Won the Field

From “The Temptation of Christ” (ca. 1755)

Dearly beloved, today you are invited to take a walk into the wilderness, to behold, sympathize with, and get instruction and comfort from a savior tempted. In the conflict, he shows himself to be God’s beloved Son. And the Father gives demonstrable evidence that with and in him he is indeed well pleased. Let us with serious attention consider when, where, and how, our great Michael fought with and overcame the dragon. The evangelist Matthew is very particular in relating the preparations for, the beginning, process, and issue of this glorious and important combat…

In the close of the foregoing chapter, we are told that the blessed Jesus had been publicly baptized and was also solemnly inaugurated in his mediatorial office by the opening of the heavens by the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove and by a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And then it was when he came from the solemn ordinance of baptism, when he was about to show himself openly unto Israel, when he was full of the Holy Ghost.

Even then was he led, with a holy unconstrained violence, as a champion into the field, to engage an enemy, whom he was sure to conquer. But where is this conqueror led? He is led into a lonesome, wide, howling wilderness… a wilderness, not only lonesome, but inhabited by wild beasts. Here was our Lord led, not only that he might prepare himself by retirement and prayer, but also that he might be alone, and thereby give Satan all the advantages he could desire. In this combat, as well as that of his last agony, “of the people, there was to be none with him.” Neither does he content himself with praying, but he fasts also, and that “forty days and forty nights,” as Moses and Elias had done, many years before, it may be, in the very same place. All these fasts were miraculous…

And what does Satan tempt him to? To nothing less, than to doubt his being the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God.” … In a similar way he attacked our first parents, by suggesting to them hard thoughts of their all-bountiful creator… Thus, as in all his other temptations, Satan would seek to appear to be his very kind friend.

But the holy Jesus saw through the disguised enmity of his antagonist; and scorning either to distrust his righteous Father on the one hand, or to work a miracle to please and gratify the devil on the other, although he had the Spirit of God without measure, and might have made use of a thousand other ways, yet answers Satan with a text of scripture: “It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

This is a quotation from Deut. 8:3, and contains a reason given by the great God, why he chose to feed the Israelites with manna: that they might learn that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. This our blessed Lord here applies to himself and his being in the wilderness; this made the application of it still more pertinent. Israel was God’s son: out of Egypt was he called to sojourn in the wilderness, where he was miraculously supported.

And therefore our Lord, knowing that he was typified by this Israel, and that, like them, he was now in a wilderness, quotes this scripture as a reason why he should not, at Satan’s suggestion, either despair of receiving help from his Father in his present circumstances, or distrust the validity of his late manifestations, or make use of any unwarrantable means for his present relief. For as God was his Father, he would, therefore, either in an ordinary way spread a table for him in the wilderness, or support and sustain him, as he did his Israel of old, in some extraordinary way or other without it: “For man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

Thus is the tempter foiled in the first onset. But he has other arrows in his quiver…  Since he cannot draw him in either to distrust, or despair, he will not try if he cannot prevail on him to presume. In order to effect this, “He took the blessed Jesus up into the Holy City,” or Jerusalem, called by our savior, the city of the Great King, and here called holy, because the holy temple was in it, and, we would hope, many holy people. This was a populous place, and therefore, would greatly befriend the devil’s design… Well! Satan has now gotten him upon the pinnacle of the Temple, and still harping upon this old string, “If you are the Son of God, (says he) cast yourself down,” and thereby show to this large worshipping assembly, (who will assuredly then believe) that you are God’s beloved Son, under the special protection of heaven, and are the Messiah, “who was to come into the world.”

This was artful, very artful. But he seems to improve in cunning: for he brings his Bible with him, and backs his temptation with a text of scripture; “For it is written, (says Satan) he shall give his angels charge concerning you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.”…  Does the devil quote scripture, yes, and seemingly such a very appropriate one too… But is scripture the worse, for being abused or perverted by the devil, or his emissaries? No, in no wise. Our Lord, therefore, lets him know, that he should not throw aside this important weapon upon this account, but puts by this home thrust, with another scripture: “It is written again, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Still our Lord quotes something out of the book of Deuteronomy, and has his eye upon Israel in his wilderness state. Originally these words were directed to the Israelites in general, and accordingly are in the plural number; but here our Lord, as before, makes a particular application of them to himself…

Thus our great Michael comes off conqueror in the second assault. And does not the serpent feel his head bruised enough yet? Not at all! On the contrary, being more and more enraged at such unusual opposition and lack of success, “He again takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, (what mountain is not very material) and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” St. Luke adds, “in a moment of time:” which confirms the common conjecture, that Satan did not show our Lord really the kingdoms of the world…

He showed our Savior crowns, but never told him those crowns were inlaid with thorns… Our Savior very well knew it, only lets Satan go to the full length of his string, that his victory over him might be the more illustrious. And now, says the devil, “All these things (a mighty all indeed; a mere imaginary Babel!) will I give to you, if you will fall down and worship me.” He would seek to have it taken for granted, that he had succeeded in the two preceding temptations: “Come, see you are not the Son of God, or if you are, see what an unkind Father he is! For you are here in a starving condition. Therefore, take my advice: disown your relation to God, set up for yourself, call me father and ask of me blessings. And all these will I give you. All that I desire in return, Satan says, is but a bow, only fall down and worship me.”…

