Temptation Chapter 6

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

The other part of our Savior’s direction—namely, to “watch”—is more general,
and extends itself to many particulars. I shall fix on some things that are
contained therein.
Watch the Seasons
Watch the seasons wherein men usually do “enter into temptations.” There
are sundry seasons wherein an hour of temptation is commonly at hand, and
will unavoidably seize upon the soul unless it be delivered by mercy in the use
of watchfulness. When we are under such a season, then are we peculiarly to
be upon our guard that we enter not into, that we fall not under, the power
of temptation. Some of those seasons may be named.
A season of unusual outward prosperity is usually accompanied with an
hour of temptation. Prosperity and temptation go together; yea, prosperity is
a temptation, many temptations, and that because without eminent supplies
of grace it is apt to cast a soul into a frame and temper exposed to any temptation,
and provides it with fuel and food for all. It has provision for lust and
darts for Satan.
The wise man tells us that the “prosperity of fools destroys them” (Prov.
1:32). It hardens them in their way, makes them despise instruction, and puts
the evil day (whose terror should influence them into amendment14) far from
them. Without a special assistance, it has an inconceivably malignant influence
on believers themselves. Hence Agur prays against riches because of the
temptation that attends them: “Lest,” says he, “I be full and deny you, and
say, Who is the Lord?” (Prov. 30:8-9)—lest, being filled with them, he should
forget the Lord; as God complains that his people did (Hos. 13:6). We know
how David was mistaken in this case: “I said in my prosperity, I shall never
be moved” (Ps. 30:6). All is well, and will be well. But what was at hand,
what lay at the door, that David thought not of? “You did hide your face,
and I was troubled” (v. 7). God was ready to hide his face, and David to enter
into a temptation of desertion, and he knew it not.
As, then, unto a prosperous condition. I shall not run cross to15 Solomon’s
counsel, “In the day of prosperity rejoice” (Eccles. 7:14). Rejoice in the God
14 moral improvement, reformation
15 contradict, go against
of your mercies, who does you good in his patience and forbearance, notwithstanding
all your unworthiness. Yet I may add to it, from the same fountain
of wisdom, “Consider,” also, lest evil lie at the door. A man in that state is in
the midst of snares. Satan has many advantages against him; he forges darts
out of all his enjoyments; and, if he watch not, he will be entangled before he
is aware.
You want that which should poise and ballast your heart. Formality in
religion will be apt to creep upon you; and that lays the soul open to all temptations
in their full power and strength. Satisfaction and delight in creaturecomforts,
the poison of the soul, will be apt to grow upon you. In such a time
be vigilant, be circumspect,16 or you will be surprised. Job says that in his
affliction “God made his heart soft” (Job 23:16). There is a hardness, an
insensible17 want18 of spiritual sense, gathered in prosperity, that, if not
watched against, will expose the heart to the deceits of sin and baits of Satan.
“Watch and pray” in this season. Many men’s negligence in it has cost them
dear; their woeful experience cries out to take heed. Blessed is he that fears
always, but especially in a time of prosperity.
As in part was manifested before, a time of the slumber of grace, of
neglect in communion with God, of formality in duty, is a season to be
watched in, as that which certainly [has] some other temptation attending it.
Let a soul in such an estate awake and look about him. His enemy is at
hand, and he is ready to fall into such a condition as may cost him dear all
the days of his life. His present estate is bad enough in itself; but it is an indication
of that which is worse that lies at the door. The disciples that were with
Christ in the mount had not only a bodily, but a spiritual drowsiness upon
them. What says our Savior to them? “Arise; watch and pray, that you enter
not into temptation.” We know how near one of them [Peter] was to a bitter
hour of temptation, and not watching as he ought, he immediately
entered into it.
I mentioned before the case of the spouse (Song 5:2-8). She slept, and was
drowsy and unwilling to gird up herself to a vigorous performance of duties
in a way of quick, active communion with Christ. Before she is aware, she
has lost her Beloved; then she moans, inquires, cries, endures woundings,
reproaches, and all before she obtains him again. Consider, then, O poor soul,
your state and condition! Does your light burn dim? Or though it give to others
as great a blaze as formerly, yet you see not so clearly the face of God in
16 watchful, attentive, cautious
17 apathetic, callous, uncomprehending
18 lack
Christ by it as you have done (2 Cor. 4:6)? Is your zeal cold? Or if it do the
same works as formerly, yet your heart is not warmed with the love of God
and to God in them as formerly, but only you proceed in the course you have
been in? Are you negligent in the duties of praying or hearing? Or if you do
observe them, you do it not with that life and vigor as formerly? Do you flag19
in your profession? Or if you keep it up, yet your wheels are oiled by some
sinister respects from within or without? Does your delight in the people of
God faint and grow cold? Or is your love to them changing from that which
is purely spiritual into that which is very carnal, upon the account of suitableness
of principles and natural spirits, if not worse foundations? If you are
