Occasions of Sin: What They Are and How to Avoid Them

Authored by renowned Scottish archbishop George Hay (1729–1811), Enemies of Salvation examines our three chief enemies—the flesh, the world, and the devil—and how they conspire together to threaten the salvation of our souls. In this succinct text, Bishop Hay provides a field map to knowing your enemies and learning how to defeat them with the grace of God. 

There is a precaution to be observed with the utmost care to fortify us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies, so necessary that the other protections will be of little service without it, and that is, to carefully fly from and avoid all the dangerous occasions of sin. On this important subject, the following things are to be considered.

What Is An Occasion Of Sin?

By the occasions of sin are meant those circumstances in which a man is exposed to the danger of committing sin. 


  • A tavern is an occasion of sin to a drunkard, insomuch that it will be morally impossible for him to reclaim himself while he frequents it. 
  • Gambling, besides its own intrinsic evil, exposes to the danger of anger, cursing, and swearing.
  • Immodest discourses expose us to impure thoughts and desires.
  • The conversation of unbelievers exposes us to doubts concerning points of faith.
  • Reading bad books exposes us to take pleasure in, or consent to, the evil they contain.
  • The company and conversation of those who curse and swear exposes us to speak in the same manner.


Hence, these dangerous occasions are called in Scriptural language the evil way, the road to sin, the way of iniquity; for as the road or way to any place leads those who walk in it to that place, so these dangerous occasions lead those who walk in them to wickedness and sin. 

Thus David says, “Remove from me the way of iniquity” (Ps. 118:29); “I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy words” (v. 101); “I have hated every way of iniquity” (v. 104); and the wise man, “Go not,” says he, “in the way of ruin, and thou shall not stumble against the stones” (Ecclus. 32:25).

The Power of Temptation in Occasions of Sin

How difficult, or rather morally impossible, it is to expose one’s self to these dangerous occasions and not be led away by them, is manifest from experience itself. For when a thing is actually present with us, it has much greater power to excite our passions than when absent, and we find it infinitely more difficult to restrain these passions in the presence of the object that excites them than when it is distant from us. 

A person who is moderately hungry feels the cravings of his appetite, but he can easily bear them. Set some savory meat before him, however, and he will scarcely be able to refrain from it. 

Just so, when one is in the dangerous occasion of sin by its presence, it acts so strongly upon the senses, and so excites the sensual appetite, as easily to drag away the will to consent to those sins which it proposes.


  • Suppose a person loses his money in gambling. He is vexed at his misfortune, he condemns his folly, and resolves to renounce that delusive amusement. If he avoid the occasion, he will keep his resolution, but let him frequent the company of those who play, though at first only as a spectator, yet he will soon find his resolution fail. His imagination will flatter him with the hope of better success; the enticements of his companions to try his fortune again will bend him to compliance, or their derision and jeers will unman him.
  • How many instances are there of drunkards who, if kept entirely from liquor, will scarcely think of it. But let them go into company and take a glass or two, and they will not have resolution enough to restrain themselves from excess! A person may be honest and have even an abhorrence of all injustice, but let him be in difficulties and have an opportunity of committing fraud with impunity, and who will answer for his honesty? Hence the common proverb that occasion makes the thief.
  • How many are there who of themselves would never think of speaking obscene words, yet if in company with those who talk in that strain, are carried away and speak as they do! 

The Devil’s Tactics

From these and many such cases, it is plain that the outward occasions of sin are the strongest means which the devil has of tempting us. His internal suggestions are frequently too weak and of no effect without the other, and he, well knowing this, does his utmost to lead people into dangerous occasions and to bring before their eyes the objects that excite to sin as the most effectual way to ruin them.

Thus, even with our blessed Savior Himself, after Satan had in vain tried to deceive Him by other means, “He took Him up into a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and said, all these will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and adore me” (Matt. 4:8). 

He could easily have told Him in the desert that he had all these kingdoms in his power and would give them, but he knew that presenting objects before the eyes makes a deeper impression and excites a more keen desire than anything that can be said in words. What he did then to Jesus Christ, he continues daily to do to men, and sad experience shows with what fatal success.

Resolving To Avoid Occasions Of Sin

No man must here trust to the strength of his own resolution, or expose himself to dangerous occasions, from the persuasion that he is firmly determined never to be led astray by them. However strong his resolution may be when at a distance from the occasion, what security can he have that he will not be unmanned when exposed to it? Is he stronger than Sampson, more pious than David, wiser than Solomon, or more faithful than Peter? They fell by being exposed to the occasions; what can he expect?

The more diligent we are in doing our part, the more firmly may we hope for God’s protection, and such an abundant supply of His grace as will enable us effectually to keep His holy commandments and attain eternal salvation.

This article is taken from a chapter in Enemies of Salvation: The Flesh, the World, and the Devil by Bishop George Hay which is available from TAN Books



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