Monday, February 17, 2014

Frugality - The Instructor on frugality, a good possession of the Christian

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Delicacies spent on pleasures become a dangerous shipwreck to men; for this voluptuous and ignoble life of the many is alien to true love for the beautiful and to refined pleasures. For man is by nature an erect and majestic being, aspiring after the good as becomes the creature of the One. But the life which crawls on its belly is destitute of dignity, is scandalous, hateful, ridiculous. And to the divine nature voluptuousness is a thing most alien... For to regard pleasure as a good thing, is the sign of utter ignorance of what is excellent. Love of wealth displaces a man from the right mode of life, and induces him to cease from feeling shame at what is shameful." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
Clement contrasts two modes of life. One spent on the pursuits of pleasure and the other on the pursuit of God. One spent on what one considers as good and the other on what is truly excellent. How often do we allow our lives to be hijacked by the "good," causing us to forgo what is excellent? God created us as noble and majestic beings, destined for those things that are most excellent, but we have demeaned ourselves and accepted rather the pursuit of momentary pleasures, changing our noble character for that which is ignoble and shameful. Worst of all, we fail to see how far we have fallen. "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) And yet how many have perceived that from which they have fallen?
"We must, then, cast away the multitude of vessels, silver and gold drinking cups, and the crowd of domestics, receiving as we have done from the Instructor the fair and grave attendants, Self-help and Simplicity. And we must walk suitably to the Word; and if there be a wife and children, the house is not a burden, having learned to change its place along with the sound-minded traveller. The wife who loves her husband must be furnished for travel similarly to her husband. A fair provision for the journey to heaven is theirs who bear frugality with chaste gravity. And as the foot is the measure of the shoe, so also is the body of what each individual possesses." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
If we are to find the excellent, we must cast off all that is superfluous in our lives. We must learn lives of simplicity and frugality, traveling light through this world in which we are merely sojourners. Clement reminds us that the necessary cares of life are not a burden to those who know how to live simply while the "stuff" of the rich weighs them down and encumbers their every steps and causes them to stumble in the way. The one who lives a simple life is always ready to go while the one encumbered with the things of this world finds it difficult to respond to God; their possessions calling to them even while they try to respond. It is the same lure of life that caused Lot's wife to look back, "But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." (Genesis 19:26)
"He who climbs to the heavens by force, must carry with him the fair staff of beneficence, and attain to the true rest by communicating to those who are in distress... For as gushing wells, when pumped out, rise again to their former measure, so giving away, being the benignant spring of love, by communicating of its drink to the thirsty, again increases and is replenished, just as the milk is wont to flow into the breasts that are sucked or milked." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
Wealth is not to be horded, nor is it to be spent on the superfluity of life, but is to be stewarded and used for the relief of those in need. Solomon reminds us, "There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want." (Proverbs 11:24) Those who give out of the wealth God has given them are like wells that never runs dry. They keep giving and God keeps increasing. The are blessed and those they give to are blessed, and all give thanks to God.
"For the Word is a possession that wants nothing, and is the cause of all abundance. If one say that he has often seen the righteous man in need of food, this is rare, and happens only where there is not another righteous man... The good man, then, can never be in difficulties so long as he keeps intact his confession towards God. For it appertains to him to ask and to receive whatever he requires from the Father of all; and to enjoy what is his own, if he keep the Son. And this also appertains to him, to feel no want." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
The key to living a simple and frugal life is knowing that God cares for us and will always provide for us. Where there is want, there is a place where righteousness is lacking or where righteous men have failed in their call and duty. God has promised to provide and, when righteous men live lives in keeping with God's word, God will always provide for what is needed. 

Finally, God desires us to live a life where we want for nothing. Can you imagine the blessings of such a life, to be in need and want for nothing? To be free from the desire of all the world has to offer? To live a life knowing that, whatever you may need, God will provide, would be a life most blessed in deed. To love in want of nothing would be to live in the image of God.

David Robison

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