Walking Wisely in Times of Temptation
Matthew Mead, 1660
To the Congregation at Stepney, who were the hearers of this sermon—may all covenant mercies be multiplied to you through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The greatest thing I will wish to those that succeed me will be that they may be as true to the interest of your precious souls as I always desire, and in my power, endeavor to be. God is my record that, "I do not seek what is yours, but you" 2 Corinthians 12:14. My care and prayer has always been that you might receive heavenly treasure out of a poor earthen vessel.
Whatever good the Lord has done by me—bless him for it. Ascribe to my name no more than the weakness and infirmities that were discovered in my performances. I have ground to hope that, through the dew of God's grace watering the seed of the Word—some were converted, some convinced, and some confirmed. "My heart's desire and prayer to God" for all shall be, "that they might be saved," (Romans 10:1).
"Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." Hebrews 13:20-21
TO THE SINCERE READER
I did not intend any more in delivering this sermon to my hearers, than a help to the delivering them from the power of the Tempter. When should the Watchmen give warning—but when the enemy is approaching? And when should they call loudest to spiritual watchfulness, but when they are nearest to the snares of spiritual wickedness? This was the practice of our Lord Christ, "Watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation." (Mark 6:48).
This sermon was seed sown on good ground, preached to an honest congregation at Stepney, although some fell by the wayside, and that the wicked one picked up (compare Matthew 13:4). Just as bold thieves will dare to pick pockets at the very bar of judgment, likewise Satan will be tempting and ensnaring, even when and where his temptations are discovering.
If anything in this proves useful to your soul in the hour of temptation, let God have your praises, who deserves them; and let him have your prayers who needs them, and who promises to return for them.
Your servant for Jesus' sake,
Walking Wisely in Times of Temptation
"See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15-16
To be good at all times is a Christian's duty, but to be good in bad times is a Christian's glory. To be a Lot in Sodom, a Job in the land of Uz, a Saint in Nero's house; "to be blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation," (Philippians 2:15), this is the credit of a Christian profession. Bad times and bad company too often corrupt good men. Peter was very zealous for Christ among the disciples, but when he had been a while in the High Priest's hall, how he then denied Christ.
The Israelites were not any sooner mingled with the heathen, but they immediately bow and sacrifice to their gods. "They were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works, and they served their idols," (Psalm 106:35-36).
"Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Corinthians 15:33). Sin is of a very leavening nature, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump," (Galatians 5:9). And therefore it is that God commands Israel at their entering into Canaan, to utterly destroy all the nations, to not make any covenant, nor to marry with them. Why? In fear that, they should learn their habits and their customs (Deuteronomy 7).
And this was the reason of this exhortation in the text to the Church of Ephesus—to walk circumspectly.
Ephesus was the metropolis and chief city in Asia Minor. It was a city much given to superstition and idolatry (Acts 15:27); the temple of the great goddess Diana was there. Ephesus was a city where the preaching and professing of the gospel was much persecuted; and therefore the Apostle Paul says, "He fought with beasts at Ephesus," (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Now with what superstition among them, and persecution on them, the days were very evil, and therefore he gives them this counsel in the text, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil," (Ephesians 5:15-16).
The words have four parts in them:
First, a great duty enjoined, "See that you walk circumspectly."
Secondly, the injunction explained, "Not as fools, but as wise."
Thirdly, the explanation amplified, "Redeeming the time."
Fourthly, the reason of all urged, "Because the days are evil."
The first is general, namely, The injunction of a duty, we have already spoken to, and are to come to the second general point, namely, the explanation of the injunction, which sets out to us the manner both negatively and positively of the circumspect walking. This is negatively, "not as fools." And it is affirmatively, "but as wise."
This negative caution which the apostle gives Christians, "not to walk as fools," implies in it this affirmative conclusion.
DOCTRINE: That there are many professors of religion who are fools in their profession.
This I have spoken to at large; and I am now on the explanation of the injunction, "as wise;" when where we laid down this assertion,
DOCTRINE: That it is the Christian's duty to walk wisely.
I have explained the term, what it is to walk wisely. I have confirmed the point, that it is the Christian's duty. I have given you the properties of this spiritual wisdom.
