(3) These temptations are overruled for good to the children of God. A tree that is shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted; so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a Christian the more in grace. Temptations are overruled for good in eight ways:
(a) Temptation sends the soul to prayer. The more furiously Satan tempts, the more fervently the saint prays. The deer being shot with the dart, runs faster to the water. When Satan shoots his fiery darts at the soul, it then runs faster to the throne of grace. When Paul had the messenger of Satan to buffet him, he says, ‘For this I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me’ (2 Cor. 12.8). Temptation is a medicine for security. That which makes us pray more, works for good.
(b) Temptation to sin is a means. to keep from the perpetration of sin. The more a child of God is tempted, the more he fights against the temptation. The more Satan tempts to blasphemy, the more a saint trembles at such thoughts, and says, ‘Get thee hence, Satan.’ When Joseph’s mistress tempted him to folly, the stronger her temptation was, the stronger was his opposition. That temptation which the devil uses as a spur to sin, God makes a bridle to keep back a Christian from it.
(c) Temptation works for good, as it abates the swelling of pride. ‘Lest I should be exalted above measure, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me’ (2 Cor. 12.7). The thorn in the flesh was to puncture the puffing up of pride. Better is that temptation which humbles me, than that duty which makes me proud. Rather than a Christian shall be haughty-minded, God will let him fall into the devil’s hands awhile, to be cured of his imposthume [abscess].
(d) Temptation works for good, as it is a touch-stone to try what is in the heart. The devil tempts, that he may deceive; but God suffers us to be tempted, to try us. Temptation is a trial of our sincerity. It argues that our heart is chaste and loyal to Christ, when we can look a temptation in the face, and turn our back upon it. Also it is a trial of our courage. ‘Ephraim is a silly dove without heart’ (Hosea 7.11). So it may be said of many, they are without a heart; they have no heart to resist temptation. No sooner does Satan come, but they yield; like a coward who, as soon as the thief approaches, gives him his purse. But he is the valorous Christian that brandishes the sword of the Spirit against Satan, and will rather die than yield. The courage of the Romans was never more seen than when they were assaulted by the Carthaginians: the valour and puissance [power, might] of a saint is never more seen than on a battlefield, when he is fighting the red dragon, and by the power of faith puts the devil to flight. That grace is tried gold, which can stand in the fiery trial, and withstand fiery darts.
(e) Temptations work for good, as God makes those who are tempted, fit to comfort others in the same distress. A Christian must himself be under the buffetings of Satan, before he can speak a word in due season to him that is weary. St Paul was versed in temptations. ‘We are not ignorant of his devices’ (2 Cor. 2.11). Thus he was able to acquaint others with Satan’s cursed wiles (1 Cor. 10.13). A man that has ridden over a place where there are bogs and quicksands, is the fittest to guide others through that dangerous way. He that has felt the claws of the roaring lion, and has lain bleeding under those wounds, is the fittest man to deal with one that is tempted. None can better discover Satan’s sleights and policies, than those who have been long in the fencing-school of temptation.
(f) Temptations work for good, as they stir up paternal compassion in God to them who are tempted. The child who is sick and bruised is most looked after. When a saint lies under the bruising of temptations, Christ prays, and God the Father pities. When Satan puts the soul into a fever, God comes with a cordial; which made Luther say that temptations are Christ’s embraces, because He then most sweetly manifests Himself to the soul.
(g) Temptations work for good, as they make the saints long more for heaven. There they shall be out of gunshot. Heaven is a place of rest, no bullets of temptation fly there. The eagle that soars aloft in the air, and sits upon high trees, is not troubled with the stinging of the serpent: so when believers are ascended to heaven, they shall not be molested with the old serpent. In this life, when one temptation is over, another comes. This is to make God’s people wish for death to sound a retreat, and call them off the field where the bullets fly so quick, to receive a victorious crown, where not the drum or cannon, but the harp and viol, shall be ever sounding.
(h) Temptations work for good, as they engage the strength of Christ. Christ is our Friend, and when we are tempted, He sets all His power working for us. ‘For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted’ (Heb. 2.18). If a poor soul was to fight alone with the Goliath of hell, he would be sure to be vanquished; but Jesus Christ brings in His auxiliary forces, He gives fresh supplies of grace. ‘And through him we are more than conquerors’ (Rom. 8.37). Thus the evil of temptation is overruled for good.