A general view of the strange combat between our Savior Christ and Satan
The description of this combat between Christ and Satan contains
1. A preface or preparation, consisting of
Christ’s going forth to the place of combat (v. 1)
Christ’s abode and conversing in that place (v. 2)
2. The combat itself, consisting of three great conflicts:
First, tending to bring Christ to unbelief; and it consists of
Satan’s preparation thereto (v. 3)
The temptation itself (v. 3)
Christ’s repulse thereof (v. 4)
Second, tending to bring Christ to presumption; containing
Satan’s preparation (v. 5)
The assault or temptation (v. 6)
Christ’s repulse and answer (v. 7)
Third, tending to bring Christ to idolatry; containing
Satan’s preparation (v. 8)
The assault or temptation (v. 9)
Christ’s repulse and answer (v. 10)
3. A happy issue and event thereof, consisting of
Satan’s departing from Christ (v. 11)
The angels ministering to Christ (v. 11)
“Resist the devil and he will flee: draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”—James 4:7–8.
The true grace of faith enables us to both; for
“Whom resist steadfast in the faith”—1 Peter 5:9, “Let us draw near with a true heart in assurance of faith”—Heb. 10:22.
The Combat between Christ and the Devil Expounded
The eleven first verses of this chapter do contain a brief description of Christ’s temptations, whereof I have chosen to entreat, having formerly handled the doctrine of conscience, because all that endeavor either to get or keep a good conscience, are most of all subject to temptations. Now here we have the special temptations of the devil wherewith he assaulted our Savior Christ, and in Christ’s example the best way to avoid the same. This description consists of three distinct parts: First, a preface or preparation to a combat between Christ and the devil (vv. 1–2). Secondly, the combat or conflict itself (vv. 3–10). Thirdly, the issue or event of this combat (v. 11).
Part 1: The Preparation
The preparation to the combat has two parts: First, Christ’s going forth to that place where the combat was to be fought (v. 1). Secondly, His abode and conversing in that place (v. 2).
The first part of the preparation
“Then was Jesus led aside of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (v. 1).16 Christ’s going forth to the place is set out by sundry circumstances of the evangelists: as, the time when He went; the author of His going; the manner how He went furnished; the place whither He went; and the end wherefore.
The time when Christ went forth to be tempted is noted in this word “Then”: what time this was, we shall see in the end of the former chapter, where is set down the baptism of our Savior Christ by John in the River Jordan; as also the great honor and majesty wherewith He was there renowned: for it pleased Christ for special end and purpose to be baptized, not as we are, to put off sin, for He had none; but to be ordained a Mediator for us, that putting on our sin He might bear the burden thereof in our stead. Again, in His baptism He was distinctly proclaimed, the Doctor of His church: for immediately thereupon, “The Holy Ghost descended upon him like a dove,” and a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my well-beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” Now so soon as Christ was thus solemnly inaugurated into His office, and proclaimed from heaven to be the sole Doctor and Prophet of God’s church, even “then” immediately without any delay was He driven forth, as Mark says (1:12).
In that Christ is no sooner baptized, but He is presently tempted, we learn that all those who are truly baptized into Christ must make account to be tempted, and prepare for a combat with the devil, even through the whole course of their lives: for if Satan durst be so bold as to encounter with Christ Jesus the Head of the church after His baptism, then doubtless he will not spare any of His members who are but weak and sinful men. Again, in baptism a man gives up his name unto God, promising therein forever to renounce all service to the devil, the flesh and the world; and contrariwise to believe in God, and to serve Him; and this vow being thus made, it is the will of God he should be tempted, that in the school of temptation he might learn to practice his baptism.
But here most men will say, they never felt by experience in themselves the truth of this doctrine; for they have not perceived any such combat in themselves, though they have been baptized many years ago.
Answer. Such men, whatsoever they be, have indeed the outward baptism of water, but they never yet received the inward baptism of the Spirit; they wear Christ’s livery, but as yet they do service unto Satan; and though they have been made partakers of the seals of the covenant, yet still they abide within the kingdom of darkness; for Christ here teaches by His own example, that all those who have received the inward baptism of the Spirit, whereby they have effectually put off sin, and put on the Lord Jesus, are as sure to be tempted by Satan as Himself was. Therefore let such persons as never yet felt in themselves this spiritual conflict, now begin to reform their lives, and to perform their vow of baptism, and they shall undoubtedly find in themselves the truth of this doctrine, that all that are baptized into Christ, shall be tempted of the devil.
So long as the children of Israel continued under Pharaoh’s bondage, they were not pursued by his army; but when they set their faces toward the land of Canaan, then presently he makes after them, with all his might and malice; even so, while men live in sin and submit themselves to Satan’s spiritual bondage, he will suffer all things to be in peace with them; but if once they set their hearts on the heavenly Canaan, and give themselves sincerely to God’s service, then will he with all his force pursue them, and meet them with armies of temptations to turn them back into their old way of sin again.