The fourth thing is to show you when this spiritual wisdom is in season.
Answer: At all times, spiritual wisdom is never out of season; Solomon says, "There is a season to everything, and a time to every purpose under Heaven," (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Yet there are two things he allots no particular time for—for sin and for holiness. He does not say, "there is a time to sin," because there is no time for that. He does not say, "there is a time to serve God and be holy, and wise to salvation," because all time is for that. Holiness and spiritual wisdom are always in season.
But yet there are four peculiar seasons of this walking wisely:
1. In times of outward prosperity.
2. In times of outward trouble and affliction.
3. In times of temptation.
4. In times of spiritual desertion.
Where the wisdom of walking in prosperity lies, I have showed you previously in other sermons already in five things. Where the wisdom of walking in affliction lies, I have also showed you in twelve things.
Now in the third place, I will show you that it is the Christian's duty to walk wisely in times of temptation.
Lastly, to show you where the wisdom of walking in temptation lies.
DOCTRINE: That it is the Christian's duty to walk wisely in time of temptation. Christian wisdom is never more necessary than when we are assaulted by that cunning adversary.
To clear this, I will lay down seven gradual conclusions.
FIRSTLY, That the Saints of God are very liable to temptations from Satan. The Saints are the targets the Devil shoots the arrows of his rage against. The pirate does not assault the empty ship, nor does the thief break open the poor man's cottage—but where the prize is, there is where the attack is.
Grace will keep us from sinning in temptation, but it will not keep us from sufferings under temptation. Christ was made like us that he might be tempted, and we are tempted that we may be made like Christ.
The more a man is renewed and sanctified, the more he is tried and buffeted. The more God has done for him, the more Satan will do against him. The more God increases his grace, the more Satan disturbs his peace.
No, immediately on the greatest discovery from God, the saints have the sorest attacks from Satan. When God reveals most of his love to us—then Satan will then manifest most of his rage against us. If Christ takes us into the banqueting-house, (Song of Solomon 2:4)—then Satan will presently lead us into the wilderness.
Paul had no sooner come down out of the highest Heaven, and then is accosted by an enemy from the lowest Hell. He had no sooner received, "abundance of revelation," (2 Corinthians 12:7), to comfort him, but the next news is a "messenger of Satan to buffet him," (2 Corinthians 12:7). After that glorious revelation—he fell into a grievous temptation, insomuch that the joy of his spirit was much abated by the thorn in the flesh.
Likewise it was with the Lord Christ himself. He had no so sooner heard the voice of God from Heaven, saying "this is my beloved son," (Matthew 3:17) but immediately the spirit from Hell comes and questions his Sonship. He had no sooner gone up out of the water where he was baptized, then is immediately, "led up into the wilderness to be tempted," (Matthew 4:1).
And if he did this to the living green tree—then what will he not do to the dry? So that it is clear, that the Saints of God continually have temptations from Satan.
SECONDLY, man is very weak at best to withstand temptation when it is least. So long as God holds us up, we cannot fall. But if God gives us up, we cannot stand. It is man's weakness to presume on his own strength, when his best strength is but weakness, (Psalm 119.117, and 17.5).
Peter promises not to leave Christ; but when the temptation comes, then he leaves his promise. To persist in duties of sanctification, and to resist in cases of temptation, both of these are man's work to do, but we must have God's strength to do them. How vain is man to think himself anything, when, "without Christ he can do nothing," (John 15:5).
THIRDLY, we have in our natures, much for temptation to work on. Our corrupt hearts are like tinder, apt to light up when the Devil strikes fire. He who promises himself that the frame of his heart will be the same under a temptation as it was before, may as well promise himself that though he falls into the water, he will be dry, because while he was on the shore, he was not wet.
It is not with Christians, as it was with Christ. When Satan came to tempt him—he found nothing in him, no carnal principles, no secret lust, no corrupt manner to fasten his temptations on. "The prince of this world comes, and has nothing in me," (John 14:30).
But it is otherwise with Christians. Satan has for the compassing his ends, a sure party in our own bosom. When Satan surrounds us with troubles—then sin is ready to betray us within. "A man's enemies are they of his own house," (Matthew 10:36).
