REVIVAL AND HOLINESS THEOLOGY IN AMERICA
AN ALETHEA IN HEART PUBLICATION
In the Series of
THE WORKS OF HENRY CLAY TRUMBULL.
Border Lines in the Field of Doubtful Practices
ALETHEA IN HEART
1350 PARKWAY DR. NE 303
GRAND RAPIDS, MI 49525.
Henry Clay Trumbull (1830-1903).
Border Lines in the Field of Doubtful Practices
Republication of the 1899 ed.
New York, Chicago, Toronto.
First Alethea In Heart edition published in 2002.
Reproduced from the edition of 1899, without altering anything.
Copyright © 2002
Richard Max Friedrich
All Rights Reserved
FIELD OF DOUBTFUL PRACTICES
H. CLAY TRUMBULL, D.D.
AUTHOR OF "FRIENDSHIP THE MASTER PASSION," "STUDIES IN ORIENTAL
SOCIAL LIFE," "THE KNIGHTLY SOLDIER," "WAR MEMORIES OF AN ARMY CHAPLAIN," ETC.
NEW YORK CHICAGO TORONTO
Fleming H. Revell Company
Publishers of Evangelical Literature
YOUNG people usually have different views from old people as to popular amusements and recreations, and as to the better use of both time and money. Each class is likely to feel that the other class is mistaken, and is entertaining an erroneous view of such matters in question. An old saying is that "young people think old ones are fools, and old folks know young ones are." While this is not wholly true, it may truly be said that old persons are prone to forget how life and its occupations looked to them while they were young, and that young persons are unpleasantly conscious of this fact in all discussions with their seniors concerning debatable customs and practice.
This state of things is in the mind of the writer of these pages, as he gives his views on such mooted customs as wine-drinking, the use of tobacco, card-playing, theatregoing, and social dancing. In every instance he puts himself back, for a standpoint, to the position which he occupied while a mere youth in a community where the laxer view as to all these practices generally prevailed. While young, he was never restrained in such matters by parental prohibitions, nor was he brought up in any surroundings of over-strictness, approaching asceticism or puritanical rigidity. Hence there has been no rebound of his nature from one extreme to the other.
The stand which he now takes, and in these pages defends as wisest and best, was the one which he chose as a young man, not only before he had any thought of ever being a clergyman, but before he was even a member of any Christian church. The fact that some of these views have been confirmed by an exceptionally wide and varied experience of more than half a century of subsequent life and thought and observation, may not in itself be supposed to invalidate the correctness of the view thus early decided on.
In discussing these matters, the author recognizes the fact that many persons whose opinion he values, and to whose character he looks up, take a different view from himself of the subject in question, and that he has no right to say that they are wholly wrong and he alone is right. Therefore, approaching the subject from this standpoint and in this spirit, he may appeal more strongly to some who are not influenced by the ordinary arguments put forth by those who will not admit that there is more than one side to the subject.
Indeed, it is because some such presentation of the matter has before now influenced favorably quite a number of young persons, that the writer has put into this permanent form the extended statements of his views, at the urgent request of a number of the young persons thus influenced. He will be glad if other persons are similarly led to a final and satisfactory conclusion.
Measurement of Moral Lines
MANY a line in morals is like a mathematical line; it has length, but neither breadth nor thickness. As a matter of fact, such a line is not always easily perceived. One can sometimes more readily locate the line when at a distance from it than while close upon it. A man may be within one step of such a line, without knowing on which side of it he stands, or perceiving any decided gain in moving this way or that. As, however, he advances in the one direction or the other, the consciousness that he is going in the right direction or in the wrong grows on him, until perhaps he realizes too late how much better it would have been for him to have faced in the opposite direction at the beginning of his march.
The more positive and important the question of morals involved, the easier its fixing and defining. If, indeed, there be a direct command, prohibition, or approval, on any given subject in the written law of God or man, it ought not to be difficult to see that the dividing line runs between the thing forbidden and the thing approved. But where the question involves a principle not distinctly disclosed in every action based on it, the matter is not so easily settled. In such cases, the decision of each individual is more likely to be made in view of the extremes of practice, rather than of what is evident on the first crossing of the line separating the two tendencies of conduct. This it is that makes so many shadowy lines between courses of action not defined by explicit command or prohibition, which confuse and disturb conscientious seekers of the right, and doers of what they suppose to be best.
Where the right and the wrong are clearly defined, it is comparatively easy to know what one ought to do, or ought not to do. But where one must choose for himself between two courses of permissible conduct, in view of their manifest tendencies severally, and yet where good men in the community differ widely as to which course is the better, it is not always easy for one to know and to do what is best. The young and the doubting need help at such points in their decidings.
Border lines, or lines on the border, between practices popular and allowable yet possibly harmful, and the course that is certainly safest and best, all things considered, are worthy of careful consideration by those who must decide these things for themselves, or who would help others to decide them. Whoever has had experience in the effort to settle such questions, ought to be ready to lay before others the considerations which have had weight with himself, or which he has found to have weight with others. What has influenced him may help others to arrive at a right decision.
ONE of the first practical questions that a young man has to meet, as he begins to act for himself or as he considers how to act in the world as it is, and where good men differ widely in opinion and in practice, is the question what he had better drink, and what he had better abstain from drinking. This is a matter where the line of absolute right and of true expediency is not clear to all, and where, therefore, the borders on either side of that line are debatable ground in the minds of many.
This is not a new question. It was raised early in the history of the race, according to the sacred record. When the world became so corrupt that God swept the race of man from the face of the earth, save a single human family which he preserved from the Deluge in an ark of safety, in order to bridge over the chasm of destruction, Noah, godly patriarch as he was, began his new life in the renovated world by planting a vineyard and making wine of the grapes. "He drank of the wine, and was drunken." That was the beginning, or the new beginning, after the Deluge, of intoxicationintoxication not from adulterated liquors or any miserable substitute for the best drink of that kind available, but from pure homemade wine. Our old ancestor Noah was shamefully drunk on home-made liquor, and from his day to ours the question has been an open one, among his descendants, whether it is safer and better to let alone even the purest intoxicating liquors, or to follow his example so far as to make wine, or to drink wine after it is made, without drinking so much as to be drunken as he was. On which side of the line between the moderate use of alcoholic liquors and abstinence is it wise to take one's stand, when the opposite borders are so near each other?
It must be admitted, to begin with, that the Bible does not explicitly forbid, in so many words, the use of wine or strong drink, although it does prohibit their use by certain persons at certain times, or under certain circumstances. It will, perhaps, just here be claimed by some literalist, that in the Old Testament at least there is a specific prohibition in the words:
"Look not thou upon the wine when it is red,
When it giveth its color in the cup,
When it goeth down smoothly:
At the last it biteth like a serpent,
And stingeth like an adder."
Yet will any fair-minded reader of the Bible seriously claim that this proverbial injunction is to be taken as an absolute prohibition of wine under any and all circumstances? If so, what will he do with the other injunction in the same book of Proverbs: "Give . . . wine unto the bitter in soul"? "Bread," "wine," and "oil" are together named by the Psalmist as God's good gifts to man. There can, it is true, be no question that there is an inspired caution in the injunction in Proverbs against wine, in view of its recognized dangers; but it can no more be claimed that it is a positive command to all for always than is the injunction in the same book of Proverbs: " Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise." If, indeed, the first-named proverb be taken as a command to be observed in absolute literalness, it might be met by simply shutting one's eyes while drinking, or by using white wines and champagne, or, again, by using brandy, rum, and whiskey. This merely shows the absurdity of pivoting one's belief as to Bible commands on the letter of a single text capable of being construed in several different ways.
In the New Testament, not only is there no positive prohibition of any wine-drinking, but it is asserted that Jesus Christ came "eating and drinking" like others, and that he even made wine for others to drink. This certainly shows that the use of wine is not in itself a sin, that is, it is not a sin per se. Yet the dangers of wine-drinking are referred to and cautioned against in several places in the New Testament. Some perhaps would claim that the example of Jesus Christ as to wine-drinking is obligatory on all of his disciples. Yet why is it so in that thing, any more than in his being "a carpenter," or in his being without a home in which to lay his head, or in his wearing an Oriental costume? A century ago, one Lord George Gordon showed his sense of the duty of imitating Jesus Christfollowing his example literally by becoming a Jew in religion, and attaching himself to a synagogue, because "the example of Christ . . . we were scrupulously to follow in every respect," and as Jesus "conformed to Jewish customs, opinions, and manners, so we were bound to imitate his example in these things." This, to be sure, seems ridiculous, yet why more so than the claim put forth by some Christians of to-day that they drink wine as a beverage for the express purpose of being so far like Jesus Christ?
One thing is certain: The Bible no more forbids total abstinence to any man than it forbids wine- drinking to all; and it does command and commend abstinence in certain cases. Wine-drinking, even in moderation, was forbidden to the priests of God when they were to enter upon their holiest services; and to him who would consecrate himself for a season, or for a lifetime, as a sacred Nazirite, the command was explicit: "He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or dried. All the days of his consecration shall he eat nothing that is made of the grapevine, from the kernels even to the husk." That seems pretty near to total abstinence. It would be called ultra carefulness, or "fanaticism," by some persons. Yet it seemed to work very well in some cases. Samson, the strongest man known to the world, and John the Baptist, the greatest of all those born of woman, under the old dispensation, were Nazirite abstainers. So far there is evidence that the use of wine was perilous, and that abstinence from wine was consistent with the highest consecration, the greatest physical strength, and the grandest spiritual attain- ments, on the part of the abstainer. Therefore the question of our personal duty, as to the use or the rejection of wine as a beverage, is at least an open one in the light of present Christian expediency.
If, indeed, the duty were laid of God upon every Christian to use intoxicating drinks as a beverage, whether he wants them or not, then we should have no alternative but to go forward and take the risks. It will, however, be admitted by the most zealous advocates of moderate drinking, that no specific command in the Bible enjoins such drinking on everybody; and that the Christian liberty of the Bible includes the liberty of letting liquor alone, if we find that it is not a safe thing for ourselves, apart from the question of our personal example to others. This being the case, it is well for us to weigh carefully the exceptional risks of wine- drinking, to persons of our peculiar characteristics and temperament and circumstances, as illustrated in the course of those who have gone before us in the path of life we are treading, and then to decide as to the claims on ourselves of total abstinence for our own sakes.
On what ground can a man claim, in view of the example of others, that he may count himself fairly safe in the moderate use of intoxicating beverages? Does he reckon on his brain-power, and his intellectual attainments and vigor? Men vastly superior to himself in that very sphere, haveas he cannot but knowbeen often overcome by intemperance, when they purposed only moderation. Indeed, it is directly affirmed, by high medical authority, that brain-workers are peculiarly liable to be swept into intemperance if they venture on the use of alcoholic stimulants. And the world of intellect is full of instances of ruined genius through an inability to resist the temptations of excess in drink.
Is it the power of his own strong will that one rests on for his control of appetite, as he ventures on a limited indulgence in this line? Before his very eyes, men of more strongly marked will power than he would think of claiming as his own have been openly proved incapable of moderation in drinking, when they departed from the bounds of abstinence. There are well-known historic examples, in our own land and day, of men of iron will and of preeminent determination found helpless in a struggle with the foe which this man thinks can be safely grappled by himself. If, indeed, two Americans were named as perhaps more distinguished for their indomitable will than any other Americans of their generation, it would be found that both of them were compelled to admit their inability to find safety except in abstinence.
One perhaps, however, rests on God's grace to sustain him, if he deliberately incurs a special risk without a commandment thereto. He must surely admit, or at all events his friends must admit for him, that men who have seemed even purer, holier, more godly, and more reliant on Divine help, than himself, have become drunkards, even within the limits of the present generation. The Christian abstainer, who stands firmly on a place of assured safety even at the temple's pinnacle, may well shrink from tempting God by yielding his foothold there, in the hope that holy angels will be sent to bear him up in his mid-air flight toward the drunkard's Gehenna.
A few illustrative instances out of the sphere of the writer's personal observation, in religious circles merely, may add emphasis to the general truth here declared. His earlier recollections are of a distinguished New York pastor, who had been honored by the foremost academic degrees known to scholars or divines, and who had attained to exceptional prominence in the councils of the Presbyterian Church. That man was quite sure that temperance, and not abstinence, was the thing for him; but his disgrace from intoxication was an appalling fact to the writer, who saw something of the sorrow and shame it brought to the people of God whose loved pastor he had been.
Later, the writer knew of a Methodist clergyman who, as a stirring evangelist, was blessed in winning souls to the Saviour, and whose praise was in the churches far and near, but who did not feel it his duty to be a total abstainer. He therefore staggered in and from his high position, and found a level with those who were overcome with drink.
Again it was a distinguished Baptist doctor of divinity who thought himself above the necessity of abstinence, but who found himself not above the danger of intemperance. It was not long before he was seen by the writer reeling through the public streets, a hopeless victim of strong drink.
Then it was one of the more brilliant of the young Congregational ministers of the writer's acquaintance who was confident that moderation was better than abstinence. While not yet in middle life he was found in the very gutter by his parishioners, before he even thought he was overstepping the bounds of strictest prudence.
An Episcopal clergyman of the writer's acquaintance, who could not suffer himself to suppose that total abstinence was the only safe ground of conduct, was again and again intoxicated among his people. He was given one new charge after another by his bishop, in the hope of his reform, but in each case he gave way to his appetite, which he was powerless to resist.
In another case the writer knew of a prominent Lutheran clergyman who was for years an abstainer, but who began to drink beer on the advice of his physician. He drank more and more until it deadened his best intellectual powers. He left the pulpit, and the last the writer heard of him he was a sodden drunkard going from friend to friend begging money for drink.
The writer became quite attached to a young Roman Catholic priest because of his frank, manly ways, his genial spirit, and his unflinching patriotism. But he was saddened to see the priest go down, step by step, from moderate drinking to intoxication, until he was silenced by his good bishop.
These are only a few representative cases, among very many, of the fall of clergymen, under the writer's personal observation, because of moderate drinking being looked upon as reasonably safe for a man in the Christian ministry. Men of this specific class are named, not because they are peculiarly liable to fall, but because they would be counted safest in the struggle for self-control.
Alcoholic stimulants and narcotics stand quite by themselves as to their tendency in ordinary use, in that their using increases the desire for their use. In this they differ from food and drink generally. They fail to satisfy. The more one has of them, the more one wants of them. Special power of self-control is demanded of one who would use them in moderation; and as the demand for increased strength grows, the amount of strength is lessened by every added indulgence. In this, drinking is a greater danger than gluttony or any such indulgence of appetite.
In the ranks of the laity, the writer has seen yet more frequent illustrations of the perils of liquor-using under the most favorable circumstances. Men of strong will, of large brain, of refinement and culture, of mature judgment, of high Christian attainments; ladies in the choicest social circle, active in the church and in the Sunday-school; young persons and older, of both sexes, he has seen going down to the drunkard's life and grave; not here and there a solitary case, but in so many instances as to make him stand appalled at the fearful risks in the use of intoxicants, and to cause him to forswear everything that can intoxicate, or that leads to a love of intoxicants, because of the possible fearful consequences to himself, as apart from the question of his example before others.
The very youth who first enlisted the writer's efforts in the mission-school work, and who was thus instrumental in shaping the writer's life-course, a youth who connected himself with the same church as the writer during the same season of religious interest, died of delirium-tremens, in his own mother's home, before he was yet twenty-five years old. He was willing to take the risks of the use of liquors,and he did so.
Of other young people who took their Christian stand at the season of religious interest above referred to, two were subsequently united in marriage. Both continued active in Christian work. They had a lovely home, a home of wealth and refinement. When they had already passed middle life, the husband and father in that home laughed at a friend's suggestion that there was danger in the moderate use of wine at his family tablein the exercise of his "Christian liberty." Within five years from the time of that rejected warning, that husband was compelled to place his lovely wife in an institution for the treatment of drunkards, and in two years more he was compelled to give up his prominent business position because of his reputation as a hopeless slave of drink.
And so the writer might go on indefinitely in his personal reminiscences in this direction. Indeed, out of an exceptionally wide and varied acquaintance throughout this country, East, West, North, and South, he can say unhesitatingly, that he never yet knew a single family circle, where he was acquainted with its membership to the extent of only one remove from the centre, in which there was not, or had not been, at least one victim of intemperance. If, however, your circle of family relatives has no such sad record, there is just one way by which you can make sure of not being yourself the first victim of intemperance there; and that is by letting intoxicants wholly alonein the exercise of your "Christian liberty." And there is no other sure way.
John B. Gough suggests that even though there is no prohibition in the Bible of a man's going into a powder magazine with a lighted candle or match, there are few men who would care to take that risk unnecessarily, simply because it is not positively forbidden. What can be done is one thing; what it is best to do is another thing. To take an illustration, for example, out of another sphere. Granted that there be no sin in the thing itself, in the making of one's home, with one's family, in a house where poisonous sewer-gases find their way through the drain-pipes into the living-rooms; granted, also, that some dwellers in that house have remained alive, while others died from the poison-laden atmosphere,would it be wise or right to seek a home there for one's self, or one's loved ones, with the risk involved, while another house of like advantages, that is wholly free from such perils, is open to one's choice? Who would claim this?
There is no sound basis for the frequent assertion that wine as a beverage is a safe and natural drink in vine-growing countries, or that it is necessary there because of the water of the region being an unsafe drink. Neither is it true that wine or other alcoholic drinks are necessary to the fullest measure of health in any climate, especially in exhausting extremes of heat or cold.
It was in a land of the vine that Noah became shamefully drunk on native wine, and again that Samson gained his remarkable degree of strength without it. Drunkenness prevails in wine-growing countries, as truly as the bloated faces of the beer-drinker, or the surly ill-nature of the cider-drinking sot, are to be found in the region of the brewery and the cider-mill. In France and Switzerland, in recent years, the government has been necessitated to take positive action for the checking of intemperance in wine-producing regions. Who can believe that the drink that God gives in the springs and streams of a country for the dwellers therein, is not as safe for ordinary use as a manufactured drink that can intoxicate?
The writer has been in the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and America, in various experiences and in many trying circumstances, but he has never found it necessary to use wine or other alcoholic drinks as a beverage, or, indeed, any substitute for the water of the region, unless at times it was some mineral water that could be easily obtained. In this his experience has been like thousands of others.
Explorers in tropical regions, or in arctic ones, have uniformly found, like Stanley and Greeley and Nansen, that alcoholic drinks are not safe in comparison with water. Why then should one claim that wine or strong drinks are, in certain climates, necessary as a beverage?
The author was for three years in army life in the American Civil War, camping and campaigning in heat and in cold, in wet and in dry, in woods and in swamps, on clayey roads and on sandy beaches, yet he never found it necessary, nor deemed it safe, to use or to give to others alcoholic drinks as a common beverage or as an ordinary strengthener. Administering alcoholic liquids to a person sinking from loss of blood or from the sudden shock of a wound, was a thing quite by itself, more in the nature of surgery than of medicine. That is another matter. Thousands of men in the army pursued the practice of the writer, and thousands did differently.
Several years after the war the writer called at the office of the Surgeon-General of the United States Army in Washington to see a former chief medical officer of the division to which he had been attached. That officer was now engaged in the compilation of medical and surgical statistics of the war. After a few minutes of conversation, the surgeon said to the writer:
"Chaplain, you look very well after all our campaigning together. I know of the exposure you had in service; how came you to stand it so well?"
"Well, Colonel, it is not for me, a layman, to give my opinion to you, an authority in your profession; but as you ask me that question, I will tell you plainly what I think. When you surgeons prescribed quinine and whiskey for us regularly, I took the quinine, and didn't take the whiskey."
