Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

Presented by

Public Domain Books

Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh

Sins of the flesh include all forms of slackness and bodily self- indulgence. A Christian is called to assert the supremacy of the spirit over the flesh by controlling his bodily impulses and disciplining his desires. There is, therefore, a true Christian asceticism. But asceticism, in so far as it is genuinely Christian, is never an end in itself. It is a discipline which promotes efficiency. It is to be compared to an athlete’s training, not to the self- mutilation of a fakir. There is in Christianity no doctrine of the unlawfulness of bodily pleasures in themselves. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” For Christianity every creature of GOD in itself is good, and a man’s bodily impulses are God-given endowments of his nature. What is essential is that their exercise should be controlled and subordinated to the higher purposes of the spirit, that they should be directed to their proper ends, and that they should not be allowed to get out of hand. Christians are not meant to be Puritans, but they are meant to be pure. The battle against fleshliness in all its forms is a battle which has to be fought and won in every Christian’s life.

Apart from the question of certain unmentionable forms of perverted sexual vice, the sinfulness of what are commonly classified as “sins of the flesh” consists in wrongful indulgence or lack of self-control in respect of that which in itself is legitimate and good. The Christian ideal is not abstinence, but temperance. A Christian will be temperate, for example, in sleep, food, alcohol, and tobacco. Intemperance means slavery to a habit, the loss of spiritual self- mastery, whereby the whole character is enervated, and efficiency, both physical and moral, is impaired. “All things are lawful,” as S. Paul says, but a Christian is not to allow himself to be brought “under the power of any.” He is meant to live hard and to live clean.

The practice of fasting, that is, of deliberate temporary self- discipline in these matters, even below the standard of what would normally be a reasonable indulgence, is a valuable means of asserting and retaining the self-mastery which is essential to Christian freedom. But fasting should not be allowed to become a mechanical observance, or erected into an unduly rigid law. The fish-dinner upon Fridays and other fast-days of the Church is, as a modern dignitary has remarked, innocuous; and it has the value which belongs to conformity to a rule or recommendation of the Christian brotherhood; but whether or not it is observed in practice, it is hardly adequate by itself to the purposes of Christian self-discipline.

It appears to be a fairly widespread delusion in some sections of society that a Christian must necessarily be a teetotaller. The ideal Christian policy, here as elsewhere, if we may judge from the example of our Lord, would seem to be that of a temperate use of the gifts of GOD. It is unfortunate that in this country most of the societies which exist for the purpose of promoting temperance have virtually committed themselves to the confusion of temperance with total abstinence, and their fanaticism is, in the judgment of many persons, a hindrance to genuine reform. But it cannot reasonably be denied that drunkenness, and the still wider prevalence of an excessive drinking which falls short of actual drunkenness, is a frightful evil in the national life; and what is commonly known as the “Liquor Interest" plays a sinister part as an organized obstructive force standing in the way of needed reforms. The number of public-houses and drinking- bars in English towns and villages is monstrously out of proportion to any reasonable needs of the population: and it must be more than ordinarily difficult for brewers and publicans, under existing conditions, to resist the temptation to exploit for the sake of gain the weaknesses of others. A Christian need not be a teetotaller in order to have this problem upon his conscience, and to be ready to support, by his vote and influence, some considered and constructive policy of reform. A man who by experience finds that alcohol is to him personally a temptation will be wise if he becomes a teetotaller. “If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut it off.” In certain social environments it may also be wise for a man to become a total abstainer, not in his own interests, but for the sake of others with whom he is brought into immediate contact. There can be no question but that drunkenness, which is a vice both degrading and repulsive in itself, is in many strata of English social life still far too lightly regarded.