Christ had only the suffering part of temptation when he entered into it—but we also have the sinning part of it. Although when Satan came to Christ, he found nothing in him—yet when he comes to Christians, he finds much in them.
Though believers are not in sin—yet there is sin in believers; much lust remains in the best of Christians. Where grace is, it destroys sin's power, but it does not destroy sin's presence. Although we are sanctified in every part—yet we are sanctified, but in part. Although regeneration takes much sin out of us—yet temptations find much sin still in us. There is much for temptation to work on, and therefore we need to walk wisely in temptation.
FOURTHLY, Satan with great cunning, suits his temptations to man's nature and disposition. As he has great malice, as being a Devil—so he has great knowledge, as being an angel. As his knowledge is great by intelligence, so it is heightened by experience; for he has been trading with souls nearly six-thousand years. He does not love to sail against the wind, nor row against the tide. He suits the temptation without us—to the lusts and corruption within us, and so has wind and tide with him. If he meets with Peter, he deals with his carnal fear, with David's lust, with Jonah's passion, and with Diotrephes' ambition.
O how does it benefit us to walk wisely in temptations!
FIFTHLY, as all saints are tempted to commit sin—so many commit the sin to which they are tempted. As Satan is always very treacherous, so he is often very prosperous. He cannot make us fail finally—but yet he makes us fall frequently. He often bruises our heel—although he cannot break our head. He blows the coals of lust in David—and how quickly does it flame in adultery and murder! Although Satan cannot break our backs—he may break our bones, and send us halting to our graves; and therefore we need to walk wisely in temptation.
SIXTHLY, a man may withstand a temptation at one time, and yet fall under the same temptation at another time. For the influences of grace may be more at one time, and less at another. A man's own heart may be in a watchful frame at one time, and in a sleepy, carnal frame at another; and Satan then comes most soon when the heart is most secure. It is the believer's duty to always watch (Mark 13:37), but the believer is not always in that duty.
Now if Satan comes once and finds him watching—he will go and come again when he may find him sleeping.
Satan is not forever conquered, because he is once resisted. What he fails in at one time, he attempts at another. When he left Christ, it was with intent to come again. "When the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him," (Luke 4:13), for how long? "For a season"—until another opportunity; for he set on him again, (John 14:30).
We will never be out of Satan's reach—until we come into the bosom of Jesus Christ.
As Christ sometimes leaves us, and then returns again—so does Satan. Christ leaves us to make us act with grace, and walk more strictly; Satan leaves us to make us lay aside grace, and walk more remissly.
When Christ departs, we are apt to be cast down and to say, "we will never see comfort." When Satan departs, we are apt to be lifted up and to say, "we will never see trouble." When both withdraw to return again, Christ withdraws that he may return with the greater mercy, and Satan withdraws that he may return with the greater fury.
SEVENTHLY. In every temptation the soul runs a great hazard of eternal destruction. The design of the tempter is the ruin of the believer. As the design of Christ in regeneration is to save the soul—likewise the design of Satan in temptation is to destroy it. Our blessed Redeemer would gladly make us as happy as himself in Heaven—and this cursed tempter should gladly make us as miserable as himself in Hell. "He who kept not his own abode," (Jude 1:6), grudges ours; it is matter of his envy that we should possess that habitation which he so sinfully left. Therefore, his work on earth is to hinder us in our working for Heaven. He envies us everlasting crowns of righteousness—when he himself lies in everlasting chains of darkness. Therefore he would gladly defile us here, so that he might destroy us forever!
Surely therefore if at all times a Christian should walk wisely—then in time of temptation, he should more especially walk wisely.
Question: But you will say, "Where lies the wisdom of walking wisely in a time of temptation? Suppose I am much exercised with temptation of several kinds, where does the wisdom of walking consist at such a time?"
I will answer the question in thirteen particulars:
1. In submitting to the will of God in temptation.There is no temptation that falls on us, but according to the will of God. God wills our trials so that he may try our wills, whether they will bow to his will or not. A Christian should say, "may the will of the Lord be done," (Acts 21:14), although he is undone; much more should he be contented when it is the will of God that he should be tried.