The silly bird that is in the snare or under the net, so long as she lies still feels no harm; but when she stirs and offers to get away, then begins her pain, and the more she strives, the more she finds herself ensnared: so fares it with silly men, while they live in sin securely, they are not troubled with Satan’s temptations; but when they begin to leave their bad courses, and settle themselves to serve the Lord, then presently the devil seeks to spread his net to entangle them in his snare. The consideration whereof must teach us, “to watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation” [Matt. 26:41]; and (as Paul says) “to put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the assaults of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).
Firstly, in that our Savior Christ after His solemn inauguration into His mediatorship, was immediately to go to be tempted, we learn, that all those that are set apart by God to any special calling, even at their very entrance thereinto must look for temptations. This befell the Head, and therefore all the members must reckon for it. When Moses was first called to be the guide and conductor of God’s people out of Egypt, having slain an Egyptian in defense of one of his brethren, upon knowledge of the fact he was fain to fly from Pharaoh’s court into the land of Midian, and there to live a shepherd’s life for many years with his father-in-law Jethro [Ex. 2:15].
And David was no sooner appointed by God to be king over His people Israel, but Saul began to persecute him, and so continued all his days [1 Sam. 18:9, 11]. And our Savior Christ, having called His apostles to their office of preaching His kingdom, took them soon after to the sea, and there falling asleep suffered their ship to be so tossed with waves in a great tempest, that they looked for nothing but present drowning, so as they cried out, “Master save us, we perish” [Matt. 8:23–25]. And this the Lord does in great wisdom for the good of His children: first to teach them, that no man is able of himself to carry himself in any acceptable course of his calling without God’s special assistance and grace.
Secondly, to stir up in them those good gifts and graces which He has formerly bestowed on them; as the fear of His name, the love of His majesty, the gifts of prayer, faith, patience, and many other which He would have tried in the entrance of their callings, and exercised in the continuance therein unto the end.
Thirdly, seeing Christ begins His prophetic office of teaching His church with temptations, this should admonish all ministers of the Word, that howsoever all God’s people must prepare themselves against Satan’s temptations, yet they must do it above the rest; for look as in a pitched field, the enemy aims principally at the standard-bearer, even so Satan and his instruments, do among all God’s people, bend their greatest forces against the ministers of Christ which hold up His scepter, and display His banner in the preaching of the gospel. When “Joshua the high priest stood before the Lord, Satan stood at his right hand to resist him” (Zech. 3:1). And when Ahab went to fight against the king of Syria, Satan became a lying spirit in the mouth of four hundred prophets and more (1 Kings 22:22). This is that “great red dragon, that with his tail drew down the third part of the stars of heaven,” that is, of the ministers and preachers of the Word, and “cast them to the earth” (Rev. 12:3–4). This is he that “desired to winnow the disciples as wheat” (Luke 22:31). And as the king of Aram said of Ahab, “fight not against small nor great, but against the king of Israel only” (1 Kings 22:31). So Satan fights not against any so much as the prophets of Israel, the ministers of the church.
Fourthly,24 in that Christ is tempted before He goes to preach, we learn that it is good and profitable for God’s ministers to be exercised with temptations even of Satan himself, and that for sundry causes; first, that they may know what temptations mean [2 Cor. 2:11]; secondly, that they may be the more able to minister help and comfort to those that are tempted [2 Cor. 1:4]; thirdly, to make them understand the Word of God aright, for many places of Scripture cannot so well be understood by bare study only, as by “temptations therewithal” [Acts 5:24–25]; and it is true which one says well, “Reading, meditation, prayer, and temptation, make a divine.”25
The author or efficient cause of Christ’s going forth; to wit, the Holy Ghost, noted in these words, “was led by the Spirit.” The word “led,” in the original signifies thus much, that Jesus was carried apart by the Spirit; which must not be understood of any local transportation of His body from the river to the wilderness, as Elijah was carried from earth to heaven [2 Kings 2:11]; or as Philip was taken away from the eunuch, and carried to Azotus [Acts 8:39–40]; but it was a motion of the Holy Ghost, wherewith Christ was filled above measure and made willing to encounter with Satan in that combat. For so are the words by Saint Luke, “being full of the Holy Ghost he returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” [Luke 4:1], that is, by the inward motion and instinct of God’s Spirit; again, Saint Mark saying, “the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” [Mark 1:12], gives us further to understand, that this motion in Christ from the Spirit, was a peculiar motion, not forced or constrained, but voluntary, and yet very strong and effectual.
Again, by “the Spirit” here, is not meant the devil or an evil spirit, but the Holy Spirit of God. He it was that moved Christ to go into the wilderness; so that the meaning is this: after Christ was baptized in Jordan by John, He willingly took His journey into the wilderness, being moved thereunto by a special and strong instinct of God’s Holy Spirit, wherewith He was filled above measure. If any ask, how Christ could be “led” by the Spirit, seeing He sends the Spirit: Answer. These two may well stand together, for Christ must be considered two ways: first as man in the form of a servant; secondly, as God, even the Son of God, yea God Himself. Now as Christ was man, He was subject to God’s providence, and so was led and guided by the Holy Ghost; but as He is God, He is not subject to providence, but is the author thereof, and is not Himself led or sent, but together with the Father sends the Spirit.
