Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.1 Corinthians 9:26, 27
There are very many grounds on which we can ask men to promote the temperance reformation. There are economical grounds; for whatever opinions we may hold about the legitimacy of the moderate use of alcoholic liquors, it is certain that in this country they are used so immoderately as to lead to an enormous waste of national wealth. I suppose that the English people of all ranks are the most extravagant people in Europe; and those golden years of commercial prosperity which we enjoyed not long ago, but which are not likely to return, encouraged an enormous increase in the expensiveness of our modes of living. If the nation is to be safe from ruin we must learn to be more moderate in our expenditure, and though there is great wastefulness in other directions, one of the most obvious ways of arresting the exhaustion of the national wealth is to diminish the amount of drinking. Another strong reason for promoting the temperance reformation is the physical suffering which our present drinking customs entail on vast masses of the people. There are thousands of families in Birmingham that would find it hard to live in comfort if they never drank at all. On the wages which they earn, it would be very difficult for them to pay sufficient rent to live in a reasonably good house, very difficult for them to buy decent clothing, to get wholesome food, very difficult for them to pay for coal and gas, very difficult for them to pay for medicine, and to meet many other of the inevitable expenses of living. But if, when a man earns three or four-and-twenty shillings a week, six or seven shillings go in beer, if when he earns eighteen shillings a week, four or five go in beer, then quite apart from the loss of time, loss of health, and loss of wages resulting from occasional fits of drunkenness, it is a sheer impossibility that he and his wife and children should be able to procure the barest physical comforts. If not a penny were spent on drinks, if the man never lost a day’s work through being drunk, he and his wife and children would lead a hard life, but his drinking makes their life a life of physical misery. And we may ask you to support the temperance reformation on moral grounds. Drunkenness is a debasing, disgusting, horrible vice, and it is the root of other vices as horrible as itself It sometimes turns kindly, good tempered men into fiends; it is the occasion of a large proportion of the crimes of violence which still disgrace our country. When the drink is in them, men are guilty of many vices and of many cruelties from which they would recoil when sober; and even when the fit of drunkenness is past, it leaves many men in a state of irritability and illtemper which makes them a terror to those about them. Drunkenness is a gross vice. It destroys the material comfort of large numbers of our people. It leads to an enormous waste of our national resources. On all these grounds the temperance reformation claims our support. But these are grounds on which we can rest our arguments and appeals elsewhere. In this place we can advance to grounds of another kind. Drunkenness is a gross vice; it is also a terrible sin — a sin which the eternal God sternly condemns; a sin which provokes His anger, and which he has threatened to punish with other and more awful penalties than those which it brings upon men in this world. Drunkenness destroys the material comforts of men: it does what is worse than that; it destroys their rest of heart in God, it strips them of the honours which belong to the children of God; sooner or later it will bring upon them the tortures of a terrible moral anguish. Drunkenness is a waste of our material resources; it is also a waste of something infinitely more precious. For the drunkard the infinite love of Christ is wasted, His teaching is wasted, His example is wasted, His death is wasted. For the drunkard the promises of eternal Hfe and blessedness are wasted. He wastes not merely his earthly comfort; he sacrifices for his drink an immortality of glory. These are reasons for promoting the temperance reformation, which should have immense force with those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But when we consider the vice of drunkenness under these aspects, when we consider it in relation to God, in relation to Christian righteousness, in relation to immortality, there are questions raised which are of serious practical interest to those who have never been guilty of drunkenness, and who believe that they are not likely to be guilty of it — questions which are, indeed, of grave importance to those who, by total abstinence, have placed themselves out of the reach of this particular vice. It is not necessary to be a drunkard in order to be guilty of physical sins which imperil our eternal salvation. In the text Paul speaks of the discipline of the body as a necessary part of the Christian life, necessary if he himself is not to miss the great prize for which he is contending. He speaks of the body as though it were his foe. He is plainly regarding it as the seat and stronghold of evil passions and evil tendencies which he must master or else be eternally ruined. In a vigorous metaphor he describes himself as a pugilist in the Grecian games, and he is fighting with his own body. He says that he fights like a man who understands the art; he does not hit out wildly as one that strikes the air, he plants his blows where they will tell. The words”I keep my body under,” are far less picturesque than the words which Paul employs. What he says is,”I deliver my blows straight in the face, under the eyes,” or, to use our own English equivalent,”I beat it black and blue.”
