with God’s children; for the trial of His graces in them, and to chastise them for some sins, He suffers Satan to buffet them; but yet one jot of his malice beyond God’s permission he cannot show, as in Job’s affliction by him may notably appear [Job 1:12]. Which we must carefully remember for our special comfort in our most grievous assaults; God’s will permitting Satan so far must make us patient, and yet His power restraining Satan from doing worse, must give us comfort. Thus much for the temptation itself.
The reason whereby Satan enforces his temptation is taken from a testimony of Scripture:
“For it is written he shall give his angels charge over thee, etc.”
Satan hearing Christ allege Scripture for His defense against the first assault, comes now upon Him with His own weapon, that if it were possible he might foil Him after this sort: Thou showest Thyself to be the Doctor of the church, by Thine alleging of Scripture, and that, it seems, Thou makest the rule of Thine actions. Well then Thou mayest well and safely cast Thyself down hence if Thou be the Son of God, for it is written, “he shall give his angels charge over thee, and with their hands they shall lift thee up, etc.”
From this dealing of Satan, we are taught, not to embrace an opinion in religion, because a show of proof by testimony of Scripture may be given for it. But “we must try the spirits,” that is, the doctrines of men, “whether they be of God, or not” (1 John 4:1). For the devil can allege Scripture to move Christ unto presumption, and it is his usual practice, when he carries men into schisms, errors, and heresies. Reason with a man that minds to live in sin, and tell him of that dangerous state, by reason of the shortness and uncertainty of this life: will he not tell you straight, he will do as he does, and repent when he is old? For it is written, “At what time soever a sinner doth repent him of his sin, I will put all his wickedness out of my remembrance, saith the Lord” [Ezek. 18:27]; and some think three or four good words at a man’s last end will serve his turn, for the thief on the cross said no more, but, “Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” [Luke 23:42]. And all such as are trained up in the school of Satan, can easily allege Scripture to further them in evil.
But let us come to the Scripture which the devil does notoriously abuse by his allegation: it is written in Psalm 91:11. In the alleging whereof he would seem very careful and precise, at the first not omitting so much as this particle “for” which might have been left out, and yet nothing have been wanting to the force of his reason; but herein is the deepness of his policy, to cause Christ not to suspect any falsehood afterward; for towards the end, he leaves out that, on which the promise is grounded of being kept by the angel, to wit, “to keep thee in all thy ways,” that is, in all the good duties of Thy lawful calling wherein Thou shalt glorify God, and do good to others; to such as so walk in their ways does that promise belong.
Here then behold Satan’s notable fraud and craft, that can so cunningly leave out that which makes not for his purpose, and so pervert the true meaning of Scripture; this is his usual practice, in enmity against the Word to deprave the true meaning by cutting off some part, when he cannot utterly overthrow the whole. The like is the dealing of all heretics, who by cutting off and leaving out, play legerdemain with the Scripture.
The Arian holds the Bible for the Word of God; but such places as serve to prove the Godhead of Christ, he does notably abuse and pervert. The Family of Love also, does hold the Bible for the Word of God; but come to the true meaning of it, therein they fail, turning all into allegories, even most true histories, as the fall of our first parents, and such like, which are main grounds of religion in their natural sense: and the apostatical Church of Rome, does hold with us the books of the Old and New Testaments; but yet they put in and take out at their pleasure, and take from it all sense and meaning which agrees not with the determination of their holy father the pope; and thereby they overturn the Word of God, and strongly maintain their mystery of iniquity.
This dealing of Satan and his wicked miscreants with the Scripture, must make all God’s children willing to spend their strength in searching out the Scripture; for that is the only way to descry their fraud in depraving of it. This caused Christ to bid the people in His time to search the Scriptures, to learn to know Him to be the true Messiah, which the Jewish teachers did then deny. In regard whereof we must say with Moses, “Oh that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them” [Num. 11:29]! Oh that all could read and understand the Word of God! This is it, wherein all that either be, or intend to be ministers must labor especially, even to get sound knowledge and judgment in the text of Scripture. The minister must not only be able to teach the truth, but also to discern, to discover, and to confute errors and heresies, which he can never soundly do without good understanding in the text itself.