It is, moreover, worth remarking that even a degree of indulgence in alcohol which would commonly be regarded as falling well within the limit of temperance is regarded by some authorities as having the effect–which actual drunkenness certainly has–of stimulating sexuality: and when all is said, probably the most insistent of fleshly temptations, at least in the earlier years of manhood, are those which are connected with the life of sex. Many make shipwreck upon these rocks through lack of knowledge or want of thought; but neither thought nor knowledge will avail to safeguard a man’s purity apart from sound moral principle: nor are even moral principles effectual in the hour of strong temptation apart from the grace of GOD.

Christianity teaches that to every man there is entrusted, in virtue of his manhood, the seed of life as a divine treasure. It is meant not to be turned into a means of self-indulgence, or suffered to run riot in a blaze of passion, but to be restrained and safeguarded in purity against the day–if the day arrives–upon which a man is called to use it for the purpose for which it was given him, namely, that of bringing new lives into the world through union with a woman in pure marriage.

Most men are sorely tempted to lack of self-control, and to the misuse of their sexual endowment in a variety of ways: and the maintenance of chastity–never an easy ideal–is made doubly difficult by the fact that in the existing social system marriage, except among the poorer classes, is commonly deferred until an age much later than that at which a man becomes physically mature, and also by the widespread prevalence, in masculine society, of a corrupt public opinion which regards sexual indulgence as morally tolerable, or even as essential to physical health. This latter doctrine, even were it as true as it is in fact false, would not in any case justify a man in taking advantage of a woman’s ruin: but experience shows that there is no form of sin or indulgence which so effectually degrades a man’s moral outlook, blunts his finer perceptions, and destroys the instinct of chivalry within him, as does the sin of fornication. The majority of those who practise promiscuous sexual intercourse are found to greet with frank and obviously genuine incredulity the assertion that there exists a not inconsiderable proportion of men whose lives are clean; while at the other end of the scale men of pure lives and clean ideals often find it difficult to believe that more than a small minority of peculiarly degraded individuals are clients of the women of the streets.

The publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases, taken in conjunction with what is known or suspected with regard to the state of morals in the Army, has had the effect of drawing public attention to certain aspects of these problems. The Victorian convention of prudery has to a great extent been discarded. The subject is freely discussed, and it is generally acknowledged that something must be done. There is danger, however, lest public opinion, rightly concerned to promote measures for the eradication of disease, should ignore the essentially moral aspect of the matter. A Christian man is here concerned, not simply with the personal struggle against the temptations of sex in his own life, but with a further conflict on behalf of Christian ideals against the public opinion of the world.

For if ecclesiastical opinion in the past has been both prudish and Pharisaic, the public opinion of the world is frankly cynical. Roughly speaking, the world expects the majority of women to be pure, acquiesces in the prostitution of the remainder, and treats masculine immorality as a venial offence. Numbers of would-be reformers–of the male sex–are not ashamed to advocate, in private if not in public, the establishment of licensed brothels on the continental model. It ought not to be necessary to say that no Christian man can possibly tolerate a proposal to give deliberate public sanction to the prostitution of a certain proportion of the nation’s womanhood to the lusts of men, or acquiesce in the complacent sex-selfishness which is concerned only for the physical health of sinners of the male sex.

The point of view of the Christian Church is determined by that of our Lord, who on the one hand numbered a reclaimed prostitute among His intimate friends, and on the other taught that whoso looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart. The Church, therefore, differs from the world, first in holding that what is wrong for women is equally wrong for men, that there is one and the same standard in these matters for both sexes, namely, absolute sexual purity; and secondly, in extending equally to the fallen of both sexes the promise of Divine forgiveness upon identical terms, namely, genuine repentance, unreserved confession, desire and purpose of amendment, and faith in GOD. The world, which condones the iniquity of the man who falls, is apt to be uncommonly hard upon the fallen woman, forgetting that she also is a sister for whom Christ died, and that the woman who to-day plays the part of a temptress of men was originally, in the majority of cases, more sinned against than sinning. Very few of those who ply the trade of shame will be found to have adopted such a mode of life, in the first instance, of their own unfettered choice. We are members one of another, and society as a whole, which both creates the demand and provides the supply, must share the guilt of their downfall.

