Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Notes on Chapter 4
Verse 1. Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit— This transaction appears to have taken place immediately after Christ’s baptism; and this bringing up of Christ was through the influence of the Spirit of God; that Spirit which had rested upon him in his baptism.
To be tempted— The first act of the ministry of Jesus Christ was a combat with Satan. Does not this receive light from Genesis 3:17. I will put enmity between the woman’s seed and thy seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Verse 2. And when he had fasted forty days— It is remarkable that Moses, the great lawgiver of the Jews, previously to his receiving the law from God, fasted forty days in the mount; that Elijah, the chief of the prophets, fasted also forty days; and that Christ, the giver of the New Covenant, should act in the same way. Was not all this intended to show, that God’s kingdom on earth was to be spiritual and Divine?-that it should not consist in meat and drink, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost? Romans 14:17. Relative to the forty days’ fast of Moses, there is a beautiful saying in the Talmudists. “Is it possible that any man can fast forty days and forty nights? To which Rabbi Meir answered, When thou takest up thy abode in any particular city, thou must live according to its customs. Moses ascended to heaven, where they neither eat nor drink therefore he became assimilated to them. We are accustomed to eat and drink; and, when angels descend to us, they eat and drink also.”
Moses, Elijah, and our blessed Lord could fast forty days and forty nights, because they were in communion with God, and living a heavenly life.
And when the tempter— This onset of Satan was made (speaking after the manner of men) judiciously: he came when Jesus, after having fasted forty days and forty nights, was hungry: now, as hunger naturally diminishes the strength of the body, the mind gets enfeebled, and becomes easily irritated; and if much watching and prayer be not employed, the uneasiness which is occasioned by a lack of food may soon produce impatience, and in this state of mind the tempter has great advantages. The following advice of an Arabian philosopher to his son is worthy of
If thou be the Son of God— Or, a son of God, uiov tou qeou. uiov is here, and in Luke 4:3, written without the article; and therefore should not be translated THE Son, as if it were o uiov, which is a phrase that is applicable to Christ as the Messiah: but it is certain, whatever Satan might suspect, he did not fully know that the person he tempted was the true Messiah. Perhaps one grand object of his temptation was to find this out.
Command that these stones— The meaning of this temptation is:
“Distrust the Divine providence and support, and make use of illicit means to supply thy necessities.”
Verse 4. But by (or, upon, epi) every word— rhma, in Greek, answers to rbd dabar in Hebrew, which means not only a word spoken, but also thing, purpose, appointment, etc. Our Lord’s meaning seems to be this: God purposes the welfare of his creatures-all his appointments are calculated to promote this end. Some of them may appear to man to have a contrary tendency; but even fasting itself, when used in consequence of a Divine injunction, becomes a mean of supporting that life which it seems naturally calculated to impair or destroy.
Verse 5. Pinnacle of the temple— It is very likely that this was what was called the stoa basilikh, the king’s gallery; which, as Josephus says, “deserves to be mentioned among the most magnificent things under the sun: for upon a stupendous depth of a valley, scarcely to be fathomed by the eye of him that stands above, Herod erected a gallery of a vast height, from the top of which if any looked down, he would grow dizzy, his eyes not being able to reach so vast a depth.”-Ant. l. xv. c. 14. See Dr. Lightfoot on this place.
Verse 6. Cast thyself down— Our Lord had repelled the first temptation by an act of confidence in the power and goodness of God; and now Satan solicits him to make trial of it. Through the unparalleled subtlety of Satan, the very means we make use of to repel one temptation may he used by him as the groundwork of another. This method he often uses, in order to confound us in our confidence.
He shall give his angels charge, etc.— This is a mutilated quotation of Psalm 91:11. The clause, to keep thee in all thy ways, Satan chose to leave out, as quite unsuitable to his design. That God has promised to protect and support his servants, admits of no dispute; but, as the path of duty is the way of safety, they are entitled to no good when they walk out of it.
In their hands they shall bear thee up— This quotation from Psalm 91:11, is a metaphor taken from a nurse’s management of her child: in teaching it to walk, she guides it along plain ground; but, when stones or other obstacles occur, she lifts up the child, and carries it over them, and then sets it down to walk again. Thus she keeps it in all its ways, watching over, and guarding every step it takes. To this St. Paul seems also to allude, 1 Thessalonians 2:7. We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. Thus the most merciful God deals with the children of men, ever guarding them by his eye, and defending them by his power.
