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JOSEPH'S GREAT TEMPTATION,
GENESIS XXXix. 12.
And he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
WE have here, and in the context, an account of that remarkable behaviour of Joseph in the house of Potiphar, which was the occasion both of his great affliction, and also of his high advancement and prosperity in the land of Egypt.
We read, in the beginning of the chapter, how Joseph, after he had been so cruelly treated by his brethren, and sold into Egypt for a slave, was advanced in the house of Potiphar, who had bought him. Joseph was one that feared God, and therefore God was with him; and so influenced the heart of Potiphar his master, that instead of keeping him as a mere slave, to which purpose he was sold, he made him his steward and overseer over his house, and all that he had was put into his hands; insomuch, that we are told, ver. 6, that he left all he had in his hand; and he knew not ought that he had, save the bread which he did eat.-While Joseph was in these prosperous circumstances, he met with a great temptation in his master's house. We are told that, he being a goodly person and well favoured, his mistress cast her eyes upon and lusted after him, and used all her art to tempt him to commit uncleanness with her.
Concerning this temptation, and his behaviour under it, many things are worthy to be noted. Particularly,
We may observe, how great the temptation was, that he was under. It is to be considered, that Joseph was now in his youth; a season of life when persons are most liable to be overcome by temptations of this nature. And he was in a state of unexpected prosperity in Potiphar's house; which has a tendency to lift persons up, especially young ones, whereby commonly they more easily fall before temptations.
And then, the superiority of the person that laid the temptation before him, rendered it much the greater. She was his mistress, and he a servant under her. And the manner of her tempting him. She did not only carry herself so towards Joseph, as to give him cause to suspect that he might be admitted to such criminal converse with her; but she directly proposed it to him; plainly manifesting her disposition to it. So that here was no such thing as a suspicion of her unwillingness to deter him, but a manifestation of her desire to entice him to it. Yea, she appeared greatly engaged in the matter. And there was not only her desire manifested to entice him, but her authority over him to enforce the temptation. She was his mistress, and he might well imagine, that if he utterly refused a compliance, he should incur her displeasure; and she, being his master's wife, had power to do much to his disadvantage, and to render his circumstances more uncomfortable in the family.
And the temptation was the greater, in that she did not only tempt him once, but frequently, day by day, ver. 10. And at last became more violent with him. She caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me.
His behaviour was very remarkable under these temptations. He absolutely refused any compliance with them: he made no reply that manifested as though the temptation had gained at all upon him so much as to hesitate about it, or at all deliberate upon it. He complied in no degree either to the gross act she proposed, or any thing tending towards it, or that should at all be gratifying to her wicked inclination. And he persisted resolute and unshaken under her continual solicitations, ver. 10. And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. He, to his utmost, avoided so much as being where she was. And the motives and principles, from which he acted, manifested by his reply to her solicitations, are remarkable.-He first sets before her, how injuriously he should act against his master, if he should comply with her proposal: Behold my master -hath committed all that he hath to my hand; there is none greater in this house than 1; neither hath he kept back any thing from me, but thee, because thou art his wife. But he then proceeded to inform her of that, which above all things, deterred him from a compliance, viz. that it would be great wickedness, and sin against God.-How shall I do this, and sin against God? He would not do any such thing, as he would not injure his master; but that which influenced him more than all on this occasion, was the fear of sinning against God. On this account he persisted in his resolution to the last.
In the text we have an account of his behaviour under the last and greatest temptation that he had from her. This temptation was great, as it was at a time when there was no body
in the house, but he and his mistress, ver. 11; there was an opportunity to commit the fact with the greatest secrecy. And at this time it seems that she was more violent than ever before. She caught him by the garment, &c. She laid hold on him, as though she was resolute to attain her purpose of him.
Under these circumstances he not only refused her, but fled from her, as he would from one that was going to assassinate him; he escaped as for his life. He not only would not be guilty of such a fact, but neither would he by any means be in the house with her, where he should be in the way of her temptation. This behaviour of Joseph is doubtless recorded for the instruction of all. Therefore from the words I shall observe, that it is our duty, not only to avoid those things that are themselves sinful, but also, as far as may be, those things that lead and expose to sin.
Why we should avoid what tends to sin.
THUS did Joseph: he not only refused actually to commit uncleanness with his mistress, who enticed him; but refused to be there, where he should be in the way of temptation, ver. 10. He refused to lie by her, or be with her. And in the text we are told that he fled and got him out; would by no means be in her company. Though it was no sin in itself, for Joseph to be in the house where his mistress was; but under these circumstances it would expose him to sin. Joseph was sensible he had naturally a corrupt heart, that tended to betray him to sin; and therefore he would by no means be in the of temptaway tion; but with haste he fled, he ran from the dangerous place. Inasmuch as he was exposed to sin in that house, he fled out of it with as much haste as if it had been on fire; or full of enemies, who stood ready with drawn swords to stab him to the very heart. When she took him by the garment, he left his garment in her hands; he had rather lose his garment, than stay a moment there, where he was in such danger of losing his chastity.