In this circumstance we may observe, first, the exceeding holiness of Christ’s manhood, in that He moved not from one place to another, without the special instinct and direction of the Spirit of God. By which example we are taught to suffer ourselves to be ordered and guided by the Spirit of God in everything we take in hand, yea in all our thoughts, words and deeds; for this is the true note of every child of God “to be led by the Spirit” (Rom. 8:14), where the apostle uses the same word that Saint Luke does speaking of this leading of our Savior to be tempted. We must therefore labor to be of David’s disposition, to have our hearts pliable to all God’s testimonies; when God said, “Seek ye my face,” David’s heart answered, “I seek thy face O Lord” (Ps. 27:8), and thus doing, we shall suffer ourselves to be directed and guided by the Holy Ghost, for He teaches and guides men by the Word.
Secondly, from this that Christ was led unto temptation by the Spirit of God, we learn that temptations come not by chance, nor yet by the will and pleasure of the devil only: for he could not touch Job, or ought he had “till God gave him leave” [Job 1:12]; or enter into the herd of swine, till Christ said, “go” [Matt. 8:32]; but temptations come by God’s most just permission, and not without His special providence and appointment. This combat of Christ with Satan was decreed of God by His special appointment in His eternal counsel. And therefore was Christ led by the Spirit to encounter with the devil, that He might perform this one work of a Mediator, namely, in temptation overcome him, who by temptation overcame all mankind. And as God appointed this combat of our Savior, so has He also ordained the temptations of every Christian and the circumstances thereof: the theater or place of this combat is this present evil world; the actors are Satan and every Christian; the beholders are men and angels (1 Cor. 4:9). The umpire and judge is God Himself, who overrules Satan, so as the issue cannot but be happy and blessed to those that fight manfully; for “he casteth away none that be mighty and valiant of courage” (Job 36:5). “He will give an issue with the temptations” (1 Cor. 10:13), from whence we learn sundry good instructions.
First, when we are tossed and tried by manifold temptations, we must not think it strange, but rather “count it exceeding great joy” (James 1:2), because it is God’s blessed will and ordinance that Satan and every Christian should enter combat and conflict, for the trial of His graces in them.
Secondly, we are hereby taught to labor with patience to bear all trials and afflictions, not using unlawful means to wind ourselves out of them, because they come by the special providence of the Almighty.
Thirdly, Christ went not to be tempted till He was led by the Spirit; therefore no man must wittingly put himself into danger without a calling from God, lest therein he tempt God. Indeed a man may be moved extraordinarily, to offer himself into places of danger; thus “Paul went bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem” [Acts 20:22], that is, he willingly followed the motion of the Holy Ghost, which inwardly enforced him to go thither. And the same may be said of many holy martyrs, who though they might have escaped by flight, yet did willingly offer themselves into the hands of their persecutors, and endured the violence of their torments, which we must think they did by a special motion of the Holy Ghost; otherwise, for a man to offer himself into danger without all warrant from God, is to swerve from the practice of Christ in this place.
Fourthly, Christ being led by the Spirit, did not seek to shroud Himself from this combat; so likewise if a man follows his calling according to God’s will, and thereupon falls into troubles and temptations, he may not seek to escape them by neglecting his duty, but with courage and patience must inure himself to bear them, waiting on the Lord by well-doing for his deliverance. Here it may well be asked, whether a man can lawfully and with good conscience abide in those places which are certainly known to be haunted with evil spirits?
Answer. Some indeed are so venturous and bold that they fear nothing, yet the truth is, no man ought on his own head abide or lodge in such places, unless it be within the compass of his calling, or else have a true extraordinary motion of God’s Spirit so to do. We are therefore rather to avoid them, than wittingly and willingly thrust ourselves into the danger of such places; for if God has given liberty unto Satan to possess such places as have been consecrated to idolatry, or defiled by oppression and blood, or such like abominations, why should we without warrant from God, put ourselves into his hands? This also may serve to reprove those men who presume so much upon their strong faith, that they never stick to thrust themselves into most lewd company; but let such persons beware, for places of bad company are places of danger by reason of that power and liberty which Satan has among them, for there he has “a throne” (Rev. 2:13).
How then can it be, that they should clean escape the infection of sin, who do usually converse with those that commit it without control? “He that walketh with the wise (says Solomon) shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be made worse” [Prov. 13:20], so the words signify; and therefore his counsel is, “not to consent when sinners entice us” [Prov. 1:10], nor to “make friendship with the angry person, nor to go with the furious, lest we learn their ways and receive destruction to our souls” [Prov. 22:24].
