Temptation Chapter 5

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

inquiry is: What general directions may be given to preserve a soul
from that condition that has been spoken of? And we see our Savior’s direction
in the place spoken of before (Matt. 26:41). He sums up all in these two
words: “watch and pray.” I shall a little labor to unfold them and show what
is enwrapped and contained in them; and that both jointly and severally.
There is included in them a clear, abiding apprehension of great evil that
there is in entering into temptation. That which a man watches and prays
against, he looks upon as evil to him, and by all means to be avoided. This,
then, is the first direction: Always bear in mind the great danger that it is for
any soul to enter into temptation.
It is a woeful thing to consider what slight thoughts that most have of
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this thing. [If it] so [be that] men can keep themselves from sin itself in open
action, they are content, they scarce aim at more; on any temptation in the
world, all sorts of men will venture at any time. How will young men put
themselves on company, any society; at first, being delighted with evil company,
then with the evil of the company! How vain are all admonitions and
exhortations to them to take heed of such persons, debauched in themselves,
corrupters of others, destroyers of souls! At first they will venture on the company,
abhorring the thoughts of practicing their lewdness; but what is the
issue? Unless it be here or there one, whom God snatches with a mighty hand
from the jaws of destruction, they are all lost, and become after a while in
love with the evil which at first they abhorred. This open door to the ruin of
souls is too evident; and woeful experience makes it no less evident that it is
almost impossible to fasten upon many poor creatures any fear or dread of
temptation, who yet will profess a fear and abhorrency of sin. Would it were
only thus with young men, such as are unaccustomed to the yoke of their
Lord! What sort of men is free from this folly in one thing or other? How
many professors have I known that would plead for their liberty, as they
called it! They could hear anything, all things—all sorts of men, all men; they
would try all things whether they came to them in the way of God or no; and
on that account would run to hear and to attend to every broacher of false
and abominable opinions, every seducer, though stigmatized by the generality
of the saints: for such a one they had their liberty—they could do it; but
the opinions they hated as much as any. What has been the issue? I scarce ever
knew any come off without a wound; the most have had their faith overthrown.
Let no man, then, pretend to fear sin that does not fear temptation
to it. They are too nearly allied to be separated. Satan has put them so
together that it is very hard for any man to put them asunder. He hates not
the fruit who delights in the root.
When men see that such ways, such companies, such courses, such businesses,
such studies and aims, do entangle them, make them cold, careless,
are quench-coals to them, indispose them to even, universal, and constant
obedience, if they adventure on them, sin lies at the door. It is a tender frame
of spirit, sensible of its own weakness and corruption, of the craft of Satan,
of the evil of sin, of the efficacy of temptation, that can perform his duty. And
yet until we bring our hearts to this frame, upon the considerations beforementioned,
or the like that may be proposed, we shall never free ourselves
from sinful entanglements. Boldness upon temptation, springing from several
pretenses, has, as is known, ruined innumerable professors in these days, and
still continues to cast many down from their excellency; nor have I the least
PARTICULAR CASES AND GENERAL DIRECTIONS 193
hope of a more fruitful profession among us until I see more fear of temptation.
Sin will not long seem great or heavy unto any to whom temptations
seem light or small.
This is the first thing enwrapped in this general direction: The daily exercise
of our thoughts with an apprehension of the great danger that lies in
entering into temptation, is required of us. Grief of the Spirit of God, disquietment
of our own souls, loss of peace, hazard of eternal welfare, lies at the
door. If the soul be not prevailed with to the observation of this direction, all
that ensues will be of no value. Temptation despised will conquer; and if the
heart be made tender and watchful here, half the work of securing a good
conversation is over. And let not him go any further who resolved not to
improve this direction in a daily conscientious observation of it.
There is this in it also, that it is not a thing in our own power, to
keep and preserve ourselves from entering into temptation. Therefore
are we to pray that we may be preserved from it, because we cannot save
ourselves.
This is another means of preservation. As we have no strength to resist
a temptation when it does come, when we are entered into it, but shall fall
under it, without a supply of sufficiency of grace from God; so to reckon that
we have no power or wisdom to keep ourselves from entering into temptation,
but must be kept by the power and wisdom of God, is a preserving principle
(1 Pet. 1:5). We are in all things “kept by the power of God.” This our
Savior instructs us in, not only by directing us to pray that we be not led into
temptation, but also by his own praying for us that we may be kept from it:
“I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should
keep them from the evil” (John 17:15)—that is, the temptations of the world
unto evil, unto sin—ek tou pon·rou, “out of evil” that is in the world, that
is temptation, which is all that is evil in the world; or from the evil one, who
in the world makes use of the world unto temptation. Christ prays [to] his