The devil knows the whole Scripture, and he will spare no text therein if he can corrupt it; therefore to rescue God’s truth out of his hands who is the father of lies, the minister must show himself a good soldier of Jesus Christ, as Paul exhorts Timothy, giving such attendance to the Word that all men may see his profiting therein [1 Tim. 4:15–16]; yea with Jeremiah, the minister must eat the books of God, and digest them in his understanding, and rejoice therein, laboring to feel them the joy of his heart [Jer. 15:16]. The devil knows that Scripture truly understood and well applied, is the only engine for the battery of his kingdom; and therefore, even from the beginning, but especially since the coming of Christ he has labored by all means to keep men from the knowledge and true understanding of them.
He it is that has brought men from the reading of the Scriptures, to betake themselves to the writings of men, as schoolmen, fathers, and such; by this means he has for many years even to this day in the Church of Rome, locked up the Scripture in an unknown tongue: yea even in God’s church the devil works mightily this way, by stealing away the affections of young students from the Bible, and ravishing them with delight in the writings of men; for thus he keeps them from the fountain of truth, that they either fall into error themselves, or be less able to discern and confute it in others. And hence come dissensions and errors into the schools of the prophets, which cannot be avoided while men leave the text of Scripture and addict themselves so much to the writings of men, for thereby he can more cunningly convey strange conceits into men’s minds: and therefore everyone that would maintain the truth in purity and sincerity must labor painfully in the text.
Secondly, God’s ministers must hereby be admonished, to be careful in alleging any text of Scripture, that the same be fit and pertinent: for to wrest the same from the proper meaning of the Holy Ghost to serve their own conceit, is the practice of Satan, which every servant of God must be far from, and therefore must not do it hand over head. Which also may serve for a good advertisement to those that use to heap up manifold allegations of Scriptures in the doctrine of a sermon, for as “in many words there cannot want iniquity,” as Solomon says [Prov. 10:19]; so in affected multiplicity of quotations can the abuse of Scripture be hardly escaped. If we deliver but a man’s testimony, honesty will compel us as near as we can to keep both his words and his meaning; much more should conscience move us in alleging the testimony of the Lord, to have careful respect to the evidence of truth: and therefore that sparing course is very commendable, whereby in quoting of Scripture men make sure to keep themselves to the Lord’s true meaning, lest by depraving His Word they become followers of Satan: and thus much for the manner of Satan’s allegation.
The truth and proper meaning of that text is now briefly to be discussed.
Psalm 91, from whence it is alleged, is a most heavenly part of Scripture, penned for the comfort of God’s people in the time of some grievous plague or sickness; and it contains a notable preservative against the plague, and by consequent against any judgment of God, to wit, true affiance and confidence in the Lord, that is the ground of all comfortable safety; thereto, among many other, is this gracious promise made of the protection of God’s holy angels [v. 11] (which the devil does here allege) who shall be as careful for the safety of God’s children in common calamities of famine, plague, pestilence, etc., as the nurse is over her tender child to hold it in her hands, and bear it up in her arms, lest it should fall and hurt itself; always provided that the child of God keep himself in His ways, that is, in obedience to God’s commandments and in the duties of his lawful calling.
It is true indeed, “that judgment begins at the house of God, and the righteous are taken away from the evil to come” [1 Peter 4:17]. Yea many times the same outward judgment lights upon the good, that does upon the bad, yet this takes not from God’s child the comfort of this protection in common calamities, for all promises of temporal blessings must be understood with the exception of the cross: as here, God’s angels shall guard His children in time of plague, famine and pestilence, unless it pleases God herewith to chasten them for some sin past, or to prevent some sin, or greater evil to come, or to make trial of their faith and patience. In which cases also the child of God does greatly differ from the wicked, for through the fruition of God’s love in Christ the evil of the punishment is taken away, and the outward smart thereof sanctified to the greater good of his soul [Job 23:10; Ps. 119:71]; but out of this case their protection is certain (Ex. 12:23; Ps. 105:16–17; Ezek. 9:4–6).
The consideration of this gracious protection of God’s angels over such as keep themselves in their ways, must move everyone to labor to know and practice the duties of his calling both generally of Christianity, and particularly for the state of his life, in all good conscience; so doing, let come what will, in all dangers he shall have safety; for God’s angels pitch their tents about him, they are as watchful over him as a nurse over her child. But if we forsake our ways we lose the comfort of their protection, and expose ourselves to all God’s judgments.
“Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (v. 7).
Here is the third general point in this conflict: to wit, Christ’s answer and repulse made to Satan’s assault, taken, as the devil’s temptation was, from a text of Scripture; for He says, “Again it is written”; where yet He means not to oppose Scripture to Scripture, but to confute the abuse of Scripture by Scripture; after this sort, as if He had said to Satan, It is true indeed that God has made many worthy promises of aid and protection to His children in His Word, yet they shall not be performed to those that presume to tempt God, as you would have Me to do.
From this dealing of Christ with Satan, we may observe that the Scriptures of God are sufficient in themselves, truly to interpret and expound themselves. The devil alleging Scripture did wrest it from the true sense; this our Savior Christ shows by alleging another text out of Moses [Deut. 6:16], which being applied to the place which the devil abused, does show the true meaning thereof. So Ezra, expounding the law unto the Jews, “read distinctly in the law of God, and (as the words do signify) gave the sense by Scripture, and caused the people to understand” [Neh. 8:8]. Much more then at this day may the Scriptures be thought sufficient for the expounding of themselves, since to the canon thereof since Ezra’s time there is added the whole New Testament by the hand of God, wherein the deep things of God are plainly revealed.
The Church of Rome cannot away with this, that Scripture should be sufficient to expound itself. And therefore against it they reason thus: That which must expound Scripture, must have judicial power to determine of the sense thereof; but the Scriptures have no such judicial power, for they are but a dumb letter, and therefore no sufficient judge to determine of their own sense and meaning.
The Scriptures have judicial power to determine of their own true sense and meaning, for they speak evidently, to all that are enlightened by God’s Spirit, and thereby made able to know what the Scripture says. We know a man may speak to his friend not only by word of mouth but also by letter, and thereby express his meaning sufficiently; even so, though God speaks not now unto His church by created voice, yet by His written Word He speaks sufficiently for the clear manifestation of His will and pleasure concerning them; and therefore it is a shameful slander and blasphemy against the Scriptures to call them an inky letter and dumb judge. And let them show, if the Scripture be not, where is that speaking judge who has judicial power to expound the Scripture. Indeed their answer is that the church is this judge, and that we must consult at her mouth for the true meaning of the Scripture.
The church has a ministry and dispensation committed unto her, in the execution whereof she delivers the meaning of the Scripture unto God’s people, but that is not from any judicial authority committed unto her, to determine of the sense of Scripture of herself; but only by comparing Scripture with Scripture, and expounding one place out of another; even as the lawyer gives the sense of the law, not from any judicial power given unto him above the law, but by observing the words with the scope and circumstances of the law.
But here I would know, if the church must needs be judge, by what means must she determine?
They answer, by the rule of faith; the consent of councils and fathers; and if these fail, then by the pope.
By their rule of faith, they understand, unwritten traditions, that is, such truth beside Scripture, as has been kept by tradition from hand to hand since the primitive church. But these are mere forgeries, and shame it were to subject the truth of God to the device of man; if these be made judge of Scripture, then shall the faith of the church depend upon the “wisdom of man,” and not upon the “power of God,” a thing abhorred of the apostle (1 Cor. 2:5). The only rule of faith is the Scripture, and true faith will admit no other judge beside the Scripture to determine of that whereon it must depend.
Secondly, for their consent of fathers and councils, that is no sufficient means to determine of the true sense of Scripture. For their several errors and contradictions one to another, and many times to themselves, show that they wanted the immediate assistance of the Spirit. And the same is true of the pope, as might easily be proved at large, by their gross ignorance and errors. And therefore it remains that the true judge and expounder of Scripture is Scripture itself, as Christ Himself by His practice shows in this place.
The place alleged by Christ is this commandment of God unto His people,
“Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” [Deut. 6:16].
For the understanding whereof we must search out three things: first, what the tempting of God signifies; secondly, the manner how God is tempted; and thirdly, the cause and root thereof.
For the first, to tempt God signifies, to make trial and experience of God, and to prove whether He be so true, just, merciful, provident and powerful as His Word reports Him to be. Thus did the Israelites often tempt God, as the Lord says, “When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works” [Ps. 95:9]; which latter words show what it is to tempt God, even to seek to have proof by His works whether He be such a one as His Word says He is. If any shall say we are commanded, “to taste and see how gracious the Lord is” (Ps. 34:8), yea the Lord bids His people “prove him” (Mal. 3:10).
