John Owen on Temptation – an Outline
Jeremy Walker provides an outline of John Owen’s Temptation: Resisted and Repulsed,1 from the Trust’s Puritan Paperbacks series.
– Aim stated.
– Reasons given.
– Warning and exhortation to the carnal, casual, or careless reader.
– Warning and exhortation to the careful, Christian reader.
Note that although the forms of temptation alter with the ages, the nature of them does not (because the natures of God, man, sin and the devil do not alter). In that sense, our age may be different and particular forms of temptation may be more virulent and effective, but we should not assume that we are fighting a different battle to past ages.
– The evil cautioned against – temptation.
– The means by which it prevails – by our entering into it.
– The way of preventing it – watch and pray.
2. The General Nature of Testing
The reasons for which God tests us.
– To show man what is in his heart (both graces and corruptions).
– To show himself to man.
Some ways by which God accomplishes this.
– By setting great tasks beyond a man’s strength to accomplish.
– By putting his people through great sufferings.
3. What Is Temptation?
– Satan tempts sometimes by himself.
– Sometimes Satan makes use of the world.
– Sometimes Satan seeks assistance from ourselves – the corruptions of our hearts prove his allies.
A temptation, then, in general is anything that, for any reason, exerts a force or influence to seduce and draw the mind and heart of man from the obedience which God requires of him to any kind of sin.
4. Entering into Temptation
There is something specific in entering into temptation that is not the saints’ everyday work. It is something that befalls them particularly in reference to sin’s seduction on one account or another. It is an entrance into a powerful or frightening allurement.
– By some special advantage or occasion, Satan attacks us with greater force than his ordinary solicitations to sin.
– Our hearts become sufficiently entangled in the temptation to rise up in self-defence without being wholly able to eject the poison that has been injected.
Entering into temptation occurs in one of two seasons.
– When God allows Satan for ends known to himself to gain advantage over a soul.
– When a man’s lusts and corruptions meet a particularly provoking object or opportunity along life’s way.
All will experience a season in which their temptations will be more urgent, sin’s reasonings more plausible, its pretensions more glorious, hopes of recovery seemingly clearer, opportunities broader and more open, the doors of evil more beautiful than ever they have been before. Blessed is he who is prepared for such a season! There is no escape without this preparation. If we maintain our preparation, we are safe.
5. Temptation’s Hour
How or by what means temptation commonly attains its hour.
– By long solicitations.
– By prevailing over others so as to erode our responses of horror and pity.
– By intermingling itself with other considerations that perhaps are not absolutely evil.
How we may know when any temptation has come to its high noon, and is in its hour.
– When it is restless, urgent, and argumentative. ‘It is the time of battle, and sin will give the soul no rest.’
– When it brings both fear and allurements together to work with greater force.
– The means of prevention prescribed by our Saviour: watch and pray. ‘These two duties are the whole endeavour of faith to preserve us from temptation.’
6. Our Great Duty: To Avoid Temptation
It is the great duty of all believers to use all diligence in the ways Christ has appointed, so as not to fall into temptation.
– In our Saviour’s instructions concerning what we should pray for, this matter of not entering into temptation is prominent.
– Christ promises freedom and deliverance from temptation as a great reward for obedience (Rev. 3:10).
– Consider some consequences of falling into temptation, in the case both of ‘ungrounded professors and choicest of saints.’
– Ungrounded professors: ‘Temptation withers all their profession, and slays their souls.’ No number nor degrees of privilege will prevent this.
– The saints of God: consider the examples of Adam, Abraham, David, Noah, Lot, Hezekiah, Peter. Therefore be tender towards those who fall into temptation; avoid the battle at all costs.
The folly of the hearts of men is nowhere shown more openly in the days in which we live than by a cursed boldness and neglect of the warnings of God, and by a lack of consideration of so many that have already fallen into such a sad estate.
– Consider ourselves and our great weakness in comparison with the great strength and effectiveness of temptations.
