Christ's Temptation Sermon 4 - Matthew 4:7Christ's Temptation Practically Explained and Improved in Several Sermons by Thomas Manton (1620-1677) (Volume 1)
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Christ’s Temptation Sermon 4 – Matthew 4:7
“Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Matthew 4:7
HERE is Christ’s answer to the second temptation, where two things are observable…
First, That Christ answered.
Secondly, What he answered.
First, That Christ answered. Christ answered the more to convince and confound this old deceiver, that he might not think that he was ignorant of his sleights, or that he fainted in the conflict; as also to instruct us what to do in the renewed assaults of the devil, to keep up our resistance still, not letting go our sure hold, which are the scriptures.
Secondly, What he answered, ‘It is written,’ etc. But would it not have been more satisfactory to have said, It is sufficiently manifest to me that I am the Son of God, and cared for by him, and that it is not for the children of God to run upon precipices?
I answer: It is not for human wisdom to interpose and prescribe to Christ, who was the wisdom and power of God. His answer is most satisfactory, for two reasons
1. It striketh at the throat of the cause.
2. It doth with advantage give us other instructions.
1. Christ cutteth the throat of the temptation by quoting a passage of scripture, out of Deut. vi. 16, ‘Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.’ If we must not tempt God, then it doth not become Christ to tempt his Father’s providence for a new proof of his filiation and care over him. Therefore the devil’s temptation was neither good nor profitable, to put either his sonship or the care of God’s providence to this trial; as if he had said, I shall not require any more signs to prove my filiation, nor express any doubt of his power and goodness towards me, as the Israelites did: Exod. xvii. 7, ‘And he called the name of the place Massab, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?’ To which story this prohibition of tempting God alludeth.
2. He doth with advantage give us other instructions; as,
[1.] That we must not esteem the less of scripture, though Satan and his instruments abuse it; and that nothing is more profitable to dissolve doubts and objections raised from scripture, than to compare one scripture with another. For scripture is not opposite to scripture; there is a fair agreement and harmony between the truths therein compared; and one place doth not cross another, but clear and explain another. One place saith he hath a great care of his people, and useth the ministry of angels for that end and purpose; but another place saith, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God;’ they must not seek out dangers, and forfeit their protection by unreasonable pre-sumption.
[2.] It teacheth us that what the scripture speaketh to all, is to be esteemed as spoken to every singular person, for they are included in their universality. In Deuteronomy it is, ‘Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God;’ but Christ accommodateth it to his own purpose, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’ He that is not to be tempted by a multitude, is not to be tempted by any one. So Ps. xxvii. 8, ‘When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ God’s words invite all, but David maketh application to himself.
[3.] Christ subjects himself to the moral law, and did apply the precepts thereof to himself, no less than to us; and so is a pattern of obedience to us, that we ought to direct and order all our actions according to the law and word of God.
Doct. Tempting of God may be a usual, but yet it is a great and heinous sin. In speaking to this point, I shall show:–
I. What this tempting of God is.
II. The heinousness of the sin.
I. What is this tempting of God? And here let me speak: –
1. To the object.
2. To the act.
First, The object, The Lord thy God. To us Christians there is but one only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Now sometimes we are said to tempt God, and sometimes Christ, and sometimes the Spirit of God.
[1.] In scripture we are said to tempt God, as Ps. xcv. 9, ‘When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works.’ We tempt God either explicitly or implicitly.
(1.) Explicitly, by plain and direct words, which tend to God’s dishonour; or a doubting of his prescience, power, and providence, if they have not all things given them according to their fancies and humours. As Ps. lxxviii. 15, 19, ‘They tempted God in their hearts, by asking meat for their lusts. Yea, they spake against God, and said, Can God provide a table in the wilderness?’ So Exod. xvii. 7, ‘Is the Lord in the midst of us, or no?’ They doubted whether God’s presence were among them, when they had continually such pregnant proofs of it. The words may either hear this sense, Who knows that God is present? or, Now see whether God be present, or takes any care of us, yea or no.
(2.) Implicitly, or by interpretation, which is a more secret way of tempting God, when the act speaketh it, whatever be the intention of the doer. As those who were about to lay the burden of the rites of Moses’s law on the new converts of the Gentiles: Acts xv. 10, ‘Now, therefore, why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the necks of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?’ That is, why do you not acquiesce in the will of God, apparently manifested, as if ye did go about to try whether God did require anything of his servants besides faith in Christ? His will was clearly evident in the case by what happened to Cornelius; or as if ye would try whether God will take it well that ye should impose upon his disciples a yoke that he approveth not.
