For Your Library | Temptation: Resisted and Repulsed by John Owen
A dozen or so years ago I was handed a copy of Richard Sibbes’ classic book The Bruised Reed, and so I was introduced to the line of books known as “Puritan Paperbacks.” These little books, originally written in the 1600’s but updated and abridged for modern readers, have been an incredible source of encouragement to me since that first copy was placed in my hands. It is from that series of books that I would like to commend to you Temptation: Resisted and Repulsed by John Owen. Originally written in 1658 and abridged in 2007 by Richard Rushing, Temptation is both accessible and helpful; it is both a sobering and encouraging look at the danger of temptation and the means of fighting against it.
A NEEDED WORD
There are none among us who don’t need the lessons gained from reading Temptation. Owen defines temptation as “anything that, for any reason, exerts a force or influence to seduce and draw the mind and heart of man from the obedience which God requires of him to any kind of sin.” Though the sources of temptation vary for each of us, in many ways the remedy is the same. Following the word of Christ to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, Owen would point all of us to watchfulness and prayer. Specifically, we could summarize Owen’s word to us under three headings: Look Around, Look Within, and Look to Jesus.
For many of us, we expect to struggle against sin, but we don’t pay nearly as much attention to the temptation that leads us to that sin. Owen seeks to correct us here: “Let no man then pretend to fear sin that does not fear temptation also. These two are too closely united to be separated. He does not truly hate the fruit who delights in the root.”
Jesus instructed his disciples to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). Watchfulness––an awareness of the world around us, the enemy against us, and the desires within us––is a key component of fighting temptation. “To watch,” Owen writes,“means to be on guard, to take heed, and to consider all the ways and means that the enemy might use to approach us.”
The means that the enemy might use to approach us often come from without, from the world around us. But importantly, they may also come from within, from our own fleshly desires. We don’t only need to be aware of temptation that may come from the world, we also must be aware of the battles from within.
“Men are utter strangers to themselves,” Owen writes. We “put flattering labels” on our faults because we tend to seek to justify the evils of our own hearts instead of “seeking to destroy them,” and so men “hang all their days in the same briers and make no attempt to get free.”
To be freed from fighting the same temptations repeatedly we must know ourselves, know our tendencies, know those things that particularly call our names and enflame our desires, and seek to put them to death within us. Owen rightly instructs us: “You will never conquer the temptation until the lust has been killed.” His work helps us consider this great need, and most importantly, it helps us consider Jesus.
LOOK TO JESUS
Several years ago, around the same time that I first read Sibbes’ book, I also read Jerry Bridges’ book The Gospel for Real Life, in which Bridges encourages his readers to “preach the gospel to yourself daily.” That encouragement, though, is far from modern advice. 350 years before Jerry Bridges, John Owen was giving the same instruction.
The ultimate remedy against temptation is to find life in Christ every day. “He who makes it his business to eat daily of the tree of life will have no appetite for other fruit, even if the tree that bears them seems to stand in the midst of paradise.” As for the work of putting temptation to death, striking it at its very root, Owen instructed: “Gospel provisions will do this work: that is, they will keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative in the world against the power of temptation.”
“Store up in your hearts a sense of the love of God in Christ, the eternal purpose of his grace, the savor of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a taste for the privileges we have through this: our adoption, justification, acceptance with God; fill you hearts with the thoughts of the beauty of holiness, as the effect Christ intended in dying for us; and you will, in the ordinary course of walking with God, have great peace and security caused by temptations.”
THERE’S NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN
Reading a book like John Owen’s Temptation reminds us that there’s nothing new under the sun. We’re not the first generation to bemoan the spiritual condition of the culture in which we live, or to note with regret the apparent fading of spiritual fervor among the people of God.
To Owen’s audience of college students in Oxford, he warned that “an hour of temptation has come upon the world.” He noted the “worldliness, sensuality, loose conversation, neglect of spiritual duties, both private and public, in foolish, loose diabolical opinions, in pride and ambition, envy and wrath, strife and debate, revenge, selfishness, atheism, and contempt of God. … And, alas! How many daily fall under the power of this temptation!”
We may think we’re living in the worst of times, but we’re not the first to feel that way, and if the Lord tarries we won’t be the last. But to each generation, the battle plan for the fight against temptation is the same: look around, look within, and look in faith to Christ. Be watchful and pray. To that end, Owen will be a great help to all of us.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.