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A Notable and Comfortable Exposition upon Matthew IV
Concerning the Temptations of Christ in the Wilderness 
1556
by John Knox
Extracted from: Selected Writings of John Knox: Public Epistles, Treatises, and  Expositions to the Year 1559 
 
Verse 1. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert that he should be  tempted of the devil, etc. 

The cause moving me to treat this place of scripture is, that such as by the  inscrutable providence of God do fall in diverse temptations, judge not  themselves by reason thereof [to be] less acceptable in God's presence; but,  contrariwise, having the way prepared to victory by Christ Jesus, [they] shall  not fear above measure the crafty assaults of that subtle serpent Satan; but  with joy and bold courage, having such a Guide as here is pointed forth, such a  Champion, and such weapons as here are to be found (if with obedience we will  hear, and unfeigned faith believe), [we] may assure ourselves of God's present  favour, and of final victory, by the means of him, who, for our safeguard and  deliverance, entered in the battle, and triumphed over his adver sary (and all  his raging fury). 

And that the subsequents, being heard and understood, may the better be kept in  memory; by God's grace, we purpose to observe, in treating this matter: 

1. First, what this word temptation means, and how it is used within the scrip  tures. 

2. Secondly, who is here tempted, and at what time this temptation happened. 

3. Thirdly, how and by what means he was tempted. 

4. And last, why he should suffer these temptations, and what fruit ensues to us  of the same. 

Temptation, or to tempt, in the scriptures of God, is called to try, to prove,  or to assault the valour, the power, the will, the pleasure, or the wisdom,  whether it be of God, or of creatures. And it is taken sometimes in good part,  as when it is said that "God tempted Abraham," [or] "God tempted the people of  Israel" (Gen. 22:1; Deut. 8:2, 16; 13:3): that is, God did try and examine  [them], not for his own knowledge, to whom nothing is hid, but for the  certification of others, how obedient Abraham was to God's commandment, and how  weak and infirm the Israelites were in their journey towards the promised land.  And this temptation is always good, because it proceeds immediately from God, to  open and make manifest the secret motions of men's hearts, the puissance and  power of God's word, and the great lenity and gentleness of God towards the  infirmities (the horrible sins and rebellions) of those whom he has received  into his regiment and care. 

For who would have believed that the bare word of God could so have moved the  heart and affections of Abraham, that to obey God's commandment he determined to  kill, with his own hand, his best beloved son Isaac? Who could have trusted  that, under so many torments as Job did suffer, he should not speak in all his  great temptations one foolish word against God? Or who could have thought that  God so mercifully should have pardoned so many, and so manifest transgressions  committed by his people in the desert, and yet that his mercy did never utterly  leave them, but still continued with them, till at length he performed his  promise made to Abraham? Who, I say, could have been persuaded [of] these  things, unless by trials and temptations taken of his creatures by God, they had  come by revelation made in his holy scriptures to our knowledge? And so this  kind of temptation is profitable, good, and necessary, as a thing proceeding  from God, who is [the] fountain of all goodness, to the manifestation of his own  glory, and to the profit of the sufferer, however the flesh [may] judge in the  house of temptation. 

Otherwise temptation, or to tempt, is taken in evil part: that is, he that does  assault or assail intends destruction and confusion to him that is assaulted as  when Satan tempted the woman in the garden, Job by diverse tribulations, and  David by adultery. The scribes and Pharisees tempted Christ by diverse means,  questions, and subtleties. And of this matter, says St. James, "God tempteth no  man" (Jam. 1:13): that is, by temptation proceeding immediately from him, he  intends no man's destruction. And here you shall note, that albeit Satan  sometimes appears to prevail against God's elect, yet he is ever frustrated of  his final purpose. By temptation he led the woman [Eve] and David from the  obedience of God; but he could not retain them for ever under his thralldom.  Power was granted to him to spoil Job of his substance and children, and to  strike his body with a plague and sickness most vile and fearful; but he could  not compel his mouth to blaspheme God's majesty. And, therefore, albeit we are  laid open sometimes, as it were, even to the mouth of Satan, let us not think  therefore that God has abjected us, and that he takes no care over us. No, he  permits Satan to rage, and as it were to triumph for a time, that when he has  poured forth the venom of his malice against God's elect, it may return to his  own confusion; and that the deliverance of God's children may be more to his  glory and [the] comfort of the afflicted: knowing that his hand is so puissant,  his mercy and good-will so prompt, that he delivers his little ones from their  cruel enemy, even as David did his sheep and lambs from the mouth of the lion (1  Sam. 17:34-36). For a benefit received in extreme danger more moves us than the  preservation from ten thousand perils, so that we fall not to them. And yet to  preserve from dangers and perils, so that we fall not to them, whether they are  of body or spirit, is no less the work of God, than to deliver from them. But  the weakness of our faith does not espy it; but this I omit to [a] better time. 

