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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Temperance

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TEMPERANCE.—In the Sermon on the Mount Christ dwells on the restraint under which not only our actions and our words must be held, but also our thoughts. He sees in the angry thought the germ of murder, in the impure thought the germ of adultery, and so He goes to the root of the matter. It is of no use to try to cleanse the stream at a certain point in its course, if the fountain from which it flows is impure; if the stream is to be kept pure the fountain must be kept pure; and if the words and actions are to be under control, the thoughts of the heart must be under control. It is from within, out of the heart, that all kinds of irregularities proceed, therefore ‘keep thy heart with all diligence,’ or, as in the marginal note, ‘above all that thou guardest, for out of it are the issues of life’ (Proverbs 4:23).

In the parable of the Prodigal Son we see the depth of degradation into which a man is brought when he breaks away from his God. In the case of the prodigal, the initial step was taken when the undisciplined thought was harboured in the heart. His mind fretted and rebelled against the restraints of his father’s house, he wished to go out into the world and to see life, he wanted to be free from all control. The next step was the undisciplined word, ‘Give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me.’ And the final step was the undisciplined act, ‘He took his journey into a far country, and there he wasted his substance with riotous living.’ Here the thought first ran riot, and the rest followed.

Christianity, therefore, is a religion not merely for a part of our being, but for the whole man; it touches him in every relationship of life and in every aspect of that relationship. It teaches him to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world’ (Titus 2:12). While righteousness represents his attitude towards his fellow-men and godliness his attitude towards God, soberness represents his attitude towards himself. Soberness (σωφροσύνη) is a right balance in all things; it is the bringing of the lower part of the nature into subjection to the higher, the flesh into subjection to the spirit; it means the spirit of man, guided by the Holy Spirit of God, governing the soul or intellect; then the soul or intellect, thus sanctified, governing the flesh; and the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, kept under control, held in hand, just as a spirited horse is held in hand by an experienced rider; moving on, not torn asunder by conflicting interests, but advancing steadily in one direction upwards and heavenwards.

A temperate man is one who rules himself, who lets every act that he performs have its own proper place, who gives everything its own due proportion, who does not eat too much, drink too much, sleep too much, talk too much, or do anything in excess. We live in days when there is an inordinate craving for amusement: amusements have their place, and, within limits, are not only necessary but good for us; but when they absorb so large a portion of our life that its more serious duties have to give place to them, then they become extremely hurtful. They should be regarded as sidings off the main line of our life, opportunities for recruiting our tired and weary energies, so that we may return to our work with renewed vigour; and when thus used they are very helpful. A temperate man will exercise self-control with regard to these as well as in all other matters.

But while temperance is an all-round virtue, the term has come to be used very largely with reference to self-control in a particular direction, viz. in the matter of strong drink. When we speak of ‘the Temperance cause’ or ‘Temperance work,’ we generally mean the efforts that are being made to suppress intemperance in the use of alcohol. Our Temperance Societies are directed towards this object, and so the word ‘temperance’ has come to be used almost exclusively in this connexion; and it cannot be denied that there is some justification for it, because the effects of the abuse of strong drink are so patent and so terrible that they attract attention in a way that few other sins do. Temperance is not necessarily total abstinence; it is the use, as distinct from the abuse, of strong drink. Total abstinence may be necessary; for the inveterate drunkard it is necessary; for him the only remedy, under God, is to abstain altogether from that which he cannot use in strict moderation (cf. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:29-30). Again it may be necessary for others besides drunkards, viz., for those who are to rescue the victims of strong drink, for we all know that example is far more powerful than precept; we are far more likely to be able to help those who have fallen into this abyss by saying to them, ‘Do as we do,’ than by saying, ‘Do as we tell you.’

But while total abstinence may be necessary for some, especially for those of us who are working in the slums of our large towns, it is not enjoined upon all; the strictly moderate use of alcohol cannot be said to be a sin; and to speak of it as though it were a sin, as has sometimes been done, is only to weaken the cause that we have at heart; it is the abuse of it that is a sin, and therefore, while abstinence is not enjoined upon all, temperance is enjoined upon every Christian man and woman.

Our Lord tells us what is the end and aim of our fallen but redeemed and regenerate humanity, ‘Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48). This is the goal set before us; and to reach this goal our attitude must be that of the spiritual athlete, straining every nerve and exerting every muscle, keeping under the body and bringing it into subjection, running the race set before us, ‘looking unto Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:2), looking unto Him as our example, looking unto Him for strength, pressing onward from stage to stage, from strength to strength, from one degree of perfection unto another, ‘unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13).

And here our Lord stands before us as our Ideal. The Jesus of the Gospels presents to us a life which is the very embodiment of temperance, a life of perfect self-restraint, of complete self-mastery; a life free from excess on the one hand and defect on the other, well-balanced, well-proportioned, without flaw, without spot, perfect in all its parts; a life which had for its object the glory of God, from the time when He came into the world, saying, ‘Lo, I come to do thy will, O my God’ (Hebrews 10:7), to the time when, having finished all, He exclaimed with the voice of a conqueror, ‘I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do’ (John 17:4). To copy this perfect Ideal and to reach this goal we, by a life lived in union with Him and by the power of the Holy Ghost, must strive to be temperate in all things. See, further, art. Self-Control.

Rowland Ellis.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Temperance'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/temperance.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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