The medical officer turned in his chair, and replied:
"If you had told me that in war time, Chaplain, I'd have laughed at you. But now I quite agree with you. As I have sat here and examined reports from regiments and hospitals in different portions of the army, comparing those where whiskey was used freely with those where it was not, I have seen such a difference in the percentage of sickness and death in favor of the non-use of whiskey, that I only wonder how so many soldiers lived through our treatment of them."
This testimony had all the more force, in view of the fact that that medical officer was very far from being an abstainer formerly or at that time. He spoke out his convictions as a scientific observer, without reference to his personal preferences.
It is evident that alcoholic beverages are not a necessity in any country or climate, while they may be an injury to their user anywhere even in moderation, and are sure to be harmful in excess. Hence one's decision as to his personal use of them becomes an important question for consideration. Even though the Bible does not explicitly command total abstinence as the duty of all, the Bible leaves it to every child of God to be a total abstainer if he wishes to be; therefore it is for the Christian believer to do that which he sees and knows to be best and safest to do.
Looking around him, every man sees that better men than himself have become drunkards through attempting to be moderate drinkers, and that there is no certainty that he will not drink to excess if he drinks at all, while he is perfectly safe so long as he remains a total abstaineras he is privileged to remain. Every man sees, moreover, that his example in this matter is sure to influence some who are obviously weaker than himself; therefore that, if he drinks at all, he may lead these persons to drink to excess. Having, then, the choice between drinking and abstaining, and knowing that by drinking he imperils himself and imperils others, while by abstaining he secures safety for himself, and sets a safe example to others, why should any man be in doubt as to his personal duty?
IF tobacco-using is a good thing, it is well to have that fact known by young persons, as well as by those who would influence them. If tobacco-using is not a good thing, it is well to have that fact understood by young and old. What is to be said fairly on either side of this question?
There are certainly some things to be said in favor of using tobacco. That cannot be denied. To begin with, it is very fashionable. It prevails in what is called "good society." The man who never uses tobacco is liable to be an exception in almost any community. Good men indulge in this habitChristian men, Christian ministers, and eminent Jews, as well as men distinguished and successful in almost every branch of professional and business life.
Then there is a social attractiveness about the habit. Lovers of tobacco find a certain companionship in a good cigar, and a charm in companionship over a good cigar, which they think is not to be found elsewhere. The young man who does not smoke is liable to shut himself out from this means of social enjoyment; he cannot follow the example of some of the best men of the community; he cannot share the peculiar enjoyment of his tobacco-loving companion.
These inducements to tobacco-using should not be lost sight of. They are sufficient to lead a majority of young men to form the habit and to cling to it. They are not without weight with many thinking parents. Mothers do not always want their sons to be different from other people's sons. They are satisfied to have them follow the example of so good men as their fathers or their pastors. As it is not unmistakably a question of morals, they cannot have it in their hearts to insist that their sons shall refrain from doing "what all the other fellows do." They "don't want to be rigid and puritanical, you know." These inducements to tobacco-using are widely recognized and widely prevail.
But there are some very positive objections to tobacco-using, aside from any debatable question of morals. One of these objections is its uncleanliness. Absolute cleanliness or purity of person is impossible to a tobacco-user. The fragrance of a good cigar while burning is attractive to those who use tobacco, and to many who do not. But no oneliterally no one admires the stench which remains in the hair and clothing, and which befouls the breath of the tobacco-user, after the more delicate aroma of the weed has passed away. A tobacco-user is invariably more or less offensive in his person to nostrils not deadened by constant familiarity with the same fetid odor. He is rarely conscious of the fact. He has no idea that his entrance into a room fouls the air, and that his very presence in a car, or his passing on the street, is notified to refined senses by his impurity of person. He little thinks of the diminished attractiveness of his presence to mother or wife, to sister or friend, through his impregnation with offensive odorsunless, indeed, these loved ones have been brought by his habit to know no difference between fragrant and foul odors.
Many a sleeping-car berth is hopelessly befouled by the contact of its blankets with the stench-impregnated bodies of its former fashionable occupants. There are passengers who habitually, or often, travel only in the daytime, so as to avoid passing a night in a tobacco-reeking "palace car." It would, indeed, be a good business enterprise to run extra sleeping-cars with a provision that no tobacco-user could enter them, with a double price to be charged to those who are willing to pay for personal purity.
As to the discomfort to wives through smoking husbands, wives themselves know as others cannot. The wife of a distinguished scientific professor hearing a gentleman speak of his non-use of tobacco, asked him, "Do you never smoke, or use tobacco in any form?" And on his saying that he did not, she added out of her home experiences, "Your wife doesn't know how much she has to be grateful for. Her house needn't always be like a pig-sty." Of course, that was an extravagant comparison, and its reference to the "pig-sty" was, perhaps, to its atmosphere, and not to its actual filth, but it illustrated what many a wife feels as to the inevitable residuum of stale tobacco smoke in her house.
In any event, every tobacco-user is in a greater or less degree offensive by his personal uncleanliness to many whom he meets, if not to those whom he holds dearest. Most tobacco-using clergymen would be astonished if they knew to how many in their congregation their stench of person renders them offensive; how many housekeepers open their doors and windows to air the rooms after the pastor's social call; how many persons shrink from the nauseating odors of the tobacco-perfumed study, when desiring religious counsel.
For be it remembered that it is not his person alone which the user of tobacco renders offensive; his smoking- room and his whole house suffer similarly. Curtains, carpets, furniture, pictures, and books, all reek alike with the foul residuum of stale tobacco smoke. There is no such thing as a clean room where tobacco is used. Said a gentleman recently, "I had a smoking clergyman at my house for some weeks. He smoked in the room which he used as a study. He has been away from us now five months. We have done everything in our power to cleanse that room; but on a damp day, when the air is heavy, the smell of old tobacco smoke is distinctly perceptible there."
An instance might be named where a refined lady was for weeks in her sick-room and greatly desired spiritual converse with her pastor, a distinguished city clergyman, yet had to deprive herself of that privilege because of his tobacco-using. She said, "If he should come into this room, the odor of stale tobacco might overpower me. In any event, I should be annoyed by it for days afterward." Such instances are more frequent than tobacco-using clergymen suspect. In one case at least a prominent college pastor was practically shut out from usefulness as a spiritual guide of the choicest students by the bad name of his "smokehouse study." His unsavory reputation finally caused his leaving that field.
Indeed, if there were no other objection to tobacco-using than its defilement of his person and his surroundings, the really pure and the nobly proud young man would abhor it, as lowering his plane of personal living by its essential uncleanliness; and he would feel that its fashionableness, its companionableness, and the delights of its indulgence, were quite too dearly purchased as its inevitable cost of rendering him offensive to persons of highest refinement and keenest sensibilities. And the pure and proud mother who appreciates this side of the case would feel that it must not be that her darling boy should lose his purity of person and become an offense to all delicate nostrils. Indeed, there are young men whose purity is obviously such that they could not be tobacco-users; and there are mothers also of such pride and purity that they would almost as soon see their boys in the grave as on the level of uncleanliness with the average tobacco-smoker.
There is force in the suggestion of Mr. Moody on this point. When some one asked him if the Bible had anything to say on the subject of tobacco, he replied that the only text that seemed to him to apply was, "He which is filthy, let him be filthy still."
An eminent Baptist clergyman, the Rev. Dr. P. S. Henson, well known in Richmond, in Philadelphia, in Chicago, and elsewhere, has given his personal experience in the line of the above-stated truths, and such testimony may have more weight with some than mere general assertions. Dr. Henson says he was brought up on a tobacco plantation, and, after sundry nauseating protests of nature, became a smoker at about twelve years of age. He continued the practice until it became an inveterate habit. At length he decided to break himself free from the chains which bound him, whatever might be the cost.
"For a long time," he says, "I had been in trouble on account of my tobacco. It was not domestic, because blessed with the most patient of wives. Nor was it physical, because blessed with a body of extraordinary toughness of fibre. But I had trouble of conscience, which for a Christian is of all trouble the very worst. First of all there was a sense of personal defilement, of which I could not quite divest myself. It is nowhere said in the Scriptures, as many suppose, that 'cleanliness is next to godliness;' but it is said, 'Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord;' and the consciousness of carrying about with me, and the prospect of leaving behind me, other fragrance than that of simple piety, was not a particularly savory reflection. I had noticed, too, that in this regard tobacco-users, as a rule, did not improve as age grew on; and the possibility of coming to such a pass of palpable filthiness as some old fellows . . . did sometimes disquiet me.
"And along with this came the conviction that tobacco-using was against nature, and seeing that God is the God of nature as well as grace, I could not help feeling that in running against nature I was running against not it, but Him; and this, I was persuaded, was not a thing to be safely done; for however slowly God's mills do grind, they grind exceeding small, and, sooner or later, as sure as we live, they will grind exactly all. As a consequence, there were texts in the Bible, and not a few of them, which, while not difficult in themselves, perhaps were very difficult for me, and so I dared not preach from them, lest I should convict myself and stand convicted in the presence of my people. I could not urge them to 'lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness' if the traces of such superfluity were discoverable in my breath and on my body. I could not insist that they should 'keep the body under,' if my body kept me under. I could not ring out the cry of conscious Christian freedom, if I myself was a slave to a fleshly lust warring against the soul."
Then came the struggle of the slave for liberty. "My whole system," says Dr. Henson, "having so long been accustomed to the use of a narcotic, my body having so long been saturated with it through andt hrough, my brain having so long been dependent upon its artificial stimulation, it was just a question, and one of exceeding gravity, it seemed to me, as to the possible consequences of so sudden and complete a revolution in the whole habits of my life. But having first solemnly decided that it was the Christian thing, at least for me, to do, then there was nothing left but to do it, trusting Him, for whose sake I did it, to take care of all the consequences. And He did, in the most surprising and beautiful way."
It cannot be expected that old tobacco-users generally will have the desire, the readiness, or the courage, to be free, like Dr. Henson, from this bondage. But young men and boys, at least, may be prompted by his warning and example to keep free, or to break free from the slavery while they can.
Of course, tobacco-users generally are incapacitated by their use of tobacco to comprehend the full effects of stale tobacco smoke on their persons and clothing and surrounding atmosphere. A man who always has onions one meal a day is not the one to detect first the smell of onions in another's breath. So well understood is this fact in practical life, that one who wants to eat onions on an occasion is likely to agree with his partner to do the same thing at that time, so that neither will be able to detect the smell of onions. Physicians are, on this account, perhaps the most sensible and careful tobacco-users in the community. Understanding, as they do, the pervasive influence of tobacco odors in a sick-room, many of them are more cautious than others as to the time when, and the place where, and the clothing in which, they smoke their cigars or pipes. But even this only goes to show the danger incurred of making one's self offensive by tobaccousing.
A tobacco-smoker cannot have so keen a scent or taste as one who never uses tobacco, other things being equal. The fumes of hot smoke have, of course, an effect on the lips and tongue and throat and nostrils similar in kind, if not in measure, to that of hot smoke on pork or beef in a smokehouse. The fashionable smoker, who has been "curing" the inside of his mouth for a few years by this smoke treatment, cannot possibly know the more delicate odors or tastes of "good things" eaten or drunk. Even the epicure is incapacitated for judging accurately the finer grades of wines and other fashionable liquors, or terrapin or fresh mushrooms and such dishes, as well as more substantial food, by applying them to the smoked-ham-like coats of his mouth and palate.
This may be doubted by the man whose organs, of taste and smell are in a measure deadened by tobacco-using; but it will not be questioned by any experts who have money at stake on the issue. Tea-importers, and tea-brokers, for example, employ expert "tasters" to pass on tea samples in order to arrive at their relative flavor and value. Such men in some instances receive very high salaries, equalling many college presidents and governors of states, and they must be careful to prove themselves worth their salary. One of these experts being asked about this matter said that it would be impossible to be a good taster and a cigar-smoker. He must choose between giving up his cigars or his business position. And that looked reasonable.
What does a tobacco-smoker know about the fragrance of wildflowers or of new-mown hay and other delicate odors, in his country rides or walks in summer days, while his cigar fumes fill his nostrils? What enjoyment can even his lady companions have in these, as he ruthlessly puffs away at his cigar while on the seat before them on a drive, or as he joins them while smoking, in a walking-party? How many good things are lost to a cigar-smoker and his companions in consequence of his smoking, even when such smoking seems a comfort or a necessity to himself.
A positive objection to tobacco-using is, in fact, its benumbing influence on the nerves and sensibilities, especially of a boy or a young man. Tobacco is a narcotic, even though at first it seems to act as a stimulant. Its ultimate effect is rather to quiet than to stimulate the nerves. In doing this it tends to allay anxiety and discomfort. It makes its user measurably contented with his condition and attainments. This may, at first glance, seem to be an advantage, as preventing restlessness and worry. Indeed, the use of tobacco is advocated on this very ground, and the argument is made, that the lower classes in the community who can never hope to better their condition are kept in contentment by their pipes and cigars. But the average American youth needs all the nerves and all the brain-power he possesses to enable him to know his place and to fill it. He ought not to have his sensibilities deadened. He ought not to be satisfied with his present attainments. If he has failed in his day's work, or in his day's hunting for work, he ought not to take an opiate or a narcotic, and lull his sensibilities to rest over his failure. He ought to face the facts with unclouded vision and tense nerves, and determine on better things for to-morrow.
Put two young men of the same ability side by side in a struggle to find occupation, or to make progress in study or business, and if one deadens his nerves by tobacco while the other is always awake in waking hours, the wide-awake young man will soon be ahead of the other. There are, in fact, many large business establishments where a young man who does not use tobacco is always chosen in preference to one who does, on the score of his increased ambition and quickness and practical efficiency through having his nerves and sensibilities on the alert.
The higher the intellectual and moral plane of the young man, the greater the evil from this benumbing influence of tobacco, for the more he needs strong impellings to carry him forward to his best accomplishment. When others are satisfied with him, a young man has least right to be satisfied with himself. His ideal ought to be higher than theirs. When it does not seem necessary that he should work for a living, or work to keep ahead of his companions, he ought to be keenly alive to the necessity of working to do something worth living for, and to enable him to keep ahead of himself.
Dr. Jay W. Seaver, director of physical culture in Yale University, has made careful experiments in the study of the effects of tobacco, as based on the examination and comparison of thousands of students, in a series of years. He speaks positively as to these effects in retarding growth and in affecting health. Moreover, he declares that "the matter is of the highest importance as related not only to growth but to morals and character." He has found that while only about five per cent of the students of highest scholarship in that University use tobacco in any form, more than sixty per cent of those who get no appointment, as a result of their standing in their studies, are tobacco-users. Yet he is frank to say that "this does not mean that mental decrepitude follows the use of tobacco, for we may read the results in another way; namely, the kind of mind that permits its possessor to become addicted to a habit that is primarily offensive and deteriorating is the kind of mind that will be graded low on general intellectual tests."
In other words, it would seem from Dr. Seaver's facts and conclusions that it is an open question whether the men who stand highest in University studies attain their superiority because of their non-use of tobacco, or are merely non-users of tobacco because they are of the sort who are above using tobacco on any consideration. There are other experienced university and college professors who practically agree with Dr. Seaver in his conclusions. Every tobacco-using young man must, therefore, decide for himself, whether he is kept from a higher intellectual stand by the use of tobacco, or is a user of tobacco because he is a man of the lower intellectual order.
At the best, tobacco-using, by smoking cigars or pipe, is an unnatural practice. It cannot be justified or excused as in the line of a natural appetite or desire, like eating, or drinking, or many a personal practice liable to abuse through excess or perverted indulgence. Even in the first instance and in the most moderate degree it is an abnormal treatment of the human system, to which a person has to be tempted, and often by persistent endeavors to overcome nature's objections, by one who is already under the influence of this unnatural practice.
Most boys who smoke began this practice in imitation of older persons whom they desired to be like, and not because it was in itself a desirable practice. Indeed, it was this fact that first caused the author to decline to use tobacco. He saw that his young companions generally began to smoke in order to seem manly. In view of this, he determined not to attempt smoking until he was so old that no one could say he did it to have an older look. Before he reached that age, he had other good reasons for not beginning.
For a person, young or old, to set fire to a narcotic, like tobacco, or belladonna, or hasheesh, or opium, and then take into the nasal passages, through the mouth, its heated fumes, so as to bring their exciting or deadening influence to bear directly on the brain, can never be called a natural treatment of the human system, however it may be justified on an occasion by a physician in the treatment of a diseased patient. Such an unnatural practice is sure to have its deleterious effects sooner or later, however long one may live on in spite of it.
To a youth or boy, of the age of many a cigar or cigarette smoker to be seen in the streets or playgrounds of to-day, these narcotic fumes are only and wholly pernicious. They tend to stunt the intellect, to dwarf the manhood, to sap the sources of strength and life. The number of youths who really die because of tobacco-using is not to be measured by the recorded causes of deaths in our bills of mortality, because the system is often broken down by tobacco before the attack of the disease which is the immediate occasion of death, when it might otherwise have been overcome.
A prominent physician in New England, who had earlier seen much service as an army surgeon, said on this point to the writer: "I often have to report the cause of death as 'pneumonia,' or 'typhoid fever,' or 'heart failure,' or some other form of disease, when I see unmistakably that the young man had, because of smoking, no reserve of vital strength with which to meet that acute disorder which he ought to have been able to battle successfully. Tobacco kills a great many more young men than it is ever charged with." And the older men who are killed by tobacco-cancers in the lips and throat are those who made a longer fight with this unnatural and needless enemy.
And yet another objection to the habit of using tobacco is the bondage into which it brings a man. It is not merely that the habit itself is fastened on him so that, in most cases, he cannot get away from it if he would; but it is that he is bound and limited by it in his daily life, so that he must find time and place for it however he is circumstanced; and in meeting this necessity he is often compelled to choose between putting himself in the worst company and in the most disagreeable places, or he must make himself bad company, and the place where he is disagreeable.
It takes time to smoke a cigar, and still more time to smoke three or four or five cigars. It is not always that a man can smoke in the presence of ladies, or in the common apartments of the home where he finds himself. If he is a guest where there is no smell of stale tobacco in the house, he needs to leave pleasant companionships and go out of doors to enjoy his cigar, or be made uncomfortable by its lack. If he is at a hotel, or on a railroad train, he must seek the place of tobacco-users, which is often a filthy apartment where are sure to be found the vilest occupants of the establishment, whoever else is there. And as he is waiting in a line leading up to the ticket office, or to the gate entrance to the place of outgoing cars, or sitting on the chairs of a preferred platform while watching a procession on some gala day, even a supposed gentlemanly tobacco smoker is liable to be puffing his cigar smoke into the face of a refined woman or a non-smoking gentleman near him in the line or on the platform in apparent utter unconsciousness of his obnoxious conducthe is so used to it, and has so little thought of the comforts and preferences of others.
If tobacco-using were otherwise desirable, it would be indeed a pity that it forced a decent Christian man into the atmosphere and associations of the average railway smoking-car, or steamer smoking-room, and necessitated his remaining there, on a level for the time being, in his tastes and pursuits, with those who are there assembled. If a refined and sensible mother had no other inducement to struggle and pray in dead earnest to keep her loved boy from the love of tobacco, she could find it in her desire to shield him from smoking-car and public smoking-room influences and companionships. The tobacco-user is in bondage by his habit to evil associations which he might otherwise avoid; and the necessity is, by that habit, upon him, of often separating himself from the influences of the purest and most refining society, and of having in their stead influences which, as far as they go, are polluting and debasing.
Tobacco-using holds back many young men of wealth and intellect and good moral character from doing as well as they can dodoing a great deal better and a great deal more than they do do. They sit and smoke, and think how much they have done, and how much they intend to do, and how pleasant it is to live without doing all the time, andthey take another cigar, and are more than satisfied with doing nothing more. There is a deal of truth in the suggestion of George Trask, the veteran opposer of tobacco, that "a good cigar is the most satisfying thing in the world," that "a young man while he is smoking doesn't even want salvation."