Last, to tempt betokens simply to prove, or try, without any determinate purpose  of profit or damage to ensue; as when the mind doubts of anything, and therein  desires to be satisfied, without great love or extreme hatred of the thing that  is tempted or tried. As the queen of Sheba came to tempt Solomon in subtle  questions (1 Kings 10:1, 6-7). David tempted, that is, tried himself if he could  go in harness (1 Sam. 17:38-39). And Gideon says, "Let not thine anger kindle  against me, if I tempt thee yet once again" (Judges 6:39). This famous queen,  not fully trusting the bruit [report] and fame that was spread of Solomon, by  subtle questions desired to prove his wisdom at the first, neither extremely  hating nor fervently loving the person of the king. And David, as a man not  accustomed to harness, would try how he was able to go, and behave and fashion  himself therein, before he would hazard battle with Goliath. And Gideon, not  satisfied in his conscience by the first sign that he received, desired (without  contempt or hatred of God) a second time to be certified of his vocation  [calling]. And in this sense must the apostle be expounded when he commands us  to tempt that is, to try and examine ourselves if we stand in the faith. And  this much for the term. 

Now to the person tempted, and to the time and place of his temptation. The  person tempted is the only well-beloved Son of God; the time was immediately  after his baptism; and the place was the desert or wilderness. But that we may  make our fruit of the premises, we must consider the same more profoundly. That  the Son of God was thus tempted gives instruction to us, that temptations,  although they be never so grievous and fearful, do not separate us from God's  favour and mercies, but rather declare the great graces of God to appertain to  us, which makes Satan to rage as a roaring lion; for against none does he so  fiercely fight, as against those of whose hearts Christ has taken possession. 

The time of Christ's temptation is here most diligently to be noted: then that  is (as Mark and Luke do witness), immediately after the voice of God the Father  had commended his Son to the world, and had visibly appointed him by the sign of  the Holy Ghost (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). He was led or moved by the Spirit to go  to a wilderness, where forty days he remained fasting among the wild beasts.  This Spirit which led Christ into the wilderness was not the devil, but the Holy  Spirit of God the Father, by whom Christ, as touching his human and manly  nature, was conducted and led; likewise by the same Spirit he was strengthened  and made strong, and, finally, raised up from the dead. The Spirit of God, I  say, led Christ to the place of his battle, where long time he endured the  combat for the whole forty days and nights. As Luke says, "He was tempted," but  in the end most vehemently, after his continual fasting, and that "he began to  be hungry" (Luke 4:2). 

Upon this forty days and this fasting of Christ do our Papists found and build  their Lent. For, say they, all the actions of Christ are our instructions; what  he did we ought to follow. But he fasted forty days, therefore we ought to do  the like. I answer, that if we ought to follow all Christ's actions, then ought  we neither to eat nor drink for the space of forty days, for so fasted Christ.  We ought to go upon the waters with our feet, to cast out devils by our word, to  heal and cure all sorts of maladies, to call again the dead to life for so did  Christ. This I write only that men may see the vanity of these men who, boasting  themselves of wisdom, are become mad fools. 