Do not flatter yourself that you can hold out . . . He whose heart currently abhors the thoughts of a particular sin will be powerfully inflamed toward it when he enters into temptation . . . He will deride his former fears, cast aside his scruples, and condemn his former convictions.
7. The Folly of Trusting in Our Own Hearts
– The heart of an unbeliever has nothing but false hopes of standing.
– No heart in itself will be of benefit when it falls into temptation.
Some defences that the heart will seek to employ:
– Love of honour in the world.
– Considerations of shame, reproach, honour, loss, and the like – applies to open sins, but of no use in certain cases, such as:
- Where deception and hypocrisy can cover sin.
- Publicly acceptable sins of loose and careless living.
- Things not considered sinful by others, though convicting to a man’s own conscience.
- The case of heart sins.
– Resolve not to wound one’s conscience and preserve one’s own peace, but:
- The peace of such a man may be false.
- If the peace is true and good, yet the temptation will present arguments to overcome its influence.
- This defence may not assist when the enemy attacks from multiple directions.
– Consideration of the vileness of sinning against God, but:
- Every day this weapon fails.
- May be an immediate or temporary rather than habitual conviction.
8. Temptation Darkens the Mind
Temptation will darken the mind, so that a man will not be able to make a right judgement of things as he did before he entered into it.
– By fixing the imagination and thoughts on the object to which the temptation tends, thus diverting the mind from thoughts that would strengthen and help the tempted soul.
– By a sad entanglement of the affections.
– By giving oil and fuel to our lusts. ‘It will incite, provoke, disturb, and enrage them beyond measure.’
9. Public Temptations
– A combination of persecution and seduction for the trial of a careless generation of professing Christians.
– Employed by God to revenge the neglect and contempt shown to the gospel on the one hand, and the treachery of false professing Christians on the other.
– Usually accompanied by strong reasons and pleas, difficult to resist.
– Liberty and Christian freedom.
– Neglect of public concerns.
– Net effect is to make the professing church as worldly as the world.
10. Private Temptations
– Unite with particular lusts to gain entrance to the soul. ‘You will never conquer the temptation until the lust has been killed.
– The temptation – lust seeks to control the whole soul and prevent any opposition.
We should always remember Satan’s purpose and sin’s purpose in temptation: it is the dishonour of God, and the ruin of our souls.
Even temporary entanglement with temptation can leave a man wounded.
11. Why Must We Fear Temptation?
Objection 1: Why should we fear and labour to avoid temptation when James says that we are to count it all joy when we fall into temptation?
– This is bad reasoning. We may have cause to rejoice if the temptations mentioned here do befall us, but not if we find ourselves tempted through neglect of duty.
– James uses the word passively (a trial, a matter of circumstance) not actively (in the sense of enticement to sin).
Objection 2: Christ was tempted – how can it be evil to be like he was?
– Christ’s temptation was still accounted part of the evil he suffered. He did not cast himself into temptation.
– Christ had the suffering part of temptation only; we have the sinning part also.
Objection 3: What is the point of all this effort and care? God promises a way of escape, and knows how to rescue the godly. Why should we bother?
– ‘I much question what assistance someone will have from God in temptation if he willingly enters into it just because he supposes that God has promised to deliver him out of it.’
– He who wilfully or negligently enters into temptation has no reason to promise himself any assistance from God, or any deliverance from the temptation into which he has entered.
– Though a true saint will never utterly fall, much damage to God’s reputation, the gospel’s repute, and their own souls will ensue – enough to make us tremble though we do not perish.
– To think like this is like continuing in sin that grace may abound. It is madness to hazard great spiritual wealth on the premise of scant spiritual survival.
12. Knowing Our Danger
How can a man know that he has entered into temptation?
– When we are drawn into any sin, because all sin is the result of temptation. When repenting of our sins, we must also consider our temptations.