Paul, after his manner, says one thing at a time. Taken by itself this vigorous and passionate way of describing his fight with the body might justify the extremities of asceticism. If our body is our foe, to be punished and crushed, then it might seem our duty to deny it all pleasures, to deny it warmth, and rest, and pleasant food, and pleasant drinks, and everything else for which it craves. It might seem our duty to torture it with a hair shirt, to scourge it with whips, and to reduce it to emaciation by fasting. But that is quite contrary to Paul’s teaching elsewhere. He vehemently condemns asceticism, condemns it as a very formidable foe to the Christian faith. He teaches that every creature of God is good, if it be received with thanksgiving; and the whole teaching of the New Testament concerning the body is inconsistent with this gloomy severity. The body, we are told throughout the New Testament, is not an element of human imperfection; it is necessary to the integrity of man’s nature. It was created not by the devil but by Christ, and it is a wonderful creation. It is also true that Christ created all the pleasant things which delight the eye, the ear, the taste, the touch. He made us capable of physical enjoyment, and He provided the means of physical enjoyment. Physical enjoyment, therefore, cannot be sinful.
Flesh and blood, I say, according to the teaching of the New Testament, are necessary to the fulness and perfection of man’s nature in this world. But the intellect is nobler than the flesh; the affections and the conscience are nobler than the intellect; and the height of man’s dignity is never reached until his intellect, heart, and conscience are transfigured by the love and righteousness of God. In this hierarchy of life, in these ordered gradations of faculty and power, it is essential that the noblest should have the noblest place and the most vigorous authority, and that the inferior ranks should be kept in their inferior position. When the lower, though necessary parts, of man’s nature become insubordinate, when they usurp an importance which is not theirs, they must be suppressed, lashed back again to their proper place. The flesh, with its strong and restless cravings for satisfaction, is very apt to refuse sovereignty to the intellect and to the conscience and to the law of God. Then it becomes necessary to fight it, and to fight it relentlessly until it is subdued. In its right place it is admirable; its pleasures are legitimate; it contributes to the strength and beauty of our whole life. It is only when it rebels against loftier authorities, when it interferes with the diviner aims of life, that it becomes our foe. Paul recognises this fact even in this place.”I fight my body and bring it into subjection.” What he says is that he made his body his slave he fought it, and made it his servant instead of his master. When slaves revolted, their masters fought them; but slaves were a large part of their masters’ wealth — the masters injured themselves when they injured their slaves. It might be necessary to wound them, to maim them, to punish them, in order to keep them in subordination,but it was the master’s interest that his slaves should be healthy and strong.
But the trouble is, that with large numbers of men, the body is the master not the servant. To feed it well, to clothe it well, to give it all possible luxuries is their great business in life. They care more for physical health and physical enjoyment than for literature, or for art, or for morality, or for God. Everything is made to give way to the body; the slave is made the prince; the regal powers of the intellect are compelled to do perpetual service; the authority of conscience and the voice of God Himself are disregarded. There are forms of this physical insubordination which are not flagrant enough to call down the moral condemnation of society while society is governed by its present low moral ideals, but which, nevertheless, imperil the eternal salvation of men. Physical habits, in which men indulge without any self-reproach, make the fibre of their nature coarse, and gradually deaden all their loftier activities. Men are guilty of physical indolence, of physical uncleanliness, of excessive sensuous indulgence of many kinds. They eat too much or eat unwisely, they drink too much, though they never get drunk. And in all these ways the flesh gradually masters the spirit. You can see the process going on; men become heavy, dull, and slow; they sink into sluggish stupidity. Whatever brightness and clearness of intellect they once had are gradually lost. Their will becomes irresolute. Their temper becomes moody, irritable, passionate, or melancholy. Peace and joy pass out of their life altogether. Their spiritual affections become languid, hope has no radiance in it, faith no vigour, love no fervour. They have not kept their body under; it is their master, not their slave, and so the light in which they once”lived is clouded; year by year it becomes more and more dim; the dimness deepens into darkness, and unless they repent the darkness will deepen into eternal night.
