Wednesday, December 13, 2006

John Owen on the "traitors in our hearts"

I’m still slowly working my way through Overcoming Sin & Temptation, the edited collection of three treatises by John Owen (1616-1683): Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It and Indwelling Sin. This collection is edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, and is published by Crossway Books.

I think, perhaps, Owen’s is the most insightful writing I’ve ever come across on the subject of sin. Right now, I’m in the middle of Of Temptation. Today, while reading, I came across the following passage (on page 171). When I read it, I thought, “I must post this!” I never saw the weakness of my flesh this way before, but it is so very true:

“Let us consider ourselves—what our weakness is…

For ourselves, we are weakness itself. We have no strength, no power to withstand. Confidence of any strength in us is one great part of our weakness; it was so in Peter. He that says he can do anything, can do nothing as he should. And, which is worse, it is the worst kind of weakness that is in us—a weakness from treachery—a weakness arising from that party which every temptation has in us. If a castle or fort be never so strong and well fortified, yet if there be a treacherous party within, that is ready to betray it on every opportunity, there is no preserving it from the enemy. There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close [consummate, bring to a conclusion] and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them; yea, to solicit and bribe temptations to do the work, as traitors incite an enemy. Do not flatter yourselves that you should hold out; there are secret lusts that lie lurking in your hearts, which perhaps now stir not, which, as soon as any temptation befalls you, will rise, tumultuate, cry, disquiet, seduce, and never give over until they are either killed or satisfied. He that promises himself that the frame of his heart will be the same under a temptation as it is before will be woefully mistaken. “Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?” says Hazael [2 Kings 8:13]. Yea, you will be such a dog if ever you be king of Syria; temptation from your interest will unman you. He that now abhors the thoughts of such and such a thing, if he once enters into temptation will find his heart inflamed toward it, and all contrary reasonings overborne and silenced. He will deride his former fears, cast out his scruples, and contemn the consideration that he lived upon. Little did Peter think he should deny and forswear his Master so soon as ever he was questioned whether he knew him or no. It was no better when the hour of temptation came; all resolutions were forgotten, all love to Christ buried; the present temptation closing with his carnal fear carried all before it.”

O my! Did you get that? That, sadly, is so true of me. The line that really struck me was, “There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them.” The enemy is not outside, said Owen, the enemy is in me. Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

Oh, how crucial, then, it is for us to “watch and pray”:

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
If you don't have Overcoming Sin & Temptation, I strongly recommend you buy it and read it. Owen is not easy reading, but it will be well worth the effort.

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