Did Christ fast thus forty days to teach us superstitious fasting? Can the  Papists assure me, or any other man, which were the forty days that Christ  fasted? Plain it is he fasted the forty days and nights that immediately  followed his baptism. But which they were, or in what month was the day of his  baptism, the scriptures do not express. And albeit the days were expressed, am I  or any Christian bound to counterfeit Christ's actions as the ape counterfeits  the act or work of man? He himself requires no such obedience of his true  followers, but says to the apostles, "Go and preach the evangel to all nations,  baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;  commanding them to observe and keep all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19- 20). Here Christ Jesus requires the observance of his precepts and commandments;  and not of his actions, except insofar as he has also commanded them. And so  must the apostle be understood when he says, "Be followers of Christ, for Christ  hath suffered for us, that we should follow his footsteps" (1 Pet. 2:21), which  cannot be understood of every action of Christ, neither in the mystery of our  redemption, neither in his actions and marvellous works, but only of those which  he has commanded us to observe. 

But when the Papists are so diligent in establishing their dreams and fantasies,  they lose the profit which here is to be gathered: that is, why Christ did fast  those forty days, which were a doctrine more necessary for Christians, than to  corrupt the simple hearts with superstition as though the wisdom of God, Christ  Jesus, had taught us no other mystery by his fasting than the abstinence from  flesh, or once on the day to eat flesh, for the space of forty days. God has  taken a just vengeance upon the pride of such men, while he thus confounds the  wisdom of those that do most glory in wisdom, and does strike with blindness  such as will be guides and lanterns to the feet of others, and yet refuse  themselves to hear or follow the light of God's word. "From such deliver thy  poor flock, O Lord!" 

The causes of Christ's fasting these forty days I find chiefly to be two: the  former, to witness to the world the dignity and excellence of his vocation,  which Christ, after his baptism, was to take upon him openly; secondly, to  declare that he entered in battle willingly for our cause, and does, as it were,  provoke his adversary to assault him. Albeit Christ Jesus, in the eternal  counsel of his Father, was appointed to be the Prince of Peace, the Angel (that  is, the Messenger) of his testament, and he alone that should fight our battles  for us; yet he did not enter in execution of it in the eyes of men, till that he  was commended to mankind by the voice of his heavenly Father, and as he was  placed and anointed by the Holy Ghost by a visible sign given to the eyes of  men. After which time he was led to the desert, and fasted, as before is said;  and this he did to teach us with what fear, carefulness, and reverence ought the  messengers of the word enter in the vocation [calling], which is not only most  excellent (for who is worthy to be God's ambassador?), but also subject to most  extreme troubles and dangers. For he that is appointed pastor, watchman, or  preacher, if he feeds not with his whole power; if he warns and admonishes not  when he sees the sword come; and if, in doctrine, he divides not the word  righteously; the blood and souls of those that perish for lack of food,  admonition, and doctrine, shall be required of his hand. If our horned and  mitred bishops did understand and firmly believe this, I think they should be  otherwise occupied than they have been this long time bypast. 

But to our purpose: that Christ exceeded not the space of forty days in his  fasting, he did it to the imitation of Moses and Elijah (Ex. 24:18; 34:28; 1  Kings 19:8); of whom, the one before the receiving of the law, and the other  before the communication and reasoning which he had with God in Mount Horeb (in  which he was commanded to anoint Hazael king over Syria, and Jehu king over  Israel, and Elisha to be prophet), fasted the same number of days. The thing  that ensued and followed the supernatural fasting of these two servants of God,  Moses and Elijah did impair and diminish the tyranny of the kingdom of Satan.  For by the law came the knowledge of sin, the damnation of such impieties,  specially of idolatry and such as the devil had invented; and, finally, by the  law came such a revelation of God's will, that no man could justly afterward  excuse his sin by ignorance, by which the devil before had blinded many. So that  the law, albeit it might not renew and purge the heart (for that the Spirit of  Christ Jesus works by faith only), yet it was a bridle that did let [hinder] and  stay the rage of external wickedness in many, and was also a schoolmaster that  led unto Christ. For when man can find no power in himself to do that which is  commanded, and does perfectly understand and believe that the curse of God is  pronounced against all those that abide not in everything that is commanded in  God's law to do them the man, I say, that understands and knows his own corrupt  nature and God's severe judgment, most gladly will receive the free redemption  offered by Christ Jesus, which is the only victory that overthrows Satan and his  power. And so by the giving of the law did God greatly weaken, impair, and make  feeble the tyranny and kingdom of the devil. In the days of Elijah, the devil  had so prevailed, that kings and rulers made open war against God, killing his  prophets, destroying his ordinances, and erecting up idolatry; which did so  prevail, that the prophet complained that, of all the true fearers and  worshippers of Gd, he was left alone, and wicked Jezebel sought his life also (1  Kings 19:14-17). After this, his fasting and complaint, he was sent by God to  anoint the persons aforenamed, who took such vengeance upon the wicked and  obstinate idolaters (God grant our eyes may see the like, to his glory, and  comfort of his afflicted flock), that he who escaped the sword of Hazael fell  into the hands of Jehu; and those whom Jehu left, escaped not God's vengeance  under Elisha. 

