Ephesians 5:18 “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
A quarter of all students spend more money on liquor than on food. In 2,003/4 some 4,647 children were admitted to hospital suffering from conditions such as mental and behavioural disorders caused by alcohol, liver disease or the toxic effects of bingeing. During the same period adult hospital admissions because of the effects of alcohol rose from the previous year from 35,740 to 41,122. Alcohol abuse is the third biggest killer in Britain today, heart disease being first and cancer the second. 25,000 people a year die as a direct result of alcohol abuse. In the past five years Britain’s alcohol consumption has risen by 5 per cent. How many people in Britain die as a result of hard drug abuse? 235 died in one recent year. And how many people die of AIDS in a year? 610 a few years ago. Alcohol is a merciless killer in every community, and people are drinking twice as much liquor as fifty years ago, while the price of alcohol in real terms is half the price of what it was in the 1950s. The people of the British Isles spend 35 million pounds a day on alcohol. The annual bill to the country for alcohol abuse is 1,600 million pounds. One in three drivers involved in road accidents is over the legal limit. A half of those convicted of murder kill when they are drunk. There were 1,035,000 crimes of violence recorded by police in England and Wales last year, the highest ever. Britain’s teenagers are among the heaviest drinkers in Europe with 20 per cent of girls and 25 per cent of boys aged 15-16 admitting to binge drinking. What used to be seen in patients aged 50 and 60 is now seen in the liver disease of people in their 20s and 30s. For many young people drink is the lifeblood, the shield, the escape, the excuse. It was once a matter of shame to be seen drunk in public. It was just not done. You didn’t try to get through fifteen pints in an evening. The government is helpless in changing people’s hearts, rather it is giving people more time to drink.
Yet we are constantly plied with advertising which presents a very attractive conception of liquor. It is constantly being portrayed as something eminently respectable, and supremely desirable, without which no man is a real man, far less a sophisticated man. They do not show the so-called ‘laddette’ binge drinking of young women; they do not show the men passing the cheap wine or methylated spirits bottle from one to another in self-destructive despair. At a time like this the Government is pressing ahead with plans to allow 24-hour pub opening. 130,000 pubs and clubs and restaurants are planning to extend their opening hours under the government’s new laws. Police are virtually powerless to block thousands of bars from extending their opening hours. [I had help in this sermon from one preached by Principal Macleod].
What is the picture of drunkenness that we have in the Bible in Proverbs 23:29-35, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. ‘They hit me,’ you will say, ‘but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” This is the ‘drunkards’ looking-glass.’ The Holy Spirit inspired this to be written to show us where such a career terminates. If we are won over to excessive consumption of alcohol by the pressures our friends in work put on us, and by its availability, and by the money in our pockets then we are told that this is the end of the road. It is not fulfilment; it is not respectability; it is not sophistication but this kind of situation. It ends in sorrow and guilt, and poverty and babbling. It ends in wounds without a cause. It ends in our seeing strange things, and hearing odd sounds, and doing stupid things. It ends in dependence, depression, addiction, liver cirrhosis and heart failure. It ends up with this question on my lips, “When will I wake up so that I can find another drink?”, because it has no pity, and no mercy, and no grace. It is a remorseless syndrome; it wants me dead.
I want to gather together today some of the things Christians ought to know about this particular subject. What is the actual background to the command Paul brings to the whole Ephesian congregation. Why does the apostle warn us not to get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery? What is the advice given to us in the Word of God to men in general, and to the church at large and to the addict in particular? I know that our automatic thinking when such a subject is announced is that we are not the people who need such a sermon, and that there are men and women we are thinking of at this minute whom we wish were sitting with us and listening to these words. But you must always accept your providence and tonight we have come to this familiar exhortation in the Bible and there is a purpose in our listening to the message of the Scripture on this subject.
1. WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DRINK TOO MUCH?
Why do people drink too much? It is because alcohol affects our moods and feelings and emotions. It makes us think we are in a better mood. It is a social lubricant. It seems to have a euphoric effect upon the person who consumes the drink. It makes him feel good; he finds it far easier to talk. It gives him a boldness to approach strangers and engage in small talk. It makes it easier for him to face all kinds of problems. There is a common myth to the effect that alcohol is a stimulant, that somehow it leads to an increase of ability, or wit, of creativity, of courage and competence. Now of course alcohol is not a stimulant; it is a depressive. It acts upon the nervous system as a depressant. Its immediate effect is to impair; it weakens and debilitates. It does not strengthen or increase. It removes inhibitions; it destroys self-restraint; it destroys self criticism. Tolerance develops so that it takes more alcohol to produce drunkenness. It creates only an illusion of courage, and wit, and competence and ability. It is dangerous precisely because it impairs and weakens while at the same time creating the illusion of growing ability. It we start with this general principle that it is a depressant what in detail are the effects of getting drunk?
i] Your abilities will immediately and progressive be impaired.
Your ability to form correct judgments, to measure, to evaluate a personal relationship and the effect of your conduct on another, your ability to judge a personal situation, the ability to know what to say and when to be silent will all be affected. The speed of your reflexes will be progressively slower. No matter what we are doing, so far as we do it under the influences of alcohol we do it less competently, if it is driving, if it is playing a game, if it is handling responsibility in our work, if it is manual skill, if it is social relationships, whatever it is our ability is impaired by liquor.
Let us bear in mind that the process of impairment begins immediately. There is the illusion that up to a certain level the consumption of alcohol has no deleterious effect. That is a complete and total delusion. The impairment of judgment in terms of physical and social judgment, begins straight away. For example, there is no quantity of liquor that a man can drink without it impairing his ability to drive. It is not after the fifth glass that the judgment and the reflexes begin to be impaired. The process begins immediately. From the very first glass we are less efficient, less able to react to situations; less able to form correct judgments. So I want to emphasise that there is immediate impairment of ability and that this becomes progressive until we are in total intoxication utterly incapable of rational words or actions. So that is the first consequence, an immediate and progressive impairment of our ability.
ii] You will also experience a moral deterioration.
Listen to the Bible; “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” This is not a simple situation, it is a multifarious situation. The man who is consuming alcohol excessively is driven by that into a life of deceit. He has to hide the fact that he is drinking. He has to conceal the impairment of his abilities. He is immediately under economic stress. He is driven into growing debt. I think of a man who came to study at the university here who was converted in his first year and went on to become an eminent minister of the gospel and a professor of theology. His father was a Welsh farmer with a beautiful farm, but he destroyed himself and lost his farm, and robbed his children of an inheritance and his wife of a home to live in by his drinking. When men break into a church, as happened here in the last month, it is often to remedy their addiction. Families are neglected; children are ignored. A man is driven to a life of violence; his moral inhibitions are destroyed and permissiveness and licentiousness become only too natural – “debauchery”!
In the case of young women the danger is even more appalling. Inhibitions go; they say good-bye to modesty; one of a number of sexual diseases is caught with the dangers of sterility that they bring. Any unborn child which they carry may be damaged in the womb by alcohol. There is a continued demand for more money to feed their addiction and very often the easy road to raising money is a life of prostitution. I am saying that the moment drinking begins to take priority over other activities and becomes a compulsion in our lives let us see the hazard lights flashing. Let me ask myself am I going headlong into a life of deceit, and financial difficulties, and permissiveness, and promiscuity? Am I neglecting those members of my family given to me by God? Am I venturing near violence and crime? Then the dissipation Paul speaks of here is actually taking place in my life – drunkenness leads to debauchery.
iii] There is psychological dependence.
