Temptation Chapter 3

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS IS TO BE
DILIGENT NOT TO FALL INTO TEMPTATION
Having thus opened the words in the foregoing chapters so far as is necessary
to discover the foundation of the truth to be insisted on and improved,
I shall lay it down in the ensuing observation:
It is the great duty of all believers
to use all diligence in the ways of Christ’s appointment,
that they fall not into temptation.
I know God is “able to deliver the godly out of temptations” [2 Pet. 2:9]; I know
he is “faithful not to suffer us to be tempted above what we are able, but will
make a way for our escape” [1 Cor. 10:13]: yet I dare say I shall convince all
those who will attend unto what is delivered and written, that it is our great
duty and concern to use all diligence, watchfulness, and care, that we enter not
into temptation; and I shall evince1 it by the ensuing considerations.
Our Savior Instructs Us to Pray That We Not Enter
into Temptation
In that compendious instruction given us by our Savior concerning what we
ought to pray for, this of not entering into temptation is expressly one head.
Our Savior knew of what concern it was to us not to “enter into temptation”
when he gave us this as one special subject of our daily dealing with God
(Matt. 6:13). And the order of the words shows us of what importance it is:
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” If we are led into
temptation, evil will befall us, more or less. How God may be said to tempt
us, or to “lead us into temptation,” I showed before. In this direction, it is
not so much the not giving us up to it as the powerful keeping us from it that
is intended. The last words are, as it were, exegetical or expository of the former:
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”—“So deal with
us that we may be powerfully delivered from that evil which attends our
entering into temptation.” Our blessed Savior knows full well our state and
condition; he knows the power of temptations, having had experience of it
(Heb. 2:18); he knows our vain confidence, and the reserves we have con-
1 prove, provide evidence, make manifest
cerning our ability to deal with temptations, as he found it in Peter; but he
knows our weakness and folly, and how soon we are cast to the ground, and
therefore does he lay in this provision for instruction at the entrance of his
ministry, to make us heedful, if possible, in that which is of so great concern
to us. If, then, we will repose2 any confidence in the wisdom, love, and care
of Jesus Christ toward us, we must grant the truth pleaded for.
Christ Promises Freedom and Deliverance as a Reward
for Obedience
Christ promises this freedom and deliverance as a great reward of most acceptable
obedience (Rev. 3:10). This is the great promise made to the church of
Philadelphia, wherein Christ found nothing that he would blame, “You shall
be kept from the hour of temptation.” Not, “You shall be preserved in it”; but
he goes higher, “You shall be kept from it.” “There is,” says our Savior, “an
hour of temptation coming; a season that will make havoc in the world: multitudes
shall then fall from the faith, deny and blaspheme me. Oh, how few
will be able to stand and hold out! Some will be utterly destroyed, and perish
forever. Some will get wounds to their souls that shall never be well healed
while they live in this world, and have their bones broken, so as to go halting
all their days. But,” says he, “‘because you have kept the word of my patience,’
I will be tender toward you, and ‘keep you from this hour of temptation.’”
Certainly that which Christ thus promises to his beloved church, as a reward
of her service, love, and obedience, is not [a] light thing. Whatsoever Christ
promises to his spouse is a fruit of unspeakable love; that is so in a special manner
which is promised as a reward of special obedience.
The General Issues of Entering into Temptation
Let us to this purpose consider the general issues of men’s entering into temptation,
and that of bad and good men, of ungrounded professors,3 and of the
choicest saints.
For the first I shall offer but one or two texts of Scripture. “They on the
rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and have no
root, but for a while believe” (Luke 8:13). Well! How long do they believe?
They are affected with the preaching of the word, and believe thereon, make
profession,4 bring forth some fruits; but until when do they abide? Says he,
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2 place, entrust
3 those who make a religious confession; professing Christians
4 confession
“In the time of temptation they fall away” [Luke 8:13]. When once they enter
into temptation they are gone forever. Temptation withers all their profession
and slays their souls. We see this accomplished every day. Men who have
attended on the preaching of the gospel, been affected and delighted with it,
that have made profession of it, and have been looked on, it may be, as believers,
and thus have continued for some years—no sooner does temptation
befall them that has vigor and permanency in it, but they are turned out of
the way and are gone forever. They fall to hate the word they have delighted
in, despise the professors of it, and are hardened by sin. So Matthew 7:26:
“He that hears these sayings of mine, and does that not, is like unto a foolish
man, who built his house upon the sand.” But what does this house of
profession do? It shelters him, keeps him warm, and stands for a while. But
says he, “When the rain descends, when temptation comes, it falls utterly, and
its fall is great” (v. 27). Judas follows our Savior three years, and all goes well
with him: he no sooner enters into temptation, Satan has got him and winnowed
him, but he is gone [John 13:27]. Demas will preach the gospel until
the love of the world befall him, and he is utterly turned aside [2 Tim. 4:10].