There are multitudes of boys and young men all about us who are sure to be kept permanently upon a lower plane of performance and attainment, because of their lack of ambition and unrest and determined energy through the quieting and becalming, influence of tobacco on their nerves and sensibilities, when they ought to be wide awake to their duty and their lack, and be struggling for success as for their lives. If there were no other reason why a fond mother should train her boy never to use tobacco, it is enough that by keeping him from its use she gives him a start ahead in comparison with his companions who do use it, and helps him to save all his nerves and sensibilities and all his energies in their fullest and fairest play.
It is not an easy matter for a tobacco-user to break away from the bondage of his habit. Many a man has tried the experiment and failed. A boy ten years old said, seriously, to the writer, when the folly of tobacco-using was in discussion, "I wish I hadn't begun to smoke, but it's too late for me now to break off." That measured that boy's strength!
But, on the other hand, many a man has had the courage and the power to break away from his bondage, in this matter, when he was already more than fifty years old; and he has thereby gained in character and practical efficiency, as a man among men. The Rev. Dr. Henson is merely an example of what can be done by a man who will do what he feels he ought to do. Two instances of this sort have recently come to the knowledge of the writer, as showing the possible as well as the desirable. In both cases it was a Christian layman who found that his habit of tobacco-using made him offensive to those whom he desired to influence for good, and stood in the way of his being a helper to others. In both cases the child of God sought God's help in the struggle to overcome the habit that had so long held him captive, and was given, by faith, the victory.
These considerations, be it remembered, are apart, not only from any debatable question of morals, but from any question of the effect of tobacco on the health, or of its propriety on the score of expensiveness. These touch only the question of its desirableness. Granted, for argument's sake, that it would be right for boys to use tobacco if they wanted to. Granted that it would not be likely to prove injurious to their health. Granted that they could well afford to gratify their inclination in its cost. Is it desirable for them to form this habit, when its indulgence would inevitably destroy their personal purity and cleanliness, would make them measurably offensive to the more refined and sensitive of those who are about them, would tend to deaden their sensibilities, and to diminish and limit their nervous force and activity, and would bring them into a bondage which shuts them away from much that is refining and elevating, and surrounds them with influences which are deteriorating, and companionships which are objectionable? If not, then now is the time for considering this thing and deciding what to do about it.
THERE is a sense in which "chance" enters into all the happenings of life. Yet it is important to understand at the start what "chance" is and what it is not, in order to discern the true place of chance or chances in one's proper plans and movements in the world.
A "chance" is that which falls, which befalls, which happens, which comes, as apart from all which is properly included in the preparations and anticipations of one's course. The etymology of the word "chance" is the same as that of "accident." If, therefore, the word be used as indicating a possibility of occurrences beyond human foresight, it is right to employ it as concerning every plan of life; for the possible is always an added element in the calculation of the probableas beyond the assured.
Napoleon as a military commander declared that, in every great battle, there is a time when the best laid plans of the most sagacious commander are of no avail in comparison with unlooked-for circumstances and unforeseen forces which are the happenings of the hour. In this sense "it is the unexpected which happens," and which has to be looked out for.
It was this way before our day and before Napoleon's day. The doubter and cynic, represented in Ecclesiastes as groping toward the light, thought for a while that chance had more to do with success than wisdom and skill. "I returned, and saw under the sun," he says, "that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
In a true and proper sense, therefore, a man has to take his chances in life. Occurrences which he could not have anticipated will meet him in his progress, and he must do as best he can in view of them, when they appear. But there is another sense in which the word "chance" is employed which is wholly unjustifiable, yet in which it is more often used than in its correct sense. "Chance" in the sense of "luck" is not a factor in life, and it ought not to be recognized as existing among things which are or which may be. Counting on it, in this sense, is inevitably harmful both in fact and in tendency.
Chance as an unforeseen happening is a great reality. Chance as causeless luck, or as a favoring or non-favoring fortune, is an absurdityor worse. That which falls or befalls, which occurs or comes to pass, must have had a starting place and a starting cause. Even Voltaire declared: "Chance [in the sense of luck] is void of sense; nothing can exist without a cause." Counting the chances, or risking the chances, is therefore wise or foolish, helpful or harmful, according as it is intended or is understood.
He who recognizes the unfailing supervision and control of all the forces of nature, and of all the courses of history, by the wise and loving sovereignty of Him in whom "we live and move, and have our being," realizes that all chance and happening and accident are subject to both the knowledge and the consent of God, and that the falling of every leaf and the turning of every card or die, happen alike by God's will and favor.
One of the proverbs supposed to have been selected by Solomon says:
"The lot is cast into the lap;
But the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord."
And lest it should be thought that it is only in the disposition of larger and more important matters that the Lord condescends to have a part, a greater than Solomon adds: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall [shall chance to drop] on the ground without your Father: but the very hairs of your head are all numbered [each separate hair having its place in God's knowledge]. Fear not therefore; ye [and all your interests, great and small] are of more value than many sparrows." In this light it is that every chance, or accident, or happening, is a special, or a particular, providence, a signal exercise of God's directing power. To count the chances in this light is to consider what God is likely to do for us personally out of his love for us, and out of his love for truth and right.
To this day, in the East, the casting of the lot into the lap is the approved mode of ascertaining the decision of the Lord concerning any matter of difference; for the idea of God's superintending providence in things large and small is of universal prevalence among Orientals. When noisy and violent discussion has failed to bring about an agreement as to the apportioning of the loads to their camels, or as to the division of bakhsheesh received by them, the excited Arabs will squat on the ground together, and will cast the lot into their laps, by the use of rude dice or of marked pebbles, accepting the decision as the voice of God; and so now, as in the days of Solomon,
" The lot causeth contentions to cease,
And parteth between the mighty."
Nor is this practice entirely unknown in our Christian countries of the West. An amicable division of property, where both parties are desirous only of that which is right and fair, is often arrived at by lot in one form or another; and this with the feeling that the decision is thus referred to the Lord, because the point in dispute is beyond the wisdom of the parties at issue.
If this idea of chance and lot were to prevail, how different would be all counting of the chances, and all uses of the lot! In the risks of business, in the dangers of travel, in the perils of disease, in the possibilities of gain or of amusement, the thought would be, What does God plan for me? What is to be God's ordering? How can I learn God's decision? Yet any other idea than this, of chance or luck, is in itself godless, and is in its tendency destructive of sound faith and of wise works. There is literally no exception to this principlein the sphere of labor or of recreation, among old or young.
Just here is the chief objection to all games of chance whatsoever. It can hardly be said, on the one hand, that the shuffling of cards or the rattling of dice, in the gambling-room, the parlor, or the nursery, is intended, or can be construed, as a reverent appeal to God for his intervention between the contestants. On the other hand, it must be admitted that it is injurious to one's spiritual nature and to one's mental fibre to indulge the feeling that there is any such thing in the universe as bald luck, or as causeless chance, on which one can depend for successin labor or in recreation. Obviously, there is a deadening of the sense of dependence on divine guidance and support through any such vicious sentiment.
Moreover, it tends to lessen one's energy, and to diminish his reliance on his own honest exertions, if the conviction grows on him that his luck may at any moment counterbalance the gain of his best endeavors, or the loss through his shiftless neglect. To cast the lot into the lapor anywhere elseas is usually done, with the thought that the whole disposing thereof is not specifically of the Lord, is not only to ignore God as the cause of all happenings, but it is to put luck into the place of God, and so far to cultivate the belief that luck, and not God, is our dependence in the affairs of life.
The fact must be recognized, however, that very many excellent persons see no harm in card-playing, or in similar games of chance, and deem it unwise and illjudged in others to object to them. There is no lack of examples of their constant use among Christians of all denominations, and in every profession and occupation of life, including clergymen and teachers, and parents who are willing that their children should, like themselves, enjoy card-playing in their homes or with friends outside. It cannot, therefore, fairly be claimed that card-playing and other games of chance are indulged in only by those who entertain laxer views as to morals in conduct.
Perhaps the popular agreement for the use of cards, as in whist or euchre, will be recognized as forcibly presented in this letter of inquiry from an intelligent clergyman in Iowa, received by the writer of these pages:
"In my home, in the early days, I was taught that card-playing was dangerous to good morals, and not conducive to a healthy and vigorous Christian experience. For many years I have continued under that impression. Having now children of my own to teach, and other children committed to my care, I am anxious that my views in this direction shall be clear and consistent.
"The 'best people' where I live play cards, and teach their children to play them. Many of these are Christian people. In earnest conversation with one of these a short time since, I gained these facts: In the early years he lived in New York State, and was taught in the home that cards were dangerous. He was not permitted to use them. He came West, became a Christian, and for sixteen years has played cards in every conceivable place, has never received injury thereby himself, nor seen any evil growing out of the game to others. He looks back upon his early training as wrong, declares that he was 'defrauded of his rights' in his youth, and that any Christian, or any church, that takes the position that card-playing is wrong or dangerous takes a position that is 'senseless and altogether indefensible.'
"Gamblers, he assured me, no longer use cards, as other and better ways of gambling have taken their place. That he was not afraid of cards, I might know from the fact that he had them in his home, and himself had taught his boys how to play them. I do not wish to be behind the times and hold fast to my old-fogy notions that ought to be abandoned, and so I seek counsel from you. Have cards been regenerated? Is it true that 'nine-tenths of the members of the Christian Church use them, and advocate their use'? Is it safe for me to give them to my boys, and teach them how to use them? A new and extremely fascinating game, 'Progressive Euchre,' is booming in many places, am I borrowing trouble in being anxious concerning its introduction here? "
That whist and euchre and other games with cards are games of chance, cannot properly be denied. That a measure of skill can be shown in them is true, and that there are "good players" and "poor players" is unmis- takable. Yet, in the long run, the element of chance is the chief factor in these games, and this it is that gives zest in their playing. The question as to the element of chance in such games has been again and again tested by experiment, and practically always with the same result.
Awhile ago, the experiment on an extended scale, was made in this way. Skilled players were pitted against skilled players. Again, skilled players were pitted against unskilled players. Yet again, unskilled players were pitted against unskilled players. In a large series of games, say a thousand in number, it was found that the percentage of games won, in the one case and in the other, by the one sort of players or the other, did not materially differ. Chance, rather than skill, was the determining factor. Whatever prominence, therefore, is to be accorded to skill in card-playing, these games must be reckoned as games of chance.
Gamblers have not generally abandoned the use of cards, even though they have supplemented their use with dice and various other devices. Neither have churches generally, as yet, agreed to insist on card-playing as a test of good and regular standing in their membership. The expediency of card-playing may, therefore, properly be considered apart from the preferences of professional gamblers, or the practice of one-tenth or nine-tenths of church-members, East or West.
The primary and most obvious objection to card-playing is, as has been already stated, the fact that it is chance playing; that it gives prominence to chance, or "luck," as a large element in success or failure. One of the most important practical truths to impress on the mind of every child is, that he has to dependunder God on his own honest exertions for getting on and getting up in the world. One of the most injurious ideasalways injurious, if not absolutely fatalin the mind of every child is, that it is "luck" which is to carry him along in life, and that he is individually lucky, or unlucky, in comparison with his fellows.
A difference at this point is a vital difference in every crisis time of one's existence; and all life is but a long series of crisis times. It shows itself in a boy's or a girl's plays, studies, work. It shows itself in a young person's setting out in the world; in his choice of occupation, or in his decision concerning different offers of employment. It shows itself in a man's conduct of business, or in his labors in the line of his profession; it affects him in all his ideas of investments and money-making.
There can, indeed, hardly be named a single dividing line of equal moment, in its practical bearings on all the affairs of one's personal life, with that which separates the two questions: Am I to succeed in life by the blessing of God on my own endeavors? or am I to succeed in life by my luck? In view of the magnitude of this principle, it behooves every Christian parent to train his children to have a care to be on the right side of the division; and to this end all games and conversations, as well as all study and work, should tend.
There are minor games of chance which help along in the wrong way in the household; but none of these are to be compared, in prominence and popularity, in the home circle, with cards. For centuries, playing-cards have been a chief agency in training the young to give a large place to "luck" in all their calculations of life; and the playing of cards has been more effective in the direction of promoting a dependence on "luck" than all the wise words of parents and teachers who approved of card-playing could have in the opposite direction. The love of stock-gambling and of grain-corners and of margin-buying and of speculations generally, is a natural outgrowth of the principle of card-playing. Indeed, the common talk about both the speculations and the card-playing, as "not wholly dependent on chance," has as much basis in the one case as in the other. Whatever part knowledge, or experience, or skill, may have in determining the issue, in either the one sphere or the other, it is "luck" or chance which really decides the case.
Very early in life a child learns, from his accustomed games, to expect success as a result of his care and skill, or as a consequence of his favoring luck, and this inevitab- ly affects, more or less sensibly, all his course in life. If on the one hand his games are such as jack-straws and hopscotch, or, on the other hand, such as cards and dice, he is sure to feel the influence and tendency of these amusements and recreations respectively.
As showing that the objection to card-playing is not wholly a result of defective education, nor yet a mere prejudice resulting from early puritanic teachings and practice, the writer of these pages will say that he was accustomed to play cards in his youth, without any prohibition on the subject from his parents. Wholly from his own observation of the effects of card-playing on those who indulged in it among the "best people" of his acquaintance, he abandoned it while yet not even a nominal church-member, and while a large majority of his companions continued in the practice. From that time to this, all his observation and experience in varied spheres of life have confirmed his conviction that the influence and tendency of card-playing are not to be approved, even in the best home circles and under the most favorable conditions. Yet the writer is aware that many among the best and most intelligent of his acquaintances think quite differently, and entertain opinions opposed to his, as based on their observations and experience.
One objection to card-playing is its liability to engross attention and to occupy time unduly. In this all games of chance differ from all games of skill. As in the case of wine and tobacco so in games of chance, the use tends to the abuse. One does not necessarily tire of the pastime when he has reached a reasonable limit, as he does in games of skill or in ordinary employments. While there are those who habitually exercise self-control, and who will not exceed certain hours in such pastime, the tendency is in the other direction, and has to be recognized as a positive danger to the young.
Any person who has observed this thing for years in varied spheres cannot have a doubt as to the facts. In students' rooms, in summer and winter hotels, in long journeys on railroad trains, in the saloons and smoking- rooms of ocean steamers, in army camps, in war prisons, in social clubhouses, in all such places, those who play cards and rattle dice never tire of the occupation, as of ordinary employments. Having been at it five days and evenings, or five weeks or months, they are just as ready to be at it again on the sixth as they were to begin it on the first. If indeed card-playing be only a harmless recreation, it must be admitted that there are few card players, though there are some, who do not give more time to it than they ought to devote to any recreation, and that there is a strong temptation, and a positive tendency in the game, to do this.
Moreover, because chance prevails in card-playing, card-playing naturally tends to an increased interest in a share in ventures where there is positive profit or loss at stake in the result. So manifest is this tendency in card-playing, that many a social club prohibits card-playing in its clubhouse, lest gambling should accompany it; and this in clubs where the managers permit card-playing freely in their own homes.
Raffling in connection with charitable fairs, and with benevolent undertakings, is a common form of gambling approved by many, and which has most pernicious results. This must be considered in any examination of the evil tendency of the element of chance in the affairs of life. Raffling is a form of lottery which does not differ materially from the grosser forms of that evil, securing blanks to most, and prizes to a few, and ensuring disappointment to many, with an increased desire on the part of all to try another chance.
The writer of these pages has had occasion to observe the evil results of raffling for many years, and on many persons of his acquaintance. In his early years it was a far more common practice than now. Not only in church fairs, but in various enterprises in the community, and in the disposing of cattle, and horses, and houses, and jewelry, it was a popular mode of exciting and indulging a desire to venture one's luck and take his chances.
A single illustration may be given as showing what he has seen to be its inevitable tendency. A young man of his acquaintance who was an active member of a prominent church, and who had recently married a lovely Christian young woman, took a ticket in a raffle at a church fair and won the first prize. He was delighted. Many of his friends envied him. His mother, however, told him that she feared that his success would lead him to value luck rather than skill. He laughed at her fears, and thought himself in no danger. He tried in other raffles. He drew prize after prize. He was called a wonderfully lucky fellow. Finally he drew as a prize a fine horse. No one knew, however, of the many blanks he had drawn meantime. He seemed, at the same time, to be prosperous in business.
But one day his place of business was closed. It was found that in order to obtain ready money for tickets in raffles he had mortgaged his entire stock of goods, and then had forged the name of his father-in-law to promissory notes, and now was a fugitive from justice, deserting his home and family. His mother's fears proved to be not wholly groundless. Nor does his case stand alone. In its nature it is typical of many another in the sphere of the writer's observation.
There are those who do not see that there is any essential evil in games of chance, nor even in risking small amounts on the issue of a game, or of a raffle or other form of lottery. A prominent bishop of the Church of England said publicly awhile ago that he could see no necessary harm in gambling or betting. He was sure that there was no command in the Bible against it. So far as that is concerned, there is no command in the Bible against eating green apples in cholera times, or of trying to feed a hyena with peanuts out of one's open hand.
A Christian woman in Mississippi, some years ago, stated the case, with some of its difficulties, in these words to the writer of these pages:
"I think that all Christian workers are, at times, puzzled to give a satisfactory answer to the question so frequently coming to them, at least in this section of the country: 'What, after all, is really wrong in gambling, or in buying lottery tickets?' A young man asks me to lay the following case before you, only with a sincere desire to use your answer for the benefit of others; for he, long ago, settled the question for himself: 'Suppose I feel need of recreation, and find myself in possession of five dollars, which I have an absolute right to use in that way, all other claims upon me having been settled to the full extent. I can go to the opera, I may spend it in theatres, in concerts, in drives, go on an excursion, subscribe for a magazine, or buy books. Suppose I conclude that it will afford me more enjoyment to risk just that sum at the gambling-table or in lottery tickets,why not?'
"Again, a schoolgirl of fifteen came to me in this way: 'You say that one great reason why the lottery is wrong is, that a man tries to get money for which he has given no equivalent. Now, suppose a man insures his life for $5,000, pays one premium, and dies,wherein does that differ from the lottery? He gave no equivalent for the $5,000 his family enjoy.' Another chimed in: 'Yes, and if he paid a number of years, he was like a man who buys a good many lottery tickets before he wins a prize.' Still another added: 'I don't see the difference. In the life insurance they all throw in, and the one who dies first gets the prize; and it is the same with the lottery or at cards,they all put in money, and are willing that one shall get it.' You know that we are next door to the great Louisiana plague-spot [this was before the strong arm of the National Government had removed that], and its cancer roots are spreading on all sides; and even the children buy tickets, and are primed with sophistries in its defense. And the corruption will not stop with its next-door neighbors, either."
The main evil in gambling in any form, is, as has repeatedly been said, in its introduction of the idea of "chance" or "luck" as a factor in human affairs, as over against the idea of a fitting reward of intelligent and persistent personal endeavor. It is well for a child to learn at the beginning of life that his success or failure depends, under God, upon his knowledge and skill and labor and fidelity, in whatever sphere of endeavor he is exerting himself. It is ill for a child to gain the idea, from his amusements or from his more serious occupations, that there is such a thing as good luck or bad luck in the universe, and that he may be a gainer or loser therefrom. And that which is true of the child, so far, is true of the man; he is helped by every experience of the value of honest and faithful personal service in one direction or in another; he is harmed by every experience that tends to cultivate a reliance upon blind chance, or luck, as a means of gain or attainment.