Those places do sufficiently expound themselves, for David’s taste and sight is by the grace of true faith and affiance, for in the same verse he pronounces such blessed; and in Malachi the Lord bids them prove Him, but yet in their way of obedience in providing for His sanctuary according to His ordinances.
Therefore we must know for the second point, that every trial of God is not simply evil, but that which is needless, when without warrant from His Word we presume upon Him beyond the means of His ordinary providence.
Thirdly, the root of this sin is an unbelieving heart, whereby a man doubts of the truth of God’s Word, of His power, presence and providence. “The Israelites tempted God in their hearts” (Ps. 78:18); there is this sin. The manner how follows, “in requiring meat for their lusts, etc.,” not contenting themselves with God’s present providence; the root and ground whereof is set down, “because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his help” (v. 22).
When a man doubts of the fidelity of his servant, he will lay something in his way, as a piece of silver, his purse, etc., to try him withal; so when a man begins to doubt of God’s goodness and fidelity towards him, he will easily be brought to make needless trial of Him by some work of God beside His ordinary providence. The meaning then is this, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,” that is, you shall not make any needless trial of God’s goodness, mercy, power or providence, from a distrustful heart in the truth of His Word.
Here yet further for our instruction we are to know that God is tempted five ways, as the Word of God does manifest: first, when a man shall appoint unto God, either the time when, the place where, or the manner how God shall help him, and perform His Word unto him; herein he seeks experience of the truth and power of God. Thus the Israelites tempted God in the wilderness when they wanted water, saying, “Is God among us or no?” [Ex. 17:7]. God had promised to be with them in all their journey to Canaan, but that they will not now believe unless He will show His presence by giving them water in that place. And so likewise they tempted Him in the want of food, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” (Ps. 78:19). The consideration whereof must teach us in all our petitions which we make unto God for the accomplishment of His promises unto us, to beware of limiting God, as the Jews did, by prescribing unto Him time, place and manner for the accomplishment thereof [Ps. 78:41], but wait with patience His good leisure. For he that believes will not make haste, but will “commit his way to the Lord” (Ps. 37:5).
Secondly, God is tempted when men require a sign at His hands. Thus the Pharisees tempted Christ: “Master, we would see a sign of thee” (Matt. 12:38), meaning thereby to be certified whether He were the Messiah, and Luke says, “they tempted him” (Luke 11:16). And thus do all those tempt God, which refuse to embrace the doctrine of the gospel, because they cannot see the ministers thereof confirm the same by miracles. Thus do many papists plead against our religion, embracing rather the mystery of iniquity, because it is confirmed unto them by lying wonders; not considering that the truth which we profess was once sufficiently confirmed to be the truth of God, by His own testimony thereunto in signs and wonders through the hands of the apostles.
Is every asking of a sign a tempting of God? For Gideon asked a sign when he was to be a judge and deliverer of God’s people (Judg. 6:17). And so did Hezekiah to be assured of the lengthening of his days (2 Kings 20:8). And yet we read not that God charged them with tempting Him, but did condescend to their requests.
There be two causes in which we may require a sign of God and not tempt Him: first, when God commands a man to ask a sign at His hands, so might Ahaz have asked a sign of God, for his assurance of victory according to God’s promise [Isa. 7:11–12], yea he is blamed for not asking it when the Lord commanded him.
Secondly, a man may ask a sign of God, when it serves for the necessary confirmation of an extraordinary calling, or of some special promise of God made to man; in this case did Gideon ask a sign of God for the further confirmation of his extraordinary calling to be a deliverer unto God’s people.
And so did Hezekiah for his further assurance in the lengthening of his life, by an extraordinary promise, fifteen years. But outside of these cases to ask a sign of God is to tempt Him; as the Pharisees did, who would prescribe unto God what kind of miracle they would have, even a sign from heaven, not contenting themselves with those miracles which Christ did ordinarily work among them.
