the nature and power of
the danger of entering into it;
and the means of preventing that danger:
a resolution of sundry cases thereunto belonging.
“Because thou hast kept
the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation,
which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” —
This small work of Dr Owen on
“Temptation” appeared in 1658. He had been urged to publish it by the
solicitations of friends to whose opinion he paid deference. The probability
is, that they had already heard the substance of it in discourses from the
pulpit; and from an expression in the closing exhortation (see p. 150), the
discourses must have been delivered at
Whatever motives incited him to the preparation of it, the whole work, with the exception of a few paragraphs, might have been written, with set purpose, for the people of God in every age. In no work is the sound judgment of our author more conspicuous. He avoids all fanciful speculations into the mysteries of satanic agency, such as were too common on this theme. He is too much in earnest that his readers should be brought into a condition of safety against the wiles of the devil, to break the force of his warnings and entreaties by ingenious speculations and irrelevant learning. Not merely in the warm appeals interspersed with his expositions, but in the patient care with which no nook of the heart is left unsearched, does the deep solicitude of Owen for the spiritual welfare of his readers appear. To one who reads the treatise in the spirit with which the author wrote it, — simply that he may judge his own heart, and know what temptation means, and be fully on his guard against it, — the effect is far beyond what the mere wealth of fancy or the arts of rhetoric could produce.
From the text,
If thou art in any measure awake in these days wherein we live, and hast taken notice of the manifold, great, and various temptations wherewith all sorts of persons that know the Lord and profess his name are beset, and whereunto they are continually exposed, with what success those temptations have obtained, to the unspeakable scandal of the gospel, with the wounding and ruin of innumerable souls, I suppose thou wilt not inquire any farther after other reasons of the publishing of the ensuing warnings and directions, being suited to the times that pass over us, and thine own concernment in them. This I shall only say to those who think meet to persist in any such inquiry, that though my first engagement for the exposing of these meditations unto public view did arise from the desires of some, whose avouching the interest of Christ in the world by personal holiness and constant adhering to every thing that is made precious by its relation to him, have given them power over me to require at any time services of greater importance; yet I dare not lay my doing of it so upon that account, as in the least to intimate that, with respect to the general state of things mentioned, I did not myself esteem it seasonable and necessary. The variety of outward providences and dispensations wherewith I have myself been exercised in this world, with the inward trials they have been attended withal, added to the observation that I have had advantages to make of the ways and walkings of others, — their beginnings, progresses, and endings, their risings and falls, in profession and conversation, in darkness and light, — have left such a constant sense and impression of the power and danger of temptations upon my mind and spirit, that, without other pleas and pretences, I cannot but own a serious call unto men to beware, with a discovery of some of the most eminent ways and means of the prevalency of present temptations, to have been, in my own judgement, in this season needful.
But now, reader, if thou art amongst them, who takest no notice of these things, or carest not for them, — who hast no sense of the efficacy and dangers of temptations in thine own walking and profession, nor hast observed the power of them upon others, — who discernest not the manifold advantages that they have got in these days, wherein all things are shaken, nor hast been troubled or moved for the sad successes they have had amongst professors; but supposest that all things are well within doors and without, and would be better couldst thou obtain fuller satisfaction to some of thy lusts in the pleasures or profits of the world, — I desire thee to know that I write not for thee, nor do esteem thee a fit reader or judge of what is here written. Whilst all the issues of providential dispensations, in reference to the public concernments of these nations, are perplexed and entangled, the footsteps of God lying in the deep, where his paths are not known; whilst, in particular, unparalleled distresses and strange prosperities are measured out to men, yea, to professors; whilst a spirit of error, giddiness, and delusion goes forth with such strength and efficacy, as it seems to have received a commission to go and prosper; whilst there are such divisions, strifes, emulations, attended with such evil surmises, wrath, and revenge, found amongst brethren; whilst the desperate issues and products of men’s temptations are seen daily in partial and total apostasy, in the decay of love, the overthrow of faith, our days being filled with fearful examples of backsliding, such as former ages never knew; whilst there is a visible declension from reformation seizing upon the professing party of these nations, both as to personal holiness and zeal for the interest of Christ; — he that understands not that there is an “hour of temptation” come upon the world, to “try them that dwell upon the earth,” is doubtless either himself at present captivated under the power of some woful lust, corruption, or temptation, or is indeed stark blind, and knows not at all what it is to serve God in temptations. With such, then, I have not at present to do. For those who have in general a sense of these things, — who also, in some measure are able to consider that the plague is begun, that they may be farther awakened to look about them, lest the infection have approached nearer to them, by some secret and imperceptible ways, than they did apprehend; or lest they should be surprised at unawares hereafter by any of those temptations that in these days either waste at noon or else walk in darkness, — is the ensuing warning intended. And for the sake of them that mourn in secret for all the abominations that are found among and upon them that profess the gospel, and who are under the conduct of the Captain of their salvation, fighting and resisting the power of temptations, from what spring soever they rise in themselves, are the ensuing directions proposed to consideration.
That our faithful and merciful High Priest, who both suffered and was tempted, and is on that account touched with the feeling of our infirmities, would accompany this small discourse with seasonable supplies of his Spirit and suitable mercy to them that shall consider it, that it may be useful to his servants for the ends whereunto it is designed, is the prayer of him who received this handful of seed from his storehouse and treasure.
The words of the text,
that are the foundation of the ensuing discourse — The occasion of the words,
with their dependence — The things specially aimed at in them — Things
considerable in the words as to the general purpose in hand — Of the general
nature of temptation, wherein it consists — The special nature of temptation —
Temptation taken actively and passively — How God tempts any — His end in so
doing — The way whereby he doth it — Of temptation in its special nature; of
the actions of it — The true nature of temptation stated. “Watch and pray, that
ye enter not into temptation.” —
These words of our Saviour are repeated with very little alteration in three evangelists; only, whereas Matthew and Mark have recorded them as above written, Luke reporteth them thus: “Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation;” so that the whole of his caution seems to have been, “Arise, watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.”
Solomon tells us of some that “lie down on the top of a mast in the
midst of the sea,”
In this estate our Saviour admonishes them of their condition, their weakness, their danger, and stirs them up to a prevention of that ruin which lay at the door: saith he, “Arise, watch and pray.”
I shall not insist on the particular aimed at here by our Saviour, in this caution to them that were then present with him; the great temptation that was coming on them, from the scandal of the cross, was doubtless in his eye; — but I shall consider the words as containing a general direction to all the disciples of Christ, in their following of him throughout all generations.
There are three things in the words:—
I. The evil cautioned against, — temptation.
II. The means of its prevalency, — by our entering into it.
III. The way of preventing it, — watch and pray.
It is not in my thoughts to handle the common-place of temptations, but only the danger of them in general, with the means of preventing that danger; yet, that we may know what we affirm, and whereof we speak, some concernments of the general nature of temptation may be premised.
I. First, For the general nature of tempting and temptation, it lies among things indifferent; to try, to experiment, to prove, to pierce a vessel, that the liquor that is in it may be known, is as much as is signified by it. Hence God is said sometime to tempt; and we are commanded as our duty to tempt, or try, or search ourselves, to know what is in us, and to pray that God would do so also. So temptation is like a knife, that may either cut the meat or the throat of a man; it may be his food or his poison, his exercise or his destruction.
Secondly, Temptation in its special nature, as it denotes any
evil, is considered either actively, as it leads to evil, or passively,
as it hath an evil and suffering in it: so temptation is taken for
Again, actively considered, it either denotes in the tempter a design
for the bringing about of the special end of temptation, namely, a leading
into evil; so it is said, that “God tempts no man,”
Now, as to God’s tempting of any, two things are to be considered:— 1. The end why he doth it; 2. The way whereby he doth it.
For the first, his general ends are two:—
(1.) He doth it to show unto man what is in him, — that is, the
man himself; and that either as to his grace or to his corruption. (I speak not
now of it as it may have a place and bear a part in judiciary obduration.)
Grace and corruption lie deep in the heart; men oftentimes deceive themselves
in the search after the one or the other of them. When we give vent to the
soul, to try what grace is there, corruption comes out; and when we search for
corruption, grace appears. So is the soul kept in uncertainty; we fail in our
trials. God comes with a gauge that goes to the bottom. He sends his
instruments of trial into the bowels and the inmost parts of the soul, and lets
man see what is in him, of what metal he is constituted. Thus he tempted
Abraham to show him his faith. Abraham knew not what faith he had (I
mean, what power and vigour was in his faith) until God drew it out by that
great trial and temptation. When God says he knew it, he made
Abraham to know it. So he tried Hezekiah to discover his pride; God left
him that he might see what was in his heart,
(2.) God doth it to show himself unto man, and that, —
[1.] In a way of preventing grace. A man shall see that it is God
alone who keeps from all sin. Until we are tempted, we think we live on our own
strength. Though all men do this or that, we will not. When the trial comes, we
quickly see whence is our preservation, by standing or falling. So was it in
the case of Abimelech,
[2.] In a way of renewing grace. He would have the temptation
2. For the ways whereby God accomplisheth this his search, trial or temptation, these are some of them:—
(1.) He puts men on great duties, such as they cannot apprehend that they have any strength for, nor indeed have. So he tempted Abraham by calling him to that duty of sacrificing his son; — a thing absurd to reason, bitter to nature, and grievous to him on all accounts whatever. Many men know not what is in them, or rather what is ready for them, until they are put upon what seems utterly above their strength; indeed, upon what is really above their strength. The duties that God, in an ordinary way, requires at our hands are not proportioned to what strength we have in ourselves, but to what help and relief is laid up for us in Christ; and we are to address ourselves to the greatest performances with a settled persuasion that we have not ability for the least. This is the law of grace; but yet, when any duty is required that is extraordinary, that is a secret not often discovered. In the yoke of Christ it is a trial, a temptation.
