Overcoming Lust

This document is taken from “The Ten Commandments” by the seventeenth century English Puritan, Thomas Watson.  It is the application of the warnings against sexual sin set forth in the first section, and is an exposition of the Seventh Commandment.

Q.  How may we abstain from this sin?

Ans.  I shall give some directions, by way of antidote, to keep from the infection of this sin. 

1. Come not into the company of a whorish woman; avoid her house, as a seaman does a rock.  “Come not near the door of her house” (Prov 5:8).  He who would not have the plague, must not come near infected houses; every whore-house has the plague in it.  Not to beware of the occasion of sin, and yet pray, “Lead us not into temptation” is, as if one should put his finger into the candle, and yet pray that it may not be burnt.

2. Look to your eyes.  Much sin comes in by the eye.  “Having eyes full of adultery” (2 Pet 2:14).  The eye tempts the fancy, and the fancy works upon the heart.  A wanton amorous eye may usher in sin.  Eve first saw then tree of knowledge, and then she took (Gen 3:16).  First she looked and then she loved.  The eye often sets the heart on fire; therefore Job laid a law upon his eyes.  “I made a covenant with my eyes, why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1).  Democritus the philosopher plucked out his eyes, because he would not be tempted by vain objects; the Scripture does not bid us do this, but to set a watch before our eyes.

3. Look to your lips.  Take heed of any unseemly word that may enkindle unclean thoughts in yourselves or others.  “Evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor 15:33).  Impure discourse is the bellows to blow up the fire of lust.  Much evil is conveyed to the heart by the tongue.  “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth” (Ps 141:3). 

4. Look in a special manner to your heart“Keep thy heart with all diligence” (Prov 4:23).  Every one has a tempter in his own bosom.  “Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matt 15:19).  Thinking of sin makes way for the act of sin.  Suppress the first rising of sin in your heart.  As the serpent, when danger is near, keeps his head, so keep your heart, which is the spring from whence all lustful motions proceed.

5. Look to your attire.  We read of the attire of a harlot (Prov 7:10).  A wanton dress is a provocation to lust.  Curlings and braidings of the hair, a painted face, naked breasts, are allurements to vanity.  Where the sign is hung out, people will go in and taste the liquor.  Hierom (Jerome) says, they who by their lascivious attire endeavour to draw others to lust, though no evil follows, are tempters, and shall be punished, because they offered the poison to others, though they would not drink.

6. Take heed of evil company….Sin is a very catching disease; one tempts another to sin, and hardens him in it.  There are three cords that draw men to adultery: the inclination of the heart, the persuasion of evil company, and the embraces of the harlot; and this threefold cord is not easily broken.  “A fire was kindled in their company” (Ps 56:18). The fire of lust is kindled in bad company.

7. Beware of going to plays (and movies and television in our time, obviously).  A play-house is often a preface to a whore-house…..We are bid to avoid all appearance of evil: and are not plays the appearance of evil?  Such sights are there that are not fit to be beheld with chaste eyes.  Both Fathers and Councils have shown their dislike to going to plays.  A learned divine observes, “That many have on their death-beds confessed with tears, that the pollution of their bodies has been by going to plays”.

8. Take heed of mixed dancing…..From dancing, people come to dalliance with one another, and from dalliance to uncleanness.  There is, says Calvin, for the most part, some unchaste behaviour in dancing.  Dances draw the heart to folly by wanton gestures, by unchaste touches, and by lustful looks.  Chrysostom inveighed against mixed dancing in his time.  “We read,” he says, “of a marriage feast, and of virgins going before with lamps, but of dancing there we read not” (Matt 25:7).  Many have been ensnared by dancing; as the Duke of Normandy, and others….Chrysostom says, where dancing is, there the devil is.  I speak chiefly of mixed dancing.  We read of dances in Scripture, but they were sober and modest (Exodus 15).  They were not mixed dances, but pious and religious, being usually accompanied with singing praises to God.

9. Take heed of lascivious books, and pictures that provoke to lust.  As the reading of the scripture stirs up love to God, so reading bad books stirs up the mind to wickedness.  I could name one who published a book to the world full of effeminate, amorous, and wanton expressions, who, before he died, was much troubled for it, and burned the book which made so many burn in lust.  To lascivious books I may add lascivious pictures, which bewitch the eye, and are incendiaries to lust.  They secretly convey poison to the heart….Popish pictures are not more prone to stir up idolatry than unclean pictures are to stir up to concupiscence.