It were5 endless to give instances of this. Entrance into temptation is, with this
sort of men, an entrance into apostasy, more or less, in part or in whole; it
fails not.
For the saints of God themselves, let us see, by some instances, what issue
they have had of their entering into temptation. I shall name a few:
Adam was the “son of God” (Luke 3:38), created in the image of God,
full of that integrity, righteousness, and holiness, which might be and was an
eminent resemblance of the holiness of God. He had a far greater inherent
stock of ability than we, and had nothing in him to entice or seduce him; yet
this Adam no sooner enters into temptation but he is gone, lost, and ruined,
he and all his posterity with him. What can we expect in the like condition,
that have not only in our temptations, as he had, a cunning devil to deal with,
but a cursed world and a corrupt heart also?
Abraham was the father of the faithful, whose faith is proposed as a
pattern to all them that shall believe; yet he, entering twice into the same
temptation, namely, that of fear about his wife, was twice overpowered by
it, to the dishonor of God and no doubt the disquietment of his own soul
(Gen. 12:13; 20:2).
David is called a “man after God’s own heart” by God himself [1 Sam.
13:14]; yet what a dreadful thing is the story of his entering into temptation!
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 169
5 i.e., it would be
He is no sooner entangled, but he is plunged into adultery; then seeking
deliverance by his own invention, like a poor creature in a toil, he is entangled
more and more, until he lies as one dead, under the power of sin and
folly.
I might mention Noah, Lot, Hezekiah, Peter, and the rest, whose temptations
and falls therein are on record for our instruction. Certainly he that
has any heart in these things cannot but say, as the inhabitants of Samaria
upon the letter of Jehu, “‘Behold, two kings stood not before him, how shall
we stand?’ [2 Kings 10:4]. O Lord, if such mighty pillars have been cast to
the ground, such cedars blown down, how shall I stand before temptations?
Oh, keep me that I enter not in!” “Vestigia terrent.”6 Behold the footsteps of
them that have gone in. Whom do you see retiring without a wound? A blemish
at least? On this account would the apostle have us to exercise tenderness
toward them that are fallen into sin: “Considering yourself, lest you also be
tempted” (Gal. 6:1). He does not say, “Lest you also sin, or fall, or see the
power of temptation in others, and know not how soon you may be tempted,
nor what will be the state and condition of your soul thereupon.” Assuredly,
he that has seen so many better, stronger men than himself fail, and cast down
in the trial, will think it incumbent7 on him to remember the battle, and, if it
be possible, to come there no more. Is it not a madness for a man that can
scarce crawl up and down, he is so weak (which is the case of most of us), if
he avoid not what he has seen giants foiled in the undertaking of? You are
yet whole and sound; take heed of temptation, lest it be with you as it was
with Abraham, David, Lot, Peter, Hezekiah, [and] the Galatians, who fell in
the time of trial.
In nothing does the folly of the hearts of men show itself more openly, in
the days wherein we live, than in this cursed boldness, after so many warnings
from God, and so many sad experiences every day under their eyes, of
running into and putting themselves upon temptations. Any society, any company,
any conditions of outward advantages, without once weighing what
their strength, or what the concern of their poor souls is, they are ready for.
Though they go over the dead and the slain that in those ways and paths but
even now fell down before them, yet they will go on without regard or trembling.
At this door are gone out hundreds, thousands of professors, within a
few years. But—
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6 “the footprints frighten me” (Horace, Epistles I.i.74)
7 obligatory
Let Us Consider Ourselves
Let us consider ourselves—what our weakness is; and what temptation is—
its power and efficacy, with what it leads unto.
For ourselves, we are weakness itself. We have no strength, no power
to withstand. Confidence of any strength in us is one great part of our weakness;
it was so in Peter. He that says he can do anything, can do nothing as
he should. And, which is worse, it is the worst kind of weakness that is in
us—a weakness from treachery—a weakness arising from that party which
every temptation has in us. If a castle or fort be never so strong and well
fortified, yet if there be a treacherous party within, that is ready to betray
it on every opportunity, there is no preserving it from the enemy. There are
traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close8 and side with every temptation,
and to give up all to them; yea, to solicit and bribe temptations to
do the work, as traitors incite an enemy. Do not flatter yourselves that you
should hold out; there are secret lusts that lie lurking in your hearts, which
perhaps now stir not, which, as soon as any temptation befalls you, will
rise, tumultuate, cry, disquiet, seduce, and never give over until they are
either killed or satisfied. He that promises himself that the frame of his heart
will be the same under a temptation as it is before will be woefully mistaken.
“Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?” says Hazael [2 Kings
8:13]. Yea, you will be such a dog if ever you be king of Syria; temptation
from your interest will unman you. He that now abhors the thoughts of
such and such a thing, if he once enters into temptation will find his heart
inflamed toward it, and all contrary reasonings overborne and silenced. He
will deride his former fears, cast out his scruples, and contemn the consideration
that he lived upon. Little did Peter think he should deny and forswear
his Master so soon as ever he was questioned whether he knew him
or no. It was no better when the hour of temptation came; all resolutions
were forgotten, all love to Christ buried; the present temptation closing
with his carnal fear carried all before it.