Verse 7. Thou shalt not tempt— To expose myself to any danger naturally destructive, with the vain presumption that God will protect and defend me from the ruinous consequences of my imprudent conduct, is to tempt God.
Verse 8. An exceeding high mountain, and showeth him— If the words, all the kingdoms of the world, be taken in a literal sense, then this must have been a visionary representation, as the highest mountain on the face of the globe could not suffice to make evident even one hemisphere of the earth, and the other must of necessity be in darkness.
But if we take the world to mean only the land of Judea, and some of the surrounding nations, as it appears sometimes to signify, (see on Luke 2:1,) then the mountain described by the Abbe Mariti (Travels through Cyprus, etc.) could have afforded the prospect in question. Speaking of it, he says, “Here we enjoyed the most beautiful prospect imaginable. This part of the mountain overlooks the mountains of Arabia, the country of Gilead, the country of the Amorites, the plains of Moab, the plains of Jericho, the river Jordan, and the whole extent of the Dead Sea. It was here that the devil said to the Son of God, All these kingdoms will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Probably St. Matthew, in the Hebrew original, wrote ≈rah haarets, which signifies the world, the earth, and often the land of Judea only. What renders this more probable is, that at this time Judea was divided into several kingdoms, or governments under the three sons of Herod the Great, viz. Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip; which are not only called ethnarchs and tetrarchs in the Gospels, but also basileiv, kings, and are said basileuein, to reign, as Rosenmuller has properly remarked. See Matthew 2:22; 14:9.
Verse 9. If thou wilt fall dozen and worship me— As if he had said, “The whole of this land is now under my government; do me homage for it, and I will deliver it into thy hand.”
Verse 10. Get thee hence— Or, behind me, opisw mou. This is added by a multitude of the best MSS., VERSIONS, and FATHERS. This temptation savoring of nothing but diabolical impudence, Jesus did not treat it as the others; but, with Divine authority, commanded the tempter to return to his own place.
In the course of this trial, it appears that our blessed Lord was tempted, 1st. To DISTRUST. Command these stones to become bread. 2dly. To PRESUMPTION. Cast thyself down. 3dly. To worldly AMBITION. All these will I give. 4thly. To IDOLATRY. Fall down and worship me, or do me homage. There is probably not a temptation of Satan, but is reducible to one or other of these four articles.
From the whole we may learn:
First. No man, howsoever holy, is exempted from temptation: for God manifested to the flesh was tempted by the devil.
Secondly. That the best way to foil the adversary, is by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, Ephesians 6:17.
Thirdly. That to be tempted even to the greatest abominations (while a person resists) is not sin: for Christ was tempted to worship the DEVIL.
Fourthly. That there is no temptation which is from its own nature, or favoring circumstances, irresistible. God has promised to bruise even Satan under our feet.
As I wish to speak what I think most necessary on every subject, when I first meet it, and once for all, I would observe, first, That the fear of being tempted may become a most dangerous snare.
Secondly, That when God permits a temptation or trial to come he will give grace to bear or overcome it.
Thirdly, That our spiritual interests shall be always advanced, in proportion to our trials and faithful resistance.
Fourthly, That a more than ordinary measure of Divine consolation shall be the consequence of every victory.
Verse 11. Behold, angels came and ministered unto him.— That is, brought that food which was necessary to support nature.
The name given to Satan in the third verse is very emphatic, o peirazwn, the tempter, or trier, from peirw, to pierce through. To this import of the name there seems to be an allusion, Ephesians 6:16: The fiery DARTS of the wicked one. This is the precise idea of the word in Deuteronomy 8:2. To humble thee, and to prove thee, TO KNOW WHAT WAS IN THY HEART: ˚tsnl linesteca, peirash se, LXX. that he might bore thee through.
The quality and goodness of many things are proved by piercing or boring through; for this shows what is in the heart. Perhaps nothing tends so much to discover what we are, as trials either from men or devils.
Shalt thou serve, or pay religious veneration, larreuseiv. This is Mr. Wakefield’s translation, and I think cannot be mended. latreia comes from la, very much, and trew, I tremble. When a sinner approaches the presence of God, conscious of HIS infinite holiness and justice, and of his own vileness, he will then fully comprehend what this word means. See this religious reverence exemplified in the case of Moses, when in the presence of God; I exceedingly fear, said he, and tremble, Hebrews 12:21. And yet this fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. See the observations at the end of the chapter.
