An Essay, Delivered at the International Convention of Young Men's Christian Associations,
Held In Albany, June 1, 1866.
The religious thought of the age must soon face this subject more fairly than it has yet done; and seek for some more satisfactory adjustment of it. At present its status is very indefinite. The church is by no means at one concerning it. The pulpit too often evades it. Private Christians waver between the results of independent thought and of early education, undecided whether to approve or condemn; while extremists take advantage of this hesitation to lay down the sternest dogmas, and to thunder denunciations at every head that will not bow to their ipse dixit. The questions at issue are not to be dismissed with a sneer at fanaticism and over-scrupulousness on the one hand, and with a protest against unwarrantable liberality on the other. The whole subject must be reexamined with reference to fundamental gospel principles by both parties, in a spirit of Christian moderation, and with the desire of ascertaining not only what is safe, but what is right.
To prosecute thoroughly such an examination within the limits assigned me, is, of course, impossible. I can only deal with a few of the great principles underlying the case, and urge their application to a single practical question which has arisen in the experience of our own, and it may be, of other Christian associations.
The idea of development, which is perhaps the fundamental one of Christianity, has been to a very great extent swallowed up in the idea of safety. It is not an uncommon error to regard Christianity almost exclusively in a defensive aspect; the Christian merely as a safe man, protected by Divine safe-guards from temptation, rescued by Divine mercy from the terrors of death and judgment. Correspondingly with this mistake, the tendency has grown to strengthen the defenses of character, rather than to foster its growth. To keep it from temptation, rather than to teach it to overcome temptation. To teach it its danger from the world, rather than its duty to the world. Consequently we have heard more about keeping unspotted from the world, than of going into all the world, and preaching the gospel to every creature. More about coming out and being separate, than of knowing the truth which shall make free. More of separating wheat from tares, than of leavening lumps.
The false instinct of self-preservation, which sent the Romanist into cloisters and convents, and tore him from the sweet sanctities of domestic life, has perpetuated itself more than some of us think in Protestant thought and church legislation. And in nothing has this tendency revealed itself more distinctly than in the matter of amusements. For amusement, having the effect to make men feel kindly toward the world, and, more readily than duty, falling in with human inclination, has been regarded as unsafe, and therefore as a thing to be kept at arm's length by the church, and admitted to her folds only under the strictest surveillance, and in gyves and handcuffs.
The developments of this spirit are so familiar that I need not stop to enumerate them. The important thing now is to discover the right stand-point for discussion. And here let me say what, until recently, I had supposed there was no need of saying: that amusement is a necessity of man's nature as truly as food, or drink, or sleep. Physiology, common sense, experience, philosophy, are all at one on this point. Man needs something besides change of employment. He needs something pursued with a view solely to enjoyment. Those who deny this are ignorant of the simplest fundamental laws of mind and matter. Men who assert publicly that they need no amusements, and |want to die in the harness,| will have the opportunity of dying in the harness some years earlier than would be demanded in the ordinary course of nature. Nature will not suffer even zealous Christian men to violate this law with impunity. She forbids man to labor continuously, and if he persists in disregarding her prohibition, she will revenge herself by imbecility, uselessness, or death.
This must be assumed in all discussions of the subject; and it being a religious, no less than a physical truth, it throws into new prominence the question, how, as Christians, we are to discharge this duty without being led away by the temptation which adjoins it so closely.
Let it be borne in mind that we are not now dealing with individual cases of conscience, but with general laws. While then there is obviously a distinction between amusements -- while it is granted that some develop greater capabilities of abuse than others, the attempt to adjust this question on the basis of discriminating between amusements must result in failure. It always has, and it always will. This basis is secure only in a question between an innocent amusement, and one involving a palpable violation of the law of God. The advocate of any particular amusement is, on this ground, shut up to the necessity of proving that what he approves and practices is absolutely pure, and incapable of perversion. The moment it is admitted that it can, by any possibility, be turned to base uses, the lists are thrown open to all corners, and the utterly insoluble question arises, just what degree of capacity for perversion entitles an amusement to approval or rejection? Insoluble, I say, because, not to speak of any other difficulty, one is obliged to confront the fact that no one amusement presents a similar temptation to abuse to all alike. That in which the slightest indulgence might tend to lead one man to ruinous excess, excites no interest in another. It might possibly be dangerous for one man to play at backgammon, while to another it would prove no amusement, but only a tedious method of killing time. On this ground, in short, it is utterly impossible to adjust this matter satisfactorily or consistently. The only consistent or safe rule in this view of the case, is rigorously to exclude all, because all are partakers of the universal taint of sin.