There is emotional dependence as I slide into a position where my emotional stability and my self-possession and self-confidence are dependent upon the consumption of alcohol. Time passes and we find increasingly that we cannot face our problems without a drink. We cannot meet our employers or our employees, we cannot talk to our customers without liquor. That is one of the big warning signs as we stand on the threshold of addiction. We have come to this place where we cannot face life, its stresses and strains and problems without immediate recourse to a bottle. Then we have crossed the threshold of addiction. We have crossed over the brink. Are any of you there and you have kept it hidden from us? You cannot stand before the children or students you teach without a drink. You cannot meet your clients without it. Every morning you plan the day ahead being aware of the secret place where the bottle is hidden and the means you are going to get your fix. You cannot think of getting through a day or a week without this fortification. Then you are becoming psychologically dependent on liquor. Your emotional stability, and self-confidence depend on the maintenance of a high level of alcohol.
iv] You will physically suffer irreversible damage.
This again is a many-sided problem. It is one that the advertisements will not reveal nor even admit to. It will lead to malnutrition because it destroys the appetite. It apportions to itself so much of our financial resources. The effect of drink on family life, for example, the end of a regular pattern of mealtimes, is destructive. Every person who is consuming alcohol excessively inevitably suffers from malnutrition and the consequences of that especially in terms of nervous disorder.
It also causes gastritis, damage to the lining of the stomach, distention of the stomach – the so-called ‘beer-belly’, and consequently intense pain. That is one of the less serious effects because it remedies itself once a man begins to abstain, but there are two factors especially vicious, that every person that stands on the brink of this condition ought to bear in mind.
First, persistence in excessive consumption of alcohol is going to lead inevitably to cirrhosis of the liver. It is going to scar that organ; the liver is going to be hardened, and this is going to happen irrevocably and often fatally. Second, constant drinking also destroys brain cells, and it will do this absolutely permanently and irreversibly, leading first of all or habitual loss of memory, progressive deterioration in my intellectual competence and finally, in extreme situations, if I persist in this kind of life, to alcohol dementia where my intellect is irreversibly impaired and where my sanity is destroyed.
Do you see that these are not options. This is the inevitable consequence of persistence in this kind of life. Every alcoholic suffers from cirrhosis; every alcoholic experiences the irreversible destruction of brain cells. It is one of the classic instances in providence where God has ordered that the sin is going to be its one punishment. The disease of AIDS – except by contaminated blood transfusion – is another such instance. So there is psychological dependence and there is also irreversible physical damage to the brain and liver.
There is also physical dependence. I get to a stage where I cannot control alcohol. Alcohol controls me. The consumption of the tiniest amount of liquor acts as a trigger dose, and from that point on I am catapulted into a devastating compulsive desire to get more and more, until at last either exhaustion or stupefaction or physical restraints disable me.
It goes beyond that. I become so physically dependent that unless the level of alcohol in my blood is maintained at a certain level I am going to suffer pain. I am going to suffer agony both psychological and physical. If I persist in this life, and there are days or hours when I have no access to this commodity, then inevitably I suffer from an acute tremulousness, what people call the ‘shakes.’ Then if I go beyond that, and defy all the warning signs, and live this kind of life to the end, and then experience withdrawal, then I am going to know the acute condition of delirium tremens (the ‘horrors’) as men call it again. And we must see it again as God’s order. There is a providential connection between a life of intemperance and this particular physical consequence. I am told that it is the most horrific condition that doctors have to deal with, this delirium tremens, experienced by those going through acute withdrawal symptoms. That is described for us in those verses read in your hearing from the book of Proverbs, total confusion, utter disorganisation, hallucinations, delusions; one appalling and long-lasting nightmare. That is where God’s order leads sinners in the end. But there is one thing more;
v] You will become eventually a complete social misfit.
Getting drunk has physical consequences; it has psychological consequences, and there are social consequence. A man loses his job; he loses his friends; who sits and talks with him? Other drunks. They look as if they are having an intelligent conversation sitting on a little wall together; it is all utterly banal. A man loses his family and his home and he ends up in the logical place for all drunkards, on skid row, in a fellowship of men bound together by one great thing, a shared commitment and joint compulsion to drink alcohol at its cheapest and in its most readily available form.
They never set out in their lives to end there; no one chooses to sleep on a cold stone on a freezing night, but once they find themselves there they develop a certain stoicism because it is offering them what they want, because of what they have become. Their life has only one chief end and that is alcohol, and they admit it. They have anonymity; they are away from the responsibilities of family and work and paying tax. They are able to indulge without comment or criticism. What is their one and only passion? Where can I find another drink?
