September 20

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” Matthew 4:1

IMAGINE yourself, my Christian reader, shut in for a single day with one of the vilest and most degraded of our species. During that period, his whole conversation shall be an attempt to tamper with your allegiance to Christ, to undermine your principles, to pollute your mind, to infuse blasphemous thoughts, to wound your conscience, and destroy your peace. What mental suffering, what grief, what torture would your soul endure in the period of time! Yet all this, and infinitely more, did Jesus pass through. For forty days and nights was He enclosed in the wilderness with Satan. Never were the assaults of the prince of darkness more fearful, never were his fiery darts more surely aimed and powerfully winged, and never had so shining a mark presented itself as the object of his attack as now.

Our Lord’s exposure to temptation, and His consequent capability of yielding to its solicitations, has its foundation in His perfect humanity. It surely requires not an argument to show that, as God, He could not be tempted, but that, as man, He could. His inferior nature was finite and created; it was not angelic, it was human. It was perfectly identical with our own, its entire exemption from all taint of sin only excepted. A human body and a human mind were His, with all their essential and peculiar properties. He was “bone of our bone, and flesh and our flesh;” He traveled up through the stages of infancy, boyhood, and manhood; He was encompassed with all the weaknesses, surrounded by all the circumstances, exposed to all the inconveniences, that belong to our nature. He breathed our air, trod our earth, ate our food. The higher attributes of our being were His also. Reason, conscience, memory, will, affections, were essential appendages of that human soul which the Son of God took into union with His Divinity. As such, then, our Lord was tempted. As such, too, He was capable of yielding. His finite nature, though pure and sinless, was yet necessarily limited in its resources, and weak in its own powers. Touching His inferior nature, He was but man. The Godhead was not humanized, nor was the humanity deified, by the blending together of the two natures. Each retained its essential characters, properties, and attributes, distinct, unchanged, and unchangeable.

But let no one suppose that a liability in Jesus to yield to Satan’s temptation necessarily implies the existence of the same sinful and corrupt nature which we possess. Far from it. To deny His capability of succumbing to temptation were to neutralize the force, beauty, and instruction of the eventful part of His history altogether. It were to reduce a splendid fact to an empty fable, a blessed reality to a vague supposition; it were to rob Jesus of the great glory which covered Him when left alone, the victor on this battlefield. And yet that He must necessarily be sinful, in order to be thus capable of yielding, does not follow; it is an error of judgment to suppose that the force of a temptation always depends upon the inherent sinfulness of the person who is tempted. The case of the first Adam disproves this supposition, and in some of its essential features strikingly illustrates the case of the second Adam. In what consisted the strength of the assault before whose fearful onset Adam yielded? Surely not in any indwelling sin, for he was pure and upright. There was no appeal to the existence of an corrupt principles or propensities; no working upon any fallen desires and tendencies in his nature; for, until the moment that the blast swept him to the earth, no angel in heaven stood before the throne purer or more faultless than he. But God left him to the necessary weakness and poverty of his own nature, and thus withdrawing His Divine support and restraint, that instant he fell! That our adorable Lord did not fall, and was not overcome in His fearful conflict with the same foe, was owing solely to the upholding of the Deity, and the indwelling and restraining power of the Holy Spirit, which He possessed without measure.

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August 18

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12

Let us inquire what is that which Satan desires to assault? It is the work of God in the soul. Against his own kingdom not a weapon is raised. It is his aim and his policy to keep all there undisturbed and peaceful. But against the work of the Holy Spirit in the renewed mind, his artillery is brought to bear; not a part of this work escapes him. Every grace comes in for its share of malignant attack; but especially the grace of faith. When, for example, a repentant and believing soul approaches Christ with lowliness and hesitancy, and with the tremulous hand of faith attempts to touch the border of His garment, or with a tearful eye looks up to His cross, then comes the assault upon faith in the form of a suggestive doubt of Christ’s power and willingness to save. “Is Jesus able to save me? Has He power to rescue my soul from hell? Can He blot out my transgressions, and redeem my life from destruction? Will He receive a sinner, so vile, so unworthy, so poor as I? Has He compassion, has He love, has He mercy sufficient to meet my case?”

In this way Satan assails the earliest and the feeblest exercises of faith in the soul. Does this page address itself to any such? It is Satan’s great effort to keep you from Jesus. By holding up to your view a false picture of His character, from which everything loving, winning, inviting, and attractive is excluded, by suggesting wrong views of His work, in which everything gloomy, contracted, and repulsive is foisted upon the mind; by assailing the atonement, questioning the compassion, and limiting the grace of Christ, he would persuade you that in that heart which bled on Calvary there is no room for you, and that upon that work which received the Father’s seal there is not breadth sufficient for you to stand. All his endeavors are directed, and all his assaults are shaped, with a view to keep your soul back from Christ. It is thus he seeks to vent his wrath upon the Savior, and his malignity upon you.

