Temptation is a universal experience. If Jesus himself did not escape it, we can be certain that we will not either. It can be difficult to see any good in temptation, yet we know that God has promised to work all things for our good—even temptation. Thomas Watson addresses this in his book All Things for Good, and offers nine ways that temptation works for our good.
Temptation works for good when it sends the soul to prayer. Quite simply, temptation motivates us to pray to God against that temptation. Not only that, but more temptation generates more prayer. “The more furiously Satan tempts, the more fervently the saint prays.” Without temptation we might not express our reliance upon God through prayer.
Temptation works for good when it motivates us to battle sin. As we are tempted, we battle hard against the temptation and the sin behind it. In this way God works the good of sanctification through temptation, not apart from it. “That temptation which the devil uses as a spur to sin, God makes a bridle to keep back a Christian from it.”
Temptation works for good when it promotes humility. This was Paul’s experience as he battled his “thorn in the flesh.” He knew that this difficulty had been given to prevent him from growing in pride. “Better is that temptation which humbles me, than that duty which makes me proud.”
Temptation works for good when it tries and proves our faith. Some immediately crumble under the devil’s attacks, but others bear up, thus proving the existence and strength of their faith. “The devil tempts, that he may deceive; but God suffers us to be tempted, to try us. Temptation is a trial of our sincerity. It argues that our heart is chaste and loyal to Christ, when we can look a temptation in the face, and turn our back upon it.”
Temptation works for good when it equips us to comfort those who are being tempted. Once we have been tempted in a certain way, we acquire a qualification to better comfort those who are tempted in the same way. In this way we can more effectively minister to them. “He that has felt the claws of the roaring lion, and has lain bleeding under those wounds, is the fittest man to deal with one that is tempted.”
Temptation works for good when it stirs up God’s fatherly heart toward us. What is true of any father—he has compassion on the child who is hurt and grieving—is true of God. God has a special heart of compassion toward those of us who are suffering under temptation. “When a saint lies under the bruising of temptations, Christ prays, and God the Father pities.”
Temptation works for good when it make us long for heaven. Temptation makes us long for the place where all temptations have ceased. We know that in this life we will face unending waves of temptation, but in the life to come, we will be free! “This is to make God’s people wish for death to sound a retreat, and call them off the field where the bullets fly so quick, to receive a victorious crown, where not the drum or cannon, but the harp and viol, shall be ever sounding.”
Temptation works for good when it engages Christ’s strength. When we battle temptation, we have the assurance that we do not battle alone. Rather, we have a friend who fights with us and for us, and in our temptation we get to see him in action. “Christ is our Friend, and when we are tempted, He sets all His power working for us.”
Watson concludes, “Surely if the devil knew how much benefit accrues to the saints by temptation, he would forbear to tempt.” He closes with this comparison: “St. Paul, in his voyage to Rome, met with a contrary wind (Acts xxvii. 4). So the wind of temptation is a contrary wind to that of the Spirit; but God makes use of this cross-wind, to blow the saints to heaven.”
If you are reading All Things for Good with me, please read chapters 3, 4, and 5 for next week (from “Why All Things Work for Good to the Godly” through to “The Tests of Love to God”). In the meantime, why don’t you drop by Facebook and provide some of your thoughts on this week’s reading. I’ll see you there! (If you’d like to read the book with me, it’s not too late to start!)