“Watch and pray, that you enter not into
~ Matt 26:41
The entering into temptation is a different thing from temptation itself. “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.” A temptation presents itself, draws near to us, or we draw near to it. If conscience sounds an alarm, and we keep, so to speak, to the windward of temptation, we are for the present safe. Temptation is a lee shore on which the wind fiercely blows; it is a coast strewed with a thousand wrecks, and with the bleached bones of innumerable drowned mariners. Keep the ship’s head to windward, and she may weather the point; neglect sail and helm, and she will go ashore.
David and Joseph were exposed to a similar temptation. David entered into it, and fell; Joseph was kept from entering into it, and stood. In the country you often see a footpath across a field; if we keep in it we are safe. But we may be tempted by various objects to diverge a little, to gather a flower, or saunter upon the banks of the river, or make a shortcut across the fields. While we are in the footpath, temptation may be very near, but we have not yet entered into it; we are upon the borders of it, but we have not yet entered into its territory. Few, if any, enter into temptation without falling by it. The FLY hovers round the spider’s web; to touch it is to enter into it. The BIRD flies around the fowler’s snare; to peck at the bait is to enter the trap. The MOTH flutters round the candle; to enter the flame is to burn its wings.
The Lord’s words were not, “watch and pray against temptation,” but “that you enter not into temptation.” Few come out of temptation as they entered into it. How clearly James has described the difference between enduring temptation and falling by temptation. He does not say, “Blessed is the man who is free from temptation,” but “who endures temptation.” Blessed is the man who is kept in the footpath, who sees temptation on every side, but endures it, is not drawn out of the path by it, for “when he is tried, he shall receive a crown of life.” He has fought the good fight, won the battle, and shall receive the crown.
But he adds, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God.” He must not say that the Lord presents temptation to him, and is therefore chargeable with it if he falls. “No,” says James, “let that thought be abhorred. God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” There is no sin in temptation, for the Lord Jesus was “tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” Nor in lust is there practical, though there is speculative sin. It is when the two meet and embrace, and the will consents to the union, silencing the voice of God and conscience, that sin is produced.
And thirdly, follows the fearful and fatal fruit, “Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death;” that is, as I understand it, death in the conscience, guilt, condemnation, and misery, and the deadening of all the fruits and graces of the blessed Spirit.