Filled with a holy resentment at such hellish treatment, and impatient of the very thought of settling up for himself, or alienating the least part of his heart and affections from his Father, or dividing them between his God and the world: “Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan, (I know you who are, under all your disguises) get you hence, you grand adversary! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve. This is the great commandment of the law; this is the commandment my Father gave to his Israel of old, and would you have me, who came to fulfill the law and the prophets, thus shamefully be a transgressor of it? Get you hence! I will bear your insolence no longer: your other temptations were hellish, like yourself, but this intolerably so. Get you therefore hence, Satan! My heavenly Father is the Lord my God, and him only will I serve.”

And now the battle is over; the important combat is ended; Jesus hath won the field: Satan is routed and totally put to flight… The devil found that Jesus could withstand even the golden bait, the lust of the eye and pride of life, in the two last, as well as the lust of the flesh in the first temptation, despairing of the least success, and quite stunned…

Hell, we may well suppose, like the Philistines of old, was confounded, and gave a horrible groan, when they saw their great Goliath, in whom they had so long trusted, thus shamefully and totally defeated in no less than three pitched battles. The first Adam was attacked but once, and was conquered; but the second Adam, though thus repeatedly assaulted, comes off without the least sin, not only conqueror, but more than conqueror.  But not to dwell on a general improvement, let us see what particular lessons may be learned from this affecting portion of scripture…

We may learn that, however profitable solitude and retirement may be when used in due season, yet when carried to an extreme it becomes hurtful; it can open up rather than prevent temptation. Woe to those of us who are always alone; for such do not have others to lift them up when they fall, or to advise them when they are tempted. As a hermit in America once told me, when I asked him whether he found that way of life lessened his temptations: “Do you not know, friend, said he, that a tree which grows by itself is more exposed to winds and storms than one that stands surrounded with other trees in the woods?” Our Lord knew this, and therefore he was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Lord, keep us from leading ourselves into this temptation, and succor and support us!… Then, and then only, shall we be safe amidst the fiery darts of the grand enemy of our souls…

Did our Lord by prayer, fasting, and temptation, prepare himself for his public ministry? Surely then, all those who profess to be inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them the office and administration of the church, should be prepared in the same manner. For though the knowledge of books and men are good in their places, yet without a knowledge of Satan’s devices a minister will be only like a physician who undertakes to prescribe to sick people without having studied the nature of herbs.

And hence, it is to be feared, many heavy-laden and afflicted souls have been sent by certain ministers to surgeons to be blooded in the arm instead of being directed to apply the blood of Christ to cleanse their hearts. Hence, conviction is looked upon as a delirium and violent temptations censured as downright madness. Hence, souls that are truly and earnestly repenting of their sins and earnestly seeking after rest in Christ have been directed to plays, novels, romances, and merry company, to divert them from being overly righteous. Miserable comforters are such blind guides! Surely, they deserve not better titles than that of murderers of souls! They go not into the kingdom of heaven themselves, and they would hinder those who are entering. Go not after their example, all you young men who would be capable ministers of the New Testament. On the contrary, if you would be useful in binding up the broken hearted and pouring the oil of consolation into wounded souls, prepare yourselves for manifold temptations. For as Luther says, “prayer and meditation, reading and temptation, make a minister.” If now exercised with spiritual conflicts, be not disheartened, it is a good sign that our Lord intends to make use of you.

Those among you who are exalted as well as those who are brought low, consider Satan’s taking the Lord Jesus and placing him upon a pinnacle of the temple. You must learn a lesson of holy watchfulness and caution. High places are slippery places. Such places are apt to make even the strongest heads and most devout hearts turn giddy. How necessary therefore is that excellent petition in our Litany, “in all time of our wealth, (as well as in all time of our tribulation) good Lord deliver us!”… I charge, therefore, all of you, who are rich and high in this world, to watch and pray, lest you fall by Satan’s temptation. Those especially of you who are placed on the pinnacle of the temple, exalted above your fellows in the church of God, take heed in an especial manner to yourselves, lest by spiritual pride, vanity, or any other sin that does most easily beset persons in such eminent stations, you cast yourselves down. This is what Satan aims at. He strives to make us destroyers of ourselves… Arm us, dear Lord Jesus, with your Spirit, and help us under all such circumstances, to learn of you, and say to the tempter, “Get you hence, Satan; for it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”

Whether we are beset with this or any other temptation, let all of us learn of our Lord to fight the devil with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Though Christ had the Spirit without measure, yet he always made use of scripture.

George Whitefield (1714-1770) was an Anglican priest and evangelist, a leader of the first Great Awakening. As a student of Oxford, he was part of John and Charles Wesley’s Holy Club, committing himself to serious discipleship. After his ordination he became an itinerant evangelist, and is estimated to have preached 18,000 sermons to as many as 10 million people in thirty years of ministry in Britain and the American colonies.

Advertisements

Online Archives

Search