(2.) By putting them upon great sufferings. How many have
unexpectedly found strength to die at a stake, to endure tortures for Christ!
yet their call to it was a trial. This, Peter tells us, is one way whereby we
are brought into trying temptations,
(3.) By his providential disposing of things so as that occasions
unto sin will be administered unto men, which is the case mentioned,
Now, they are not properly the temptations of God, as coming from him, with his end upon them, that are here intended; and therefore I shall set these apart from our present consideration. It is, then, temptation in its special nature, as it denotes an active efficiency towards sinning (as it is managed with evil unto evil) that I intend.
In this sense temptation may proceed either singly from Satan, or the world, or other men in the world, or from ourselves, or jointly from all or some of them, in their several combinations:—
(1.) Satan tempts sometimes singly by himself, without taking advantage from the world, the things or persons of it, or ourselves. So he deals in his injection of evil and blasphemous thoughts of God into the hearts of the saints; which is his own work alone, without any advantage from the world or our own hearts: for nature will contribute nothing thereunto, nor any thing that is in the world, nor any man of the world; for none can conceive a God and conceive evil of him. Herein Satan is alone in the sin, and shall be so in the punishment. These fiery darts are prepared in the forge of his own malice, and shall, with all their venom and poison, be turned into his own heart for ever.
(2.) Sometimes he makes use of the world, and joins forces against us, without any helps from within. So he tempted our Saviour, by “showing him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” And the variety of the assistances he finds from the world, in persons and things which I must not insist on, — the innumerable instruments and weapons he takes from thence of all sorts and at all seasons, — are inexpressible.
(3.) Sometimes he takes in assistance from ourselves also. It is
not with us as it was with Christ when Satan came to tempt him. He declares
that he “had nothing in him,”
I might also show how the world and our own corruptions do act single by themselves, and jointly in conjunction with Satan and one another, in this business of temptation. But the truth is, the principles, ways, and means of temptations, the kinds, degrees, efficacy, and causes of them, are so inexpressible large and various; the circumstances of them, from providence, natures, conditions, spiritual and natural, with the particular cases thence arising, so innumerable and impossible to be comprised within any bound or order, that to attempt the giving an account of them would be to undertake that which would be endless. I shall content myself to give a description of the general nature of that which we are to watch against; which will make way for what I aim at.
Temptation, then, in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatever, hath a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatever.
In particular, that is a temptation to any man which causes or occasions him to sin, or in any thing to go off from his duty, either by bringing evil into his heart, or drawing out that evil that is in his heart, or any other way diverting him from communion with God, and that constant, equal, universal obedience, in matter and manner, that is required of him.
For the clearing of this description I shall only observe, that though temptation seems to be of a more active importance, and so to denote only the power of seduction to sin itself, yet in the Scripture it is commonly taken in a neuter sense, and denotes the matter of the temptation or the thing whereby we are tempted. And this is a ground of the description I have given of it. Be it what it will, that from any thing whatever, within us or without us, hath advantage to hinder in duty, or to provoke unto or in any way to occasion sin, that is a temptation, and so to be looked on. Be it business, employment, course of life, company, affections, nature, or corrupt design, relations, delights, name, reputation, esteem, abilities, parts or excellencies of body or mind, place, dignity, art, — so far as they further or occasion the promotion of the ends before mentioned, they are all of them no less truly temptations that the most violent solicitations of Satan or allurements of the world, and that soul lies at the brink of ruin who discerns it not. And this will be farther discovered in our process.
What it is to “enter into
temptation” — Not barely being tempted — Not to be conquered by it — To fall
into it — The force of that expression — Things required unto entering into
temptation — Satan or lust more than ordinarily importunate — The soul’s
entanglement — Seasons of such entanglements discovered — Of the “hour of
II. Having showed what temptation is, I come, secondly, to manifest what it is to enter into temptation.
1. This is not merely to be tempted. It is impossible that we
should be so freed from temptation as not to be at all tempted. Whilst Satan
continues in his power and malice, whilst the world and lust are in being, we
shall be tempted. “Christ,” says one, “was made like unto us, that he might be
tempted; and we are tempted that we may be made like unto Christ.” Temptation
in general is comprehensive of our whole warfare; as our Saviour calls the time
of his ministry the time of his “temptations,”
2. Something more is intended by this expression than the ordinary work of Satan and our own lusts, which will be sure to tempt us every day. There is something signal in this entering into temptation, that is not the saints’ every day’s work. It is something that befalls them peculiarly in reference to seduction unto sin, on one account or other, by the way of allurement or affrightment.
3. It is not to be conquered by a temptation, to fall down under it, to commit the sin or evil that we are tempted to, or to omit the duties that are opposed. A man may “enter into temptation,” and yet not fall under temptation. God can make a way for a man to escape; when he is in, he can break the snare, tread down Satan, and make the soul more than a conqueror, though it have entered into temptation. Christ entered into it, but was not in the least foiled by it. But, —
4. It is, as the apostle expresseth it,
So, then, unto our entering into temptation is required, —
(1.) That by some advantage, or on some occasion, Satan be more earnest than ordinary in his solicitations to sin, by affrightments or allurements, by persecutions or seductions, by himself or others; or that some lust or corruption, by his instigation and advantages of outward objects, provoking, as in prosperity, or terrifying, as in trouble, do tumultuate more than ordinary within us. There is a special acting of the author and principles of temptation required thereunto.
(2.) That the heart be so far entangled with it as to be put to dispute and argue in its own defence, and yet not be wholly able to eject or cast out the poison and leaven that hath been injected; but is surprised, if it be never so little off its watch, into an entanglement not easy to be avoided: so that the soul may cry, and pray, and cry again, and yet not be delivered; as Paul “besought the Lord” thrice for the departure of his temptation, and prevailed not. The entanglement continues. And this usually falls out in one of these two seasons:—
[1.] When Satan, by the permission of God, for ends best known to himself, hath got some peculiar advantage against the soul; as in the case of Peter, — he sought to winnow him, and prevailed.
[2.] When a man’s lusts and corruptions meet with peculiarly provoking objects and occasions, through the condition of life that a man is in, with the circumstances of it; as it was with David: of both which afterward.
In this state of things, a man is entered into temptation; and this is
called the “hour of temptation,”
Before I descend to other particulars, having now entered hereon, I shall show in general, — 1st. How or by what means commonly any temptation attains its hour; 2dly. How we may know when any temptation is come to its high noon, and is in its hour.
1st. It doth the first by several ways:—
(1st.) By long solicitations, causing the mind frequently
to converse with the evil solicited unto, it begets extenuating thoughts of it.
If it makes this process, it is coming towards it hour. It may be when first it
began to press upon the soul, the soul was amazed with the ugly appearance if
what it aimed at, and cried, “Am I a dog?” If this indignation be not daily
heightened, but the soul, by conversing with the evil, begins to grow, as it
were, familiar with it, not to be startled as formerly, but rather inclines to
cry, “Is it not a little one?” then the temptation is coming towards it high
noon; lust hath then enticed and entangled, and is ready to “conceive,”
(2dly.) When it hath prevailed on others, and the soul is
not filled with dislike and abhorrency of them and their ways, nor with
pity and prayer for their deliverance. This proves an advantage unto it, and
raises it towards its height. When that temptation sets upon any one which, at
the same time, hath possessed and prevailed with many, it hath so great and so
many advantages thereby, that it is surely growing towards its hour. Its
prevailing with others is a means to give it its hour against us. The falling
off of Hymeneus and Philetus is said to “overthrow the faith of some,”
(3dly.) By complicating itself with many considerations that, perhaps, are not absolutely evil. So did the temptation of the Galatians to fall from the purity of the gospel, — freedom from persecution, union and consent with the Jews. Things in themselves good were pleaded in it, and gave life to the temptation itself. But I shall not now insist on the several advantages that any temptation hath to heighten and greaten itself, to make itself prevalent and effectual with the contribution that it receives to this purpose from various circumstances, opportunities, specious pleas and pretences, necessities for the doing that which cannot be done without answering the temptation, and the like; because I must speak unto some of them afterward.
2dly. For the second, it may be known, —
(1st.) By its restless urgency and arguing. When a temptation is in its hour it is restless; it is the time of battle, and it gives the soul no rest. Satan sees his advantage, considers his conjunction of forces, and knows that he must now prevail, or be hopeless for ever. Here are opportunities, here are advantages, here are specious pleas and pretences; some ground is already got by former arguings; here are extenuations of the evil, hopes of pardon by after endeavours, all in a readiness: if he can do nothing now, he must sit down lost in his undertakings. So when he had got all things in a readiness against Christ, he made it the “hour of darkness.” When a temptation discovers “mille nocendi artes,” presses within doors by imaginations and reasonings, without by solicitations, advantages, and opportunities, let the soul know that the hour of it is come, and the glory of God, with its own welfare, depends on its behaviour in this trial; as we shall see in the particular cases following.