God orders, disposes, and times all of our temptations. Satan cannot do whatever he pleases—but only what God pleases.
Satan did not have the power to touch Job until God gave him permission, (Job 1:12); and when he had power, he could not go any further than the wise God allowed him. In temptation it is not what Satan will, but what God wills.
Yet how frowardly do many of the children of God behave in temptation, speaking harshly of God, as if he had forsaken them, because he allows Satan to strike them?
Now then, if I submit to the will of God in temptation and say, "Although I would rejoice to be rid of this temptation, yet it is not fit that I should choose my condition"—then I walk wisely in temptation.
2. In disclaiming self-confidence, and not trusting in our own strength.Self-confidence usually meets with some sad miscarriage for its recompense. Satan does not desire any greater advantage against us, than to find us in our own strength when he comes to assault us. Solomon says, "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool," (Proverbs 28:26). Why is he a fool? Because he is sure to be deceived.
So foolish was Peter; "Though all men forsake you—yet I will not!" (Matthew 26:33). What? Deny my master the Son of God, my Redeemer! What, deny the blessed Jesus? "You are Christ the Son of the living God!" (Matthew 16:16); and yet who forsake Christ so sadly as Peter? He does not only forsake him, but denies him and curses! (Matthew 26:35).
The strength of a believer does not lie in himself but in his Savior. God can overcome Satan without our hands, but we cannot so much as defend ourselves without God's arm. He can do all things without us, but we cannot do anything without him. "He is the strength of Israel," (1 Samuel 15:29).
And therefore when the apostle lays down directions for the withstanding temptations, he gives this as his first counsel, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might," (Ephesians 6:10). God's power is greater to help us. than Satan's is to hurt us. Without God's permission, he cannot tempt us. So when he does tempt, God will not leave us. When Satan does his worst to throw us down, God will do his best to make us stand. "As we are kept by the power of God unto salvation," (1 Peter 1:5)—so are we kept by the power of God from temptation.
Now then, if in temptation I disclaim self-confidence, and rest on divine omnipotence, if I cease from my own strength, and rely on the strength of God—then I walk wisely in temptation.
3. In distinguishing between temptation from God and Satan.[Editor's note: The word tempt in the KJV, when used of God, means to test, to try, to prove, to put to the proof or test.]
Sometimes God tempts, and sometimes Satan; God tempts for good ends, and Satan for evil ends. God tempts to try grace, "The Lord your God proves you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart," (Deuteronomy 13:3).
Likewise it is said, "God tempted Abraham," (Genesis 22:1). It was to try his faith and obedience.
He also tempted Hezekiah. "God left him to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart," (2 Chronicles 32:31).
But Satan tempts to destroy grace, not to try it.
As the design of temptation is the ruin of grace, so God is said, "to tempt no man," (James 1:13). But as the design of temptation is the trial of grace, so God tempts every man, (1 Peter).
God tempts for probation—Satan for reprobation. When God tempts, he comes with, "his fan," (Matthew 3:12) to fan out the chaff and the rubbish, but to keep in and preserve the wheat. But when Satan tempts, he comes with his "sieve," (Luke 22:31) to let out the wheat, but to keep in the rubbish. The fan casts out the worst, and keeps in the best—but the sieve keeps in the worst, and casts out the best. So God by his temptations purges corruption out of us, and nourishes grace in us. But Satan by his temptations labors to confirm sin, and weaken grace.
God tempts because he would have us stand—Satan tempts to make us fall. God tempts to purge out sin, so that when Satan tempts, he may not take advantage against us by our sin. God tempts to cleanse corruption out of us, so that when Satan comes, he may find nothing in us (John 14:20ff). God tempts us, because he loves us; Satan tempts, because he hates us. God tempts, to make us like Christ; Satan tempts, to make us leave Christ.
Now then, if I distinguish rightly between temptations from God and temptations from Satan—between those that are only to try grace, and those that are to destroy grace; that I may improve the former and resist the latter, then I walk wisely in temptation.
