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THE fourth chapter of St. Matthew, at which we are now arrived, opens with an account of that most singular and extraordinary transaction, THE TEMPTATIon of CHRIST IN THE wild E R N Ess.
The detail of it is as follows: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit , into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil; and when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them ; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him”.” Such is the history given by the Evangelists of our Lord's temptation, which has been a subject of much discussion among kearned men. It is well known in particular that several ancient commentators, as well as many able and pious men of our own times, have thought that this temptation was not a real transaction, but only a vision or prophetic trance, similar to that which Ezekiel describes in the 8th chapter of his prophecy, and to that which befel St. Peter when he saw a vessel descending unto him from heaven, and let down to the earth *. And it must be acknowledged that this opinion is supported by many specious arguments, and seems to remove some considerable difficulties. But upon the whole there are I think stronger reasons for adhering to the literal interpretation, than for recurring to plain, obvious, and literal meaning of the words. Now I conceive that no such necessity can be alleged in the present instance. It is true, that there are in this narrative many difficulties, and many extraordinary, surprising, and miraculous incidents. But the whole history of our Saviour is wonderful and miraculous from beginning to end : and if whenever we meet with a difficulty or a miracle, we may have recourse to figure, metaphor, or vision, we shall soon reduce a great part of the sacred writings to nothing else. Besides, these difficulties will several of them admit of a fair solution; and where they do not, as they affect no article of faith or practice, they must be left among those inscrutable mysteries which it is natural to expect in a revelation from heaven. This we must after all be content to do, even if we adopt the idea of vision ; for even that does not remove every difficulty, and it creates some that
a visionary representation. For, in the first place, it is a rule admitted and established by the best and most judicious interpreters, that in explaining the sacred writings we ought never, without the most apparent and most indispensable necessity, allow ourselves the liberty of departing from the plain
* Acts, x. 10–16.
2. In the next place, I cannot find in any part of this narrative of the temptation, the slightest or most distant intimation that it is nothing more than a vision. The very first words with which it commences seem to imply the direct contrary. “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil.” Does not this say in the most express terms, that our Lord was led, not in a dream, or trance, or vision, but was actually and literally led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judea 2 There is, I know, an interpretation which explains away this obvious meaning. But that interpretation rests solely on the doubtful signification of a single Greek particle, which is surely much too slender a ground to justify a departure from the plain and literal sense of the passage. Certain it is, that if any one had meant to describe a real transaction, he could not have selected any expressions better adapted to that purpose than those ac
tually made use of by the Evangelist; and