Cleanliness is Next to Godliness – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to clean up their act and put more attention into their hygiene or general cleanliness? If so, you could use the proverbial expression, “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” to get them to think about their behavior. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this proverb.

Meaning

The proverbial expression, “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” means that being neat and tidy brings you closer to a God-like state. No one can get up to heaven to do a housekeeping check, so we don’t know why there would be a connection to keeping clean.

It’s more likely that the biblical or religious context of the phrase refers to keeping one’s soul clean. However, the phrase’s meaning changed as we entered a secular society, and religion fell to the wayside.

Example Usage

Sarah: “My Gladys, you keep such a clean and tidy home. I’m impressed.”

Gladys: “Well, you know what they say? Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

“C’mon, Timmy, I’ve told you three times today to clean your room. Don’t you know that cleanliness is next to Godliness?”

“We like to sweep up after we finish for the day. After all, cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

“The staff make sure the area is squeaky clean every day so that no one has the chance of getting infected. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and that is a slogan we live by here.”

Origin

The origin of the proverb, “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” comes from Victorian Christian moralists. These individuals championed the value of moral diligence and hard work in the community. Philosopher Sir Francis Bacon was the first to use it in English in his book, “In Advancement of Learning,” published in 1605.

Cleanness of body was ever esteemed to proceed from a due reverence to God, to society, and ourselves.”

While it’s not the exact phrase, it’s thought of as the origin of the saying. Later, preacher John Wesley would use the expression in a sermon titled “On Dress” in 1791.

“Let it be observed that slovenliness is no part of religion; that neither this nor any text of Scripture, condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly this is a duty, not a sin. Cleanliness is, indeed, next to Godliness.”

The context of the sermon suggests that physical cleanliness is not a religious requirement but more of a personal habit worthy of encouragement.

Phrases Similar to Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

  • Keep it clean.
  • The clean machine.
  • Fresh and clean.

Phrases Opposite to Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

  • Stay dirty.
  • Keep it dirty.
  • Pit of filth.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Ways People May Say Cleanliness is Next to Godliness Incorrectly

Some people may use the phrase to describe the actions of the church or the clergy. As we moved into a secular society in the 60s, fewer people started going to church. Today, we have a multi-cultural nation, and some individuals might find the use of “God” in the phrase offensive.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

You can use the phrase, “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” when you’re trying to tell someone to clean themselves up or straighten out their living space. It could also apply to handwriting, personal hygiene, and many other scenarios where it pays to be neat and tidy.

You can use the phrase when telling someone they need to clean up their act. Or you could use it when someone remarks on how clean you keep your home. Typically, it’s a religious reference, but it lost its non-secular meaning decades ago.

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