4. It is wisdom not to bring our own reason to the temptation, but to bring the temptation to the blood of Christ.Vain men think that in the strength of their own reason, they can out-argue the tempter. This is to shoot at Satan with his own bow. To argue with him is as an old proverb says, "To light a candle to the Devil."
Yet how ready we are to parlay with him! When he knocks at the door, how apt are we to look out at the window!
Eve ventures to speak with him about the forbidden fruit, and from speaking, she falls to eating—and ruins the whole world at once! "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burnt? Can he go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27-28).
Reason is a carnal weapon, but our enemy is spiritual, (Ephesians 6:12); and therefore, "the weapons of our warfare must not be carnal," (2 Corinthians 10:4). Satan must be spiritually subdued. The blood of Christ can quench temptation, but reason cannot. Satan says to carnal reason, as the evil spirit did to Sceva's sons, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you? And it leaped upon them and overcame them!" (Acts 19:15-16).
Bring reason to a temptation, and it bears that down; but bring a temptation to the blood of Christ, and it cannot stand before that.
Now then, if I do not oppose temptations by my own reason, but bring them to the blood of Christ to extinguish them—then I walk wisely in temptation.
5. It is wisdom to lay in provision in time of temptation; to store the heart with somewhat that may keep temptation out.There is gospel provision, which if laid up in the heart, will keep all of our temptation from entering to hurt; and that is, "the sense of the love of God in Christ," (Matthew 26:1ff). Although we may be under temptation—this will keep us from entering into temptation.
Sense of the love of God in Christ, constrains grace, and restrains sin; it strengthens the new man, and weakens the old; and there temptation never prospers. Where grace flourishes—sin withers.
Now then, if I say that I will have a suitable provision in time of temptation, "that may be a help to preserve me when Satan assaults me," then I walk wisely in temptation.
6. The wisdom of walking in temptation lies in fighting Satan with scriptural weapons.There is not a temptation of Satan, which the Word does not arm you against.
It is recorded that a certain Jew would have poisoned Luther, but was prevented by his picture which was sent to Luther with a warning from a faithful friend, that he should take heed of such a man when he saw him; by which means Luther knew the murderer, and prevented the design.
The scripture does not only warn us and show us the face of those lusts, which Satan works by to destroy us—but it arms us against them. Satan is never so worsted, as when scriptural weapons are used. Those shafts strike Satan to the quick, which are taken out of God's quiver. David, with stones out of the brook, slays Goliath, that enemy of Israel, (1 Samuel 17:40-49); so with stones out of the brook of scripture—may we conquer this enemy of God and souls.
When the Lord Christ was forty days together combating with Satan—he used only scriptural arguments against him, (Luke 4:2).
When Satan tempts him to turn stones into bread, Christ answers him with scripture, "It is written: man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God," (Matthew 4:4).
When he tempts him to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, Christ urges scripture again: "It is written, you shall not tempt the Lord your God," (Matthew 4:7).
And so when he tempts him to worship him, still Christ opposes scripture to the tempter: "It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve," (Matthew 4:10).
In this way the Lord Christ fetches arguments out of scripture, and puts the tempter to flight with them.
The Word of God has a power in it to squash all Satan's temptations. When you oppose his assaults with scripture commands—he will never be able to stand. And therefore the apostle gives good advice in this very case of opposing Satan, "Take the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God," (Ephesians 6:17).
So if in temptation I oppose Satan with scriptural weapons. If I urge scriptural injunctions against the serpent's suggestions, and set God's wisdom against Satan's cunning—then I walk wisely in temptation.
7. It is wisdom to look on temptation as broken and overcome in Christ—and to consider Satan as a conquered enemy.This will not make us less careful—but less fearful. All of the temptations that fall on the people of God, are already overcome in Christ: "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the Devil," (1 John 3:5).
The Lord Christ was a common person, and not only in his death, but in his life. Christ was not born for himself, but for us. "To us a child is born, to us a Son is given," (Isaiah 9:6). He did not obey for himself, but for us. "By the obedience of One, shall many be made righteous," (Romans 5:19). He did not die and suffer for himself, but for us. "He was made a curse for us," (Galatians 3:13).
