Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man:…
Next to the belief of a God, and His providence, there is nothing more fundamentally necessary to the practice of a good life than the belief of these two principles. First, that God is not the author of sin, that He is in no way accessary to our faults, either by tempting or forcing us to the commission of them. For if He were, they would not properly be sins, for sin is a contradiction to the will of God; but supposing men to be either tempted or necessitated thereto, that which we call sin would either be a mere passive obedience to the will of God, or an active compliance with it, but neither way a contradiction to it. Nor could these actions be justly punished; for all punishment supposeth a fault, and a fault supposeth liberty and freedom from force and necessity; so that no man can be justly punished for that which he cannot help, and no man can help that which he is necessitated to. And though there were no force in the case, but only temptation, yet it would be unreasonable for the same person to tempt and punish. Secondly, that every man's fault lies at his own door, and he has reason enough to blame himself for all the evil that he does. And this is that which makes men properly guilty, that when they have done amiss, they are conscious to themselves it was their own act.
I. THAT GOD DOTH NOT TEMPT ANY MAN TO SIN.
1. The proposition which the apostle here rejects, and that is, that God tempts men, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God." Now, that we may the more distinctly understand the meaning of the proposition, which the apostle here rejects, it will be very requisite to consider what temptation is, and the several sorts and kinds of it. Temptation does always imply something of danger. And men are thus tempted, either from themselves, or by others; by others, chiefly these two ways. First, By direct and downright persuasion to sin. And to be sure God tempts no man this way. He offers no arguments to man to persuade him to sin; He nowhere proposeth either reward or impunity to sinners; but, on the contrary, gives all imaginable encouragement to obedience, and threatens the transgression of His law with most dreadful punishments. Secondly, men are likewise tempted, by being brought into such circumstances, as will greatly endanger their falling into sin, though none persuade them to it. The allurements of the world are strong temptations; riches, honours, and pleasures are the occasions and incentives to many lusts. And, on the other hand, the evils and calamities of this world, especially if they threaten or fall upon men in any degree of extremity, are strong temptations to human nature. That the providence of God does order, or at least permit, men to be brought into these circumstances which are such dangerous temptations to sin, no man can doubt, that believes His providence to be concerned in the affairs of the world. All the difficulty is, how far the apostle does here intend to exempt God from a hand in these temptations. Now, for the clearer understanding of this it will be requsiite to consider the several ends which those who tempt others may have in tempting them; and all temptation is for one of these three reasons. First, for the exercise and improvement of men's graces and virtues. And this is the end which God always aims at, in bringing good men, or permitting them to be brought, into dangerous temptations. And this certainly is no disparagement to the providence of God, to permit men to be thus tempted, when He permits it for no other end but to make them better men, and thereby to prepare them for a greater reward. And this happy issue of temptations to good men the providence of God secures to them either by proportioning the temptation to their strength; or. if it exceed that, by ministering new strength and support to them, by the secret aids of His Holy Spirit. And where God doth secure men against temptations, or support them under them, it is no reflection at all upon the goodness or justice of His providence to permit them to be thus tempted. Secondly, God permits others to be thus tempted, by way of judgement and punishment, for some former great sins and provocations which they have been guilty of (Isaiah 6:10). So likewise (Romans 1:24) God is said to have given up the idolatrous heathen "to uncleanness, to vile and unnatural lusts" (Romans 28; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). But it is observable, that, in all these places which I have mentioned, God is said to give men up to the power of temptation, as a punishment of some former great crimes and provocations. And it is not unjust with God thus to deal with men, to leave them to the power of temptation, when they had first wilfully forsaken Him; and in this case God doth not tempt men to sin, but leaves them to themselves, to be tempted by their own hearts' lusts; and if they yield and are conquered, it is their own fault. Thirdly, the last end of temptation which I mentioned is to try men, with a direct purpose and intention to seduce men to sin. Thus wicked men tempt others, and thus the devil tempts men. But thus God tempts no man; and in this sense it is that the apostle means that "no man when he is tempted, is tempted of God." God hath no design to seduce any man to sin.