To handle this a little more distinctly, I shall consider the means of safety
from the power of temptation, if we enter therein, that may be expected from
ourselves; and that in general as to the spring and rise of them, and in particular
as to the ways of exerting that strength we have, or seem to have:
In general, all we can look for is from our hearts. What a man’s heart is,
that is he; but now what is the heart of a man in such a season?
Suppose a man is not a believer, but only a professor of the gospel, what
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 171
8 consummate, bring to a conclusion
can the heart of such a one do? “The heart of the wicked is little worth” (Prov.
10:20), and surely that which is little worth in anything is not much worth
in this. A wicked man may in outward things be of great use; but come to his
heart, that is false and a thing of naught. Now, withstanding of temptation
is heartwork; and when it comes like a flood, can such a rotten trifle as a
wicked man’s heart stand before it? But of these [we have discussed] before.
Entering into temptation and apostasy is the same with them.
Let it be whose heart it will, “He that trusts in his own heart is a fool”
(Prov. 28:26), he that does so, be he what he will, in that he is foolish. Peter
did so in his temptation; he trusted in his own heart: “Though all men forsake
you, I will not” [Matt. 26:33]. It was his folly; but why was it his folly?
He shall not be delivered; it will not preserve him in snares; it will not deliver
him in temptations. The heart of a man will promise him very fair before a
temptation comes. “Am I a dog,” says Hazael, “that I should do this thing?”
“Though all men should deny you,” says Peter, “I will not. Shall I do this evil?
It cannot be.” All the arguments that are suited to give check to the heart in
such a condition are mustered up. Did not Peter, think you, do so? “What!
Deny my Master, the Son of God, my Redeemer, who loves me? Can such
ingratitude, unbelief, rebellion, befall me? I will not do it.” Shall, then, a man
rest in it that his heart will be steadfast? Let the wise man answer: “He that
trusts in his own heart is a fool.” “The heart is deceitful” (Jer. 17:9). We
would not willingly trust anything wherein there is any deceit or guile; here
is that which is “deceitful above all things.” It has a thousand shifts and
treacheries that it will deal with; when it comes to the trial, every temptation
will steal it away (Hos. 4:11). Generally men’s hearts deceive them no oftener
than they do trust in them, and then they never fail so to do.
Consider the particular ways and means that such a heart has or can use
to safeguard itself in the hour of temptation, and their insufficiency to that
purpose will quickly appear. I shall instance in some few only:
Love of honor in the world. Reputation and esteem in the church,
obtained by former profession and walking, is one of the heart’s own
weapons to defend itself in the hour of temptation. “Shall such a one as I fly?
I who have had such a reputation in the church of God, shall I now lose it by
giving way to this lust, to this temptation? by closing with this or that public
evil?” This consideration has such an influence on the spirits of some that
they think it will be a shield and buckler9 against any assaults that may befall
them. They will die a thousand times before they will forfeit that repute they
172 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
9 a small, handheld shield
have in the church of God! But, alas! this is but a withe,10 or a new cord, to
bind a giant temptation with. What think you of the “third part of the stars
of heaven?” (Rev. 12:4). Had they not shone in the firmament of the church?
Were they not sensible, more than enough, of their own honor, height, usefulness,
and reputation? But when the dragon comes with his temptations, he
casts them down to the earth. Yea, great temptations will make men, who
have not a better defense, insensibly fortify themselves against that dishonor
and disreputation that their ways are attended with. “Populus [me] sibilat,
at mihi plaudo.”11 Do we not know instances yet living of some who have
ventured on compliance with wicked men after the glory of a long and useful
profession, and within a while, finding themselves cast down thereby from
their reputation with the saints, have hardened themselves against it and
ended in apostasy (as John 15:6)? This kept not Judas; it kept not Hymeneus
nor Philetus; it kept not the stars of heaven; nor will it keep you.
There is, on the other side, the consideration of shame, reproach, loss,
and the like. This also men may put their trust in as a defense against temptations,
and do not fear but to be safeguarded and preserved by it. They
would not for the world bring that shame and reproach upon themselves that
such and such miscarriages are attended with! Now, besides that this consideration
extends itself only to open sins, such as the world takes notice of
and abhors, and so is of no use at all in such cases as wherein pretenses and
colors12 may be invented and used, nor in public temptations to loose and
careless walking, like those of our days, nor in cases that may be disputable
in themselves, though expressly sinful to the consciences of persons under
temptations, nor in heart sins—in all which and most other cases of temptation
there are innumerable reliefs ready to be tendered13 unto the heart against
this consideration; besides all this, I say, we see by experience how easily this
cord is broken when once the heart begins to be entangled. Each corner of
the land is full of examples to this purpose.