On this point the teachings of sound reason and the testimony of the ages are agreed. Gambling in any form whatsoever is at variance with sound business principles, and its tendency must inevitably be always pernicious. In the progress of centuries, gambling has come to be an outlawed occupation under the best governments of the world,civil governments, military governments, school and family governments. It is forbidden in the better regulated social clubs of the more civilized cities of Europe and America. Where it is still tolerated, it is seen as a moral "plague spot," bringing indolence, unnatural excitement, despair, and death, as its concomitants.
The difference between a reliance on chance or luck, and a recognition of the uncertainties of the future in ordinary business enterprises, would seem to be one that a child could understand, and that a man ought to be ashamed to ignore. Planning for the future, and guessing at the future, are not one and the same thing. A man who buys a stock of goods in the reasonable expectation of selling them, has to take the risks of the future; and this he may do legitimately. A man who bets as to the outcome of another man's investment takes what he calls the "chance of the future"; but in so doing he does not do a legitimate business. Life insurance, or fire insurance, is not in the realm of gambling; it is in the realm of a legitimate and well-understood estimating of the risks of the future by the company that insures. This distinction ought to be clear to both young and old in Mississippi and in Massachusetts. It will be, if they stop to look at it intelligently.
As to the question of public opinion and of the common practice of church-members generally, nothing more can now be said in favor of card-playing than could have been said, early in the century, in favor of lotteries, as also of distilleries, and other means of money-getting now generally condemned. Many a church building in New England was erected by money raised for the purpose by virtue of a special act of the Legislature. A fine public library building in a Western state was pointed out to the writer as built by funds raised through a lottery, or raffle, organized for that specific purpose. The added fact was mentioned that five suicides were an incidental result of the drawing of blanks in that benevolent lottery.
Gambling in its various forms, such as betting, and raffling, and the lottery, has been under discussion for many years, and the consensus of the world's best opinion is practically against it. It is ostracized in all choicer social, civil, and military circles. A man who is known to be a gambler is counted as below the better standards in the community in which he moves, and by which he is measured. The world's progress is manifestly away from gambling as a permissible practice. It is no longer a "border-line" practice; it is clearly well over the line of debatable customs. But the use of cards, without the accompaniment of gambling, is still deemed as on the border; this is why its discussion has a place here.
Card-playing does, or does not, tend to promote a measure of reliance on chance, or luck, in the affairs of ordinary life, and to the spending of time unreasonably in such playing. This does or does not tempt a young person also to try his chances in one way and another in raffles, or lotteries, or betting, or other forms of gambling. As a man is convinced concerning this tendency and temptation, he will want to conform his individual action, and his example before those who look up to him, to that course which he honestly believes to be the best one.
Which Side of the Theatre Door?
ONE of the strongest claims made for the theatre as an institution by its wiser and more earnest advocates or defenders is, that it exists for the display of dramatic representations, in which representation there is nothing essentially evil, while, on the other hand, it may if rightly used be made a powerful means of uplifting popular thought and action. In view of this truth, it is said to be better to endeavor to elevate and purify the theatre by Christian cooperation and guidance, than for Christians to stand wholly aloof from it while it is sure to exist.
It is further affirmed that a large portion of our best secular literature is an outgrowth of the theatre, and that this literature is one of the results of that institution and must be taken into account in any proper estimate of its influence. While its friends admit that there is a measure of evil as well as of good in the composition of this agency and of its resultant influence, as of every other human instrumentality, they insist that it ought to be reviewed with discrimination rather than with unqualified censure. This is plausible on the face of it, but how does it bear the test of examination, historically?
Before this examination, however, it is well to recognize the fact that dramatic literature is not necessarily dependent on the exhibition of the drama, closely as they have been associated in the passing ages. Many a drama in form has been written, that has never been acted. Many an appreciative lover of dramatic literature has never witnessed a representation of a drama on the theatre stage. There are lovers and students of Shakespeare's plays who will not witness their acting, simply because they are unwilling to have their standard and ideals of the great poet's work lowered by the performances of professional actors. Hence a discussion of the theatre as an institution does not necessarily involve the drama as a literary production; nor does condemnation of the former necessarily carry with it even a reflection on the latter.
The theatre had its origin and its early history as a religious agency. This was the case in ancient Egypt and Greece and Rome, before the days of Christianity. "The spectacular purpose was . . . a religious one. . . . The muse of tragedy gazed from her mask on all orders of her native realm, gathered as for a festive liturgy, an ovation of aestheticism heightened by an enthusiasm of religion which knew no sects to divide, no puritanism to estrange." It was thus when the drama was so prominent in the worship of Bacchus as a pagan god.
So it was for centuries in the history of the Christian Church. Throughout Europe the drama was chiefly in illustration of the Christian "mysteries," and the Bible story or the many legends of the saints supplied the main theme of the tragedy and comedy of the theatre. As a careful reviewer of its history has said of the stage in Europe generally: "From the fall of the Roman Empire to the end of the thirteenth century, Latin continued to be the exclusive dramatic vehicle. Thus the drama had scanty interest for the common people, and remained either a didactic form of worship, or, as in the case of Hrostvitha and the extant plays of Terence, an amusement of the learned leisure of the cloister."
What, on the whole, was the influence of the theatre as an agency of sound instruction and of innocent amusement, while under the best of human influences as a recognized and sanctioned religious agency? Look to the testimony of its intelligent contemporary observers, in different succeeding ages. Of the great classic writers, Plato and Aristotle and Ovid and Juvenal and Tacitus, and others, wrote strongly against it,not merely against its incidental evils and abuses, but against its influence and tendency as an institution. And gradually the theatre came under condemnation in the Jewish and Christian world, even while it was still, in a sense, under religious control.
More than two centuries and a half ago, a published list of "authorities against the stage" included "the united testimony of the Jewish and Christian Churches; the deliberate acts of fifty-four ancient and modern general, national, and provincial councils and synods, both of the Eastern and Western Churches; the condemnatory sentence of seventy-one ancient fathers, and one hundred and fifty (then) modern Catholic and Protestant writers." And down to the present day, it must be admitted by the most enthusiastic admirers of the theatre that there are many intelligent Christian persons who stand opposed to the theatre in its entirety, as well as in its more objectionable characteristics. What is the underlying reason for all this? Why is it that the theatre came under condemnation while it was in religious control, and fails of universal approval now that it is wholly on its own merits as an applicant for public favor?
The objections more commonly urged against the theatre are, that its exciting exhibit of the grosser passions; its deadening influence through the display of unreal crime and suffering and sorrow, and of simulated emotions; its fascinations and temptings by means of scenic effect and of inevitable accessories and accompaniments,are dangerous and harmful to the purest-minded spectators, and tend to the permanent injury of those who are most susceptible to influences of evil. Nor are these objections unworthy of the most serious consideration by the Christian moralist.
Yet, as they have been questioned or qualified, or counted as exceptional and partial, or as possibly remediable, by intelligent Christian advocates of the theatre, it is well to look back of them all, or below them all, in order to recognize a radical and sweeping objection to the institution of the theatre at its best, in the inadmissibility of the very profession of a dramatic actor as right and proper, under any circumstances.
This chief and all-prevailing objection to the theatre is, that the profession of an actor is in and of itself unnatural, baleful, and radically and universally wrong; and that because this is so no change of controlling influences can make the institution which depends on and represents that profession an agency of substan- tial good, or worthy of Christian countenance and support. On the face of it, the profession of an actor stands all by itself in demanding of its votary that his main purpose and endeavor shall be to seem what he is not, to appear something else than his real self; and herein lies the essential and irremediable evil of this profession.
The very terms "hypocrisy" and "playing a part on the stage" are identical in their earlier signification. "Hypocrite" is, in both its Greek and Latin forms, a designation of an actor in the theatre. Yet it does not, by any means, follow from this that every "actor" in the theatre is a "hypocrite" in the ordinary sense of this latter term, as applied to one's moral character and personal sincerity of motive and conduct. It does follow, however, that the stigma attaching to the terms "hypocrite" or "actor" is a natural outgrowth of the universal conviction that in everything and always it is better for a man to be true to himself, to do his own work in the world, and to fill his own place, than for him to play a part, to strive to be another than his own self, and to seek to seem what in reality he is not. And this universal conviction stands, in opposition to the life-profession of a dramatic actor, whatever tolerance may be conceded to occasional and purely exceptional amateur acting.
An actor may, indeed, have a great deal of personality. It is, in fact, hardly possible for one to be a successful actor without a large degree of personality; as it is also true that rare ability, and sometimes commanding genius, enters into the power of the successful actor. But all this personality, all this ability, all this genius, must be devoted to giving the actor the appearance of another self than his own in the profession to which he has consecrated his best powers; and this course inevitably tends to the limiting and cramping of his personality, and to the unworthy employment and fettering of his genius and ability.
That which might have been a power for good in creation, or in original performance, is given wholly to imitation or simulation; and this too, more commonly, in the sphere of the lower nature rather than of the higher, or at all events in the lower as well as in the higher; for the essential requirements of dramatic action call for the portrayal of the more violent and unworthy passions, rather than of the gentler and worthier virtues. A man who is, perhaps, at heart a good and a true man, and who has exceptional capabilities of good, devotes himself to seeming a bad man, and to exhibiting the semblance of the vilest passions or of the most abhorrent crimes. How can such a course fail of injury to a noble nature? Even if it in no degree lowers the tone of that nature, it inevitably restrains it within limitations all unworthy of its powers and destiny.
It is a well-known fact in medical science, that the persistent simulation of disease tends to produce the disorder simulated; that the human system, in fact, comes to adapt itself in large measure to the will-pressure which is put upon it by its indweller. If this be true with the physical system, how much truer with the more keenly sensitive and more quickly responsive moral nature. Let a pure man, or a pure woman, deliberately plan and repeatedly endeavor to think and feel and seem to act as if impure, or even as if dallying with temptation and weighing the possible gains of impurity and crime,and can it be that impurity and crime will continue to have the same abhorrence of mien to such a person, as if their very semblance had been counted ever abhorrent? No! no! if such persons remain pure and virtuous,as many actors and actresses have remained, to their lasting credit,it is in spite of their improper profession, and not as an illustration of its natural and ordinary tendency.
In his merging of his personality in simulation as a very essential of his profession, or of his "art," the actor's profession or art differs from that of any other. There is nothing like it in the true mission, or in the best work, of any honest or reputable profession. There is nothing akin to it in any other approved sphere of art. A man may describe evil or portray it in literature, in poetry, in music, in painting, in sculpture, without putting himself into that exhibit of evil, without merging his personality in another personality; but in the art of the actor he who would portray the tyrant, the murderer, the adulterer, the seducer, or the betrayer of a sacred trust, must, in order to be the best actor, strive to think and feel and speak and act as if he were himself this very evil-doer. Shakespeare himself seems to recognize the essential unworthiness of such an art when he makes Hamlet say:
"Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing! "
An incidental confirmation of this truth is given in the intelligent testimony of the distinguished Hungarian traveller, Arminius Vambery, who journeyed through various Oriental countries under the guise of an Oriental. In his story, as given anew in English, he says of the effect on one's self of such a life of simulation as he led so successfully: "That double- facedness in which a man lives, thoroughly aware of his real nature in spite of his outward disguise, cannot be maintained very long with impunity. The constant concealment of his own sentiments, the absorbing work of his assimilation to the utmost of elements quite foreign, produce their slow and silent but sure effect in altering the man himself in course of time, whether he wishes it or no. In vain does the disguised traveller inwardly rebel against the influences and impressions which are wearing away his real self. The impressions of the past lose more and more their hold on him until they fade away, leaving the traveller hopelessly struggling in the toils of his own fiction, and the role he has assumed soon becomes second nature with him." The fact that Vambery recognized so clearly the tendency of his life of simulation, was a help to him in his recovery of his real self. The fact that many an actor does not perceive the tendency of his life of simulation stands in the way of his ever recovering his real self. He remains an unconscious actor to the endas often is shown in his ordinary photographs on exhibition.
An English writer some time since computed that Mr. (now Sir) Henry Irving had committed at least fifteen thousand murders on the stage, while Mr. Barry Sullivan had added at least two thousand more stage murders than this to his list; that Mr. Charles Wyndham had been divorced from twenty-eight hundred wives-on the stage; that Mrs. Bancroft had in the same public place been "foully betrayed or abducted" thirty-two hundred times; that Miss Ada Cavendish had been "betrayed, deserted, or abducted," fifty-six hundred times; and so on, along the list of popular actors.
Can any intelligent person, any person of refined sensibilities or with a fair knowledge of psychological laws and influences, believe for one moment that the deliberate and purposed indulgence in simulated evil to any such extent has had no effect in deadening the moral nature of the actor to the enormity of the offenses simulated, or dallied with? Would it be in any degree strange if those who have thus simulated deep emotions in so many different characters with different persons at different times, were to look with more leniency on a corresponding change in their closest personal relations with others in actual life. After an engagement of a hundred days, or a thousand, with one company, or with one partner, would it seem every way unnatural to seek another engagement for another like time? Even if this never did happen, it would seem as if it might.
To be a good actor, (and surely the actor's profession is to be seen at its best in the persons of its greatest representatives, not in its poorer,) the real self must be merged or lost in the simulated self during all the time of actingwhether before the public or in preparatory rehearsals. The good self of the actor's personality must for the time being be lost in the evil self of the character acted. And what an effect is this! The greater the actor the completer the transference of self, and the profounder the evil! Hear Charlotte Bronte's graphic but terrible description of the peerless Rachel's acting in the part of Phedre "For a whilea long whileI thought it was only a woman, though a unique woman, who moved in might and grace before this multitude. By and by I recognized my mistake. Behold! I found upon her something neither of woman nor of man; in each of her eyes sat a devil. These evil forces bore her through the tragedy, kept up her feeble strengthfor she was but a frail creature; and as the action rose and the stir deepened, how wildly they shook her with the passion of the pit! They wrote Hell on her straight, haughty brow. They turned her voice to the note of torment. They writhed her regal face to a demoniac mask. Hate and Murder and Madness incarnate she stood."
And this is a woman's tribute of praise for a woman's rarest success in the art and profession of an actor. Would any true and pure woman intelligently crave the power of such a hellish transformation of self as this? crave it for herself, or for one whom she loved and honored? Can any true and pure man or woman intelligently approve as a life-profession the actor's endeavor, after such power of transformation hellward?
Even if truly noble characters are, in exceptional instances, represented by leading actors of the stage, it may be said unqualifiedly that rarely, if ever, has an eminent actor or actress, in modern times, made or rested a reputation on the portrayal of a truly noble character (not including in this estimate, of course, the exceptional remnant of the original religious drama in the Passion Play of Ober Ammergau). If a man or woman tries at one time to seem better and at another time to seem worse than his or her real self, the tendency of such acting as a whole must inevitably be toward the lower rather than toward the higher standard,since it is always easier to go down hill than to go up. If in the Passion Play, for example, the same man were to assume in alternation the diverse characters of Jesus and Judas, the effect of his acting would be more likely to give a show of Judas than of Jesus in his face and bearing, if not, indeed, in his character.
Is there wonder, then, that all along through the ages there have been indications of well-founded hostility to, and an abhorrence of, the profession of an actor, even among those who themselves approved and sustained the theatre itself?
Among the ancient Spartans, only an alien or a slave could be degraded to an actor's profession. Solon denounced that profession in ancient Greece, as "tending, by its simulation of false character, and by its expression of sentiment not genuine or sincere, to corrupt the integrity of human dealings." Under the Roman Republic, he who pursued the profession of an actor "became in the eye of the law infamis (disreputable) and incapable of holding any honorable office." Under the Roman Empire also the legal ban was still upon the actor, as satirized by Tertullian, when he said: "What perversity! They love whom they abuse; they depreciate whom they approve; they magnify the art; they mark with infamy the artist. What a condemnation, that one should be vilified on account of those things through which he is held to win merit. Aye, and what a confession of the evil of the thing it is, that its doers, even when most accepted, are not left without the mark of infamy." And so with only varying degrees of difficulty, down to the present day, the professional actor, even when most honored as an actor, has had to struggle for a full moral recognition as worthy according to his personal worth.
A favorite mode of meeting objections to the modern theatre is by the rejoinder that the objector, in the pulpit, at the editorial desk, or in the chair of ethics, is not himself a theatre-goer, and therefore is incompetent to pass upon the nature and influence of the agency on which he comments. If indeed the chief objection to the theatre be that its tendency is to lessen the mental and moral sensibilities of the actor and of its ordinary frequenter, the question might well be asked, How long must an observer be under this benumbing influence before he shall become most competent to pass on it? But waiving that question, it ought to be admitted by all that the testimony of experienced and skilled dramatic critics, of prominent theatre managers, and of veteran actors, cannot be called that of unintelligent or hostile observers and critics of this profession.
Mr. Clement Scott, a leading theatrical critic of the London Press, prominent also as an author and as a traveller, was asked, when he had been more than twenty years a close observer of the theatre and actors in that metropolis, to give his matured views of the stage as a place for a pure-minded girl to make a livelihood and to pursue dramatic art, and his answer was: "A woman may take a header into a whirlpool and be miraculously savedbut then she may be drowned. If a girl knows how to take care of herself, she can go anywhere; but I should be sorry to expose modesty to the shock of that worst kind of temptation, a frivolous disregard of womanly purity. One out of a hundred may be safe; but then she must hear things that she had better not listen to, and witness things she had better not see. In every class of life women are exposed to danger and temptations, but far more in the theatre than elsewhere. All honor and praise to them when they brave it out." That view of the case, by a trained and competent observer, was hardly calculated to induce a lover of his fellows to give any more encouragement than he was compelled to, to a profession with such exceptional risks to character in it.
For this adverse criticism Mr. Scott was naturally severely censured by actors and their friends, but a number of years later he renewed his extended comments after maturer study and reflection, and his conclusions were in no degree more favorable to the profession he knew so much about.
"Stage life," said Mr. Scott, "according to my experience, has a tendency to deaden the finer feelings, to crush the inner nature of men and women, and to substitute artificiality and hollowness for sincerity and truth; and, mind you, I speak from an intimate experience of the stage, extending over thirty-seven years." He speaks as if he knew something about his subject. He cannot be sneered at as judging without due knowledge.
"It is nearly impossible for a woman to remain pure who adopts the stage as a profession. Everything is against her. The freedom of life, of speech, of gesture, which is the rule behind the curtain, renders it almost impossible for a woman to preserve that simplicity of manner which is, after all, her greatest charm. The whole life is artificial and unnatural to the last degree, and therefore an unhealthy life to live.
"But what is infinitely more to be deplored is that a woman who endeavors to keep her purity is almost of necessity foredoomed to failure in her career. It is an awful thing to say, and it is still more terrible that it is true, but no one who knows the life of the green room will dare deny it."
While admitting that, in spite of all these difficulties and degrees, there are men and women who live pure lives even with such surroundings, Mr. Scott says that this "does not remove the great temptations from the weaker brethren." He adds: "I am not a canting prig or a Pharisee who makes broad his phylacteries, and says, 'Thank God, I am not as other men are.' The temptation of the stage is, and has been, quite as bad for me as for any one else, if not worse. It would disorder any life and shipwreck any temperament, however religious, to have your whole mind devoted to the showy and alluring for thirty-seven years."
A few years ago, in a symposium on the "Moral Influence of the Drama" in the North American Review, there were papers from such well-known friends of the theatre as the veteran actor John Gilbert, the experienced and successful theatre manager A. M. Palmer, and the distinguished author and dramatic critic William Winter. They surely will be accepted by friends of the theatre as men who are competent to defend it.
Mr. Gilbert said: "I believe the present condition of the drama, both from a moral and an artistic point of view, to be a subject for regret. A large number of our theatres are managed by speculators who have no love for true art, and who, in the production of attractions, consider only the question of dollars and cents. With that class it seems to matter little whether a play has any literary merit; it is sufficient if it is 'sensational' and full of 'startling situations.' Many of the plays that have been adapted from the French are open to the severest criticism on the ground of immorality. I say, as an actor, without any hesitation, that such plays have a very bad influence on nearly all people, especially on the young. Some argue that, even in these productions, vice is punished in the end; but when a play is filled with amorous intrigue, and fairly bristles with conjugal infidelity, when, in short, all the characters are infamous, there is no question in my mind but that its influence is bad."
Mr. Palmer, while of the opinion that, as a whole, the theatre of to-day is a decided improvement over that of former days, seemed to agree with Mr. Gilbert in the idea that the plays now in vogue are inferior to those of a former generation, and that the former generation of theatre-goers was an improvement on this one. While "the French authors write the best plays," and Victorien Sardou is "the greatest dramatist of our age," it is still true, as he views it, that "the most competent critics pronounce the French of Dumas and Sardou as vastly inferior to that of Voltaire and the writers of the time of Louis XV." "Perhaps," said Mr. Palmer, suggestively, "the cause of this decadence is to be found in the public taste."
As to the subject-matter of modern plays generally, Mr. Palmer affirmed: "The chief themes of the theatre are now, as they have ever been, the passions of men: ambition leading to murder; jealousy leading to murder; lust leading to adultery and to death; anger leading to madness." And, as if in explanation of this fact, Mr. Winter added: "Christian ethics on the stage would be as inappropriate as Mr. Owen's Solon Shingle in the pulpit. . . . The worst mistake ever made by the stage, and the most offensive attitude ever assumed by it, are seen whenas in "Camille" and two or three similar playsit tries to deal with what is really the function of the church,the consequence of sin in the human soul. And here it makes a disastrous and mournful failure."
At a more recent date, Sir Henry Irving wrote an article in The Forum in which he attempted to show that theatrical acting is not in itself "degrading," as has been claimed by some eminent actorsnot by poorly informed preachers. This very effort by such an eminent representative of the stage shows the importance attaching to the testimony of such competent witnesses as he attempts to refute. Sir Henry speaks of "the curious perversity which has prompted some distinguished artists to decry the art of acting," and cites in this line the examples of William Charles Macready, and Fanny Kemble. Macready would not permit his children to attend the theatre, because he so well knew its influence and tendency. He confessed that he felt the degrading influence of his art when he availed himself of his real grief over the recent death of his daughter, to give force to his simulating, before an audience, a father's grief over a dead child.
Fanny Kemble found acting "repulsive" to her best nature, "because it quenched the springs of natural emotion." She said of the actor's occupation, "a business which is incessant excitement and factitious emotion seems to me unworthy of man; a business which is public exhibition is unworthy of a woman." As to her personal experience she testified: "Never have I presented myself before an audience without a shrinking feeling of reluctance, or withdrawn from their presence without thinking the excitement I had undergone unhealthy and the personal exhibition odious."
It would seem as if this testimony from such actors were entitled to respect; but the strange thing about it is, that Mr. Irving, having had no such sensitiveness to be overcome or to be blunted, simply censures those who confess to it; and he cannot see why this imitation of real feeling on a stage should be any more debasing in its effect on the actor than the analysis and formal representation of such feelings by a novelist or a poet in his writings. Yet the poet or the novelist merely describes the feelings which he would exhibit in his characters. He tells by his pen how those characters feel. But the actor simulates in his own person the feelings of love or of lust, of anger or of hatred, of ennobling or debasing sentiments, striving to feel, or to look and act as if he felt, these emotions; and in so doing he degrades his best nature, and lessens his responsive power to the influence of noble sentiments brought to bear upon him in the actual experiences of life. The dramatic author exercises his personality in the creation of a character; but the actor gives his personality to the mere imitation of a character created by the dramatist.
Mr. E. S. Willard, an actor standing high in his profession, in an interview with a representative of the Philadelphia Times, gave his testimony as to the subjective influence of simulating the emotions and passions of others on the theatre stage:
"When I was playing 'Jim the Penman' in London, I developed on the fourth or fifth night a decided pain in the region of my heart. You remember that Jim the Penman dies of heart disease, and throughout the play is conscious that he may be suddenly carried off at any moment by this remorseless affection. There can be no doubt that a man in such a position would develop a morbid mental sensitiveness to the existence, or even the imagined existence, of any symptom apparently foretelling a crisis. This might reveal itself in an apprehensive cast of the eye or twitch of the muscles of the face, and to a conscientious actor would unquestionably afford one of the most important and difficult subjects of study. The relations between imagined heart disease, as in such a case, and the real disease which not impossibly, it seems to me, might actually be developed from excess of apprehension, form a curious and interesting field of study, into which the actor can scarcely avoid following the specialist to some extent."
Referring to his experience in simulating the life and character of an evil-doer, he said: "Villains? Oh, yes! I have played villains for years. During the long run of a play, if my role is that of an accomplished villain, I think my face off the stage does show traces of, perhaps suggestions of, the diabolical channels in which my thoughts are trained so constantly to run." Yet, of course, Mr. Willard does not for one moment admit that this permitting the emotions to run in "diabolical channels" until the very expression of the face shows signs of it, has any tendency to lead him in similar courses of action! A man would hardly be the best judge as to the tendency of such a course in his own personality. Yet his admission, as far as it goes, has a value as confirming the opinions of those who as outsiders consider the principle involved and operative in a prolonged course of simulation.
There certainly is no need of any fancy sketch, on the part of men who are not theatre-goers, in order to make a case against the modern theatre, when such admissions as these are made by those who are attempting its formal defense. A seeker of instruction would have to be pretty badly off, who went to the theatre to learn lessons of godliness or personal purity, or to find the best influences under which to bring himself, if what such experts as these have to say about it be accepted as true.
As the chief objection, after all, to the theatre, is that it necessitates a life, or a profession, of acting which is in itself an unworthy professionthe character of the plays performed is, at the best, of but secondary importance. Of course, a pure play is in itself better than an impure play. Yet if every play were pure, the other, and the main, objection to the theatre would still have full force.
Granted that a drama as written and acted is in itself calculated to impress only the best of lessons, the fact still remains that it requires for its presentation the work of professional actors, while, as is here claimed, the profession of an actor is unworthy of the life energies of a true man or a true woman. Even though nine editors of religious journals and one hundred and thirteen prominent clergymen were to certify to the immaculate nature of a new dramatic rendering of the "Pilgrim's Progress," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "The Sign of the Cross," "La Pater," including an impressive rendering of the Lord's Prayer on the stage, or "The Christian," or "The Old Homestead," would that justify a well-wisher of his fellows in giving countenance or support to an institution that cannot exist except by the degrading or the harmful influencing of the actors required to impress a good lesson on pleasure seekers?
It would be a pity to have even good sermons preached from church pulpit or theatre stage, if such preaching must necessarily degrade or lower the moral standard of the preacher or actor. But even as to the end sought, Mr. Clement Scott declares that "dogma and drama are impossible companions," and Mr. William Winter asserts unqualifiedly that "Christian ethics on the stage would be as inappropriate as Mr. Owen's Solon Shingle in the pulpit." And these men know quite as much about it as well-meaning but poorly informed clergymen who endorse patent medicines and popular stage dramas.
It is a well-known and notorious fact, however, that pious plays and pure plays are not as attractive to theatre-goers generally as plays that cannot by any stretch of the imagination or conscience be called pure or pious. Religious play-goers are not seeking moral lessons when they go to the theatre. Plays and actors of another sort are sure to be more popular with that kind of pleasure seekers when they visit the theatre. The experiment has been too often tried, with the same result, to leave any intelligent observer in doubt on the subject. Religious plays had the start in theatres, but they gave way to something better suited to the audience centuries ago. Theatre managers generally would agree with the Nestor of that class, Mr. A. M. Palmer, as already quoted, when he says: "The chief themes of the theatre are now, as they have ever been, the passions of men: ambition leading to murder; jealousy leading to murder; lust leading to adultery and to death; anger leading to madness."
An excellent illustration of the modern theatre in one of its higher phases, as viewed from the standpoint of the better class of theatre-goers, on the one hand, and of the skilled dramatic critic on the other hand, is furnished in the record of a visit to Philadelphia by Madame Sara Bernhardt, to perform the chief part in Sardou's "La Tosca," at the Chestnut Street Opera House. Madame Bernhardt is no commonplace performer; she is called "the most effective emotional actress in the world," "indisputably mistress" in the art of tragedy, a "genius " in her professional realm. Hence many who would draw a sharp line between poor acting and good, feel called on to witness the performance of such an artist as this.
According to the reports of the most trustworthy daily papers of the city, the large audience that greeted the eminent artist "represented the most thoughtful and the sincerest admirers of the play" in Philadelphia, "but out of deference to the penitential season [it being Holy Week] they had, for the most part, avoided the garb and demeanor of fashion." It was no rabble that was present, but rather the intelligent and conscientious believers in "the co-work of the pulpit and the stage" for the elevation of the morals of the community.
The play itself is characterized by the discriminating dramatic critic of The Public Ledgera paper with a high reputation for clean pages for family readingas a "monstrous conglomeration of horrors, of vilenesses." The critic of The Record says that "it is especially open to objection because of its sheer and unconcealed brutality." "Physical agony and elemental passion are presented with brutal bluntness in a series of rudimentally contrived situations," is the way it appears to The Press critic. The Inquirer's critic speaks of it as "a mawkish, miserable tale, told with revolting realism." These hints from professional observers are sufficient to give an outsider a tolerably correct idea of the play as a whole, without the trouble of going to see it, in order to measure its moral worth.
But the fact that the play itself is a "monstrous conglomeration of horrors, of vilenesses," is by no means a reason for its exclusion from the stage, in the opinion of the careful critic of The Public Ledger, who thus characterizes it. He even insists that, "the worse the play,and what play could, all things being considered, be worse? the greater the triumph of the actress, who, having material so repulsive to work with, so deftly, with art so consummate, shaped and formed it as to make the spectator see in it only elements of sentiment, emotion, passion, which humanized, almost ennobled, even that which was most repellent in it."
The well-known critic of The Times says of the plays and the actors: "The torture scene is unjustifiably harrowing, but with all the intense reality that she gives to the woman's suffering, her exquisite art yet turns it all to favor and prettiness." This power of art to transfigure and beautify scenes of actual physical horror is the crowning triumph of her whole performance, which reaches its climax in the terrific murder of "Scarpia." "When she fiercely plunges the blade into the villain's heart, and as he falls shakes the knife in his face, hurting imprecations on him, the scene is one not easily to be forgotten." Is there any wonder that the critic feels that "through all these awful scenes the sweet femininity of Madame Bernhardt, the charm of her personality, and the charity and beauty of her speech, command unfailing sympathy." What does "The Christian" or "The Sign of the Cross" offer to rival this as a lesson in "sweet femininity" to a woman who is seeking the best examples?
According to The Press critic, the prevailing affection of the heroine of the play is "her fleshly love,a fleshliness that Madame Bernhardt in some ineffable way exalts." What a help to a pure-minded young girl it must be to have gross " fleshly love" exalted in some ineffable way before her observant eyes!
This is merely an outline picture of a single performance of a favorite genius of the stage, in the Quaker City of America, as given by the critics and admirers of the drama. It is an illustration of what is being done in all our great cities, and of what is being said about it by those who claim to know it better than outside objectors.
If, indeed, it be true, as the critics seem to think, that the worse the play the greater the triumph of the actor in rendering it bearable to a decent spectator, would it not be well to have the story of "Jack the Ripper" dramatized for some star tragedian, who might have the genius to humanize, and almost ennoble, the doings of the famous Whitechapel artist? It would seem possible to make even a more "monstrous conglomeration of horrors, of vilenesses," out of that story, than Sardou has yet produced. If the "fleshly love" of the hero in this new play were "in some ineffable way" exalted by the actor for the benefit of young men who attend the theatre as a means of liberal education, what a gain there would be to the community!
If, according to the unbiased testimony of theatre critics and theatre lovers, this be the modern theatre on its higher plane, then let the man who wants to be under such teaching and influencesgo to his own place.
There are unquestionably worthy men and women in the actor's profession; but is any one of them in a worthy profession? Ought any pure or noble man or woman to be in a profession which demands a life of simulation and of un-selfing? Ought any pure or noble man or woman who is outside of that profession to give countenance or support to the institution of the theatre which demands these lives of simulation and un-selfing? Is not even the entering the doors of a public theatre for the witnessing of the performances of professional actors to give to this unworthy institution unjustifiable countenance and support?
That a professional actor destroys or diminishes his truest personality by giving his best powers and endeavors to simulation and imitation, rather than to creation or to independent action, would seem to be shown beyond the possibility of disproof. There are those, however, who, seeing the force of this truth, seek to break it by suggesting that it applies equally to the professional reader or elocutionist. Because this suggestion has been put forward by some, it is worthy of passing notice. If it be true that the profession of an actor does tend to destroy or diminish the actor's best and truest self, and that the profession of a dramatic reader or elocutionist has the same tendency and in a like degree, then the conclusion follows that the dramatic reader or elocutionist is in an undesirable and unworthy profession. A correct principle is none the less correct because it interferes with a favorite practice or practitioner. But are the two professions and practices of dramatic acting and dramatic reading entirely similar?
It may indeed be, in a given case, that a man so gives himself to dramatic reading as a profession that he sinks himself in that profession of impersonating, and thus greatly loses in individuality and force of independent character. But the ordinary reader in public, or the instructor in elocution, employs his power as an impersonator of characters, so that he is the master, and not the servant, of his varied impersonations. His impersonation is merely subordinate and incidental, like the occasional amateur actor, or speaker, or reader, or preacher. Any clear thinker can see the distinction between sympathetic, forceful reading in portrayal of a dozen characters in the same brief narrative, for the purpose of giving emphasis to a truth, or of illustrating the power of the voice and physical action, and the sinking of one's personality in the profession of an actor and imitator. But the question of this distinction does not militate against the force of the chief objection to the actor's degrading profession; nor is this a real difficulty in the mind of one who wishes to know the truth and to conform his course to it.
It will be observed that in this present discussion of the theatre and of its actors, the whole argument pivots on the influence and tendency of the profession of an actor. Whether those who support the theatre by their patronage are helped or harmed by attending, is quite apart from the main question. Yet in the popular discussion of the theatre, in pulpit and press, the supposed influence of theatre-going is made the chief factor. If one can say that a given play is pure, and that to witness it on a certain occasion is found refreshing and otherwise helpful to those attending, that is thought to be a fair argument in the case. But quite apart from this there is the main question, as presented in this treatment of the case, of the essential worthiness or unworthiness of the profession of an actor.
Granted that in the case of a particular play, and of particular spectators, individuals may be refreshed and otherwise aided through witnessing the performance, is it well to have such persons thus helped if the actors giving them this help are in a profession that tends to their own permanent injury, and is quite unworthy of their called-for devotion? That is the main question. That is the question that has to be met and considered.
Concerning the Social Dance
"DANCING! You don't mean that you are so puritanical that you object to social dancing? Why don't you take ground against making mince-pies for Christmas, or a man's kissing his wife on Sunday? You might as well go the whole figure, now that you are about it. But, seriously and sensibly, can you see any harm in little children moving about the nursery in rhythmic measures, to the sound of sweet music?
"No, there certainly cannot be any fair exception taken to that kind of dancing. But, on the other hand, do you think there is no fair exception to be taken to promiscuous dancing in a public ball with the greater part of the night given to it, with other incidental excitements?"
"Why, of course that is an extreme that all the more sensible persons see wrong or danger in. It's only the more moderate course that is to be approved.
"Then it is recognized on both sides that there is one extreme which can be approved, and another extreme which is not to be commended. This shows that the sensible course is somewhere between these two extremes, and that raises the question, Where is the dividing line, on each side of which there is border ground? Is it not worth a reasonable man's while to consider the location of that line? Nothing more and nothing less than this is intended in this discussion."
Dancing has frequent mention in the Bible as a form of worship and as a mode of merrymaking; as evidencing a spirit of reverence and praise, and a joyous, cheerful spirit, as there is also in connection with drinking and general festivities. When Israel had passed through the Red Sea, "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances." When Jephthah returned from his victory over Ammon, "his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances." David is said to have "danced before the Lord with all his might," when the ark of the covenant was borne to its resting-place. That would seem to be a safe mode of dancing, "before the Lord" and with all one's might. Yet even then David's wife thought it was not entirely seemly. The command to God's people was,
"Let them praise his name in the dance:
Let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp; "
"Praise him with the timbrel and dance."
It is said of the Amalekites, when they had taken spoil from their enemies, that they were making merry "eating and drinking and dancing." And in the parable of the Prodigal Son it is said that the elder brother "heard music and dancing" in the old homestead as a sign of the festivities over the younger son's return. The daughter of Herodias danced before Herod and pleased him, on the celebration of his birthday. And it is admitted by Koheleth that there is "a time to dance," as well as "a time to mourn."
It is, however, to be observed, that in all the mentions, in the Bible, of dancing as a mode of worship, or as a sign of joy, there is no instance in which the two sexes danced together. Men danced by themselves, and women danced by themselves; unless, indeed, there be a possible exception in those cases where little children are spoken of as dancing; as where Job says of the wicked, "their children dance," and where Jesus refers to children piping to their fellows in the market-place, in order that they may dance.
However this may be, there is nothing in the Bible to aid in drawing the dividing line, in modern dancing, between the extremes, so as to fix the desirable borders. As it does not seem to have been a practice in those days for young persons of the two sexes to dance together, we must look elsewhere for a practical solution of the question at issue.
In Oriental countries in former ages, and more or less to the present day, the two sexes have little to do with each other, outside of family bounds, and even children of the two sexes in the same family are not permitted to be much together after they have passed the age of mere childhood. Changes of custom in this regard make differences in such a matter as dancing quite natural. No one would even now object to brothers and sisters dancing together in the home circle. It is only when young people of different sexes who are not of the same family come together in the social dance, that there is likely to be any question as to the tendency of the custom, or as to the danger points to be guarded against.
All will admit that even a proper practice may be carried to excess. The practical question is, What is the tendency of a given practice? Does that practice naturally and generally lead to excess? Dancing in the open air, either as an act of religion or as an expression of joy, would naturally find its limits within a reasonable time. Brothers and sisters might safely mingle in that practice without being tempted to keep at it all night, or even long after the dew was falling, or the chill of darkness was on. Most of the Bible instances of dancing were in the open air. The exceptions were of professional dancing women, or of those lacking modesty, in connection with scenes of dissipation. But when dancing is by young persons of opposite sexes, who are not of the same family, in the heated air of a comparatively close room in the evening, other elements are introduced, and this surely necessitates care in discriminating and judging.
It cannot be denied that young people who are not of the same family are generally readier to join in an evening dance indoors, and to keep at it hour by hour, than to share in conversation however bright and spirited, or in any games of skill without the element of chance in them. How far this shows a tendency of this particular practice which needs guarding against by the cautious and sensible, is certainly well worth considering. That there has been a decided change and manifest progress in this thing in the past two generations, is unmistakable.
Fifty years ago, and more, the writer of these pages lived in a seashore borough of New England which was a popular summer resort, with the influences of the summer extending into the winter. In the summer, dancing was the chief occupation at the fashionable hotels in the evening. In the winter, dancing parties, larger or smaller, in the homes of the villagers, occupied the young people during several evenings of each week. In fact, there was little done in that village in the line of pleasure-seeking except social dancing. At the time, only one young man besides the writer, in that village, was a non-dancer. Neither of these two had any conscientious scruples against dancing. Both were influenced merely by the absorbed interest shown by the young people in the interminable dance to the neglect of all intelligent social enjoyments. Both were at most of the gatherings for dancing, as they were "in society," but only as cooler headed observers; and the opinions of the writer on the dancing question had their start at that time, although they have been modified or confirmed in some particulars by later and fuller observations.