Whatever evil Christ underwent—he underwent it for us. He was tempted for us, and he broke Satan's head for us. As when Adam was tempted, he being a common person, we were all tempted in him. And when he fell into the temptation, we fell in him. So, when the Lord Christ lived in the world, and was tempted by Satan—we were tempted in him; and when he conquered, we conquered in him, "So that we are more than conquerors through him that loved us," (Romans 8:37).
Satan, now through the victory of the cross, is a conquered enemy. He fights against the members of Christ with broken weapons; for the Captain of our salvation, "has spoiled principalities and powers," (Colossians 2:15).
So if I look on the temptation as already broken, and Satan's power as spoiled and overcome by the death and cross of Christ—then I walk wisely in temptation.
8. If the temptation comes with a dilemma or difficulty on each hand, and the Christian chooses that part of the dilemma that is for the glory of God, though grievous to the flesh, rather than that part that is profitable and gratifying to the flesh, but tending to the dishonor of God—then he walks wisely.
Sometimes the people of God are brought to such straights by temptation, that either they must sin much to avoid suffering, or suffer much to avoid sinning. Their own temporal advantage and outward safety lies through sin, but the glory of God lies through suffering.
Such a dilemma was that which the three Hebrew children were brought into by their temptation (Daniel 3:11). They must either turn, or burn; either they must bow to the image that the King had set up, or burn in the furnace he had caused to heat.
If they worshiped the image, they would obey the King's command, but then they would have broken the command of God. If they did not worship the idol, they would provoke the King's displeasure, but then they would be kept in God's favor. If they worshiped the idol—they would dishonor the God of Zion; if they did not worship the idol—they would provoke the King of Babylon.
Here is the dilemma; now see how wisely they choose, "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up!" (Daniel 3:17-18).
What a choice spirit is this! This is not found in every house where the profession of religion is hung out at the door. How many in this hour of temptation, are caught in this ensnaring trial? What are some saying? "Come let us conform to the Anglican rituals, rather than to lose our liberties."
In this way many, (it is to be feared), destroy their consciences to keep their places; and conform against their judgments, to preserve their profits. This is as if a man, to save his hat, would lose his head! or as if a man would sink the ship, to avoid the storm. Alas poor souls, how are they fallen in the hour of temptation!
Suppose a man were put to this, either he must swear obedience to the Anglican rituals—or he must be put to silence; either he must take up the ceremonies, or lay down his ministry. This would be a great temptation. Which part should a man chose in this case?
"Why," you will say, "It is pity that such a man should preach." Yes, but it is greater pity that he should sin. You will say, "He may do much good in his ministry, if he would conform." Yes, but he, "must not do evil, that good may come of it," (Romans 3:8). If I suffer for conscience sake, God is honored; but if I sin for God's sake, he is dishonored. My lie cannot advance his glory, (Romans 3:7); and therefore, the resolution of the three children is a good pattern, "We will not worship the image you have set up!" (Daniel 3:18).
9. Wisdom lies in a diligent endeavor to improve grace by temptation.As the Israelites were multiplied by being oppressed; it is said, "The more they were afflicted, the more they grew," (Exodus 1:12); so a true Israelite, the more he is tempted, the more is his grace increased. As trees are deeper rooted by the wind that shakes them, likewise believers are strengthened most by the temptations that most try them.
Temptation is the Devil's bellows which he brings to blow out the spark of the heavenly fire that is in us. But as the breath of the bellows makes the fire flame more—so the blasts of temptation make grace increase more. God has an over-ruling hand over temptation, and he turns them to good, when Satan intends them for hurt—and makes grace prosper by that very means whereby Satan hoped to make it wither. Therefore God can out-shoot Satan with his own bow.
So then, if I labor to grow in grace in a time of temptation; if I turn a tempting season into a growing season—then I walk wisely in temptation.
10. It is wisdom in temptation not to use any indirect means for riddance, but to rest on the promise for deliverance.There is no temptation that can fall on us, but that God has made a suitable promise to relieve us—so that we might not sinfully deliver ourselves, but patiently rest on him for deliverance.
He has promised, "to tread Satan under our feet," (Romans 16:20), "to bind the strong man, not to allow us to be tempted above what we are able, but to make a way for us to escape, that we may be able to bear it," (1 Corinthians 10:13). O! that Christians would study the promise, and converse much with the promise in time of temptation. God has promised never to forsake us—and therefore never let us forsake the promise (Hebrews 13:5).
There are three things very remarkable in every promise, said by John Owen:
The faithfulness of the Father who gives it.
The grace of the Son which is the matter of it.
The power of the Spirit which accomplishes it.
The faithfulness of the Father, makes the promise good to us.
The grace of the Son, makes the promise sweet to us.
The efficacy of the Spirit, makes the promise good in us.
So the promise is a sure resting place for a tempted soul.
Now then, if in temptation, I do not use any indirect means for riddance, but rest on the promise for deliverance—then I walk wisely in temptation.
11. The wisdom of walking in temptation, lies in not yielding to temptation.Temptation from Satan is our suffering—but it is from us, if it becomes our sin. The Devil may tempt and flatter us, but he cannot force us. He may provoke us, but without our consent, he cannot prevail over us. He may tempt us to sin, but he cannot cause us to sin. He could have never come into the house—if we did not open the door. "Every man is tempted," (James 1:14); when? When he is assaulted? No, but, "when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed," (James 1:14). The true procreating cause of sin, is in every man's soul. Satan is the father of temptation, but the heart is the mother of sin. Satan's temptations could not do anything to us—if it were not for corruption within us. Outward deceit could not do anything, without inward lust. Satan woes our wills, but we will our own woes.
The fire is in our wood, although it is the Devil's flame. We do the Devil wrong, (as bad as he is), to lay all our sins at his door, as though we were innocent. For although the bastard sin is begotten by him, it is conceived and brought forth by us.
This is an old trick, as old as Adam. When God asked him, "Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?" (Genesis 3:11). Make note how Adam shifts off his responsibility: "The woman whom you gave me—she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I ate," (Genesis 3:12). And when God comes to the woman and asks, "What is this that you have done?" (Genesis 3:13). She answers, "the serpent beguiled me, and I ate," (Genesis 3:13). Adam shifts the fault from himself to the woman—and she shifts the fault from herself to the serpent!
But if they had not been willing, what could the serpent have done? If we are tempted—it is Satan's fault. But if we yield—it is our guilt.
Sceva at the siege of Dyrrachium resisted Pompey's army alone for so long, that he had two hundred and twenty darts sticking in his shield, and lost one of his eyes—and yet did not give over until Caesar came into his rescue. Under the law, if a man met a damsel and lay with her, if she consented—then she died; but if she cried out she was innocent and acquitted, (Deuteronomy 22:23-26). So when Satan assaults us, if he obtains consent from us—then we die; "for sin when it is finished, brings forth death," (James 1:15). But if we do not consent, but cry out to Christ for help against temptation—we will be delivered.
So if I stand out and do not yield when temptation comes; if I do not consent to the sin which the temptation leads to; if Satan persuades, yet does not prevail—then I walk wisely in temptation.
12. The wisdom of walking in temptation lies in praying much, when we are tempted much.This is the Lord Christ's own counsel, "Watch and pray—that you enter not into temptation!" (Matthew 26:41).
Prayer is faith's recourse to the fountain of strength—to fetch help and support against the tempter. When we pray much, when we are tempted much—we counter work Satan in his design; for one of his great designs in temptation is to stop the stream of prayer.
Christ should be most sought—when we are most assaulted. Paul had a strong temptation, and he made strong supplication. The thorn in his flesh, caused the groans of his spirit. The messenger of Satan coming to strike him, made him send many messages to Christ to come and support him. "For this I besought the Lord thrice," (that is often, not simply three times), "that it might depart from me," (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). When Satan does his worst in tempting—then a Christian should do his best in praying.
There are four things especially which should be the matter of our prayer in temptation.
Pray that our grace may be above our trial.
Pray that temptation may be first sanctified to us—and then removed from us.
Pray that although we suffer by temptation, yet we may not sin in temptation—deliver us from evil.
Pray that Christ would not be so far from us, when Satan is so near to us; that when we are under the greatness of Satan's malice, we may be under the experience of Christ's promise, who has said, "My grace is sufficient for you," ( 2 Corinthians 12:9).