2. I now proceed to the second thing which I propounded to consider, viz., the manner in which the apostle rejects this proposition, "Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God." By which manner of speaking he insinuates two things. First, that men are apt to lay their faults upon God. For when he says, "Let no man say" so, he intimates that men were apt to say thus. It is not unlikely that men might lay the fault upon God's providence, which exposed them to these difficult trials, and thereby tempted them to forsake their religion. But however this be, we find it very natural to men to transfer their faults upon others. They think it is a mitigation of their faults, if they did not proceed only from themselves, but from the violence and instigation of others. But, especially, men are very glad to lay their faults upon God, because He is a full and sufficient excuse, nothing being to be blamed that comes from Him. Secondly, this manner of speech, which the apostle here useth, doth insinuate further to us, that it is not only a false, but an impious assertion, to say that God tempts men to sin.
3. Third thing I propounded to consider; namely, The reason or argument which the apostle brings against this impious suggestion; that "God cannot be tempted with evil"; and therefore no man can imagine that He should tempt any man to it.First, consider the strength and force of this argument: and — First, we will consider the proposition upon which this argument is built, and that in, that "God cannot be tempted by evil." He is out of the reach of any temptation to evil. For, first, He hath no temptation to it from His own inclination. The holy and pure nature of God is at the greatest distance from evil, and at the greatest contrariety to it. He is so far from having any inclination to evil, that it is the only thing in the world to which He hath an irreconcilable antipathy (Psalm 5:4; Habakkuk 1:13). Secondly, there is no allurement in the object to stir up any inclination to Him towards it. Thirdly, neither are there external motives and considerations that can be imagined to tempt God to it. All arguments that have any temptation are founded either in the hope of gaining some benefit, or in the fear of falling into some mischief or inconvenience. Now the Divine nature, being perfectly happy, and perfectly secured in its own happiness, is out of the reach of any of these temptations.
2. Consider the consequences that clearly follow from it, that because God cannot be tempted with evil, therefore He cannot tempt any man to it. For why should He desire to draw men into that which He Himself abhors, and which is so contrary to His own nature and disposition? Bad men tempt others to sin, to make them like themselves, and that with one of these two designs; either for the comfort or pleasure of company, or for the countenance of it, that there may be some kind of apology and excuse for them. And when the devil tempts men to sin, it is either out of direct malice to God, or out of envy to men. But the Divine nature is full of goodness, and delights in the happiness of all His creatures. His own incomparable felicity has placed Him as much above any temptation to envying others as above any occasion of being contemned by them. Now, in this method of arguing, the apostle teacheth us one of the surest ways of reasoning in religion; namely, from the natural notions which men have of God. Inferences: First, let us beware of all such doctrines as do any ways tend to make God the author of sin; either by laying a necessity upon men of sinning, or by laying secret design to tempt and seduce men to sin. We find that the holy men in Scripture are very careful to remove all thought and suspicion of this from God. Elihu (Job 36:3), before he would argue about God's providence with Job, he resolves, in the first place, to attribute nothing to God that is unworthy of Him. "I will (says he) ascribe righteousness to my Maker." So likewise St. Paul "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid" (Romans 7:7). "Is the law sin?" that is, hath God given men a law to this end, that He might draw them into sin? Far be it from Him. "Is Christ the minister of sin? God forbid" (Galatians 2:17). Secondly, let not us tempt any man to sin. All piety pretends to be an imitation of God; therefore let us endeavour to be like Him in this. Thirdly, since God tempts no man, let us not tempt Him. There is frequent mention in Scripture of men's tempting God, i.e., trying Him, as it were, whether He will do anything for their sakes that is misbecoming His goodness, and wisdom, and faithfulness, or any other of His perfections. Thus the Israelites are said to have "tempted God in the wilderness forty years together," and, in that space, more remarkably ten times. So likewise if we be negligent in our callings, whereby we should provide for our families, if we lavish away that which we should lay up for them, and then depend upon the providence of God to supply them, and take, care of them, we tempt God to that which is unworthy of Him; which is to give approbation to our folly, and countenance our sloth and carelessness.