Verse 13. And leaving Nazareth— Or, entirely leaving Nazareth, kai katalipwn thn nazaret, from kata, intensive, and deipw, I leave. It seems that, from this time, our blessed Lord made Capernaum his ordinary place of residence; and utterly forsook Nazareth, because they had wholly rejected his word, and even attempted to take away his life. See Luke 4:29.
Galilee was bounded by mount Lebanon on the north, by the river Jordan and the sea of Galilee on the east, by Chison on the south, and by the Mediterranean on the west.
Nazareth, a little city in the tribe of Zebulon, in lower Galilee, with Tabor on the east, and Ptolemais on the west. It is supposed that this city was the usual residence of our Lord for the first thirty years of his life. It was here he became incarnate, lived in subjection to Joseph and Mary, and from which he took the name of a Nazorean.
Capernaum, a city famous in the New Testament, but never mentioned in the Old. Probably it was one of those cities which the Jews built after their return from Babylon. It stood on the sea-coast of Galilee, on the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim, as mentioned in the text. This was called his own city, Matthew 9:1, etc., and here, as a citizen, he paid the half shekel, Matthew 17:24. Among the Jews, if a man became a resident in any city for twelve months, he thereby became a citizen, and paid his proportion of dues and taxes. See Lightfoot. Capernaum is well known to have been the principal scene of our Lord’s miracles during the three years of his public ministry.
Zabulon, the country of this tribe, in which Nazareth and Capernaum were situated, bordered on the lake of Gennesareth, stretching to the frontiers of Sidon, Genesis 49:13. Nephthalim was contiguous to it, and both were on the east side of Jordan, Joshua 19:34.
Verse 15. Galilee of the Gentiles— Or of the nations. So called, because it was inhabited by Egyptians, Arabians, and Phoenicians, according to the testimony of Strabo and others. The Hebrew µywg goyim, and the Greek eqnwn, signify nations; and, in the Old and New Testaments, mean those people who were not descendants of any of the twelve tribes. The word Gentiles, from gens, a nation, signifies the same. It is worthy of remark, that it was a regular tradition among the ancient Jews, that the Messiah should begin his ministry in Galilee. See the proofs in Schoetgen.
Verse 16. The people which sat in darkness— This is quoted from Isaiah 9:2, where, instead of sitting, the prophet used the word walked. The evangelist might on purpose change the term, to point out the increased misery of the state of these persons. Sitting in darkness expresses a greater degree of intellectual blindness, than walking in darkness does. In the time of Christ’s appearing, the people were in a much worse state than in the time of the prophet, which was nearly 700 years before; as, during all this period, they were growing more ignorant and sinful.
The region and shadow of death— These words are amazingly descriptive. A region of death-DEATH’S country, where, in a peculiar manner, Death lived, reigned, and triumphed, subjecting all the people to his sway.
Shadow of death— skia qanatou, used only here and in Luke 1:79, but often in the Old Covenant, where the Hebrew is twm lx tsal maveth, It is not easy to enter fully into the ideal meaning of this term. As in the former clause, death is personified, so here. A shadow is that darkness cast upon a place by a body raised between it and the light or sun. Death is here represented as standing between the land above mentioned, and the light of life, or Sun of righteousness; in consequence of which, all the inhabitants were, involved in a continual cloud of intellectual darkness, misery, and sin. The heavenly sun was continually eclipsed to them, till this glorious time, when Jesus Christ, the true light, shone forth in the beauty of holiness and truth. Christ began his ministry in Galilee, and frequented this uncultivated place more than he did Jerusalem and other parts of Judea: here his preaching was peculiarly needful; and by this was the prophecy fulfilled.
Verse 17. Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent— See on Matthew 3:1, 2. Every preacher commissioned by God to proclaim salvation to a lost world, begins his work with preaching the doctrine of repentance. This was the case with all the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, all the apostles, and all their genuine successors in the Christian ministry. The reasons are evident in the notes already referred to; and for the explanation of the word khrussein, preaching or proclaiming as a herald, see at the end of chap. 3.