The tragedy of these men is not simply the rigours they undergo of cold and hunger and exposure and the contempt of their fellow men, it is the tragedy of their own contentment to accept this, the total absence of any motivation to be leave it. They have become natural brute beasts. So when we see all these attractive advertisements let us remember the drunkards’ looking glass. When the government announces that it is going to press for the 24 hour opening of public houses then let us remember the end of the road, irreversible damage to men’s bodies and physical dependence, and at last, the social rejection. That is the logical end. And if I could add something else lest there should be one person here who is considering himself immune. We are not to be thinking now, “I wish the students were here to hear this. They need it, not me.” Despite years of research from a non-Christian point of view it has been established that there is no typical pre-alcoholic personality. Research began on the assumption that there was. If they checked up on a man and knew his heredity and physical constitution and genetic balance they thought they might be able to predict and say that such and such a person would be in danger of becoming a drunkard. But there is no such possible conclusion. There is no human being who in terms of what he is as constitution, or heredity, is an inevitable or a conspicuous alcoholic risk. But equally there is no person who is of such a constitution that one can say, “There is no danger of this person becoming a a drunk.” It is a demonstrable fact that the majority of social drinkers, that is, those who organise their lives around public houses, that they become excessive drinkers. It is a further demonstrable fact that the vast majority of excessive drinkers become alcoholics, in the sense that they become addicted to it. They become so dependent on liquor that they are unable independently to stop its consumption.
So let nobody today ask, “What risk do I face? What’s my heredity? What are my chromosomes? What do my genes say about this situation?” Let me say that if I were to embark upon a life of social drinking, whatever my background, I would end almost inevitably in excessive drinking. If I find myself there, I am going to end up inevitably in dependence and in addiction. You will remember that when you see these poor men and women stopping you in the street and asking you for money. You see their degradation and the animalism, so that you are inclined to say to yourself, “That man must have had a poor start in life. He came from a dysfunctional home. He came from a slum area. His whole genetic system was against him.” That is a complete and total fallacy. It is like saying a man who becomes an Islamic suicide bomb comes from a deprived social background, that he has personally suffered injustice, that he is an uneducated man and a psychological weakling.. That also is an utter fallacy.
We know that many drunkards were university students; they were doctors and scientists and solicitors and schoolteachers and Baptist pastors; they were professional people. They began life with grand initial privileges, and now they are begging in the streets. They are not there because they were born with mental deficiencies. They are not there because of the kind of home they came from. They are there because no man can embark upon this kind of life without running this kind of peril.
2. WHAT KIND OF ADVICE CAN WE GIVE?
I will begin first of all speaking to the person who is already in danger, the addict, the man or woman on the threshold of addiction. If there are some here today or if we know of any such amongst our friends or families, then how does the word of God address their situations? Now you hear it said very often that alcoholism is a sickness. Some of the most famous drunks in Britain today are former soccer players, and they will appear on TV chat shows and talk of their drinking habits. They will say that it is pointless to feel guilty because they have been “devastated by a terrible sickness.”
Though we do not find soccer players to be deep thinkers we are glad whenever any of them stops drinking, but they are utterly wrong when they believe they are suffering from a disease. Drunks have snarled with hatred at me when I refuse to accept this self-diagnosis. I have been with men with a disease. One of the greatest men I knew had cancer. He was a member of this congregation and the best of us all. He did have a disease, and I saw with tremulous pity and heart-ache what that disease did to him. I am not going to honour a man who has drunk excessively for many years by saying that he has a disease, and that he is a victim. Dr Trevor Turner is a lecturer in psychiatry in Bart’s Hospital in London and this is what he says, “The idea that addiction is a disease is a myth.” It is a disgraceful myth because it relieves people themselves of personal responsibility for their condition, and takes them from the only way of true recovery which is when one accepts that, and takes it to God. If a child has chicken pox he is not guilty of anything wrong. If you get a virus you are not guilty, you are sick. But if you drink until you get drunk you are responsible for that state.
One mark of every true disease it that it is psychologically uncontrollable. In other words I cannot by taking thought and with earnest determination and by meeting with other people who also have the disease cure myself. I cannot do that with heart disease or any other ailment, but the addict is able to do that. I can choose to enter a treatment programme and recover from alcoholism. I can cry mightily to God and he can give me a new heart and I can recover from being a drunk and never take another drink for the rest of my life. There is no other so-called ‘disease’ which you can recover from by will power alone. The great cure for the sin of getting drunk is regeneration by the Holy Spirit. ” . . . but be filled with the Spirit,” our text says. It is a new birth. It is forgiveness for all the sins that accompany drunkenness, and that can only come through Jesus Christ. In other words the ultimate deliverance from being a drunk is being converted. There are many people who stop drinking and never drink again but they go to hell. There is a tee total way to hell as well as a drunkard’s way to hell. The gospel does not merely deliver men from drinking, it delivers men from the guilt of sin and the power of sin and the punishment of sin. I believe in conversion. You must be born again.
Like every preacher I assure a congregation that many Christians do not know the date of their conversion, the day, the month or even the year. They simply know that a divine work has been done in their hearts and that they are protected by a new Lord and loved by a new Saviour. But they too, without the assurance of the date, have been converted. The Lord Jesus said, “‘Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven'” (Matt. 18:3). Think of being a child; no drunkenness there; no possibility of doing violence to people when you held your mother’s hand to take your first steps. A new start! Is it possible? A new beginning! The slate wiped clean! Is it a fancy? It is certainly desirable isn’t it? To be converted and become as a child. This is what the Lord demands, and so this is what the Lord can give. “Convert me!” you must cry. “Truly convert me!” You don’t want the phony ersatz kind . . . a torrent of emotion . . . being worked over by some huckster . . . repeating a few words after someone and being told you have been converted. No! God really converting you, working deeply in you and making you a new wineskin to contain the new, delicious, harmless, healing wine of heaven. You must be converted because you are not capable of living a new life until you are made a new man. You must become a new wineskin if you are going to receive the new wine of Jesus Christ. Conversion can be sudden. Three thousand men in Jerusalem were all suddenly converted. The same thing happened when Philip went to Samaria and preached in that city. The book of Acts tells us that the same thing happened to Saul of Tarsus, and the Ethipoian Eunuch, and to Lydia, and to the jailor in Philippi. All went to bed one night new people, converted people because they had responded to the truth of the divine gospel of Jesus Christ that day. Don’t you acknowledge the influence of so-called ‘chance encounters’ on the whole course of your life? You met people in a quite unplanned way, or you read an article which changed your whole thinking. Philip Larkin the poet described the “frail traveling coincidence” of strangers meeting on a train. “What it held,” wrote Larkin, “Stood ready to be loosed with all the power that being changed can give.”
Here is the testimony of a man called Percy Rush who was a drunk, but Christian people spoke to him frequently. He would change his ways for a while, and then back he would return to drinking. It happened a few times, false conversions – one of the easiest of things for the devil to counterfeit, but in 1928 at an open air meeting when he was in deep guilt and despair the word of God came powerfully to him. He knelt and prayed and some men knelt with him, but he was full of doubt. “Let me get up. God has no mercy for the likes of me. I’m too bad, I tell you, I’m lost. There can be no hope for me. Leave me alone.” The men couldn’t do that. They kept praying for him.
Then this is what occurred, in his own words: ‘The Word says: “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple” (Malachi 3:1). It happened there. Quite suddenly, the blessed Spirit brought into my mind the words: “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Then rising on one knee, the spirit of prayer upon me again, I determinedly prayed, saying: “Lord, that text is in Thy blessed Book. If that Book be true, you dare not cast me out. Take me in for Christ’s sake, take me in for my wife’s and children’s sake. Oh, take me in for my own sake, but take me now, else that Book is a lie, and I’m lost for ever.”
‘”I’m lost, and lost for ever.” Have you ever felt like that? There are those who have felt so, and for whom there seemed to be no hope until they did so feel. It is ever more true that “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” In Daniel 6:27 I read: “He delivereth and rescueth,” and in Acts 3:7, “And immediately his feet and ankle bones receiveth strength.” The moment my prayer ended, it was answered by a sudden inflow of new life and power, vitalizing and quickening. My feet became as hind’s feet” (2 Sam.22:34).
‘I leaped up and shouted again and again: “Hallelujah, I’m through.” Even my drink-sodden face became changed. I was instantaneously delivered by Christ the Emancipator, and completely released from my bondage to sin; the diabolical hatred, the craving for drink and drugs, and (next day) tobacco, were taken clean away, and they have never since returned.
‘”My soul shall make her boast in the Lord” (Psa. 34:2). Two bystanders in that crowd, then utter strangers to my wife and me, have since often witnessed to the actual change that came into my countenance on that memorable Sunday night, August 19th, 1928. What saith the Scripture? “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). (Percy Rush, “Is Not This a Brand?”, Henry Walter, 1948, p.77). The change was so great from alcoholic dependence and despair to forgiveness and new life in Christ that he gave the remainder of his life to preaching the message of deliverance and grace in Christ. He became “loosed with all the power that being changed can give.” I beseech you not be afraid of conversion, and especially of thinking that it is too embarrassing and humiliating, and that you who have never taken a drink in your life, aren’t the type of person to need to be converted. We all need to be converted, the most moral old lady still needs a new heart and the forgiveness of her sins through the cross of the Lord Jesus.
Hear again of another conversion from sin in a friend of mine. You know that recently I was in Kenya and one evening I had supper with one of the elders in Trinity Baptist Church, Nairobi and with his wife Salome. Listen to the testimony Joseph Masunga shared with me: “I was brought up in a rural area in a Roman Catholic family and served as an altar boy with the priests, but when I reached secondary school I left religion behind. I began experimenting with new things. I tried alcohol and quickly discovered that it brought tremendous pleasure. I also found that smoking was delightful and smoked as much as I could afford. When under the influence of alcohol I would express myself in abominable Kikamba expletives. In my sober moments, however, I began to thoroughly dislike myself and made vows (which I could not keep) that I would stop thinking and smoking. I found myself in trouble on several occasions because of my drinking. I completed sixth form in 1970 and went to teach in a harambee school near to my home. I felt rejected by people who knew me and so I spent all my evenings in a bar, drinking as though beer was going out of fashion. After six months, I was called to the University of Nairobi to commence my studies in agriculture.
“University offered me even more opportunity for drinking, but a change was taking place in me. I was losing interest in everything. At the end of the academic year I did not sit the exam. In fact I had stopped attending classes some time before. Then, one day and almost on an impulse, I caught the 6.30 p.m. train from Nairobi to Mombasa and arrived there with just two shillings and forty cents in my pocket. A school friend introduced me to a man who was a drunkard just like me. I continued in my old ways and soon began to drink chang’aa. It took me to new heights of intoxication but I knew that all this involvement with alcohol was destroying me. I was utterly miserable and eventually began to plan suicide.
“I decided to drown myself in the ocean but could not do it. I thought excessive thinking of chang ‘aa might be the least painful way. It did not work so I headed for the ocean again. I was about to throw myself headlong when I began to wonder if there was a God on the other side. For the second time I postponed suicide and walked back to town. On one evening in November 1972, on a strange impulse I entered a Protestant Bible believing church. The preacher arrested my attention when he said there is everlasting life in Jesus Christ. After the service I followed him under heavy conviction of my sins and asked him if there was a time when someone has sinned so much that cannot forgive him. He read to me Jn. 3:18, “He who does not believe is condemned already,” and I realised I was already condenmed. I also realised that there is the opportunity to believe anytime: “He who believes in the Son of God is not condemned.” I prayed a heartfelt prayer of repentance. That night I turned from drinking and smoking. From then on I was drawn to be among the people of God and to pray and study the Bible. I was able to return to university and complete a Bachelor of Education degree and then teach in a Nairobi secondary school. The Lord had wonderfully saved me and utterly transformed my life. How amazing is his wonderful grace!”
Have you heard what this man has just said to you? I beseech you to listen and think and don’t look at anything else. Medicine holds out little hope for you. Therapies are invariably the same, and if today you are standing on the threshold of this kind of life then you need to emphasise to yourself the danger you are in. The majority of alcoholics are never cured. They reject the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and what they call ‘a power that is greater than me’ is too vague to bring them to know a reconciled God. They live and die as drunks. There are no pills the local General Practitioner can prescribe which can save you, but far worse that that, the door of heaven is closed against the drunkard. Paul tells us that drunkenness is a “work of the flesh” and those trapped by it do not inherit the Kingdom of God. Do you understand what I am saying? You will not only lose you self-respect, and destroy you family, and lose your job if you keep drinking. You will lose your own soul. You will end up not merely on the streets begging, but you will end up in perdition.
You are a pitiable man, but God’s word does not take the consumption of alcohol as a disease to be pitied. It says that the drunkard goes to hell. It does not say that the man with arthritis goes to hell, or the woman with polio, and the person with malaria. The door to hell is not closed against those who have measles and high blood pressure because those are illnesses over which no man has control and for which there is medicine. But drunkenness is a chosen lifestyle; it is the result of a free option and a voluntary choice. It is my choice that I go out with the lads and put the first glass to my lips and persist on that road until the time comes when I have become addicted to liquor. It is still my choice, and I find myself at last a slave and drinking is my master. I say what a pitiable object I am, yes, but I have destroyed myself.
Let me face these two solemn realities; let me look at this fact that medicine holds little hope, and that if I persist I shall find myself in hell for eternity. What then do we do? As a Christian church we offer to men Jesus Christ as Saviour. We say to you confess this sin! It is not something over which you have no control. It is not a disease; it is a chosen lifestyle in which you depend on alcohol to get through your weeks and years. Thus you are defying God who offers you rest if you come to Christ. The fruit of his indwelling Spirit is love, joy and peace. Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” If you say you do not want the life that is in Christ there is no alternative which I have to offer you to help you. I only have Jesus Christ to teach you what is right and wrong and explain to you how you should live; Jesus Christ the great Lord and king who will keep you, and Jesus Christ the Saviour whose blood will cleanse you from all the guilt and failure of the past.
Jesus Christ is the double cure for your state; he will cleanse you from sin’s guilt and from sin’s power. The Lord will help you to change your lifestyle; he will help you cut off the right hand rather than stretch it out and take another bottle or can. He wants new life in which there is purity and strength and service and that new life he will provide. There is no special gospel for the drunkard; he needs Christ. What more does he need than the Saviour? Is it Christ plus group therapy? How different our counseling will be from the techniques of the world. Our counseling is judgmental. We are not prepared to sit back and merely listen to the stories of falls and powerful temptations, disguising our horror and refraining from expressing our disapproval. God condemns drunkenness. He insists that it be discontinued and warns that it leads to hell. We believe that the sense of guilt which is often a pronounced feature of the drunkard’s character is not to be diminished but intensified and extended so that a sinner sees that it is not the drunkenness that is indefensible but his whole life before God. Then what a marvellous redemption that though our life is indefensible God receives it for Christ’s sake and pardons and forgives and cleanses. He will take a man up out of the gutter and will transform him. “I have dealt with all the wretchedness of your guilt and shame. I have freely removed it all and made you a new creature. I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
I would say from observation and from experience and on the basis of theological ground, Christ alone is what you need. He will cleanse from sin’s guilt and power. He will keep you from making alcohol a regular part of your life. Your only hope is that God create within you new strength, new drives, new aptitudes. Counseling and listening and making no judgments about another’s chosen ‘lifestyle’ – better ‘deathstyle’ – are all utterly impotent in producing this mighty resolution. There is just one who says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Make sure you are joined to Christ. Give him no rest until you know you are.
17th July 2005 GEOFF THOMAS