This is a folly that traps many who have [a] lively sense of sin. They are sensible of their sins, but not of their temptations. They are displeased with the bitter fruit, but cherish the poisonous root.
– Some temptations are of such violence as to leave us in no doubt what we have to wrestle with. When lust or corruption violently disturbs you, you may be sure that it is stirred up by temptation.
– When the heart begins secretly to enjoy the matter of the temptation.
– Whenever a man’s state or condition in life, or any other circumstance, gives opportunity for his lust to be stirred up and provoked.
– When, contrary to our former state of mind, we become weak, negligent, or formal in our duties.
This is a certain rule: If a man’s heart grows cold, negligent, or formal in his duties and in the worship of God, either as to the matter or the manner of them, and this is different from his former manner, then one temptation or another has laid hold upon him.
13. Means of Preservation
– The remedy is wrapped up in the words, ‘Watch and pray’ (Matt. 26:41).
– These words imply a clear and abiding awareness of the great evil of entering into temptation.
– Always bear in mind the great danger of entering into temptation. Beware of pleading Christian liberty as your excuse. Exercise your thoughts with the danger of it.
– Remember that keeping ourselves from entering into temptation is not a thing within our own power. We are to pray for preservation because we cannot keep ourselves.
- This engages the grace and compassion of God.
- Keeping the soul in this frame of spirit greatly tends to its preservation.
– Exercise faith in the promise of God for your preservation.
14. Praying for Protection
– Let him who would spend little time in temptation spend much time in prayer.
– Abide in prayer, with the express purpose of not entering into temptation.
15. Watching in Seasons of Special Danger
We should consider the seasons in which men more usually enter into temptation.
– A season of unusual outward prosperity.
If you lack that which provides poise and ballast to your heart, formality in religion will be likely to creep upon you, and lay open your soul to all temptations in their full power and strength.
– A time when grace sleeps, when communion with God is neglected, or when duty is only formal. Take heed, and – if need be – wake up and watch!
– A season of great spiritual enjoyment may, by the malice of Satan and the weakness of our own heart, be turned into a season of danger with respect to temptation. Beware, for this is when a man thinks himself most secure, and in which there is great self-deception.
– Seasons of self-confidence.
16. Watching Our Hearts
How can we perform our obligation to watch so as to keep our hearts?
– If you would avoid entering into temptation, labour to know your own heart. ‘Temptation often takes an advantage from a man’s natural temper and constitution.’ Different natural temperaments and the rooting in of particular lusts or corruptions.
Labour, then, to know yourself, what manner of spirit you are of, what agents Satan has in your heart, where corruption is strong, where grace is weak, what strongholds lust has in your natural constitution, and so on.
– When you know your heart’s tendencies, watch against every kind of occasion, opportunity, activity, society, solitude, or business that tends to entangle your natural temperament, or that provokes your corruption.
– Be sure to lay up provisions in store against the approach of any temptation: the gospel; the law; a sense of the love of God in Christ.
Lay up a store of gospel provisions which will make the soul a place of defence against all the assaults of temptation.
17. Watching for the Approach of Temptation
– Be aware of the first approach of temptation.
– Always be alert, so that you may discover your temptations early and recognize them for what they are.
– Consider the aim and tendency of the temptation, whatever it is, and the objectives of all concerned in it. Remember with what motives and aims your own lusts and the devil operate.
– Meet your temptation at the very outset with thoughts of faith concerning Christ on the cross; this will make temptation sink before you. Have no negotiations or arguments with temptation if you would escape.
18. When Surprised by Temptation
– Like Paul, plead with God again and again that it may depart from you (2 Cor. 12:8).
– Flee to Christ in a particular way, since he was also tempted, and beg of him to give you help in this time of trouble and need.
– Look to him who has promised deliverance. Consider and call to mind all relevant promises and ponder them, remembering that God has countless ways to deliver you:
- He can send an affliction that will mortify your heart with respect to the thing with which you are tempted.