The remembrance of this was fearful to Satan, for, at the coming of Christ  Jesus, impiety was in highest degree amongst those that pretended most knowledge  of God's will; and Satan was at such rest in his kingdom, that the priests,  scribes, and Pharisees had taken away the key of knowledge: that is, they had so  obscured and darkened God's holy scriptures, by false glosses and vain  traditions, that neither would they enter themselves into the kingdom of God,  neither suffer and permit others to enter; but with violence restrained, and  with tyranny struck back from the right way (that is, from Christ Jesus  himself), such as would have entered into possession of life everlasting by him.  Satan, I say, having such dominion over the chief rulers of the visible kirk,  and espying in Christ such graces as before he had not seen in man; and  considering him to follow, in fasting, the footsteps of Moses and Elijah, no  doubt did greatly fear the quietness and rest of his most obedient servants, the  priests and their adherents, to be troubled by Christ. And, therefore, by all  engines and craft does he assault him, to see what advantage he could have of  him. And Christ did not repel him (as by the power of his Godhead he might have  done), that he should not tempt him, but permitted him to spend all his  artillery, and did receive the strokes and assaults of his [Satan's] temptations  in his own body, to the end he might make weak and feeble the strength and  tyrannical power of our adversary by long suffering. 

For thus, methinks, our master and champion, Christ Jesus, does provoke our  enemy to battle: "Satan, you glory of your power and victory over mankind, that  there is none able to withstand your assaults, nor escape your darts, but at one  time or other you give him a wound! Lo, I am a man like to my brethren, having  flesh and blood, and all properties of man's nature (sin, which is your venom,  excepted). Tempt, try, and assault me; I offer you here a place most convenient  (the wilderness). There shall be no mortal creature to comfort me against your  assaults. You shall have sufficient time; do what you can; I shall not flee the  place of battle. If you become victor, you shall still continue in possession of  your kingdom in this wretched world. But if you cannot prevail against me, then  must your prey and unjust spoil be taken from you you must grant yourself  vanquished and confounded, and must be compelled to leave off from all  accusation of the members of my body. For to them does appertain the fruit of my  battle; my victory is theirs, as I am appointed to take the punishment of their  sins in my body." 

O dear sisters, what comfort ought the remembrance of these signs to be to our  hearts! Christ Jesus has fought our battle; he himself has taken us into his  care and protection; however the devil [may] rage by temptations, be they  spiritual or corporeal, he is not able to bereave us out of the hand of the  potent Son of God. To him [Christ] be all glory, for his mercies most abundantly  poured forth upon us! 

There rests [remains]>yet to be spoken of, the time when our Head was tempted,  which began immediately after his baptism. Whereupon we have to note and mark,  that albeit the malice of Satan does never cease, but always seeks the means to  trouble the godly, yet sometimes he rages more fiercely than others; and that is  commonly when God begins to manifest his love and favour to any of his children,  and at the end of their battle, when they are nearest to obtain final victory. 

The devil, no doubt, did at all times envy the humble spirit which was in Abel,  but he did not stir up the cruel heart of Cain against him till God declared his  favour towards him, by acceptation of his sacrifice. The same we find in Jacob,  Joseph, David, and most evidently in Christ Jesus. How Satan raged at the  tidings of Christ's nativity! What blood he caused to be shed of purpose to have  murdered Christ in his infancy! The evangelist St. Matthew (2:16) does witness  that, in all the coasts and borders of Bethlehem, the children of two years old  and of less age were murdered without mercy: a fearful spectacle and horrid  example of insolent and unaccustomed tyranny! 