Nor does he less assail the more matured faith of the believer. Not infrequently the sharpest attacks and the fiercest onsets are made, and made successfully, upon the strongest believers. Seizing upon powerful corruptions, taking advantage of dark providences, and sometimes of bright ones, and never allowing any position of influence, any usefulness, gift, or grace, that would give force, success, and brilliance to his exploit, to escape his notice, he is perpetually on the alert to sift and winnow God’s precious wheat.

His implacable hatred of God, the deep revenge he cherishes against Jesus, his malignant opposition to the Holy Spirit, fit him for any dark design and work implicating the holiness and happiness of the believer. Therefore we find that the histories of the most eminent saints of God, as written by the faithful pen of the Holy Spirit, are histories of the severest temptations of faith, in the most of which there was a temporary triumph of the enemy; the giant oak bending before the storm. And even in instances where there was no defeat of faith, there yet was the sharp trial of faith.

The case of Joseph, and that of his illustrious antitype, the Lord Jesus, present examples of this. Fearful was the assault upon the faith of both, sharp the conflict through which both passed, yet both left the battlefield victorious. But still faith was not the less really or severely sifted.

August 17

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Luke 22:31

That faith should be more frequently and severely assailed than any other grace of the Holy Spirit, will cease to create surprise as we become acquainted with the rank and position it occupies in the renewed soul. Placed in the very front of the battle, itself the strongest, the most determined and successful foe of the assailing powers of darkness and of sin, in effecting its overthrow all their force, skill, and malignity are marshaled and directed.

But who is its chief and most formidable assailant? It is Satan, the accuser of the brethren, the tempter, the sworn enemy of God and man. It is he, the master-spirit of darkness and woe, who, without possessing a single attribute of Deity, yet approaches so near in resemblance to the Divine, that in every place and at each moment of time He is present, closely watching, closely studying, and incessantly working to deceive, and to overthrow, were it possible, the faith of the very elect.

By what power or agency he is enabled to prosecute the dark designs of his gloomy intellect, and to effect the malignant purposes of his depraved heart, we cannot now venture at any length to premise. Whether with the subtlety and velocity which belong to the light, there is an incessant expansion of thought, imparting a kind of personal omnipresence, to the ruling mind of the infernal empire; or, whether, without being personally present, we may account for the extent of his agency, operating alike in every place, and at the same moment, by supposing intelligence communicated to, and commands issued from, him through the medium of the innumerable host of myrmidons who compose those “principalities and powers,” over which Jesus triumphed, “making a show of them openly,” must, however strong the presumption, still remain points involved in much doubt and obscurity.

But there is one fact respecting which we are not left to conjecture. I allude to the eager and restless machinations of Satan, to weaken, dishonor, and destroy the faith of God’s elect. “Satan has desired to have you.” Observe here the limitation of Satanic power in reference to the believer. This is its utmost extent. He has no power or control over the redeemed, but that which God permits. He can but desire, and long, and plot; not a hand can He lay upon them, by not a single temptation can He assail them, not a hair of their head can he touch, until God bids Him. “Satan has desired to have you”; there stood the arch-foe waiting permission, as in the case of Job, to destroy the apostle of Christ.

Dear reader, how consolatory is this truth to the believing mind. You have often trembled at the power of Satan, and perhaps well-near as often have been the involuntary object of his implacable hatred and deep devices. But press now this animating thought to your trembling heart– he has no control nor influence nor power over a redeemed soul but that which God permits, and which Christ allows. “Thus far shall you go, and no further,” are words which reveal His inferiority, prescribe his limits, and arrest the progress of the proud fiend.

Our Faith

Now, faith in itself, is a divine, healthy, vigorous principle. Left to its own actings, resting simply upon God’s Word, looking only to the Lord Jesus, and dealing chiefly with the invisible, it will achieve wonders. It will overcome the world; it will foil the stratagems of Satan; it will deaden the power of sin; it will tread firmly the broken waters of trial; and will do and suffer all the will of God. What great things this divine principle wrought in the worthies of old! “By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life.”

With such a picture before us, how sad is the thought that our faith should ever suffer weakness or decay. And yet what a waning of the strength of faith may the believer discover in his soul just at the hour when he needs more than ever all the might and power of this wondrous grace!

My soul, is your faith weak, and does your heart tremble? Are you looking at the broken waves beneath you, at the dark clouds above you? Is it now the fourth watch of the night, and Jesus not come to you? Are resources narrowing, needs pressing, difficulties accumulating, and your heart dying within you? Fear not! He who trod the limpid waves with Peter, who gently said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” then stretched forth His hand and caught him, is at your side, and will not allow you to sink and perish beneath these waters. Hope in God; for you shall yet praise Him who is the health of your countenance, and your God.

From Grace to Glory