DEVICE 7: BY MAKING YOUR SOUL BOLD TO RISK THE CHANCE OF SIN
Satan says, You can walk by the prostitute’s door but you won’t go into the prostitute’s bed; you can sit and drink with the drunkard, but you won’t get drunk with the drunkard; you can look at Jezebel’s beauty, and you can flirt and tease with Delilah, but you will not commit sin with the one or the other; Like Achan you can touch the bar of gold, but you will not steal the bar of gold.
Remedy (1). The first remedy is, soberly meditate on those scriptures which specifically command us to avoid the chance of sin, and the least appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22): ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil.’ Whatever is doubtful, unsound and distasteful, shun it, as you would a snake in your way, or poison in your food. Epiphanius says that in the old law, when any dead body was carried by any house, they were commanded to shut their doors and windows. Theodosius tore the Arian’s arguments presented to him in writing, because he found them contradictory to the Scriptures. Augustine retracted even ironies, because they had the appearance of lying.
When God had commanded the Jews to abstain from pig’s flesh, they would not even mention the word—but in their common talk would call a sow another thing. To abstain from all appearance of evil, is to do nothing where sin appears, or which has a shadow of sin. Bernard ‘Abstained from whatever is of evil show, or of ill report, so that he would neither wound conscience nor reputation.’ We must shun and be shy of the very presence and shadow of sin, if we have any concern about our reputation in the world or at home.
It was good counsel that Livia gave her husband Augustus: ‘It benefits you not only not to do wrong—but not to seem to do so.’ So Jude 23, ‘And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.’ It is a phrase taken from legal uncleanness, which was contracted by touching the houses, the vessels, the garments, of unclean people. Under the law, men where not to touch a menstruous cloth, nor would God accept a blemished peace-offering. So we must not only hate and avoid gross sins—but everything that may carry a odor or suspicion of sin; we must abhor the very signs and expressions of sin. So in Prov. 5:8, ‘Remove your way far from her, and do not come near the door of her house.’ In order not to be burnt, you have to dread the fire; If you don’t want to make the bell ring, you must not play with the rope. There is a story of two young men that threw away their belts, when they where in an idol’s temple, the idol cleansing water got on them. Detesting the garment spotted by the flesh, One of them said, every time I have been among worldly men, I returned home less a man than I was before.
To take a chance being around sin, and then to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ is the same as shoving your finger into the fire, and then to praying that it won’t be burnt. So, in Prov. 4:14, 15, you have another command: ‘Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.’ This triple nuance of Solomon shows with a great emphasis, how necessary it is for men to flee from all appearance of sin, as the seaman avoids rocks and sand bars; and as men shun those who have the plague-sores all over them. Just ass weeds endanger the corn, as an infection endangers the blood, or as an infected house endanger the neighborhood; so the company of the wicked endanger the godly. Friendship with wicked friends is one of the strongest chains of hell, and binds us to a participation in both their sin and their punishment.
Remedy (2). The second remedy against this device of Satan is to seriously consider, That ordinarily there is no victory over sin, without the soul turning from the chance of sin. It is impossible for that man to have victory over sin—who plays and sports with the chance of sin. God will not remove the temptation to sin, except you turn away form the chance of sin. With God it is just and righteous, that whoever dances on the edge of the pit should fall into it, and whoever will not turn away from the chance of sin will be a slave to it. As long as there is fuel in our hearts for a temptation, we cannot be secure. Whoever has gunpowder in their pocket cannot stay far enough away from a spark. To rush into a situation of sin is both to tempt ourselves, and to tempt Satan to tempt our souls! It is very rare that any soul that plays with sinful situations is not ensnared by that sin!
The fable says, that the butterfly asked the owl how she should deal with the fire which had singed her wings. He told her not even to look at its smoke.
It is seldom that God keeps that soul from acts of sin, who will not keep off from occasions of sin. You might as well go near occasions of sin, is as try to put out a fire with gasoline. Oh, souls, remember how often you have been overcome by sin when you have boldly gone upon the occasions of sin! Look back, souls, to the days of your pride, where you have been as easily conquered when tempted, triumphed over when assaulted—when you have played with the occasions of sin. If you want to be kept from sinning in the future and be made victorious over sin, oh! flee from the occasions of sin!
Remedy (3). The third remedy against this device of Satan is, seriously to consider, That other precious saints, who were once glorious on earth, and are now triumphing in heaven, have turned from the opportunities of sin, as hell itself; as you may see in Joseph (Gen. 39:10), ‘And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.’ Joseph was famous for all the four cardinal virtues, if anyone ever was. In this one temptation you can see his fortitude, justice, temperance, and prudence, in that he shuns the situation: for he would not even be in her presence. It is a true test of a man when he is in a temptation that is an opening to give in to corruption. The Nazarite was not only not drink wine—but not even taste a grape, or the skin of a grape. The leper was to shave his hair, and cut back his nails. The devil knows that corrupt nature has a seed-plot for all sin, which being drawn out and prepared by some sinful occasion, will quickly produce death and destruction. God will not remove the temptation, until we remove the occasion to temptation. A bird is safe flying up in the sky—but when she comes not near the snare, she is in danger. The shunning the occasions of sin puts a man in the company of the godliest of men. A soul overcome by grace does not dare to come near temptation. So Job 31:1, ‘“I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?’ I set an alarm at the entrance of my senses, so that my soul might not be infected or endangered by them. The eye is the window of the soul, and if it is always open, your soul will pay for it. If a man cannot love something entirely he should not look intently upon it. The disciples were breathless, when they looked at the beauty of the temple. It is best and safest to have the eye always fixed upon the highest and noblest objects: as the mariner’s eye is fixed upon the star, when their hand is on the stern. So David, when he was himself, he shuns the occasion of sin (Psalm 26:4, 5): ‘I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.’
Stories speak of some who could not sleep when they thought of the trophies of other worthies that went before them. The highest and choicest examples are to some, and should be to all, very challenging and provoking; and oh that the examples of those worthy saints, David, Joseph, and Job, might prevail with all your souls to shun and avoid the occasions of sin! Everyone should strive to be like them in grace, who desire to be equal with them in glory. Whoever shoots at the sun, even though he falls short, will shoot higher than he who aims at a shrub. It is best, and it speaks out much of Christ within, to eye the highest and the worthiest examples.
Remedy (4). The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That the avoiding the occasions of sin, is an evidence of grace, and that which lifts up a man above most other men in the world. True strength of grace is best displayed when one is tempted with a sinful occasion; when with Lot, a man can be unblemished in Sodom, and with Timothy can live temperate in Asia, among the luxurious Ephesians; and with Job can walk uprightly in the land of Uz, where the people were profane in their lives, and superstitious in their worship; and with Daniel can be holy in Babylon; and with Abraham, righteous in Chaldea; and with Nehemiah, zealous in Damascus, etc.
Many are more full of corruption than they show because they don’t have the opportunity for sin—but true godliness is seen when a man is tempted by occasions to sin and will not be bad. A Christless soul is so far from refusing occasions to sin, when they come his way, he looks and longs after them, and rather than go without them he will buy them, not only with love or money—but also with the loss of his soul! Nothing but grace can fence a man against the occasions of sin, when he is strongly tempted. Therefore, as you would cherish a precious evidence in your own life of the truth and strength of your graces, shun all sinful occasions.
Plutarch says of Demosthenes, that he was excellent at praising the worthy acts of his ancestors—but not at imitating them. Oh that this were not applicable to many who profess to be Chrstians in our times!