And what is the cause moving Satan thus to rage against innocents, considering  that, by reason of their imperfections, they could not hurt his kingdom at that  instant? O! the crafty eye of Satan looked further than to the present time. He  heard bruits [reports] by the three wise men, that they had learned, by the  appearance of a star, that the King of the Jews was born; and he was not  ignorant that the time prophesied of Christ's coming was then instant; for a  stranger was clad with the crown and scepter in the kingdom of Judah. The angel  had declared the glad tidings to the pastors [shepherds], that a Saviour, which  was Christ the Lord, was born in the city of David (Luke 2:8-11). All these  tidings inflamed the wrath and malice of Satan, for he perfectly understood that  the coming of the promised Seed was appointed to his confusion, and to the  breaking down of his head and tyranny. And therefore he raged most cruelly, even  at the first hearing of Christ's birth, thinking that albeit he could not let  [hinder] nor withstand his coming, yet should he shorten his days upon earth,  lest by long life and peaceable quietness in it, the number of good men, by  Christ's doctrine and virtuous life, should be multiplied. And so he pretended  [strove] to cut him away amongst the other children, before he could open his  mouth in his Father's message. O cruel serpent! in vain do you spend your venom.  For the days of God's elect you cannot shorten! And when the wheat corn is  fallen on the ground, then does it most multiply. 

But of these precedents, mark, dear sisters, what has been the practice of the  devil from the beginning, most cruelly to rage against God's children, when God  begins to show them his mercy. And, therefore, marvel not, dearly beloved,  albeit the like come unto you. If Satan fumes and roars against you, whether it  be against your bodies by persecution, or inwardly in your conscience by a  spiritual battle, be not discouraged, as though you were less acceptable in  God's presence, or as that Satan might at any time prevail against you. No! your  temptations and storms that do arise so suddenly, argue and do witness that the  seed which is sown is fallen in good ground, begins to take root, and shall, by  God's grace, bring forth fruit abundantly in due season and convenient time. And  that is it which Satan does fear; and therefore thus he rages (and shall rage)  against you, thinking that if he can repulse you now suddenly in the beginning,  that then you shall be at all times an easy prey, never able to resist his  assaults. 

But as my hope is good, so shall my prayer be, that so you may be strengthened,  that the world and Satan himself may understand and perceive that God fights  your battle. For you remember, sisters, that being present with you, and  treating the same place, I admonished you that Satan could not long sleep when  his kingdom was oppugned [threatened]. And therefore I willed you, if you were  in mind to continue with Christ, to prepare yourselves for the day of  temptation. The person of the speaker is wretched, miserable, and nothing to be  regarded; but the things that were spoken are the infallible and eternal truth  of God, without observation of which, life never can nor shall come to mankind.  God grant you continuance to the end. 

This much I have briefly spoken of the temptation of Christ Jesus: who was  tempted, [and] of the time and place of his temptation. Now rests to be spoken  how he was tempted, and by what means. 

The most part of expositors do think that all this temptation was in spirit and  imagination only, the corporeal senses being nothing moved. I will contend with  no man in such cases, but patiently will I suffer every man to abound in his own  knowledge; and without prejudice of any man's estimations, I offer my judgment  to be weighed and considered by Christian charity. It appears to me by the plain  text, that Christ suffered this temptation in body and spirit; that likewise, as  the hunger which Christ suffered, and the desert in which he remained, were not  things offered to the imagination but that the body did verily remain in the  wilderness among beasts, and after forty days did hunger and faint for lack of  food so the external ear shall hear the tempting words of Satan, which did enter  into the knowledge of the soul, [and] which, repelling the venom of such  temptations, caused the tongue to speak and confute Satan, to our unspeakable  comfort and consolation. It appears also that the body of Christ Jesus was  carried by Satan from the wilderness unto the temple of Jerusalem, and that it  was placed upon the pinnacle of the same temple, from whence it was carried to a  high mountain and there tempted. If any man can show the contrary hereof, by the  plain scriptures of God, I will prefer his judgment to my own, with all  submission and thanksgiving. But if the matter stands only in [the] probability  and opinion of men, then it is lawful for me to believe as the scripture here  speaks: that is, that Satan spoke and Christ answered, and Satan took him and  carried him from one place to another. 