In those early days with the young dancers, the writer learned several lessons which he has had reason to value in later years. One was, the social advantage to a young woman in not being a dancer where most of her companions are. As he and his non-dancing fellow, with an occasional reinforcement for a time among those who rested from the dance, stood outside the circle in free converse with the few young women who from any cause were not sharers in the dance, he had occasion to notice the extra brightness in conversation of these young women in comparison with those who danced, as he knew them then and at other times. There was one who by lameness was shut off from dancing. She was evidently one of the very brightest and keenest in her set. There were a few, a very few, whose parents objected to dancing. They also were exceptionally bright in conversation. Noting this, he made it a subject of study and of personal inquiry.
In his early Stonington home, and in his later Hartford and Philadelphia homes, he was freely told by some who either could not or would not dance, that just because they were deprived of the privilege of shining in the dances they felt the necessity and enjoyed the privilege of trying to be attractive in some more sensible way. In this he saw a secret of their success. Subsequently he was confirmed in the conviction that there was real force in the value of such a pressure on intelligent and sensible young women who were unwilling to share in the social dance, with all that it involved. They, he found, felt an added duty to evidence greater power, rather than less, in their making an evening pleasant to their companions, wherever they were. Other young men, whom he knew, were convinced of the same thing.
A young man, or a man already old enough to be called quite a "bachelor," who was exceptionally fine looking, a man of choice family associations, of irreproachable personal character, and with a handsome income, a man, indeed, who would be called quite a desirable "match," told him one day that he had decided to marry, and he explained how it was. He said it had seemed to him as if most of the young women of his acquaintance found their chief enjoyment in social dancing and such amusements, while he thought this not an exalted standard for them. But one evening, as he was at a social gathering where dancing was the chief occupation, he noticed a young woman of attractive appearance outside the dancing circle. Being presented to her, he asked why she was not dancing. He found that she did not feel it to be worth her while,worthy of her, in fact. In further conversation he found her bright, sensible, and well informed to an exceptional degree. They were soon betrothed.
He is by no means the only fine young man whom the author has known to find a good wife, and an attractive one, among the non-dancers in a social circle. This is not given as a reason for abjuring dancing; but it is mentioned as illustrative of the truth, which has been influential in the author's mind for many years, that there is a positive gain to a young woman in being necessitated to use other powers of attraction in society than those called for in dancing.
When the author had daughters of his own to guide in their training, he found this a practical question of no little importance and delicacy. Most of their immediate associates and companionsfar more, as has been said, then than nowwere accustomed to dance. Perhaps there was but a single family, among all those whom he knew more intimately, where social dancing was not practiced. He made no arbitrary prohibitions for their guidance, but he did tell them that he deemed it unworthy of his daughters to enter into a social competition where the test of superiority was in the toes rather than in the brain, and they lovingly considered his preferences.
In these days of bicycles, and golf links, and lawn tennis, and various other athletic amusements, as well as of select classes in art study or in history of current events, and of various forms of fashionable handiwork, there is no such dearth of sensible occupations as thirty years ago; but then it was dance or die. When a hostess wanted to present a young man guest to her niece, the author's daughter, at an evening gathering, she mentioned the fact that her niece did not dance, whereat the young man gasped out:
"She doesn't dance! Why, then, what can I say to her?" His stock phrases in conversation were of no use to him. Poor bankrupt! But that was twenty-five years ago. There has been progress since then. The social dance has no such prominence, or preeminence, as at that period. Perhaps in the struggle of social life, where only the fittest survive, our descendants will hear of this only as we hear of some other things which our fathers found enjoyment in, but which we can hardly understand.
While the daughters of the author were still quite young he was repeatedly told by his friends in social life that his views on the dancing question must shut out his daughters from many opportunities of desirable acquaintance, and would stand in the way of their advancement. One friend, of prominence in the social world, expressed the view of many when he said:
"Trumbull, your course is sure to stand in the way of your daughters. You are training them to be mere wallflowers in social life. They never will get husbands, for they will not be where they can be known. When it is too late you'll find your mistake."
But the author had already observed enough of life to know that a young woman gains more in character and attractiveness, and in the estimate put upon her by desirable young men, by being a non-dancer, than she can lose in any way through not dancing. His five daughters won five most worthy young men, while neither mere wallflowers nor yet dancers. He is confident that their training to share in pleasant social life without mainly depending on the use of their toes as an attraction has been a prominent factor in their winsomeness toward others. So much for this mere incidental result of non-dancing, which actually stands as a bugbear in many a questioning mother's mind.
But there was another lesson learned by the author in those early days, which has been confirmed in all the subsequent years. This lesson has a more direct moral bearing than the other. It is based on the exceptional opportunity given in the social dance for a young man of not the highest moral character to be temporarily, at least, intimate with a pure-minded and unsuspicious young woman, and possibly to pave the way for subsequent intimacy. In this the social dance is different from any other form of recreation in vogue in social life. Lest there be any doubt on this point, it will be well to carefully consider the fact at the start.
Being partners in a dance brings two young persons into closer relations, for the time being, with opportunities for free conversation overheard by no one else, in the heated air or close room, while the blood is warmed and quickened by active exercise, as is the case in no other allowable amusement, indoors or out. This is undeniable. And with the claims and customs of society as they are, a young woman who dances at all does not feel entirely free to dance only with one whom she respects and could utterly trust, and to decline to dance with other guests in the home of her host. A kind-hearted young woman, even the purest and most cautious, who is at a social dance, would hardly feel free to say to a young man just presented to her by their hostess, and who asked if he might be her partner in the next dance, that she did not yet know enough of him, or, on the other hand, that she did know too much of him by repute, to grant him that privilege of intimacy. This being the case, a young woman is of necessity liable to be brought into the position of being the special partner, for a time, of a man utterly unworthy of such an honor.
It will not do to say, that in any ordinary social gathering there ought not to be, or there is not, any young man who is of doubtful reputation, or who is unworthy of being a pure woman's partner for a brief time. With the constitution of society as it is in America, to say nothing of other countries, such young men are to be found in the choicest social circles. Even if these are not guests in every home where social circles gather, there are such in some of the houses of that circle, and the most cautious young woman is sure to have such persons presented to her, in one home or another, who will ask to be her partner in a dance. And this surely is an important facttoo important to be ignored.
The author knew young men, in his earlier days, and he has known or has known of many others in later years, who were not fit acquaintances for any pure-minded woman, yet who were often partners in the social dance with the purest-minded young women, and who could not have secured such intimacy (which was sought by them mainly to give an opportunity for poisoning the pure mind) except through the customs of the social dance. No such intimacy, with its opportunities, could be secured in ordinary conversation or in walking parties or in athletic games. Moreover, there a pure woman's very instinct might serve her a good purpose (as such a man addressed her in ordinary intercourse), and protect her from closer acquaintance; but the very customs of the partnership of the dance give an advantage to the evil-disposed man, and put her at a disadvantage. Men can see, and do realize, the force of these statements, as few women are able to.
Foreigners, from what we call less civilized countries than our own, are surprised and in some instances shocked, at the sight of the liberties allowed to young men and young women of the better class of society in the promiscuous dancing of our ordinary social life. The more intelligent men coming to us from Turkey, Persia, India, Siam, China, Japan, Korea, Morocco, Abyssinia, and other countries on a similar plane with these, look with amazement at the social dances here in which young people of the two sexes indulge even on slight acquaintance; and they sometimes judge harshly the nominal religion of the land which permits this. Is it because our civilization shows us that this form of familiarity between the sexes, with the excitement of active exercise in heated rooms, without the fullest guards against the admission of any unworthy, or impure or designing man, has no such dangers as would seem to an intelligent observer to exist? Or are we really less cautious and strict than is becoming to sensible Christians? This is surely worth thinking about.
To be sure, there are different dances, some of which are more objectionable than others. Many individuals draw a dividing line between these. Yet there are few social circles where dancing is esteemed and practiced, in which "round" dances are wholly debarred and only "square" dances are permitted. Many a young woman refuses to waltz with any man who is not already an intimate and trusted friend. This, indeed, shows her consciousness of the fact that a pure woman's nature shrinks from such liberties with her person as are permitted in the waltz, but would not be tolerated elsewhere from any man not her accepted and betrothed lover; but, on the other hand, her waltzing at all gives her seeming approval to this mode of dancing, and many observers think little of the special limitations she makes. It is a notable fact that many "men of the world," as well as yet more men of special uprightness, are unwilling that their wives should ever waltz with other men than their husbands, even though both husband and wife danced freely with other partners before they married.
Yet in places of summer resort, at mountain or seaside, in New England or farther south, as well as in other circles at other seasons, young women who would not wish to lack the fullest respect of their fellow-guests, are seen evening after evening, year by year, to be waltzing or dancing in other ways with young men who are known by many to be utterly unworthy to be their companions. If they knew how many pitied them for their conduct in this amusement, or were forced to give them a lower place in their esteem than that of sensitively pure-minded women, they would never indulge in this amusement in this way again. Among the lookers-on there are always those who have known such sad results in so many cases, from just this beginning, that their estimate of the peril incurred by being over the border line in this amusement is often greatly aggravated and intensified. Men, as has been said, can understand this, as a true woman, thank God! cannot.
IN all questionable matters there is a higher side, and a lower side; a safer side, and a side less safe; a stricter side, and a laxer side; a side which requires self-denial, and a side which permits indulgence. On which side is it best to place one's self? This is a practical and often momentous question. It needs to be carefully considered.
It does not follow that the safer side in all matters is the best to pursue. A soldier in war time would be ashamed of himself, and his friends would have reason to be ashamed of him, if he were to seek always the place of safety for himself, or were determinedly to avoid positions of danger. It may be his first duty to go where danger is greatest. So it is with the policeman, the fireman, the member of the life-saving coast-guard, the physician, the sanitary expert, the trained nurse, the loving mother when her child is stricken with pestilence, and many another generous worker for others. But in order to make going into danger a duty, there must be a worthy object of pursuit. When duty calls, danger is to be disregarded. Then he who would save his life loses what is more than life, and he who loses his life is the one who finds it. But it must first be clear that duty does call in the direction of danger. Then, it is sometimes found that the way of danger is the safer way.
Where duty calls to danger, a repression of self, and a determined purpose of resisting selfish calls to look out for one's self, are a necessity. At such a time the path of duty is the difficult path, while the path away from duty is easier and in a sense more attractive, weak human nature being as it is. But the path of duty when faithfully and resolutely followed gives added character to the pursuer, and proves the best in the long run.
But in a question of morals, where it is on the one hand self-denial and on the other hand self-indulgence, the higher side is always the better, whether it be the side of danger or of safety. The difference may seem slight between the two sides of the dividing line, but the grade, however slight, either rises or descends from the start. Purer air and more bracing is found on the upper grade. Malarial mists are in the hollow, and one is conscious of them as he leaves the higher regions. In considering any border line of morals, one may be sure that, where there is no demand of duty to be heeded, it is always, always safer and better to choose the higher side. It is safer for one's self; it is safer for those who are influenced by one's example.
One gains in character and in the esteem of his fellows through standing determinedly on the higher side. When the author was approaching young manhood, and was first facing for himself the question of these border lines in laxer social customs, his good father said to him one day:
"Henry, would you like to be respected and looked up to by all your companions, as you grow up? "
"Of course I would, father."
"Well, if you won't drink, or use tobacco, or dance, or play cards, you will be respected by others, if you have nothing else than this to recommend you. You will be a leader through this self-control, even if the other boys have more brains or more friends than you have."
The author's father was a wise man of few words, and he did not argue the case, but left it with his son, when he had briefly made his suggestion and statement. He knew the ambition of every true youth, and he based on that an appeal to his son's better desires. He had named the social customs of his neighborhood, against which he thought it better for his son to stand out. Had there been a theatre there, he would doubtless have included that, but there was none; so that was not named. His son thought the matter over, and concluded that the experiment was certainly worth trying, and he tried it. Of course, he had to be singular in a community where most persons acted differently. He had to meet and resist invitations and temptings. And he had at first to face ridicule and sneers from many whose good opinion he would have valued. But he kept at it because he would not be dragooned into conforming to the ways of others simply because they wanted it. And there came a manifest gain in this course.
Gradually he found that, by the very fact of standing out against the customs of his community in laxer matters, he was all the time in training in a moral gymnasium. His moral muscles were being developed and hardened. His moral backbone was being strengthened. His moral independence was being made completer. While he was pursuing the course which he deemed better, his companions were the weaker through huddling together and moving on, or being moved, in a mass. He gained in self-respect. He found that, as he stood the test of their invitings and their sneerings, he won a certain respect from them. He perceived a new meaning in his father's pregnant words; and now, as he looks back through the vista of a half-century, he is convinced that to no single teaching of his beloved father, and to no one line of personal action on his own part, does he owe so much of the best strength of character that he has had to exercise in time of trial in the passing years, as to that one teaching which involves all the questions concerning these border lines.
Therefore it is that the author says to every young man and every young woman who will heed him, "If you want to stand higher with your companions, keep on the higher side of the border lines here pointed out. You are sure to be gainers so far, whatever may happen to you." And to every thoughtful parent he says earnestly, "You cannot do a better thing for your sons and daughters, in order to improve their personal character and to advantage them socially, than to impress upon them this truth. It will be worth more to them than a university education, followed by a two years' trip to Europe." This he does say out of the convictions of his lifelong experience and observings, however others may feel about it. Is not the suggested course worth trying?
Yet there are young people who for themselves, and parents who for their children, actually think that young people who have kept, or who have been kept, on the higher side of these border lines, are somehow the losers thereby. What shortsightedness!
It is true that it takes more trouble to rear a family, and to train children, in conformity with a higher stand, than to let them go with the popular current, and to do as others do in the community about them. It certainly costs more at the start, but in the long run it surely pays. This is the case with everything worth having in this world. It costs unremitting struggle to climb up hill. It is so much easier to slide downward without effort. Yet the one who finally stands in the purer air on the mountain height with its extended outlook, would never be willing to exchange places with the poor fellow weakened or maimed at the mountain's foot who would not be at the trouble of the upward struggle. As with individuals, so with families.
In homes where there are a number of young people to enjoy themselves in the family circle with one another, or with friends from outside, if cards and dancing are in order these are the stock amusements and entertainings of the evening inside, as is the theatre for outside of the home. There is no variety, no choice. It is the same monotonous round year after year. Bright thoughts, keen wit, inventive minds, are not called for in invitations in such circles. But where these conventional amusementsthe same for dullards and geniuses and for those of every grade betweenare not depended on for enjoyment, there is a demand, and there is occasion, for ingenuity in making an evening enjoyable and the company entertaining.
As a rule, the more senseless and less intelligent an occupation, for young people who are merely seeking pleasure, the more satisfying. But the best minds and the best spirits want something better, even in hours of recreation. They want it; they have it, and they show it to others.
There are such homes and such family circles in which cards and dancing are not the chief means of recreation, but where, when the young people are together for an evening of recreation and merrymaking in bright and fun-provoking amusements, there is an ever-fresh variety and there are ever-delightsome methods of having and giving cheer. Those who know of the methods of enjoyment and recreation in these circles, recognize the superiority of such means to the common and more commonplace monotonies of card-playing and dancing social circles, and are glad that they have been taught and helped to the higher place. It is a pity that there are not more thus advantaged.
What the World Thinks of It
A VERY common idea among Christians who mingle socially with those outside of the church fold is, that they gain added influence over the outsiders by conforming in a measure to their laxer customs. They think that in this way they will show that they are not "bigoted" or "puritanical" or "strait-laced," and that their ideas of religion are not such as to make it repellent to the young or to others who would find enjoyment in life. There can hardly be a greater mistake than this.
As a matter of fact, the world's standard for Christians in matters of outward conduct is higher than Christians' standard for Christians in the same line. Christians take into consideration the spirit and motives of a believer as back of all conduct, and they judge accordingly, but men outside of the church lay chief emphasis on outer conduct, and shape their judgments of a believer by his course with reference to the highest standard of morals. A Christian is not so likely as a man of the world to judge a Christian severely because of his indulgence in theatre- going, or card-playing, or dancing, or wine-drinking, or tobacco-using. Apart from the question whether these things are in themselves right or wrong, it is a fact that men of the world who practice them have a higher respect for a Christian who abjures them than for a Christian who indulges in them.
Two well-known Christian gentlemen were sitting with a gentleman who was not a church-member. The latter and one of the former were smoking, and when a cigar was proffered to and was declined by the third, the Christian smoker expressed regret that his companion did not smoke. "And I honor him the more for that," was the instant response of the man of the world. "His standard is clearly higher than ours." This surprised the Christian smoker, because it was an implied censure of his own course, yet it was in accord with the views of men of the world generally as to laxity or strictness in questions of debatable propriety.
An army chaplain in our Civil War thought to bring himself on better terms with his fellow-officers by sharing a simple game of whist with them, and conforming to their laxer practices in other lines. He did this because he really believed that he was thus gaining added influence for good. That course so lost him the respect of officers and men who were not Christians that his usefulness as a chaplain was speedily at an end.
On an ocean steamer, a clergyman and his young companion were the only total abstainers at their cabin table. They were repeatedly urged to drink for their own good, and they were spoken of as unwisely strict in their abstinence. But the very men who thus criticised them spoke with a contemptuous sneer of the course, in this line, of another clergyman at an adjoining table, who was supposed to take a glass of wine sociallyalthough he really did not do so. The mere supposition that a clergyman would do what they were asking another clergyman to do gave them a lower estimate of that clergyman.
A young girl who had been brought up to dance and to go to the theatre, and whose father seemed to have little interest in religious matters, connected herself with the church. Wishing not to seem a gloomy Christian, she continued in her old habits of social life. Yet her father told a clergyman friend that he should have a higher regard for his daughter's religion if it kept her from dancing and theatre-going.
It does not follow that the world's standard is the correct one, or that Christians ought to conform their course to the world's opinion as to their duty. So far as that is concerned, a Christian ought to do what is right whether those who observe him deem his course correct or incorrect. If it be a Christian's positive duty (whether he be a clergyman or a layman) to drink and to smoke and to dance and to play cards and to go to the theatre, then he ought to do those things courageously, as unto God, be the consequences what they may. But if he has the privilege of a choice, and can occupy the higher or the lower plane as he deems best, and if, in the exercise of this choice, he would "have good testimony from them that are without," and would gain influence by his conduct as well as by his character over men of the world whose practices are on the lower plane, he may be sure that he will gain through his personal conformity to the higher standard rather than to the lower.
If the clergyman who goes into the smoking-car, or the smoking compartment of a Pullman car, to enjoy his cigar on an express train, or who is seen smoking on the veranda of a summer hotel, or who has a quiet game of cards in the card and smoking room of an ocean steamer or of a seashore hotel, or who is seen in a theatre trying to elevate the drama in that way, could but hear the expressed opinions of his course by his companions there and of those outsiders who know of his being there, he would himself realize, as many others now realize, what a lowering of the public estimate of him he is securing by this course, and how many there are who value less the most earnest words that he speaks for truth on any occasion or in any place.
The opinion that the world holds as to the clergyman who is content to occupy the lower plane in the border-line regions of debatable morals, shows what is the recognized higher standard in the estimation of the world for Christian laymen as well as for Christian ministers. The world may be wrong in its estimate of the right standard of conduct for Christians; but, right or wrong, the world's standard for Christians is on the higher side of every border line in debatable questions of morals. As to this there can be no reasonable doubt in the mind of one familiar with the opinions of the world.
From Power from on High.
By Charles G. Finney.
