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This small work of Dr. Owen on “Temptation” appeared in 1658. He had been urged to publish it by the solicitations of friends to whose opinion he paid deference. The probability is, that they had already heard the substance of it in discourses from the pulpit; and from an expression in the closing exhortation (see p. 150), the discourses must have been delivered at Oxford. The motives of the author in committing it to the press are still farther evinced in some allusions to the character of the times, which will be found both in the preface and in the treatise itself. The vigilant eye of Owen detected certain mischievous effects accruing from the eminent success which had attended hitherto the efforts of the party with whom he acted. The fear of a common danger had formerly kept them united in their views and movements, while it lead them to depend upon the true source of all strength and hope. They were now sinking into those strifes and divisions which paved the way for the restoration of monarchy; and Owen speaks of “a visible declension from reformation seizing upon the professing party of these nations.” There is a tone of indignant and yet pathetic faithfulness in his language, as he recurs to the subject of this declension in the body of the treatise: “He that should see the prevailing party of these nations, many of them in rule, power, and favour, with all their adherents, and remember that they were a colony of Puritans, whose habitation was a ‘low place,’ as the prophet speaks of the city of God, translated by a high hand to the mountains they now possess, cannot but wonder how soon they have forgot the customs, manners, ways, of their own old people, and are cast into the mould of them that went before them in the places whereunto they are translated.” Owen may have feared the issue of prevailing divisions, and anticipated the revival of the intolerant system which the patriotism of the Long Parliament and the military genius of Cromwell overthrew. Under the impression than an hour of temptation had come, and that the best security for religious principles was the advancement of personal godliness, he published the following treatise.
Whatever motives incited him to the preparation of it, the whole work, with the exception of a few paragraphs, might have been written, with set purpose, for the people of God in every age. In no work is the sound judgment of our author more conspicuous. He avoids all fanciful speculations into the mysteries of satanic agency, such as were too common on this theme. He is too much in earnest that his readers should be brought into a condition of safety against the wiles of the devil, to break the force of his warnings and entreaties by ingenious speculations and irrelevant learning. Not merely in the warm appeals interspersed with his expositions, but in the patient care with which no nook of the heart is left unsearched, does the deep solicitude of Owen for the spiritual welfare of his readers appear. To one who reads the treatise in the spirit with which the author wrote it,—simply that he may judge his own heart, and know what temptation means, and be fully on his guard against it,—the effect is far beyond what the mere wealth of fancy or the arts of rhetoric could produce.
From the text, Matt. xxvi. 41, the author considers in succession three topics educed from it:—temptation, the means by which it prevails, and the way of preventing it. The most of the treatise is occupied with the last topic,—the means of prevention. It is subdivided into inquiries,—as to the evidence by which a man may know that he has entered into temptation, the directions requisite to prevent entering into it, and the seasons when temptation may be apprehended. The discussion of this last inquiry merges very much into an illustration of the Christian duty of watchfulness, and the treatise is closed by a general exhortation to this duty. Slight defects in the arrangement, the renewed discussion of a point after it had been quitted, and the disproportionate space accorded to some parts of the subject, are explained, perhaps by the circumstance that the treatise was originally a series of discourses.—Ed.
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