[b]The Warfare of the Spirit[/b]
[i]Developing Spiritual Maturity[/i]
[b]Temperance, the Rare Virtue[/b]
Were I to select a word which I felt best described the modern American temper that word would be excess.
Almost everything we do, we overdo. We are forever creating monstrosities. If it moves, it moves too fast; if it is high, it is too high; if it makes noise, the noise is ridiculously loud; if we make a car, it is sure to be grotesquely large and gaudy with vastly more power than is required for the transportation we desire. We have too many telephones, too many filling stations, too many stores. Our national debt is astronomical, our waste incredible; our highways are too many, too complex and too expensive. Vacations are too long and too strenuous. Our swapping of Christmas gifts has become an irksome rat race not remotely related to the blessed Advent. Music we hear everywhere till our ears are suffocated in a welter of inappropriate melody.
In an effort to manage and direct the enormous energies, the prodigious activities and the fabulous wealth of our people, bureau has followed bureau and agency has sprung up on agency till bureau and agency are getting completely out of hand and are themselves becoming huge, back-breaking burdens that constitute a serious threat to the health of the national body.
Without doubt we are out of control and it may be that we have reached the point of no return. We may never recover from our mighty binge. It should be said, however, that if we alone are destroying ourselves by excess, it is because we are the only nation rich enough to do it successfully and to get such a whale of a lot of pleasure out of the job. Others have blown their brains out, but we can afford to blow the whole head off as well, and many of the nations that gaze on us with self-righteous horror are merely jealous of us. They would do the same thing if they had the money. We are all alike after all.
Well, all that I have said so far is but a circumlocutory way of getting at a well-known truth: that when mankind fell one effect of the fall was the loss of control. Those divinely implanted powers within him got out of hand and turned from their normal uses to become servants of the flesh and the devil.
It has been obvious to me that almost every sin is but a natural good perverted or carried to excess. Self-respect is turned into pride; natural appetite becomes gluttony; sleep goes on to become sloth; sex goes awry and turns to sodomy; love degenerates into lechery; praise sinks to flattery; determination hardens into obstinacy; a natural childish love of play grows up with the man and becomes a multi-billion dollar business wherein tens of thousands of able-bodied persons waste their lives playing for the amusement of the millions of bored adults who are more than willing to work hard to obtain money to watch them play.
Except for the fact that anything is as easy for God as anything else, it would be proper to say that in His work of saving men God took upon Himself a herculean undertaking. From our low viewpoint it would appear much easier to create the human race than to recreate it; it would seem far less difficult to make a man in the divine image than to remake him in that image after he had been stamped with the likeness of sin. But since God has all the power there is to achieve the purposes conceived by all the wisdom there is, we may relieve ourselves of any anxiety. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
The problem God faced in redemption is manyfold. How to square the moral account so that God might be just and the Justifier of them that believe; how to reconcile man to Himself; how to recreate a human spirit while allowing all the essential qualities to remain; how to indwell a personality without displacing it; how to work in the believing mans heart, turn it toward righteousness and still leave free the human will these are some of the problems, to us impossible but to God not only possible but effortlessly easy.
The question of control enters here, for if the work of redemption is to be complete our basic propensity toward perversion and excess must be reversed. All our powers must be sanctified and brought under the direction of the Spirit. From His throne in the believers heart Christ must reign over the entire kingdom of Mansoul with all its precincts and provinces. The age-old curse of inordinateness and excess must be destroyed.
For this reason the beautiful word temperance occurs strategically in the theology of the New Testament. Temperance is the helmsman in easy control of the powerful ship as it ploughs through the sea with all parts working in harmony. Temperance is that in the Christian mans life which brings every faculty into harmony with every other, and the total personality into accord with Gods plan for the whole man. In a life so directed there can be no place for excess.
Two things need to be added. One is that temperance is not automatic. It is listed among the fruit of the Spirit, but it requires prayer, Bible reading, cross-bearing, hard discipline, obedience and self-denial before it can become a fixed part of the Christians character.
The second is that a man or woman in Christ who has achieved true self-control may expect to be very much out of step with the world. Human beings given to excess will not take kindly to the Spirit-filled, temperate soul living among them. After he is dead they may build his sepulchre or name a college after him, but that will be a bit late for his comfort. He had a tough time of it while he lived.