This is the petition that concerns sin to come; for 'remission,' which was the thing we prayer for last, is referred to 'our sins past,' and we are no less to desire of God that He will give us ability to resist sin to come, than to be gracious to us in pardoning our sins already committed. Thus much we are given to understand by this, that this petition is chained to the former with the copulative 'and' as if that were not perfected without this. No more indeed is it, for as God lets go His hold so must we let go ours; and if we will have God to remit our former sins, we must beware that we do not willingly sin against His Majesty afresh, but that we strive against temptations to come; for as Psalmist speaks, 'If I incline to wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;' if I purpose still to continue in sin, I shall in vain pray, Forgive me my sins. But contrawise, he that doth not only 'confess but also forsake his sins, he shall have mercy.'
If, accounting it sufficient that we have spent the time of our life past in sin we shall resolve henceforth to live so much time as remaineth for us in the flesh after 'the will of God,' then may we assure ourselves that God will be merciful unto us, and will remember our sins and iniquities no more. And that which we are to perform in this behalf is the second part of remission, which is opposed both to retention and intention; that is, as we would have God not to retain our sins, but freely to pardon them, so our care must be that sin be more remiss in us; for whereas in the last petition we considered a [441/442] double debt, one of duty, another of forfeiture, our desire was, not to have both forgiven, but we desired to be forgiven quia non prestitimus, non ne prætemus, 'because we perform it not, not that we might not at all perform it.'
Howsoever our prayer to God is, that He would not lay upon us the penalty which we have run into by not keeping His law, yet we are still bound to do our duty.
Now, whereas the Prophet saith, Hic est omnis fructus ut auferatur peccatum, we may not think that sin is taken away when God for His part doth remit the guilt of our sins past; for sin consists not only of an offence or guilt, but of an issue or inclination to sin, so that our care must be as well that we pray that this running issue may be stopped, as that punishment due to us for sins past be remitted; and to this end both parts of repentance are required of us, that is, sorrow for sins past, and a provident care to avoid sin to come; we must by prayer seek for graces of God, non modo quo deleatur debitum, sed ne contrahatur debitum, 'not only that our debt be done away, but that it may not be contracted.' As the widow by the blessing of God had sufficient oil not only to pay her creditors withal but also to live upon afterwards, so we must seek of Christ the oil of His grace, both for the discharging of our sins and for a holy life.
As we would be glad to hear this voice from Christ, Remissa sunt tibi peccata so we must be content with this, Vade et noli amplius peccare, 'Go thy way and sin no more.'
As God on His part doth covenant with us that He 'will remember our sins and iniquities no more,' so that which He requireth of us is Hæc est via ambulate in eâ. For it is not enough for us to 'confess our sins and be sorry,' nor yet to perform our active mercy by giving and forgiving, except we have a resolute purpose to forsake the sins we have heretofore committed; for if being washed from all our old sins we shall wallow in the more like swine and return to our vomit, then shall 'our latter end be worse than our beginning.' This is one reason why this copulative conjunction is set before this petition.
Another is in regard of the fickleness of our estate: we may not think ourselves secure, when we have forgiveness of our sins. The Apostles of our Saviour Christ having received [442/443] the sacrament, which as Christ told them was a seal of the remission of sins purchased by the shedding of His blood, fell into a sleepiness, so as they were not able in time of greatest peril to watch with their Master one hour; therefore He was fain to warn them, 'Pray that ye enter not into temptation. The reason is, because the devil is most malacious against them that are recovered out of his thraldom; for 'when the unclean spirit is gone out of man' he is never quiet till he 'return again' and that he may he will use all the means he can. So that they of all others are in most danger and most subject to the malice and rage of the devil, that are restored out of the state of sin into the state of grace; and therefore we pray that as God in His mercy doth vouchsafe to pardon our sins past, so it will please Him to strengthen us with grace that we may withstand the temptations of Satan.
The petition hath two things top be considered, the 'temptation,' and the 'leading.' Temptation (that 'we may know what we ask') is a trial or proof, and is of two sorts, dokimasa and peirasmÕj the one good and the other evil, the one is made by God, the other by Satan.
God is said to tempt us when He maketh trial of our faith which trial is 'more precious than gold' as in Abraham, or when He trieth our 'patience' as in Job; for while we live in this world, we are spectaculum Angelis et hominibus.