drowsing in such a condition as this, take heed; you are falling into some woeful
temptation that will break all your bones, and give you wounds that shall
stick by you all the days of your life. Yea, when you awake, you will find that
it has indeed laid hold of you already, though you perceive it not; it has smitten
and wounded you, though you have not complained nor sought for relief
or healing.
Such was the state of the church of Sardis. “The things that remained
were ready to die”(Rev. 3:2). “Be watchful,” says our Savior, “and strengthen
them, or a worse thing will befall you.” If any that reads the word of this
direction be in this condition, if he has any regard of his poor soul, let him
now awake, before he be entangled beyond recovery. Take this warning from
God; despise it not.
A season of great spiritual enjoyments is often, by the malice of Satan and
the weakness of our hearts, turned into a season of danger as to this business
of temptation.
We know how the case stood with Paul (2 Cor. 12:7). He had glorious
spiritual revelations of God and Jesus Christ. Instantly Satan falls upon him,
a messenger from him buffets20 him, so that he earnestly begs its departure,
but yet is left to struggle with it. God is pleased sometimes to give us special
discoveries of himself and his love, to fill the heart with his kindness; Christ
takes us into the banqueting-house, and gives our hearts their fill of love; and
this by some signal work of his Spirit, overpowering us with a sense of love
in the unspeakable privilege of adoption, and so fills our souls with joy
unspeakable and glorious. A man would think this was the securest condition
in the world. What soul does not cry with Peter in the mount, “It is good
for me to be here; to abide here forever” [Matt. 17:4]? But yet very frequently
19 decline in vigor or strength
20 strikes repeatedly
some bitter temptation is now at hand. Satan sees that, being possessed by
the joy before us, we quickly neglect many ways of approach to our souls,
wherein he seeks and finds advantages against us. Is this, then, our state and
condition? Does God at any time give us to drink of the rivers of pleasure that
are at his right hand [Ps. 36:8], and satisfy our souls with his kindness as with
marrow and fatness21 [Ps. 63:5]? Let us not say, “We shall never be moved”—
we know not how soon God may hide his face, or a messenger from Satan
may buffet us.
Besides, there lies oftentimes a greater and worse deceit in this business.
Men cheat their souls with their own fancies, instead of a sense of God’s love
by the Holy Ghost; and when they are lifted up with their imaginations, it is
not expressible how fearfully they are exposed to all manner of temptations—
and how, then, are they able to find relief against their consciences from their
own foolish fancies and deceivings, wherewith they sport themselves? May
we not see such every day—persons walking in the vanities and ways of this
world, yet boasting of their sense of the love of God? Shall we believe them?
We must not, then, believe truth itself; and how woeful, then, must their condition
needs be!
A fourth season is a season of self-confidence; then usually temptation is
at hand.
The case of Peter is clear unto this: “I will not deny you; though all men
should deny you I will not; though I were to die for it, I would not do it”
[Matt. 26:33, 35]. This said the poor man when he stood on the very brink
of that temptation that cost him in the issue such bitter tears. And this taught
him so far to know himself all his days, and gave him such acquaintance with
the state of all believers, that when he had received more of the Spirit and of
power, yet he had less of confidence, and saw it was fit that others should have
so also, and therefore persuades all men to “pass the time of their sojourning
here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17), not to be confident and high as he was, lest, as
he did, they fall. At the first trial he compares himself with others, and vaunts
himself above them: “Though all men should forsake you, yet I will not.” He
fears every man more than himself. But when our Savior afterward comes to
him, and puts him directly upon the comparison, “Simon, son of Jonas, do
you love me more than these?” (John 21:15), he is done comparing himself
with others, and only cries, “Lord, you know that I love you” [John 21:15,
16, 17]. He will lift up himself above others no more. Such a season oftentimes
falls out. Temptations are abroad in the world, false doctrines, with
21 richness, fertility
innumerable other allurements and provocations: we are ready every one to
be very confident that we shall not be surprised with them: though all men
should fall into these follies yet we would not: surely we shall never go off
from our walking with God; it is impossible [that] our hearts should be so
sottish. But says the apostle, “Be not high-minded, but fear; let him that
thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” [1 Cor. 10:12]. Would you think that
Peter, who had walked on the sea with Christ, confessed him to be the Son
of God, been with him on the mount when he heard the voice from the excellent
glory, should, at the word of a servant-girl, when there was no legal inquisition
after him, no process against him, nor anyone in his condition, instantly
fall a-cursing and swearing that he knew him not? Let them take heed of selfconfidence
who have any mind to take heed of sin. And this is the first thing
in our watching, to consider well the seasons wherein temptation usually
makes its approaches to the soul, and be armed against them. And these are
some of the seasons wherein temptations are nigh22 at hand.

22 near

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