Besides the evidence of the text affirming these precedents that Satan was  permitted to carry the body of Christ from place to place, and yet was not  permitted to execute any further tyranny against it is most singular comfort to  such as are afflicted or troubled in body or spirit. The weak and feeble  conscience of man under such temptations, does commonly gather and collect a  false consequent. For thus does man reason: the body or the spirit is vexed by  assaults and temptations of Satan, and he does carry or molest; therefore God is  angry with it, and takes no care over it. I answer: tribulations and grievous  vexations of body or of mind are not ever signs of God's displeasure against the  sufferer; neither yet does it follow that God has cast away the care of his  creatures, because he permits them to be molested and vexed for a time. For if  any sort of tribulation were the infallible sign of God's displeasure, then  should we condemn the best beloved children of God. But of this we may perhaps  speak more amply hereafter. Now to the temptation: 

Verse the 2nd. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was  afterward hungry.  

Verse the 3rd. Then came to him the tempter, and said, "If thou be the Son of  God, command that these stones be made bread," etc. 

Why Christ fasted forty days and would not exceed the same (without sense and  feeling of hunger) is partly before touched: that is, he would provoke the devil  to battle by the wilderness and long abstinence, but he would not usurp or  arrogate any more to himself in that case than God had wrought with others, his  servants and messengers before. Not but that Christ Jesus (as St. Augustine does  more amply declare), without feeling of hunger, might have endured the whole  year (yea, time without end), as well as he did endure the space of forty days.  For the nature of the mankind was sustained those forty days by the invisible  power of God, which is at all times of equal power. But Christ, willing to offer  further occasion to Satan to proceed in tempting of him, permitted the human  nature to crave earnestly that which it lacked that is to say, refreshing of  meat which Satan takes occasion (as before) to tempt and assault. Some judged  that Satan tempted Christ to gluttony; but that appears little to agree with the  purpose of the Holy Ghost, who shows us this history to let us understand that  Satan never ceases to oppugn the children of God, but continually, by one means  or other, drives and provokes them to some wicked opinions of their God. (And to  have desired stones to have been converted into bread, or to have desired the  hunger to have been satisfied, has never been sin, neither yet [a] wicked  opinion of God.) And therefore I doubt not but the temptation was more  spiritual, more subtle, and more dangerous. Satan has respect to the voice of  God, which has pronounced Christ to be his well-beloved Son, etc. 

Against this voice he fights, as his nature is ever to do, against the assured  and immutable word of God. [1]For such is his malice against God, and against  his chosen children, that where and to whom God pronounces love and mercy, to  these he threatens displeasure and damnation; and where God threatens death,  there is he bold to pronounce life; and for this cause is Satan called a liar  from the beginning (John 8:44). And so the purpose of Satan is to drive Christ  into desperation, that he shall not believe the former voice of God his Father;  and so this appears to be the meaning of this temptation: "Thou hast heard,"  would Satan say, "a voice proclaimed in the air, that thou were the beloved Son  of God, in whom his soul was well pleased (Matt. 3:17). But may thou not be  judged more than mad, and fonder than the brainless fool if thou do believe any  such promise? Where are the signs of his love? Art thou not abject from comfort  of all creatures? Thou art in worse case than the brute beasts, for every day  they hunt for their prey, and the earth produces grass and herbs for their  sustenance, so that none of them are pined and consumed away by hunger. But thou  hast fasted forty days and nights, ever waiting upon some relief and comfort  from above, but thy best provision is hard stones! If thou dost glory in thy  God, and dost verily believe the promise that is made, command that these stones  be bread. [2]But evident it is, that so thou canst not do; for if thou couldest,  or if thy God would have showed thee any such pleasure, thou mightest long ago  have removed thy hunger, and needest not have endured this languishing for lack  of food. But seeing thou art long continued, and no provision is made for thee,  it is vanity longer to believe any such promise; and therefore despair of any  help from God's hand, and provide for thyself by some other means!" 

Many words have I used here (dearly beloved), but I cannot express the thou  sandth part of the malicious despite which lurked in this one temptation of  Satan. It was a mocking of Christ and of his obedience. It is a plain denial of  God's promise. It was the triumphing voice of him that appears to have gotten  victory. Oh! how bitter this temptation is, no creature can understand, but such  as feel the dolour of such darts as Satan casts at the tender conscience of  those that gladly would rest and repose in God, and in the promises of his  mercy. 