- He can providentially alter the whole state of affairs from which a temptation arises, taking the fuel from the fire.
- He can tread down Satan under your feet, so that he dare not suggest anything further.
- He can so supply you with grace that you may be freed – not from the temptation itself, but from the tendency and danger of it.
- He can give you such a comfortable persuasion of good success in the eventual outcome of your trials that you will be refreshed in them and kept from temptation’s trouble.
- He can utterly remove the temptation, and make you a complete conquerer
– Consider how the temptation which surprised you made its entrance. Search this out and with all speed repair the breach. ‘If you find that negligence, carelessness, or lack of keeping watch over yourself was the root of it, concentrate on that.’
19. Keeping the Word of Christ’s Patience
But there is one general direction, which is comprehensive of all that has gone before, while also adding to what we have already considered. It contains an approved antidote against the poison of temptation and is a remedy that Christ himself has marked out with a guarantee of efficacy and success: ‘Because you have kept my command to persevere [lit. the word of my – i.e. Christ’s – patient endurance or steadfastness], I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.’ (Rev. 3:10)
What is keeping the word of Christ’s patience?
– The word of Christ is the word of the gospel (Col. 3:16, Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 9:12, Heb. 6:1).
– This is called the word of Christ’s patience, or tolerance and forbearance, because of the patience and longsuffering which he exercises toward all:
- Towards his saints. He bears with and suffers from us, as well as through and in us.
- Towards his elect not yet effectually called, who often scorn him for a long while before they turn to him.
- Towards the perishing world, from which he endures bitter things, but still forbears.
Three things are implied in keeping the word of Christ’s patience:
- Knowledge of Christ’s word.
- Valuation. It is to be kept as a treasure.
- Obedience. Personal adherence to Christ in holiness and universal obedience, even in the face of opposition.
– As a word of grace and mercy, able to save. When it is so known, a man will strive to keep it.
– As a word of holiness and purity, able to sanctify. If there is none of this, we neither know Christ’s word, nor will keep it.
– As a word of liberty and power, to ennoble him and set him free, not just from guilt, wrath, and the power of sin, but from outward servility to men and the entanglements of the world.
– As a word of consolation, to support him in every condition.
Now, when all these are carried out with determination of mind and spirit, care of heart, and diligence of the whole person, we are keeping the word of his patience indeed. The sum, then, of this duty, which is the condition of freedom from the power of temptation, is to have a due acquaintance with the gospel as a word of mercy, holiness, liberty and consolation, to value it and everything that relates to it as one’s choice and only treasure, and to make it the business of one’s life to pursue universal obedience to Christ, especially when opposition and apostasy stretch the patience of Christ to the utmost. Whenever we fall short of this, there temptation is sure to enter.
20. A Sure Preservative
– Keeping the word of Christ’s patience is a sure means of our preservation.
– This text alone gives us the promise of preservation. In every promise three things must be considered:
- The faithfulness of the Father, which accompanies the promise he makes.
- The grace of the Son, who is the subject-matter of all the promises.
- The power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit, who makes good the promises of God, and accomplishes them in our souls.
– The constant, universal keeping of the word of Christ’s patience keeps the heart and soul in such a state that no temptation, no matter how great an advantage it may have, will be able to prevail. ‘This exercises grace in all the faculties of the soul, and surrounds it with the whole armour of God.’ It asks, ‘How can I do this thing, and sin against God?’ In particular:
- It mortifies the heart to the matter of temptation, by keeping the heart crucified to the things that form the subject-matter of our temptations.
- In this frame, the heart is filled with better things, a sense of the excellency of which fortifies us against the entrance of temptation. It fills us with a holy contempt of the enticements and allurements that lie in prevailing temptations, and so delivers us.
21. Considerations that Keep Us Safe
He who keeps the word of Christ’s patience is always furnished with considerations and principles that tend to his preservation.
Preserving considerations. He considers:
– The concern that Christ, whom he loves, has about him and the careful way he is seeking to walk. He thinks about Christ’s thoughts of him.