(2dly.) When it makes a conjunction of affrightments and allurements, these two comprise the whole forces of temptation. When both are brought together, temptation is in its hour. They were both in David’s case as to the murder of Uriah. There was the fear of his revenge on his wife, and possibly on himself, and fear of the publication of his sin at least; and there was the allurement of his present enjoyment of her whom he lusted after. Men sometimes are carried into sin by love to it, and are continued in it by fear of what will ensue upon it. But in any case, where these two meet, something allures us, something affrights us, and the reasonings that run between them are ready to entangle us, — then is the hour of temptation.
This, then, it is to “enter into temptation,” this is the “hour” of it; of which more in the process of our discourse.
III. There is means of prevention prescribed by our Saviour; they are two:— 1. “Watch;” 2. “Pray.”
1. The first is a general expression by no means to be limited to its
native signification of waking from sleep; to watch is as much as to be on our
guard, to take heed, to consider all ways and means as to be on our guard, to
take heed, to consider all ways and means whereby an enemy may approach to us:
so the apostle,
2. For the second direction, of prayer, I need not speak to it. The duty and its concernments are known to all. I shall only add, that these two comprise the whole endeavour of faith for the soul’s preservation from temptation.
The doctrine — Grounds of it; our Saviour’s direction in this case — His promise of preservation — Issues of men entering into temptation — 1. Of ungrounded professors — 2. Of the choicest saints, Adam, Abraham, David — Self-consideration as to our own weakness — The power of a man’s heart to withstand temptation considered — The considerations that it useth for that purpose — The power of temptation; it darkens the mind — The several ways whereby it doth so — 1. By fixing the imaginations — 2. By entangling the affections — 3. Temptations give fuel to lust — The end of temptation considered, with the issue of former temptations — Some objections answered.
Having thus opened the words in the foregoing chapters so far as is necessary to discover the foundation of the truth to be insisted on and improved, I shall lay it down in the ensuing observation:—
It is the great duty of all believers to use all diligence in the ways of Christ’s appointment, that they fall not into temptation.
I know God is “able to deliver the godly out of temptations;” I know he is “faithful not to suffer us to be tempted above what we are able, but will make a way for our escape:” yet I dare say I shall convince all those who will attend unto what is delivered and written, that it is our great duty and concernment to use all diligence, watchfulness, and care, that we enter not into temptation; and I shall evince it by the ensuing considerations:—
1. In that compendious instruction given us by our Saviour
concerning what we ought to pray for, this of not entering into temptation is
expressly one head. Our Saviour knew of what concernment it was to us not to
“enter into temptation,” when he gave us this as one special subject of our
daily dealing with God,
2. Christ promiseth this freedom and deliverance as a great reward
of most acceptable obedience,
3. Let us to this purpose consider the general issues of men’s entering into temptation, and that of bad and good men, of ungrounded professors, and of the choicest saints.
(1.) For the first I shall offer but one or two texts of Scripture.
(2.) For the saints of God themselves, let us see, by some instances, what issue they have had of their entering into temptation. I shall name a few:—
Adam was the “son of God,”
Abraham was the father of the faithful, whose faith is proposed as a
pattern to all them that shall believe; yet he, entering twice into the same
temptation, namely, that of fear about his wife, was twice overpowered by it,
to the dishonour of God, and no doubt the disquietment of his own soul,
David is called a “man after God’s own heart” by God himself; yet what a dreadful thing is the story of his entering into temptation! He is no sooner entangled, but he is plunged into adultery; thence seeking deliverance by his own invention, like a poor creature in a toil, he is entangled more and more, until he lies as one dead, under the power of sin and folly.
I might mention Noah,
In nothing doth the folly of the hearts of men show itself more openly, in the days wherein we live, than in this cursed boldness, after so many warnings from God, and so many sad experiences every day under their eyes, of running into and putting themselves upon temptations. Any society, any company, any conditions of outward advantages, without once weighing what their strength, or what the concernment of their poor souls is, they are ready for. Though they go over the dead and the slain that in those ways and paths but even now fell down before them, yet they will go on without regard or trembling. At this door are gone out hundreds, thousands of professors, within a few years. But, —
4. Let us consider ourselves, — what our weakness is; and what temptation is, — its power and efficacy, with what it leads unto:—
(1.) For ourselves, we are weakness itself. We have no strength,
no power to withstand. Confidence of any strength in us is one great part of
our weakness; it was so in Peter. He that says he can do any thing, can do
nothing as he should. And, which is worse, it is the worst kind of weakness
that is in us, — a weakness from treachery, — a weakness arising from that
party which every temptation hath in us. If a castle or fort be never so strong
and well fortified, yet if there be a treacherous party within, that is ready
to betray it on every opportunity, there is no preserving it from the enemy.
There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close, and side with
every temptation, and to give up all to them; yea, to solicit and bribe
temptations to do the work, as traitors incite an enemy. Do not flatter
yourselves that you should hold out; there are secret lusts that lie lurking in
your hearts, which perhaps now stir not, which, as soon as any temptation
befalls you, will rise, tumultuate, cry, disquiet, seduce, and never give over
until they are either killed or satisfied. He that promises himself that the
frame of his heart will be the same under a temptation as it is before will be
wofully mistaken. “Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?” says Hazael. Yea,
thou wilt be such a dog if ever thou be king of
To handle this a little more distinctly, I shall consider the means of safety from the power of temptation, if we enter therein, that may be expected from ourselves; and that in general as to the spring and rise of them, and in particular as to the ways of exerting that strength we have, or seem to have:—
[1.] In general, all we can look for is from our hearts. What a man’s heart is, that is he; but now what is the heart of a man in such a season?
1st. Suppose a man is not a believer, but only a professor
of the gospel, what can the heart of such a one do?
2dly. Let it be whose heart it will,
[2.] Consider the particular ways and means that such a heart hath or can use to safeguard itself in the hour of temptation, and their insufficiency to that purpose will quickly appear. I shall instance in some few only:—
1st. Love of honour in the world. Reputation and esteem in
the church, obtained by former profession and walking, is one of the heart’s
own weapons to defend itself in the hour of temptation. “Shall such a one as I
fly? I who have had such a reputation in the
2dly. There is, on the other side, the consideration of shame, reproach, loss, and the like. This also men may put their trust in as a defence against temptations, and do not fear but to be safeguarded and preserved by it. They would not for the world bring that shame and reproach upon themselves that such and such miscarriages are attended withal! Now, besides that this consideration extends itself only to open sins, such as the world takes notice of and abhors, and so is of no use at all in such cases as wherein pretences and colours may be invented and used, nor in public temptations to loose and careless walking, like those of our days, nor in cases that may be disputable in themselves, though expressly sinful to the consciences of persons under temptations, nor in heart sins, — in all which and most other cases of temptation there are innumerable reliefs ready to be tendered unto the heart against this consideration; besides all this, I say, we see by experience how easily this cord is broken when once the heart begins to be entangled. Each corner of the land if full of examples to this purpose.
3dly. They have yet that which outweighs these lesser considerations, — namely, that they will not wound their own consciences, and disturb their peace, and bring themselves in danger of hell fire. This, surely, if any thing, will preserve men in the hour of temptation. They will not lavish away their peace, nor venture their souls by running on God and the thick bosses of his buckler! What can be of more efficacy and prevalency? I confess this is of great importance; and oh that it were more pondered than it is! that we laid more weight upon the preservation of our peace with God than we do! yet I say that even this consideration in him who is otherwhere off from his watch, and doth not make it his work to follow the other rules insisted on, it will not preserve him; for, —
(1st.) The peace of such a one may be false peace or
security, made up of presumption and false hopes; yea, though he be a believer,
it may be so. Such was David’s peace after his sin, before Nathan came to him;
(2dly.) Suppose the peace cared for, and proposed to safeguard the soul, be true and good, yet when all is laid up in this one bottom, when the hour of temptation comes, so many reliefs will be tendered against this consideration as will make it useless. “This evil is small; it is questionable; it falls not openly and downright upon conscience. I do but fear consequences; it may be I may be keep my peace notwithstanding. Others of the people of God have fallen, and yet kept or recovered their peace. If it be lost for a season, it may be obtained again. I will not solicit its station any more; or though peace be lost, safety may remain.” And a thousand such pleas there are, which are all planted as batteries against this fort, so that it cannot long hold out.
(3dly.) The fixing on this particular only is to make good one passage
or entrance, whilst the enemy assaults us round about. It is true, a little armour
would serve to defend a man if he might choose there his enemy should strike
him; but we are commanded to take the “whole armour of God” if we intend to
resist and stand,
(4thly.) But yet they have another consideration also, and that is, the vileness of sinning against God. How shall they do this thing, and sin against God, the God of their mercies, of their salvation? How shall they wound Jesus Christ, who died for them? This surely cannot but preserve them. I answer, —
First, We see every day this consideration failing also. There is no child of God that is overcome of temptation but overcomes this consideration. It is not, then, a sure and infallible defensative.
Secondly, This consideration is twofold: either it expresses the thoughts of the soul with particular reference to the temptation contended withal and then it will not preserve it; or it expresses the universal, habitual frame of heart that is in us, upon all accounts, and then it falleth in with what I shall tender as the universal medicine and remedy in this case in the process of this discourse; whereof afterward.