Fifthly, in this leading of Christ by the Spirit, we learn a further thing: so long as Christ was a private man He lived with Joseph and Mary a private life; but being baptized, and thereby installed into the office of Mediator, He returns not to Bethlehem or Nazareth where He was born and brought up, but gets Him presently into the wilderness, there to encounter with Satan, and that by the motion of the Spirit; wherein we may see, that all that are appointed and set apart by God for any special calling, are in some sort changed by His Spirit, and as it were made other men. When Saul was anointed to be king, the text says, “God gave him another heart” (1 Sam. 10:9). And when David was made of a shepherd a king, he was furnished for that place, as his behavior showed, which was such as did beseem a king [Ps. 78:71–72].
Thus the apostles of our Savior Christ, of poor fishermen, altogether “unlettered” [Acts 4:13], by the gift of Christ’s calling, “were made able ministers of the New Testament” [2 Cor. 3:6], and so became indeed “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Which serves to confute such men as plead extraordinary callings, as many have done; some saying they were Elijah, some John the Baptist, etc. For if these were such men, and had received such extraordinary callings, then should they withal have been endued with extraordinary gifts fit for those callings; but no such thing befalls them, nay it is plain, they remain the same men they were before, without any change at all in respect of gifts fit for such persons as they pretend themselves to be.
And to apply this to ourselves: we are all by nature the children of wrath, and enemies unto God; but by grace we are made kings, priests, and prophets; kings to rule over the world and the devil, in respect of their provocations unto sin, as also to subdue in ourselves our own evil lusts and affections; priests to offer up spiritual sacrifices unto God, as prayers and praises for His daily blessings; and prophets to instruct ourselves and others in the ways of God, according to our gifts and calling. Now then it behooves us all to become new men, and to lead new lives fitting and suitable to our holy calling, giving ourselves wholly to the honor and service of God, showing hereby that we are hereunto called by His Spirit of grace and holiness, so shall we “walk worthy of the Lord” [Col. 1:10], and “show forth the virtues of him that hath called us” (1 Peter 2:9).
How Christ went furnished into this place of combat: which though our evangelist Matthew has omitted, yet has Saint Luke plainly noted, saying, “He was filled with the Holy Ghost” (Luke 4:1). If any shall say, this seems to import that Christ wanted the fullness of the Spirit all the former part of His life, if now only after His baptism He were filled therewith. I answer, this fullness of the Spirit is ascribed unto Christ after His baptism, not as though He formerly sustained any want of the Spirit, but because at His baptism He received a greater measure of the Spirit than He had before. For this we must know, that Christ was always filled with the Spirit; being an infant He had a full measure of gifts fit for His infancy, and still as His growth in years required more graces of the Spirit, He increases therein, having in His youth and in His riper years full measure of gifts fit for His estate in those times. And at His baptism being inaugurated into His mediatorship, He received such fullness of the Spirit as was behooveful for so high an office, which because it was far greater than before He needed, therefore is He now said “to be filled with the Holy Ghost,” so that though Christ were always full of grace, yet He increased therein as His estate and calling did require.
This serves to confute the papists, who teach that Christ had all fullness of Spirit in His infancy, even from His conception and birth; and did not grow in grace at all, save only experimentally, as He had occasion to manifest the same more and more in practice. But Saint Luke says plainly, that “Jesus increased in wisdom, and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Again, Christ was like unto man in all things, “sin only excepted” [Heb. 4:15], and therefore did increase in grace as man does in gifts from time to time.
Further, Christ goes thus furnished to this combat that He might be able to encounter with Satan hand to hand, and at the end give him the final overthrow. Thus He furnished Moses for his ambassage unto Pharaoh [Ex. 4:11–12]; and David for his combat with Goliath [1 Sam. 17:15]; Oholiab and Bezalel for the work of the Tabernacle [Ex. 35:30–31]; and everyone whom God employs about any special work, is furnished and fitted thereto of God with special gifts. Whereby in every age we may see whom God places in any calling, for they are well qualified for the duties thereof; and therefore those that want gifts meet for their callings, do thrust in themselves thereto, and are not placed therein of God.
Whither was Christ led to be tempted? Namely, “into the wilderness,” that is the place chosen of God for this combat. There be divers opinions touching this place; some think it was a little wilderness between Jerusalem and Jericho; some the desert of Palestine; others, the great desert of Arabia, where Elijah fasted forty days and forty nights, and where the Israelites wandered forty years. But seeing the Holy Ghost does not define what wilderness this was, we are not curiously to inquire after it, but only know it was a desert and solitary place.
Let us rather search into the reasons wherefore He chose a desert place for this combat; and they are divers: first, because He was to work our redemption in great humility, even in the base and low estate of a servant, for the satisfying of God’s justice in that nature which had sinned; therefore He would not go to Jerusalem there to show His glory and Godhead, as a little before He was proclaimed in His baptism, but He gets Himself to a desert place void of all pomp and glory, where He meant to begin this great work for us by encountering with our chief adversary.