|The trail of the serpent is over them all.|
It is innocent for boys to play marbles, but sinful to play dominoes. Wherein, pray? They can learn to gamble with one as well as with the other. It is sinful to play billiards, but highly graceful and innocent to play croquet. But why? Really, when it comes to a comparison, the first is infinitely the more beautiful and intellectual game. The ethical distinctions are positively bewildering between balls of ivory and balls of wood; between mallets and cues; between green baize and green grass. A Christian household must not sit down and play at whist, but they are engaged in a Christian and laudable manner if they spend an evening over Dr. Busby, or Master Rodbury cards. Really, it is hard to draw the moral line between cards bearing aces and spades, and cards with the likenesses of Dr. Busby's son and servant, Doll the dairymaid, and the like. When it comes to a question of profit, one is an amusement involving a good deal of healthy, mental exertion, while the other is about as silly and profitless a way of spending an evening as can well be imagined. Youth must not dance, but they may march to music in company, and go through calisthenic exercises, involving a good deal more motion than dancing. But if people may march to music and be guiltless, it is very hard to see how skipping to music converts the exercise into sin. It is said that the associations make the difference; but the advocate of this theory is shut up to proving that the associations are inseparable from the amusements. And here is the place to remark that the best amusements are the ones most likely to be abused -- the ones which experience shows are most abused, and about which cluster the most evil associations. The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. Men do not care to counterfeit a coin of inferior value; and the world is very clear-sighted to discern the best and richest sources of worldly pleasure, and utterly unscrupulous in appropriating them entirely to itself. The amusements which are most abused, are commonly those which, from their intrinsic value, call most loudly upon virtue to rescue them from their abuses.
The above method of reasoning, in short, will not stand the test of plain common sense. It is trifling, ignoring all distinctions which rest on principles, and substituting factitious ones; and Christians who assume this ground, lay themselves open without defense to the logic and ridicule of any intelligent man of the world who may be disposed to test the reasons for their scrupulousness. They condemn themselves in those things which they allow. The amusements they approve cannot, in many cases, be compared with those which they deprecate, either in elegance, profit, or the amount of intelligence they require.
What point then shall we take for the consideration of this subject? We are confined to one -- the stand-point of the Bible. As Christian associations we have but one question to ask: |What saith the Word.|
In the New Testament we find little said about the degrees of sin. The thought which it throughout tries to impress is, that sin is everywhere; and under any form, or in any degree, is a horrible and fatal thing. The tares are gathered in bundles and burned; no matter if one grows a little shorter, and another a little longer. The lustful glance is placed in the same category with the licentious act. The angry thought is of the same piece with the act of murder. The gospel contemplates the sins of the race very much as a man looks at an orange: the rind is full of little protuberances, and a close scrutiny will show that some of these rise higher than others. But nobody pretends to notice these variations; they all spring from one spherical surface, and their variation is not such as to destroy the general effect of roundness. So all these fearful developments of sin spring from one plane, and God hath concluded the whole sinful world in unbelief.
The gospel, therefore, wastes no time in making distinctions between sins, but aims straight at remedying the great fact of sin as it exists everywhere. Nor does it leave us in doubt as to its method. It assumes its own power to purify anything, and therefore lays down as its great law of operation, the law of contact.
This law it sets forth under a parable: The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. The great truth here illustrated, is the innate power of the gospel to pervade and assimilate to its own nature the whole worldly order of things, just as leaven thus pervades and assimilates the lifeless lumps of dough. This then, is its simple lesson: Put the gospel into contact with everything sinful -- the heart of man, the life of man, the employments of man, the amusements of man -- into society, its customs, laws, institutions, and it will purge them of evil, and bring them into harmony with the Divine order.
But be sure and note, that the entire success of this action depends upon the contact -- upon the putting the leaven into the lump. Fail in this, and the lump remains heavy. It matters very little whether the salt have lost his savor or not, if the meat remain in one dish and the salt in the other.
How thoroughly and beautifully this truth was carried out in the life and teachings of Christ, will appear to us more clearly, if we shall recognize the uniform policy of the gospel to work for the destruction of evil, chiefly through the lodgment and development of good. Both Christ and his apostles are exhibited in the gospel story as engaged chiefly in asserting and illustrating the truth, and not in combating error. Christ comes into a world lying in wickedness -- besotted by it, plagued and tormented by it; full of abominations starting boldly out without pretense of concealment, from every phase of private, social and civil life. But he does not approach these as a mechanic would an old building, saying, |this beam is rotten and must come down; this roof is decayed and must be stripped off; this floor is unsafe and must be pulled up.| He does not propose to his disciples to enter upon a wholesale denunciation of profanity and licentiousness. He points out and condemns many of these things it is true; but the main lever of his teaching is the assertion of the great gospel principles. For these he seeks a place of lodgment everywhere. The old tables of the law contained but one commandment that was not prohibitory. Every line portrayed a crime, with a law standing on guard beside it, and warning men away with its |Thou shalt not!| Christ asserts the authority of the law; but in the new table it is seen beckoning toward the commandment, |Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.| His instructions to his disciples do not so much concern the things which they are to avoid, as they tend to fix upon their minds right conceptions of his character and mission. So, I repeat, Christ's work is less a crusade against evil, than an assertion of good by precept and example as the surest means in the end of removing evil. Look, too, at Paul at Athens, surrounded by heathen temples, statues and altars. He does not proceed to demonstrate to the curious multitude that the philosophies of Zeno or Epicurus are wrong; or that the worship of Hermes or Athene is absurd. He throws out at once, bold and stern as a mountain headland, the assertion of the Divine unity, and follows it up with the doctrines of salvation through Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment. In a few bold strokes he delineates to the astonished skeptics some salient points of natural and revealed religion, and then leaves the truth to germinate and crowd out the evil in its own way and time.