10. Take heed of excess in diet.  When gluttony and drunkenness lead the van (front section of army, etc.), chambering and wantonness bring up the rear….any wine inflames lust; and fulness of bread is made the cause of Sodom’s uncleanness (Ezek 16:49).  The rankest weeds grow out of the fattest soil.  Uncleanness proceeds from excess.  “When they were fed to the full, every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife” (Jer 5:8).  Get the “golden bridle of temperance”.  God allows recruits of nature, and what may fit us the better for his service; but beware of surfeit (excess).  Excess in the creature clouds the mind, chokes good affections, and provokes lust.  Paul did “keep under his body” (1 Cor 9:27).  The flesh pampered is apt to rebel.

11. Take heed of idleness.  When a man is out of a calling, he is ready to receive any temptation.  We do not sow seed in fallow ground; but the devil sows most seed of temptation in such as lie fallow.  Idleness is the cause of sodomy and uncleanness (Ezek 16:49).  When David was idle on the top of his house, he espied Bathsheba, and took her to him (2 Sam 11:4).  Hierom gave his friend counsel to be always well employed in God’s vineyard, that when the devil came, he might have no leisure to listen to temptation.

12. To avoid fornication and adultery, let every man have a chaste, entire love to his own wife. Ezekiel’s wife was the desire of his eyes (Ezek 24:16).  When Solomon had dissuaded from strange women, he prescribed a remedy against it.  “Rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (Prov 5:18).  It is not having a wife but loving a wife that makes a man live chastely.  He who loves his wife, whom Solomon calls his fountain, will not go abroad to drink of muddy, poisoned waters.  Pure conjugal love is a gift of God, and comes from heaven; but, like the vestal fire, it must be cherished, that it go not out.  He who loves not his wife, is the likeliest person to embrace the bosom of a stranger.

13. Labour to get the fear of God into your hearts“By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil” (Prov 16:6).  As the embankment keeps out the water, so the fear of the Lord keeps out uncleanness.  Such as want (lack) the fear of God, want (lack) the bridle that should check them from sin.  How did Joseph keep from his mistress’s temptation?  The fear of God pulled him back.  “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9).  Bernard (of Clairvaux) calls holy fear, janitor animae, “the door-keeper of the soul”.  As a nobleman’s porter stands at the door, and keeps out vagrants, so the fear of God stands and keeps out all sinful temptations from entering.

14. Take delight in the word of God“How sweet is thy word to my taste” (Ps 119:103).  Chrysostom compares God’s word to a garden.  If we walk in this garden, and suck sweetness from the flowers of the promises, we shall never care to pluck the “forbidden fruit”….The reason why persons seek after unchaste, sinful pleasures, is because they have no better.  Caesar, riding through a city, and seeing the women play with dogs and parrots, said, “Sure, they have no children”.  So they that sport with harlots have no better pleasures.  He that has once tasted Christ in a promise, is ravished with delight; and how would he scorn a motion to sin!  Job said, the word was his “appointed food” (Job 23:12).  No wonder then he made a “covenant with his eyes”.

