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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§ 47. The Temptation rot an inward one, but the Work of Satan.

We find, then, in the facts of the temptation the expression of that period that intervened between Christ’s private life and his public ministry. These inward spiritual exercises bring out the self-determination which stamps itself upon all his subsequent outward actions. Yet we dare not suppose in him a choice, which, presupposing within him a point of tangency for evil, would involve the necessity of his comparing the evil with the good, and deciding between them. In the steadfast tendency of his inner life, rooted in submission to God, lay a decision which admitted of no such struggle. He had in common with humanity that natural weakness which may exist without selfishness, and the created will, mutable in its own nature; and only on this side was the struggle possible—such a struggle as man may have been liable to, before he gave seduction the power of temptation by his own actual sin. In all other respects, the outward seductions remained outward; they found no selfishness in him, as in other men, on which to seize, and thus become internal temptations, but, on the contrary, only aided in revealing the complete unity of the Divine and human, which formed the essence of his inner life.

Nor is it possible for us to imagine that these temptations originated within; to imagine that Christ, in contemplating the course of his future ministry, had an internal struggle to decide whether he should act according to his own will, or in self-denial and submission to the will of God. We have seen from the third temptation that, from the very beginning, he regarded the establishment of a worldly kingdom as inseparable from the worship of the devil; he could, therefore, have had no struggle to choose between such a kingdom, outward and worldly, and the true Messiah-kingdom, spiritual, and developed from within.

Even the purest man who has a great work to do for any age, must be affected more or less by the prevailing ideas and tendencies of that age. Unless he struggle against it, the spirit of the age will penetrate his own; his spiritual life and its products will be corrupted by the base admixture. Now the whole spirit of the age of Christ held that Messiah’s kingdom was to be of this world, and even John Baptist could not free himself from this conception. There was nothing within Christ on which the sinful spirit of the age could seize; the Divine life within him had brought every thing temporal into harmony with itself; and, therefore, this tendency of the times to secularize the Theocratic idea could take no hold of him. But it was to press upon him from without; from the beginning this tendency threatened to corrupt the idea and the developement of the kingdom of God, and Christ’s work had to be kept free from it; moreover, the nature of his own Messianic ministry could only be fully illustrated by contrast with this possible objective mode of action; to which, foreign as it was to his own spiritual tendencies, he was so frequently to be urged afterward by the prevailing spirit of the times.

But if, according to the doctrine of Christ,120120   We must hereafter inquire whether this is Christ’s doctrine, and only make here a preliminary remark or two. The arguments of the rationalists against the doctrine which teaches the existence of Satan are either directed against a false and arbitrary conception of that doctrine, or else go upon the presupposition that evil could only have originated under conditions such as those under which human existence has developed itself; that it has its ground in the organism of human nature, e. g., in the opposition between reason and the propensities; that human developement must necessarily pass through it; but that we can not conceive of a steadfast tendency to evil in an intelligence endowed with the higher spiritual powers. Now it is precisely this view of evil which we most emphatically oppose, as directly contradictory to the essence of the Gospel and of a theistico-ethical view of the world; and, on the contrary, we hold fast, as the only doctrine which meets man’s moral and religious interests, that doctrine which is the ground of the conception of Satan, and according to which evil is represented as the rebellion of a created will against the Divine law, as an act of free-will not otherwise to be explained, and the intelligence as determined by the will. I am pleased to find my convictions expressed in few words by an eminent divine of our own time, Dr. Nitzsch, in his excellent System der Christlichen Lehre, 9d ed., p. 152. They are further developed by Twesten, in his Dogmatik. The same fundamental idea is given in the work of Julius Muller, already mentioned (Lehre von der Sunde). the rebellion of a higher intelligence against God preceded the whole present history of the universe, in which Evil is one of the co-operating factors, and of which man’s history is only a part; if that doctrine makes Satan the representative of the Evil which he first brought into reality; if, further, it lays down a connexion, concealed from the eye of man, between him and all evil; then, from this point of view, Christ’s contest with the spirit of the world must appear to us a contest with Satan—the temptation, a temptation from Satan—continued afterward through his whole life, and renewed in every form of assault, until the final triumph was announced, “It is finished.” As the temptation could not have originated in Christ, he could only attribute it to that Spirit to which all opposition to God’s kingdom, and every attempt to corrupt its pure developement, can finally be traced back. On the working out of Christ’s plan depended the issue of the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the Evil One; and we cannot wonder, therefore, that this Spirit, ever so restlessly plotting against the Divine order, should have been active and alert at a time when, as in the case of the first man, an opening for temptation to the mutable created will was afforded to him.

Christ left to his disciples and the Church only a partial and symbolical account121121   We can apply here Dr. Nitzsch’s remark in reference to the Biblical account of the Fall (Christl. Lehre, § 106, s. 144, anm. 1, 2te. Aufl.): “The history of the temptation, in this form, is not a real, but a true history.” of the facts of his inner life in this preparatory epoch; an account, however, adapted to their practical necessities, and serving to guard them against those seductions of the spirit of the world to which even the productions of the Divine spirit must yield, if they are ever allowed to become worldly.


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