There is indeed a sublimity in this invincible faith in the power of truth exhibited by the Son of Man. In the calmness with which he moves amid the moral ruin that encompasses him, without that anxious haste, and longing for immediate results, which characterize so many modern reformers. The world would have expected a direct and tremendous onslaught upon evil. It would have said that the dropping of a seed of positive truth here and there, would never result in anything. Christ knew better. He knew the latent power of truth; its inherent capability of growth; and he knew that wherever it should find a lodgment, it would grow; and wherever it should grow, it would shake down from its branches, like the mighty tree of the tropics, the germs of a thousand growths like itself. Now it is this very faith in the power of gospel truth, as the most effective destroyer of evil, prompting to put the good boldly into the evil to leaven it, which is sorely needed in the moral movements of the age. Bring the subject of amusements to this test. Compare the action of the church upon it, with the principles so evidently regulating Christ's dealing with evil, and see whether it gains by the comparison. Is it not true, rather, that the Christian world has, to a very large extent, acted upon an entirely opposite principle? It has spent much time in peering into amusements to see what evil they contained, and has kept digging away at this, instead of putting Divine grace into them, in simple faith in God, and letting that at once purge and regulate them. It has been so absorbed in ferreting out and declaiming against the evil, as to have forgotten measurably that a corresponding duty lay upon it to develop the good. Overlooking, or at least slighting the great philosophical truth, that amusement is as necessary to man as bread, and fixing its gaze upon the fact that it is capable of perversion, it has most signally failed in the regulation of popular amusements, and in teaching how to use, without abusing them. It has withdrawn utterly from many most innocent sources of pleasure; crying, |come out from among them;| they are not safe; Christians must have nothing to do with them. And with its withdrawal, the Devil has come in and taken full possession, and their last state is worse than the first. When the church has touched the subject of amusements, it has generally done so, I think, in a censorious spirit. It has selected certain amusements as sinful, and issued decretals and resolutions against them; it has prescribed penalties against church members who should engage in them; leaving the question in its broader relations untouched. It has fenced off this and that corner of the field of recreation, and put up signs: |all church members are warned against trespassing on these grounds, under penalty of the law,| instead of trying to teach Christians how to avail themselves, with profit and safety, of any part of the field. We are cut off from Hamlet, and Lear, and Othello and Macbeth. We cannot avail ourselves of the interpretation of these by the best histrionic talent, because the theater has been suffered to fall so completely into the Devil's hands, that a Christian cannot countenance what is good in it, without at the same time countenancing much that is profane, licentious and indecent. But if the intelligence and culture of a community endeavor to apply the principle I have been advocating, and, in the shape of private theatricals, to furnish a refined, beautiful, and instructive dramatic exhibition, the outcry is little less than if they had leased Wallack's or Niblo's, with a first class troupe; and those Christians who witness it, are condemned as inconsistent and backsliders. Just so with dancing. The idea of Christianity having the remotest connection with this amusement has been scouted as absurd. A procrustean law has been enacted -- |Thou shalt not dance.| And surely, one would think from some exhibitions of this amusement, that Christian leaven had been pretty thoroughly withdrawn from it. One cannot much wonder at the disgust excited by those importations from Paris brothels, the round dances, which, with the present style of female attire, really leave modest men at some loss what to do with their eyes. Let us have as much thundering at these as you will. Let us not mince words. Let ridicule, and sarcasm, and denunciation exhaust their armories, for these are abuses; positive evils. But these abuses are not inseparable from the amusement, which, in proper forms, is healthy, graceful, innocent, and highly commendable. Just here an incident occurs to me which so forcibly illustrates this last remark that I must relate it as the involuntary testimony of an enemy. An amiable and most excellent clergyman of this state, happened to be present one evening when some young ladies went through a quadrille. He looked on with great apparent pleasure. The next morning he was rallied by some of his townsmen on having countenanced dancing by his presence; when he roundly denied the charge, and asserted that no dancing had taken place, but only, as he expressed it, |a most beautiful exercise.| Now, I ask, in the name of common sense, why not devote a little Christian care to separating from its abuses, and regulating in its conduct an exercise which improves the bearing of our youth, tends to relieve their natural awkwardness in society, and gives them innocent exhilaration? But no! Thou shalt not dance. That is Alpha and Omega. Dancing is liable to abuse, and therefore, O most astoundingly consistent logic, leave it to become a prey to all manner of abuses and abominations. So, if a Christian household makes the attempt to leaven this unfortunate lump, and claims that it can, and does introduce graceful and modest dancing into its family gatherings and social reunions, it is too often denounced as an enemy of Christ and a corrupter of the young. For one I am glad that certain Christian families of high standing in the church of all denominations, have at last asserted their right to act out their own convictions in this matter, and have demonstrated that even this much berated amusement may be elevated, refined, and made a source of social pleasure and profit by the infusion of Christian principle.
