Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sanctification, Sex and Separation

To many of us—it was certainly so to me—this talk of victory over sin came to mean particularly and concretely victory over masturbation. I heard an Oxford theological college principal recently quoted as saying: “If Jesus had known the agony which his statement, ‘Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart’ would cause millions of young men, he would have torn his tongue out.” It would be an overstatement to say in my case that it caused me agony, though one of my contemporaries was suicidal at one stage, as was a theological student whom I knew later on, but it was very troublesome and it was a long time before I came to a satisfactory understanding of the problem.

A number of considerations helped to save me in the matter of masturbation. For one thing my whole spiritual experience was built on the assumption that the Bible was God’s Word and that it was to this primary source that we should go for guidance. I found the Bible condemning all manner of sexual sins but this activity (said to be practiced by the great majority of men) is nowhere mentioned…In any case it was very near to nature, not far removed from a wet-dream.

It is a shame that for a millennium Christendom had all its sexual instruction from men who had had no experience of pure and happy sexual intercourse. It makes it difficult now to steer a course between a guilt-ridden anxiety on the one hand and a sinful laxity on the other.

All of us in the CICCU, I think, accepted the fact that a Christian should not have sex before marriage. With all the colleges being single-sex and only two of them being for women, there was not the pressure of continual contact experienced in modern universities. Most of us hoped to be happily married and were content to wait till marriage had come into sight as a practical possibility before forming alliances with girlfriends.

Incredible though it may sound today, this was to us one way of “seeking first the kingdom of God.” And God wonderfully added the blessing of happy marriages to nearly all of us. Some sixty of us went down from Cambridge in 1934 and we kept in touch with each other by six-monthly duplicated letters thereafter and, in spite of prudish upbringings and lack of sexual knowledge, not a single one of our first marriages went wrong.

In common with other evangelicals we had a strong doctrine of separation from the world. This consisted of a taboo on smoking, dancing, theatre, cinema, gambling and alcohol, and is often thought of as something negative, when Christianity with its belief in a Sovereign Creator ought to be supremely world-affirming.

J. Wenham, Facing Hell: The Story of a Nobody - An Autobiography 1913-1996 (Paternoster Press 1998), 52-56.

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