Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen
WHAT “ENTERING TEMPTATION” IS AND IS NOT
Having showed what temptation is, I come, secondly, to manifest what it is
to enter into temptation.
It Is Not Merely to Be Tempted
This [i.e., entering into temptation] is not merely to be tempted. It is impossible
that we should be so freed from temptation as not to be at all tempted.
While Satan continues in his power and malice, while the world and lust are
in being, we shall be tempted. “Christ,” says one, “was made like unto us,
that he might be tempted; and we are tempted that we may be made like unto
Christ.” Temptation in general is comprehensive of our whole warfare; as our
Savior calls the time of his ministry the time of his “temptations” (Luke
22:28). We have no promise that we shall not be tempted at all; nor are to
pray for an absolute freedom from temptations, because we have no such
promise of being heard therein. The direction we have for our prayers is,
“Lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13); it is “entering into temptation”
that we are to pray against. We may be tempted, yet not enter into temptation.
It Is More Than the Ordinary Work of Satan and
Our Own Lusts
Something more is intended by this expression than the ordinary work of Satan
and our own lusts, which will be sure to tempt us every day. There is something
signal1 in this entering into temptation, that is not the saints’ every day’s work.
It is something that befalls them peculiarly2 in reference to seduction unto sin,
on one account or other, by the way of allurement or affrightment.
It Is Not Merely to Be Conquered by a Temptation or
to Commit Sin
It is not to be conquered by a temptation, to fall down under it, to commit
the sin or evil that we are tempted to, or to omit the duties that are opposed.
A man may “enter into temptation” and yet not fall under temptation. God
can make a way for a man to escape, when he is in; he can break the snare,
1 significant, remarkable, out of the ordinary
2 particularly, characteristically
tread down Satan, and make the soul more than a conqueror, though it have
entered into temptation. Christ entered into it, but was not in the least foiled
by it. But—
It Is to “Fall Into Temptation” and Be Entangled in It
It is, as the apostle expresses it, “to fall into temptation” (1 Tim. 6:9), as
a man falls into a pit or deep place where [there] are gins3 or snares, wherewith
he is entangled; the man is not presently killed and destroyed, but he
is entangled and detained—he knows not how to get free or be at liberty.
So it is expressed again to the same purpose, “No temptation has taken
you” (1 Cor. 10:13); that is, to be taken by a temptation and to be tangled
with it, held in its cords, not finding at present a way to escape. Thence
says Peter, “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations”
(2 Pet. 2:9). They are entangled with them; God knows how to deliver
them out of them. When we suffer4 a temptation to enter into us, then we
“enter into temptation.” While it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but
when any temptation comes in and parleys5 with the heart, reasons with
the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a long or a short time, do
it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we
“enter into temptation.”
CONDITIONS FOR ENTERING TEMPTATION
So, then, unto our entering into temptation is required—
Satan Must Be More Earnest Than Usual in His Solicitations
That by some advantage, or on some occasion, Satan be more earnest than
ordinary in his solicitations to sin, by affrightments or allurements, by persecutions
or seductions, by himself or others; or that some lust or corruption,
by his instigation and advantages of outward objects, provoking, as in prosperity,
or terrifying, as in trouble, do tumultuate6 more than ordinary within
us. There is a special acting of the author and principles of temptation
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4 allow, permit
5 discusses (especially with an enemy)
6 agitate, disturb, stir up
The Hearer Can Argue His Defense But Not Expel the Sin
That the hearer be so far entangled with it as to be put to dispute and argue
in its own defense, and yet not be wholly able to eject or cast out the poison
and leaven that has been injected; but is surprised, if it be never so little off
its watch, into an entanglement not easy to be avoided: so that the soul may
cry, and pray, and cry again, and yet not be delivered; as Paul “besought the
Lord” thrice for the departure of his temptation, and prevailed not [2 Cor.
12:7-9]. The entanglement continues. And this usually falls out in one of these
When Satan, by the permission of God, for ends best known to himself,
has got some peculiar advantage against the soul; as in the case of Peter—he
sought to winnow7 him [Luke 22:31-32], and prevailed.
When a man’s lusts and corruptions meet with peculiarly provoking
objects and occasions, through the condition of life that a man is in, with the
circumstances of it; as it was with David: of both which afterward.
In this state of things, a man is entered into temptation; and this is called
the “hour of temptation” (Rev. 3:10)—the season wherein it grows to a
head8: the discovery whereof will give further light into the present inquiry,
about what it is to “enter into temptation”; for when the hour of temptation
is come upon us, we are entered into it. Every great and pressing temptation
has its hour, a season wherein it grows to a head, wherein it is most vigorous,
active, operative, and prevalent. It may be long in rising, it may be long
urging, more or less; but it has a season wherein, from the conjunction of
other occurrences, such as those mentioned, outward or inward, it has a dangerous
hour; and then, for the most part, men enter into it. Hence that very
temptation, which at one time has little or no power on a man—he can
despise it, scorn the motions of it, easily resist it—at another, bears him away
quite before it. It has, from other circumstances and occurrences, got new
strength and efficacy, or the man is enervated9 and weakened; the hour is
come, he is entered into it, and it prevails. David probably had temptations
before, in his younger days, to adultery or murder, as he had in the case of
Nabal [1 Sam. 25:13]; but the hour of temptation was not come,10 it had not
got its advantages about it, and so he escaped until afterward. Let men look
for it that are exposed unto temptations, as who is not? They will have a sea-
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7 separate as chaff from wheat
8 ultimate outcome
9 debilitated, deprived of strength
10 had not yet come
son wherein their solicitations will be more urgent, their reasonings more
plausible, pretenses more glorious, hopes of recovery more appearing, opportunities
more broad and open, the doors of evil made more beautiful than ever
they have been. Blessed is he who is prepared for such a season; without
which there is no escaping. This, as I said, is the first thing required to entering
into temptation; if we stay here, we are safe.