God therefore in His wisdom thinks it good to try our faith and patience, by laying affliction upon us; that albeit He know us sufficiently, yet that both men and Angels may have a proof of our faith, He trieth us; for as the dross is consumed with fire and the pure gold remaineth behind, so the pureness of our faith is tried with fire of affliction. This is that 'fan' which Christ is said to have 'in his hand,' whereby 'He purgeth His floor,' and separateth the good corn from the chaff.
The other proof or trial is that which Satan makes; for as 'God tempted Abraham' for his good, so Satan tempted Adam, but not for his good, but only to draw him away from his God. As Christ hath His fan, so Satan hath his, 'Satan hath desired to sift and winnow you.' The difference is, that [443/444] whereas God by affliction thinketh good to prove how steadfastly we believe in him and how willingly we will undergo the cross for His sake, the devil's purpose is that by all means he may quench our faith and dash our patience.
The devil's trial therefore is tentatio ad detrimentum non ad experimentum. God's temptation maketh us happy, 'Blessed is he that endureth temptation,' but the devil's temptation brings us to misery, and this latter is that against which we pray, and it is of two sorts: first, that which the Apostle calls tentatio humana, 'such as is incident to the nature of man;' secondly, tentatio Satanica.
Human temptations are such as are necessary and cannot be avoided by reason of the corruption of nature; of which the Prophet speaketh when he prayeth, Libera me de necessitatibus meius. The Apostle doth more plainly express it when he calls it 'the infirmity of the flesh,' and the 'sin that dwells in us,' which causeth this necessity, that while we remain in the body the 'flesh will ever lust against the spirit.' But there is another kind of temptation which is devilish, when we do not sin of infirmity or through the necessary weakness of the flesh but of malicious purpose, that whereof the Prophet speaketh, 'Be not merciful to them that trespass of malicious wickedness.' These sins proceed not from that necessity of sinning which doth accompany our nature, but from that corruption of nature which the Apostle doth call the 'superfluity of wickedness.' These proceed not from sin that dwells in us, but from that sin which reigneth in us. And as we desire that God will pardon our necessary temptations, so especially we are to pray that we may not fall in into these superfluous sins, as the Prophet doth pray, 'Keep Thy servant from presumptuous sins, that they get not the dominion over me.' And, 'Order my steps in Thy word,' ne dominetur mihi omnis iniquitas.
For the better understanding of this point we are to consider what are the temptations and tentamenta, that is, the things whereby we are tempted.
The temptations are either without us or within us. Without, first the devil, that is, 'the tempter;' secondly, the 'corruption that is in the world through lust.' The tempter [444/445] within us is our 'own conscience,' without which the outward tempters should not only not hurt us but also greatly profit us; for the devil shall in vain tempt us, and the evil examples of the world shall not allure us, unless we in the lusts of our hearts do suffer ourselves to be overcome; and therefore one saith well, Teipsum vince, et victus est mundus et Satanas, if there be neither covetousness in us, nor the lust of the flesh, the devil shall not be able to prevail against us, but we shall stand unconquered both of worldly lusts and of the lusts of the flesh.
The things whereby the devil tempteth us are Massah and Meribah, whereby is understood prosperity and adversity. One while as a serpent he allureth us by pleasures, and if he prevail not that way then like a roaring lion he terrifieth with violent danger; and that he may have his will of us by one of these means he 'bewitcheth' our understanding, so that we either make great account of those things which indeed are of least value, or else judge the danger which he threatenth to be more terrible than it is.
From this petition we are to acknowledge that, where we pray that God will deliver us from temptation, first in regard of ourselves we are unable to encounter with these temptations and to withstand the least temptation, and yet the grace of God is sufficient for us, so that albeit in the light of our own understanding we cannot discern what is true pleasure or what is indeed to be feared, yet as the Prophet speaks, In lumine Tuo videbimus lumen, 'In Thy light we shall see light,' and though the messenger of Satan buffet us never so much yet God's grace shall make us to have the victory, without which we are not able to resist the first temptations.
Which considerations serve to keep us from pride, and to work in humility.
Secondly, in regard of out tempters, we are to acknowledge that the devil, much less any thing else, cannot be able to tempt us without God's permission: so he was not able to touch Job until he had leave of God, nor the head of swine till Christ had permitted him to enter.
Thus we see that Satan is chained by God so that he cannot go further than God will give him leave, which maketh our comfort.