One more case in point. When our Young Men's Christian Association of Troy furnished their new rooms, they did so on the principle that prayer meetings and religious periodicals, though important in their place, would not, of themselves, suffice to attract young men from without. They had tried the experiment in their forlorn rooms under a machine shop, in an out-of-the-way place, furnished as a miniature chapel, and a very seedy one at that, and the result was that about six months ago the Association was in a fair way to die, and make no sign. Young men would not go to that dismal hole to spend an evening when more attractive places abounded in the city; and I would not if I had been in their place. But the Association got a new lease of life. It engaged large, airy, pleasant rooms, in a central position. It kept its prayer meeting room neatly and appropriately furnished, but it added a large social parlor, its walls adorned with pictures, a fine piano invitingly open, the best current periodicals, secular and religious, upon the tables, and games of checkers, chess, and dominoes distributed about the room. The young men came in crowds. They were thrown at once into contact with the Christian youth of every church in the city; with the city pastors; with committees, specially appointed by the churches to take strangers in charge, with good music, religious literature, and innocent amusement. For one I thanked God with all my heart. I thought the Association had done a great Christian deed. I hailed it as a happy omen that the Christianity of our city was beginning to see that the Devil had tools which it might use to advantage, and was going to take them away from him. But so did not think others who turned their backs on the Association, and denounced it as encouraging gambling.
This, in short, is the course pursued to a very great extent with this whole subject of amusements: assuming that the gospel has no business with it except to denounce and warn; taking the leaven away from the lump, instead of putting it in. Creating a wide separation between two things, which, of all others in the world need to be brought into contact -- religion and pleasure.
And the practical results of this policy are before us. It may be said that the tendency now is altogether in the direction of excess; that some Christians are becoming much too liberal, and are fast obliterating all old landmarks. All I have to say to this is, that the more true it is, the better for my position. For, granting, for argument's sake, all that is asserted, this fact shows that there is a reaction from an old and false sentiment, which even if excessive, is a healthy indication. And the one error goes to prove the other; for excessive reactions are pretty sure to grow out of excessive stringency in another direction. At any rate, the great error of the church on this subject is clearly exposed, namely: her failure to regulate amusements. She ought to have been the gospel's instrument in purifying them from abuse; but she has not been. She has been afraid of them; has stood aloof from them; has been almost totally absorbed in detecting their evil tendencies; and, on account of these, forbidding Christians all contact with them. And to-day she stands comparatively powerless in this matter. Church assemblies meet and pass strong and elaborate resolutions on this or that amusement, condemning it, and those who engage in it; and a few persons are deterred by these. But every year the class is increasing that utterly disregards these mandates. It has been said, I know, that in proportion as the church or individuals are engaged in religious efforts, the desire for amusement declines, the implication being that a desire for amusement characterizes only a low state of religion. This deduction is entirely unwarranted, and the process by which it is reached is fallacious.
It is true that in a season of deep religious interest in a church, there will be less disposition to amusements. But the same is true of other than religious interests. Under any absorbing, popular excitement, men do not turn to amusement. A special religious interest will draw men's minds from business as well as from pleasure; and the inference to the condemnation of business is just as legitimate as to that of amusement.
Again, the statement is not borne out in the ordinary religious life of individuals. Many, very many of the best, most efficient, and most steadily growing Christians in the church exhibit habitually a keen relish for amusements, and for some which are most sternly condemned, and participate in them most heartily.
And once more: while at revival seasons in individual churches, a temporary decrease of amusements may be seen, the more important fact is that the aggregate of Christian society has been for many years past developing a steadily increasing interest in the subject, and a corresponding liberality of sentiment respecting it. Scores of Christian men have billiard tables in their houses. Colleges, from which in years past, students would have been summarily expelled for rolling ten pins, have now bowling alleys of their own. Even in the corridors of staid old Williams the sound of the balls may be heard; and the revival record of the college does not indicate that even this stupendous innovation has wrought to the banishment of the Spirit of God. The assertors of this inverse ratio between piety and amusement must, in short, dispose as best they can, of the fact that along with the growth of Christian intelligence, Christian benevolence, and Christian activity, there has been developed in the church itself a growing sympathy with many of the very forms of amusement most condemned by the religious sentiment of an earlier age.
And this too, not on the part of the careless, and pleasure loving, and half-hearted members of churches, but of men and women high in position in the church; persons of liberal culture and unquestionable piety. These persons, as well qualified to understand the teachings of God's word on this subject as any of the clergy, are asserting their right to act out their own conscientious convictions in their amusements: claiming that they owe to the resolutions of synods, and conventions and conferences, no more than candid and respectful consideration, maintaining the privilege of adopting or rejecting them at pleasure; and accordingly they are throwing open their homes to certain banned amusements, very much to the enhancement of home attractions; very much to the detriment of the saloons; very much to the increase of their children's attachment to home. Church legislation on this subject has been a humiliating failure. It has not compassed its intent. Nay, more, it has over-reached itself. It has kept noble and intelligent youth out of the church by insisting on their relinquishment of certain amusements, in the proper and moderate use of which they were unable to see evil. It has tended by this insistence to foster that too common sentiment which paints religion with sombre hues, and couples it with the most forbidding associations. It has tended to drive some to seek in the more liberal atmosphere of Unitarianism the liberty of conscience denied them by orthodoxy; and all this it might have avoided by a clearer recognition of the gospel teaching on this subject: by being less afraid for the purity of the truth, and by throwing Christian presence, and Christian participation, and Christian sentiment boldly into the midst of the people's amusements, with a view less to exscind than to regulate.
I say, |less afraid for the purity of the truth.| For Christians shrink from an experiment so bold, especially after so large a proportion of amusements has been usurped by the Devil through their neglect to interfere. The church is shy of a faith in the power of good which comes eating and drinking; which sits at the table of publicans and sinners. The conviction grows on me that Christians have too little faith in the gospel. They do not trust it enough in popular reforms. They realize that evil is a tremendous power, alike to be feared, whether it wear the armor of Goliath, or sing its sweet seductions in the form of a siren; and their instinct of preservation extends beyond themselves to the truth itself. They regard truth as a tender stripling, to be rolled up in mufflers, and suffered to walk out only in charge of certain staid nurses of theory; and not as a man of war in panoply, and with strength enough to take care not only of itself, but of them and their trusted theories too. They are afraid the evil will overwhelm or corrupt the truth; that the leaven, instead of imparting virtue, will be spoiled by the deadness of the lump. We need have no such fear for it. All the developments of the age show that the world needs it in closer contact with its evil than it has ever been yet. It is sometimes urged that in pursuing this course, Christians will bring upon themselves from the world the charge of inconsistency, and moreover will grieve weak Christian brethren. But surely this principle may be pushed too far. With the very fullest recognition of the obligation upon Christians not to let their good be evil spoken of, and not to wrong the weak conscience -- concessions made for the sake of Christian charity are surely not required to extend to all the vagaries of individual prejudice, nor to the abandonment of principle. And there is a principle involved in this question of amusements, a principle of far greater importance than many are willing to admit; and to which, if the Christian thought of this age do not take more pains to define it and act upon it, the eyes of the church will be most painfully opened by and by. There is a question here involving not only the enjoyments, but to a great extent the moral welfare of our youth. The young will have amusements, and the question is whether the devil or the church shall furnish them. Whether home, or the ball room, and drinking saloon, and gambling house shall be the more attractive. Whether Christians will resolutely take up good and noble amusements, and give them to youth purged of their evil, -- or whether they shall let them remain girt with all their allurements, yet more widely separated from good, and gathering yearly to themselves new elements and associations of evil. Very probably the world, and much of the church will assail the Christian who, in this view of the subject oversteps the line of received opinion, with a cry of inconsistency. But remember that the world judges the church out of its own mouth, independently of the real merits of the case; and requires that it be consistent, not with their views, but with its own as publicly expressed. Yet sometimes it is better to be right than even to be consistent; and if the church has with all sincerity, yet with mistaken zeal, fostered a false sentiment on any subject, do not Christians who discern the error owe to society the benefit of their clearer light? Have they a right to withhold it for fear society should turn on them and call them inconsistent? One would think from a sentiment like this that the gospel process was to be reversed. That not the Christian is to leaven the world, but the world the Christian. Christian sentiment is not to wait for popular sentiment. It claims to be in advance of it. It is to Christians and not to the world that the promise is given, |Ye shall know the truth;| and Christian thought, so far from waiting for the movement of these ever shifting popular tides, is the luminary which God has set high in the darkness of this world's sin to draw the tides in his appointed channels. The practical value of truth like that of money, consists in its circulation. It is worth nothing hoarded up or used secretly. If it is ever to be worth anything in correcting false impressions which society may have formed of Christian teaching, it will be by letting it out into society to speak for itself. Nor am I begging the question at issue here. Even an error is better outspoken than cherished in secret. It comes into the field of discussion, and is turned over and examined and exposed, and so truth is the gainer after all. But I think it will be difficult to prove an error in this case. The gospel truth is |put the leaven into the lump;| and why the gospel should not be put into our amusements, even into those which are confessedly abused, I cannot see. The more liable to abuse they are, the more they need regulating; and the practical workings of this principle when men have the courage to face prejudice and carry it out, triumphantly vindicate it. The man who furnishes his son a billiard table in his own house, where he can practice that beautiful game with his friends without the adjuncts of liquor and rowdyism, does a good deed. He keeps the youth at home, he keeps his associations under his own eye; he gives him a good, healthy, intellectual amusement purged of its abuses. The college board that erects a bowling alley for the students; that says to young men, |rolling ten pins is not evil, but rolling ten pins in bar rooms, surrounded by drunkards and swearers and indecent pictures is evil, and we therefore give you the amusement without these associations, and bid you enjoy it, and draw health and strength from it,| -- that college board I say, has promoted something more than muscular Christianity. It has given the young men a better opinion of religion; has withdrawn them from the influence of temptations to which they expose themselves only because they cannot find the amusements freed from these vile associations. It has drawn just so much patronage from the grog shop. The parents in whose family circle dancing in proper modes and with approved associates and within reasonable hours is encouraged, are doing just so much to keep their daughters from the unhealthy hours, the immodest displays, and the indiscriminate associations of the ball room. They deserve the thanks, not the reprobation of the church. They are the friends, not the enemies of religion. Let us not be scared by names. Let us not deal, as the pulpit has dealt too much, in vague generalities on this subject. Let us see what those terrible words |billiards| and |dancing,| and others of a similar cast mean. Let us see if they are evil and evil only. Let us not assume that our youth are attracted to them only by their native depravity; but see if there be not some goodness, some beauty, some intellectual stimulus which renders them so fascinating. If they need regulating, surely Christian wisdom can regulate them if anything. If any can use them safely, it is Christians who are taught by Divine grace to use this world as not abusing it, and not those who are swayed by impulse and love of pleasure only. But the church does not regulate them, and she never will or can regulate them on the old theory of separation. Never, so long as she persists in wholesale denunciations which she can sustain neither by scripture nor by logic, and against which the common sense of the educated and thoughtful rebels. A more liberal policy in the past, a juster appreciation of the gospel teachings on this subject, would not only have done much towards separating amusements from their abuses, but would have saved her from her present humiliating attitude as the declared enemy of many forms of amusement, from participation in which she has no power to restrain her members.
This principle has been assailed on the ground that the world will abuse it. That they will read in words like these the church's endorsement and license for unlimited indulgence. But if the world draws unwarranted inferences to suit its own depraved wishes, surely that is no reason for suppressing the truth, but rather calls for the full and most careful statement of it. If the world read the gospel wrongly, and wrest it to its own destruction, those who set forth gospel principles are not responsible, unless, as has too often been the case with reference to this subject, the trumpet give an uncertain sound. And the world is too ready to pervert this truth, and does pervert it. Christians, if properly instructed, are so far from being disqualified to use amusements safely, the best qualified of all others to develop their highest uses, and to enjoy without abusing them. The world regards only the permission to enjoy, and ignores the corresponding rule of restraint. In this respect it is like the prince in the Arabian tale, who mounted the enchanted horse, and set him in motion without having informed himself as to the means of guiding or stopping him.
For, let me be clearly understood, I do not lay down this general principle without recognizing the existence of practical limitations to its action, though I assert that the fixing of these limitations belongs chiefly if not entirely to the individual Christian conscience. I have said that the tendency of religious teaching with reference to this and kindred subjects has been to make the idea of safety more prominent than that of development. Yet I do not overlook, as was implied in the remarks of one who objected to my views, the defensive aspect of the gospel. I admit both the fact and its urgent necessity I could not do otherwise, knowing that the heart is deceitful, and remembering the prayer which Christ puts into every man's mouth, |Lead us not into temptation.| I am pleading for the restraints as well as for the privileges of the gospel in the matter of men's amusements; for more and not less care and watchfulness to be brought to bear upon their future regulation.
But withal, I am not bound to abandon the general gospel principle of purging amusements by a closer contact of religion with them, because in certain cases this regulation becomes a matter of extreme difficulty and delicacy; because I cannot precisely say how the gospel leaven is to be conveyed into certain forms of amusement. Just as consistently might I have refused to denounce slavery as a crime against God and humanity because I could not prescribe an effectual scheme for abolishing it. And that such difficulties do arise in the applications of this principle, I freely admit.
There, for example, is the theatre. I believe this principle applies to that as well as to any other amusement. For myself I wish that I could occasionally see Shakespeare interpreted by the best histrionic talent, with all adjuncts of scenery and costume. To me it would be a rich pleasure and a source of intellectual improvement. But as the theatre is now conducted and sustained, I am clearly of the opinion that no Christian ought to frequent it. He cannot do so without, I think, in the great majority of instances, committing himself to very much that is indecent and coarse. And just how this difficulty is to be surmounted, how scholarly, Christian men who love such entertainments and are qualified to profit by them, are to be furnished with them freed from their abuses, I am not now prepared to say. I think it might be done; but the theatre, as it now is, is no place for a Christian.
This, however does not, as before observed, in the least invalidate the general principle. It is merely a question of means. Nor, as was very roundly asserted, does the principle lead to this conclusion that every Christian man must have his box at theatre or opera. It by no means follows that such a course would produce the desired effect. It would be just about as pertinent to argue that because a sewer in a certain street needed cleansing, and because a proper array of men and buckets and brooms would cleanse it, therefore every man and woman on the streets, grave doctors of divinity, stately Mr. Dombey, Flora McFlimsey and Edmund Sparkler, should each shoulder broomstick or bucket, and plunge pell mell into the reeking filth. This argument proceeds upon the assumption that Christians can purge amusements only by using them in the forms and with the appliances attendant upon the world's abuse of them. This is assuming altogether too much. We must get religion into these things, but there are various ways of doing it. You cannot sow broadcast in all soils.
I do not know whether I ought notice one other line of reply to these remarks; but as it seems to be a favorite one, and moreover was adopted by some who I was surprised to see descending to it, I will add a few words on this.
It may be described as an attempt to invalidate a principle by showing that its application to persons of widely different times and circumstances involves an absurdity and then from the absurdity inferring a sin. I do not pretend to give the exact words used, but they were in this style: |Think of Paul dancing; or Peter playing billiards! Do you think we shall have checker-boards in heaven?| And much more of the same kind.
Now this is not argument. It is sheer nonsense; and most unworthy trifling over a serious subject. The reasoning, if it be worthy the name, is simply this; Certain things appear incongruous with our ideas of the character and work of certain men: therefore these things are sinful. It is the easiest thing in the world to invent situations of this kind. Such men as Paul and Peter are associated in our minds with but one set of ideas; -- with one great, glorious, solemn work; and their association with any inferior matter affects us unpleasantly at first. Even when we think of Paul making tents, there is at first view something that clashes in our mind with the speech on Mars Hill, and the healing of the cripple at Lystra. But who thinks of disputing from this the propriety of Paul's own hands ministering to his necessities? After all, if there is no sin in rolling ten pins, I know not why Peter should not have participated in that very excellent and healthful recreation with as much propriety as any of the numerous ministers of the present day who |roll| with so much zest and assiduity at our fashionable watering places. Think of Paul dancing! Well, think of him! Think of Paul wearing a blue swallow-tailed coat with brass buttons! How he would have looked under the shadow of the Acropolis, the winds of the AEgean gently swaying his cerulean skirts, and the eager faces of Stoic and Epicurean reflected in the bright buttons! Think of Peter skating; cutting figures of eight, and performing |outer edge backwards!| Think of John in a white cravat; or of Bartholomew putting up seidlitz powders; or of Timothy running with a fire-engine! How would they have looked? Therefore hasten ye trim gentlemen, to doff your guilty blue and brass, and don the toga. Lay aside your skates, boys. Peter would have looked very strangely skating, therefore it is sinful to skate. Tear off your white chokers, ye Reverends, and throw away your pestles ye apothecaries, and be like the apostles. Shall we have checker-boards in heaven? No, brother, I presume not. Neither shall we marry, nor be given in marriage; but pray don't condemn us to celibacy on that ground while we remain upon earth. |Would you play chess on your death-bed?| Probably not, my friend. Neither would I put on my boots, or do a great many other very innocent things. Death stands out in startling contrast to all our employments: to business and study, as well as to recreation; and you would find it vastly inconvenient to act upon the principle that nothing must be done which you would not do on your death-bed.
But enough of this. I come now to the one practical application of these principles out of which this whole discussion has grown.
