But every man is tempted - Successfully solicited to sin, when he is drawn away of his own lust - when, giving way to the evil propensity of his own heart, he does that to which he is solicited by the enemy of his soul.
Among the rabbins we find some fine sayings on this subject. In Midrash hanaalam, fol. 20, and Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 17, it is said: "This is the custom of evil concupiscence, הרע יצר yetser hara : To-day it saith, Do this; to-morrow, Worship an idol. The man goes and worships. Again it saith, Be angry."
"Evil concupiscence is, at the beginning, like the thread of a spider's web; afterwards it is like a cart rope." Sanhedrim, fol. 99.
In the words, drawn away by his own lust and enticed, ὑπο της ιδιας επιθυμιας εξελκομενος και δελεαζομενος, there is a double metaphor; the first referring to the dragging a fish out of the water by a hook which it had swallowed, because concealed by a bait; the second, to the enticements of impure women, who draw away the unwary into their snares, and involve them in their ruin. Illicit connections of this kind the writer has clearly in view; and every word that he uses refers to something of this nature, as the following verse shows.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust - That is, the fountain or source of all temptation is in man himself. It is true that external inducements to sin may be placed before him, but they would have no force if there was not something in himself to which they corresponded, and over which they might have power. There must be some “lust;” some desire; some inclination; something which is unsatisfied now, which is made the foundation of the temptation, and which gives it all its power. If there were no capacity for receiving food, or desire for it, objects placed before us appealing to the appetite could never be made a source of temptation; if there were nothing in the soul which could be regarded as the love of acquisition or possession, gold would furnish no temptation; if there were no sensual propensities, we should be in that quarter above the power of temptation.
In each case, and in every form, the power of the temptation is laid in some propensity of our nature, some desire of that which we do not now possess. The word rendered “lust” in this place ( ἐπιθυμίας epithumias), is not employed here in the narrow sense in which it is now commonly used, as denoting libidinousness. It means desire in general; an earnest wish for anything. Notes, Ephesians 4:22. It seems here to be used with reference to the original propensities of our nature - the desires implanted in us, which are a stimulus to employment - as the desire of knowledge, of food, of power, of sensual gratifications; and the idea is, that a man may be drawn along by these beyond the prescribed limits of indulgence, and in the pursuit of objects that are forbidden. He does not stop at the point at which the law requires him to stop, and is therefore guilty of transgression. This is the source of all sin. The original propensity may not be wrong, but may be perfectly harmless - as in the case of the desire of food, etc. Nay, it may furnish a most desirable stimulus to action; for how could the human powers be called forth, if it were not for this? The error, the fault, the sin, is, not restraining the indulgence where we are commanded to do it, either in regard to the objects sought, or in regard to the degree of indulgence.
And enticed - Entrapped, caught; that is, he is seized by this power, and held fast; or he is led along and beguiled, until he falls into sin, as in a snare that springs suddenly upon him.
Επιθυμια Epithumiain the New Testament, is sometimes employed in a good sense, Luke 22:15; Philemon 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:17; often in a bad sense, as in Mark 4:19; John 8:44; Romans 1:24; Romans 6:12; Romans 7:7; 1 John 2:16; but there is no difficulty in making the distinction; the context easily determining the matter. And this passage in James seems at once to fix down on επιθυμιας epithumiasthe sense of evil or corrupt desire. That it can mean a “harmless propensity;” or that it is a propensity on whose character the apostle does not at all pronounce, is incredible. It is said to “draw away a man and entice him;” to “conceive and bring forth sin:” and a principle from which such fruit springs cannot be very harmless. Without doubt, the apostle traces the whole evil of temptation, which some falsely ascribed to God, to the sinful desires of the human heart; and, as our author remarks, he seems to take the common sense view without entertaining any thought of nice philosophical distinction. We cannot for a moment suppose the apostle to say - “the evil is not to be traced to God, but to a harmless propensity.”
The whole passage, with the words and figures which are used, show that the idea in the apostle‘s mind was that of an enticing harlot. The επιθυμια epithumiais personified. She persuades the understanding and will into her impure embrace. The result of this fatal union is the “conception” and ultimate “bringing forth” of actual sin, which again brings forth death. This is the true genealogy of sin (McKnight); and to say that the επιθυμια epithumiaor evil desire, of which the apostle says that it is the “origo mali,” is harmless, - is to contradict him, and Paul also, who in a parallel passage says that he had not known the επιθυμια epithumiaor inward desire after forbidden objects, to be sinful, unless the law had enlightened him and said “thou shalt not covet.” Mr. Scott has spoken in strong terms of the folly of some parties who understand επιθυμια epithumiaHere only of the desire of sensual gross indulgence, to the exclusion of other sinful desires; but the extreme of interpreting it as meaning nothing sinful at all, deserves equal reprehension. The reader, however, will notice that the author does not venture on this assertion. He says “it may be so,” and otherwise modifies his view.)
There is no safety for any man, young or old, unless he feels the necessity of seeking God for counsel at every step. Those only who maintain close communion with God will learn to place His estimate upon men, to reverence the pure, the good, the humble, and the meek. The heart must be garrisoned as was that of Joseph. Then temptations to depart from integrity will be met with decision: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” The strongest temptation is no excuse for sin. No matter how severe the pressure brought to bear upon you, sin is your own act. The seat of the difficulty is the unrenewed heart.13 AH 331.1
In view of the dangers of this time, shall not we, as God's commandment-keeping people, put away from among us all sin, all iniquity, all perverseness? Shall not the women professing the truth keep strict guard over themselves, lest the least encouragement be given to unwarrantable familiarity? They may close many a door of temptation if they will observe at all times strict reserve and propriety of deportment.14 AH 331.2
Women Must Uphold High Standard of Conduct—I write with a distressed heart that the women in this age, both married and unmarried, too frequently do not maintain the reserve that is necessary. They act like coquettes. They encourage the attentions of single and married men, and those who are weak in moral power will be ensnared. These things, if allowed, deaden the moral senses and blind the mind so that crime does not appear sinful. Thoughts are awakened that would not have been if woman had kept her place in all modesty and sobriety. She may have had no unlawful purpose or motive herself, but she has given encouragement to men who are tempted, and who need all the help they can get from those associated with them. By being circumspect, reserved, taking no liberties, receiving no unwarrantable attentions, but preserving a high moral tone and becoming dignity, much evil might be avoided.15 AH 331.3Read in context »
If your aptness and skill had been as much exercised in saving souls, and in disseminating the truth to those who are in darkness, as it has been to get gain and to increase your earthly possessions, you would have many stars in the crown of your rejoicing in the kingdom of glory. There are but few who are as faithful in the service of God as they are in serving their own temporal interests. A resolute purpose is sure to accomplish the desired end. Many do not feel that it is essential to be as discriminating, apt, and accomplished in the work of God as in their own temporal business. The mind and heart of those who profess to believe the truth should be elevated, refined, ennobled, and spiritualized. The work of educating the mind for this great and important matter is fearfully neglected. The work of God is done negligently, slothfully, and in a most bungling manner, because so often left to the caprice of feeling, rather than to sanctified principle and holy purpose. 4T 358.1
There is the greatest necessity that men and women who have a knowledge of the will of God should learn to become successful workers in His cause. They should be persons of polish, of understanding, not having the deceptive outside gloss and simpering affectation of the worldling, but that refinement and true courteousness which savors of heaven, and which every Christian will have if he is a partaker of the divine nature. The lack of true dignity and Christian refinement in the ranks of Sabbathkeepers is against us as a people and makes the truth which we profess unsavory. The work of educating the mind and manners may be carried forward to perfection. If those who profess the truth do not now improve their privileges and opportunities to grow up to the full stature of men and women in Christ Jesus, they will be no honor to the cause of truth, no honor to Christ. 4T 358.2
If you, my brother, had studied the Holy Scriptures as faithfully as you have watched to get gain, you would now be an able man in the word of God and able also to teach others. It is your own fault that you are not qualified to teach the truth to others. You have not been cultivating that set of faculties which will make you an intelligent, successful, spiritual worker for your Master. Such traits of character as acquisitiveness and shrewdness in worldly dealing have been exercised so much that your mind has been largely developed in the direction of buying and selling, and getting the best end of the bargain. Instead of establishing yourself in the confidence of your brethren and sisters and friends as a man who possesses true nobility of character, elevating you above all smallness and avariciousness, you make them afraid of you. Your religious faith has been used to secure the confidence of your brethren that you might practice your sharp dealing and make a saving. This has been done so much by you that it has become second nature, and you do not realize how your course appears to others. True godliness must mark all your future life and course of action if you would counteract the influence you have exerted to scatter from Christ and the truth. 4T 359.1Read in context »
Need of Heart Change, Not Change of Location—Will we be clear to let such things be concealed and sins hidden, with no real evidence of repentance or reform? Your leaving California does not give you a new heart. You are out of sight of the infatuating influence of your “adorable charmer,” but this does not change the affections or impulses of the heart. Elder W might have finished his course with joy had it not been for sensual practices, but he was led away of his own lusts and enticed. The days and years which might have been his very best were his worst. TSB 189.4Read in context »
You have made evil and lustful practices appear harmless, and some have been led away with their own lust and enticed because they had not moral courage to rebuke you, a minister, for your iniquitous practices. There have been not a few who have sacrificed conscience, peace of mind, and the favor of God, because a man whom the people have set as a watchman on the walls of Zion has been their tempter—a wolf in sheep's clothing. TSB 204.3Read in context »