Paul’s principle is that whatever physical habits interfere with the clearness, the elasticity, the vigour of our intellectual, moral, and spiritual life, must be given up. We must fight the body, and make it our slave. Now, as I have said, it it is not drink alone which works this mischief. You may be a total abstainer, and yet be guilty of physical vices which will separate you from Christ and end in eternal destruction.
But drink is one of the commonest causes of men’s ruin. For that reason it is wise and necessary to engage in this exceptional crusade against it. Those who originated the Total Abstinence Movement, and those who have sustained it, have rendered an immense service to the country. They have rescued innumerable men and women who had sunk into the vice of drunkenness; they have saved a still larger number of men and women who might have sunk into it. They have given comfort, honour, and peace to innumerable homes, which, but for them, and for their work, would have been scenes of misery and of shame. It is a lawful and honourable work for those who themselves are not imperilled, to share the burdens of their brethren who are exposed to fierce temptation and so fulfil the law of Christ. Yes, your work is a noble one, one which has achieved already a great redemption for large masses of your fellow-countrymen, and it may achieve a greater redemption still.
But the very enormity of the evils which you are trying to lessen, the very efficiency of the means by which you are trying to lessen them, should make you careful not to imperil your movement by unwise and reckless advocacy. It is clear, I think, that the advocates of total abstinence are now in position to carry with them an immense and overwhelming mass of popular sentiment, if they do not, by their own rashness and want of wisdom, betray the cause which is committed to their trust. There have been from time to time, during the last twenty years, occasional indications of a resentment and reaction against the movement which might even now lead to disastrous results, and it is for the advocates of total abstinence to save their cause from this peril.
Do not forget what I reminded you of just now, that a man may be a total abstainer and yet not make his body his slave. Do not lead men to imagine that if they abstain they fulfil all the law and the prophets. You have in the East, wherever Mahomedanism prevails, whole races of total abstainers, and yet these very races are guilty of gross sensuality. Do not be betrayed into the folly of speaking of all drinking as though it were sinful; place your movement on its right foundation, vindicate it upon the eternal principles of morality and of the Christian faith. The principles on which Christian temperance rests is that a man should keep his body in such a condition as to make it the effective servant and comrade of his nobler life. Excessive drinking clouds the brain, dulls the conscience, takes all the force and fire out of the religious affections, and if continued in, will at last quench them altogether. Drinking which does not make a man drunk may work the same evil. You may be drinking a great deal too much and ruining yourselves body and soul, yet never be in danger of falling into the hands of the police, and having to pay 5 shillings and costs. If a man drinks so as to impair his higher life, he commits a sin, whether he gets drunk or not. But it does not follow that because it is a sin to drink so as to impair the higher life, therefore it is a sin to drink at all. Drinking too much is a vice, (because it lessens a man’s power for serving God and his race. If a man’s drinking does not lessen his ipower for that service, his drinking is not a vice. If a man’s drinking increases his power for that service, his drinking is a duty instead of a vice. It is our duty to keep our body in such a condition, whether by drinking or not drinking, that it shall be the vigorous comrade of the higher life, not its master. While a man does this he fulfils the law of temperance, the only law authoritative for all men.
But you say you cannot draw the line at which excess begins between one glass and a dozen. Of course you cannot; and you cannot draw the line at which excess begins between one mutton chop and a dozen; but are you to say that because a man would be guilty of a disgusting vice if he ate a dozen chops at a sitting, he is to be looked upon with suspicion because he takes one. Should that style of argument be followed, then all rational men, all the advocates of a noble and lofty morality, all who are intelligently loyal to Christ, will be bound to offer the total abstinence movement a serious and energetic opposition. This immoral superstition, which sometimes shows itself in connection with the temperance reformation, is almost the only serious peril to which it is now exposed. And let none of you yield to that plausible lie of the devil, which has done more mischief to Christendom, probably, than any other, that because this impression may be useful though it is false, it should not be condemned, should even be propagated. A lie can never serve God or man, — never; and when once any men, no matter how good and noble their cause may be, take into their service that which is ethically and religiously false, they prepare the way for disaster and for ruin. Your true line of argument is clear, plain, and straight. The enormous evils of drunkenness demand a sharp and stringent remedy; to save the drunkard it is indispensable that he should be prevailed upon never to touch the drink which has cursed him. It is an honourable thing for those who themselves could drink in moderation, to abstain in order to give moral support to those who cannot; and further, this abstinence is for most men, in all probability, physically safe, and for many men physically advantageous. The remarkable growth of medical opinion during the last few years in favour of total abstinence adds immensely to the strength of your position.