Secondly, He chose this place for the more easy encountering with our adversary Satan, whom He was to overcome for us: for if Christ after His baptism should have shown the glory of His Godhead, Satan durst not have meddled with Him; therefore as the fisher hides the hook and shows the bait to entice the fish, so our Savior Christ with the veil of His flesh in this base estate and solitary place did cover the glory of His Godhead, that Satan seeing Him only in this low degree, might be the more eager and bold to set upon Him.
Thirdly, Christ was willing to give unto His adversary the advantage of the place, that therewithal He might give him the greater overthrow; for the devil delights in desert and forlorn places [Mark 5:5], and there he would choose to practice his temptations, because in such places men want those helps and comforts which in society they may find. Hence Solomon says, “Woe be to him that is alone” [Eccl. 4:10]; yea, God Himself said of man in the state of his innocence, “It is not good for man to be himself alone” [Gen. 2:18]. And that Satan takes advantage of such solitariness, appears by his tempting of Eve, when she was apart from her husband (Gen. 3:1).
Fourthly, the praise and honor of this victory over Satan was peculiar to Christ, and not communicable to any creature; and therefore Christ chose a desert place for this combat apart from all human society, that no man might challenge any part of this glory to himself, but that it might be wholly Christ’s, as of right it was.
Fifthly, He went into a desert place for a time, that afterward He might thence return with more credit, reverence and authority to exercise His prophetic office; for we see by experience that when a man has been abroad for some time, he is received with more reverence at his return.
From hence the Church of Rome would fetch a ground and warrant for their monastic life, saying, that as Christ went apart into this desert, so may men sequester themselves from ordinary societies, and live as monks and hermits in cloisters, woods and deserts. But this collection is absurd, as may appear by these reasons: first, Christ went not thus apart on His own head, but by the instinct and motion of the Spirit of God, but the papists admit and undertake the state of hermitic and monastic life without any warrant in God’s Word. Secondly, Christ did thus sequester Himself but once for a certain time, but with them, a hermitic estate is ordinary and perpetual for their whole life. Thirdly, our Savior Christ fasted truly all the while He abode in the wilderness, but papists in their cloisters and hermitages do plentifully enjoy the wealth of the world in great ease and liberty. And therefore howsoever solitariness for a time may be commendable in some cases, as to meditate on the works or Word of God, as Isaac did (Gen. 24:63), or for the exercise of prayer and fasting in more earnest manner, yet the hermit’s life being a perpetual forsaking of human societies, is neither warrantable by God’s Word, nor commendable in God’s child.
The end why Christ went into the desert; namely, to be tempted of the devil, wherein observe three points: how He was tempted, wherefore, and by whom.
For the first; to tempt in Scripture is ascribed to God, to man, and to the devil. God tempts man, when He proves him; that is, when He makes manifest what is in his heart for sin or grace, which before were hid to the world. Thus God tempted Abraham in the offering up of his son (Gen. 22:1), and Christ [tempted] the ruler (Luke 18:22). Man tempts God, when he proves by unlawful means whether God be so powerful, just and merciful as the Scriptures do affirm Him to be; and thus the Israelites tempted God, when they “required meat for their lust,” and said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” (Ps. 78:18–19). The devil tempts when he allures unto sin, by inward suggestions or outward objects; and hereof must we understand Christ’s tempting in this place; to wit, that He was led into the wilderness for this end that Satan might assault Him, and use what means he could to bring Him unto sin.
If any shall think it was too much derogatory to the dignity of Christ to be thus tempted, I answer: if it had so pleased Him, Christ could have confounded the devil with the least word of His mouth; for as He is Creator of heaven and earth, so Satan has no power to tempt Him, “for God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13). But here Christ stood in our room and stead (as He did upon the cross) encountering with Satan for us, as if we in our own persons had been tempted. This therefore must be understood as a part of Christ’s humiliation in His manhood, whereto He subjected Himself for our sakes, otherwise the devil could not have tempted Him.
Objection. This stands not with the holiness of Christ as He is man to be tempted of Satan?
Answer. Yes, He might be tempted of Satan without sin, as our first parents were before their fall; this will plainly appear by comparing Christ with other men in their temptations.
The devil in tempting a man to sin, first conveys into his mind, either by inward suggestion, or by outward object, the motion or cogitation of that sin which he would have him to commit. Thus he tempted Judas, by casting into him this evil thought, “Judas, betray thy Master” [John 13:29]. And so deals he with Christ in this temptation, he conveys to His mind or apprehension, the unrighteous cogitations of unbelief, idolatry, and covetousness; yet so as Christ received them not, but with all power of grace repelled them.
Secondly, as Satan conveys evil suggestions into men’s minds, so the same are full of trouble, sorrow, and vexation, at least to the godly; for when Satan presses upon man his temptations, the whole man is disquieted, his thoughts and affections are troubled, and his heart is vexed. And this also was in Christ, He felt sorrow and molestation in Himself through these temptations, as appears by His “Avant Satan” upon his last assault. And thus far was Christ tempted like unto men.