[2.] We are said to tempt Christ; and he may be considered either as in the days of his flesh, or in his state of glory, and with respect to his invisible presence.
(1.) In the days of his flesh he was frequently tempted by the scribes and Pharisees, who would not be satisfied in his mission, notwithstanding all the signs and wonders that he had wrought among them; or else sought to accuse and disgrace him, and prejudice the people against him; so Mat. xvi. 1, ‘The Pharisees with the Sadducees came, and tempting him, desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven.’ So Mat. xxii. 18, ‘Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?’ when the Pharisees and the Herodians came to question him about paying tribute. So Luke x. 25, ‘A certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him,’ etc.
(2.) In his state of glory, and with respect to his invisible presence. So the Israelites in the wilderness tempted him before his coming in the flesh, and Christians may now tempt him after his ascension into heaven. Both are in one place: 1 Cor. x. 9, ‘Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.’
What was their tempting of Christ in the wilderness? If he be considered as God, he had a subsistence before he was incarnate of the Virgin; and in this sense, as they tempted God, so they may be said also to tempt Christ; for all the affliction, shame, and disgrace done to that people are called the reproach of Christ: Heb. xi. 25, 26, ‘Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.’ So their murmuring might be called a tempting of Christ. Christ was the perpetual head of the church, who in his own person did lead the people, and was present in the midst of them under the notion of the angel of the covenant. The eternal Son of God guided them in the wilderness: Exod. xxiii. 20 – 23, ‘Behold, I will send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to thy enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries; for mine angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the land of the Amorites,’ etc. This angel can be no other than Christ, whose office it is to keep us in the way, and to bring us into the place which Christ hath prepared for us; he it is that must be obeyed by the people of God, and pardon their transgressions; in him is God’s name, for he will not communicate it to any other that is not of the same substance with himself: God is in him, and he in the Father, and his name is ‘Jehovah our Righteousness.’ So Exod. xxxiii. 14, ‘My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.’ My presence, that is, my angel, spoken of before, called ‘the angel of his presence:’ Isa. lxiii. 9,’ In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them.’ This angel is called Jehovah: Exod. xiii. 21, ‘And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud,’ etc. This angel of God’s presence was no other than Jesus Christ, the conductor of them in the wilderness, who safe-guarded them, and secured them all the way from Egypt to Canaan. And we Christians may also tempt Christ, for the apostle warneth us against it: we tempt Christ, now he is ascended into heaven, when we disobey his laws, question his authority, doubt of his promises, after sufficient means of conviction, that he is the Messias, the Son of God; grow weary of his religion, loathing spiritual manna, and begin to be glutted with the gospel, and are discouraged in the way to our heavenly Canaan, whither we are travelling.
[3.] The Holy Ghost is said also to be tempted: Acts v. 9, ‘How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?’ – namely, by their hypocrisy and dissimulation, putting it to the trial, whether he could discover them in their sin, yea or no; they had endeavoured, as much as in them lay, to deceive the Spirit by keeping back part of the price; that is, by that practice they would put it to the trial, whether the Holy Ghost, yea or no, could find out that cheat and fallacy. It is not barely to deceive the apostles, who were full of the Holy Ghost, and had a discerning spirit, though to them they brought their lie. No, saith the apostle, ‘Ye have not lied unto men, but unto God,’ ver. 4; and therefore they are said to ‘tempt the Holy Ghost,’ whether he could find them out or no, though they had so many experiences of his care and respect to the church, and all affairs belonging thereunto; and so the injury was done, not to the apostles, but to the Holy Ghost himself.
Secondly, The act. What is this temptation of God? Temptation is the proving and making trial of a thing or person, what he is, and what he will do. Thus we tempt God when we put it to the trial whether God will be as good as his word, and doubt of the comminatory and promissory part thereof, or whether he will be such an one as he is taken to be. Now, this is lawful or unlawful according as the trial is made humbly and, dutifully, or else proudly and sinfully, whether God will do such a thing as we have prescribed him. And again, as the trial is made necessarily or unnecessarily. Sinfully we are said to tempt God when we make an unnecessary experiment of his truth, goodness, and power, and care of us, having had sufficient assurance of these things before.
[1.] There is a tempting or proving of God in a way of duty. So we are bidden, Mal. iii. 10, ‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now therewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.’ God there submitteth to a trial upon experience; though we are to believe him upon his bare word, yet he will have us to wait for the good things promised; and in this sense it is said, ‘The word of the Lord is a tried word, he is a buckler to all them that trust in him,’ Ps. xviii. 30. All those that build any hope upon it, and wait to see what the Lord will do, will find that God will stand to his word. This is a constant duty to observe God’s truth and faithfulness. To suspend our belief till the event is distrust; but to wait, observing what God will do as to the event, is an unquestionable duty.
