Principles of temptation

Daily Reading for March 16

The first great principle of temptation I shall note, is a general mistake, which excuses very many of our crimes upon pretence of infirmity, calling all those sins to which by natural disposition we are inclined (though by carelessness and evil customs they are heightened to a habit) by the name of sins of infirmity; to which men suppose they have reason and title to pretend. If, when they have committed a crime, their conscience checks them and they are troubled, and, during the interval and abatement of the heats of desire, resolve against it, and commit it readily at the next opportunity; then they cry out against the weakness of their nature, and think, as long as this body of death is about them, it must be thus, and that this condition may stand with the state of grace. . . .

Another principle of temptation pregnant with sin, and fruitful of monsters, is a weaker pretence, which less wary and credulous persons abuse themselves withal, pretending as a ground for their confidence and incorrigible pursuance of their courses, that they have a good meaning, that they intend sometimes well, and sometimes not ill, and this shall be sufficient to sanctify their actions, and to hallow their sin. And this is of worse malice, when religion is the colour for a war, and the preservation of faith made the warrant for destruction of charity, and a zeal for God made the false light to lead us to disobedience to man, and hatred of idolatry is the usher of sacrilege, and the defiance of superstition the introducer of profaneness, and reformation made the colour for a schism, and liberty of conscience the way to a bold and saucy heresy; for the end may indeed hallow an indifferent action, but can never make straight a crooked and irregular. . . . For we are the makers of our religion, if we in our zeal for God do what he hath forbidden us. And every sin committed for religion is just such a violence done to it as it seeks to prevent or remedy. . . .

A third principle of temptation is an opinion of prosecuting actions of civility, compliance, and society, to the luxation of a point of piety and stricter duty; and good natures, persons of humane and sweeter dispositions, are too apt to dash upon this rock of offence. But the evil that I would note is, that there are some conditions of men to whom a vice is so accustomed, that he that mingles with them must handle the crime and touch the venom. There are some vices which are national, there are some that are points of honour, some are civilities of entertainment; and they are therefore accounted unavoidable, because the understandings of men are degenerous as their manners, and it is accounted sottish and fantastical not to communicate in their accustomed looseness. . . . To which purposes we must be careful not to engage too freely in looser company, never without business or unavoidable accidents; and when we mingle in affairs, it will concern our safety to watch, lest multitude of talk, goodness, and facility of nature, the delight of company, and the freedom and ill-customed civilities do by degrees draw us away from our guards and retirement of spirit. For in these cases every degree of dissolution disarms us of our strengths: and if we give way so far as we think it tolerable, we instantly and undiscernibly pass into unlawful and criminal. . . . But in all the instances of this great evil, the very stating the question right is above half the victory. For it is a question between mistaken civility and certain duty; piety on one side, and the disguises of humanity on the other. God and man are the parties interested: and to counterpoise the influence of the sight and face of man, there are all the excellencies of God, the effects of his power, his certain presence and omniscience, the severities of his judgment, and the sweetness and invitation of his mercies.

From Discourse V, “On Temptations,” in The Great Exemplar, or The Life of our Ever-blessed Saviour Jesus Christ by Jeremy Taylor, Volume 1 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1859).

Past Posts