Some things never seem to change, human nature among them.
In 1919, a year after the end of the horrific first World War, Rudyard Kipling published his now-famous poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” Copybooks were school-books used by children to learn their handwriting. At the top of the page would be a proverb or wise saying, and the children were expected to copy the saying down the page, thereby, it was hoped, firming up through repetition both sound thought and sound dexterity.
Despite its pagan-sounding name, the thoughts of the poem are firmly rooted in the traditions of Christian thought, and lament the habit of men to turn away from timeless wisdom as taught in the eponymous copy-books, for the more fashionable ‘wisdom’ of the day. Kipling observed the men of his day fleeing sound principles of morality and wisdom and deduced that it would lead to an unhappy ending, as it always did. One of the verses of the poem, dealing with sexual mores, reads as follows:
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life;
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife); Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
The headlines of our day and age are filled with individual after individual suddenly suffering the repercussions of their sexual misbehavior. We might be tempted to think that this is all something new and unique. But we would be wrong. While there was a “sexual revolution” in the 1970’s, the fruits of which we are still reaping today, Kipling, a hundred years ago was seeing something very similar unfolding. If we were to trace the history of mankind, we would see the same cycle of wantonness and unhappiness repeated over and over. Men always want to think that they have found a new and better way to live, unconstrained by the old morality. And always the results are the same: misery and unhappiness for all and sundry.
Of course, the saying, “The wages of sin is death,” quoted by Kipling, is not original to copybook headings, but is instead a passage from the Bible: Romans 6:23. There’s a lot of wisdom in the Bible that men would do well to heed. “A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7) “Bad company corrupts good habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (1 Corinthians 5:6)
God wants us to learn to avoid those things that will cause us and our loved ones pain and unhappiness, and practice those things that will bring us joy. It is an unfortunate truth that far too many people ignore God’s sound wisdom and seek their own path for joy, and suffer because of it.
About 2,800 years ago, the Israelite prophet Hosea, speaking of the judgment that would come upon his nation tells them that they “sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7) Like the progressive thinkers of today, so too the “wise men” of Israel had encouraged their countrymen to throw off the traditions given by God, and embrace sexual wantonness, idolatry, materialism, and the like. Such worldly wisdom was destined to lead them to destruction.
About 2,000 years ago, Peter cautioned fellow Christians against listening to the wisdom of the day. The people around them were participating in and promoting, “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” (1 Peter 4:3) Regarding this, Peter said, “they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:4-5; NKJV)
The unfortunate and unhappy proclivities of modern men: drunkenness, drug abuse, materialism, rudeness, sexual promiscuity and immorality; these things are not new and different, rather they are the same unfortunate and unhappy habits which have plagued men since we left the Garden. And always the results are the same.
But the cure does not change either. God provides us wise and righteous counsel, and if we listen to Him, we, and those around us, are going to be happier and more fulfilled. If we are wise, we will choose to listen to God’s wisdom, rather than the fashionable wisdom of the age.
If you would like to learn more of God’s wisdom for your life, as taught in the Bible, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.