[445/446] Temptation is necessary, and therefore we pray not ne tentet nos Satanas, but ne Deus nos inducat; for it is God's will to use Satan's service in this work, and that if we feel that our corruption doth yield to sin, we are to say with the Prophet, 'Let God arise,' and 'Save me O God.' Also with Hezekiah, Domine, vim patior, responde pro me, 'O Lord I suffer oppression, comfort Thou me.
Touching the leading into temptation, we desire not to be led, which hath two expositions; first that God Who knows our weakness will not give leave to the devil to tempt us at all by any of those means, because the issue of temptations is doubtful, for many excellent men even the saints of God have been overcome thereby.
Secondly, at the least ne inducat, 'that He lead us not' into them, which have three differences: first, in respect of God, that albeit the devil's desire be 'to sift us,' yet ne inducas Tu; though the 'lying spirit' be ready to entice us that we might fall, yet that God would not command him to go forth, yet that He would not deliver us over into Satan's hand, and leave us to ourselves.
Secondly, in regard of us, that we commit not sin that leads thereunto, for qui ducitur volens ducitur; but that if we needs must yield to temptations, it may rather lay hold on us by violence against our wills that lead us. So the Apostle speaks, Tentation vos non aprehendit, 'Temptation. hath not taken hold of you:' and when our Saviour saith to His disciple, Orate ne intrestis in tentationem, 'Pray that ye enter not into temptation,' His meaning is, that willingly and wittingly, and of delight, of yourselves, otherwise than as the infirmity of your flesh doth compel you, for if any willingly enter into temptation, these God suffers to be led into it so as they cannot get out any more; that is the Gentiles till they be effectually called are said to 'commit all uncleanness with greediness.' So we do not devour the temptations that are incident to our nature, and that as the Syriac word used by our Saviour, is, we take not pain to satisfy the temptation of Satan, as it were to climb up into a high tree.
Thirdly, in respect of the nature of the Greek word, which is rather Ne inferas, than Ne inducas.
Of Christ's leading into temptations is it said, :Au»cqh, that is [446/447] so led as that He was brought back again; but our leading by the devil is, so to be carried into temptations as that withal we are left there to ourselves.
Christ's temptation has an issue nostra non habet exitum, 'ours hath no issue;' but our prayer is not only that it be against our will, if any time we be tempted, but that in the temptation He would so hold us by the hand that we may get out of it, that albeit we be led into it that we may be brought back again.
From whence this question ariseth, Whether God lead any into temptation so as they never get out of it again? The answer is that there are some such, but they are those first suffer themselves to be led, even as He hardeneth no man's heart but his that first hardeneth his own heart.
Of Pharaoh it is said, that albeit 'Aaron's rod ate up the enchanters' rods,' that yet 'he hardened his heart.' After, when the sorcerers told him, Digitus Dei hic est, 'This is the finger of God,' yet he hardened his own heart, and then God seeing his obstinancy, induravit cor ejus, 'hardened his heart.'
So when Ahab had first 'sold himself to work wickedness,' then it pleased God to deliver him to the 'lying spirit' to deceive him that he might fall. 'Because Ephraim would have many altars' to serve, God gave them many altars.
That we be not led into temptation, the means that we are to use is, that we put from before our face the 'stumbling blocks of iniquity,' that we restrain our eyes and mouths from beholding or speaking that which is evil, that we restrain our feet as the Wise Man saith, 'Keep thy way far from her, and come not into the door of her house.' 'For am man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burnt?'
Therefore, if we will not be led into temptation, we must not lead ourselves, nor tempt ourselves, nor grope for sin, for the devil's temptation cannot hurt us, it shall be a means to grace us, if we withstand it; but if we will be drawn away of our own lusts, then we cannot but be led. As we must forbear the occasion of sin, so must we use the means that may keep us from it, that is, prayer. We must make 'a covenant with our eyes,' so we shall not be tempted.
[447/448] As we prayed that God's will touching 'sanctification' and suffering may be done of us, so we are to pray not generally to be delivered from the temptations of sin, but particularly from the temptation of any several sin whereunto we are inclined: if to 'worldly lusts,' that He would keep us from them; if to 'the lusts of the flesh,' that He will not suffer us to be tempted of them neither; that as our temptation increaseth so His strength may increase, and if not increase then that He will cause His temptation to decrease.