But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death
In speaking about this passage, Owen asserts the following:
There are two things that are necessary in the creature that has conceived sin, for the bringing of it forth: (1) power; and (2) continuance in the will of sinning until it be perpetrated and committed. Where these two are, actual sin will unavoidably ensue. It is evident, therefore, that which hinders conceived sin from being brought forth must affect either the power or the will of the sinner. This must be from God. And he has two ways of doing it: (1) by his providence, whereby he obstructs the power of sinning; and (2) by his grace, whereby he diverts or changes the will of sinning" (342-343).
Owen then proceeds to explain the various ways that God providentially takes away the power to sin.
- First, he speaks of how God takes away the sinner's life, and recounts the many times God has rescued Israel from destruction by destroying her enemies.
- Second, he speaks of how God prevents sin by frustrating the sinner's attempts directly, as when He confused the language of the builders at Babel or when He struck the men at Sodom with blindness.
- Third, Owen speaks of how God raises up an external hindering power against sinners to prevent their sin.
- Fourth, Owen speaks of how God removes the objects against which the sin is aimed, such as when He prevented Herod from killing Peter by setting him free.
- And fifth, Owen speaks of how God prevents sin by distracting the sinner, as when He diverted Saul from killing David by stirring the Philistines to invade Israel.
And, finally, there is this gold, as Owen brings the theology home:
This may give us a little insight into the ever-to-be-adored providence of God, by these and the like ways in great variety obstructing the breaking forth of sin in the world. It is he who makes those dams, and shuts up those flood-gates of corrupted nature, that it shall not break forth in a deluge of filthy abominations, to overwhelm the creation with confusion and disorder. As it was of old, so it is at this day: "Every thought and imagination of the heart of man is evil, and that continually" [Gen 6:5]. That all the earth is not in all places filled with violence, as it was of old, is merely from the mighty hand of God working effectually for the obstructing of sin. From hence alone it is that the highways, streets, and fields are not all filled with violence, blood, rapine, uncleanness, and every villainy that the heart can conceive. Oh, the infinite beauty of divine wisdom and providence in the government of the world! for the conservation of it asks daily no less power and wisdom than the first making of it did require.
If we will look to our own concerns, they will in a special manner enforce us to adore the wisdom and efficacy of the providence of God in stopping the progress of conceived sin. That we are at peace in our houses, at rest in our beds, that we have any quiet in our enjoyments, is from hence alone. Whose person would not be defiled or destroyed—whose habitation would not be ruined—whose blood almost would not be shed—if wicked men had power to perpetrate all their conceived sin? It may be the ruin of some of us has been conceived a thousand times. We are beholding to this providence of obstructing sin for our lives, our families, our estates, our liberties, for whatsoever is or may be dear unto us; for may we not say sometimes, with the psalmist, "My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the souls of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (Ps. 57:4)?
And how is the deliverance of men contrived from such persons? "God breaks their teeth in their mouths, even the great teeth of the young lions" (ps. 58:6). He keeps this fire from burning, or quenches it when it is ready to break out into a flame. He breaks their spears and arrows, so that sometimes we are not so much as wounded by them. Some he cuts off and destroys, some he cuts short in their power; some he deprives of the instruments whereby alone they can work; some he prevents from their desired opportunities, or diverts by other objects for their lusts, and oftentimes causes them to spend them among themselves, one upon another.
We may say, therefore, with the psalmist, "O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all: the earth is full of your riches" (Ps. 104:24); and with the prophet, "Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? all the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein" (Hos. 14:9).
Owen, John. Indwelling Sin, Part 2: The Power and Efficacy of Indwelling Sin. Overcoming & Temptation. Edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor. Crossway Books, 2006. pg. 349-350.