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- Men, Women, and God - 10/23 -


Then, secondly, a man would do well to realize one simple physiological truth about his body. That body naturally and regularly secretes semen. But it is not necessary that that semen should be discharged by sexual activity. On the contrary, a large part of it can be reabsorbed by the body and used up in mental and physical activities to the great benefit of the body and the enrichment of life. That is why the ancients taught that Diana is the natural born enemy of Venus. The man who takes plenty of regular exercise employs his vital forces in a way that lessens the strain of his moral conflict. And though it is true that this re-absorption of semen does not completely remove it, Nature has her own method during sleep of readjusting things in a quite harmless way.

From this it follows of course that the real secret of a successful struggle for purity lies in living a life full of wholesome and varied activities. Our artistic sensibilities are intimately related to our sexual natures, and by some self-expression through art, or by the sympathetic appreciation of the art of others, we provide an enriching outlet for our natural energies. Social activities and wholesome social intercourse, too, are of the very greatest importance. The sedentary and lonely life is often found quite fatal, and a life in which only male companionships are available is very undesirable. Indeed it may truly be said that the best way of avoiding undesirable relations with women lies in the cultivation of right and happy relations with them. I suppose more men have been brought through this difficult period owing to the fact that association with women of refined natures made the thought of sexual irregularity seem repulsive, than by any other single force.

But at all costs let us be sure that we live full lives. I heard lately of a man who was so constantly assailed by sexual cravings, and so convinced that in him they were abnormally strong, that he went to consult a psychotherapist. When he had been fully examined it was found that in him sexual cravings were really rather weaker than in the average man, but that in the house of his life they had no rivals, so that he imagined them to be almost all-powerful.

It is when a man allows himself to sit in idleness and indoors that the fumes of lust are apt to rise up and make the windows dim, till in that stuffy air he lives evilly at least in thought, and is weakened for the problem of defense. But the man who will get out into the bracing open air of life will find his noxious fancies blown away and his mind restored to health.

Then, thirdly, there are certain fairly obvious points in relation to the right management of the body about which doctors are agreed. They really amount in general to the suggestion that we should live a simple and bracing life, and keep brother body in his proper place of subjection all round. Keep your body clean, and do not funk your cold bath in the morning. Avoid luxurious foods, and overeating of any sort. Get up when you wake up in the morning, and avoid lying in bed half awake. Take plenty of fresh air and exercise every day. And finally, and at all costs, keep absolutely sober. Probably the last of these pieces of advice is by far the most important. It is the unvarnished truth that the vast majority of men who have gone wrong did so for the first time, not when they were drunk, but when liquor had made them reckless and forgetful. The plain truth about alcohol is that it has a twofold effect upon the human constitution. On the one hand it heightens desire, and on the other it lowers self-control. It is that fatal combination that has been the undoing of many a man. On one night of folly men have thrown away that which they may have guarded jealously for years, and not because they were vicious or gross in nature, but only because they allowed the edge to go off their sobriety. Often by the next night they would have given almost anything to be able to live that bit of life over again and live it differently. But it was too late. I know of no argument for temperance that has anything like the weight of this one.

Then, too, a word must be said about the broad jest and the undesirable story.

Many a broad jest is excused because it has in it some savor of real humor; but it would be well for us to ask ourselves deliberately what things we are going to allow ourselves to laugh at. We all laugh at some of the ways of lovers and no doubt we always will. They have beautiful ways, but beyond question some of them are amusing. There is no possible reaction to a girl's persuasion that her boy is pure hero and saint except a smile; and love itself will blend with such smiles.

But it is quite a different thing to bring laughter to bear on love itself, or on marriage, or on the sacramental intimacies that express love. I believe it is a profane thing to do. Our best instincts call on us to treat these things as sacred. And sacred things are easily spoiled by careless speech. No vulgarities are quite so vulgar as those which, in printed rags and ragged talk, are clustered round marriage. In the name of all that is beautiful and holy let us be done with them.

Further still, a great many broad stories have in them a minimum of humor and a maximum of dirt. By a strange perversity men who are scrupulously clean in body and who have both intellectual and artistic capacities will stoop to defile their tongues with such things. There are few colleges or offices where public opinion entirely forbids them. But they do a deadly work none the less. They cling about the mind with fatal tenacity. They surround the subject of sex with unclean associations. They defile the inner house of life. And it is in that inner house of thought and imagination that the real battle of purity is fought.

Our real task in this part of life is to see sex as a clean and beautiful thing, to be treated with reverence. Thousands of people never achieve this, even though they live respectable and decent lives. And the reason lies in the fact that in their early days vile stories and jokes defiled the whole subject for them.