They have yet that which outweighs these lesser considerations—namely,
that they will not wound their own consciences, and disturb their peace, and
bring themselves in danger of hell-fire. This, surely, if anything, will preserve
men in the hour of temptation. They will not lavish away their peace, nor ven-
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 173
10 shackle made of green twigs [see Judg. 16:7, KJV]
11 “The people hiss [at me], but I applaud”—truncated version of a quote from Horatius, Satires, I.i.66.
The original manuscript mistakenly has “sibilet” rather than “sibilat.” The same quote is found in John
Calvin’s Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Eerdmans, 1965), 2:182.
12 embellishments concealing the truth
13 offered
ture their souls by running on God and the thick bosses14 of his buckler [Job
15:26]! What can be of more efficacy and prevalency? I confess this is of great
importance; and oh that it were more pondered than it is! That we laid more
weight upon the preservation of our peace with God than we do! Yet I say
that even this consideration in him who is otherwhere off from his watch, and
does not make it his work to follow the other rules insisted on, will not preserve
him; for—
The peace of such a one may be false peace or security, made up of presumption
and false hopes; yea, though he be a believer, it may be so. Such was
David’s peace after his sin, before Nathan came to him; such was Laodicea’s
peace when ready to perish; and Sardis her peace when dying. What should
secure a soul that it is otherwise, seeing it is supposed that it does not universally
labor to keep the word of Christ’s patience and to be watchful in all
things? Think you that the peace of many in these days will be found to be
true peace at last? Nothing less. They go alive down to hell, and death will have
dominion over them in the morning. Now, if a man’s peace be such, do you
think that can preserve him which cannot preserve itself? It will give way at
the first vigorous assault of a temptation in its height and hour. Like a broken
reed, it will run into the hand of him that leans on it. But—
Suppose the peace cared for, and proposed to safeguard the soul, be true
and good, yet when all is laid up in this one bottom, when the hour of temptation
comes, so many reliefs will be tendered against this consideration as
will make it useless. “This evil is small; it is questionable; it falls not openly
and downright upon conscience. I do but fear consequences; it may be [the
case that] I may keep my peace notwithstanding. Others of the people of God
have fallen, and yet kept or recovered their peace. If it be lost for a season, it
may be obtained again. I will not solicit its station15 anymore; or though peace
be lost, safety may remain.” And a thousand such pleas there are, which are
all planted as batteries against this fort, so that it cannot long hold out.
The fixing on this particular only is to make good one passage or
entrance, while the enemy assaults us round about. It is true, a little armor
would serve to defend a man if he might choose there his enemy should strike
him; but we are commanded to take the “whole armor of God” if we intend
to resist and stand (Ephesians 6). This we speak of is but one piece; and when
our eye is only to that, temptation may enter and prevail twenty other ways.
For instance, a man may be tempted to worldliness, unjust gain, revenge,
174 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
14 the projecting parts of a small, handheld shield; i.e., a strong, imposing defense
15 position
vainglory, or the like. If he fortify himself alone with this consideration, he
will not do this thing, and wound his conscience and lose his peace; fixing his
eye on this particular, and counting himself safe while he is not overcome on
that hand, it may be neglect of private communion with God, sensuality, and
the like, do creep in, and he is not one jot in a better condition than if he had
fallen under the power of that part of the temptation which was most visibly
pressing on him. Experience gives to see that this does and will fail also. There
is no saint of God but puts a valuation on the peace he has; yet how many of
them fail in the day of temptation!
But yet they have another consideration also, and that is, the vileness of
sinning against God. How shall they do this thing, and sin against God, the
God of their mercies, of their salvation? How shall they wound Jesus Christ,
who dies for them? This surely cannot but preserve them. I answer—
First, we see every day this consideration failing also. There is no child
of God that is overcome of temptation but overcomes this consideration. It
is not, then, a sure and infallible defensative.16
Secondly, this consideration is twofold: either it expresses the thoughts
of the soul with particular reference to the temptation contended with and
then it will not preserve it; or it expresses the universal, habitual frame of
heart that is in us, upon all accounts, and then it falls in with what I shall tender
as the universal medicine and remedy in this case in the process of this
discourse; whereof afterward.
Consider the power of temptation, partly from what was showed before,
from the effects and fruits of it in the saints of old, partly from such other
effects in general as we find ascribed to it; as—
It will darken the mind, that a man shall not be able to make a right judgment
of things, so as he did before he entered into it. As in the men of the
world, the god of this world blinds their minds that they should not see the
glory of Christ in the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4), and “whoredom, and wine, and new
wine, take away their hearts” (Hos. 4:11); so it is in the nature of every temptation,
more or less, to take away the heart, or to darken the understanding
of the person tempted.
