Joseph: an example of purity #2 The resistance
Part 1 here.
The seductions of Potiphar’s wife having failed, she has tried to force herself on godly Joseph. Put yourself in his shoes: everything pushes him toward sin, except a profound awareness of God with him. With that in his heart, he resists the temptation. How often we have the opportunity and the inclination to sin, and we rush into wickedness precisely because we lack a consciousness of the presence of the Holy One. I wish I could find online a sermon by George McDearmon, a friend and mentor of mine, about Joseph as an example of moral courage, which I strongly recommend: Joseph’s moral courage at this point needs to be understood and emulated.
II. Here is a most illustrious instance of virtue and resolved chastity in Joseph, who, by the grace of God, was enabled to resist and overcome this temptation; and, all things considered, his escape was, for aught I know, as great an instance of the divine power as the deliverance of the three children out of the fiery furnace.
1. The temptation he was assaulted with was very strong. Never was a more violent onset made upon the fort of chastity than this recorded here. (1.) The sin he was tempted to was uncleanness, which considering his youth, his beauty, his single state, and his plentiful living at the table of a ruler, was a sin which, one would think, might most easily beset him and betray him. (2.) The tempter was his mistress, a person of quality, whom it was his place to obey and his interest to oblige, whose favour would contribute more than any thing to his preferment, and by whose means he might arrive at the highest honours of the court. On the other hand, it was at his utmost peril if he slighted her, and made her his enemy. (3.) Opportunity makes a thief, makes an adulterer, and that favoured the temptation. The tempter was in the house with him; his business led him to be, without any suspicion, where she was; none of the family were within (v. 11); there appeared no danger of its being ever discovered, or, if it should be suspected, his mistress would protect him. (4.) To all this was added importunity, frequent constant importunity, to such a degree that, at last, she laid violent hands on him.
2. His resistance of the temptation was very brave, and the victory truly honourable. The almighty grace of God enabled him to overcome this assault of the enemy, (1.) By strength of reason; and wherever right reason may be heard, religion no doubt will carry the day. He argues from the respect he owed both to God and his master, v. 8, 9. [1.] He would not wrong his master, nor do such an irreparable injury to his honour. He considers, and urges, how kind his master had been to him, what a confidence he had reposed in him, in how many instances he had befriended him, for which he abhorred the thought of making such an ungrateful return. Note, We are bound in honour, as well as justice and gratitude, not in any thing to injure those that have a good opinion of us and place a trust in us, how secretly soever it may be done. See how he argues (v. 9): “There is none greater in this house than I, therefore I will not do it.” Note, Those that are great, instead of being proud of their greatness, should use it as an argument against sin. “Is none greater than I? Then I will scorn to do a wicked thing; it is below me to serve a base lust; I will not disparage myself so much.” [2.] He would not offend his God. This is the chief argument with which he strengthens his aversion to the sin. How can I do this? not only, How shall I? or, How dare I? but, How can I? Id possumus, quod jure possumus-We can do that which we can do lawfully. It is good to shut out sin with the strongest bar, even that of an impossibility. He that is born of God cannot sin, 1 John iii. 9. Three arguments Joseph urges upon himself. First, He considers who he was that was tempted. “I; others may perhaps take their liberty, but I cannot. I that am an Israelite in covenant with God, that profess religion, and relation to him: it is next to impossible for me to do so.” Secondly, What the sin was to which he was tempted: This great wickedness. Others might look upon it as a small matter, a peccadillo, a trick of youth; but Joseph had another idea of it. In general, when at any time we are tempted to sin, we must consider the great wickedness there is in it, let sin appear sin (Rom. vii. 13), call it by its own name, and never go about to lessen it. Particularly let the sin of uncleanness always be looked upon as great wickedness, as an exceedingly sinful sin, that wars against the soul as much as any other. Thirdly, Against whom he was tempted to sin-against God; not only, “How shall I do it, and sin against my master, my mistress, myself, my own body and soul; but against God?” Note, Gracious souls look upon this as the worst thing in sin that it is against God, against his nature and his dominion, against his love and his design. Those that love God do for this reason hate sin. (2.) By stedfastness of resolution. The grace of God enabled him to overcome the temptation by avoiding the tempter. [1.] He hearkened not to her, so much as to be with her, v. 10. Note, Those that would be kept from harm must keep themselves out of harm’s way. Avoid it, pass not by it. Nay, [2.] When she laid hold of him, he left his garment in her hand, v. 12. He would not stay so much as to parley with the temptation, but flew out from it with the utmost abhorrence; he left his garment, as one escaping for his life. Note, It is better to lose a good coat than a good conscience.