Verse 18. Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother— Why did not Jesus Christ call some of the eminent Scribes or Pharisees to publish his Gospel, and not poor unlearned fishermen, without credit or authority? Because it was the kingdom of heaven they were to preach, and their teaching must come from above: besides, the conversion of sinners, though it be effected instrumentally by the preaching of the Gospel, yet the grand agent in it is the Spirit of God. As the instruments were comparatively mean, and, the work which was accomplished by them was grand and glorious, the excellency of the power at once appeared to be of GOD, and not of man; and thus the glory, due alone to his name, was secured, and the great Operator of all good had the deserved praise. Seminaries of learning, in the order of God’s providence and grace, have great and important uses; and, in reference to such uses, they should be treated with great respect: but to make preachers of the Gospel is a matter to which they are utterly inadequate; it is a, prerogative that God never did, and never will, delegate to man.
Where the seed of the kingdom of God is sowed, and a dispensation of the Gospel is committed to a man, a good education may be of great and general use: but it no more follows, because a man has had a good education, that therefore he is qualified to preach the Gospel, than it does, that because he has not had that, therefore he is unqualified; for there may be much ignorance of Divine things where there is much human learning; and a man may be well taught in the things of God, and be able to teach others, who has not had the advantages of a liberal education.
Men-made ministers have almost ruined the heritage of God. To prevent this, our Church requires that a man be inwardly moved to take upon himself this ministry, before he can be ordained to it. And he who cannot say, that he trusts (has rational and Scriptural conviction) that he is moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon himself this office, is an intruder into the heritage of God, and his ordination, ipso facto, vitiated and of none effect. See the truly apostolic Ordination Service of the Church of England.
Fishers.— Persons employed in a lawful and profitable avocation, and faithfully discharging their duty in it. It was a tradition of the elders, that one of Joshua’s ten precepts was, that all men should have an equal right to spread their nets and fish in the sea of Tiberias, or Galilee. The persons mentioned here were doubtless men of pure morals; for the minister of God should have a good report from them that are without.
Verse 19. Follow me— Come after me, deute opisw mou. Receive my doctrines, imitate me in my conduct-in every respect be my disciples. We may observe that most of the calls of God to man are expressed in a few solemn words, which alarm, the conscience, and deeply impress the heart.
I will make you fishers of men.— Ezekiel Ezekiel 47:8-10, casts much light on this place; and to this prophet our Lord probably alludes. To follow Christ, and be admitted into a partnership of his ministry, is a great honor; but those only who are by himself fitted for it, God calls. Miserable are those who do not wait fur this call-who presume to take the name of fishers of men, and know not how to cast the net of the Divine word, because not brought to an acquaintance with the saving power of the God who bought them. Such persons, having only their secular interest in view, study not to catch men, but to catch money: and though, for charity’s sake, it may be said of a pastor of this spirit, he does not enter the sheepfold as a thief, yet he certainly lives as a hireling. See Quesnel.
Some teach to work, but have no hands to row; Some will be eyes, but have no light to see; Some will be guides, but have no feet to go; Some deaf, yet ears, some dumb, yet tongues will be; Dumb, deaf, lame, blind, and maimed, yet fishers all! Fit for no use but store an hospital. Fletcher’s Piscatory Eclogues. Ecclesiastes. iv. 5, 18.
Following a person, in the Jewish phrase, signifies being his disciple or scholar. See a similar mode of speech, 2 Kings 6:19.
Verse 20. They straightway left their nets— A change, as far as it respected secular things, every way to their disadvantage. The proud and the profane may exult and say, “Such preachers as these cannot be much injured by their sacrifices of secular property-they have nothing but nets, etc., to leave.” Let such carpers at the institution of Christ know, that he who has nothing but a net, and leaves that for the sake of doing good to the souls of men, leaves his ALL: besides, he lived comfortably by his net before; but, in becoming the servant of all for Christ’s sake, he often exposes himself to the want of even a morsel of bread. See on Matthew 19:27.
Verse 22. Left the ship and their father— By the ship, to ploion, we are to understand the mere fishing-boat, used for extending their nets in the water and bringing the hawser or rope of the farther end to shore, by which the net was pulled to land. But why should these be called to leave their employment and their father, probably now aged? To this I answer, that to be obedient to, provide for, and comfort our parents, is the highest duty we owe or can discharge, except that to God. But, when God calls to the work of the ministry, father and mother and all must be left. Were we necessary to their comfort and support before? Then God, if he call us into another work or state, will take care to supply to them our lack of service some other way; and, if this be not done, it is a proof we have mistaken our call. Again, were our parents necessary to us, and in leaving them for the sake of the Gospel, or in obedience to a Divine command, do we deprive ourselves of the comforts of life? No matter: we should prefer the honor of serving the Most High, even in poverty and humility, to all the comforts of a father’s house. But what an honor was the vocation of James and John, to old Zebedee their father! His sons are called to be heralds of the God of heaven! Allowing him to have been a pious man, this must have given him unutterable delight.