But here is to be noted the ground and foundation of this temptation. The  conclusion of Satan is this: "Thou art none of God's elect, much less his well  beloved Son." His reason is this: "Thou art in trouble and find no relief." Then  the foundation of the temptation was Christ's poverty, and the lack of food  without hope of remedy to be sent from God. And it is the same temptation which  the devil objected to him by the princes of the priests in his grievous torments  upon the cross; for thus they cried, "If he be the Son of God, let him come down  from the cross, and we shall believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver  him, if he have pleasure in him" (Matt. 27:40, 43). As if they would say, "God  is the deliverer of his servants from troubles. God never permits those that  fear him to come to confusion. This man we see in extreme trouble. If he is the  Son of God, or yet a true worshipper of his name, he will deliver him from this  calamity. If he delivers him not, but suffers him to perish in these anguishes,  then it is an assured sign that God has rejected him as a hypocrite, that shall  have no portion of his glory." Thus, I say, Satan takes occasion to tempt, and  moves also others to judge and condemn God's elect and chosen children, by  reason that troubles are multiplied upon them. 

But with what weapons we ought to fight against such enemies and assaults, we  shall learn in the answer of Christ Jesus, which follows: 

Verse the 4th. But he, answering, said, "It is written, 'Man liveth not by bread  only, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' " 

This answer of Christ proves the sentence which we have brought of the  aforenamed temptation to be the very meaning of the Holy Ghost. For unless the  purpose of Satan had been to have removed Christ from all hope of God's merciful  providence towards him in that his necessity, Christ had answered nothing  directly to his words, saying, "Command that these stones be made bread" (Matt.  4:3). But Christ Jesus, perceiving his art and malicious subtlety, answers  directly to his meaning, his words nothing regarded. In which answer Satan was  so confounded, that he was ashamed to reply any further in that behalf. 

But that you may the better understand the meaning of Christ's answer, we will  phrase [express] and repeat it over in more words. "You labour, Satan," will  Christ say, "to bring into my heart a doubt and suspicion of my Father's promise  (which was openly proclaimed in my baptism), by reason of my hunger, and that I  lack all carnal provision. You are bold to affirm that God takes no care over  me. But you are a deceitful and false corrupt sophist, and your argument is  vain, and full of blasphemies; for you bind God's love, mercy, and providence to  the having or wanting of corporeal provision, which no part of God's scriptures  teach us, but rather they express contrary. As it is written, 'Man liveth not by  bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God' (Matt.  4:4). That is, the very life and felicity of man consists not in the abundance  of corporeal things, for the possession and having of them makes no man blessed  or happy. Neither shall the lack of them be the cause of his final misery; but  the very life of man consists in God, and in his promises pronounced by his own  mouth, unto the which whoso cleaves and sticks unfeignedly shall live the life  everlasting. And although all creatures in earth forsake him, yet shall not his  corporeal life perish till the time appointed by God approaches. For God has  means to feed, preserve, and maintain, unknown to man's reason, and contrary to  the common course of nature. He fed his people Israel in the desert forty years  without the provision of man. He preserved Jonah in the whale's belly, and  maintained and kept the bodies of the three children in the furnace of fire.  Reason and the natural man could have seen nothing in these cases but  destruction and death, and could have judged nothing but that God had cast away  the care of these his creatures; and yet his providence was most vigilant  towards them in the extremity of their dangers, from which he did so deliver  them (and in the midst of them did so assist them), that his glory, which is his  mercy and oodness, did more appear and shine after their troubles, than it could  have done if they had fallen in them. And therefore I measure not the truth and  favour of God by having or by lacking of bodily necessities, but by the promise  that he has made to me. As he himself is immutable, so are his word and promise  constant, which I believe, and to which I stick, and do cleave, whatever can  come externally to the body." 

