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The Discipline of Watching

A wealthy woman wanted to hire a chauffeur. As each applicant came to be interviewed, she had him drive her along a narrow, winding mountain road with a precipice on one side. All of the drivers, in an effort to impress her with their driving skills, drove as close to the edge of the precipice as they dared. Finally one applicant drove differently. He kept as far away from the edge as he could. The widow hired that man. She did not want a daring, albeit highly skilled, driver. She wanted one who would drive as safely as he could.

That story may well be apocryphal, but it helpfully illustrates an important principle in the Christian life: spiritual watchfulness. Jerry Bridges uses this story to say that in the area of Christian liberty—those many activities where the Bible does not give us specific guidance—many Christians operate by “how daring can I be” or “How close can I get to the cliff” rather than by “How safe can I be.” He dedicates a whole chapter of his book The Discipline of Grace to “The Discipline of Watching,” the discipline of remaining alert for temptation.

The Bible makes it clear that this life is one of constant temptation. We face three enemies: the world, the Devil and the flesh. Of these three, Bridges focuses most of his attention on the flesh since it is the greatest source of temptation, dwelling as it does, right inside us. Every Christian can testify to this: “Our flesh is always searching out opportunities to gratify itself according to the particular sinful desires each of us has.” Bridges says it well: “Realize that your ‘temptation antenna’ is constantly scanning your environment looking for those areas of sin.” That is a powerful illustration—that in our sin we are constantly looking for new ways to indulge. Each of us has certain sins to which we are particularly prone and the flesh, the sin that remains within us, is always looking for just the smallest crack, the smallest weakness, the smallest invitation. The first line of defense against temptation is watchfulness—to be aware of the sins that tempt us most often and with the greatest strength and to be proactive in our battle against them.

Bridges quotes Horatius Bonar in his call to avoid even the little sins.

The avoidance of little evils, little sins, little inconsistencies, little weaknesses, little follies, little indiscretions and imprudences, little foibles, little indulgences of self and of the flesh, little acts of indolence or indecision, or slovenliness or cowardice, little equivocations or aberrations from high integrity, little touches of shabbiness or meanness, … little indifferences to the feelings or wishes of others, little outbreaks of temper, or crossness, or selfishness, or vanity—the avoidance of such little things as these goes far to make up at least the negative beauty of a holy life.

As Bridges explains, “we seldom have to say no to an outright temptation to adultery. We often have to say no to the temptation to the lustful look or thought. And as some unknown person has said, ‘He that despises little things shall fall little by little.’”

He affirms that in the Christian life, as in so many other areas, the best defense is a good offense. “The best offense is meditation upon the Word of God and prayer. It is surely no coincidence that they are the only two spiritual exercises that we are encouraged to do continually.” There is Scripture to answer every temptation, a verse or passage to combat every sin. And, of course, for the inevitable times that we succumb to sin, there is the gospel to assure us that even now we are not condemned and even now we are the recipients of such mercy.

Next Week

For next Thursday please read chapter twelve (assuming that you are reading along with me). It’s the final chapter!

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose. Reading Classics Together