[2.] There is an allowed trying of God in some cases. I cannot say it is a duty, because it is only warrantable by God’s special indulgence and dispensation; and I cannot say it is a sin, because of God’s gracious condescension to his people: Judges vi 39, ‘And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.’ The request was not of distrust and malice, but of infirmity and from a weak faith; not out of infidelity to tempt God, but out of humility; being sensible of his own weakness, he desired this help, for the further confirmation of his faith concerning his calling to this work, as an instrument authorised, and the issue and success of it; and also to assure others who followed him. To this head I refer Thomas his proof and trial: John xx. 25, ‘Except I see in his hand the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ Here was weakness in Thomas, to suspend his faith upon such a condition; but an apostle was to be an eye-witness of those things which were done, especially of his resurrection; and, therefore, Christ meekly condescended to his request, ver. 27, ‘Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing.’ I put it among infirmities: he alloweth him his trial of sense, but with some rebuke. To this head may be referred that of Hezekiah, who, when he was sick of a mortal disease, and the Lord had extraordinarily promised him, on his mourning, that he should be recovered again, he asks a sign for the confirmation of his faith, and God grants it him: 2 Kings xx. 8, 9. And the instance of Ahaz, who, when the prophet bid him ‘ask a sign,’ he said, Isa. vii. 12, ‘I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.’ He believed nothing of what the prophet had spoke, and was resolved to go on in his way, but he pretended a reverent and religious respect to God. This kind of tempting God is tolerable, being an act of condescension in God to the weakness of his people.
[3.] There is a sinful tempting of God, and this is done two ways
(1.) Generally every transgression, in a general sense, is a tempting of God: Num. xiv. 22, ‘They have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice.’ Every eminent and notable provocation of theirs is called a tempting of God. Hereby they make trial of God’s justice, whether he will execute vengeance upon them or no. Thus we tempt Christ when we fall into any voluntary and known sin, we put it to the trial what he will or can do; we enter into the lists with God, provoke him to the combat: 1 Cor. x. 22, ‘Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?’ We try whether God will be so severe as his threatening speaks him to be, as if we would make some experiment of his anger, justice, and power. This kind of tempting of God is compounded of infidelity and presumption. There is infidelity in it when we dare sin against the clear light and checks of conscience, and venture upon his threatenings. You cannot drive a dull ass into the fire that is kindled before him: Prov. i. 17, ‘Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.’ And there is presumption in it, therefore these voluntary acts of rebellion are called presumptuous sins: Ps. xix. 13, ‘Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.’ Gross and scandalous sinners are described to be such as tempt God: Mal. iii. 15, ‘And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.’ And Ananias and Sapphira are said to ‘tempt the Holy Ghost,’ Acts v. 9. By open voluntary sins men dare God to his face; by secret sins we put it to the trial whether God be an all-seeing God, and will discover this hypocrisy. Both conclude they shall do well enough, though they break his laws, and run wilfully upon evil practices forbidden by his law.
(2.) More particularly we tempt God two ways – in a way of distrust or presumption. Both these arise from unbelief, though they seem to be contrary extremes; for though presumption may seem to arise from an over-much confidence, yet if it be narrowly searched into, we shall find that men presume upon unwarrantable courses, because they do not believe that God will do what is meet to be done in his own time or in his own way. As, for instance, had the Israelites believed that God, in his own time, and in his own way, would have destroyed the Cannanites, they would not have presumed, against an express charge, to have gone against them without the ark and without Moses, as they did: Num. xiv. 40, to the end: they presumed to go up unto the hill-top, and then they were discomfited. But presumption in some being most visible, in others distrust, therefore we make two kinds of them.
[1st.] In a way of distrust. And that is done several ways, but all agree in this: not content with what God hath done already to settle our faith, we prescribe means of our own, and indent with him upon terms of our own making. So the Israelites, Exod. xvii. 7, ‘And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?’ They had sufficient signs of God’s presence – the pillar of a cloud and fire, that went before them by day and by night; but they would have signs of their own. So the Jews are said to tempt Christ, because they sought a sign from heaven: Mat. xvi. 1, ‘The Pharisees also, with the Sadducees, came, and, tempting, desired him that be would show them a sign from heaven.’ He had given sufficient evidence of his mission and divine power in casting out devils and healing the sick and diseased; but they would have a sign from heaven, some sign of their own prescribing. The devil is ready to put such thoughts into our minds. If God be with us, let him show it by doing this or that; and we are apt to require stronger proofs of God’s power and presence with us than he alloweth. This is a frequent sin now-a-days, and men are many ways guilty of it.
First, Some will not believe the gospel except they see a miracle or hear an oracle. Christ representeth their thoughts, Luke xvi. 30, ‘Nay, father Abraham, if one went to them from the dead, then they would repent.’ They would have other ways of assurance than God alloweth, and are not content with his word and works, by which he revealeth himself to us, but will, at their own pleasure, make trial of his will and power, and then believe. These tempt God, and therefore no wonder if God will not do for them that which they require.
Secondly, Some will not believe God’s providence, but make question of his power and goodness, and care over us and our welfare, when he hath given us sufficient proof thereof. When he hath taken care to convince our infidelity by supplying our wants, and hath done abundantly enough already for evidencing his power, justice, and truth, and readiness to help us, we will not believe unless he give us new and extraordinary proof of each, such as we prescribe to him: Ps. xcv. 9, 10, ‘When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ They saw his works, were fed with miracles, and clothed with miracles, yet they must have new proof still. Two ways of tempting him as to his providence the scripture mentions:-
One was their setting God a task of satisfying their conceits and carnal affections: Ps. lxxviii. 18, ‘And they tempted God in their hearts, by asking meat for their lusts.’ Of this sin they are guilty that must be maintained at such a rate, must have such provision for them and theirs, or else they cannot believe his truth and care of them. As the Israelites, God must give them festival diet in the wilderness, or else they will no longer believe his power and serve him.
The other way of tempting God, with respect to his providence, was by confining him to their own time, manner, and means of working: Ps. lxxviii. 41, ‘Yea, they turned back, and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.’ To limit the Holy One is to confine him within a circle of their own making, and if he doth not help them by their means, and at their time, as those in the text, they will not tarry God’s leisure, they think there is no depending on him for any succour. Thus they set bounds to his wisdom and power, as if he could do no more than they conceive to be probable. Thus also we prescribe means and time to God, take upon us to set rules to him how he should govern the world. And one usual way of tempting God now is, when we will not go fair and softly in the path and pace of God’s appointing, but are offended at the tediousness thereof, and make haste, and take more compendious ways of our own: Isa. xxviii. 16, ‘He that believeth will not make haste;’ but he that believeth not is precipitant, must have God’s mercy, power, and goodness manifested to them in their own way and time.
Thirdly, Some will not be satisfied as to their spiritual estate without some sensible proof, or such kind of assurance as God usually vouchsafeth not to his people. As suppose they must be fed with spiritual dainties, and overflow with sensible consolation in every holy duty, or else they are filled with disquieting thoughts about their acceptance with God. We must have matters of faith put under the view and feeling of sense, or else we will not take comfort in them. But we must not limit God to give proofs of his love, nor prescribe such signs as are not promised by him, but study our case in the word. For God will not always treat us by sensible experience. Thomas is allowed to touch Christ, but Mary is not allowed to touch him: John xx. 17, compared with ver. 27.
[2dly.] In a way of presumption; so we tempt God when, without any warrant, we presume of God’s power and providence. As here the devil tempted Christ to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, to try if he would take the charge of him in the fall; whereupon Christ replieth, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’ Now this is done several ways.
First, When we presume upon God’s help, forsaking the ordinary way and means. Christ would not throw himself down, when he could go down by the stairs or steps of the temple. Downstairs and over the battlements is not all one. Christ, that could walk upon the sea in the distress of his disciples, in ordinary cases taketh a ship. Whosoever will not use the ordinary means that God hath appointed, but in ordinary cases expects extraordinary supplies, tempteth God. God is able to bring water out of the rock, when there is nothing but rock and stone; but when we may hope to find spring-water, we must dig for it. God can rain manna out of heaven; but when the soil will bear corn, we must till it. When Elisha was in a little village, not able to defend him from the Syrians, he had chariots and horsemen of fire to defend him, 2 Kings vi. 17; but when he was in Samaria, a strong, walled town, and the king of Israel sent to fetch his head, he said to those that were with him, ‘Shut the door,’ ver. 32. Christ in the wilderness miraculously fed many; but near the city he ‘sent his disciples to buy bread,’ John iv. 8. When the Church of God had need of able helps at first, gifts were miraculously conferred; but afterwards every man to his study, 1 Tim. iv. 16, ‘Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all’ In short, God’s omnipotency is for that time discharged, when we have ordinary means to help ourselves. To disdain ordinary means, and expect extraordinary, is as if a man should put off his clothes, and then expect God should keep him from cold.
