I will call your attention to a number of particulars, in which a somewhat comprehensive, and yet summary view, shall be given of the subject of temptation, which is one of great practical importance.
1. We are always to avoid temptation as much as we can, without neglecting, refusing, or deserting our duty. Whoever rushes carelessly, or unnecessarily into temptation, has no reason to expect that he will escape without injury; far less can he reasonably hope to avoid even gross sin, if, as it has sometimes been expressed, "he tempts the devil to tempt him;" that is, seeks for scenes or objects of temptation, to gratify an unhallowed curiosity, or rather, (as I suspect in such a case is always the fact) is prompted by the desire of indulging, mentally at least, in the sin to which he knows he will be allured. In a word, we are never voluntarily, and of choice, to expose ourselves to any temptation, but on the contrary, to avoid it by all proper precautions. Hence we ought not to think it an extreme, if admonished carefully to consider our constitutional make, to know what are the transgressions to which we are most prone, that we may with peculiar vigilance guard against provocatives to easily besetting sins. This is a consideration that should have influence on youth, in choosing a trade or profession, and even on those who are thinking of offering themselves as missionaries, when they examine into their qualifications for the under taking they contemplate. The inquiry should be, will not the course of life on which I think of entering, expose me to temptations, to a compliance with which I am, from constitutional make, or some other cause, peculiarly prone. But on the other hand, when ever in the providence of God, without our seeking, and contrary to our choice, "we fall into temptation," and plain and important duty requires us to meet it, we ought to look to God for special aid, and go for ward with determined resolution.
2. It ought to be habitually impressed on our minds, that we are not sufficient of ourselves to resist any temptation. It has been justly observed, that the foul transgressions of eminent saints, of which we read in sacred story, took place by the commission of sins to which we should suppose they, of all men, were the least exposed — as Moses, the meekest of men, sinned by intemperate anger; Abraham, the father of the faithful, by a distrust of the providence of God; and so of several others. The truth is, that as through Christ strengthening them, his people can do all things, so without him they can do nothing. Hence they are taught, in all things to distrust themselves; and to be sensible of their insufficiency, without divine aid, for any good work, or for the avoidance even of enormous sins; and to look constantly to him to uphold and guard them — thus showing, that "when they are weak, then they are strong" — strong, not in themselves but in the grace which is in Christ Jesus.
3. In connexion with what has just been said, it is proper to notice what has been called tempting God. "Men tempt God, when they unseasonably and irreverently require proofs of his presence, power, and goodness; when they expose themselves to danger from which they cannot escape, without the miraculous interposition of his providence; and when they sin with such boldness as if they wanted to try whether God could, or would, know and punish them." (Brown's Dictionary, under the word tempt.) Good men may commit this sin by expecting extraordinary interpositions in their favour, beyond what God in his word has authorized them to expect. But none except the most impious and abandoned, can do that which is last mentioned by the author I have quoted.
4. It is of importance to remember, that when a temptation solicits or assaults, if we would have any rational prospect of withstanding it ultimately, it must be resisted at once, and with the most decisive resolution and effort. Indeed, all dallying with temptation, as I have elsewhere shown, is sinful in itself ; and it may provoke God to withhold, or withdraw that gracious influence, without which we are sure to fall. Let a temptation, whether it be alluring or terrifying, get possession of the fancy and the feelings, and its full prevalence is all but certain. On this point, let me recommend to your review and careful attention, what I have said in my fifteenth lecture, on the temptation by which our first mother was fatally seduced.
5. The sources of temptation are the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world proves a source of temptation both from the good and the evil which we may meet with, in our progress through it. The profits, pleasures, and emoluments of the world, often prove a snare and the occasion of sin. Hence we should pray with the Psalmist, that God would " incline our hearts unto his testimonies, and not unto covetousness,". and that he would dispose and enable us, agreeably to the apostolical injunction, " to set our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth." The dismaying evils of the world which may prove temptations, are the outward troubles and afflictions which we meet with in it — poverty, persecution, the death of friends and relatives, loss of reputation, and sometimes of life itself. " In the world," said our Saviour, "ye shall have tribulation." When we are exercised with temptations of this description, we should think much of what Christ our Saviour endured for us, and how little, in the comparison, we are called to suffer for our fidelity to him; and we should pray that our outward afflictions may be "for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness," and that we may neither "despise the chastening of tha Lord, nor faint when we are rebuked of him."
Ashbel Green, Lecture 76, Lectures on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Volume 2