(2.) Consider the power of temptation, partly from what was showed before, from the effects and fruits of it in the saints of old, partly from such other effects in general as we find ascribed to it; as, —
[1.] It will darken the mind, that a man shall not be able to
make a right judgement of things, so as he did before he entered into it. As in
the men of the world, the god of this world blinds their minds that they should
not see the glory of Christ in the gospel,
And this it doth divers ways:—
1st. By fixing the imagination and the thoughts upon the object whereunto it tends, so that the mind shall be diverted from the consideration of the things that would relieve and succour it in the state wherein it is. A man is tempted to apprehend that he is forsaken of God, that he is an object of his hatred, that he hath no interest in Christ. By the craft of Satan the mind shall be so fixed to the consideration of this state and condition, with the distress of it, that he shall not be able to manage any of the reliefs suggested and tendered to him against it; but, following the fulness of his own thoughts, shall walk on in darkness and have no light. I say, a temptation will so possess and fill the mind with thoughtfulness of itself and the matter of it, that it will take off from that clear consideration of things which otherwise it might and would have. And those things whereof the mind was wont to have a vigorous sense, to keep it from sin, will by this means come to have no force or efficacy with it; nay, it will commonly bring men to that state and condition, that when others, to whom their estate is known, are speaking to them the things that concern their deliverance and peace, their minds will be so possessed with the matter of their temptation as not at all to understand, scarce to hear one word, that is spoken to them.
2dly. By woful entangling of the affections; which, when they are engaged, what influence they have in blinding the mind and darkness and darkening the understanding is known. If any know it not, let him but open his eyes in these days, and he will quickly learn it. By what ways and means it is that engaged affections will becloud the mind and darken it I shall not now declare; only, I say, give me a man engaged in hope, love, fear, in reference to any particulars wherein he ought not, and I shall quickly show you wherein he is darkened and blinded. This, then, you will fail in if you enter into temptation:— The present judgment you have of things will not be utterly altered, but darkened and rendered infirm to influence the will and master the affections. These, being set at liberty by temptation, will run on in madness. Forthwith detestation of sin, abhorring of it, terror of the Lord, sense of love, presence of Christ crucified, all depart, and leave the heart a prey to its enemy.
3dly. Temptation will give oil and fuel to our lusts, — incite, provoke, and make then tumultuate and rage beyond measure. Tendering a lust, a corruption, a suitable object, advantage, occasion, it heightens and exasperates it, makes it for a season wholly predominant: so dealt it with carnal fear in Peter, with pride in Hezekiah, with covetousness in Achan, with uncleanness in David, with worldliness in Demas, with ambition in Diotrephes. It will lay the reins on the neck of a lust, and put to the sides of it, that it may rush forward like a horse into the battle. A man knows not the pride, fury, madness of a corruption, until it meet with a suitable temptation. And what now will a poor soul think to do? His mind is darkened, his affections entangled, his lusts inflamed and provoked, his relief is defeated; and what will be the issue of such a condition?
(3.) Consider that temptations are either public or private; and let us a little view the efficacy and power of them apart:—
[1.] There are public temptations; such as that mentioned,
1st. It hath an efficacy in respect of God, who sends it
to revenge the neglect and contempt of the gospel on the one hand, and
treachery of false professors on the other. Hence it will certainly accomplish
what it receives commission from him to do. When Satan offered his service to
go forth and seduce Ahab that he might fall, God says to him, “Thou shalt
persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so,”
2dly. There is in such temptations the secret insinuation of examples
in those that are accounted godly and are professors:
3dly. Public temptations are usually accompanied with strong
reasons and pretences, that are too hard for men, or at least insensibly
prevail upon them to an undervaluation of the evil whereunto the temptation
leads, to give strength to that complicated temptation which in these days hath
even cast down the people of God from their excellency, — hath cut their locks,
and made them become like other men. How full is the world of specious
pretences and pleadings! As there is the liberty and freedom of Christians,
delivered from a bondage frame, this is a door that, in my own observation, I
have seen sundry going out at, into sensuality and apostasy; beginning at a
light conversation, proceeding to a neglect of the Sabbath, public and private
duties, ending in dissoluteness and profaneness. And then there is leaving of
public things to Providence, being contented with what is; — things good in
themselves, but disputed into wretched, carnal compliances, and the utter ruin
of all zeal for God, the interest of Christ or his people in the world. These
and the like considerations, joined with the ease and plenty, the greatness and
promotion of professors, have so brought things about, that whereas we have by
[2.] Suppose the temptation is private. This hath been spoken to before; I shall add two things:—
1st. Its union and incorporation with lust, whereby it
gets within the soul, and lies at the bottom of its actings. John tells us,
2dly. In what part soever of the soul the lust be seated wherewith the temptation is united, it draws after it the whole soul by one means or other, and so prevents or anticipates any opposition. Suppose it be a lust of the mind, — as there are lusts of the mind and uncleanness of the spirit, such as ambition, vain-glory, and the like, — what a world of ways hath the understanding to bridle the affections that they should not so tenaciously cleave to God, seeing in what it aimeth at there is so much to give them contentment and satisfaction! It will not only prevent all the reasonings of the mind, which it doth necessarily, — being like a bloody infirmity in the eyes, presenting all things to the common sense and perception in that hue and colour, — but it will draw the whole soul, on other accounts and collateral considerations, into the same frame. It promises the whole a share in the spoil aimed at; as Judas’s money, that he first desired from covetousness, was to be shared among all his lusts. Or be it in the more sensual part, and first possesseth the affections, — what prejudices they will bring upon the understanding, how they will bribe it to an acquiescence, what arguments, what hopes they will supply it withal, cannot easily be expressed, as was before showed. In brief, there is no particular temptation, but, when it is in its hour, it hath such a contribution of assistance from things good, evil, indifferent, is fed by so many considerations that seem to be most alien and foreign to it, in some cases hath such specious pleas and pretences, that its strength will easily be acknowledged.
(4.) Consider the end of any temptation; this is Satan’s end and sin’s end, — that is, the dishonour of God and the ruin of our souls.
(5.) Consider what hath been the issue of thy former temptations that thou hast had. Have they not defiled thy conscience, disquieted thy peace, weakened thee in thy obedience, clouded the face of God? Though thou wast not prevailed on to the outward evil or utmost issue of thy temptation, yet hast thou not been foiled? hath not thy soul been sullied and grievously perplexed with it? yea, didst thou ever in thy life come fairly off, without sensible loss, from any temptation almost that thou hadst to deal withal; and wouldst thou willingly be entangled again? If thou art at liberty, take heed; enter no more, if it be possible, lest a worse thing happen to thee.
These, I say, are some of those many considerations that might be insisted on, to manifest the importance of the truth proposed, and the fulness of our concernment in taking care that we “enter not into temptation.”
Against what hath been spoken, some objections that secretly insinuate themselves into the souls of men, and have an efficacy to make them negligent and careless in this thing, which is of such importance to them, — a duty of such indispensable necessity to them who intend to walk with God in any peace, or with any faithfulness, — are to be considered and removed. And they are these that follow:—
1. “Why should we so fear and labour to avoid temptation?
1. You will not hold by this rule in all things, — namely, that a man
need not seek to avoid that which, when he cannot but fall into, it is his duty
to rejoice therein. The same apostle bids the rich “rejoice that they are made
2. Temptations are taken two ways:—
(1.) Passively and merely materially, for such things as are, or in some cases may be, temptations; or, —
(2.) Actively, for such as do entice to sin. James speaks of
temptations in the first sense only; for having said, “Count it all joy when ye
fall into divers temptations,”
2. “But was not our Saviour Christ himself tempted; and is it evil to be
brought into the same state and condition with him? Yea, it is not only said
that he was tempted, but his being so is expressed as a thing advantageous, and
conducing to his mercifulness as our priest:
It is true, our Saviour was tempted; but yet his temptations are reckoned among
the evils that befell him in the days of his flesh, — things that came
on him through the malice of the world and the prince thereof. He did not
wilfully cast himself into temptation, which he said was “to tempt the Lord our
3. “But what need this great endeavour and carefulness? Is it not said that
‘God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able,
but will with the temptation also make a way to escape?’
Ans. I much question what assistance he will have from God in his temptation who willingly enters into it, because he supposes God hath promised to deliver him out of it. The Lord knows that, through the craft of Satan, the subtlety and malice of the world, the deceitfulness of sin, that doth so easily beset us, when we have done our utmost, yet we shall enter into divers temptations. In his love, care, tenderness, and faithfulness, he hath provided such a sufficiency of grace for us, that they shall not utterly prevail to make an everlasting separation between him and our souls. Yet I have three things to say to this objection:—
(1.) He that wilfully or negligently enters into temptation hath no reason in the world to promise himself any assistance from God, or any deliverance from the temptation whereunto he is entered. The promise is made to them whom temptations do befall in their way, whether they will or not; not them that wilfully fall into them, — that run out of their way to meet with them. And therefore the devil (as is usually observed), when he tempted our Saviour, left out that expression of the text of Scripture, which he wrested to his purpose, “All thy ways.” The promise of deliverance is to them who are in their ways; whereof this is one principal, to beware of temptation.
(2.) Though there be a sufficiency of grace provided for all the elect, that they shall by no temptation fall utterly from God, yet it would make any gracious heart to tremble, to think what dishonour to God, what scandal to the gospel, what woful darkness and disquietness they may bring upon their own souls, though they perish not. And they who are scared by nothing but fear of hell, on whom other considerations short thereof have no influence, in my apprehension have more reason to fear it than perhaps they are aware of.
(3.) To enter on temptation on this account is to venture on sin (which
is the same with “continuing with sin”) “that grace may abound,”
Particular cases proposed to consideration — The first, its resolution in sundry particulars — Several discoveries of the state of a soul entering into temptation.
