Lessons from ‘Temptation Resisted and Repulsed’ by John Owen
John Owen’s classic work ‘On Temptation’ has recently been published by Banner of Truth in an updated edition as Temptation Resisted and Repulsed.1 The church which I serve used this newer version as the basis for a series of adult Sunday School classes over a course of months.
It became quickly apparent that the material was of significant benefit to many in the church. Having completed the study, we spent a lesson identifying and reviewing the specific benefits, insights and reminders which had been profitable to various members of the congregation as we worked through Owen’s ministry on this matter. In the hopes of encouraging others to take up and read Owen on this vital topic, we offer the particular lessons which we learned. This book is plainly no dry theoretical treatise addressing an academic problem. It is a workbook for practical Christian living, appropriate for every saint, and I hope that our experience will whet your appetite.
1. No believer is immune to any particular sin – the seed of every sin lies latent in the heart of every man. We must never presume upon our safety from any particular course of temptation, but guard our hearts constantly.
Do not flatter yourself that you can hold out. There are secret lusts that lie dormant, lurking in your hearts, temporarily quiet, waiting for the opportunity of temptation to befall you. They will then rise, argue, cry, disquiet, seduce, with perseverance, until either they are killed or satisfied . . . 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 (26-27).
2. The battle against temptation must be joined first. Too often Christians fear the sin but dabble with the temptation: if we do not strive against temptation then we will fall into sin. We must pray not only against sin but against temptation, and our entering into it.
When [some] are overtaken with a sin, they set themselves to repent of that sin, but they do not consider the temptation that was the cause of it . . . This is a folly that traps many who have a lively sense of sin. They are sensible [aware] of their sins, but not of their temptations. They are displeased with the bitter fruit, but cherish the poisonous root (52-53).
Let no man pretend to fear sin that does not fear temptation also (62).
3. There is a difference between being tempted (an outward prompt) and entering into temptation (an inward response) – all are tempted, and God does not promise a temptation-free existence. But we are warned not to enter into temptation:
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 (15).
4. The point at which we enter into temptation is far earlier than most of us realise. In chapters 4 and 5 Owen lays down some helpful markers so that we can know what it is to enter into temptation, and when it is happening, in order that we might join battle before we are defeated.
5. There is a difference between God’s testing of us (he works upon our graces) and Satan’s tempting of us (he plays upon our lusts), both in the means used and the ends pursued.
6. God’s people have a responsibility to keep the word of Christ’s patience: the promises of God are made to those meeting temptation in the path of obedience, not to those who neglect to consider their ways. We must likewise recognise our own weakness and frailty: if we rely on ourselves in fighting against Satan we will come to nothing.
Temptation is heart work, and when temptation comes in like a flood, how can a rotten trifle such as a wicked man’s heart stand before it? (28).
7. There must be a comprehensive pursuit of holiness.
Now, when all these [things previously mentioned] 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 (96).
Unless we keep up the guard all around the walls of our heart, Satan will come in where our guard is down.
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 . . . [The soul asks] ‘How can I do this thing, and sin against God?’ (99-100).
8. We all too easily employ Christian liberty as an excuse to entertain temptation:
I have seen this [plea of Christian liberty] perverted into a door of sensuality and apostasy. This begins with light conversation, proceeds to a neglect of the Lord’s day and of public and private duties, and ends in slackness and profaneness (41).
How many professing believers have I known that plead for their liberty, as they call it! They proceed to hear any opinion from any person; they seek to try all things, whether they come to them in the way of God or not. They run to hear every teacher of false and abominable opinions, and every seducer, though condemned by the saints in general. Yes, they are free to hear them, though they claim to hate their views. But what is the outcome? I have hardly known any who have come away without a serious wound. The faith of most is overthrown (62).
9. We have to stop wanting to sin. We must deal with sinful desires and wicked lusts, which are the point of entry for temptation.
You will never conquer the temptation until the lust has been killed (43).
10. The battle is dangerous. We need to know ourselves, know the particular assaults to which we are prone, and engage the help of others:
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 (78-79).
However, this is not a battle fought solo: we need our brothers and sisters in Christ, and must be aware of and employ the means of grace enjoyed corporately as much as those enjoyed individually.
11. The great profitability of prayer in general, and of prayer specifically directed against temptations.
Let him who would spend little time in temptation spend much time in prayer . . . Let this be part of our daily wrestling with God, that he would preserve our souls, and keep our hearts and our ways, so that we should not be entangled; that his good and wise providence would so order our ways and our affairs that no pressing temptation should befall us; and that he would give us diligence, care, and watchfulness over our own ways (67-68).
12. God is at work in our day (although perhaps not in precisely the same ways as he was in Owen’s), and where God is at work Satan will attack. We therefore need to seek a proper and accurate awareness of God’s working if we are to recognise Satan’s assaults against it, and the temptations that we are likely to face in seeking to stand with Christ, for God, against our adversary.
13. The value of gospel motives in fighting against temptations. We are generally more drawn from than driven from sin.
A man ought also to lay in store the provisions of the law: fear of death, hell, punishment, and the terror of the Lord in them. But these are far more easily conquered than the gospel provisions, and they will never be able to stand alone against a vigorous assault . . . Store up in your hearts a sense of the love of God in Christ, the eternal purpose of his grace, the savour of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a taste for the privileges we have through this: our adoption, justification, acceptance with God; fill your hearts with thoughts of the beauty of holiness, as the effect Christ intended in dying for us; and you will, in the ordinary course of walking with God, have great peace and security from the disturbance caused by temptations (81-82).
14. The terrible effect on the reputation of Christ, his gospel, the reputation and life of the church, and our own spiritual wellbeing, of our entering into temptation.
Even though the temptation may not have prevailed as to the outward expression of the sin, have you not been baffled, your soul polluted, and your mind grievously perplexed with it? Indeed, did you ever in your experience come away without sensible loss from any contact with a powerful temptation? (46).
The soul knows that Christ is concerned for his gospel, its progress, and its reception in the world. Its beauty would be slighted, its good things reviled, and its progress hindered if temptations prevailed. Others too might be grievously scandalized, and perhaps even ruined, if those professing the gospel were overpowered by temptation (105).
We see how powerful this motive [of love to the saints] was in David in his earnest prayer, ‘Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel’ (Psa. 96:6), as if to say, ‘O let me now so go wrong that those for whom I am willing to lay down my life should be put to shame, be evil spoken of, dishonoured, reviled, scorned on my account, for my failings!’ (107-108).
15. The vital necessity of a proper estimate and appreciation of Christ’s person and work in the continuing battle against sin, and the value of a constant awareness of his regard for, concern over, and interest in us as we watch and pray that we might not enter into temptation. These are powerful protective and preventative considerations. Christ is concerned about how his people act in a time of temptation:
He [The Christian] remembers that the presence of Christ is with him, and his eye upon him; that he ponders his heart and was, as one greatly concerned with how he will act in a time of trial (104, compare 117-118).
Jeremy Walker is one of the pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, West Sussex, UK. For an outline of Temptation Resisted and Repulsed see his article here
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