HOW WE KNOW WHEN TEMPTATION IS IN ITS HOUR
Before I descend to other particulars, having now entered hereon, I shall show
in general (1) How or by what means commonly any temptation attains its
hour; (2) How we may know when any temptation is come to its high noon,
and is in its hour.
How Temptation Generally Attains Its Hour
It does the first by several ways:
By long solicitations, causing the mind frequently to converse with the
evil solicited unto, it begets extenuating11 thoughts of it. If it makes this process,
it is coming toward its hour. It may be when first it began to press upon
the soul, the soul was amazed with the ugly appearance if what it aimed at,
and cried, “Am I a dog?” If this indignation be not daily heightened, but the
soul, by conversing with the evil, begins to grow, as it were, familiar with it,
not to be startled as formerly, but rather inclines to cry, “Is it not a little one?”
then the temptation is coming toward its high noon; lust has then enticed and
entangled, and is ready to “conceive” (James 1:15): of which more at large
afterward, in our inquiry how we may know whether we are entered into
temptation or not.12 Our present inquest13 is after the hour and power of
When it has prevailed on others, and the soul is not filled with dislike and
abhorrency of them and their ways, nor with pity and prayer for their deliverance.
This proves an advantage unto it, and raises it toward its height.
When that temptation sets upon any one which, at the same time, has possessed
and prevailed with many, it has so great and so many advantages
thereby, that it is surely growing toward its hour. Its prevailing with others is
a means to give it its hour against us. The falling off of Hymeneus and Philetus
is said to “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17-18).
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11 making less serious
12 see chapter 4.
13 inquiry, investigation
By complicating itself with many considerations that, perhaps, are not
absolutely evil. So did the temptation of the Galatians to fall from the purity
of the gospel—freedom from persecution, union, and consent with the Jews.
Things in themselves good were pleaded in it, and gave life to the temptation
itself. But I shall not now insist on the several advantages that any temptation
has to heighten and greaten itself, to make itself prevalent and effectual
with the contribution that it receives to this purpose from various circumstances,
opportunities, specious pleas and pretenses, necessities for the doing
that which cannot be done without answering the temptation, and the like;
because I must speak unto some of them afterward.
How We May Know When Temptation Has Attained
Its High Noon
For the second, it may be known—
By its restless urgency and arguing. When a temptation is in its hour it is
restless; it is the time of battle, and it gives the soul no rest. Satan sees his
advantage, considers his conjunction of forces, and knows that he must now
prevail, or be hopeless forever. Here are opportunities, here are advantages,
here are specious pleas and pretenses; some ground is already got by former
arguings; here are extenuations of the evil, hopes of pardon by after endeavors,
all in a readiness: if he can do nothing now, he must sit down lost in his
undertakings. So when he had got all things in a readiness against Christ, he
made it the “hour of darkness.” When a temptation discovers “mille nocendi
artes,”14 presses within doors by imaginations and reasonings, without by
solicitations, advantages, and opportunities, let the soul know that the hour
of it is come, and the glory of God, with its own welfare, depends on its
behavior in this trial; as we shall see in the particular cases following.
When it makes a conjunction of affrightments and allurements, these two
comprise the whole forces of temptation. When both are brought together,
temptation is in its hour. They were both [present] in David’s case as to the
murder of Uriah [2 Samuel 11]. There was the fear of his revenge on his wife,
and possibly on himself, and fear of the publication of his sin at least; and
there was the allurement of his present enjoyment of her whom he lusted after.
Men sometimes are carried into sin by love to it, and are continued in it by
fear of what will ensue upon it. But in any case, where these two meet, some-
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14 “a thousand arts of harming” (Virgil, Aeneid book 7)
thing allures us, something affrights us, and the reasonings that run between
them are ready to entangle us—then is the hour of temptation.
This, then, it is to “enter into temptation,” this is the “hour” of it; of
which more in the process of our discourse.
MEANS OF PREVENTING TEMPTATION PRESCRIBED
BY OUR SAVIOR
There is [a] means of prevention prescribed by our Savior; they are two:
(1) “watch”; (2) “pray.”
The first is a general expression by no means to be limited to its native signification
of waking from sleep; to watch is as much as to be on our guard, to
take heed, to consider all ways and means as to be on our guard, to take heed,
to consider all ways and means whereby an enemy may approach to us: so
the apostle (1 Cor. 16:13). This it is to “watch” in this business, to “stand
fast in the faith” [1 Cor. 16:3] as good soldiers, to “quit15 ourselves like men”
[1 Sam. 4:9]. It is as much as to “take heed,” or look to ourselves, as the same
thing is by our Savior often expressed (so Rev. 3:2). A universal carefulness
and diligence, exercising itself in and by all ways and means prescribed by
God, over our hearts and ways, the baits and methods of Satan, the occasions
and advantages of sin in the world, that we be not entangled, is that which
in this word is pressed on us.
For the second direction, of prayer, I need not speak to it. The duty and its
concerns are known to all. I shall only add that these two comprise the whole
endeavor of faith for the soul’s preservation from temptation.