These things being premised in general, I proceed to the consideration of three particular cases arising from the truth proposed: the first whereof relates unto the thing itself; the second unto the time or season thereof; and the last unto deportment in reference unto the prevention of the evil treated of.
First, then, it may be inquired, — 1. How a man may know when he is entered into temptation. 2. What directions are to be given for the preventing of our entering into temptation. 3. What seasons there are wherein a man may and ought to fear that an hour of temptation is at hand.
1. How shall a man know whether he be entered into temptation or no, is our first inquiry. I say, then, —
(1.) When a man is drawn into any sin, he may be sure that he
hath entered into temptation. All sin is from temptation,
This is a folly that possesses many who have yet a quick and living sense of sin. They are sensible of their sins, not of their temptations, — are displeased with the bitter fruit, but cherish the poisonous root. Hence, in the midst of their humiliations for sin, they will continue in those ways, those societies, in the pursuit of those ends, which have occasioned that sin; of which more afterward.
(2.) Temptations have several degrees. Some arise to such an height, do so press on the soul, so cruciate and disquiet it, so fight against all opposition that is made to it, that it is a peculiar power of temptation that he is to wrestle withal. When a fever rages, a man knows he is sick, unless his distemper have made him mad. The lusts of men, as James tells us, “entice, draw away,” and seduce them to sin; but this they do of themselves, without peculiar instigation, in a more quiet, even, and sedate manner. If they grow violent, if they hurry the soul up and down, give it no rest, the soul may know that they have got the help of temptation to their assistance.
Take an empty vessel and put it into some stream that is in its course
to the sea, it will infallibly be carried thither, according to the course and
speed of the stream; but let strong winds arise upon it, it will be driven with
violence on every bank and rock, until, being broken in pieces, it is swallowed
up of the ocean. Men’s lusts will infallibly (if not mortified in the death of
Christ) carry them into eternal ruin, but oftentimes without much noise,
according to the course of the stream of their corruptions; but let the wind of
strong temptations befall them, they are hurried into innumerable scandalous
sins, and so, broken upon all accounts, are swallowed up in eternity. So is it
in general with men; so in particular. Hezekiah had the root of pride in
him always; yet it did not make him run up and down to show his treasure and
his riches until he fell into temptation by the ambassadors of the king of
(3.) Entering into temptation may be seen in the lesser degrees of it; as, for instance, when the heart begins secretly to like the matter of the temptation, and is content to feed it and increase it by any ways that it may without downright sin.
In particular, a man begins to be in repute for piety, wisdom, learning, or the like, — he is spoken of much to that purpose; his heart is tickled to hear of it, and his pride and ambition affected with it. If this man now, with all his strength, ply the things from whence his repute, and esteem, and glory amongst men do spring, with a secret eye to have it increased, he is entering into temptation; which, if he take not heed, will quickly render him a slave of lust. So was it with Jehu. He perceived that his repute for zeal began to grow abroad, and he got honour by it. Jonadab comes in his way, a good and holy man. “Now,” thinks Jehu, “I have an opportunity to grow in honour of my zeal.” So he calls Jonadab to him, and to work he goes most seriously. The things he did were good in themselves, but he was entered into temptation, and served his lust in that he did. So is it with many scholars. They find themselves esteemed and favoured for their learning. This takes hold of the pride and ambition of their hearts. Hence they set themselves to study with all diligence day and night, — a thing good in itself; but they do it that they might satisfy the thoughts and words of men, wherein they delight: and so in all they do they make provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.
It is true, God oftentimes brings light out of this darkness, and turns things to a better issue. After, it may be, a man hath studied sundry years, with an eye upon his lusts, — his ambition, pride, and vain-glory, — rising early and going to bed late, to give them satisfaction, God comes in with his grace, turns the soul to himself, robs those Egyptian lusts, and so consecrates that to the use of the tabernacle which was provided for idols.
Men may be thus entangled in better things than learning, even in the profession of piety, in their labour in the ministry, and the like. Some men’s profession is a snare to them. They are in reputation, and are much honoured on the account of their profession and strict walking. This often falls out in the days wherein we live, wherein all things are carried by parties. Some find themselves on the accounts mentioned, perhaps, to be the darlings and “ingentia decora,” or glory of their party. If thoughts hereof secretly insinuate themselves into their hearts, and influence them into more than ordinary diligence and activity in their way and profession, they are entangled; and instead of aiming at more glory, had need lie in the dust, in a sense of their own vileness. And so close is this temptation, that oftentimes it requires no food to feed upon but that he who is entangled with it do avoid all means and ways of honour and reputation; so that it can but whisper in the heart that that avoidance is honourable. The same may be the condition with men, as was said, in preaching the gospel, in the work of the ministry. Many things in that work may yield them esteem, — their ability, their plainness, their frequency, their success; and all in this sense may be fuel unto temptations. Let, then, a man know that when he likes that which feeds his lust, and keeps it up by ways either good in themselves or not downright sinful, he is entered into temptation.
(4.) When by a man’s state or condition of life, or any means whatever,
it comes to pass that his lust and any temptation meet with occasions and
opportunities for its provocation and stirring up, let that man know, whether
he perceive it or not, that he is certainly entered into temptation. I told you
before, that to enter into temptation is not merely to be tempted, but so to be
under the power of it as to be entangled by it. Now, it is impossible
almost for a man to have opportunities, occasions, advantages, suited to his
lust and corruption, but he will be entangled. If ambassadors come from the
(5.) When a man is weakened, made negligent or formal
in duty, when he can omit duties or content himself with a careless, lifeless
performance of them, without delight, joy, or satisfaction to his soul, who had
another frame formerly; let him know, that though he may not be acquainted with
the particular distemper wherein it consists, yet in something or other he is
entered into temptation, which at the length he will find evident, to his
trouble and peril. How many have we seen and known in our days, who, from a
warm profession, have fallen to be negligent, careless, indifferent in praying,
reading, hearing, and the like! Give an instance of one who hath come off
without a wound, and I dare say you may find out a hundred for him that have
manifested themselves to have been asleep on the top of the mast; that they
were in the jaws of some vile temptation or other, that afterward brought forth
bitter fruit in their lives and ways. From some few returners from folly we
have every day these doleful complaints made: “Oh! I neglected private prayer;
I did not meditate on the word, nor attend to hearing, but rather despised
these things: and yet said I was rich and wanted nothing. Little did I consider
that this unclean lust was ripening in my heart; this atheism, these
abominations were fomenting there.” This is a certain rule:— If his heart grow
cold, negligent, or formal in duties of the worship of God, and that either as
to the matter or manner of them, who hath had another frame, one temptation or
other hath laid hold upon him. World, or pride, or uncleanness, or
self-seeking, or malice and envy, or one thing or other, hath possessed his
spirit; gray hairs are here and there upon him, though he perceive it
not. And this is to be observed as to the manner of duties, as well as to the
matter. Men may, upon many sinister accounts, especially for the satisfaction
of their consciences, keep up and frequent duties of religion, as to the
substance and matter of them, when they have no heart to them, no life in them,
as to the spirituality required in their performance.
I propose this to take off the security that we are apt to fall into, and to manifest what is the peculiar duty that we are to apply ourselves unto in the special seasons of temptation; for he that is already entered into temptation is to apply himself unto means for disentanglement, not to labour to prevent his entering in. How this may be done I shall afterward declare.
The second case proposed, or inquiries resolved — What are the best directions to prevent entering into temptation — Those directions laid down — The directions given by our Saviour: “Watch and pray” — What is included therein — (1.) Sense of the danger of temptation — (2.) That it is not in our power to keep ourselves — (3.) Faith in promises of preservation — Of prayer in particular.
2. Having seen
the danger of entering into temptation, and also discovered the ways and
seasons whereby and wherein men usually so, our second inquiry is, What general
directions may be given to preserve a soul from that condition that hath been
spoken of? And we see our Saviour’s direction in the place spoken of before,
(1.) These 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 woful thing to consider what slight thoughts the most have of this thing. So 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 practising 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 woful 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 any thing, 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 hath 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 doth not fear temptation to it. They are too nearly allied to be separated. Satan hath 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 before-mentioned, or the like that may be proposed, we shall never free ourselves from sinful entanglements. Boldness upon temptation, springing from several pretences, hath, as is known, ruined innumerable professors in these days, and still continues to cast many down from their excellency; nor have I the least hope of a more fruitful profession amongst 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 inwrapped 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 withal 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.
(2.) 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 doth 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,
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 pretences, and ways of deceit; my own corruption violent and tumultuating, 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 insensible and plausible, so that, left unto myself, I shall not know I am ensnared, until my bonds be made strong, and sin hath 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:—
[1.] The engagement of the grace and compassion of God, who hath 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.
[2.] 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.
[3.] 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 hath 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,
[4.] 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 aught of those things,
spoken of this duty; 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
succour that is laid up in Christ for us,
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
Of watching that we enter not into temptation — The nature and efficacy of that duty — The first part of it, as to the special seasons of temptation — The first season, in unusual prosperity — The second, in a slumber of grace — Third, a season of great spiritual enjoyment — The fourth, a season of self-confidence.
The other part of our Saviour’s direction, — namely, to “watch,” — is more general, and extends itself to many particulars. I shall fix on some things that are contained therein:—
3. 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:—
(1.) 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 hath provision for lust and darts for Satan.
