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Now come we to the Temptation itself, which hath three general heads. First, the ball of wildfire; which is to consume his faith. Secondly, the dart, Cast thy selfe downe; which is to pierce the soul. Thirdly, he tempers the head of his dart with some stronger metal; which is, Scriptum est.

I.         [The Ball of Wildfire]

First, Si filius Dei es[1].

This is a great mote in the Devil’s eye[2], he uses the same term in the former temptation, and here he is up with it again[3]. And all is to this end, that by often bringing it into question whether we be the sons of God; he may at last make it out of question or doubt, that we are not the sons of God: that by & from Si sis, he may bring it to Ne sis; and so we may be like himself[4].

For to this end is all his compassing of sea and land, to make one proselyte like himself, according to the endeavor of the Pharisees, Mat. 23. 15[5] who did in like sort, and when he is made, ye make him (two-fold more) the child of hell, than yourselves: as on the other side, Christ would have us [to be] the sons of God like hm. But see what a dexterity the Devil has, in making things serve for his purpose: he makes oneself same thing serve for two several, yea, contrary purposes. What a goodly grace he has in the first temptation? He uses it there to procure us to desperation: he makes it here serve for presumption[6].

But indeed there be two manners of Si es, or Ifs: the one is a questioning or doubting Si, as, If thou be the sonne of God, shew vs a signe, Mar. 8. 12[7]. Lord if thou wilt, thou canst make me whole. Mat. 8. 2.[8] The other is a plain affirmation, as Phil. 3. 11 If by any means I might attaine to the resurrection of the dead[9]: where we are sure he made no doubt thereof[10]. So here the Devil says, If thou be the Sonne of God, as I now grant indeed. I was in some doubt, but now I confess you are: I am of the voice’s mind, that pronounced you so at your baptism[11].

The Devil (in the former temptation) came out like a malcontent, or a murmurer: here he comes like a flattering parasite, he will pinguare caput eius oleo[12], make his head even swim in the oil of ostentation[13]. But though it be not the same temptation, yet it is the same Devil in both places: for both by the one and other, he seeks the downfall and destruction of man: and though his two Ifs be contrary in themselves, yet are they both also contrary to the will and word of God: for he [God] would not in any case we should distrust him, neither would he that at any time we should cast ourselves down. And therefore, has he caused battlements to be made one every house top, that none might be slain with falling down, Deut. 22. 8[14]. Now he would have him shew himself (thereby) to be the Son of God, for he is now in the sight of all Jerusalem.

It is said, that Christ comes now to put too a spark of fire, that is of faith, & that his will was, it might burn & be maintained. The Devil on the other side, labors by all means possible to quench and put it out: and seeing water would not do it in the former temptation; he goes now about to see, if he can make the very oil itself to put it out, even that very thing whereby it were to be maintained: as indeed it will, if we power out too great a quantity. Or if he cannot quench it, either with water or oil, he will see if he can blow it up with gunpowder.

As seeing the water of distrust will not extinguish his faith, but that he would trust in God: he endeavored now by Scriptures (that magnify the providence of GOD, and the confidence we are to put in him) to set him as far gone in the other extreme, by presuming or trusting too much, that so the fire, which before he would have quenched, may now so flame out, as, not to keep itself within the chimney, but to set the whole house on fire. This is the ball of wildfire of this second Temptation: and so both we see tend to the consuming & nullifying of our faith.


The Devil will seek by every means to bring us (and did try with Christ) to sin. His resourcefulness in seeking a temptation with the right “bait” can be seen by contrasting the two times he said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God.”

In the first temptation, the Devil speaks as if he doubts that Jesus is the Son of God. He then seeks to cause Jesus to doubt God: are you really the Son of God? Will God really care for you?

He also compares faith to a fire, which the Devil sought to extinguish.

When the first temptation did not work, the Devil used the exact same words, “If you are the Son of God.” But this time he intended something quite different. Well now, since you are the Son of God—and I believe that voice that spoke from heaven at your baptism—since you are the Son of God we should be able to make good use of that. You are very, very important. There is no possibility that God would desert you.

So, tell you what, let’s just see (and let everyone else see) just how much God will go for you.

We have experienced and we have seen both sorts of temptation. There is the temptation that God has forgotten me, which was discussed in the previous sermon.

But when it comes to this temptation, perhaps the closest modern examples would be the Christian “celebrity pastor.” He acts without humility. He assumes and presumes on those around him. He excuses his sin, because he is under such pressure. He excuses such sin because he is obviously being “blessed.”  He can do whatever he wants, because God is on his side.

Such is precisely the Devil’s play here: if he can’t extinguish faith, he will blow up into a wildfire and call the presumption “faith.”

[1] Latin, If you are the Son of God.

[2] A mote in the eye could have two implications: (1) It would be the only thing you could see, being fastened to your eyeball. (2) It would be a serious irritant. Both meanings work well here.

[3] The Devil prefaced both temptations with the clause “If you are the Son of God” (then you should do this).

[4] Latin: Si sis, nec sis: If you may be, Not you. The sentence is a bit unclear. I take the thought to be, that the Devil makes us like himself by point out we are not the Son of God.

[5] Matthew 23:15 (ESV)

15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

[6] As noted earlier: there are (at least) two types of temptation. One temptation works on our fear, we are tempted to distrust God out of desperation. One temptation works on our pride, we are tempted to presume upon God. The Devil is able to use the same ground (If you are the Son of God) to work for both temptations.

[7] Mark 8:11–13 (ESV)  “11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.”

[8] Matthew 8:1–2 (ESV)  “When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’”

[9] Philippians 3:9–11 (ESV)  “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

[10] The word “if” can used to express both doubt and certainty.  If can mean, I don’t know if it is true. So if it is true, then …. But “if” can also be used to draw together a certain relationship. John Owen tackles as follows:

The first thing occurring in the words as they lie in the entire proposition is the conditional note, Εἰ δὲ, “But if.” Conditionals in such propositions may denote two things:—

(1.) The uncertainty of the event or thing promised, in respect of them to whom the duty is prescribed. And this takes place where the condition is absolutely necessary unto the issue, and depends not itself on any determinate cause known to him to whom it is prescribed. So we say, “If we live, we will do such a thing.” This cannot be the intendment of the conditional expression in this place. Of the persons to whom these words are spoken, it is said, verse 1 of the same chapter, “There is no condemnation to them.”

(2.) The certainty of the coherence and connection that is between the things spoken of; as we say to a sick man, “If you will take such a potion, or use such a remedy, you will be well.” The thing we solely intend to express is the certainty of the connection that is between the potion or remedy and health. And this is the use of it here. The certain connection that is between the mortifying of the deeds of the body and living is intimated in this conditional particle

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 6.

[11] Speaking as the Devil, Andrews says, “The first time I was unsure whether you were actually the Son of God. But now, I believe the voice that spoke from heaven at your baptism. You are the Son of God.”

[12] Latin, to make his head fat with oil, that is, to cover his head in oil. We would say, “He is laying it on thick.” Or “giving him a big head,” flattering him.

[13] In the first temptation, the Devil tried to make Jesus discontent with what God had determined. In this temptation, he sought to flatter Jesus to prideful display.

[14] Deuteronomy 22:8 (ESV) “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.”  God does not seek that we should distrust him. God also does not want for us to throw ourselves from buildings. In fact, in the Mosaic law there was a provision to keep people safe from falling. The houses were made with flat roofs, which were used as a place to get out of the heat in the evening. A short wall was to be built along the sides to keep people safe.