We hear much said, and read much, in these days, of indulging in innocent amusements. I heard a minister, some time since, in addressing a large company of young people, say that he had spent much time in devising innocent amusements for the young. Within a few years I have read several sermons and numerous articles pleading for more amusements than have been customary with religious people. With your consent, I wish to suggest a few thoughts upon this subjectfirst, what are not, and, secondly, what are innocent amusements.
1st. This is a question of morals.
2nd. All intelligent acts of a moral agent must be either right or wrong. Nothing is innocent in a moral agent that is not in accordance with the law and gospel of God.
3rd. The moral character of any and every act of a moral agent resides in the motive or the ultimate reason for the act. This I take to be self-evident and universally admitted.
4th. Now, what is the rule of judgment in this case? How are we to decide whether any given act of amusement is right or wrong, innocent or sinful? I answer:
1st. By the moral law, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," etc., "and thy neighbor as thyself." No intelligent act of a moral agent is innocent or right unless it proceeds from and is an expression of supreme love to God and equal love to manin other words, unless it is benevolent.
2nd. The Gospel. This requires the same: "Therefore, whether ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God." "Do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
3rd. Right reason affirms the same thing.
Now, in the light of this rule, it is plain that it is not innocent to engage in amusements merely to gratify the desire for amusement. We may not innocently eat or drink to gratify the desire for food or drink. To eat or drink merely to gratify appetite is innocent enough in a mere animal, but in a moral agent it is a sin. A moral agent is bound to have a higher ultimate motive to eat and drinkthat he may be strong and healthy for the service of God. God has made eating and drinking pleasant to us; but this pleasure ought not to be our ultimate reason for eating and drinking. So amusements are pleasant, but this does not justify us in seeking amusements to gratify desire. Mere animals may do this innocently, because they are incapable of any higher motive. But moral agents are under a higher law, and are bound to have another and a higher aim than merely to gratify the desire for amusements. Therefore, no amusement is innocent which is engaged in for the pleasure of the amusement, any more than it would be innocent to eat and drink for the pleasure of it. Again, no amusement is innocent that is engaged in because we need amusements. We need food and drink; but this does not justify us in eating and drinking simply because we need it. The law of God does not say, "Seek whatever ye need because ye need it"; but, "Do all from love to God and man." A wicked man might eat and drink selfishlythat is, to make his body strong to execute his selfish plansbut this eating and drinking would be sin notwithstanding he needed food and drink.
Nothing is innocent unless it proceeds from supreme love to God and equal love to man, unless the supreme and ultimate motive be to please and honor God. In other words, to be innocent, any amusement must be engaged in because it is believed to be at the time most pleasing to God, and is intended to be a service rendered to Him, as that which, upon the whole, will honor Him more than anything else that we can engage in for the time being. I take this to be self-evident. What then? It follows:
1st. That none but benevolent amusements can be innocent. Fishing and shooting for amusement are not innocent. We may fish and hunt for the same reason that we are allowed to eat and drinkto supply nature with aliment, that we may be strong in the service of God. We may hunt to destroy noxious animals, for the glory of God and the interests of His kingdom. But fishing and hunting to gratify a passion for these sports is not innocent. Again, no amusement can be innocent that involves the squandering of precious time, that might be better employed to the glory of God and the good of man. Life is short. Time is precious. We have but one life to live. Much is to be done. The world is in darkness. A world of sinners are to be enlightened, and, if possible, saved. We are required to work while the day lasteth. Our commission and work require dispatch. No time is to be lost. If our hearts are right, our work is pleasant. If rightly performed it affords the highest enjoyment and is itself the highest amusement. No turning aside for amusement can be innocent that involves any unnecessary loss of time. No man that realizes the greatness of the work to be done, and loves to do it, can turn aside for any amusement involving an unnecessary waste of time.
Again, no amusement can be innocent that involves an unnecessary expenditure of the Lord's money. All our time and all our money are the Lord's. We are the Lord's. We may innocently use both time and money to promote the Lord's interests and the highest interests of man, which are the Lord's interests. But we may not innocently use either for our own pleasure and gratification. Expensive journeys for our own pleasure and amusement, and not indulged in with a single eye to the glory of God, are not innocent amusements, but sinful. Again, in the light of the above rule of judgment, we see that no form of amusement is lawful for an unconverted sinner. Nothing in him is innocent. While he remains impenitent and unbelieving, does not love God and his neighbor according to God's command, there is for him no innocent employment or amusement; all is sin.
And right here I fear that many are acting under a great delusion.
The loose manner in which this subject is viewed by many professors of religion, and even ministers, is surprising and alarming. Some time since, in a sermon, I remarked that there were no lawful employments or innocent amusements for sinners. An aged clergyman who was present said, after service, that it was ridiculous to hold that nothing was lawful or innocent in an impenitent sinner. I replied: "I thought you were orthodox. Do you not believe in the universal necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit?" He replied: "Yes." I added: "Do you believe that an unregenerate soul does anything acceptable to God? Before his heart is changed, does he ever act from a motive that God can accept, in anything whatever? Is he not totally depraved, in the sense that his heart is all wrong, and therefore his actions must be all wrong?" He appeared embarrassed, saw the point, and subsided.
Whatever is lawful in a moral agent or according to the law of God is right. If anyone, therefore, engages lawfully in any employment or in any amusement, he must do so from supreme love to God and equal love to his neighbor; and is, therefore, not an impenitent sinner, but a Christian. It is simply absurd and a contradiction to say that an impenitent soul does, or says, or omits anything with a right heart. If impenitent, his ultimate motive must necessarily be wrong; and, consequently, nothing in him is innocent, but all must be sinful. What, then, is an innocent amusement? It must be that and that only which not only might be but actually is engaged in with a single eye to God's glory and the interests of His kingdom. If this be not the ultimate and supreme design, it is not an innocent, but a sinful amusement. Now, right here is the delusion of many persons, I fear. When speaking of amusements, they say: "What harm is there in them?" In answering to themselves and others this question, they do not penetrate to the bottom of it. If on the surface they see nothing contrary to morality, they judge that the amusement is innocent. They fail to inquire into the supreme and ultimate motive in which the innocence or sinfulness of the act is found. But apart from the motive no course of action is either innocent or sinful, any more than the motions of a machine or the acts of a mere animal are innocent or sinful. No act or course of action should, therefore, be adjudged as either innocent or sinful without ascertaining the supreme motive of the person who acts.
To teach, either directly or by implication, that any amusement of an impenitent sinner or of a backslider is innocent is to teach a gross and ruinous heresy. Parents should remember this in regard to the amusements of their unconverted children. Sabbath school teachers and superintendents who are planning amusements for their Sabbath schools, preachers who spend their time in planning amusements for the young, who lead their flocks to picnics, in pleasure excursions, and justify various games, should certainly remember that, unless they are in a holy state of heart, and do all this from supreme love to God and a design in the highest degree to glorify God thereby, these ways of spending time are by no means innocent, but highly criminal, and those who teach people to walk in these ways are simply directing the channels in which their depravity shall run. For be it ever remembered that, unless these things are indulged in from supreme love to God and designed to glorify Him, unless they are, in fact, engaged in with a single eye to the glory of God, they are not innocent, but sinful amusements. I must say again, and, if possible, still more emphatically, that it is not enough that they might be engaged in as the best way, for the time being, to honor and please God; but they must be actually engaged in from supreme love to God, with the ultimate design to glorify Him. If such, then, is the true doctrine of innocent amusements, let no impenitent sinner and no backslidden Christian suppose for a moment that it is possible for him to engage in any innocent amusement. If it were true, as the aged minister to whom I have referred and many others seem to believe, that impenitent sinners or backsliders can and do engage in innocent amusements, the very engaging in such amusements, being lawfully right and innocent in them, would involve a change of heart in the unconverted, and a return to God in the backslider.
For no amusement is lawful unless it be engaged in as a love-service rendered to God and with design to please and glorify Him. It must not only be a love service, but, in the judgment of the one who renders it, it must be the best service that, for the time being, he can render to Goda service that will be more pleasing to Him and more useful to His kingdom than any other that can be engaged in at the time. Let these facts be borne in mind when the question of engaging in amusements comes up for decision. And remember, the question in all such cases is not, "What harm is there in this proposed amusement?" but, "What good can it do?" "Is it the best way in which I can spend my time?" "Will it be more pleasing to God and more for the interest of His kingdom than anything else at present possible to me?" "If not, it is not an innocent amusement, and I cannot engage in it without sin."
The question often arises: "Are we never to seek such amusements?" I answer: It is our privilege and our duty to live above a desire for such things. All that class of desires should be so subdued by living so much in the light of God, and having so deep a communion with Him as to have no relish for such amusements whatever. It certainly is the privilege of every child of God to walk so closely with Him, and maintain so divine a communion with Him, as not to feel the necessity of worldly excitements, sports, pastimes, and entertainments to make his enjoyment satisfactory. If a Christian avails himself of his privilege of communion with God, he will naturally and by an instinct of his new nature repel solicitations to go after worldly amusements. To him such pastimes will appear low, unsatisfactory, and even repulsive. If he is of a heavenly mind, as he ought to be, he will feel as if he could not afford to come down and seek enjoyment in worldly amusements. Surely, a Christian must be fallen from his first love, he must have turned back into the world, before he can feel the necessity or have the desire of seeking enjoyment in worldly sports and pastimes. A spiritual mind cannot seek enjoyment in worldly society. To such a mind that society is necessarily repulsive. Worldly society is insincere, hollow, and to a great extent a sham. What relish can a spiritual mind have for the gossip of a worldly party of pleasure? None whatever. To a mind in communion with God their worldly spirit and ways, conversation and folly is repulsive and painful, as it is so strongly suggestive of the downward tendency of their souls, and of the destiny that awaits them. I have had so marked an experience of both sides of this question that I think I cannot be mistaken. Probably but few persons enjoy worldly pleasure more intensely than I did before I was converted; but my conversion, and the spiritual baptism which immediately followed it, completely extinguished all desire for worldly sports and amusements. I was lifted at once into entirely another plane of life and another kind of enjoyment. From that hour to the present the mode of life, the pastimes, sports, amusements, and worldly ways that so much delighted me before have not only failed to interest me, but I have had a positive aversion to them. I have never felt them necessary to, or even compatible with, a truly rational enjoyment. I do not speak boastingly; but for the honor of Christ and His religion, I must say that my Christian life has been a happy one. I have had as much enjoyment as is probably best for men to have in this life, and never for an hour have I had the desire to turn back and seek enjoyment from anything the world can give. But some may ask: "Suppose we do not find sufficient enjoyment in religion, and really desire to go after worldly amusements. If we have the disposition, is it not as well to gratify it?" "Is there any more sin in seeking amusements than in entertaining a longing for them?" I reply that a longing for them should never be entertained. It is the privilege and therefore the duty of everyone to rise, through grace, above a hungering and thirsting for the fleshpots of Egypt, worldly pastimes and time-wasting amusements. The indulgence of such longings is not innocent. One should not ask whether the longing should be gratified, but whether it should not be displaced by a longing for the glory of God and His kingdom.
Professed Christians are bound to maintain a life consistent with their profession. For the honor of religion, they ought to deny worldly lusts; and not, by seeking to gratify them, give occasion to the world to scoff and say that Christians love the world as well as they do.
If professors of religion are backslidden in heart, and entertain a longing for worldly sports and amusements, they are bound by every consideration of duty and decency to abstain from all outward manifestation of such inward lustings. Some have maintained that we should conform to the ways of the world somewhat at least, enough to show that we can enjoy the world and religion too; and that we make religion appear repulsive to unconverted souls by turning our backs upon what they call their innocent amusements. But we should represent religion as it really isas living above the world, as consisting in a heavenly mind, as that which affords an enjoyment so spiritual and heavenly as to render the low pursuits and joys of worldly men disagreeable and repulsive. It is a sad stumbling-block to the unconverted to see professed Christians seeking pleasure or happiness from this world. Such seeking is a misrepresentation of the religion of Jesus. It misleads, bewilders, and confounds the observing outsider. If he ever reads his Bible, he cannot but wonder that souls who are born of God and have communion with Him should have any relish for worldly ways and pleasures. The fact is that thoughtful unconverted men have little or no confidence in that class of professing Christians who seek enjoyment from this world. They may profess to have, and may loosely think of such as being liberal and good Christians. They may flatter them, and commend their religion as being the opposite of fanaticism and bigotry, and as being such a religion as they like to see; but there is no real sincerity in such professions on the part of the impenitent.
In my early Christian life I heard a Methodist bishop from the South report a case that made a deep impression on my mind. He said there was in his neighborhood a slave holder, a gentleman of fortune, who was a gay and agreeable man, and gave himself much to various field sports and amusements. He used to associate much with his pastor, often invite him to dinner, and to accompany him in his sports and pleasure-seeking excursions of various kinds. The minister cheerfully complied with these requests, and a friendship grew up between the pastor and his parishioner that continued till the last sickness of this gay and wealthy man. When the wife of this worldling was apprised that her husband could live but a short time she was much alarmed for his soul, and tenderly inquired if she should not call in their minister to converse and pray with him. He feelingly replied: "No, my dear; he is not the man for me to see now. He was my companion, as you know, in worldly sports and pleasure-seeking; he loved good dinners and a jolly time. I then enjoyed his society and found him a pleasant companion. But I see now that I never had any real confidence in his piety, and have now no confidence in the efficacy of his prayers. I am now a dying man, and need the instruction and prayers of somebody that can prevail with God. We have been much together, but our pastor has never been in serious earnest with me about the salvation of my soul, and he is not the man to help me now." The wife was greatly affected, and said: "What shall I do, then?" He replied: "My coachman, Tom, is a pious man. I have confidence in his prayers. I have often overheard him pray, when about the barn or stables, and his prayers have always struck me as being quite sincere and earnest. I never heard any foolishness from him. He has always been honest and earnest as a Christian man. Call him."
Tom was called, and came within the door, dropping his hat and looking tenderly and compassionately at his dying master. The dying man put forth his hand, saying: "Come here, Tom. Take my hand. Tom, can you pray for your dying master?" Tom poured out his soul in earnest prayer. I cannot remember the name of this bishop, it was so long ago; but the story I well remember as an illustration of the mistake into which many professors and some ministers fall, supposing that we recommend religion to the unconverted by mingling with them in their pleasures and their running after amusements. I have seen many illustrations of this mistake. Christians should live so far above the world as not to need or seek its pleasures, and thus recommend religion to the world as a source of the highest and purest happiness. The peaceful look, the joyful countenance, the spiritual serenity and cheerfulness of a living Christian recommend religion to the unconverted. Their satisfaction in God, their holy joy, their living above and shunning the ways and amusements of worldly minds, impress the unconverted with a sense of the necessity and desirableness of a Christian life. But let no man think to gain a really Christian influence over another by manifesting a sympathy with his worldly aspirations.
Now, is this rule a yoke of bondage? I do not wonder that it has created in some minds not a little disturbance. The pleasure loving and pleasure seeking members of the Church regard the rule as impracticable, as a strait jacket, as a bondage. But to whom is it a straitjacket and a bondage? To whom is it impracticable? Surely it is not and cannot be to any who love God with all their heart and their neighbor as themselves. It certainly cannot be so regarded by a real Christian, for all real Christians love God supremely. Their own interests and their own pleasure are regarded as nothing as compared with the interests and good pleasure of God. They, therefore, cannot seek amusements unless they believe themselves called of God to do so. By a law of our nature we seek to please those whom we supremely love. Also, by a law of our nature, we find our highest happiness in pleasing those whom we supremely love; and we supremely please ourselves when we seek not at all to please ourselves, but to please the object of our supreme affection. Therefore, Christians find their highest enjoyment and their truest pleasure in pleasing God and in seeking the good of their fellow-men; and they enjoy this service all the more because enjoyment is not what they seek, but what they inevitably experience by a law of their nature.
This is a fact of Christian consciousness. The highest and purest of all amusements is found in doing the will of God. Mere worldly amusements are cold and insipid and not worthy of naming in comparison with the enjoyment we find in doing the will of God. To one who loves God supremely it is natural to seek amusements, and everything else that we do seek, with supreme reference to the glory of God. Why, then, should this rule be regarded as too strict, as placing the standard too high, and as being a strait jacket and a bondage? How, then, are we to understand those who plead so much for worldly amusements?
From what I have heard and read upon this subject within the last few years, I have gathered that these pleaders for amusements have thought that there was more enjoyment to be gained from these amusements than from the service of God. They remind me of a sentence that I used to have as a copy when a school-boy: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." They seem to assume that the service of God is work in the sense of being a task and a burden; that to labor and pray and preach to win souls to Christ, to commune with God and perform the duties of religion is so wearisome, not to say irksome, that we need a good many playdays; that the love of Christ is not satisfactory; that we must have frequent resort to worldly amusements to make life tolerable. Christ on one occasion said to His disciples: "Come aside and rest awhile." This is not wonderful when we consider that they were often so thronged as not to have time even to eat their ordinary meals. But it was not amusement that they sought; simply rest from their labors of love, in which labors they must have had the greatest enjoyment.
I often ask myself: "What can it mean that so many of our highly fed and most popular preachers are pleading so much for amusements?" They seem to be leading the Church off in a direction in which she is the most in danger. It is no wonder that lay men and women are easily led in that direction, for such teaching exactly accords with the innumerable temptations to worldliness which are presented to the Church on every side. The Bible is replete with instruction upon this subject, which is the direct opposite of these pleas for worldly amusements. These teachers plead for fun, hilarity, jesting, plays, and games, and such things as worldly minds love and enjoy; but the Bible exhorts to sobriety, heavenly-mindedness, unceasing prayer, and a close and perpetual walk with God. The Bible everywhere assumes that all real enjoyment is found in this course of life, that all true peace of mind is found in communion with God and in being given up to seek His glory as the constant and supreme end of life. It exhorts us to watchfulness, and informs us that for every idle word we must give account in the Day of Judgment.
It nowhere informs us that fun and hilarity are the source of rational enjoyment; it nowhere encourages us to expect to maintain a close walk with God, to have peace of mind and joy in the Holy Ghost, if we gad about to seek amusements. And is not the teaching of the Bible on this subject in exact accordance with human experience? Do we need to have the pulpit turn advocate of worldly amusements? Is not human depravity strong enough in that direction, without being stimulated by the voice of the preacher? Has the Church worked so hard for God and souls, are Christians so overdone with their exhausting efforts to pull sinners out of the fire, that they are in danger of becoming insane with religious fervor and need that the pulpit and the press should join in urging them to turn aside and seek amusements and have a little fun?
What can it mean? Why, is it not true that nearly all our dangers are on this side? Is not human nature in its present state so strongly tending in these directions that we need to be on our guard, and constantly to exhort the Church not to be led away after amusements and fun, to the destruction of their souls? But to come back to the question: To whom is it a bondage, to be required to have a single eye to the good pleasure and glory of God in all that we do? Who finds it hard to do so? Christ says His yoke is easy and His burden is light. The requirement to do all for the glory of God is surely none other than the yoke of Christ. It is His expressed will. Who finds this a hard yoke and a heavy burden? It is not hard or heavy to a willing, loving mind.
Just the thing here required is natural and inevitable to everyone that truly loves God and is truly devoted to the Savior. What is devotion to Jesus but a heart set upon rendering Him a loving obedience in all things? What is Christian liberty but the privilege of doing that which Christians most love to do that is, in all things to fulfill the good pleasure of their blessed Lord? Turn aside from saving souls to seek amusements! As if there could be a higher and diviner pleasure than is found in laboring for the salvation of souls. It cannot be. There can be no higher enjoyment found in this world than is found in pulling souls out of the fire and bringing them to Christ. I am filled with amazement when I read and hear the appeals to the Church to seek more worldly amusements. Do we need, can we have any fuller and higher satisfaction than is found in a close, serious, loving walk with God and cooperation with Him in fitting souls for heaven?
