Whilst it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a long or a short time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we “enter into temptation.” (John Owen)
John Owen published Temptation in 1658 to address the nature of temptation, what it means to enter into temptation, and how to prevent it. A previous article: “Lead Us Through Temptation,” looked at the nature of temptation. Here we begin to look at what it means to enter into temptation. Owen built each of these three facets of his work around the caution given by Jesus to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
Entering into temptation is not simply being tempted, according to Owen. We cannot expect to avoid temptation. “Whilst Satan continues in his power and malice, whilst the world and lust are in being, we shall be tempted.” However, the Lord’s Prayer pleads that we be not led into temptation. So then it is possible that we could be tempted, but not actually enter into temptation.
Then it must be something more than the ordinary, daily business of being tempted by our lusts. Perhaps it is something to do with the seduction or allurement of sin. Entering into temptation is analogous to a man falling into a pit from which he does not see how he can escape. But the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation (2 Peter 2:9).
When we entertain a temptation, we enter into temptation. But entering into temptation is not the same as being conquered by it. A person may enter into temptation, yet not fall under temptation. God can make a way for the individual to escape. She can break through the snare, and be more than a conqueror—even though she entered into temptation. Remember that Christ himself entered into temptation, but was not stymied by it.
When we enter into temptation, there is usually some special action or occasion by which Satan tempts us. Something beyond his ordinary allurements and seductions. It provokes some greater tumult, a more profound corruption than normal. Our hearts become so entangled with this desire, that we debate whether or not to act on it. And therefore we are not “wholly able to eject or cast out the poison and leaven that hath been injected.”
The entanglement continues, usually to be manifested in one of two ways. First, for reasons known only to himself, God permits Satan to have some particular advantage over the person. Second, the individual’s own lusts and corruptions encounter objects and occasions that are especially provoking. The conditions and circumstances of the person’s life appear to have been almost orchestrated to manifest the opportunity for temptation.
This state of affairs is properly called the “hour of temptation.” It is the time or season in which everything comes to a head—when we have truly entered into temptation. “Every great and pressing temptation hath its hour, a season wherein it grows to a head, wherein it is most vigorous, active, operative, and prevalent.” It may take a long time to rise up. But there is a time when, from the confluence of outward and inward circumstances, it manifests itself fully and completely.
That very temptation, which at one time had little or no power and was easily resisted, now bears the person away quite like a rushing torrent. Either it has gained new strength from other circumstances, or the person has been weakened somehow. David likely had prior temptations to adultery and murder, like in the case of Nabal; but his hour of temptation had not come. So stay alert for the hour, for who is not tempted?
There will be a time when the cravings of temptation will be more urgent; their justifications more plausible; their facades more glorious; their opportunities more available; their entranceways seemingly more beautiful than ever before. Blessed is the person who is prepared for such a time for there is no escaping it. “If we stay here we are safe.” Here is how we may know that any temptation had reached its high noon and is in its hour.
First, it solicits frequent and persistent thoughts of the evil it seeks to be manifested. At first, the soul in indignation will be offended at the thoughts. But by entertaining the thoughts, the soul grows familiar with it. Instead of being startled as before, it may say, “Is it not a little one?” Then the temptation is approaching its high noon. Lust has been enticed and entangled and is ready to conceive (James 1:15).
Second, when the temptation is known to have prevailed against others, the soul is not filled with dislike and abhorrence of them and their ways. There is no pity or prayer for the other person’s deliverance. And when a temptation has been able to bring low anyone who had previously been able to prevail against it, surely its hour grows closer. “Its prevailing with others is a means to give it its hour against us.”
Third, it will complicate the situation by insinuating itself with many considerations that are not in themselves clearly evil. So it was with the Galatians and their fall from the purity of the gospel. They sought freedom from persecution as well as union and approval with the Jews. Things that were in themselves good were pleaded for, but gave life to the temptation itself.
Fourth, when its hour approaches, a temptation is restless and urgent. “It is the time of battle, and it gives the soul no rest.” Satan sees that it is now or never. So he musters his forces—the opportunities, pleas and pretences for sin. Some ground has already been taken by previous efforts. If he can do nothing now, all is lost.
Fifth, when fears and allurements are joined together, “temptation is in its hour.” People sometimes are carried into sin by their love of it; and continue in it out of fear for what will come of 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 is what it means to “enter into temptation.” And there are two means by which we are to prevent it: Watch and Pray. The first is a general expression to be on our guard; to consider all the ways and means by which an enemy could approach us (1 Corinthians 16:13).
A universal carefulness concernment and diligence, exercising itself in and by all ways and means prescribed by God, over our hearts and ways, the baits and methods of Satan, the occasions and advantages of sin in the world, that we be not entangled, is that which in this word is pressed on us.
Of prayer, Owen said he did not need to speak of it. He felt the duty of prayer was known to all. Together with being on guard, “these two comprise the whole endeavour of faith for the soul’s preservation from temptation.”
There are many areas of temptation to which John Owen’s advice can apply. But as I read this chapter, I was struck by its uncanny applicability to individuals who struggle against addiction. Lord, may they watch and pray so that they do not enter into temptation. A digital copy of Owen’s work, Of Temptation, is available here.