The place of Christ’s temptation was “the wilderness.” Our Lord was already upon the border of the wilderness of Judea: but it was necessary that He should be led deeper into its remoteness and solitude-a depth so profound and desolate, that one of the Evangelists records the fact that He was “with the wild beasts,” far removed from the abode and intercourse of man. The Son of God herding, as it were, with the brute creation-the companion of the untamed denizens of the forest!-O Thou glorious tempted One! to what abasement did Thou not submit, that, thus trained in the school of temptation, Thou might be one with Thy saints in theirs!
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 2 Tim 4:7
WE are here invited to contemplate the Christian in the character of a conqueror. The battle consists of a moral conflict with inward and outward enemies, all leagued in terrible force against the soul. To this is added—what, indeed, was most peculiar to the early Church—a war of external suffering, in which penury, persecution, and martyrdom constituted the dark and essential elements.
Now it will be instructive to observe in what way Christ provides for the holy warrior’s passage through this fiery contest. It will be perceived that it is not by flight, but by battle; not by retreat, but by advance; not by shunning, but by facing the foe. The Captain of their salvation might have withdrawn His people from the field, and conducted them to heaven, without the hazard of a conflict. But not so. He will lead them to glory, but it shall be by the path of glory. They shall carve their way to the crown by the achievements of the sword. They shall have privations, and distress, and suffering, of every kind; yet while beneath the pressure, and in the very heat of the battle, victory shall crown their arms, and a glorious triumph shall heighten the splendor of their victory. And what spiritual eye does not clearly see, that in conducting His people across the battle-field, the Lord wins to Himself more renown than though He had led them to their eternal rest with entire exemption from conflict and distress?
But in what sense are we conquerors? Just in that sense in which the Holy Spirit obtains the victory. It is not the believer himself who conquers; it is the Divine Spirit within the believer. No movement is seen, no tactics are observed, no war-cry is heard, and yet there is passing within the soul a more important warfare, and there is secured a more brilliant victory, than ever the pen of the historian recorded. In the first place, there is the conquest of faith.
Where do the annals of war present such a succession of victories so brilliant, achieved by a weapon so single and simple, as is recorded in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews? And what was the grace that won those spiritual and glorious victories? It was the grace of faith! “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith.” Faith in the truth of God’s word faith in the veracity of God’s character—faith in the might, and skill, and wisdom of our Commander and Leader—faith, eyeing the prize, gives the victory to the Christian combatant, and secures the glory to the Captain of his salvation.
Then there is the triumph of patience. “That you do not be slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” “And so, after he had patiently endured, He obtained the promise.” Oh, is it no real victory of the Holy Spirit in the believer, when beneath the pressure of great affliction, passing through a discipline the most painful and humiliating, the suffering Christian is enabled to cry, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him”? “The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it”? “Not my will, but your, be done”? Suffering child of God, “let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
And then there is the conquest of joy. “Having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations,” or trials. Why is trial an occasion of joy? Because it is the triumph of the Holy Spirit in the soul. And does not Christ say, “You shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy”? Who but Jesus can turn our sorrow into joy?—not only assuaging our griefs, alleviating our sufferings, and tempering the furnace-flame, but actually making our deepest, darkest sorrows the occasion of the deepest gladness, praise, and thanksgiving.
Oh, yes! it is a glorious victory of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, in the soul, when it can enable the believer to adopt the words of the suffering apostle, “I am filled with comfort, I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” Suffering reader! Jesus knows how to turn your sorrow into joy. Confide your grief to Him, and He will cause it sweetly to sing.
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16
Few of the children of God are ignorant, more or less, of Satan’s devices. But few are exempt from the “fiery darts ” of the adversary; our Lord Himself was not.
Many, peculiar, and great are their temptations. They are often those which touch the very vitals of the gospel, which go to undermine the believer’s faith in the fundamentals of Christianity, and which affect his own personal interest in the covenant of grace. Satan is the sworn enemy of the believer- his constant, unwearied foe. There is, too, a subtlety, a malignity, which does not mark not the other and numerous enemies of the soul.
The Holy Spirit speaks of the “depths of Satan.” There are “depths” in his malice, in his subtlety, in his sagacity, which many of the beloved of the Lord are made in some degree to fathom. The Lord may allow them to go down into those “depths,” just to convince those who are there are depths in His wisdom, love, power, and grace, which can out-fathom the “depths of Satan.”
But what are some of the devices of the wicked one? What are some of his fiery darts?
Sometimes he fills the mind of the believer with the most blasphemous and atheistical thoughts, threatening the utter destruction of his peace and confidence. Sometimes he takes advantage of periods of weakness, trial, and perplexity to stir up the corruptions of his nature, bringing the soul back as into captivity to the law of sin and death. Sometimes he suggests unbelieving doubts respecting his adoption, beguiling him into the belief that his professed conversion is all a delusion, that his religion is all hypocrisy, and that what he had thought was the work of grace is but the work of nature.
But by far the greatest and most general controversy which Satan has with the saint of God is, to lead him to doubt the ability and the willingness of Christ to save a poor sinner. The anchor of his soul removed from this truth he is driven out upon a rough sea of doubt and anguish, and is at the mercy of every wind of doctrine and every billow of unbelief that may assail his storm-tossed bark.
But in the midst of it all, where does the comfort and the victory of the tempted believer come from? From the promise which assures him that “when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” And what is the standard which the Spirit, the Comforter, lifts up to stem this flood? A dying, risen, ascended, exalted, and ever-living Savior. This is the standard that strikes terror into the foe; this is the gate that shuts out the flood. So the disciples proved.
This is their testimony: “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Your name.” Immanuel is that name which puts to flight every spiritual foe. And the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, leads the tempted soul to this name, to shelter itself beneath it, to plead it with God, and to battle with it against the enemy.
Dear reader, are you a target against which the fiery darts of the devil are leveled? Are you sorely tempted? Do not be astonished as though some strange thing had happened unto you. The holiest of God’s saints have suffered as you are now suffering; yes, even your blessed Lord, your Master, your Pattern, your Example, and He in whose name you shall be more than conqueror; was once assailed as you are, and by the same enemy.
And let the reflection console you, that temptations only leave the traces of guilt upon the conscience, and are only regarded as sins by God, as they are yielded to. The mere suggestion of the adversary, the mere presentation of a temptation, is no sin, so long as, in the strength that is in Christ Jesus, the believer firmly and resolutely resists it. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Jesus has already fought and conquered for you. He knew well what the conflict with Satan was.
And He remembers, too, what it is. Lift up your head, dear tempted soul! You shall obtain the victory. The seed of the woman has bruised the serpent’s head; yes, has crushed him, never to obtain his supremacy over you again.
He may harass, annoy, and distress you; but pluck you from the hollow of the hand that was pierced for you, he never can.