Verse 23. Teaching in their synagogues— Synagogue, sunagwgh, from sun, together, and agw, I bring, a public assembly of persons, or the place where such persons publicly assembled. Synagogues, among the Jews, were not probably older than the return from the Babylonish captivity. They were erected not only in cities and towns, but in the country, and especially by rivers, that they might have water for the convenience of their frequent washings.
Not less than ten persons of respectability composed a synagogue; as the rabbins supposed that this number of persons, of independent property, and well skilled in the law, were necessary to conduct the affairs of the place, and keep up the Divine worship. See Lightfoot. Therefore, where this number could not be found, no synagogue was built; but there might be many synagogues in one city or town, provided it were populous. Jerusalem is said to have contained 480. This need not be wondered at, when it is considered that every Jew was obliged to worship God in public, either in a synagogue or in the temple.
The chief things belonging to a synagogue were:
The synagogue was governed by a council or assembly, over whom was a president, called in the Gospels, the ruler of the synagogue. These are sometimes called chiefs of the Jews, the rulers, the priests or elders, the governors, the overseers, the fathers of the synagogue. Service was performed in them three times a day-morning, afternoon, and night. Synagogue, among the Jews, had often the same meaning as congregation among us, or place of judicature, see James 2:2.
Preaching the Gospel of the kingdom— Or, proclaiming the glad tidings of the kingdom. See the preceding notes. Behold here the perfect pattern of an evangelical preacher: 1. He goes about seeking sinners on every side, that he may show them the way to heaven. 2. He proclaims the glad tidings of the kingdom, with a freedom worthy of the King whom he serves. 3. He makes his reputation and the confidence of the people subservient not to his own interest, but to the salvation of souls. 4. To his preaching he joins, as far as he has ability, all works of mercy, and temporal assistance to the bodies of men. 5. He takes care to inform men that diseases, and all kinds of temporal evils, are the effects of sin, and that their hatred to iniquity should increase in proportion to the evils they endure through it. 6. And that nothing but the power of God can save them from sin and its consequences.
For glad tidings, or Gospel, see chap. 1. title. Proclaiming, see Matthew 3:1, and end; and for the meaning of kingdom, see Matthew 3:2.
All manner of sickness, and all manner of disease— There is a difference between nosov, translated here sickness, and malakia, translated disease. The first is thus defined: nosov, thn cronian kakopaqeian, a disease of some standing, a chronic disorder.
Infirmity, malakia thn proskairon anwmalian toi swmatov, a temporary disorder of the body. Theophylact. This is a proper distinction, and is necessary to be observed.
Verse 24. Sick people— touv, kakwv econtav, those who felt ill-were afflicted with any species of malady.
And torments— basanoiv, from basanizw, to examine by torture, such as cholics, gouts, and rheumatisms, which racked every joint.
Possessed with devils— Daemoniacs. Persons possessed by evil spirits. This is certainly the plain obvious meaning of daemoniac in the Gospels.
Many eminent men think that the sacred writers accommodated themselves to the unfounded prejudices of the common people, in attributing certain diseases to the influence of evil spirits, which were merely the effects of natural causes: but that this explanation can never comport with the accounts given of these persons shall be proved as the places occur.
Our common version, which renders the word, those possessed by devils, is not strictly correct; as the word devil, diabolov, is not found in the plural in any part of the Sacred Writings, when speaking of evil spirits: for though there are multitudes of daemons, Mark 5: 9, yet it appears there is but one DEVIL, who seems to be supreme, or head, over all the rest. diabolov signifies an accuser or slanderer, 1 Timothy 3:11; 2 Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3. Perhaps Satan was called so, 1st. because he accused or slandered God in paradise, as averse from the increase of man’s knowledge and happiness, Genesis 3:5; John 8:44; and 2dly. because he is the accuser of men, Revelation 12:9, 10. See also “Job 1:2”. The word comes from dia, through, and ballein, to cast, or shoot, because of the influence of his evil suggestions; compared, Ephesians 6:16, to fiery darts; and thus it is nearly of the same meaning with o peirazwn, he who pierces through. See on Matthew 4:3.
