Mondays with Manton: Christ's Temptation (3)

This week we want to continue through the neglected Puritan Thomas Manton's (1620–1677) "Christ's Temptation and Transfiguration Practically Explained and Improved in Several Sermons” (Works 1, 258–336). Sermon 3 treats Matthew 4:5–6 (click here for sermon 1 and sermon 2).

This is a particularly insightful and practical sermon on the role of Satan and angels both in Christ's temptations as well as our own.

In dealing with Satan's use of Psalm 91:11–12, Manton described "the devil's cunning in citing Scripture" (Works 1, 278). Just as Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and just as he "took the habit [clothing] and guise of a prophet," in this account he "cometh like a divine [theologian], with a Bible in his hand, and turneth to the place; here the enemy of God cometh with the word of God, and disguiseth the worst of actions with the best of words, opposeth God to God, and turneth his truth to countenance it" (Works 1, 278). Manton applied this with a general principle: "Christians, you have not to do with a foolish devil, who will appear in his own colours and ugly shape but with a devout devil, who, for his own turn, can pretend to be godly" (Works 1, 278). Remember that! Satan is no fool; he is devout.

In the second half of the sermon Manton offered several observations. The first was that although Christ rejected Satan's first temptation Satan continued "like a troublesome fly that is often beaten off" since he "is incessant in his attempts against the saints, and is ready to assault afresh upon every occasion" (Works 1, 280). Because of this you and I must incessantly watch out for him and his temptations.

The third observation is an allegorical one. Since Satan took Christ up to the pinnacle of the temple and tempted him to cast himself down, Manton observed: "If Satan lead us up, it is to throw us down" (Works 1, 282). This observation has spoken most to me as I pray I do not allow my head to be lifted up so high in pride by Satan that I come crashing down to the destruction of myself and everyone around me. May God help us all in this!

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Observation six is the longest and deals in two parts with the ministry of angels. Manton speaks of them not as ministers of conversion and sanctification but of preservation (Works 1, 284). He then digresses into the age-old question of whether each believer has a guardian angel. Manton's answer? "It is enough for us to believe that all the angels are our guardians" (Works 1, 285). He went on to say that their ministry was not the care of souls (cura animarum) but the service of outward help (ministerium externi auxilii), in which he further described them as custodians/guardians of the body (custodia corporisWorks 1, 285). Why did the Lord choose to work through angels? For four reasons:

  1. To manifest the great love and care which God hath over his people
  2. We understand the operation of finite agents better tan infinite
  3. To counterwork the devil
  4. To begin our acquaintance, which in heaven shall be perfected (Works 1, 285).

What use is this ministry of the angels towards us in our temptations? This shows us our happy state as God's people, since "no heirs of a crown have such guards as they have" (Works 1, 285). This breeds confidence and comfort in difficulities when all visible help seems at an end (Works 1, 286). This should cause us to live holy lives because they are among us (Works 1, 286).