[Herod's Gate, Jerusalem]George Herbert: "The Church-porch"

Day 2: Evening


Abstain wholly, or wed. Thy bounteous Lord

Allows thee choice of paths: take no by-wayes;

But gladly welcome what he doth afford;

Not grudging, that thy lust hath bounds and staies.

     Continence hath his joy: weigh both; and so

     If rottennesse have more, let Heaven go.

     The flesh is given a clear choice, with no equivocation, no alternatives, no mitigating conditions. There is no allowance for the wild oats of youth or folly of age, for the masculine prerogative or feminine weakness. The absolute choice is abstinence or marriage. Nothing in between is acceptable. This is God's command which we should welcome, not just accept grudgingly or like a servant, but glad to admit and enforce these limitations to our unbridled desires. Continence, celibacy, purity, is also a joy, one of obedience and willing service to God's command. In the complete view, we have two choices: abstinence or marriage (the Divine options), or rottenness. If rottenness have more for you, let Heaven go.

     If we do not choose celibacy or marriage, we give away Heaven. How would his audience, the playboys of his day, respond. Extramarital relations, teenage exploration and other sensuous pleasures permeated his society as well. The Temple reached those outside of Heaven with its poetic images and uncompromising clarity. We have psychological justification and sociological forgiveness to shield us from this focus. Herbert is clear, too clear for the modern reader.

     Concentrate on these two possibilities only. All other selections distract the followers of God. This makes so many difficult decisions plain. With all laws that God commands, it simplifies the possibilities, eliminates unproductive side roads and consolidates the effort. Narrow the scope of passion. Strengthen all efforts on Heaven, and let rottenness go.

See 1 Corinthians 7:1-2
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (KJV)

© 1997 J. R. Arner

Go To Next Stanza

Go Back To the Index:

By Day

By Subject

Go To George Herbert: "The Church-porch", Introduction

Go To George Herbert & The Temple Home Page