Besetting sins are the weak points in the pilgrim’s armor, whereat the shafts of the evil One most often enter. They are the unguarded gates by which the citadel is surprised and taken. It is by our conduct in regard to them, too, that our piety is proved. It is not calm weather, but a storm that tests the capacity of a vessel. The ship that can only live in smooth seas, and under clear skies, is a perilous bark in which to try the treacherous ocean. And so, if the Christian disciple fails when his besetting sins assail him, then he can be fully assured that he is not safely on the way to heaven. He will never reach the goal.
And yet, to master our besetting sins, is always a supreme trial. Here is the crisis-point of our conflict. Oh what grace then does not the Christian need, to give him the victory over these lusts of the flesh!
A golden rule is that of the Saviour: “Enter not into temptation.” It is far easier to resist the beginnings of evil. Sin, at its very fountain-head, may be quenched like a mere spark, but suffered to advance only a little, soon it is a universal conflagration, and no power can stay it. Resolutely then, check the first evil thought, the first guilty affection. Look to thy Lord transfixed upon the Cross, and remember how He was crucified to all earthly joys for thee; and pray for divine, helping grace. Remember that the same reproachful eye that He once turned upon fallen Peter, now looks mournfully upon thee, and for thy love to Him put back the temptation, and give no “occasion to the enemies of the cross to blaspheme.” And may thy language be:
Oh ! ever as the tempter spoke, and feeble nature’s fears,
Wrung drop by drop the scalding flow of unavailing tears,
I wrestled down the evil thoughts, and strove in silent prayer
To feel, oh Helper of the weak ! that Thou indeed wert there.
If hitherto thou hast been vanquished, it has been because “thou hast not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” But if thou dost so resist, the promise is, that “the devil will flee from thee.” If he is opposed by the word of God, (the weapon used by the Saviour when Satan had the boldness even to tempt Him), if he finds the conscience vigilant and armed against him; he is a great coward, and immediately he flies, smitten with trembling and astonishment.
And then “angels will come and minister unto thee.” They will crown thee with the approval of thy Lord, whose wakeful eye has not been unobservant of thy hot contest. And then, thou wilt feel how sweeter far is the joy of “keeping under the body and bringing it into subjection,” than of allowing thy soul to be a “castaway,” in order that thou mayest pluck the “bitter apples of Sodom.” “Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” (Heb. xii. 1.)
Our besetting sins are as various as are human temperaments. With one it is pride; with another temper; with another selfishness; with another carnal affections; with another envy; with another backsliding, and scattering dissensions in the church or among companions. But rightly managed and controlled, these besetting temptations can be made of great benefit to us. They are alarm-bells, which point out to us where our danger lies. They acquaint us with ourselves. They show us our weakness and our needs.
And if then, surprised by their strength, we are led to betake ourselves closer to God—to examine again the foundations of our piety—to polish and sharpen our gospel armor, and to have our conversation and citizenship more than ever in heaven; our weaknesses will become to us the means to greater conquests in grace; and issuing forth from their onset “more than conquerors through Him who hath loved us,” our joyful song will be, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” (Prov. xviii. 10.)