The wise man tells us that the “prosperity of fools destroys them,”
As, then, unto a prosperous condition. I shall not run cross to
Solomon’s counsel, “In the day of prosperity rejoice,”
Thou wantest that which should poise and ballast thy heart. Formality in
religion will be apt to creep upon thee; and that lays the soul open to all
temptations in their full power and strength. Satisfaction and delight in creature-comforts,
the poison of the soul, will be apt to grow upon thee. In such a time be
vigilant, be circumspect, or thou wilt be surprised. Job says, that in his
affliction “God made his heart soft,”
(2.) 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 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 Saviour to them? “Arise; watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” We know how near one of them 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,
Such was the state of the church or Sardis,
(3.) 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,
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 woful, then, must their condition needs be!
(4.) 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 thee; though all
men should deny thee I will not; though I were to die for it, I would not do
it.” 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
Several acts of watchfulness against temptation proposed — Watch the heart — What it is to be watched in and about — Of the snares lying in men’s natural tempers — Of peculiar lusts — Of occasions suited to them — Watching to lay in provision against temptation — Directions for watchfulness in the first approaches of temptation — Directions after entering into temptation.
That part of watchfulness against temptation which we have considered regards the outward means, occasions, and advantages of temptation; proceed we now to that which respects the heart itself, which is wrought upon and entangled by temptation. Watching or keeping of the heart, which above all keepings we are obliged unto, comes within the compass of this duty also; for the right performance whereof take these ensuing directions:—
(1.) Let him that would not enter into temptations labour to know his own heart, to be acquainted with his own spirit, his natural frame and temper, his lusts and corruptions, his natural, sinful, or spiritual weaknesses, that, finding where his weakness lies, he may be careful to keep at a distance from all occasions of sin.
Our Saviour tells the disciples that “they knew not what spirit they
were of;” which, under a pretence of zeal, betrayed them into ambition and
desire of revenge. Had they known it they would have watched over themselves.
David tells us,
There are advantages for temptations lying oftentimes in men’s natural tempers and constitutions. Some are naturally gentle, facile, easy to be entreated, pliable; which, though it be the noblest temper of nature, and the best and choicest ground, when well broken up and fallowed for grace to grow in, yet, if not watched over, will be a means of innumerable surprisals and entanglements in temptation. Others are earthy, froward, morose; so that envy, malice, selfishness, peevishness, harsh thoughts of other, repinings, lie at the very door of their natures, and they can scarce step out but they are in the snare of one or other of them. Others are passionate, and the like. Now, he that would watch that he enter not into temptation, had need be acquainted with his own natural temper, that he may watch over the treacheries that lie in it continually. Take heed lest you have a Jehu in you, that shall make you drive furiously; or a Jonah in you, that will make you ready to repine; or a David, that will make you hasty in your determinations, as he was often, in the warmth and goodness of his natural temper. He who watches not this thoroughly, who is not exactly skilled in the knowledge of himself, will never be disentangled from one temptation or another all his days.
Again: as men have peculiar natural tempers, which, according as they are attended or managed, prove a great fomes of sin, or advantage to the exercise of grace; so men may have peculiar lusts or corruptions, which, either by their natural constitution or education, and other prejudices, have got deep rooting and strength in them. This, also, is to be found out by him who would not enter into temptation. Unless he know it, unless his eyes be always on it, unless he observes its actings, motions, advantages, it will continually be entangling and ensnaring of him. This, then, is our sixth direction in this kind:— Labour to know thine own frame and temper; what spirit thou art of; what associates in thy heart Satan hath; where corruption is strong, where grace is weak; what stronghold lust hath in thy natural constitution, and the like. How many have all their comforts blasted and peace disturbed by their natural passion and peevishness! How many are rendered useless in the world by their frowardness and discontent! How many are disquieted even by their own gentleness and facility! Be acquainted, then, with thine own heart: though it be deep, search it; though it be dark, inquire into it; though it give all its distempers other names than what are their due, believe it not. Were not men utter strangers to themselves, — did they not give flattering titles to their natural distempers, — did they not strive rather to justify, palliate, or excuse the evils of their hearts, that are suited to their natural tempers and constitutions, than to destroy them, and by these means keep themselves off from taking a clear and distinct view of them, — it were impossible that they should all their days hang in the same briers without attempt for deliverance. Uselessness and scandal in professors are branches growing constantly on this root of unacquaintedness with their own frame and temper; and how few are there who will either study them themselves or bear with those who would acquaint them with them!
(2.) When thou knowest the state and condition of thy heart as to the particulars mentioned, watch against all such occasions and opportunities, employments, societies, retirements, businesses, as are apt to entangle thy natural temper or provoke thy corruption.
It may be there are some ways, some societies, some businesses, that
thou never in thy life escapedst them, but sufferedst by them more or less,
through their suitableness to entice or provoke thy corruption; it may be thou
art in a state and condition of life that weary thee day by day, on the account
of thy ambition, passion, discontent, or the like: if thou hast any love to thy
soul, it is time for thee to awake and to deliver thyself as a bird from the
evil snare. Peter will not come again in haste to the high priest’s hall; nor
would David walk again on the top of his house, when he should have been on the
high places of the field. But the particulars of this instance are so various,
and of such several natures in respect of several persons, that it is
impossible to enumerate them,
(3.) Be sure to lay in provision in store against the approaching of any temptation.
This also belongs to our watchfulness over our hearts. You will say,
“What provision is intended, and where is it to be laid up?” Our hearts, as our
Saviour speaks, are our treasury. There we lay up whatever we have, good or
bad; and thence do we draw it for our use, whatever we have, good or bad; and
thence do we draw it for our use,
(4.) In the first approach of any temptation, as we are all tempted, these directions following are also suited to carry on the work of watching, which we are in the pursuit of:—
[1.] Be always awake, that thou mayst have an early discovery of thy temptation, that thou mayst know it so to be. Most men perceive not their enemy until they are wounded by him. Yea, others may sometimes see them deeply engaged, whilst themselves are utterly insensible; they sleep without any sense of danger, until others come and awake them by telling them that their house is on fire. Temptation in a neuter sense is not easily discoverable, — namely, as it denotes such a way, or thing, or matter, as is or may be made use of for the ends of temptation. Few take notice of it until it is too late, and they find themselves entangled, if not wounded. Watch, then, to understand betimes the snares that are laid for thee, — to understand the advantages thy enemies have against thee, before they get strength and power, before they are incorporated with thy lusts, and have distilled poison into thy soul.
[2.] Consider the aim and tendency of the temptation, whatever it
be, and of all that are concerned in it. Those who have an active concurrence
into thy temptation are Satan and thy own lusts. For thine own lust, I have
manifested elsewhere what it aims at in all its actings and enticings. It never
rises up but its intendment is the worst of evils. Every acting of it would be
a formed enmity against God. Hence look upon it in its first attempts, what
pretences soever may be made, as thy mortal enemy. “I hate it,” saith the
Hath Satan any more friendly aim and intention towards thee, who is a sharer in every temptation? To beguile thee as a serpent, to devour thee as a lion, is the friendship that he owes thee. I shall only add, that the sin he tempts thee to against the law, it is not the thing he aims at; his design lies against thy interest in the gospel. He would make sin but a bridge to get over to a better ground, to assault thee as to thy interest in Christ. He who perhaps will say today, “Thou mayst venture on sin, because thou hast an interest in Christ,” will tomorrow tell thee to the purpose that thou hast none, because thou hast done so.
[3.] Meet thy temptation in its entrance with thoughts of
faith concerning Christ on the cross; this will make it sink before thee.
Entertain no parley, no dispute with it, if thou wouldst not enter into it.
Say, “ ‘It is Christ that died,’
— that died for such sins as these.” This is called “taking the shield of faith
to quench the fiery darts of Satan,”
[4.] Suppose the soul hath been surprised by temptation, and entangled at unawares, so that now it is too late to resist the first entrances of it, what shall such a soul do that it be not plunged into it, and carried away with the power thereof?
1st. Do as Paul did: beseech God again and again that it may
“depart from thee,”
2dly. Fly to Christ, in a peculiar manner, as he was tempted, and
beg of him to give thee succour in this “needful time of trouble.”
3dly. Look to Him who hath promised deliverance. Consider that he is faithful, and will not suffer thee to be tempted above what thou art able. Consider that he hath promised a comfortable issue of these trials and temptations. Call all the promises to mind of assistance and deliverance that he hath made; ponder them in thy heart. And rest upon it, that God hath innumerable ways that thou knowest not of to give thee in deliverance; as, —
(1st.) He can send an affliction that shall mortify thy heart unto the matter of the temptation, whatever it be, that that which was before a sweet morsel under the tongue shall neither have taste or relish in it unto thee, — thy desire to it shall be killed; as was the case with David: or,
(2dly.) He can, by some providence, alter that whole state of things from whence thy temptation doth arise, so taking fuel from the fire, causing it to go out of itself; as it was with the same David in the day of battle: or,
(3dly.) He can tread down Satan under thy feet, that he shall not dare to suggest any thing any more to thy disadvantage (the God of peace shall do it), that thou shalt hear of him no more: or,
(4thly.) He can give thee such supply of grace as that thou mayst be freed, though not from the temptation itself, yet from the tendency and danger of it; as was the case with Paul: or,
(5thly.) He can give thee such a comfortable persuasion of good success in the issue as that thou shalt have refreshment in thy trials, and be kept from the trouble of the temptation; as was the case with the same Paul: or,
(6thly.) He can utterly remove it, and make thee a complete conqueror. And innumerable other ways he hath of keeping thee from entering into temptation, so as to be foiled by it.