Secondly, When we expect the end without the means. If Hezekiah had refused the bunch of figs, or Paul’s companions to tarry in the ship, they had tempted God. When we desire any blessing, we must not refuse or neglect any good means for attaining of it. In spiritual things this is very usual; men hope to have the end without the means. In temporal things we will soon confess there must be means used, for ‘if any would not work, neither should he eat,’ 2 Thes. iii. 10. In warfare no victory is to be hoped for without fighting; only in spiritual matters we think to do well enough, though we never put to our endeavours to cry for knowledge, and to dig for it; this is a tempting of God: Prov. ii. 3-5, ‘If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.’ We dream of heaven when there is no mortification, no exercising ourselves unto godliness. A great many say as Balaam did, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his,’ Num. xxiii. 10; but they care not for living the life of the righteous. If they can but charm themselves into a secure presumption of salvation, they never give diligence to make their calling and election sure. This cometh from hardness of heart, not strength of faith. Many defer their conversion to the last, and then think that in the twinkling of an eye they shall in a trice be in heaven with Elias in whirlwind. It was a prayer of Sir Thomas More, Domine, Deus, fac me in iis consequendis operam collocare, pro quibus obtinendis te orare soleo – ‘ Lord! make me to bestow pains in getting those things, for the obtaining of which I use to pray to thee.’ Otherwise we tempt God.
Thirdly, When without call we rush into any danger, or throw ourselves into it, with an expectation God will fetch us off again. As if Christ, when nobody went about to thrust him down, should wilfully have cast himself down. Whether the danger be certain, or inevitable, or very probable, we must not throw ourselves on it; but, when God calls us, then we may expect his help according to his promise; as to go into places or houses infected. In spiritual cases it is often done; men that by often experience have found such and such things to be occasions to them of sinning, yet presume to do the same again; these tempt God, ride into the devil’s quarters, go into dangerous places and companies where they are like to be corrupted; as Peter went into the high-priest’s hall, and those that go to live in Popish families. We pray that we be not led into temptations, but when we lead ourselves, what shall become of us? as we do, when we cast ourselves upon temptations, and dangerous occasions of sin.
Fourthly, When we undertake things for which we are not fitted and prepared, either habitually or actually: as to speak largely without meditation. When an unlearned man undertakes the handling a weighty controversy, and a good cause wanteth shoulders, we tempt God. When we undertake things above bodily strength, all will condemn us; so to undertake things that we have no ability to perform is unlawful. The sons of Sceva would take upon them to exorcise the devil, ‘And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded,’ Acts xix. 16.
Fifthly, Another sort of tempting God is, when we come to him with an idol in our hearts; that is, when people are resolved of a thing, they will go and ask counsel of God. In all matters we resolve on we are to take God’s leave, and counsel, and blessing; but they first resolve and then ask God’s counsel. And, therefore, God saith, Ezek. xiv. 4, ‘Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols.’ Balaam had a mind to the wages of unrighteousness, but yet he durst not go without God, and, till God had permitted him, he would be asking again and again: Num. xxii. 12, compared with the 20th and 22d verses. God answered him in wrath, according to the idol of his heart. Thus you see men tempt God, when, either out of diffidence or presumption, they seek an experience of his wisdom, power, justice, truth, goodness, against his word and command, and the order he hath established; as the Israelites, when means failed, murmured and prescribed time, means, and manner of deliverance, as if they would subject God to their lusts.
II. The heinousness of the sin.
1. Because it is a great arrogancy when we seek thus to subject the Lord to our direction, will, and carnal affections. Prescribing to God argueth too great an ascribing to ourselves. Certainly the Lord cannot endure that his people, who ought wholly to depend upon him, submit to him, and be ruled by him, should prescribe as they please how and when he should help them; and that his power and goodness should lacquey upon, and be at the beck of, our idle and wanton humours. The direction of the affairs of the world is one of the flowers of God’s crown. Now to dislike of his holy government is a presumptuous arrogancy in the creature; we will take upon us to model our mercies and choose our means, and will not tarry the time that he hath appointed for our relief, but will anticipate it, and shorten it according to our own fancies. God is sovereign, we are as clay in his hands; he is our potter, and must prescribe the shape in which we must be formed, and the use we must be put to, Jer. xviii. 6: ‘0 house of Israel, cannot I do with you as the potter, saith the Lord? Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, 0 house of Israel.’ He hath full right to dispose of the creature as he pleaseth, and according to the counsel of his own will, to which we are to be subject without murmuring or repining. We cannot say to him, ‘What makest thou? or why dost thou this?’ Isa. xlv. 9: ‘Woe unto him that striveth with his maker! let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth: shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands.’ Tempting before the event is the same almost with murmuring after the event.