Faith's diligence for preparation, in the hour of the soul's temptation, lies much in supplication. Satan may tempt us, but if he finds a praying frame of heart, he cannot hurt us.
I have heard of a malicious woman who gave herself to the Devil, provided that he would harm to such a neighbor who she mortally hated. The Devil went once and again to do his errand, but at last returns and tells her he could not do any hurt to that man; for when he would come, he found him either reading the scriptures or praying.
There is no voice God loves better, or that Satan likes worse—than the voice of prayer. One of the fathers calls it, "the Devil's whip to torment him." The apostle, when he teaches us to stand against Satan, tells us to "pray always," (Ephesians 6:18). He who prays much—is seldom taken in sin. He who prays much—is never taken with sin; he seldom acts it, and never likes it.
Now then, if temptation does not make me lay aside prayer; if I turn times of temptation into times of supplication; if when I am in the greatest danger, and I run to Christ for help and support—then I walk wisely in temptation.
13. It is wisdom when Satan is tempting, for us to be believing.All the Christian's strength and comfort is fetched from Christ. He has none to send of his errand, but faith.
In temptation your work is to believe, and then God will do the rest. Therefore David says, "At what time I am afraid, I will trust in you," (Psalm 56: 3). He tells God that he will be bold to step into his house when taken in a storm, and does not question being welcomed.
It is one means of preservation, to believe that God will preserve us. As the duty that Satan hates most is the duty of praying—so the grace that Satan opposes most is the grace of believing; all his temptations are leveled at the feet of faith.
He may tempt you to sin against the law, to impurity, to injustice, etc., but this is not his ultimate end. His great design lies against your saving interest in the gospel; whatever sin he tempts you too, his aim is not only to draw you to commit that sin—but to ruin your faith, and so rob you of all good and benefit by Jesus Christ.
This was his design in sifting Peter; and the Lord foresaw this, and therefore tells Peter, "I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not," (Luke 22:32). And it is for this reason that the apostle exhorts us, "Above all, to take the shield of faith, with which we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one," (Ephesians 6:16). Every grace is of use in this combat, but faith is above all. "This is the victory that overcomes the world—even our faith," (1 John 5:4).
Faith has two hands—a receiving hand and a working hand. The receiving hand relieves the working hand. The receiving hand fetches in from Christ. The working hand improves it for Christ. In temptation, the receiving hand fetches its strength with which we conquer. Would we only believe—then Satan could never hurt us; for then in our greatest conflicts, the Lord Christ would help us.
There are eight things we should exercise our faith on, in times of temptation:
1. Believe the great efficacy of the blood and cross of Christ to quench temptations.
2. Believe that you have a saving interest in all the fullness and merits of Christ, and when you are in temptation, say, "Christ is my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," (1 Corinthians 1:30).
3. Believe that when you are in Satan's hands—Satan is then in God's hands.
4. Believe that the promises run with the sweetest streams, when Satan raises the greatest storms.
5. Believe what spiritual assistances there are at hand, to help and encourage us in the combat: the love of God, the grace of Christ, the power of the Spirit. And besides all this, the holy angels guard us by God's commission, (Psalm 4:7), when the wicked angels molest us by God's permission, (Hebrews 1:14).
6. Believe that the Lord Christ has learned to have compassion, by his own trials in the day of his humiliation, (Hebrews 5:8).
7. Believe that while we are conflicting on earth with the tempter—Christ is interceding for us in Heaven with the Father, (Luke 12:32; John 17:15).
8. Believe the glorious recompenses that are appointed for all who overcome when they are tempted; "To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne!" (Revelation 3:21). "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life," (Revelation 2:26; 5:10).
Now then, if I trust much, when I am tempted much; if I turn times of temptation, into times of believing—then I walk wisely in temptation.
And therefore I am done with this season of walking wisely in time of temptation.
May the Lord help us to pray for, and seek after this spiritual wisdom, (James 1:5), that we may be fortified against temptation, and so made, "wise to salvation," (2 Timothy 3:15).
[N.B. The original of this book can be found here: