Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body…
I. ASCETICISM IS FASCINATING. It is remarkable to observe how readily the severest devotees of asceticism have found followers when the performance of the simpler duties of Christian charity has been left neglected. A St. Simeon, scorched by the blazing sun of noonday and chilled, by the cruel frosts of night on his pillar in the desert, finds enthusiastic imitators who would be slow in following Christ's lowly work of going about to do good to his brethren.
1. Asceticism follows the notion that since indulgence of the lower nature is sinful, that nature itself must be evil. In this notion is the explanation of the inclination of many of the best men to asceticism.
2. Asceticism appears to be the readiest way of preventing sins of the flesh. It seems as though the flesh could not be tamed; therefore it is caged, chained, crushed, slain.
3. Asceticism aspires to the rare holiness of excessive purity. Thus, while professing humility, it is often guilty of great pride.
4. Asceticism is within our own power and is dependent on our own will. It is will worship. It is not the submission of our will to the will of God, but the assertion of our will though in self restraint. This is much easier and requires less humility and faith than spiritual obedience.
5. Asceticism is effective as a display of holiness. It would be unjust to accuse all ascetics of playing for the admiration of the world. But it is impossible to doubt that the Church has had her hypocrites, who "disfigure their faces, that they may be seen of men to fast."
II. ASCETICISM FAILS IN ITS PROFESSED OBJECT. Not only can it be accused of setting up a false ideal; it does not even realize that ideal. Even from its own point of view it must be regarded as a monstrous failure. It is "not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh." History gives horrible proofs of this fearful fact. The monasteries of the Middle Ages were hotbeds of vice. No more immoral men could be found among the libertines of gay society than the celibate priests, bishops, and popes of the great age of professed asceticism. Literature confirms the testimony of history. The writings of ascetics are too commonly minted with an unwholesome flavour. Subjects which to ordinary men would call up no impure associations are suggestive of corrupt ideas to these saints. The most sacred relations of life are degraded by the ascetic handling of them. Marriage is regarded only in its lowest character, and is lowered by being so treated. The finger of the monk leaves an unclean mark on the purest page of domestic life. This is what might be expected.
1. Asceticism is unnatural. Outraged nature avenges herself on the insult that is put upon her in the distortion of her life.
2. Asceticism is opposed to the sympathies of Christ. He sanctioned the ties of domestic life and sanctioned its joys.
3. Asceticism does not touch the seat of sin. This is not in the body. It is in the soul. So long as the heart is corrupt, no bodily restraints will make the life holy. The ascetic, like the Pharisee, cleanses only the outside of the cup. The stream must be cleansed at the fountain. The heart must be renewed. Then it will be found that "to the pure all things are pure." - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.