And this it does [in] diverse ways:
By fixing the imagination and the thoughts upon the object whereunto
it tends, so that the mind shall be diverted from the consideration of the things
that would relieve and succor17 it in the state wherein it is. A man is tempted
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 175
16 that which defends or protects
17 assist, relieve
to apprehend that he is forsaken of God, that he is an object of his hatred,
that he has no interest18 in Christ. By the craft of Satan the mind shall be so
fixed to the consideration of this state and condition, with the distress of it,
that he shall not be able to manage any of the reliefs suggested and tendered
to him against it; but, following the fullness of his own thoughts, shall walk
on in darkness and have no light. I say, a temptation will so possess and fill
the mind with thoughtfulness of itself and the matter of it, that it will take
off from that clear consideration of things which otherwise it might and
would have. And those things whereof the mind was wont19 to have a vigorous
sense, to keep it from sin, will by this means come to have no force or
efficacy with it; nay, it will commonly bring men to that state and condition,
that when others, to whom their estate is known, are speaking to them the
things that concern their deliverance and peace, their minds will be so possessed
with the matter of their temptation as not at all to understand, scarce
to hear one word, that is spoken to them.
By woeful entangling of the affections; which, when they are engaged,
what influence they have in blinding the mind and darkening the understanding
is known. If any know it not, let him but open his eyes in these days,
and he will quickly learn it. By what ways and means it is that engaged affections
will becloud the mind and darken it I shall not now declare; only, I say,
give me a man engaged in hope, love, fear, in reference to any particulars
wherein he ought not, and I shall quickly show you wherein he is darkened
and blinded. This, then, you will fail in if you enter into temptation: The
present judgment you have of things will not be utterly altered, but darkened
and rendered infirm20 to influence the will and master the affections. These,
being set at liberty by temptation, will run on in madness. Forthwith detestation
of sin, abhorring of it, terror of the Lord, sense of love, presence of
Christ crucified, all depart and leave the heart a prey to its enemy.
Temptation will give oil and fuel to our lusts—incite, provoke, and make
them tumultuate and rage beyond measure. Tendering a lust, a corruption, a
suitable object, advantage, occasion, it heightens and exasperates it, makes it
for a season wholly predominant: so dealt it with carnal fear in Peter [Luke
22:56-60], with pride in Hezekiah [2 Chron. 32:25], with covetousness in
Achan [Josh. 7:1], with uncleanness in David [2 Sam. 11:4], with worldliness
in Demas [2 Tim. 4:10], with ambition in Diotrephes [3 John 9]. It will lay
176 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
18 share or stake
19 accustomed
20 feeble
the reins on the neck of a lust and put to the sides of it, that it may rush forward
like a horse into the battle. A man knows not the pride, fury, madness
of a corruption until it meet with a suitable temptation. And what now will
a poor soul think to do? His mind is darkened, his affections entangled, his
lusts inflamed and provoked, his relief is defeated; and what will be the issue
of such a condition?
Consider that temptations are either public or private; and let us a little
view the efficacy and power of them apart.
There are public temptations (such as that mentioned [in] Rev. 3:10), that
was to come upon the world, “to try them that dwell upon the earth,” or a
combination of persecution and seduction for the trial of a careless generation
of professors. Now, concerning such a temptation, consider that—
It has an efficacy in respect of God, who sends it to revenge the neglect
and contempt of the gospel on the one hand, and treachery of false professors
on the other. Hence it will certainly accomplish what it receives commission21
from him to do. When Satan offered his service to go forth and
seduce Ahab that he might fall, God says to him, “You shall persuade him,
and prevail also: go forth, and do so” (1 Kings 22:22). He is permitted as to
his wickedness, and commissionated22 as to the event and punishment
intended. When the Christian world was to be given up to folly and false worship
for their neglect of the truth, and their naked, barren, fruitless, Christdishonoring
profession, it is said of the temptation that fell upon them, that
“God sent them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thess.
2:11). That that comes so from God in a judiciary manner, has a power with
it and shall prevail. That selfish, spiritually-slothful, careless, and worldly
frame of spirit, which in these days has infected almost the body of professors,
if it have a commission from God to kill hypocrites, to wound negligent
saints, to break their bones, and make them scandalous, that they may be
ashamed, shall it not have a power and efficacy so to do? What work has the
spirit of error made among us! Is it not from hence, that as some men
delighted not to retain God in their hearts, so he has “given them up to a
reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28). A man would think it strange, yea, it is [a] matter
of amazement, to see persons of a sober spirit, pretending to great things
in the ways of God, overcome, captivated, ensnared, destroyed by weak
means, sottish23 opinions, foolish imaginations, such as a man would think
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 177
21 authority
22 commissioned, appointed
23 foolish, especially as it relates to drunkenness
it impossible that they should ever lay hold on sensible or rational men, much
less on professors of the gospel. But that which God will have to be strong,
let us not think weak. No strength but the strength of God can stand in the
way of the weakest things of the world that are commissionated from God
for any end or purpose whatsoever.