I said, that persons should avoid things that expose to sin, as far as may be; because it is possible that persons may be called to expose themselves to temptation; and when it is so, they may hope for divine strength and protection under temptation.
It may be a man's indispensable duty to undertake an office, or a work, attended with a great deal of temptation. Thus ordinarily a man ought not to run into the temptation of being persecuted for the true religion; lest the temptation should be too hard for him; but should avoid it, as much as may be; therefore Christ thus directs his disciples, Matt. x. 23. When yo
be persecuted in one city flee to another. Yet the case may be so, that a man may be called not to flee from persecution; but to run the venture of such a trial, trusting in God to uphold him under it. Ministers and magistrates may be obliged to continue with their people in such circumstances; as Nehemiah says, Neh. vi. 11. Should such a man as I flee? So the apostles.-Yea, they may be called to go into the midst of it; to those places where they cannot reasonably expect but to meet with such temptations. So Paul went up to Jerusalem, when he knew beforehand, that there bonds and affliction awaited him, Acts xx. 23.
So in some other cases, the necessity of affairs may call upon men to engage in some business that is peculiarly attended with temptations. But when it is so they are indeed least exposed to sin; for they are always safest in the way of duty. Prov. x. 9. He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely. And though there be many things by which they may have extraordinary temptations, in the affairs they have undertaken, yet if they have a clear call, it is no presumption to hope for divine support and preservation in it.
But for persons needlessly to expose themselves to temptation, and to do those things that tend to sin, is unwarrantable, and contrary to that excellent example set before us. And that we ought to avoid not only those things that are in themselves sinful, but also those things that lead and expose to sin, is manifest by the following arguments.
1. It is very evident that we ought to use our utmost endeavours to avoid sin: which is inconsistent with needlessly doing those things, that expose and lead to sin. And the greater any evil is, the greater care and the more earnest endeavours, does it require to avoid it. Those evils that appear to us very great and dreadful, we use proportionably great care to avoid. And therefore the greatest evil of all, requires the greatest and utmost care to avoid it.
Sin is an infinite evil, because committed against an infinitely great and excellent Being, and so a violation of infinite obligation therefore however great our care be to avoid sin, it cannot be more than proportionable to the evil we would avoid. Our care and endeavour cannot be infinite, as the evil of sin is infinite; but yet it ought to be to the utmost of our power; we ought to use every method that tends to the avoiding of sin. This is manifest to reason.-And not only so, but this is positively required of us in the word of God. Josh. xxii. 5. "Take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your soul." Deut. iv. 15, 16. "Take ye therefore good heed
unto yourselves, lest ye corrupt yourselves." Chap. xii. 30. "Take heed to thyself, that thou be not snared," &c. Luke xi. 36. "Take heed and beware of covetousness." 1 Cor. x. 12. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." Deut. iv. 9. “Take heed to thyself, keep thy soul diligently." These and many other texts of scripture, plainly require of us, the utmost possible diligence and caution to avoid sin.
But how can he be said to use the utmost possible diligence and caution to avoid sin, that voluntarily does those things which naturally expose and lead to sin? How can he be said with the utmost possible caution to avoid an enemy, that voluntarily lays himself in his way? How can he be said to use the utmost possible caution to preserve the life of his child, that suffers it to go on the edge of precipices or pits; or to play on the borders of a deep gulf; or to wander in a wood, that is haunted by beasts of prey?
2. It is evident that we ought to avoid those things that expose and lead to sin; because a due sense of the evil of sin, and a just hatred of it, will necessarily have this effect upon us, to cause us so to do.-If we were duly sensible of the evil and dreadful nature of sin, we should have an exceeding dread of it upon our spirits. We should hate it worse than death, and should fear it worse than the devil himself; and dread it even as we dread damnation. But those things that men exceedingly dread, they naturally shun; and they avoid those things that they apprehend expose to them. As a child, that has been greatly terrified by the sight of any wild beast, will by no means be persuaded to go where it apprehends that it shall fall in its way.
As sin in its own nature is infinitely hateful, so in its natural tendency it is infinitely dreadful. It is the tendency of all sin, eternally to undo the soul. Every sin naturally carries hell in it! Therefore, all sin ought to be treated by us, as we would treat a thing that is infinitely terrible. If any one sin, yea, the least sin, do not necessarily bring eternal ruin with it, this is owing to nothing but the free grace and mercy of God to us, and not to the nature and tendency of sin itself. But certainly, we ought not to take the less care to avoid sin, or all that tends to it, for the freeness and greatness of God's mercy to us, through which there is hope of pardon; for that would be indeed a most ungrateful and vile abuse of mercy. Were it made known to us, that if we ever voluntarily committed any particular act of sin, we should be damned without any remedy or escape, should we not exceedingly dread the commission of such? Should we not be very watchful and careful to stand at the greatest distance from that sin and from every thing that might expose us to it; and that has any tendency to stir up our lust, or to betray us to such an act of sin? Let us then consider, that though the next voluntary act of known sin, shall not necessarily and unavoidably issue