15. If you would abstain from adultery, use serious consideration.  Consider:

  • God sees thee in the act of sin.  He sees all thy curtain wickedness.  He is totus oculus, all eye.  The clouds are no canopy, the night is no curtain to hide thee from God’s eye.  Thou canst not sin, but they judge looks on.  “I have seen thy adulteries and thy neighings” (Jer 13:27).  “They have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives; even I know, and am a witness, saith the LORD” (Jer 29:23).
  • Few that are entangled in the sin of adultery, recover from the snare.  “None that go to her return again” (Prov 2:19).  This made some of the ancients conclude that adultery was an unpardonable sin; but it is not so.  David repented.  Mary Magdalene was a weeping penitent; upon her amorous eyes that sparkled with lust, she sought to be revenged, by washing Christ’s feet with her tears.  Some, therefore, have recovered from the snare.  “None that go to her return,” that is, “very few”; it is rare to hear of any who are enchanted and bewitched with this sin of adultery, that recover from it.  “Her heart is snares and nets, and her hands are bands” (Eccl 7:26).  “Her heart is snares”, that is, she is subtle to deceive those who come to her; and “her hands are bands”, that is, her embraces are powerful to hold and entangle her lovers.  Plutarch said of the Persian kings, “They were captives to their concubines”; they were so inflamed, that they had no power to leave their company.  This consideration should make all fearful of this sin.  Soft pleasures harden the heart.
  • Consider what Scripture says, which may ponere obicem, lay a bar in the way to this sin.  “I will be a swift witness against the adulterers” (Mal 3:5).It is good when God is a witness for us, when he witnesses to our sincerity, as he did to Job’s; but it is sad to have God a witness against us.  “I”, says God, “will be a witness against the adulterer”.  And who shall disprove his witness?  He is both witness and judge.  “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13:4).
  • Consider the sad farewell the sin of adultery leaves.  It leaves a hell in the conscience.  “The lips of a strange woman drop as a honeycomb, but her end is bitter as wormwood” (Prov 5:4).  The goddess Diana was so artificially drawn, that she seemed to smile upon those that came into her temple, but frown on those that went out.  So the harlot smiles on her lovers as they come to her, but at last come the frown and the sting.  “A dart strikes through their liver” (Prov 7:23).  “Her end is bitter”.  When a man has been virtuous, the labour is gone, but the comfort remains; but when he has been vicious and unclean, the pleasure is gone, but the sting remains….When the senses have been feasted with unchaste pleasures, the soul is left to pay the reckoning.  Stolen waters are sweet; but as poison, though sweet to the mouth, it torments the bowels.  Sin always ends in a tragedy.  Memorable is that which Fincelius reports of a priest in Flanders, who enticed a maid to uncleanness.  She objected how vile a sin it was; he told her that by authority from the Pope he could commit any sin; so at last he drew her to his wicked purpose.  But when they had been together a while, in came the devil, and took away the harlot from the priest’s side, and notwithstanding all her crying out, carried her away.  If the devil should come and carry away all that are guilty of bodily uncleanness in this nation, I fear more would be carried away than would be left behind.

16. Pray against this sin.  Luther gave a lady this advice, that when any lust began to rise in her heart, she should go to prayer.  Prayer is the best armour of proof; it quenches the wild fire of lust.  If prayer will “cast out the devil”, why may it not cast out those lusts that come from the devil?

Use 4.  If the body must be kept pure from defilement, much more the soul of a Christian must be kept pure.  The meaning of the commandment is not only that we should not stain our bodies with adultery, but that we should keep our souls pure.  To have a chaste body but an unclean soul, is like a fair face with bad lungs; or a gilt chimney-piece that is all soot within.  “Be ye holy, form I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16).  The soul cannot be lovely to God till it has Christ’s image stamped upon it, which consists in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 4:14).  The soul must especially be kept pure, because it is the chief place of God’s residence (Eph 3:17).  A king’s palace must be kept clean, especially his presence-chamber.  If the body is the temple, the soul is the “holy of holies”, and must be consecrated.  We must not only keep our bodies from carnal pollution, but our souls from envy and malice.

Q. How shall we know our souls are pure?

Ans. 1. If our souls are pure, we flee from the appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22).  We shall not do that which looks like sin.  When Joseph’s mistress courted and tempted him, he “left his garment in her hand, and fled” (Gen 39:12).  It was suspicious to be near her.  Polycarp would not be seen in company with Marcion the heretic, because it would not be of good report.

2. If our souls are pure, the light of purity will shine forth.  Aaron had “Holiness to the LORD” written upon his golden plate.  Where there is sanctity in the soul, there, “Holiness to the LORD” is engraven upon the life.  We are adorned with patience, humility, good works, and shine as “Lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).  Carry Christ’s picture in your conversation (1 Jn 2:16).  O let us labour formthis soul purity!  Without it there is no “seeing God” (Heb 12:14).  “What communion hath light with darkness?”  To keep the soul pure:

  • Have recourse to the blood of Christ: which is the fountain open for sin and uncleanness (Zech 13:1).  A soul steeped in the briny tears of repentance, and bathed in the blood of Christ, is made pure.
  • Pray much for a pureness of soul.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps 51:10).  Some pray for children, others for riches; but pray thou for soul-purity.  Say, “Lord, though my body is kept pure, yet my soul is defiled, I pollute all I touch.  O purge me with hyssop, let Christ’s blood sprinkle me, let the Holy Ghost come upon me and anoint me.  O make me evangelically pure, that I may be translated to heaven, and placed among the cherubim, where I shall be as holy as thou wouldst have me to be, and as happy as I can desire to be”.


Watson, Thomas, The Ten Commandments, p. 117-121, reprint 1962, pub. The Banner of Truth Trust, London, England