In this answer of Christ we may espy what weapons are to be used against our  adversary the devil, and how that we may confute his arguments, which craftily,  and of malice, he makes against God's elect. Christ might have repulsed Satan  with a word or thought, commanding him to silence, as he to whom all power was  given in heaven and earth. But it pleased his mercy to teach us how to use the  sword of the Holy Ghost, which is the word of God, in battle against our  spiritual enemy. The scripture that Christ brings is written in the eighth  chapter of Deuteronomy. It was spoken by Moses a little before his death, to  establish the people in God's merciful providence. For in the same chapter, and  in certain others that go before, he reckons the great travail and diverse  dangers, with the extreme necessities that they had sustained in the desert, the  space of forty years; and yet, notwithstanding how constant God had been in  keeping and performing his promise, for then through all perils he had conducted  them to the sight and borders of the promised land. 

And so this scripture most directly answers to the temptation of Satan; for thus  does Satan reason (as before is said), "Thou art in poverty and have no  provision to sustain thy life. Therefore God takes no regard nor care over thee,  as he doth over his chosen children." Christ Jesus answers, "Your argument is  false and vain; for poverty or necessity secludes not the providence or care of  God which is easy to be proved by the people of God, Israel, who, in the desert,  did often times lack things necessary to the sustenance of life, and for lack of  the same they grudged and murmured. Yet the Lord never did cast away the  providence and care of them; but according to the voice that he had once  pronounced (to wit, that they were his peculiar people), and according to the  promise made to Abraham, and to them before the departure from Egypt, he still  remained their conductor and guide, till he placed them in peaceable possession  of the land of Canaan, their great infirmities and manifold transgressions  notwithstanding." 

Thus are we taught, I say, by Christ Jesus, to repulse Satan and his assaults by  the word of God, and to apply the examples of his mercies, which he has shown to  others before us, to our own souls in the hour of temptation, and in the time of  our troubles. For what God does to one at any time, the same appertains to all  that hang and depend upon God and his promises. And, therefore, however we are  assaulted by Satan our adversary, within the word of God are armour and weapons  sufficient. The chief craft of Satan is to trouble those that begin to decline  from his obedience, and to declare themselves enemies to iniquity, with diverse  assaults the end whereof is always the same: that is, to put variance betwixt  them and God, into their conscience, that they should not repose and rest  themselves in his assured promises. And to persuade this, he uses and invents  diverse arguments. Sometimes he calls the sins of their youth, and which they  have committed in the time of blindness, to their remembrance. Very often he  objects their unthankfulness towards God and present imperfections. By sickness,  poverty, tribulations in their household, or by persecution, he can allege that  God is angry, and regards them not. Or, by the spiritual cross, which few feel  and fewer understand the utility and profit of, he would drive God's children to  desperation, and by infinite means more, he goes about seeking, like a roaring  lion, to undermine and destroy our faith. 

But it is impossible for him to prevail against us, unless obstinately we do  refuse to use the defence and weapon that God has offered. Yea, I say, that  God's elect cannot refuse it, but seek for their Defender when the battle is  most strong; for the sobs, groans, and lamentations of such as fight yea, the  fear they have to be vanquished, the calling and praying they make for  continuance are the undoubted and right seeking of Christ our champion. We  refuse not the weapon, although sometimes, by infirmity, we cannot use it as we  would. It suffices that your hearts unfeignedly sob for greater strength, for  continuance, and for final deliverance by Christ Jesus. That which lacks in us,  his sufficiency does supply; for it is he that fights and overcomes for us. But  for bringing of the examples of the scriptures, if God permit, in the end we  shall speak more largely, when it shall be treated, why Christ permitted himself  thus to be tempted. 

Sundry impediments now do call me from writing in this matter, but, by God's  grace, at convenient leisure, I purpose to finish, and to send [it] unto you. I  grant the matter that proceeds from me is not worthy [of] your labours and pain  to read it; yet, seeing it is a testimony of my good mind towards you, I doubt  not but you will accept it in good part. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus  Christ, grant unto you to find favour and mercy of that Judge, whose eyes and  knowledge do pierce through the secret cogitations of all hearts, in the day of  temptation which shall apprehend all flesh, according to that mercy which you  (illuminated and directed by his Holy Spirit) have shown unto the afflicted.  [The] God of all comfort and consolation confirm and strengthen you in his  virtue [power] unto the end. Amen. 

Notes 

1. Marginal note: Note diligently 

2. Marginal note: Note these arguments 

Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Reed Presbyterian Heritage Publications P.O. Box 180922 Dallas, Texas 75218