Our Great Duty: To Avoid Temptation
The following is drawn from the Puritan Paperback Temptation Resisted and Repulsed, an abridged edition of John Owen’s Of Temptation (found in his Works, Volume 6).
Having laid the groundwork of the truth to be addressed and improved, I will now make this observation: 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.
I know God is ‘able to deliver the godly out of temptations.’ I know also, that he is ‘faithful’ and will not ‘suffer us to be tempted above that we are able,’ but will ‘make a way to escape.’ I shall seek, however, to convince all who will pay attention to what I say that it is our great duty and concern to use all diligence, watchfulness, and care that we enter not into temptation; and I shall prove this by the following considerations:
First, In the ample instructions given us by our Saviour concerning what we should pray for, this matter of not entering into temptation is prominent. Our Saviour knew how important it was for us to not enter into temptation, in that he gave it as a special topic in our daily dealing with God, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ (Matt. 6:13). The order of the words also shows us how important it is. If we are first led into temptation, evil will befall us more or less. Christ’s purpose for us is to seek his help in our daily prayers that we may be powerfully delivered from that evil which attends every entry into temptation.
Our blessed Saviour knows full well our state and condition. He knows the power of temptations, having experienced it (Heb. 2:18). He also knows our vain confidence in our ability to deal with temptations, as he found in Peter. He knows our weakness and folly, and how soon we are cast to the ground. That is why he has provided this important instruction. We greatly need to be aware how important this instruction is to us. If we trust the wisdom, love, and care of Christ Jesus toward us, we must accept the importance of this instruction.
Second, Christ promises freedom and deliverance from temptation as a great reward for obedience (Rev. 3:10). This is the great promise made to the church of Philadelphia, in which Christ found nothing to blame, that they would be kept from the hour of temptation. Note that Christ did not say that he would keep them through temptation, but from it! ‘There is,’ said our Saviour, in effect, ‘an hour of temptation coming; a season that will make havoc in the world. Multitudes shall fall from the faith, and deny and blaspheme me. Oh, how few will be able to stand and hold out! Some will be utterly destroyed, and perish forever. Others will get wounds to their souls that shall never be thoroughly healed while they live in this world. They will have their bones broken, and limp all their days!’ Christ promises, however, that because some have kept the word of his patience, he will be tender towards them and keep them from this hour of temptation. Certainly that which Christ has promised to his beloved church, as a reward for her service, love, and obedience, is no light thing. Whatever Christ has promised to his spouse is the fruit of unspeakable love. This is just what is promised as a reward for special obedience.
Third, Consider some consequences of falling into temptation, in the case of both bad and good men, ungrounded professors and the choicest of saints.
Firstly, as to ungrounded professors, consider Luke 8:13: ‘They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and have no root, but for a while believe.’ Well! How long do they believe? They are affected with the preaching of the word, believe in it, make a profession, bring forth some fruits, but until what point do they abide? – ‘In the time of temptation they fall away.’ When once they enter into temptation, they are gone forever! Temptation withers all their profession, and slays their souls. We see this happening every day. Men have heard the preaching of the gospel, have been affected and delighted with it, have made a profession of it, and have been looked on, it may be, as believers, and thus have continued for some years, and yet no sooner does vigorous and continued temptation befall them than they turn out of the way, and are gone for ever. They come to hate the word they once delighted in. They despise the professors of it, and are hardened by sin. So Matthew 7:26: ‘He that hears these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, is like unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.’ What does this house of profession do for a man? It shelters him, keeps him warm, and stands for a while. But note verse 27: When the rain descends, when temptation comes, it falls utterly, and its fall is great.
Judas followed our Saviour three years, and all went well with him. Then as soon as he entered into temptation, Satan got him, and winnowed him, and he was gone! Demas preached the gospel until the love of the world fell on him, and he utterly turned aside. It would be an endless task to give instances. Entering into temptation, with this sort of men, is surely an entrance into apostasy, more or less, in part or in whole.
Secondly, consider the outcome of entering into temptation for the saints of God themselves.
Adam was the ‘son of God’ (Luke 3:38), created in the image of God, full of that integrity, righteousness, and holiness which were eminently like the holiness of God. He had a far greater inherent stock of ability than we, and he had nothing in him to entice or seduce him. But as soon as Adam entered into temptation he was gone, lost, and ruined, he and all his posterity with him! What can we expect, if we also enter into temptation? We, like him, have the temptation and the cunning of the devil to deal with, but we also have a cursed world and a corrupt heart to increase the power of temptation.
Abraham was the father of the faithful, set forth as an example for all believers to follow. Yet he, entering twice into the same temptation, fear about his wife, was twice overpowered by it, to the dishonour of God, and no doubt to the disturbance of his own soul (Gen. 12:12, 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! He was no sooner entangled but he was plunged into adultery. He then sought deliverance by his own invention, and like a poor creature in a net, he was entangled more and more until he lay down as one dead under the power of sin and folly.
I might mention Noah, Lot, Hezekiah, Peter and others whose temptations and falls are recorded for our instruction. Certainly any with a heart for these things will cry, ‘How shall I stand, O Lord, if such mighty pillars have been cast to the ground? If such great cedars were blown down, how shall I stand before temptations? Oh, keep me that I do not enter into temptation!’ Beholding the footsteps of those who have entered, do you see any that do not have a wound, or at least a blemish?
Paul encourages us on this account to exercise tenderness towards those who have fallen into sin, ‘considering ourselves, lest we also are tempted’ (Gal. 6:1). He does not say ‘lest you sin, or fall, or be overtaken with a fault,’ but, ‘lest you are tempted.’ As we see the temptation of others, we do not know how soon we too might be tempted, or how we would fare!
Assuredly, he who has seen many stronger men failing, and being cast down in trial, will seek to avoid the battle at all costs. Is it not madness for a man that can barely crawl up and down since he is so weak (which is the case for most of us) if he does not avoid that in which he has seen giants foiled in undertaking it? If you are yet whole and sound, take heed of temptation, lest it happens to you as with Abraham, David, Lot, Peter, Hezekiah, and the Galatians, who fell in time of trial.
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. Yet men run into and put themselves under the power of temptation. They will risk anything, not considering their own weakness, or the concerns of their poor souls. They walk over the dead and slain who have fallen on this path. They see others fall before their eyes, but on they go without regard or trembling! Through this snare hundreds and thousands of professors have fallen within just a few short years.
4. Let us also consider ourselves and our great weakness. Let us consider what temptation is, its power, its effectiveness, and to what it leads. As to ourselves, we are weakness itself. We have no strength or power to withstand. The confidence we have in our own strength adds to our weakness, as it did in Peter. He that boasts he can do anything, can do nothing as he should.
What makes this even worse is that it is a weakness from deception, which is the worst kind of weakness. If a castle is very strong and well fortified, and yet there is a traitor on the inside who is ready to betray it at the first opportunity, that castle is not secure from the enemy. We have traitors in our very heart that are ready to take part and unite against us at every temptation. They will argue for us to give up in the assault; they will even solicit and bribe the temptation to do its work, just as a traitor incites the enemy.
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 who promises himself that the frame of his heart will be the same under the power of a temptation as it was before is woefully mistaken! ‘Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?,’ says Hazael (2 Kings 8:13). Yes, you will be such a dog, if you are ever king of Syria. The temptation of self-interest will break your resolve.
He whose heart currently abhors the thoughts of a particular sin will be powerfully inflamed towards it when he enters into temptation. All contrary reasonings and objections will be overpowered and silenced. He will deride his former fears, cast aside his scruples, and condemn his former convictions. Little did Peter ever think he could so easily deny his Master as soon as he was pressed to admit he knew him. When the hour of temptation came, all resolutions were forgotten and all love to Christ was buried. The present temptation united with Peter’s carnal fear and carried all before it.
Featured photo by Wendy Aros-Routman on Unsplash
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