There is in such temptations the secret insinuation of examples in those
that are accounted godly and are professors: “Because iniquity shall abound,
the love of many shall wax cold,” etc. (Matt. 24:12). The abounding of iniquity
in some will insensibly cast water on the zeal and love of others, that by
little and little it shall wax cold. Some begin to grow negligent, careless,
worldly, wanton.24 They break the ice toward the pleasing of the flesh. At first
their love also waxes25 cold; and the brunt being over, they also conform to
them and are cast into the same mold with them. “A little leaven leavens the
whole lump.” Paul repeats this saying twice (1 Cor. 5:6 and Gal. 5:9). He
would have us take notice of it; and it is of the danger of the infection of the
whole body, from the ill examples of some, whereof he speaks. We know how
insensibly leaven proceeds to give savor to the whole; so it is termed a “root
of bitterness” that “springs up and defiles many” (Heb. 12:15). If one little
piece of leaven, if one bitter root, may endanger the whole, how much more
when there are many roots of that nature, and much leaven is scattered
abroad! It is easy following a multitude to do evil, and saying “a conspiracy”
to them to whom the people say “a conspiracy” [Isa. 8:12]. Would anyone
have thought it possible that such and such professors, in our days, should
have fallen into ways of self, of flesh, of the world? To play at cards, dice,
revel, dance? To neglect family, closet26 duties? To be proud, haughty, ambitious,
worldly, covetous, oppressive? Or that they should be turned away
after foolish, vain, ridiculous opinions, deserting the gospel of Christ? In
which two lies the great temptation that is come on us, the inhabitants of this
world, to try us. But does not every man see that this is come to pass? And
may we not see how it is come to pass? Some loose, empty professors, who
had never more than a form of godliness, when they had served their turn of
that, began the way to them; then others began a little to comply, and to
please the flesh in so doing. This, by little and little, has reached even the top
boughs and branches of our profession, until almost all flesh has corrupted
178 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
24 lacking discipline
25 grows, becomes
26 i.e., private, spiritual
its way. And he that departs from these iniquities makes his name a prey, if
not his person.
Public temptations are usually accompanied with strong reasons and pretenses
that are too hard for men, or at least insensibly prevail upon them to
an undervaluation of the evil whereunto the temptation leads, to give strength
to that complicated temptation which in these days has even cast down the
people of God from their excellency—has cut their locks, and made them
become like other men [cf. Judges 16]. How full is the world of specious pretenses
and pleadings! As there is the liberty and freedom of Christians, delivered
from a bondage frame, this is a door that, in my own observation, I have
seen sundry27 going out at, into sensuality and apostasy; beginning at a light
conversation, proceeding to a neglect of the Sabbath, public and private duties,
ending in dissoluteness and profaneness. And then there is leaving of public
things to Providence, being content with what is—things good in themselves,
but disputed into wretched, carnal compliances, and the utter ruin of all zeal
for God, the interest of Christ or his people in the world. These and the like
considerations, joined with the ease and plenty, the greatness and promotion
of professors, have so brought things about, that whereas we have by
Providence shifted places with the men of the world, we have by sin shifted
spirits with them also. We are like a plantation of men carried into a foreign
country. In a short space they degenerate from the manners of the people from
whence they came, and fall into that thing in the soil and the air that transformed
them. Give me leave a little to follow my similitude: He that should
see the prevailing party of these nations, many of those in rule, power, favor,
with all their adherents, and remember that they were a colony of Puritans—
whose habitation was “in a low place,” as the prophet speaks of the city of
God [Isa. 32:19]—translated by a high hand to the mountains they now possess,
cannot but wonder how soon they have forgot the customs, manners,
ways, of their own old people, and are cast into the mold of them that went
before them in the places whereunto they are translated. I speak of us all, especially
of us who are among the lowest of the people, where perhaps this iniquity
does most abound. What were those before us that we are not? What did
they that we do not? Prosperity has slain the foolish and wounded the wise.