Lunatic— Persons afflicted with epileptic or other disorders, which are always known to have a singular increase at the change and full of the moon. This undoubtedly proceeds from the superadded attractive influence of the sun and moon upon the earth’s atmosphere, as, in the periods mentioned above, these two luminaries are both in conjunction; and their united attractive power being exerted on the earth at the same time, not only causes the flux and reflux of the ocean, but occasions a variety of important changes in the bodies of infirm persons, of animals in general, but more particularly in those who are more sensible of these variations. And is this any wonder, when it is well known, that a very slight alteration in the atmosphere causes the most uncomfortable sensations to a number of invalids! But sometimes even these diseases were caused by demons. See on Matthew 8:16, 34, and Matthew 17:15.
Palsy— Palsy is defined, a sudden loss of tone and vital power in a certain part of the human body. This may affect a limb, the whole side, the tongue, or the whole body. This disorder is in general incurable, except by the miraculous power of God, unless in its slighter stages.
He healed them.— Either with a word or a touch; and thus proved that all nature was under his control.
Verse 25. This verse is immediately connected with the fifth chapter, and should not be separated from it.
Great multitudes— This, even according to the Jews, was one proof of the days of the Messiah: for they acknowledged that in his time there should be a great famine of the word of God; and thus they understood Amos, Am 8:11. Behold, the days come-that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread-but of hearing the words of the Lord. And as the Messiah was to dispense this word, the bread of life, hence they believed that vast multitudes from all parts should be gathered together to him. See Schoettgenius on this place.
Decapolis— A small country, situated between Syria and Galilee of the nations. It was called Decapolis, dekapoliv, from deka, ten, and poliv, a city, because it contained only ten cities; the metropolis, and most ancient of which, was Damascus.
From beyond Jordan.— Or, from the side of Jordan. Probably this was the country which was occupied anciently by the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh; for the country of Decapolis lay on both sides of the river Jordan. See Numbers 32:5, 33.
THE account of our Lord’s temptation, as given by the evangelist, is acknowledged on all hands to be extremely difficult. Two modes of interpretation have been generally resorted to, in order to make the whole plain and intelligible: viz. the literal and allegorical. In all cases, where it can possibly apply, I prefer the first: the latter should never be used, unless obviously indicated in the text itself; or so imperiously necessary that no other mode of interpretation can possibly apply. In the preceding observations, I have taken up the subject in a literal point of view; and it is hoped that most of the difficulties in the relation have been removed, or obviated, by this plan. An ingenious correspondent has favored me with some observations on the subject, which have much more than the merit of novelty to recommend them. I shall give an abstract of some of the most striking; and leave the whole to the reader’s farther consideration.
The thoughts in this communication proceed on this ground: “These temptations were addressed to Christ as a public person, and respected his conduct in the execution of his ministry; and are reported to his Church as a forcible and practical instruction, concerning the proper method of promoting the kingdom of God upon earth. They are warnings against those Satanic illusions, by which the servants of Christ are liable to be hindered in their great work, and even stopped in the prosecution of it.
“As our Lord had, at his baptism, been declared to be the SON of God, i.e. the promised Messiah, this was probably well known to Satan, who did not mean to insinuate any thing to the contrary, when he endeavored to engage him to put forth an act of that power which he possessed as the Messiah. The mysterious union of the Divine with the human nature, in our Lord’s state of humiliation, Satan might think possible to be broken; and therefore endeavored, in the first temptation, Command these stones to be made bread, to induce our Lord to put forth a separate, independent act of power; which our Lord repelled, by showing his intimate union with the Divine will, which he was come to fulfill-Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Thus showing, as he did on another occasion, that it was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father.
“2. The ground of the temptation was then changed; and the fulfillment of the Divine will, in the completion of a prophetic promise, was made the ostensible object of the next attack. Cast thyself down-for it is WRITTEN, He will give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, etc. This our Lord repelled with-Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God-as Satan had designed to induce him to seek this public miraculous confirmation of God’s peculiar care over him, as the promised Messiah, of his being which, according to the hypothesis above, Satan had no doubt. Moses, being appointed to a great and important work, needed miraculous signs to strengthen his faith; but the sacred humanity of our blessed Lord needed them not; nor did his wisdom judge that such a sign from heaven was essential to the instruction of the people.