This book is written primarily for men: and there are therefore other aspects of the life of sex upon which it is necessary to touch, though they are difficult matters to handle. It is well known that large numbers of men in boyhood, either through untutored ignorance of the physiology of their own bodies, or as a result of the corrupt example and teaching of others, become addicted to habits of solitary vice, in which the seed of life within them is deliberately excited, stirred up and wasted, to the sapping of their physical well-being and the defilement of their minds. Habits of self-abuse, when once they are established, are apt to be extremely difficult to break. The minds of their victims are liable to be morbidly obsessed by the physical facts of sex, and their thoughts continually directed into turbid channels. But it is possible by the grace of GOD to conquer, though there may be relapses before the final victory is won. It is important neither on the one hand to belittle the gravity of the evil, nor on the other to grow hopeless and despondent, but to have faith in GOD. It is also a counsel of common sense to distract the mind, so far as possible, in other directions, and to avoid deliberately whatever is likely to prove an occasion or stimulus to this particular form of sin. The battle of purity can only be successfully fought in the region of outward act if the victory is at the same time won in the region of thought and desire. Books and pictures, or trains of thought and imagination, which are either unclean in themselves, or are discovered by experience to be sexually exciting to particular individuals, ought obviously to be avoided by those concerned, and the mind directed towards the contemplation of whatsoever things are true and honest and just and pure and lovely and of good report. In the hour of strong temptation it is often best, instead of trying to meet the assault directly, to change the immediate environment, or in some other way to concentrate the mind: for example, to sit down and read a clean novel until the stress of the obsession is past. Physical cleanliness, plenty of healthy exercise in the open air (it is unfortunate that the circumstances of many men’s lives do not give adequate opportunity for this), temperance in food, and especially–in the light of what has been said above–temperance in drink, are all incidentally of value as aids to the maintenance of purity. So also is the avoidance of the habit of lying in bed in a semi-somnolent condition after true sleep has finally departed. A Christian’s body is meant to be a temple of the Holy Ghost, and no other spirit, whether of impurity or of sloth, should be allowed to have domination over him.

Other sins there are which should not be so much as named among Christian men-those, namely, in which men with men work that which is unseemly, and burn with lust one towards another. It is necessary to refer to these, because their prevalence is said to be increasing. A considerable proportion of men are temperamentally liable to be sexually attracted by members of their own sex; and passionate friendships, in which there is an element which is in the last analysis sexual, are not uncommon both between boys and youths at the age of early manhood, and between men of mature age and adolescents. The true character of these relationships is not always in their initial stages obvious, even to those concerned. As a guiding principle it may be laid down that a friendship between members of the same sex begins to enter upon dangerous ground whenever an element of jealousy betrays itself, when there is a desire habitually to monopolize the other’s company to the exclusion of third persons, or when the life and interests of the one appear to be disproportionately wrapped up in the concerns and doings of the other. Friendships of this character are always selfish and may all too easily become impure. It is the business of a Christian man to be on his guard and to love his male friends not as a woman is loved and not in a spirit of selfish monopoly, but with the pure and clean and essentially unselfish affection of Christian manhood.

A word may be said, lastly, with regard to prurient and polluted talk and unclean stories. Against these a Christian man will do well firmly and resolutely to set his face. Such things defile the mind. They are injurious both to him that hears and to him that speaks, in that they tend to engender a mental atmosphere in which the suggestions of actual vice are likely to meet with an enfeebled power of resistance. Of course it is possible to be too tragical on the subject of “language,” and to exaggerate the harm done by “smoking-room” stories. But whatever is definitely unclean is definitely evil, and should be both avoided and discouraged. To assume, however, a pious demeanour and to appear to be shocked is a fatal method of protest. Christians have no business to be shocked, nor are they meant to be prigs. There are other forms of social pressure which are more effective. It is, moreover, sometimes possible to combine moral reprobation with a sense of humour.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

[Buy at Amazon]
Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
At Amazon