The temptations that our Lord underwent, instead of drawing him aside, displayed his character to greater advantage. Seasons of temptation in the lives of men, even of good men, are commonly dark seasons, and leave behind them sad evidences of their imperfection. It was not without reason that our Lord cautioned us to pray, saying, “Lead us not into temptation.” There are but few, if any instances, in which we enter the field of contest and come off without a wound; but, to our Redeemer, temptation was the pathway to glory. There was nothing in him on which it could fasten; its arrows, therefore, rebounded upon the head of the tempter. “In all points he was tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He underwent the trials of poverty and want. He was often hungry and thirsty, and “had not where to lay his head;” yet he bore it without repining; he wrought miracles to satisfy the wants and alleviate the miseries of others; but for himself, strictly speaking, he wrought no miracle. It was upon this ground that Satan first accosted him: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread:” q. d.—Would I, having all creation at command, know the want of a piece of bread?—But this temptation was repelled in a manner that discovered his heart to be wholly devoted to the will of God. Our Lord had also temptations of another kind; he had worldly honours offered him. Not only did Satan present to him “all the kingdoms of the world,” but the Jewish populace would have made him a king, even by force, if he had not withdrawn himself. If Jesus had possessed the least degree of worldly ambition, there were arguments enough to have induced him to comply with the popular desire. They had no king but Cæsar, and he was a tyrannic invader, who had just as much right in Judea as the empress of Russia and the king of Prussia in Poland. If the virtue of Jesus had resembled that of the great sages of Grecian and Roman antiquity, he would have embraced this opportunity, and his name might have been enrolled in the annals of fame. Their pride was to be patriots; but that which they called patriotism was abhorrent to the spirit of Christ. He possessed too much philanthropy to enter into national prejudices and antipathies: though the deliverance of his country from the Roman yoke might have been doing a great national justice, and, in this view, very lawful for some persons to have undertaken, yet he declined it; for it made no part of that all-important design for which he came into the world. He was doing a great work, and therefore could not come down.
As his last sufferings drew on, his devotedness to God, and his disinterested love to men, appeared more and more conspicuous. He incurred the displeasure of the Samaritans by steadfastly setting his face to go up to Jerusalem, even though he knew what would follow upon it. Under the prospect of his sufferings he prayed, saying, “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Never, surely, was such a flood of tenderness poured forth as that which follows in his last discourse to his disciples, and in his concluding prayer for them. Follow him to the Jewish and Roman tribunals, and witness his meekness and patience. “When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.—He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” There are two kinds of characters which are common among men,—oppressive tyrants, and cringing sycophants. The first are lords, the last are slaves; but the character given of Christ shows that he was neither the one nor the other. “He did no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.” Though the Lord and Master of his disciples, he was among them as their servant; and when brought before Herod and Pilate, he betrayed no signs of fear; but amidst their blustering, imperious, and scornful treatment, maintained a dignified silence.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Throughout his sufferings he manifested the tenderest concern for sinners, and even for his murderers. “The same night in which he was betrayed” he was employed in providing for us, by instituting the sacred supper; and as he hung upon the cross, and beheld his enemies, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!”
Let not fastidious infidelity object to his want of fortitude in the garden; or rather, let it object, and make the most it can of the objection. It is true “his soul was troubled;” it is true he prayed, saying, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!” That is, he discovered what, among men of the most refined sense, are always accounted “the amiable weaknesses of human nature.” Is it an honour under affliction to carry it off, or affect to carry it off, with a high hand? Rather, is it not an honour to feel the hand of God in it, and to acknowledge that we feel it? And if, amidst these feelings, we be in “subjection to the Father of spirits”—if, while we mourn, we do not murmur—this is the highest degree of perfection of which human nature is capable. Such was the spirit of our Redeemer, and such the conclusion of his prayer in the garden: “Not my will, but thine be done.”
That our blessed Lord was not deficient in real fortitude is manifest from his conduct during his trial and crucifixion. He feared God, and put up strong cries, and was heard in that he feared: but he feared not men. There his spirit shrunk under the weight; but here he is firm as a rock. The principal engines with which he was attacked from men were pain and disgrace. By the former they deprived him of life, and by the latter they hoped to wound his reputation, and cover his name with eternal infamy; but neither the one nor the other could divert him from his course: “He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
By the misgivings of Christ’s human nature in the garden, together with his firmness before men, we are furnished with very important instructions. From thence we learn that the most dreadful parts of his sufferings were not those which proceeded from men, but those which came immediately from the hand of God. This agrees with what is implied in that pathetic exclamation, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He could have borne the rest, but this was worse than death! How can this agree with any other idea of the death of Christ than that of his being a substitute for sinners? Upon no other principle can his agony in the garden, or his exclamation upon the cross, be fairly accounted for. From hence also we learn the absolute necessity of Christ’s death for our salvation. If it had been possible for the great designs of mercy to have been accomplished without his being made a propitiation for our sins, there is every reason to suppose that his request for an exemption would have been granted.
Excerpt from: “The Immaculate Life of Christ,” in Miscellaneous Tracts, Essays, Letters, etc.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 3, pp. 688–690). Sprinkle Publications.