Suppose the temptation is private. This has been spoken to before; I shall
add two things:
Its union and incorporation with lust, whereby it gets within the soul, and
lies at the bottom of its actings. John tells us that the things that are “in the
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 179
27 various (people)
world” are “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life” (1 John
2:16). Now, it is evident that all these things are principally in the subject, not
in the object—in the heart, not in the world. But they are said to be “in the
world” because the world gets into them, mixes itself with them, unites,
incorporates. As faith and the promises are said to be “mixed” (Heb. 4:2), so
are lust and temptation mixed: they twine together; receive mutual improvement28
from one another; grow each of them higher and higher by the mutual
strength they administer to one another. Now, by this means temptation gets
so deep in the heart that no contrary reasonings can reach unto it; nothing
but what can kill the lust can conquer the temptation. Like leprosy that has
mingled itself with the wall [Lev. 14:33-53], the wall itself must be pulled
down or the leprosy will not be cured. Like a gangrene that mixes poison with
the blood and spirits, and cannot be separated from the place where it is, but
both must be cut off together. For instance, in David’s temptation to uncleanness,
ten thousand considerations might have been taken in to stop the mouth
of the temptation; but it had united itself with his lust, and nothing but the
killing of that could destroy it, or get him the conquest. This deceives many
a one. They have some pressing temptation, that, having got some advantages,
is urgent upon them. They pray against it, oppose it with all powerful
considerations, such as whereof every one seems sufficient to conquer and
destroy it, at least to overpower it, that it should never be troublesome any
more; but no good is done, no ground is got or obtained, yea, it grows upon
them more and more. What is the reason of it? It has incorporated and united
itself with the lust and is safe from all the opposition they make. If they would
make work indeed, they are to set upon the whole of the lust itself; their ambition,
pride, worldliness, sensuality, or whatever it be, that the temptation is
united with. All other dealings with it are like tamperings with a prevailing
gangrene: the part or whole may be preserved a little while, in great torment;
excision29 or death must come at last. The soul may cruciate30 itself for a season
with such a procedure; but it must come to this—its lust must die, or the
soul must die.
In whatsoever part of the soul the lust be seated wherewith the temptation
is united, it draws after it the whole soul by one means or other, and so
prevents or anticipates any opposition. Suppose it be a lust of the mind—as
there are lusts of the mind and uncleanness of the spirit, such as ambition,
180 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
28 enhancement
29 surgical removal by cutting
30 torment, torture
vain-glory, and the like—what a world of ways has the understanding to bridle
the affections that they should not so tenaciously cleave to God, seeing in
what it aims at there is so much to give them contentment and satisfaction!
It will not only prevent all the reasonings of the mind, which it does necessarily—
being like a bloody infirmity in the eyes, presenting all things to draw
the whole soul, on other accounts and collateral considerations, into the same
frame. It promises the whole a share in the spoil aimed at; as Judas’s money,
that he first desired from covetousness, was to be shared among all his lusts.
Or be it in the more sensual31 part, and first possesses the affections—what
prejudices they will bring upon the understanding, how they will bribe it to
an acquiescence, what arguments, what hopes they will supply it with, cannot
easily be expressed, as was before showed. In brief, there is no particular
temptation, but, when it is in its hour, it has such a contribution of assistance
from things good, evil, indifferent, is fed by so many considerations that seem
to be most alien and foreign to it, in some cases has such specious pleas and
pretenses, that its strength will easily be acknowledged.
Consider the end of any temptation; this is Satan’s end and sin’s end—
that is, the dishonor of God and the ruin of our souls.
Consider what has been the issue of your former temptations that you
have had. Have they not defiled your conscience, disquieted your peace,
weakened you in your obedience, [and] clouded the face of God? Though you
were not prevailed on to the outward evil or utmost issue of your temptation,
yet have you not been foiled? Has not your soul been sullied32 and grievously
perplexed with it? Yea, did you ever in your life come fairly off, without sensible
loss, from any temptation almost that you had to deal with; and would
you willingly be entangled again? If you are at liberty, take heed; enter no
more, if it be possible, lest a worse thing happen to you.
These, I say, are some of those many considerations that might be
insisted on, to manifest the importance of the truth proposed and the fullness
of our concern in taking care that we “enter not into temptation.”
OBJECTIONS AND ANSWERS
Against what has been spoken, some objections that secretly insinuate themselves
into the souls of men, and have an efficacy to make them negligent and
careless in this thing, which is of such importance to them—a duty of such
indispensable necessity to them who intend to walk with God in any peace,
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 181
31 perceived by the senses (not necessarily sexual)
32 polluted, soiled
or with any faithfulness—are to be considered and removed. And they are
these that follow.
Objection #1
Why should we so fear and labor to avoid temptation? We are commanded
to “count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2). Now,
certainly I need not solicitously avoid the falling into that which, when I am
fallen into, I am to count it all joy.
Answer
To which I answer—
You will not hold by this rule in all things—namely, that a man need not
seek to avoid that which, when he cannot but fall into, it is his duty to rejoice
therein. The same apostle bids the rich “rejoice that they are made low”
(James 1:10). And, without doubt, to him who is acquainted with the goodness
and wisdom and love of God in his dispensations,33 in every condition
that is needful for him, it will be a matter of rejoicing to him: but yet, how
few rich, godly men can you persuade not to take heed and use all lawful
means that they be not made poor and low! And, in most cases, the truth is,
it were their sin not to do so. It is our business to make good our stations and
to secure ourselves as we can; if God alter our condition we are to rejoice in
it. If the temptations here mentioned befall us, we may have cause to rejoice;
but not if, by a neglect of duty, we fall into them.
