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The Subject proposed. Invocation of the Holy Spirit. -The Poem opens withJohn baptizing at the river Jordan. Jesus coming there is baptized; and is attested, by the descent of the Holy Ghost, and by a voice from Heaven, to be the Son of God. Satan who is present, upon this immediately flies up into the regions of the air; where, summoning his Infernal Council, he acquaints them with his apprehensions that Jesus is that seed of the Woman, destined to destroy all their power, and points out to them the immediate necessity of bringing the matter to proof, and of attempting by snares and fraud, to counteract and defeat the person, from whom they have so much to dread. This Office he offers himself to undertake: and, his offer being accepted, sets out on his enterprise.—In the mean time God, in the assembly of Holy Angels, declares that he has given up his Son to be tempted by Satan; but foretells that the Tempter shall be completely defeated by him :-upon which the Angels sing a hymn of triumph. Jesus is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, while he is meditating on the commencement of his great office of Saviour of Mankind. Pursuing his meditations he narrates, in a soliloquy, what divine and philanthropick impulses he had felt from his early youth, and how his mother Mary, on perceiving these dispositions in him, had acquainted him with the circumstances of his birth, and informed him that he was no less a person than the Son of God; to which he adds what his own inquiries and reflections had supplied in confirmation of this great truth, and particularly dwells on the recent attestation of it at the
river Jordan. Our Lord passes forty days, fasting in the wilderness; where the wild beasts become mild and harmless in his presence. Satan now appears under the form of an old peasant; and enters into discourse with our Lord, wondering what could have brought him alone into so dangerous a place, and at the same time professing to recognize him for the person lately acknowledged by John, at the river Jordan, to be the Son of God. Jesus briefly replies. Satan rejoins with a description of the difficulty of supporting life in the wilderness; and entreats Jesus, if he be really the Son of God, to manifest his divine power, by chunging some of the stones into bread. Jesus reproves him, and at the same time tells him that he knows who he is. Satan instantly avows himself, and offers an artful apology for himself and his conduct. Our blessed Lord severely reprimands him, and refutes every part of his justification. Satan, with much semblance of humility, still endeavours to justify himself; and, professing his admiration of Jesus and his regard for virtuė, requests to be permitted at a future time to hear more of his conversation; but is answered, that this must be as he shall find permission from above. Satan then disappears, and the Book closes with a short description of night coming on in the desart.
I, who ere while the happy garden sung
By one Man's firm obedience fully tried
And Eden rais'd in the waste wilderness.
Thou Spirit, who ledst this glorious eremite Into the desart, his victorious field,
Against the spiritual foe, and brought'st him thence By proof the undoubted Son of God, inspire,
As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute, And bear, through highth or depth of Nature's bounds,
With prosperous wing full summ'd, to tell of deeds
And unrecorded left through many an age;