Thirdly, a man tempts God when he goes on in any sin against God’s commandments, for hereby he makes needless trial of God’s justice, mercy, and patience. The Lord says of His people, “they tempted him ten times, and have not obeyed his voice” [Num. 14:22]. “The people murmuringly say, they that work wickedness are set up, and they that tempt God are delivered” (Mal. 3:15), where working wickedness and tempting of God are all one. Which serves to admonish us that with all speed we break off the course of our sins by repentance, for while we continue in sin we tempt God, and so lie open to all His judgments, depriving ourselves of the guard and protection of God’s holy angels, nay they will become our enemies, and instead of protection, execute God’s heavy vengeance upon us.
Fourthly, they tempt God that impose upon God’s people the religious observation of legal ceremonies abolished by Christ: “Why tempt ye God (says Peter) to lay a yoke on the disciples’ necks, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). This is to make trial of God’s power in the saving of His people. Whereby we may see how wicked and damnable the Romish religion is, which wholly stands in the observation of ceremonies, partly heathenish, and partly Judaical, whereto when men submit themselves, they do nothing else but tempt God.
Fifthly, they tempt God, that refuse or neglect the ordinary and necessary means of their preservation, either for body or soul, as he that being to go over a water, will leave the bridge which is the ordinary way, and adventure dangerously through the water. For herein he seeks a needless experience of God’s power; so do they also that neglect or condemn God’s holy ordinance for the saving of men’s souls in the ministry of the Word. Now to this kind of tempting God does Christ apply this commandment in this place; as if He should say, “When God has afforded unto men an ordinary means for their help and safety, they are not to refuse the same, and to seek for safety from God extraordinarily. I am now in a dangerous place I confess, upon this pinnacle, yet there is some ordinary way to get down as stairs or ladder; and therefore unless I would tempt ‘the Lord my God,’ I may not cast Myself down, and thereby seek for extraordinary preservation, as you persuade Me.”
Thus also they sin that go into places of great danger without a calling; so Peter sinned in thrusting himself into Caiaphas’s hall, a place of temptation, as by lamentable experience he found too true. Thus David’s three worthies sinned in adventuring upon their enemies’ host, for the fetching of a little water out of the well of Bethlehem; and therefore when it was brought unto him, “David would not drink thereof, but poured it out for a sacrifice unto the Lord” (2 Sam. 23:16).
Here some may ask whether they do not tempt God that adventure to climb on high places, to stand on spire steeples, to run on the ridge of high houses, and to go on ropes a great height from the ground.
Men may do such things in a twofold estate, either having a lawful calling thereto, as carpenters and masons, who are to work upon high buildings; now they without tempting of God may climb and stand on high and dangerous places; or else having no lawful calling thereto, as they who use to do such things to make known their activity, or only to afford delight and admiration unto others for their private gain and advantage. Such tempt God fearfully; for Christ was better able to have cast Himself down from this pinnacle, and have preserved Himself without hurt, than these men are to save themselves in their adventures, and yet He refused so to do, because He would not tempt the Lord His God. Thus much for the meaning of this commandment.
The doctrine for instruction hence, is to be gathered from this command applied to the text which the devil alleges, and it is this:
Whosoever looks for the accomplishment of God’s promises unto him, must be careful to walk before God in the ways of His commandments, and in the works of his calling with all good conscience. God indeed has made many gracious promises in His Word, of blessings temporal and eternal, but they that tempt God shall not find the comfort of them. Men’s sins hinder these things from them; God’s goodness is to be seen and tasted in the ways of faith and obedience. God has promised the guard of His angels to His children while they keep themselves in their ways; if therefore you would have this protection, you must keep yourself in those ways that God would have you to walk in.
Also in the riches of His love God has made a promise of everlasting life with freedom from eternal perdition, to those that believe in Christ (John 3:16). You therefore that would enjoy the comfort of this promise to your immortality and life, must get true faith into your heart and thereby live all the days of your life. The same may be said of every promise of God pertaining either to soul or body; the fruition of them does depend upon the practice of some part of obedience, which if you do neglect you do but presume in making title to the promise. Peter tells Simon Magus plainly, “he had no part with them in the gifts of the Spirit,” while his heart retained a purpose to live in sin (Acts 8:21). Break off therefore the course of sin, and inure yourself to the practice of obedience, so shall God’s promises be sweet unto your heart; and the more you proceed in obedience, the more comfort you shall find in God’s gracious promises. But if you do lay hold on sin, the comfort of the world will depart from you. And thus much for the second temptation.
William Perkins, 2014, 1, 120–138.