Several years ago, I was helped by a friend when I asked him for something to read that would assist me in my fight against temptations in my life. He commended John Owen’s work, “Watching against temptation,” which I purchased as vol. 6 in his Collected Works, published by the Banner of Truth.
I came across it in my preparations for a sermon I preached on Sunday, the topic was “repentance.” And if there’s any remedy against temptation, it is repentance, which when done appropriately, has a fine dispelling power against all the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
For your encouragement, I’m posting a short excerpt from Owen’s essay here. I hope it helps you as it did me: as a reminder that we’re not in this business of following Christ for fun; it is a war, and it calls forth our whole beings and our best efforts.
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 to 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.
A few observations on this excerpt.
Owen calls the condition of “freedom from the power of temptation” a safeguarding duty. That is, enjoying freedom from temptation is a work or an effort we must engage in; we can’t expect this kind of freedom to happen on its own.
The first layer of protection from temptation is a “due acquaintance of the Gospel in its excellencies.” How many people, myself included, find ourselves struggling with temptations when we haven’t stopped to consider the excellencies of the Gospel. And how many feel far from God who have perhaps never been shown or taught the excellencies of the Gospel.
Owen defines the excellencies of the gospel briefly: as “a word of mercy, holiness, liberty, and consolation…” Those four elements are an excellent quadrilateral of what it means to value and esteem and love and cherish and prize the Gospel. Because it is not one of them, but all four of them taken together; and each one of those terms can be a lens on the other four, such is the complexity of the grandeur of our Lord.
Owen says it is the business of our lives to give ourselves to universally obey this Gospel. So many times Christians like myself fail to live out the Gospel, or fail to honor God in some special area of temptation because we have not considered the fact that we are required by God to give ourselves to universal obedience. Paul says as much, but we quickly forget: “Offer yourselves as living sacrifices to God…” (Romans 12)
Owen recognizes that there are special seasons of difficulty when “opposition and apostasy put the patience of Christ to the utmost” test: in such seasons we have need for all that has been already mentioned in order to “stand firm in the faith.” (See Ephesians 6 for a good summary of this kind of spiritual battle.) In this regard, the saying is true: a crisis reveals a man, rather than making a man.
May God have mercy on His people, to protect them from all kinds of temptation.