But there are some of you who, like myself, do not recognise the obligation personally to abstain. You have the impression that you keep your body under by drinking a little, rather than by drinking nothing; that you work more effectively while you drink in moderation than when you abstain altogether, that your brain is clearer, your will firmer, your whole life more vigorous. Your body, so you think, is a more useful slave, a more effective comrade for the moderate use of these drinks. You ought to wish it were not so, and that you could place yourselves frankly and completely by the side of those who are in the advanced line in this movement. But you. too, care for the rescue of the nation from intemperance, and it is for you to rejoice heartily in the zeal, in the earnestness, in the success of those who can wisely practise a severer rule. It is for you to strengthen in their fidelity to their purpose all who have resolved, whether for their own sake or for the sake of other men, to abstain altogether. I know of few sins of carelessness which may lead to worse and more appalling results than the sin of those who, by mockery or entreaty, induce abstainers to drink. You may see the result of your reckless folly someday in men sunk through you into brutality, ruined themselves and the cause of ruin in others. Even if you cannot abstain, you can discourage what are described as the drinking customs of society. There are people on whom you can call at no hour of the day, and I suppose at no hour of the night, without being asked and urged to take what is vaguely called”something.” There is one consideration which may perhaps lead some of you to give up that folly. In the slang of the day, it is bad form.” You do not find that practice maintained in houses above a certain social level. It has gone out. Those who cherish and prolong old-fashioned customs may continue it still, but it has ceased to be what so many of you are anxious always to observe, it has ceased to be the “proper” thing, and perhaps that consideration may reach some who cannot be reached by considerations of a graver kind. There are many people, unhappily, who are so miserably superficial and morally frivolous, that all noble laws of conduct fail to touch them, but a reason of that kind may perhaps reach some of them.
But there are other ways in which you can help this reformation. I have a strong conviction that although you can never make a nation virtuous by Act of Parliament, you can do a great deal by legislation to diminish some kinds of vice. Those who speak of the inefficacy of Acts of Parliament to diminish vice are strangely inconsistent; for I wonder what they would say if they were told that no Acts of Parliament could diminish the vice of theft, and that our laws against theft should, therefore, be abandoned. You know very well that laws against theft, though they do not make men honest, do prevent a great many men from thieving. A man is not an honest man simply because he is not a thief. There is many a man who is intensely dishonest who is prevented from thieving by the law and its penalties; and there are many men who have no strength of self-control, who in the Christian sense are not”sober”men, but who would be saved from the vice of drunkenness if the law discouraged seriously and sternly the creation of those temptations to drunkenness which it now permits to exist in nearly every street in this town. I do not believe that in the present temper of the public mind, and with our present social habits, it is possible to close all public houses in a great town like this; and if it is not possible it is not very much use asking whether it is desirable or not. But it would be quite possible to diminish the number of these houses, to place them under severer regulations, and to carry out severely the regulations that do exist. And it is also possible to multiply such counter and rival attractions as those which have been created in this town, in Liverpool, in Bristol, and in other parts of the country, and which are already telling, and telling powerfully, upon the drinking customs of the communities where they exist. The establishment of the cocoa and coffee houses here, and in other parts of the country, has proved to be one of the most powerful aids to temperance reform. It is for those who desire to see the nation completely rescued from drunkenness to join in this movement, which is an attempt to unite all who care for this great object. This Union does not pledge its members to abstinence. It asks them to abstain themselves if they can abstain without injury to their work, and to encourage other people to abstain; it endeavours to confirm in abstinence those who are abstaining already; it tries to promote the passing of laws limiting and repressing provocations to drunkenness, and to strengthen all social movements which are likely to increase the general temperance of the community.