Thirdly, in temptations usually be corrupt motions; for though a man does not approve, neither entertain with delight, the devil’s temptations, yet shall he hardly keep himself from the stain and taint of sin, because the imaginations of his own heart are naturally evil. Now herein Christ differs from all men in temptation; for being perfectly holy in His human nature, He did not in the least measure receive any corruption into His mind, but by the power of grace did repel them more strongly than they were offered. Put a burning match to tinder or gunpowder, and it will kindle presently; but put it into water, and that will quench it straight. So it fares in temptations; our corrupt hearts like tinder do easily suffer corruption to kindle in us; but Christ’s most holy heart did presently like water quench the evil of Satan’s motions. And thus we see how Christ was tempted, and yet without sin.
Hence we may observe a good direction for their comfort that are troubled with blasphemous thoughts. Among other temptations that befall men in God’s church, the devil does mightily assault some men by casting into their minds most fearful motions of blasphemy against God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, whereby he does greatly astonish them and bring them to despair. Now the ground of their stay and comfort hence is this: there be incident to the mind of man two kinds of evil thoughts: first, such as arise from the flesh, that is, from our corrupt nature; and the very first motions of these are sins, forbidden in the tenth commandment. Secondly, there be others that rise not inwardly from the flesh, but are from without conveyed into the mind by the devil, as these most horrible blasphemies against God, which would make a godly heart to tremble and quake once to think upon.
Now these are our heavy crosses indeed, when we be assaulted with them, but the devil’s sins wholly, and become not ours, till we receive them by some degree of delight or ascent, as may hence appear: for Christ was tempted to infidelity, covetousness and idolatry, yet His holy heart received them not, and so they never became His sins.
The second point to be considered in this circumstance is, wherefore Christ was tempted: for it may seem strange that Jesus Christ the Son of God, yea very God, equal with the Father, should be tempted. The reasons therefore that moved Him to be tempted, are these: first, that He might foil the devil at his own weapon; for the devil overcame the first Adam in temptation, therefore Christ the second Adam would in temptation overcome him. Secondly, that in His example He might give us direction whereby to know the special temptations wherewith the devil assaults the church, as also how to withstand and repel the same. For this cause no doubt has the Spirit of God so distinctly set down Christ’s preparation to this combat, Satan’s several assaults, and Christ’s victory over them all, which plainly confutes the common opinion of ignorant people, who think those that are tempted by the devil to be most vile and wicked men, such as have forsaken God, and therefore God has forsaken them.
But behold Christ Jesus the most holy person that ever was, even the “holy one of God” [John 6:69], was tempted of Satan, and that exceeding sore, having the same troubles and vexations thereby arising in His mind that we have, insomuch as the angels came to minister comfort unto Him (v. 11). God’s dearest children therefore may and must be tempted, for that is no token of a child of wrath, unless we will say, that Christ Jesus was the child of wrath, which once to think were most blasphemous. Thirdly, Christ was tempted, that He might be “a merciful high priest unto them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:17–18), for Himself knowing the trouble and anguish of temptation, must needs in a more compassionate fellow-feeling of their miseries be ready to help and comfort His members when they are tempted.
The third point is, the author of Christ’s temptations, to wit, the devil. The name “devil” signifies a caviler, a slanderer and an accuser. He is an accuser three ways: he accuses God to man; man to God; and man to man. First, God to man; as when he told Eve, they must not die, though they did eat of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:4), which was as much as if he had said, “God does but deceive you with that threatening, ye shall not die at all.” Secondly, he accuses men to God, and therefore is called the “accuser of the brethren” [Rev. 12:9]; and “our adversary who goeth about like a roaring lion” [1 Peter 5:8], which word “adversary” signifies one that enters plea or suit against us. Thus he dealt against godly Job, by the Lord’s own confession (Job 2:3). Thirdly, he accuses man to man, by engendering ungodly and uncharitable surmises and suspicions in one man against another, and in causing one man to slander and injure another; and for this cause is he said to “work in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2), and their wisdom is said to be “devilish,” who have “bitter envying and strife in their heart” (James 3:14–15).
From this very name we are to be admonished of two things: first, to beware of false accusing, tale-bearing and slandering; for in these practices we put on the devil’s name, and show forth the infection of his nature. Paul telling Timothy, that a minister must not be “a novice, lest he be puffed up and fall into the condemnation of the devil” [1 Tim. 3:6], uses such a word for the devil’s name as signifies a false accuser or slanderer, to show unto us that such a one is a devil incarnate; and yet this is the common sin of this age, to speak evil and to backbite, when they speak one of another.
Secondly, hereby we are taught to beware, how at any time or any way we dissuade anyone from embracing or obeying true religion, for herein we show ourselves to be the children of the devil. When Elymas the sorcerer would have turned away Sergius Paulus from the faith, Paul calls him, full of all subtlety and mischief, “the child of the devil” [Acts 13:10]. And this I do the rather observe, because it is a usual thing to draw others back from the power of godliness; though not in plain terms, yet partly in reproaches and partly by bad example of life. Now all such had need to look to their estate, for the children of the devil are like to have their portion with the devil and his angels. And thus much for the author of Christ’s temptations; as also for the first part of Christ’s preparation to this combat.
The second part of the preparation
“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry” (v. 2). Here is the second part of Christ’s preparation to this combat, namely His abode in the wilderness, which is set out unto us by four arguments: First, by His fasting forty days and forty nights, noted in the words of this verse. Secondly, by His abode with wild beasts, noted by Saint Mark (1:12). Thirdly, by His enduring of temptations within the space of these forty days and forty nights (Luke 4:2), though in particular those be not set down by any evangelist. Fourthly, by His hunger after forty days fasting, in the end of this verse. Of these in order.
Christ’s fasting forty days and forty nights. There be three kinds of fasts, if we take the word in a general sense: first, the daily fast of temperance and sobriety, whereby we use God’s creatures for our sustenance with that moderation and abstinence, that we rather give less to nature’s appetite, than that which it desires. This Christ enjoins to every Christian, “Take heed lest at any time your hearts be oppressed with surfeiting and drunkenness” [Luke 21:34].
The second kind of fast is, the religious abstinence of God’s church from all meats and drinks for a time, for the furtherance of their prayers, when they humble themselves unto God for the preventing or removing of some heavy judgment. Thus the Jews fasted, sometimes for one day [Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 7:6], sometimes for three days and three nights (Esth. 4:16), yea sometimes for seven days together [1 Sam. 31:13; 1 Chron. 10:12]; but then it is likely they received some sustenance in the evening: for so “Daniel fasted for three weeks of days, eating no pleasant things” (Dan. 10:2–3). But of neither of these must Christ’s fast here be understood.
The third kind of fast is miraculous, done by the power of God restraining the appetite for many days together without meat or drink, beyond the power of nature; thus Moses fasted forty days and forty nights in Mount Sinai, where he enjoyed the presence of God so long [Ex. 34:28]. And so did Elijah fast in Mount Horeb [1 Kings 19:8], and our Savior Christ in this wilderness. We read indeed that Paul in his conversion “fasted three days and three nights eating nothing” (Acts 9:9). So did the Jews with Esther and her maids (Esth. 4:16). And experience teaches that a sick man may live seven or nine days together without meat or drink, yea (as some learned physicians write) fourteen days.
Paul’s companions in his journey to Rome, ate very little or nothing at all, for fourteen days, for the words are plain, “eating nothing” [Acts 27:33]; and it may be so, since the like has been found true by experience in our age. And this is the longest that a man can fast and live, to wit fourteen, or fifteen, or seventeen days; for so much is recorded of some, that after so long abstinence have lived, though with some weakness of nature. But for a man ordinarily, being of good constitution of body to fast forty days and forty nights together, is impossible. Indeed it has been avouched that a man might fast months, yea a whole year together without meat or drink and yet live; but we may persuade ourselves it is not true. Now our Savior Christ (which is yet more) during this fast felt no faintness nor weakening of His body, as we ordinarily do with a little abstinence, so that His fast was not ordinary but miraculous altogether.
The reasons why Christ fasted thus long in the wilderness, may be these; first, that He might perform His ministry, which now He was to begin, with more reverence and authority. For this cause would God have Moses to fast forty days and forty nights before he delivered the law written in the two tables of stone unto the people; and so must Elijah do, before he did restore religion in his days. Secondly, that it might appear He was no whit inferior to Moses and Elijah; and thirdly, that He might show His full consent with them.
Question. Seeing Christ did far excel Moses and Elijah, why did He not exceed them in the length of His fast, for threescore days or a whole year?
Answer. He did it not through want of power to have fasted longer, but because He would not give occasion thereupon that any should call into question the truth of His manhood, which might easily have happened, if He had fasted a whole year together.
Hereon the Church of Rome would build their Lent fast, but very fondly. For first Christ did not thus fast to give us example to follow Him herein, but to prepare Himself to the great work of His ministry. Secondly, there is great difference between Christ’s fast and theirs; Christ fasted thus but once, and that by the instinct of the Holy Ghost; they keep their fast yearly, and that on their own heads. Christ’s was a true fast, without all meat or drink; but theirs is a mock-fast, for they eat the finest fish, and other dainties, and drink wines, wherein is as much nourishment to the body, and as good as in flesh; neither can they justly build it on the practice of the primitive church, for they used to fast (at least in some places) but two or three days before Easter; and their Lent fast was not ordained nor imposed till many years after Christ, so as everyone might choose whether he would fast, or not.
Saint Mark does further set out Christ’s abode in the wilderness by His being and conversing with wild beasts (Mark 1:13), which some think Christ did for this end, that wild beasts might come to Him and do Him homage due to their Creator and Governor. But this is a device of man without likelihood of truth; for howsoever Christ in Himself deserved all homage and reverence of all His creatures; yet because He abode among wild beasts to be abased and humbled in the low estate of a servant, therefore it is not likely He went to receive homage from them.
The true cause rather is this: we find in Scripture that among the Jews were two sorts of deserts; one, in part peopled and inhabited, having here and there cities and villages; in such a desert was John the Baptist born, and did baptize and preach; that the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled, “The voice of a crier in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord” [Isa. 40:3]. The other, not inhabited at all by men, being a place of abode only for wild beasts, as lions, bears, tigers, wolves, etc., which lived therein continually. Now into such a desert as this, was our Savior Christ led by the Spirit, and made His abode among such wild beasts; which circumstance is therefore noted to give us to understand that in this combat, our Savior Christ had no aid, protection, succor, help, or comfort from any man or other creature whatsoever; for by nature His companions were so far from being a help and comfort unto Him, that they would rather seek to devour Him. Whereby we plainly see that the praise of victory in this combat, is proper to Christ alone, and not communicable to any creature whatsoever.
In this estate of Christ in this wilderness, we may behold the condition of Christ’s militant church; to wit, that it is in this world as in a wilderness and desert of wild beasts; for during their abode on earth, God’s children live with men, who in disposition and affection are like wolves, bears, tigers, lions, and cockatrices, until such time as the Holy Ghost by grace shall turn their hearts, as we may plainly see (Isa. 11:6–8), in regard whereof they must arm themselves with patience against manifold assaults and vexations, comforting their hearts with this consideration, that Christ their Head has undergone this estate before them.
Saint Luke observes, that while Christ abode in the wilderness, within the space of those forty days and forty nights, He was tempted of the devil, before the three great temptations; the words are plain: “And was there forty days tempted of the devil: and when they were ended, then the devil said, etc.” [Luke 4:2–3]. What these temptations were, either for matter or form, the Holy Ghost has not set down; and yet we may probably think they were more mild and gentle temptations than those three which are set down; the devil making them as it were an entrance to his strongest and most dangerous temptations; for his manner is, when it makes for his advantage, not to show his violence and extremity at the first, but to proceed by degrees, and by little and little to insinuate himself till he has gotten his best advantage, and then will he show the strength of his malice.
Thus he dealt with Cain, first he provokes him to anger and malice against his brother, because his brother’s sacrifice was accepted, and his rejected; then having settled hatred in his heart, he never leaves till he had caused him in his rage to slay his brother; and yet he stays not there, but after brings him to despair of God’s mercy, insomuch as he cried out, “My sin is greater than I can bear” [Gen. 4:13].
Thus also he dealt with Judas; first he cast this evil thought into his heart, “Judas, betray your master,” and when he had gotten entertainment for that (for doubtless Judas would not yield to so vile a thought at the first motion), then he caused him to put it in execution, whereupon in fearful despair he brought him to “hang himself” [Matt. 27:5].
This is the subtlety of the old serpent; first he conveys one claw or talent into a man’s heart, and then another; after that he gets in his head, and so at length winds in all his body. Thus he assayed to do with Christ, and so will he continue towards all God’s children, which should teach us to labor to be strong in the Lord, and wise in His Word, that so we may stand against all his assaults; yea, this must move us to a special watch through the whole course of our lives against the occasions of sins, that we may cut off temptations in the beginning, because it is Satan’s craft, not to spit his venom at the first, but to sugar his temptations at the beginning that no danger may appear till he has conveyed into us the bane and poison of our souls.
Christ’s abode in the wilderness is further set out by His hunger, in the end of this verse, “He was afterward hungry”; that is, after He had fasted forty days and forty nights by the power of His Godhead, then He began to wax hungry. But some will say, this stands not with the glory and majesty of the Son of God to be hungry, for “his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed” [John 6:53]. Answer. Christ was content to lay aside His glory and majesty, and to take upon Him our base and frail nature, becoming like unto us in all things save sin; now in this His abasement and humility He had not only a true soul and body, but the true faculties thereof, as understanding, will, memory, etc., and though His body was free from personal infirmities, as palsy, gout, dropsy, or such like, yet He was subject to such infirmities as agree to the nature of man, as hunger, thirst, weariness, etc. Yea this was one part of His humiliation to become not only man, but man with infirmities; and therefore though He could by the power of His Godhead have preserved Himself forty years without meat or drink as well as forty days, yet that He might abase Himself to the lowest degree of a servant, He was content to sustain the infirmity of His human nature in being a hungered, and that for these causes.
First, to confirm unto us the truth of His manhood; for some man might say, it was an easy thing for Him to fast forty days and forty nights, seeing He had not a true body, but only the show and shadow of a body. Therefore to show that He was true man, and had a true natural body as we have, He was content to sustain hunger, as we do, and that truly. Secondly, that thereby He might cast an object before the devil, to cause him to be the more eager and violent in his temptations, and to show his malice in full measure against Him; for by virtue of His office whereto He was now called, Christ was to encounter with Satan our common enemy, and therefore gives him not only the advantage of the place, but also the opportunity of estate, that Satan perceiving His infirmity of bodily hunger, might thereby be emboldened to give the more violent assault upon Him. And thus much of the second part of Christ’s preparation to His combat.
William Perkins, 2014, 1, 85–104.