Father to keep us, and instructs us to pray that we be so kept. It is not, then,
a thing in our own power. The ways of our entering into temptation are so
many, various, and imperceptible—the means of it so efficacious and powerful—
our weakness, our unwatchfulness, so unspeakable—that we cannot
in the least keep or preserve ourselves from it. We fail both in wisdom and
power for this work.
Let the heart, then, commune with itself and say, “I am poor and weak;
Satan is subtle, cunning, powerful, watching constantly for advantages
against my soul; the world earnest, pressing, and full of specious pleas, innumerable
pretenses, and ways of deceit; my own corruption violent and tumul-
194 OF TEMPTATION: THE NATURE AND POWER OF IT
tuating, enticing, entangling, conceiving sin, and warring in me, against me;
occasions and advantages of temptation innumerable in all things I have done
or suffer, in all businesses and persons with whom I converse.
The first beginnings of temptation [are] insensible12 and plausible, so
that, left unto myself, I shall not know I am ensnared, until my bonds be
made strong, and sin has got ground in my heart: therefore on God alone
will I rely for preservation, and continually will I look up to him on that
account.” This will make the soul be always committing itself to the care of
God, resting itself on him, and to do nothing, undertake nothing, etc, without
asking counsel of him. So that a double advantage will arise from the
observation of this direction, both of singular use for the soul’s preservation
from the evil feared:
The engagement of the grace and compassion of God, who has called the
fatherless and helpless to rest upon him; nor did ever soul fail of supplies,
who, in a sense of want, rolled itself on him, on the account of his gracious
invitation.
The keeping of it in such a frame as, on various accounts, is useful for
its preservation. He that looks to God for assistance in a due manner is
both sensible of his danger and conscientiously careful in the use of means
to preserve himself: which two, of what importance they are in this case,
may easily be apprehended by them who have their hearts exercised in
these things.
This also is in it—act faith on the promise of God for preservation. To
believe that he will preserve us is a means of preservation; for this God will
certainly do, or make a way for us to escape out of temptation, if we fall
into it under such a believing frame. We are to pray for what God has
promised. Our requests are to be regulated by his promises and commands,
which are of the same extent. Faith closes with the promises and so finds
relief in this case. This James instructs us in James 1:5-7. What we want we
must “ask of God,” but we must “ask in faith,” for otherwise we must not
“think that we shall receive anything of the Lord.” This then, also, is in this
direction of our Savior, that we act faith on the promises of God for our
preservation out of temptation. He has promised that he will keep us in all
our ways; that we shall be directed in a way that, though we are fools, “we
shall not err therein” (Isa. 35:8); that he will lead us, guide us, and deliver
us from the evil one. Set faith on work on these promises of God, and expect
a good and comfortable issue. It is not easily conceived what a train of graces
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12 imperceptible
faith is attended with when it goes forth to meet Christ in the promises, nor
what a power for the preservation of the soul lies in this thing; but I have
spoken to this elsewhere.
Weigh these things severally and, first, take prayer into consideration.
To pray that we enter not into temptation is a means to preserve us from
it. Glorious things are, by all men that know aught13 of those things, spoken
of this duty [Ps. 87:3]; and yet the truth is, not one half of its excellency,
power, and efficacy is known. It is not my business to speak of it in
general; but this I say as to my present purpose—he that would be little in
temptation, let him be much in prayer. This calls in the suitable help and
succor that is laid up in Christ for us (Heb. 4:16). This casts our souls into
a frame of opposition to every temptation. When Paul had given instruction
for the taking to ourselves “the whole armor of God” that we may
resist and stand in the time of temptation [Eph. 6:11, 13], he adds this general
close of the whole: “praying always with all prayer and supplication
in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication”
(Eph. 6:18).
Without this, all the rest will be of no efficacy for the end proposed. And
therefore consider what weight he lays on it: “praying always”—that is, at
all times and seasons, or be always ready and prepared for the discharge of
that duty (Luke 18:1; Eph. 6:18); “with all prayer and supplication in the
Spirit”—putting forth all kinds of desires unto God that are suited to our condition,
according to his will, lest we [be] diverted by anything whatsoever;
and that not for a little while, but “with all perseverance”—continuance
lengthened out to the utmost: so shall we stand. The soul so framed is in a
sure posture; and this is one of the means without which this work will not
be done. If we do not abide in prayer, we shall abide in cursed temptations.
Let this, then, be another direction: abide in prayer, and that expressly to this
purpose, that we “enter not into temptation.” Let this be one part of our daily
contending with God—that he would preserve our souls, and keep our hearts
and our ways, that we be not entangled; that his good and wise providence
will order our ways and affairs, that no pressing temptation befall us; that he
would give us diligence, carefulness, and watchfulness over our own ways.
So shall we be delivered when others are held with the cords of their own
folly.
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13 anything, i.e., anything worthwhile

 


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