II. THAT EVERY MAN IS HIS OWN GREATEST TEMPTER. "BUut every man is tempted, when he is drawn aside of his own lust, and enticed." In which words the apostle gives us a true account of the prevalency of temptation upon men. It is not because God has any design to ensnare men in sin; but their own vicious inclinations seduce them to that which is evil. To instance in the particular temptations the apostle was speaking of, persecution and suffering for the cause of religion, to avoid which many did then forsake the truth, and apostatise from their Christian profession. They had an inordinate affection for the ease and pleasure of this life, and their unwillingness to part with these was a great temptation to them to quit their religion; by this bait they were caught, when it came to the trial. And thus it is proportionably in all other sorts of temptations. Men are betrayed by themselves. First, that as the apostle doth here acquit God from any hand in tempting men to sin, so he does not ascribe the prevalency and efficacy of temptation to the devil. I shall here consider how far the devil by his temptations is the cause of the sins which men, by compliance with those temptations, are drawn into. First, it is certain that the devil is very active and busy to minister to them the occasion of sin, and temptations to it. Secondly, the devil does not only present to men the temptations and occasions of sin; but when he is permitted to make nearer approaches to them, does excite and stir them up to comply with these temptations, and to yield to them. And there is reason, from what is said in Scripture, to believe that the devil, in some cases, hath a more immediate power and influence upon the minds of men, to excite them to sin, and, where he discovers a very bad inclination or resolution, to help it forward (John 13:27; Acts 5:3). Thirdly, but for all this the devil can force no man to sin; his temptations may move and excite men to sin, but that they were prevalent and effectual proceeds from our own will and consent; it is our own lusts closing with his temptations that produce sin. Fourthly, from what hath been said it appears that though the devil be frequently accessary to the sins of men, yet we ourselves are the authors of them; he tempts us many times to sin, but it is we that commit it. I am far from thinking that the devil tempts men to all the evil that they do. I rather think that the greatest part of the wickedness that is committed in the world springs from the evil motions of men's own minds. Men's own lusts are generally to them the worst devil of the two, and do more strongly incline them to sin than any devil without them can tempt them to it. Others, after he has made them sure, and put them into the way of it, will go on of themselves, and are as mad of sinning, as forward to destroy themselves, as the devil himself could wish; so that he can hardly tempt men to any wickedness which he does not find them inclined to of themselves. So that we may reasonably conclude that there is a great deal of wickedness committed in the world which the devil hath no immediate hand in. Second observation, that he ascribes the efficacy and success of temptation to the lusts and vicious inclinations of men, which seduce them to a consent and compliance with the temptations which are afforded to them. "Every man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lust, and enticed." Lay the blame of men's sins chiefly upon themselves, and that chiefly upon these two accounts: First, the lusts of men are in a great measure voluntary. By the lusts of men I mean their irregular and vicious inclinations. Nay, and after this it is still our own fault if we do not mortify our lusts; for if we would hearken to-the counsel of God, and obey His calls to repentance, and sincerely beg His grace and Holy Spirit to this purpose, we might yet recover ourselves, and "by the Spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh." Secondly, God hath put it in our power to resist these temptations, and overcome them; so that it is our own fault if we yield to them, and be overcome by them. First, it is naturally in our power to resist many sorts of temptations. If we do but make use of our natural reason, and those considerations which are common and obvious to men, we may easily resist the temptations to a great many sins. Secondly, the grace of God puts it into our power, if we do not neglect it, and be not wanting to ourselves, to resist any temptation that may happen to us; and what the grace of God puts into our power, is as truly in our power as what we can do ourselves. Learn: First, not to think to excuse ourselves by laying the blame of our sins upon the temptation of the devil. Secondly, from hence we learn what reason we have to pray to God, that He would "not lead us into temptation," i.e., not permit us to fall into it; for, in the phrase of the Scripture, God is many times said to do these things which His providence permits to be done. Thirdly, from hence we may learn the best way to disarm temptations, and to take away the power of them; and that is by mortifying our lusts and subduing our vicious inclinations.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: