The first three Lenten Sundays are devoted to the consideration of temptations
as proceeding from the devil, the flesh, and the world.
THE GOSPEL (S. MATT. iv. i.) OUR LORD TEMPTED BY
A. When Our Lord was Tempted.
After a season of the highest spiritual elevation, and when, therefore,
He might have been least upon His guard; at the hour also of His greatest
weakness, and on the side of His weakness. Unlike the first Adam,
tempted in the midst of every advantage, the second Adam was tempted with
every outward circumstance in favour of the tempter. We may thus
expect temptation when least we fear it, but at our weakest moment, and
through our frailties and the sins which most beset us.
B. Why Our Lord was Tempted.
It was for us men and our salvation; that we might not, when tempted,
feel guilty and doubt of God's assistance in our hour of greatest need;
that we might not lack an example to inform us, nor an assurance of sympathy
to encourage us, and of sufficient grace to give us the victory.
C. How Our Lord was Tempted.
Every temptation, both of Christ and ours, is directed against sonship,
and its object to interfere between the sons of God and their Heavenly
Father, and to separate man from the favour and grace of God. Christ
came to "destroy the works of the devil and make us sons of God."
Satan comes to unmake the sons of God. Christ was tempted in three
ways; we in many ways, but always with the same end in view, that we may
lose our birthright; for as long as we can retain this we are safe, nor
can Satan rob us but by our own consent.
Our Lord was tempted, and we are tempted -
(1) To Distrust Sonship.
To cast away faith in the care of a Heavenly Father Who had just claimed
Him as His beloved Son. To use His miraculous powers as His own to
gratify His own wants rather than as a Son dependent on His Father's will.
We are thus tempted both to distrust our Father's care, and to employ
unlawful, because unfilial, means to supply our wants, for Satan has not
let this favourite weapon rust in its sheath against Christ's servants,
though of no avail against their Master. He still urges the necessity
of bread, and so also of sin; but our Lord tells of the greatest necessity
of obedience, by which alone men live, and not by bread.
(2) To Presume upon Sonship.
Having failed to conquer Christ's weakness, the tempter attacks Christ's
strength; His very faith shall be His temptation, that His confidence in
God may lead Him to presumption. Our Lord lays open the deception
in the words: "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." To presume
is to tempt God; it is to ask Him to bless our disobedience. We presume
when faith in God's care leads us to extravagance, or faith in His protection
into needless danger, or faith in His mercy into carelessness of conduct;
whenever we expect to receive the promise without observing the conditions.
(3) To a Disloyal Sonship.
The Father must be everything or nothing. The intention of the
temptation is revealed in the answer: "Him only shalt thou serve."
The temptation was to do evil, that good might come; and the answer must
ever be that "that which cometh will not be good." That for which
our Lord desired empire was indeed good, for He desired to rule the world
in righteousness. Satan can tempt us with baser gains, e.g.
some temporal advantage won by sin, or escape from difficulty by means
of untruth. We are tempted to reject the crown of righteousness when
it seems a crown of thorns. Thus we are in danger whenever the turmoils
of the world and the heat of them, the pleasures of the world and the mirth
of them, the riches of the world and the glory of them, so take us up that
we love them more than God, Whom only we must serve.
THE EPISTLE. (2 COR. vi. i.) GREAT ARGUMENTS
TO HELP IN RESISTING TEMPTATION.
A. Our Position of Grace.
In baptism we received the grace of adoption to be the sons of God.
We have not to wait for this grace, for it is ours already. Ours
is the grace of acceptance in spite of sins that are past, and the grace
of salvation by which to conquer the power of inward sin; and ours now,
for now is "a time accepted and a day of salvation." What we have
to do is to see that this twofold grace be not received in vain, for received
it has certainly been. Every temptation is directed against our position
as redeemed children of God. To help us we must remember how much
we stand to lose by sin, if by sin we should forfeit our birthright.
To realize the blessedness of sonship is so to value it as never to be
willing to suffer the loss of it. Realized sonship is, in fact, the
conquest of evil.
B. The Example of the Saints.
Their labours show the intense importance of the message we have received
at their hands, as the weariness and wounds of a despatch-rider testify
the urgency of his tidings. Such a messenger was S. Paul, ever anxious
not to hinder his message by offence, to deliver it in spite of all and
every danger, to exhibit its power in his own spiritual life, careless
of honour or shame, success or failure, counting every sorrow a joy, every
privation a privilege.
The labours of the saints show the importance of their message, and
their example of self-denial reproves our weakness. Let us not disappoint
those who have brought us the grace of God. If one argument against
sin is our own loss, a second is surely what others would lose by our fall.
A. Its Address.
It is addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ as the great denier of self
for our sake. His Birth, Life, and Death were one long act of self-denial--"He
B. Its Petition.
We ask for grace to use abstinence, not as an end, as if it had any
merit in itself, but as a means of self-control, and for this very self-control
as itself a means to more perfect obedience to the impulses of the Spirit,
however gentle. Not abstinence, but obedience, is the pathway to
true holiness; but we need such abstinence as may make it easier to obey.
At whatever cost, we must follow and obey the motions of the Spirit; for
thus alone can any high Christian character be attained, or, indeed, any
Christian character at all.
C. The Object of all Resistance
Is nothing but the greater glory of God to be manifested by our increasing
likeness to our Lord, and by our union with Him in all things, and especially
in His victory over temptation and constant denial of self.