– The temptations of Christ on his behalf, and his victory over all assaults for his sake and God’s.
– Sorrowful thoughts of what it would be like to lose the love of Christ and the smiles of his countenance.
– He lives by faith in all things and is governed by it in all his ways. Faith empties the soul of its own wisdom, understanding and sufficiency, and sends it to Christ.
– Love to the saints, and concern that they should suffer on account of our sins.
The reason why so many are overcome in the time of trial is that few among those who profess Christ keep the word of Christ’s patience. If we cast this away, is it any wonder that we are not protected?
An hour of temptation has come upon the world, to try those who dwell there. It exerts its power and efficacy in various ways. There is nothing in which it may not be seen acting and exerting itself: in worldliness, sensuality, loose conversation, neglect of spiritual duties, both private and public, in foolish, loose diabolical opinions, in pride and ambition, envy and wrath, strife and debate, revenge, selfishness, atheism and contempt of God. These are all branches from the same root, bitter streams from the same fountain, favoured by peace, prosperity, security, and apostasies of professing Christians.
How do professing Christians come short of keeping the word of Christ’s patience?
– Conformity to the world from which Christ has redeemed us.
– Neglect of duties in which Christ has instructed us.
– Strife, disagreements, and debates among ourselves.
– Self-sufficiency as to principles, and selfishness as to ends.
22. Help in Watching Against Temptation
Consider the following cautions and applications:
– Beware of relying on your own counsel, understanding, and reason. When temptation reaches its hour, they will side with temptation.
– Beware of using the truths of the perseverance of the saints and preservation from total apostasy to fight particular temptations. This is to use a security for the wrong purpose, and it will fail us.
– Beware of relying even on your most strenuous efforts in such methods as prayer and fasting against a particular lust or temptation.
– Make use of this means of preservation in the midst of all trials and temptations.
– Give careful consideration to the ways in which the word of Christ’s patience is most likely to suffer in the days in which we live, and set yourself accordingly to keep that word vigorously in that particular respect. We may tell what these are by where Christ is particularly engaged, and the neglect of his word in those things.
With respect to the particular works in which Christ is engaged:
– Pouring contempt on the great men and the great things of the world, and all its enjoyments.
– Distinguishing between his own people and the world.
– Drawing near to faith and prayer.
– Recovering his ordinances and institutions from the carnal administrations under which they were in bondage.
How does neglect of the word show itself at such times?
– Overvaluing the world and the things of it.
– Slighting God’s people.
– Relying on our own counsels and understanding.
-Defiling Christ’s ordinances.
In this watchful frame of spirit, urge upon the Lord Jesus his own blessed promises, by which he may be entreated to help us in our time of need.
23. General Exhortations
Those who are not moved by their own sad experiences, nor by the importance of the duty itself . . . I must leave to the further patience of God.
If we knew how to avoid a disease or injury or imprisonment, would we not strive to avoid them? If we saw what had been done by entering into temptation, would we not be more watchful and careful? It is not possible to come out of temptation without wounds, burns, and scars.
For further motivations to watch, consider:
– If you neglect the only means prescribed by our Saviour, you will certainly enter into temptation, and just as certainly fall into sin. Do not be deceived by long and careful standing into thinking that you cannot fall.
– Remember that you are always under the eye of Christ, the great captain of our salvation, who has told us to watch and pray that we enter not into temptation.
– If you neglect this duty, and fall (as you will), God may bring with your entanglement some heavy affliction or judgement on you which, because of your entanglement, you will be forced to look on as evidence of his anger and hatred. How will you bear temptation and affliction together?
Oh, then, let us strive to keep our spirits unentangled. Let us avoid all appearance of evil and all the ways leading to it. Let us particularly beware of all the courses of life, business, society, and employment that we have already found to be to our disadvantage.
Jeremy Walker is one of the pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, West Sussex, UK.
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