2. It is great unbelief, or a calling into question God’s power, mercy, and goodness to us. We should entirely depend upon God for salvation, and whatsoever is necessary to salvation, and that he will supply our wants, and bring us out of every strait, in a way most conducing to our own welfare and his honour. But now we are not satisfied with the assurance God hath given us in those laws of commerce, which are established between him and us; we must have extraordinary proofs, or else we question all. Tempting God seemeth rather to be opposed to the fear and reverence that we should have of him; yet, primarily and in itself, it is rather opposite to our trust. And though we take it for a sin which argueth too much trust, or an unwarrantable boldness in expecting unusual ways of help from God, yet generally it belongeth to unbelief and diffidence, and ariseth from it. For, therefore, we put him to proof, tempt, or make trial of God, because we distrust his help, and are not satisfied with his goodness and power, till we have other testimonies thereof, than are ordinarily dispensed. Therefore this reason is given of their tempting God, because ‘they believed not God, and trusted not in his salvation,’ Ps. lxxviii. 22. They must have their own salvation, their own way of supply or deliverance, or else they cannot trust God if he doth not help them at their time and by their means.
3. It looseneth the bonds of all obedience, because we set up new laws of commerce between God and us; for when we suspect God’s fidelity to us, unless he do such things as we fancy, we suspect our fidelity to him. Therefore disobedience is made the fruit of tempting God: Ps. lxxviii. 56, ‘Yea, they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies.’ They that tempt God cast away God’s rule, and God’s terms of obedience, and make others to themselves. The question is, whether God shall direct us, or we him? We say, unless God will do thus and thus, we will no longer believe his power and serve him.
4. It is great ingratitude, or a lessening God’s benefits and works already done for us: Ps. lxxviii. 20, ‘Behold he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?’ As if what he had done formerly were nothing. Now, God cannot endure to have his benefits lessened, or his former works forgotten and despised.
5. It is wantonness, rather than want, puts us upon tempting of God. There is a humour in men; we are very desirous to try conclusions, condemning things common, and are fond about strange novelties. It was told the Israelites, as plain as could be, that they should not reserve manna till the morning; and they need not to have reserved it, they had fresh every day; yet they would needs keep it for experiment’s sake, to try whether it would stink or no: Exod. xvi.
2O. And though they were forbidden to gather it on the Sabbath-day, having on the evening before enough for two days, and it was told them they should find none on the Sabbath-day, yet they must try. Where need is, there a man may commit himself to the providence of God, and rely upon him; and where means fail us, God can help us by prerogative, that we may say with Abraham, when we have no help present, ‘In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen,’ Gen. xxii. 14; and with Moses, when the Red Sea was before them, and the enemy was behind them, ‘Fear ye not, stand still, and ye shall see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to-day,’ Exod. xiv. 13. When Elias was in distress, the angel brought him meat, 1 Kings xix. 5, 6; when Hagar and Ishmael were in the wilderness, and the bottle spent, then God comforted her from heaven, Gen. xxi. 17; when the three children were in the fiery furnace, then God sent an angel to be their deliverer, Dan. iii 28. But now, in wantonness to desire extraordinary proofs of God’s care over us, when he hath in ordinary ways provided for us, is to tempt the Lord: Ps. cvi. 14, ‘They lusted exceedingly in the desert, and tempted God in the wilderness.’ When they had so many convictions of God’s power and providence over them, which should in reason have charmed them into a full and cheerful resignation and dependence upon him, they, remembering the flesh-pots in Egypt, must have their luxuriant appetites gratified; and because they had not that festival plenty, which could not be expected in the wilderness, they reproached Moses for having brought them out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness; and now God must show them a miracle, not for the supply of their wants, but to pamper and feed their lusts: Ps. lxxviii. 18,19, ‘And they tempted God in their heart, by asking meat for their lust: yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?’ A table must be prepared; he must give them festival diet in the wilderness.