When our Troy Christian Association adopted the practice of introducing games into their rooms, I gave it my hearty approval. My opinion on this subject has been confirmed by what I have seen and heard of the results of the experiment. It was based on the principles I have been advocating in this paper, and on the farther consideration, growing out of these, that we must take some of the devil's weapons and sanctify them before we could successfully fight him on his own ground. As remarked already, prayer-meetings will not draw irreligious young men into the sphere where we want them. Give them first well lighted and warmed apartments, handsomely furnished, where they can find music and books and newspapers and games, and you stand some chance then of drawing them into the prayer-meetings. And indeed the direct religious influence of these associations, while highly important, is nevertheless subordinate to their work in bringing young men into contact with the various churches of the community, where the religious appliances are of course more perfect. The great point is to get them into some position where the churches can reach them. They will not come to church, many of them, when they first enter the community. The church has but limited facilities for finding them out in their stores and boarding-houses and schools; and it may find therefore a powerful auxiliary in these associations, which bring the stranger youth where it can bring its influences to bear on them. But for this purpose the place of rendezvous must be made attractive. We must have head-quarters as pleasant as the devil's. I hope all of you have read the article in Guthrie's Sunday Magazine for January, 1866, entitled |The house that beats the public house;| that splendid iron structure in Colne, Lancashire, built expressly for the irreligious working class. There are fountains, and pictures, and games, cabinets and books and newspapers. There are quiet reading rooms, there are refreshment rooms, even smoking rooms. There is a school room, there are musical entertainments on stated nights, there are religious services on Sabbath evenings. |On Christmas eve, 1863,| says the writer, |the musicians at one of the public houses piped for some time, but no dancers presented themselves, till at length the players themselves adjourned to the meeting at the Iron School. An attempt to open the theatre that winter failed through the same influence. The actors, after struggling for a week in the face of empty benches, left the place in despair.|
Here is a clear and successful recognition of the truth that religion has not such strong alliance with the unregenerate heart that she can afford to dispense with all legitimate aids and recommendations. The firemen have their upper parlor in the engine house furnished richly and tastefully. The drinking saloons are invested with all the attractions that marble, and glass, and drapery and pictures can give them. One man who appeared last week before the excise commissioners, said he had expended ten thousand dollars in fitting up his saloon. He knew it would pay; and we cannot expect irreligious young men to be drawn away from these by mere religious appliances. We must employ other attractions. We must make our houses beat the public houses. We must sanctify new forces for this end. Pictures and cabinets, carpets and draperies, music and games are not the devil's any more than they are ours. Young men will have some retreat beside their comfortless boarding-houses; some society besides their landlord's family, and it is a match between the devil and the church which of us shall furnish these. Depend upon it, if the church do not give them amusement, regulated on a liberal Christian basis, the devil will give them abundance that is unregulated. God forbid that Christian squeamishness should suffer them to turn aside to the house whose gates lead to hell, and to habits which shall make mothers curse the day they gave them birth.
I will give two incidents showing the practical working of this new system in the Troy Association. A member of my church, walking in the street one evening, saw three young men just before him, and overheard one say to the others, |Come, let's go and take a drink.| One of the others replied, |No, I don't care to take a drink. Let's go to the Christian Association Rooms.| |Pshaw!| said the third, |I don't want to go there to prayer meeting.| |No, no,| was the response; |they've got a right nice place there, and we can have a good time.| He went on describing the rooms, and then added: |and they're for just such fellows as we are.| He gained his point, and they followed him to the rooms.
Three clubs of young men, or boys rather, were broken up soon after the new rooms were opened. I do not know their character fully, but have been told that drinking was practiced at their meetings. They now frequent the rooms of the society, and pay over into its treasury their club subscriptions. There are many more of such cases. They speak with trumpet tongues as to the value of this policy. They show that its practical influence is against the groggery and the gambling saloon, and if it work no other result, that of itself is vindication enough.
And now I leave the subject. I do not shrink from the application of this Bible principle to our amusements. The other, the separative policy, the keeping of leaven and lump apart, has been tried, and has failed, utterly failed.
Will it not be well to try another policy? I want for our youth a Christianity that shall not relax one iota of its obligation to God or to man. That shall not bate one jot from an entire consecration of heart and life to God; that shall walk closely with God, and feel as deeply as human weakness can feel, the necessity of watchfulness and of divine care to keep it from temptation. I challenge any man to draw undue license from the principles I have asserted. But I want more joy brought out of the world by Christians. I want the gospel carried boldly into some things from which it has been kept aloof. I want Christian life to be in the spirit more than in the letter. I do not plead for less but for more conformity to the spirit and teaching of Christ. Not for a lower but for a higher Christian life; for a wider application of gospel principles, a more implicit trust in the leavening power of truth; a more practical belief in the assertion that the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. I want Christian conscience clothed with principles and not with dogmas. I want the word of God read and interpreted fairly, and that allowed which it allows. I protest against its being twisted and perverted into rules for the unnecessary abridgment of Christian liberty, where it lays down only general principles for the conscience. I want less of the religion that is
|Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern,|
and more of that which is full of child-like trust in the love of God and the power of truth, and of freedom purged by love from license.