“3. The last temptation was the most subtle and the most powerful-All these will I give unto thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. To inherit all nations, had been repeatedly declared to be the birthright of the Messiah. His right to universal empire could not be controverted; nor could Satan presume to make the investiture. What, then, was his purpose? Satan had hitherto opposed, and that with considerable success, the kingdom of God upon earth; and what he appears to propose here, were terms of peace, and an honorable retreat. The worship which he exacted was an act of homage, in return for his cession of that ascendancy which, through the sin of man, he had obtained in the world. Having long established his rule among men, it was not at first to be expected that he would resign it without a combat: but the purpose of this last temptation appears to be an offer to decline any farther contest; and, yet more, if his terms were accepted, apparently to engage his influence to promote the kingdom of the Messiah. And as the condition of this proposed alliance, he required, not Divine worship, but such an act of homage as implied amity and obligation; and if this construction be allowed, he may be supposed to have enforced the necessity of the measure, by every suggestion of the consequences of a refusal. The sufferings which would inevitably result from a provoked opposition, which would render the victory, though certain to Christ himself, dearly bought; added to which, the conflict he was prepared to carry on through succeeding ages, in which all his subtlety and powers should be employed to hinder the progress of Christ’s cause in the earth, and that with a considerable degree of anticipated success. Here the devil seems to propose to make over to Christ the power and influence he possessed in this world, on condition that he would enter into terms of peace with him; and the inducement offered was, that thereby our Lord should escape those sufferings, both in his own person, and in that of his adherents, which a provoked contest would ensure. And we may suppose that a similar temptation lies hid in the desires excited even in some of the servants of Christ, who may feel themselves often induced to employ worldly influence and power for the promotion of his kingdom, even though, in so doing, an apparent communion of Christ and Belial is the result: for it will be found that neither worldly riches, nor power, can be employed in the service of Christ, till, like the spoils taken in war, Deuteronomy 31:21-23, they have passed through the fire and water, as, without a Divine purification, they are not fit to be employed in the service of God and his Church.
“Hence we may conclude, that the first temptation had for its professed object, 1st, our Lord’s personal relief and comfort, through the inducement of performing a separate and independent act of power.-The second temptation professed to have in view his public acknowledgment by the people, as the MESSIAH: for, should they see him work such a miracle as throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple without receiving any hurt, they would be led instantly to acknowledge his Divine mission; and the evil of this temptation may be explained, as seeking to secure the success of his mission by other means than those which, as the Messiah, he had received from the Father. Compare John 14:31. The third temptation was a subtle attempt to induce Christ to acknowledge Satan as an ally, in the establishment of his kingdom.” E. M. B.
The above is the substance of the ingenious theory of my correspondent, which may be considered as a third mode of interpretation, partaking equally of the allegoric and literal. I still, however, think, that the nearer we keep to the letter in all such difficult cases, the more tenable is our ground, especially where the subject itself does not obviously require the allegorical mode of interpretation. Among many things worthy of remark in the preceding theory the following deserves most attention: That Satan is ever ready to tempt the governors and ministers of the Christian Church to suppose that worldly means, human policy, secular interest and influence, are all essentially necessary for the support and extension of that kingdom which is not of this world! Such persons can never long preserve hallowed hands: they bring the world into the Church; endeavor to sanctify the bad means they use, by the good end they aim at; and often, in the prosecution of their object, by means which are not of God’s devising, are driven into straits and difficulties, and to extricate themselves, tell lies for God’s sake. This human policy is from beneath-God will neither sanction nor bless it. It has been the bane of true religion in all ages of the world; and, in every country where the cause of Christianity has been established, such schemers and plotters in the Church of God are as dangerous to its interests as a plague is to the health of society. The governors and ministers of the Christian Church should keep themselves pure, and ever do God’s work in his own way. If the slothful servant should be cast out of the vineyard, he that corrupts the good seed of the Divine field, or sows tares among the wheat, should be considered as an enemy to righteousness, and be expelled from the sacred pale as one who closes in with the temptation-“All these things (the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them) will I give unto THEE, if thou wilt fall down and worship ME.” However necessary the Church may be to the state, and the state to the Church, as some people argue, yet the latter is never in so much danger as when the former smiles upon it.