6. It argues impatiency: Ps. cvi. 13, 14, ‘They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel, but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert.’ The word signifies they made haste, took it ill they were not presently brought into that plenty that was promised: Num. xx. 5, ‘Wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates, neither is there any water to drink,’ which was the plenty that was promised in the land of Canaan. Thus they made haste, were impatient of staying God’s time of giving them this inheritance; and because they had it not presently, they wished themselves back again in Egypt. Tempting is because we cannot attend the performance of God’s promise in his own time. They went out passionately in the pursuit of their plenty, which they looked for; and as soon as they discovered any difficulty, conclude they were betrayed, not waiting with patience God’s time, when he should accomplish his promises made to them.
7. The greatness of the sin is seen by the punishments of it. One is mentioned: 1 Cor. x. 9, ‘Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.’ They were bitten of serpents, because they tempted God, and murmured because of the length of the way, that they could not get presently into Canaan; and the apostle tells us that all the things which happened to Israel of old happened to them wv tupoi, as patterns of providence. A people might easily read their own doom and destiny, if they would blow off the dust from the ancient providences of God, and observe what proofs and characters of his justice, wisdom, and truth are engraven there. The desert of sin is still the same, and the exactness of divine justice is still the same; and therefore what hath been is a pledge and document of what may be, if we fall into like crimes. God is impartially and immutably just; he is but one: Gal. iii. 20. God is one, always consonant unto himself, and doth like unto himself: his power is the same, so is his justice. Even the historical part of the word is a kind of prophecy, not only a register and chronicle of what is past, but a kind of calendar and prognostication of what is to come. As other histories in scripture are left upon record for our learning, so especially the history of Israel’s passage through the wilderness into Canaan.
Use. Let us not tempt God in any of the kinds mentioned.
1. Not by requiring new grounds of faith, when God hath given sufficient already; not by cherishing scepticism and irresolution in point of religion, till new nuncios come from heaven with a power to work miracles, and to be endowed with extraordinary gifts, as the Seekers do. Many waver in religion, would fain see an apparition, and have some extraordinary satisfaction, which God would not give them upon every trifling occasion. The Pharisees must have a sign from heaven; the Papists would have the Protestant teachers show their commission by miracles; the Jews would believe if Christ came down from the cross. To suspend our faith till God gives us our own terms is to tempt God; and to dispossess you of this conceit, consider: – [1.] Signs and wonders done in one age and time for the confirmation of the true religion, should suffice all ages and times afterwards; and it is a tempting God to ask more signs and wonders for the confirmation of that truth, which is sufficiently confirmed already, if there be a good and safe tradition of these things to us. The giving of the law was attended with thunderings and lightnings, and the sound of a terrible trumpet, Exod. xix., by which means the law was authorised, and owned as proceeding from God. Now, it was not needful this should be repeated in every age, as long as a certain report and records of it might convey it to their ears. In the setting up a new law, signs and wonders are necessary to declare it to be of God; but when the church is in the possession of it, these cease. So in the Christian church; when the gospel was first set on foot, it was then confirmed with signs and wonders, but now they are unnecessary. See the law and gospel compared: Heb. ii. 2 – 4, ‘For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and, wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?’
[2.] If you had lived in the age of signs and wonders, there were hard hearts then, unbelievers then, and blasphemers then, and tempters of God then: Ps. lxxviii. 22-24, ‘Because they believed not in God and trusted not in his salvation, though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven,’ etc., to ver. 32, ‘For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.’ Extraordinary works will not work upon them upon whom ordinary works will not prevail.
Object. But for them that have to do with the conversion of Indians and remote parts of the world, is it a tempting of God to ask the gift of miracles?
Ans. I cannot say so. God may be humbly sought unto about direction in the gifts of tongues, and healing, being so necessary for the instruments employed, as well as the conviction of the nations. I dare not determine anything in the case, but I am satisfied with Acostus his reasons why miracles are not afforded by God now, as well as in the primitive times. Then simple and unlearned men were sent to preach Christianity among the nations, where many were armed and instructed against it with all kind of learning and philosophy; but now learned men are sent to the ignorant, and are superior to them in reason, and in civility and authority; and, besides, present them a religion far more credible than their own, that they cannot easily withstand the light of it.