4thly. Consider where the temptation wherewith thou art surprised hath made its entrance, and by what means, and with all speed make up the breach. Stop that passage which the waters have made to enter in at. Deal with thy soul like a wise physician. Inquire when, how, by what means, thou fellest into this distemper; and if thou findest negligence, carelessness, want of keeping watch over thyself, to have lain at the bottom of it, fix thy soul there, — bewail that before the Lord, — make up that breach, — and then proceed to the work that lies before thee.
The last general
The directions insisted on in the former chapters are
such as are partly given us, in their several particulars, up and down the
Scripture; partly arise from the nature of the thing itself. There is one
general direction remains, which is comprehensive of all that went before, and
also adds many more particulars unto them. This contains an approved antidote
against the poison of temptation, — a remedy that Christ himself hath marked
with a note of efficacy and success; that is given us,
And, therefore, I shall show, — (1.) What it is to “keep the word of Christ’s patience,” that we may know how to perform our duty; and, (2.) How this will be a means of our preservation, which will establish us in the faith of Christ’s promise.
(1.) The word of Christ is the word of the gospel; the word by him
revealed from the bosom of the Father; the word of the Word; the word spoken in
time of the eternal Word. So it is called “The word of Christ,”
[1.] He is patient towards his saints; he bears with them,
suffers from them. He is “patient to us-ward,”
[2.] Towards the elect not yet effectually called.
[3.] To the perishing world. Hence the time of his kingdom in
this world is called the time of his “patience,”
Now, this is the word that is to be kept, that we may be kept from “the hour of temptation.”
(2.) Three things are implied in the keeping of this word: [1.] Knowledge; [2.] Valuation; [3.] Obedience:—
[1.] Knowledge. He that will keep this word must know it, be acquainted with it, under a fourfold notion:— 1st. As a word of grace and mercy, to save him; 2dly. As a word of holiness and purity, to sanctify him; 3dly. As a word of liberty and power, to ennoble him and set him free; 4thly. As a word of consolation, to support him in every condition:—
1st. As a word of grace and mercy, able to save us:
“It is the power of God unto salvation,”
2dly. As a word of holiness and purity, able to
sanctify him: “Ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you,” saith our
3dly. As a word of liberty and power, to ennoble
him and set him free; — and this not only from the guilt of sin and from wrath,
for that it doth as it is a word of grace and mercy; not only from the power of
sin, for that it doth as it is a word of holiness; but also from all outward
respects of men or the world that might entangle him or enslave him. It
declares us to be “Christ’s freemen,” and in bondage unto none,
(1st.) In respect of conscience as to the worship of God,
(2dly.) In respect of ignoble, slavish respects unto the
men or things of the world, in the course of our pilgrimage. The gospel gives a
free, large, and noble spirit, in subjection to God, and none else. There is
administered in it a spirit “not of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a
4thly. As a word of consolation, to support him in every condition, and to be a full portion in the want of all. It is a word attended with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” It gives supportment, relief, refreshment, satisfaction, peace, consolation, joy, boasting, glory, in every condition whatever. Thus to know the word of Christ’s patience, thus to know the gospel, is the first part, and it is a great part, of this condition of our preservation from the hour and power of temptation.
[2.] Valuation of what is thus known belongs to the keeping of
this word. It is to be kept as a treasure.
[3.] Obedience. Personal obedience, in the universal observation
of all the commands of Christ, is the keeping of his word,
Now, all these are to be so managed with that intension of mind and spirit, that care of heart and diligence of the whole person, as to make up a keeping of this word; which evidently includes all these considerations.
We are arrived, then, to the sum of this safeguarding duty, of this condition of freedom from the power of temptation:— He that, having a due acquaintance with the gospel in its excellencies, as to him a word of mercy, holiness, liberty, and consolation, values it, in all its concernments, as his choicest and only treasure, — makes it his business and the work of his life to give himself up unto it in universal obedience, then especially when opposition and apostasy put the patience of Christ to the utmost, — he shall be preserved from the hour of temptation.
This is that which is comprehensive of all that went before, and is exclusive of all other ways for the obtaining of the end purposed. Nor let any man think without this to be kept one hour from entering into temptation; wherever he fails, there temptation enters. That this will be a sure preservative may appear from the ensuing considerations:—
(1.) It hath the promise of preservation, and this alone hath so.
It is solemnly promised, in the place mentioned, to the church of Philadelphia
on this account. When a great trial and temptation was to come on the world, at
the opening of the seventh seal,
Now, in every promise there are three things to be considered:— [1.] The faithfulness of the Father, who gives it. [2.] The grace of the Son, which is the matter of it. [3.] The power and efficacy of the Holy Ghost, which puts the promise in execution. And all these are engaged for the preservation of such persons from the hour of temptation.
[1.] The faithfulness of God accompanieth the promise. On this
account is our deliverance laid,
[2.] There is in every promise of the covenant the grace of the Son;
that is the subject-matter of all promises: “I will keep thee.” How? “By my
grace with thee.” So that what assistance the grace of Christ can give a soul
that hath a right in this promise, in the hour of temptation it shall enjoy it.
Paul’s temptation grew very high; it was likely to have come to its prevalent
hour. He “besought the Lord, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, for help,
[3.] The efficacy of the Spirit accompanieth the promises. He is
called “The Holy Spirit of promise;” not only because he is promised by Christ,
but also because he effectually makes good the promise, and gives it
accomplishment in our souls. He also, then, is engaged to preserve the soul
walking according to the rule laid down. See
(2.) This constant, universal keeping of Christ’s word of
patience will keep the heart and soul in such a frame, as wherein no prevalent
temptation, by virtue of any advantages whatever, can seize upon it, so as
totally to prevail against it. So David prays,
[1.] By the mortification of the heart unto the matter of
temptations. The prevalency of any temptation arises from hence, that the heart
is ready to close with the matter of it. There are lusts within, suited to the
proposals of the world or Satan without. Hence James resolves all temptations
into our “own lusts,”
Herein, then, lies the security of such a frame as that described: It is always accompanied with a mortified heart, crucified unto the things that are the matter of our temptations; without which it is utterly impossible that we should be preserved one moment when any temptation doth befall us. If liking, and love of the things proposed, insinuated, commended in the temptation, be living and active in us, we shall not be able to resist and stand.
[2.] In this frame the heart is filled with better things and
their excellency, so far as to be fortified against the matter of any
temptation. See what resolution this puts Paul upon,
(3.) He that so keeps the word of Christ’s patience is always furnished with preserving considerations and preserving principles, — moral and real advantages of preservation.
[1.] He is furnished with preserving considerations, that powerfully influence his soul in his walking diligently with Christ. Besides the sense of duty which is always upon him, he considers, —
1st. The concernment of Christ, whom his soul loves, in
him and his careful walking. He considers that the presence of Christ is with
him, his eye upon him; that he ponders his heart and ways, as one greatly
concerned in his deportment of himself, in a time of trial. So Christ manifests
himself to do,
2dly. The great consideration of the temptations of Christ in his behalf, and the conquest he made in all assaults for his sake and his God, dwell also on his spirit. The prince of this world came upon him, every thing in earth or hell that hath either allurement or affrightment in it was proposed to him, to divert him from the work of mediation which for us he had undertaken. This whole life he calls the time of his “temptations;” but he resisted all, conquered all, and is become a Captain of salvation to them that obey him. “And,” says the soul, “shall this temptation, these arguings, this plausible pretence, this sloth, this self-love, this sensuality, this bait of the world, turn me aside, prevail over me, to desert him who went before me in the ways of all temptations that his holy nature was obnoxious unto, for my good?”
3dly. Dismal thoughts of the loss of love, of the
smiles of the countenance of Christ, do also frequently exercise such a soul.
He knows what it is to enjoy the favour of Christ, to have a sense of his love,
to be accepted in his approaches to him, to converse with him, and perhaps hath
been sometimes at some loss in this thing; and so knows also what it is to be
in the dark, distanced from him. See the deportment of the spouse in such a
[2.] He that keeps the word of Christ’s patience hath preserving principles whereby he is acted. Some of them may be mentioned:—
1st. In all things he lives by faith, and is acted by it
in all his ways,
(1st.) Because it empties the soul of its own wisdom,
understanding, and fulness, that it may act in the wisdom and fulness of
Christ. The only advice for the preservation in trials and temptations lies in
that of the wise man,
(2dly.) Faith, making the soul poor, empty, helpless, destitute in itself, engages the heart, will, and power of Jesus Christ for assistance; of which I have spoken more at large elsewhere.
2dly. Love to the saints, with care that they suffer not
upon our account, is a great preserving principle in a time of temptations and
trials. How powerful this was in David, he declares in that earnest prayer,
Many other considerations and principles that those who keep the word of Christ’s patience, in the way and manner before described, are attended withal, might be enumerated; but I shall content myself to have pointed at these mentioned.
