In Of Temptation, John Owen’s last direction on how to guard against temptation contains the ultimate antidote against the poison of temptation. Owen said this antidote was one that Christ himself gave preeminence in his address to the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:10. Since Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, then his encouragement to the church in Philadelphia is for us today as well. This enables us to place the burden of resisting temptation upon “him who is able to bear it.” Therefore Owen thought it requires our particular attention.
In Revelation 3:10, Jesus said: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” The Greek word used here for “patient endurance” refers to the state of expectation or patient anticipation of the arrival of someone or something. Coupled with the sense of “observed” for kept, then Jesus is saying something like, “Because you listened to what I said about waiting patiently, I will keep you from the time of temptation that is coming.” First Owen unpacks what it means to “patiently endure;” and then how this perseverance is a means of preserving and establishing us in the faith of Christ’s promise.
This command to patiently endure is the work of the gospel. It means that our call to forbearance is based upon the patience and long-suffering that Christ exercises towards all persons—towards the saints; towards those of His elect not yet effectually called; and towards those of the perishing world. Owen said the individual acquainted with the gospel knows there is no more glorious then his patience.
That he should bear with so many unkindnesses, so many causeless breaches, so many neglects of his love, so many affronts done to his grace, so many violations of engagements as he doth, it manifests his gospel to be not only the word of his grace but also of his patience.
With regard to the elect who are not yet effectually called, “he stands waiting at the door of their hearts and knocks for an entrance” (Revelation 3:20). Often, for a long time he is scorned, persecuted and reviled by them. Yet while he stands at the door, his heart is full of love for their poor rebellious souls. He waits patiently, until “my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night” (Song of Songs, 5:2).
To the perishing world, He “has endured with much patience vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22). While the gospel is preached, Christ endures many harsh words from them. But he lets them pass. He doesn’t strike back. Rather, he does what is good for them. “Nor will he cut this way of proceeding short until the gospel shall be preached no more. Patience must accompany the gospel.”
Implied in keeping this word are three things that will help keep us from the “hour of temptation”: knowledge, valuation and obedience.
The person that would keep this word must know it—be acquainted with it—in a fourfold way. First, they must know it as a word of grace and mercy, able to save them (Roman 1:16; Titus 2:11; James 1:21). “When the word of the gospel is known as a word of mercy, grace, and pardon, as the sole evidence for life, as the conveyance of an eternal inheritance; when the soul finds it such to itself, it will strive to keep it.”
Second, they must know it as a word of holiness and purity, to sanctify them (John 15:3; 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:19). The person who doesn’t know the word of Christ’s patience as a sanctifying, cleansing word and the power of it in their own soul, neither know it or keeps it. “The empty profession of our days knows not one step towards this duty; and thence it is that the most are so overborne under the power of temptations.” They are full of self, of the world, of fury, ambition, and almost all unclean lusts. Yet they yet talk of keeping the word of Christ!
Third, they must know it as a word of liberty and power to set them free. This freedom is not only from the guilt of sin and from wrath, for that it does as a word of peace and mercy. It is not only from the power of sin, for that it does as a word of holiness. Rather, it is freedom from all outward respects of the world that might entangle them or enslave them. It declares us to be “Christ’s freemen,” in bondage to no one (John 8:32; 1 Corinthians 7:23).
There is nothing more unworthy of the gospel than a mind in bondage to persons or things, prostituting itself to the lusts of men or affrightments of the world. And he that thus knows the word of Christ’s patience, really and in power, is even thereby freed from innumerable, from unspeakable temptations.
Fourth, they must know it as a word of consolation, to support them in every condition. “It gives support, relief, refreshment, satisfaction, peace, consolation, joy, boasting, glory, in every condition.”
The second thing implied in keeping this word is seeing its value: “It is to be kept as a treasure.” To value it as your chief treasure means that you “keep the word of Christ’s patience.” The person who wants to have consideration from Christ in a time of temptation must not disregard the things Christ sees as important.
This leads to the third thing in keeping this word: obedience. Personal obedience of all the commands of Christ is keeping his word (John 14:15). It is the life and soul of the duty required. We have arrived then at the apex of this safeguarding duty.
The person who is acquainted with the gospel in its excellencies—its mercy, holiness, liberty and consolation—makes it their business to surrender themselves to it. Then when opposition and apostasy tries the patience of Christ to the utmost, they will be preserved from the hour of temptation. This encompasses all of what has been said before; and it is the only way to guard against temptation. Let no one think they can be kept even one hour from entering into temptation without it. Wherever they fail to surrender to the gospel, temptation asserts itself.
The same promise of preservation given to the church in Philadelphia was given to the sealed servants of God in Revelation 7:3. We should remember that in every such promise there are three things: the faithfulness of the Father, who gives it; the grace of the Son, which is the promise; and the power and efficacy of the Holy Ghost, which accomplishes the promise. The faithfulness of God consists in his discharge of his promises, for he will not reverse himself. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”
The grace of the Son is in every promise of the covenant, so that when the hour of temptation comes, the soul that has a right to the promise shall enjoy it. The Spirit is called “the Spirit of promise” not only because he is promised by Christ, but also because he effectually makes good the promise. “He also, then is engaged to preserve the soul walking according to the rule laid down.”
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, Ps. 25:21, “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me.” This integrity and uprightness is the Old Testament-keeping the word of Christ,—universal close walking with God. Now, how can they preserve a man? Why, by keeping his heart in such a frame, so defended on every side that no evil can approach or take hold on him. Fail a man in his integrity, he hath an open place for temptation to enter, Isa. 57:21. To keep the word of Christ is to do it universally, as hath been showed.
Owen has more to say in elaborating on the promise of Christ to keep us from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world (Revelation 3:10). But we will stop here. If you want to read his original work, here is a link to Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a trilogy of three by Owen: “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers;” “Of Temptation;” and “Indwelling Sin.”