2. Do not run into any wilful and known sin, as if you would try how far the patience of God will go, nor abuse his fatherly goodness by going on still in your trespasses. When a man will try the patience of God without any regard of his threatenings, or the instances of his wrath, which are before his eyes, he puts it to the proof whether God will punish him, yea or no. Remember you are no match for him: Isa. xlv. 9, ‘Woe unto him that striveth with his maker! let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth.’ As Abner said to Asahel: 2 Sam. ii. 21,22,’ Turn thee aside to thy right hand or to thy left, and lay thee hold on one of the young men, and take thee his armour. But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him. And Abner said again to Asahel, Turn, thee aside from following me: wherefore should I smite thee to the ground?’ So if you will needs be tempting and trying conclusions, and making experiments, let men meddle with their match, those who are equal to themselves, not challenging one infinitely above them; let frail man cope with man, but let him take heed of meddling with God: Ezek. xxii. 14, ‘Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong in the days that I shall deal with thee?’ Many foolish people say, as those in the prophet, ‘It is an evil, and I must bear it;’ endure it as well as I can. What! endure the loss of heaven! endure the wrath of the Almighty God! If Rachel could not endure the loss of her children, nor Jacob the supposed loss of Joseph, but, says he, ‘I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning,’ Gen. xxxvii. 35. If Achitophel could not endure the rejectment of his counsel, and Haman could not endure to be slighted by Mordecai, and many cannot endure the loss of a beloved child; how wilt thou endure the loss of eternal happiness? The disciples wept bitterly when Paul said, ‘Ye shall see my face no more,’ Acts xx. 38. What will ye do, then, when God shall say, Ye shall see my face no more? Ah wretch! how canst thou endure the wrath of God? Thou canst not endure to be scorched a few days with feverish flames; thou canst not endure the acute pains of stone and gout, when God armeth the humours of thine own body against thee; thou canst not endure the scorching of a little gunpowder casually blown up; thou canst not endure the pains of a broken arm or leg; and can you endure the wrath of God, when God himself shall fall upon you with all his might?
3. When we are destitute and sorely distressed, let us wait upon God with patience, according to the tenor of his promises, and tarry his leisure, without prescribing time and means. God knoweth the fittest season, and delighteth oftentimes to show our impatience and try our faith: Mat. xv. 28, ‘0 woman, great is thy faith!’ And that his help may not be ascribed to chance or our industry, and that we may the more prize blessings, consider you cannot be more distressed than Christ was, who seemed abandoned to Satan’s power, distressed with sore hunger through his long fasting. The devil was permitted to have power over his body, to carry him to one of the pinnacles of the temple, and yet he discovered an invincible confidence and trust in God, that he would not step the least step out of God’s way for his preservation in so imminent a danger.
Now that you may not tempt God:-
[1.] Let your heart be deeply possessed with apprehensions of the goodness, wisdom, and power of God. The scripture telleth us for his goodness: Ps. cxix. 68, ‘Thou art good, and doest good;’ and again, Ps. cxlv. 9, ‘The Lord is good to all.’ For his wisdom: Isa. xxviii. 29, ‘He is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.’ His purposes are often hidden from us, but he doeth all things well; God can do more for us than seemeth probable at the present; and therefore let us not tempt him by confining him to our time, means, and manner. He may love us, and yet delay our help: John xi. 5, 6, ‘Jesus loved Lazarus,’ and yet, ver. 6, ‘When he heard that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.’ Then, for his power and sovereign dominion, there is not a better argument for confidence than the preface and conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer. Whatsoever state you are reduced to, God is still to be trusted, who is ‘Our Father, which is in heaven,’ and ‘whose is the kingdom, power, and glory:’ 2 Tim. i. 12, ‘I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.’ Whatsoever our straits be, he is a God still to be trusted.
[2.] Be firmly persuaded of God’s care and providence over his people, and so careth for you in particular. This is assured to us by promises and by experiences. By promises: 1 Pet. v. 7, ‘Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you;’ Phil. iv. 6, 7, ‘Be careful for nothing: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.’ By experiences: Mat. xvi. 8, 9, ‘0 ye of little faith why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?’ Christ was angry with his disciples, that they should be troubled about bread, since they had lately such experience of his power to provide bread at pleasure. Use the means God puts into your hands, and refer the success to him. You need not be anxious about anything in this world.
[3.] Let all this produce in you an holy obstinacy of trust and obedience, or an invincible confidence in God, and close adherence to him, whatever your dangers, straits, and extremities be, and this will guard your heart against all tempting of God
(1.) A resolute trust and dependence: Job xiii. 15, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.’ This is the soul that is prepared to be true to God, and contentedly to bear whatever he sendeth.
(2.) A constant adherence to our duty: ‘Wait on the Lord, and keep his way,’ Ps. xxxvii. 34. Do not go one step out of God’s way for all the good in the world. The greatest extremities are to be borne rather than the least sin yielded to: Dan. iii. 17, 18, ‘Our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thine hand, 0 king. But if not, be it known unto thee, 0 king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.’ Please God, and God will be always with you, when you seem to be left destitute: John viii. 29, ‘And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.’