And will it now be easy to determine whence it is that so many in our days are prevailed on in the time of trial, — that the hour of temptation comes upon them, and bears them down more or less before it? Is it not because, amongst the great multitude of professors that we have, there are few that keep the word of the patience of Christ? If we wilfully neglect or cast away our interest in the promise of preservation, is it any wonder if we be not preserved? There is an hour of temptation come upon the world, to try them that dwell therein. It variously exerts its power and efficacy. There is not any way or thing wherein it may not be seen acting and putting forth itself. In worldliness; in sensuality; in looseness of conversation; in neglect of spiritual duties, private, public; in foolish, loose, diabolical opinions; in haughtiness and ambition; in envy and wrath; in strife and debate, revenge, selfishness; in atheism and contempt of God, doth it appear. They are but branches of the same root, bitter streams of the same fountain, cherished by peace, prosperity, security, apostasies of professors, and the like. And, alas! how many do daily fall under the power of this temptation in general! How few keep their garments girt about them, and undefiled! And if any urging, particular temptation befall any, what instances almost have we of any that escape? May we not describe our condition as the apostle that of the Corinthians, in respect of an outward visitation: “Some are sick, and some are weak, and many sleep?” Some are wounded, some defiled, many utterly lost. What is the spring and fountain of this sad condition of things? Is it not, as hath been said? — we do not keep the word of Christ’s patience in universal close walking with him, and so lose the benefit of the promise given and annexed thereunto.
Should I go about to give instances of this thing, of professors coming short of keeping the word of Christ, it would be a long work. These four heads would comprise the most of them:— First, Conformity to the world, which Christ hath redeemed us from, almost in all things, with joy and delight in promiscuous compliances with the men of the world. Secondly, Neglect of duties which Christ hath enjoined, from close meditation to public ordinances. Thirdly, Strife, variance, and debate among ourselves, woful judging and despising one another, upon account of things foreign to the bond of communion that is between the saints. Fourthly, Self-fulness as to principles, and selfishness as to ends. Now, where these things are, are not men carnal? Is the word of Christ’s patience effectual in them? Shall they be preserved? They shall not.
Would you, then, be preserved and kept from the hour of temptation? would you watch against entering into it? — as deductions from what hath been delivered in this chapter, take the ensuing cautions:—
1. Take heed of leaning on deceitful assistances; as, —
(1.) On your own counsels, understandings, reasonings. Though you argue in them never so plausibly in your own defence, they will leave you, betray you. When the temptation comes to any height, they will all turn about, and take part with your enemy, and plead as much for the matter of the temptation, whatever it be, as they pleaded against the end and issue of it before.
(2.) The most vigorous actings, by prayer, fasting, and other such means, against that particular lust, corruption, temptation, wherewith you are exercised and have to do. This will not avail you if, in the meantime, there be neglects on other accounts. To hear a man wrestle, cry, contend as to any particular of temptation, and immediately fall into worldly ways, worldly compliances, looseness, and negligence in other things, — it is righteous with Jesus Christ to leave such a one to the hour of temptation.
(3.) The general security of saints’ perseverance and preservation from total apostasy. Every security that God gives us is good in its kind, and for the purpose for which it is given to us; but when it is given for one end, to use it for another, that is not good or profitable. To make use of the general assurance of preservation from total apostasy, to support the spirit in respect of a particular temptation, will not in the issue advantage the soul; because notwithstanding that, this or that temptation may prevail. Many relieve themselves with this, until they find themselves to be in the depth of perplexities.
2. Apply yourselves to this great preservation of faithful keeping the word of Christ’s patience, in the midst of all trials and temptations:—
(1.) In particular, wisely consider wherein the word of Christ’s patience is most likely to suffer in the days wherein we live and the seasons that pass over us, and so vigorously set yourselves to keep it in that particular peculiarly. You will say, “How will we know wherein the word of Christ’s patience in any season is likely to suffer?” I answer, Consider what works he peculiarly performs in any season; and neglect of his word in reference to them is that wherein his word is like to suffer. The works of Christ wherein he hath been peculiarly engaged in our days and seasons seem to be these:—
[1.] The pouring of contempt upon the great men and great things of the world, with all the enjoyments of it. He hath discovered the nakedness of all earthly things, in overturning, overturning, overturning, both men and things, to make way for the things that cannot be shaken.
[2.] The owning of the lot of his own inheritance in a distinguishing manner, putting a difference between the precious and the vile, and causing his people to dwell alone, as not reckoned with the nations.
[3.] In being nigh to faith and prayer, honouring them above all the strength and counsels of the sons of men.
[4.] In recovering his ordinances and institutions from the carnal administrations that they were in bondage under by the lusts of men, bringing them forth in the beauty and the power of the Spirit.
Wherein, then, in such a season, must lie the peculiar neglect of the word of Christ’s patience? Is it not in setting a value on the world and the things of it, which he hath stained and trampled under foot? Is it not in the slighting of his peculiar lot, his people, and casting them into the same considerations with the men of the world? Is it not in leaning to our own counsels and understandings? Is it not in the defilement of his ordinances, by giving the outward court of the temple to be trod upon by unsanctified persons? Let us, then, be watchful, and in these things keep the word of the patience of Christ, if we love our own preservation.
(2.) In this frame urge the Lord Jesus Christ with his blessed promises, with all the considerations that may be apt to take and hold the King in his galleries, that may work on the heart of our blessed and merciful High Priest, to give suitable succour at time of need.
General exhortation to the duty prescribed
Having thus passed through the considerations of
the duty of watching that we enter not into temptation, I suppose I need not
add motives to the observance of it. Those who are not moved by their own sad
experiences, nor the importance of the duty, as laid down in the entrance of
this discourse, must be left by me to the farther patience of God. I shall only
shut up the whole with a general exhortation to them who are in any measure
prepared for it by the consideration of what hath been spoken. Should you go
into an hospital, and see many persons lying sick and weak, sore and wounded,
with many filthy diseases and distempers, and should inquire of them how they
fell into this condition, and they shall all agree to tell you such or such a
thing was the occasion of it, — “By that I got my wound,” says one, “And my
disease,” says another, — would it not make you a little careful how or what
you had to do with that thing or place? Surely it would. Should you go to a
dungeon, and see many miserable creatures bound in chains for an approaching
day of execution, and inquire the way and means whereby they were brought into
that condition, and they should all fix on one and the same thing, would you
not take care to avoid it? The case is so with entering into temptation. Ah!
how many poor, miserable, spiritually-wounded souls, have we everywhere! — one
wounded by one sin, another by another; one falling into filthiness of the
flesh, another of the spirit. Ask them, now, how they came into this estate and
condition? They must all answer, “Alas! we entered into temptation, we fell
into cursed snares and entanglements; and that hath brought us into the woful
condition you see!” Nay, if a man could look into the dungeons of hell, and see
the poor damned souls that lie bound in chains of darkness, and hear their
cries, what would he be taught? What do they say? Are they not cursing their
tempters, and the temptations that they entered in? And shall we be negligent
in this thing? Solomon tells us that the “simple one that follows the strange
woman knows not that the dead are there, that her house inclineth to death, and
her paths to the dead” (which he repeats three times); and that is the reason
that he ventures on her snares. If you knew what hath been done by entering
into temptation, perhaps you would be more watchful and careful. Men may think
that they shall do well enough notwithstanding; but, “Can a man take fire in
his bosom, and his clothes not be burnt? Can one go upon hot coals, and his
feet not be burnt?”
Have we not experience of our weakness, our folly, the invincible power of temptation, when once it is gotten within us? As for this duty that I have insisted on, take these considerations:—
1. If you neglect it, it being the only means prescribed by our Saviour, you will certainly enter into temptation, and as certainly fall into sin. Flatter yourselves. Some of you are “old disciples;” have a great abhorrency of sin; you think it impossible you should ever be seduced so and so; but, “Let him (whoever he be) that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” It is not any grace received, it is not any experience obtained, it is not any resolution improved, that will preserve you from any evil, unless you stand upon your watch: “What I say unto you,” says Christ, “I say unto all, Watch.” Perhaps you may have had some good success for a time in your careless frame; but awake, admire God’s tenderness and patience, or evil lies at the door. If you will not perform this duty, whoever you are, one way or other, in one thing or other, spiritual or carnal wickedness, you will be tempted, you will be defiled; and what will be the end thereof? Remember Peter!
2. Consider that you are always under the eye of Christ, the great
captain of our salvation, who hath enjoined us to watch thus, and pray that we
enter not into temptation. What think you are the thoughts and what the heart
of Christ, when he sees a temptation hastening towards us, a storm rising about
us, and we are fast asleep? Doth it not grieve him to see us expose ourselves
so to danger, after he hath given us warning upon warning? Whilst he was in the
days of his flesh he considered his temptation whilst it was yet coming, and
armed himself against it. “The prince of this world cometh,” says he, “but hath
no part in me.” And shall we be negligent under his eye? Do not think that thou
seest him coming to thee as he did to Peter, when he was asleep in the garden,
with the same reproof: “What! canst thou not watch one hour?” Would it not be a
grief to thee to be so reproved, or to hear him thundering against thy neglect
from heaven, as against the church of Sardis?
3. Consider that if thou neglect this duty, and so fall into temptation, — which assuredly thou wilt do, — that when thou art entangled God may withal bring some heavy affliction or judgment upon thee, which, by reason of thy entanglement, thou shalt not be able to look on any otherwise than as an evidence of his anger and hatred; and then what wilt thou do with thy temptation and affliction together? All thy bones will be broken, and thy peace and strength will be gone in a moment. This may seem but as a noise of words for the present; but if ever it be thy condition, thou wilt find it to be full of woe and bitterness. Oh! then, let us strive to keep our spirits unentangled, avoiding all appearance of evil and all ways leading thereunto; especially all ways, businesses, societies, and employments that we have already found disadvantageous to us.
Mortification of Sin in Believers, vol. vi. chap. xiv. p. 78.
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