A similar thing is true of pictures. Some day we shall as a race recover the sense that the form of a woman is one of the most beautiful things in all God's earth. We shall look at the great statues and pictures which do justice to that beauty with no other feelings than thankfulness and joy. But there are very few men who can do that today. What has made it impossible is the existence of pictures of a suggestive kind, which are handed round in furtive ways, and are literally drenched with unclean associations. For which reason it is a real point in connection with a man's struggle that he should have nothing to do with suggestive pictures. Many years ago I had a friend with great intellectual power. He held a position of great responsibility and was widely respected. He also had conspicuous literary gifts, and knew how to work hard and well. But he brought to me the greatest shock I have ever had in my life. When he was well on in the forties he suddenly fell with a crash, and had to fly the country. He was never able to show his face in England again, and died a diseased exile in a foreign land. And all because he had been overtaken by sexual sin of an indescribably shameful kind. The shock he gave me was one of sorrow, for he had been a friend. But it was still more one of amazement that such a thing could have happened to such a man. Later I came to understand. When his effects were being sold there was found in his study cupboard a great pile of indecent French plays and novels. That was what did it. In secret he had for years debauched his mind, and inevitably in the end his thoughts brought forth fruit. That experience taught me once for all how certain it is that the inner world of thoughts is the real place where a man attains or misses purity.

There is something grim and stern about this business. I confess to a certain wholesome fear in connection with it which I hope never to lose; though fear will never do as our predominating emotion in this respect. But I keep a place for fear--enough of it to drive me to my knees. I have seen boys go wrong at fifteen, and I have seen old men go wrong at sixty. I believe that no man is safe until he is dead. He was no coward, nor had he a licentious past behind him, who confessed that late on in life he had to beat his body and bring it into subjection lest having preached to others he should be a castaway. He knew; and was honest and wise enough to keep up precautions to the end. There is simply no way through this part of life for the man with slack habits and a self-indulgent attitude of spirit. The man who will not stand up and brace himself, who is not game for a fight, and will not endure hardness is never going to make anything fine out of the splendid but difficult enterprise we call human life. And all the time he will need to have his sentinels out. All the time he will need to make sure that he is master in his own house of life, and allows no interloping thoughts or imaginations to run riot there.

But what about religion! The conventional way in which to end a plain talk about any sort of temptation is to say that God can and will help a man in those straits where his own will is too weak, and that through prayer there is a way of escape for us all. I believe all that absolutely. With great gratitude I may say that I know it. Indeed I cannot understand how any man who has been saved from overthrow can fail to see as he looks back on his life that it was just the goodness of God that upheld him. But I have learnt to beware how I tell men and women that by prayer they can get through, though all other means fail. Men who were having to face a severe strain of temptation have come back to me and told me that they had tried the way of prayer and that it had not availed them. The fact is that something far greater than a mere attempt to use prayer as a special device for this special need is required.

We are so made that religion is a divine possibility for all of us. Indeed it is more than a possibility: it is a necessity if life is ever to seem complete. Without it all other things fail in the end to hold off attacks of disappointment and ennui. Because we were made with the capacity for it, we cannot be content without it. It may take many years for a man to discover that without religion life is going to be a failure; and it is that discovery that constitutes for many the tragedy of middle life. In early days the varied interests of life carry many through in some sort of satisfaction. And yet even with the young the life that is without religion is of necessity an unbalanced life. Parts of the man or woman concerned are inactive, and the other parts occupy too much of the stage. Till an interest in God--that greatest of all interests--has entered a man's life attention is too much concerned with other things. Till the spirit is awake the body obtrudes itself too much on consciousness. And thus a man fights the battle of purity on wrong terms. There is no interest so cleansing as an interest in God. Nothing so takes a man out of himself as the attempt to face His demands. Nothing is so certain to counterbalance all unruly thoughts as to know and worship Him. No discipline is so bracing and purifying as the discipline of seeking Him.

But this seeking of God means something much greater than the mere attempt to use prayer for a special purpose. It means getting our whole life rightly related to Him. It means subordinating our desires to His will, and seeing our whole life as something to be used for His glory. Religion cannot be made a mere appendage to life. It cannot be kept in an outhouse like a motor bike, to be used when occasion calls. When God comes into a life He comes to rule--and to rule everything. No doubt we are all tempted to resent the surrender of self which is thus asked of us. Instinctively we cry out for our own way. We want to manage our own lives and to plan out our futures in such ways as will please us. Because religion involves discipline and obedience, we are all apt to turn away from it. We may have liked some of the emotions which are


Men, Women, and God - 10/23

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