Temptations are taken two ways: (1) passively and merely materially, for
such things as are, or in some cases may be, temptations; or (2) actively,
for such as do entice to sin. James speaks of temptations in the first sense
only; for having said, “Count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations”
(v. 2); he adds, “Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is
tried, he shall receive the crown of life” (v. 12). But now whereas a man might
say, “If this be so, then temptations are good, and from God”—“No,” says
James; “take temptation in such a sense as that it is a thing enticing and leading
to sin, so God tempts none; but every man is tempted of his own lust”
(vv. 13-14). “To have such temptations, to be tempted to sin, that is not the
blessed thing I intend; but the enduring of afflictions that God sends for the trial
of our faith, that is a blessed thing. So that, though I must count it all joy when,
through the will of God, I fall into diverse afflictions for my trial, which yet have
182 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
33 provisions, orderings
the matter of temptation in them, yet I am to use all care and diligence that my
lust have no occasions or advantages given unto it to tempt me to sin.”
Objection #2
But was not our Savior Christ himself tempted; and is it evil to be brought
into the same state and condition with him? Yea, it is not only said that he
was tempted, but his being so is expressed as a thing advantageous, and conducing
to his mercifulness as our priest: “In that he himself has suffered, being
tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18). And he
makes it a ground of a great promise to his disciples, that they had “abode
with him in his temptations” (Luke 22:28).
Answer
It is true, our Savior was tempted; but yet his temptations are reckoned
among the evils that befell him in the days of his flesh—things that came on
him through the malice of the world and the prince thereof. He did not willfully
cast himself into temptation, which he said was “to tempt the Lord our
God” (Matt. 4:7); as, indeed, willingly to enter into any temptation is highly
to tempt God. Now, our condition is so, that, [even if we] use the greatest
diligence and watchfulness that we can, yet we shall be sure to be tempted
and be made like to Christ therein. This hinders not but that it is our duty to
the utmost to prevent our falling into them; and that namely on this account:
Christ had only the suffering part of temptation when he entered into it; we
have also the sinning part of it. When the prince of this world came to Christ,
he had “no part in him” [John 14:30]; but when he comes to us, he has so in
us. So that though in one effect of temptations, namely trials and disquietness,
we are made like to Christ, and so are to rejoice as far as by any means
that is produced; yet by another we are made unlike to him—which is our
being defiled and entangled: and are therefore to seek by all means to avoid
them. We never come off like Christ. Who of us “enter into temptation” and
is not defiled?
Objection #3
But what [is the] need [for] this great endeavor and carefulness? Is it not said
that “God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are
able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape?” (1 Cor. 10:13);
and “He knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Pet. 2:9)?
What need we, then, be solicitous that we enter not into them?
THE GREAT DUTY OF ALL BELIEVERS 183
Answer
I much question what assistance he will have from God in his temptation who
willingly enters into it because he supposes God has promised to deliver him
out of it. The Lord knows that, through the craft of Satan, the subtlety and malice
of the world, the deceitfulness of sin, that does so easily beset us, when we
have done our utmost, yet we shall enter into diverse temptations. In his love,
care, tenderness, and faithfulness, he has provided such a sufficiency of grace
for us that they shall not utterly prevail to make an everlasting separation
between him and our souls. Yet I have three things to say to this objection:
First, he that willfully or negligently enters into temptation has no reason
in the world to promise himself any assistance from God, or any deliverance
from the temptation whereunto he is entered. The promise is made to
them whom temptations do befall in their way, whether they will or not; not
them that willfully fall into them—that run out of their way to meet with
them. And therefore the devil (as is usually observed), when he tempted our
Savior, left out that expression of the text of Scripture, which he wrested to
his purpose, “All your ways” [cf. Matt. 4:6 with Ps. 91:11]. The promise of
deliverance is to them who are in their ways, whereof this is one principal
[way] to beware of temptation.
Second, though there be a sufficiency of grace provided for all the elect,
that they shall by no temptation fall utterly from God, yet it would make any
gracious heart to tremble to think what dishonor to God, what scandal to the
gospel, what woeful darkness and disquietness they may bring upon their own
souls, though they perish not. And they who are scared by nothing but fear of
hell, on whom other considerations short thereof have no influence, in my
apprehension34 have more reason to fear it than perhaps they are aware of.
Third, to enter on temptation on this account is to venture on sin (which
is the same with “continuing with sin”) “that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1-
2); which the apostle rejects the thoughts of with greatest detestation. Is it not
a madness for a man willingly to suffer the ship wherein he is to split itself
on a rock, to the irrecoverable loss of his merchandise, because he supposes
he shall in his own person swim safely to shore on a plank? Is it less in him
who will hazard the shipwreck of all his comfort, peace, joy, and so much of
the glory of God and honor of the gospel as he is entrusted with, merely on
supposition that his soul shall yet escape? These things a man would think
did not deserve to be mentioned, and yet with such as these do poor souls
sometimes delude themselves.
184 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
34 perception, conception

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