All that I hear said to encourage the people of God in seeking amusements appears to me to proceed from a worldly, instead of a spiritual state of mind. Can it be possible that a soul in communion with God and, of course, yearning with compassion over dying men, struggling from day to day in agonizing prayer for their salvation, should entertain the thought of turning aside to seek amusement? Can a pastor in whose congregation are numbers of unsaved souls, and amongst whose membership are many worldly-minded professors of religion, turn aside and lead or accompany his Church in a backsliding movement to gain worldly pleasure? There are always enough in every Church who are easily led astray in that direction. But who are they that most readily fall in with such a movement? Who are ready to come to the front when a picnic, a pleasure excursion, a worldly party, or other pleasure-seeking movements are proposed? Are they, in fact, the class that always attend prayer meetings, that are always in a revival state of mind? Do they belong to the class whose faces shine from day to day with the peace of God pervading their souls? Are they the Aarons and Hurs that stay up the hands of their pastor with continual and prevailing prayer? Are they spiritual members, whose conversation is in heaven and who mind not earthly things? Who does not know that it is the worldly members in the Church who are always ready for any movement in the direction of worldly pleasure or amusement, and that the truly spiritual, prayerful, heavenly-minded members are shy of all such movements? They are not led into them without urging, and weep in secret places when they see their pastor giving encouragement to that which is likely to be so great a stumbling-block to both the Church and to the world.
Pres. Finney, in forwarding his revision of the above tract for publication by the Willard Tract Repository, accompanied it with a note to Dr. Cullis, in which he said:
"The previous pages contain a condensation of three short articles that I published in the Independent. I recollect that the editor of the Advance, and one of the editors of the Independent, both of whom had published what I regard as very loose views, approving and recommending the worldly amusements of Christians, criticized those articles with an asperity that seemed to indicate that they were nettled by them. They so far perverted them as to assert that they taught asceticism, and the prohibition of rest, recreation, and all amusements. I regard the doctrine of this tract as strictly Biblical and true. But, to avoid all such unjust inferences and cavils, add the following lines.
"Let no one say that the doctrine of this tract prohibits all rest, recreation, and amusement whatever. It does not. It freely admits all rest, recreation, and amusement that is regarded, by the person who resorts to it, as a condition and means of securing health and vigor of body and mind with which to promote the cause of God. This tract only insists, as the Bible does, that whether we eat or drink, rest, recreate, or amuse ourselves, all must be done as a service rendered to God. God must be our end. To please Him must be our aim in everything, or we sin."
DOUBTFUL ACTIONS ARE SINFUL.
From Lectures to Professing Christians. 1836.
By Charles G. Finney.
TEXT: "He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
Romans xiv. 23.
It was a custom among the idolatrous heathen to offer the bodies of slain beasts in sacrifice, a part of every beast that was offered belonged to the priest. The priests used to send their portion to market to sell, and it was sold in the shambles as any other meat. The Christian Jews that were scattered everywhere, were very particular as to what meats they ate, so as not even to run the least danger of violating the Mosaic law, and they raised doubts and created disputes and difficulties among the churches. This was one of the subjects about which the church of Corinth was divided and agitated, until they finally wrote to the apostle Paul for directions. A part of the First Epistle to the Corinthians was doubtless written as a reply to such inquiries. It seems there were some who carried their scruples so far that they thought it not proper to eat any meat, for if they went to market for it they were continually in danger of buying that which was offered to idols.Others thought it made no difference, they had a right to eat meat, and they would buy it in the market as they found it, and give themselves no trouble about the matter. To quell the dispute, they wrote to Paul, and in the 8th chapter he takes up the subject and discusses it in full.
Now, as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many;) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge; for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
"His conscience is defiled," that is, he regards it as a meat offered to an idol, and is really practicing idolatry. The eating of meat is a matter of total indifference, in itself.
But meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse.But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee, which hast knowledge, sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?
Although they might have a sufficient knowledge on the subject to know that an idol is nothing, and cannot make any change in the meat itself, yet if they should be seen eating meat that was known to have been offered to an idol, those who were weak might be emboldened by it to eat the sacrifices as such, or as an act of worship to the idol, supposing all the while that they were but following the example of their more enlightened brethren.
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no more flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
This is his benevolent conclusion, that he would rather forego the use of flesh altogether than be the occasion of drawing a weak brother away into idolatry. For, in fact, to sin so against a weak brother is to sin against Christ.
In writing to the Romans he takes up the same subject,the same dispute had existed there. After laying down some general maxims and principles, he gives this rule:
Him that is weak in faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another who is weak, eateth herbs.
There were some among them who chose to live entirely on vegetables, rather than run the risk of buying in the shambles flesh which had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Others ate their flesh as usual, buying what was offered in market, asking no questions for conscience' sake. Those who lived on vegetables charged the others with idolatry. And those that ate flesh accused the others of superstition and weakness. This was wrong.
Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth; for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth: yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
There was also a controversy about observing the Jewish festival days and holy days. A part supposed that God required this, and therefore they observed them. The others neglected them because they supposed God did not require the observance.
One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord: and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For as it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore, judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
Now mark what he says.
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably: destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
That is, I know that the distinction of meats into clean and unclean, is not binding under Christ, but to him that believes in the distinction, it is a crime to eat indiscriminately, because he does what he believes to be contrary to the commands of God. "All things indeed are pure, but it is evil to him that eateth with offense." Every man should be fully persuaded in his own mind, that what he is doing is right. If a man eat of meats called unclean, not being clear in his mind that it was right, he offended God.
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
This is a very useful hint to those wine-bibbers and beer guzzlers, who think the cause of temperance is going to be ruined by giving up wine and beer, when it is notorious, to every person of the least observation, that these things are the greatest hindrance to the cause all over the country.
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
The word rendered damned means condemned, or adjudged guilty of breaking the law of God. If a man doubts whether it is lawful to do a thing, and while in that state of doubt he does it, he displeases God, he breaks the law and is condemned whether the thing be in itself right or wrong. I have been thus particular in explaining the text in its connection with the context, because I wished fully to satisfy your minds of the correctness of the principle laid down.
That if a man does that of which he doubts the lawfulness, he sins, and is condemned for it in the sight of God.
Whether it is lawful itself, is not the question. If he doubts its lawfulness, it is wrong in him.
There is one exception which ought to be noticed here,And that is, where a man as honestly and fully doubts the lawfulness of omitting to do it as he does the lawfulness of doing it. President Edwards meets this exactly in his 39th resolution.
"Resolved, never to do any thing that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not: except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission."
A man may have equal doubts whether he is bound to do a thing or not to do it. Then all that can be said is, that he must act according to the best light he can get. But where he doubts the lawfulness of the act, but has no cause to doubt the lawfulness of the omission, and yet does it, he sins and is condemned before God, and must repent or be damned. In further examination of the subject, I propose,
I. To show some reasons why a man is criminal for doing that of which he doubts the lawfulness.
II. To show its application to a number of specific cases.
III. Offer a few inferences and remarks, as time may allow.
I. I am to show some reasons for the correctness of the principle laid down in the textthat if a man does that of which he doubts the lawfulness, he is condemned.
1. One reason why an individual is condemned if he does that of which he doubts the lawfulness, isThat if God so far enlightens his mind as to make him doubt the lawfulness of an act, he is bound to stop there and examine the question and settle it to his satisfaction.
To illustrate this: suppose your child is desirous of doing a certain thing, or suppose he is invited by his companions to go somewhere, and he doubts whether you would be willing, do you not see that it is his duty to ask you? If one of his schoolmates invites him home, and he doubts whether you would like it, and yet goes, is not this palpably wrong?
Or suppose a man cast away on a desolate island, where he finds no human being, and he takes up his abode in a solitary cave, considering himself as all alone and destitute of friends or relief or hope; but every morning he finds a supply of nutritious and wholesome food prepared for him, and set by the mouth of his cave, sufficient for his wants that day. What is his duty? Do you say, he does not know that there is a being on the island, and therefore he is not under obligations to any one? Does not gratitude, on the other hand, require him to search and find out his unseen friend, and thank him for his kindness? He cannot say, "I doubt whether there is any being here, and therefore will do nothing but eat my allowance and take my ease, and care for nothing." His not searching for his benefactor would of itself convict him of as desperate wickedness of heart, as if he knew who it was, and refused to return thanks for the favors received.
Or suppose an Atheist opens his eyes on this blessed light of heaven, and breathes this air sending health and vigor through his frame. Here is evidence enough of the being of God to set him on the inquiry after that great being who provides all these means of life and happiness. And if he does not inquire for further light, if he does not care, if he sets his heart against God, he shows that he has the heart as well as the intellect of an Atheist. He has, to say the least, evidence that there may be a God. What then is his business? Plainly, it is to set himself honestly, and with a most child-like and reverent spirit, to inquire after Him and pay Him reverence. If, when he has so much light as to doubt whether there may not be a God, he still goes around as if there were none, and does not inquire for truth and obey it, he shows that his heart is wrong, and that it says let there be no God.
There is a Deist, and here a Book claiming to be a revelation from God. Many good men have believed it to be so. The evidences are such as to have perfectly satisfied the most acute and upright minds of its truth. The evidences, both external and internal are of great weight. To say there are no evidences is itself enough to bring any man's soundness of mind into question, or his honesty. There is, to say the least, that can be said, sufficient evidence to create a doubt whether it is a fable and an imposture. This is in fact but a small part, but we will take it on this ground. Now is it his duty to reject it? No Deist pretends that he can be so fully persuaded in his own mind, as to be free from all doubt. All he dares to attempt is to raise cavils and create doubts on the other side. Here, then, it is his duty to stop, and not oppose the Bible, until he can prove without a doubt, that it is not from God.
So with the Unitarian. Granting (what is by no means true) that the evidence in the Bible is not sufficient to remove all doubts that Jesus Christ is God; yet it affords evidence enough to raise a doubt on the other side, he has no right to reject the doctrine as untrue, but is bound humbly to search the scriptures and satisfy himself. Now, no intelligent and honest man can say that the scriptures afford no evidence of the divinity of Christ. They do afford evidence which has convinced and fully satisfied thousands of the acutest minds, and who have before been opposed to the doctrine. No man can reject the doctrine without a doubt, because here is evidence that it may be true. And if it may be true, and there is reason to doubt, if it is not true, then he rejects it at his peril.
Then the Universalist. Where is one who can say he has not so much as a doubt whether there is not a hell, where sinners go after death into endless torment. He is bound to stop and inquire, and search the scriptures. It is not enough for him to say he does not believe in a hell. It may be there is, and if he rejects it, and goes on reckless of the truth whether there is or not, that itself makes him a rebel against God. He doubts whether there is not a hell which he ought to avoid, and yet acts as if he was certain and had no doubts. He is condemned. I once knew a physician who was a Universalist, and who has gone to eternity to try the reality of his speculations. He once told me that he had strong doubts of the truth of Universalism, and had mentioned his doubts to his minister, who confessed that he, too, doubted its truth, and he did not believe there was a Universalist in the world who did not.
2. For a man to do a thing when he doubts whether it is lawful shows that he is selfish, and has other objects besides doing the will of God.
It shows that he wants to do it to gratify himself. He doubts whether God will approve of it, and yet he does it. Is he not a rebel? If he honestly wished to serve God, when he doubted he would stop and inquire and examine until he was satisfied. But to go forward while he is in doubt, shows that he is selfish and wicked, and is willing to do it whether God is pleased or not, and that he wants to do it, whether it is right or wrong. He does it because he wants to do it, and not because it is right.
3. To act thus is an impeachment of the divine goodness.
He assumes it as uncertain whether God has given a sufficient revelation of His will, so that he might know his duty if he would. He virtually says that the path of duty is left so doubtful that he must decide at a venture.
4. It indicates slothfulness and stupidity of mind.
It shows that he had rather act wrong than use the necessary diligence to learn and know the path of duty. It shows that he is either negligent or dishonest in his inquiries.
5. It manifests a reckless spirit.
It shows a want of conscience, an indifference to right, a setting aside of the authority of God, a disposition not to do God's will, and not to care whether He is pleased or displeased, a desperate recklessness and headlong temper, that is the height of wickedness.
The principle then, which is so clearly laid down in the text and context, and also in the chapter which I read from Corinthians, is fully sustained by examinationThat for a man to do a thing, when he doubts the lawfulness of it, is sin, for which he is condemned before God, and must repent or be damned.
II. I am now to show the application of this principle to a variety of particular cases in human life. But,
FirstI will mention some cases where a person may be equally in doubt with respect to the lawfulness of a thing, whether he is bound to do it or not to do it.
Take the subject of Wine at the Communion Table.
Since the Temperance Reformation has brought up the question about the use of wine, and various wines have been analyzed and the quantity of alcohol they contain has been disclosed, and the difficulty shown of getting wines in this country that are not highly alcoholic, it has been seriously doubted by some whether it is right to use such wines as we can get here in celebrating the Lord's supper. Some are strong in the belief that wine is an essential part of the ordinance, and that we ought to use the best wine we can get, and there leave the matter. Others say that we ought not to use alcoholic or intoxicating wine at all, and that as wine is not in their view essential to the ordinance, it is better to use some other drink.Both these classes are undoubtedly equally conscientious, and desirous to do what they have most reason to believe is agreeable to the will of God. And others, again, are in doubt on the matter. I can easily conceive that some conscientious persons may be very seriously in doubt which way to act. They are doubtful whether it is right to use alcoholic wine, and are doubtful whether it is right to use any other drink in the sacrament. Here is a case that comes under President Edwards' rule, "where it is doubtful in my mind, whether I ought to do it or not to do it," and which men must decide according to the best light they can get, honestly and with a single desire to know and do what is most pleasing to God.
I do not intend to discuss this question, of the use of wine at the communion, nor is this the proper place for a full examination of the subject. I introduced it now merely for the purpose of illustration. But since it is before us, I will make two or three remarks.
(1.) I have never apprehended so much evil as some do, from the use of common wine at the communion. I have not felt alarmed at the danger or evil of taking a sip of wine, a teaspoonful or so, once a month, or once in two months, or three months. I do not believe that the disease of intemperance (and intemperance, you know, is in reality a disease of the body) will be either created or continued by so slight a cause. Nor do I believe it is going to injure the Temperance cause so much as some have supposed. And therefore, where a person uses wine as we have been accustomed to do, and is fully persuaded in his own mind, he does not sin.
(2.) On the other hand, I do not think that the use of wine is any way essential to the ordinance. Very much has been said and written and printed on the subject, which has darkened counsel by words without knowledge. To my mind there are stronger reasons than I have anywhere seen exhibited, for supposing that wine is not essential to this ordinance. Great pains have been taken to prove that our Savior used wine that was unfermented, when he instituted the supper, and which therefore contained no alcohol. Indeed, this has been the point chiefly in debate. But in fact it seems just as irrelevant as it would to discuss the question, whether He used wheat or oaten bread, or whether it was leavened or unleavened. Why do we not hear this question vehemently discussed? Because all regard it as unessential.
In order to settle this question about the wine, we should ask what is the meaning of the ordinance of the supper.What did our Savior design to do? It was to take the two staple articles for the support of life, food and drink, and use them to represent the necessity and virtue of the atonement.
It is plain that Christ had that view of it, for it corresponds with what He says, "My flesh is meat indeed, and thy blood is drink indeed." So He poured out water in the temple, and said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink."He is called the "Bread of life." Thus it was customary to show the value of Christ's sufferings by food and drink. Why did He take bread instead of some other article of food? Those who know the history and usages of that country will see that he chose that article of food which was in most common use among the people. When I was in Malta, it seemed as if a great part of the people lived on bread alone. They would go in crowds to the market-place, and buy each a piece of coarse bread, and stand and eat it. Thus the most common and the most universally wholesome article of diet is chosen by Christ to represent His flesh. Then why did He take wine to drink? For the same reason; wine is the common drink of the people, especially at their meals, in all those countries. It is sold there for about a cent a bottle, wine being cheaper than small beer is here. In Sicily I was informed that wine was sold for five cents a gallon, and I do not know but it was about as cheap as water. And you will observe that the Lord's supper was first observed at the close of the feast of the passover, at which the Jews always used wine. The meaning of the Savior in this ordinance, then, is this:As food and drink are essential to the life of the body, so His body and blood, or His atonement, are essential to the life of the soul. For myself, I am fully convinced that wine is not essential to the communion, and I should not hesitate to give water to any individual that conscientiously preferred it. Let it be the common food and drink of the country, the support of life to the body, and it answers the end of the institution. If I was a missionary among the Esquimaux Indians, where they live on dried seal's flesh and snow-water, I would administer the supper in those substances. It would convey to their minds the idea that they cannot live without Christ.
I say, then, that if an individual is fully persuaded in his own mind, he does not sin in giving up the use of wine. Let this church be fully persuaded in their own minds, and I shall have no scruple to do either way. If they will substitute any other wholesome drink, that is in common use, instead of the wine. And at the same time I have no objection myself against going on in the old way.
Now, don't lose sight of the great principle that is under discussion. It is this: where a man doubts honestly, whether it is lawful to do a thing, and doubts equally, on the other hand, whether it is lawful to omit doing it, he must pray over the matter, and search the scriptures, and get the best light he can on the subject, and then act. And when he does this, he is by no means to be judged or censured by others for the course he takes. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?" And no man is authorized to make his own conscience the rule of his neighbor's conduct.
A similar case is where a minister is so situated that it is necessary for him to go a distance on the Sabbath to preach, as where he preaches to two congregations, and the like. Here he may honestly doubt what is his duty, on both hands. If he goes, he appears to strangers to disregard the Sabbath. If he does not go, the people will have no preaching. The direction is, let him search the scriptures, and get the best light he can, make it a subject of prayer, weigh it thoroughly, and act according to his best judgment.
So in the case of a Sabbath-school teacher. He may live at a distance from the school, and be obliged to travel to it on the Sabbath, or they will have no school. And he may honestly doubt which is his duty, to remain in his own church on the Sabbath, or to travel there, five, eight, or ten miles, to a destitute neighborhood, to keep up the Sabbath school. Here he must decide for himself, according to the best light he can get. And let no man set himself up to judge over a humble and conscientious disciple of the Lord Jesus.
You see that in all these cases it is understood and is plain, that the design is to honor God, and the sole ground of doubt is, which course will really honor Him. Paul says, in reference to all laws of this kind, "He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it." The design is to do right, and the doubt is as to the means of doing it in the best manner.
SecondlyI will mention some cases, where the design is wrong, where the object is to gratify self, and the individual has doubts whether he may do it lawfully. I shall refer to cases concerning which there is a difference of opinionto acts of which the least that can be said is that a man must have doubts of their being lawful.
1. Take, for instance, the making or vending of alcoholic drinks.
After all that has been said on this subject, and all the light that has been thrown upon the question, is there a man living in this land who can say he sees no reason to doubt the lawfulness of this business. To say the least that can be said, there can be no honest mind but must be brought to doubt it. We suppose, indeed, that there is no honest mind but must know it is unlawful and criminal. But take the most charitable supposition possible for the distiller or the vender, and suppose he is not fully convinced of its unlawfulness. We say he must, at least, doubt its lawfulness. What is he to do then? Is he to shut his eyes to the light, and go on, regardless of truth so long as he can keep from seeing it? No. He may cavil and raise objections, as much as he pleases, but he knows that he has doubts, about the lawfulness of his business. And if he doubts, and still persists in doing it, without taking the trouble to examine and see what is right, he is just as sure to be damned as if he went on in the face of knowledge. You hear these men say, "Why, I am not fully persuaded in my own mind, that the Bible forbids making or vending ardent spirits." Well, suppose you are not fully convinced, suppose all your possible and conceivable objections and cavils are not removed, what then? You know you have doubts about its lawfulness. And it is not necessary to take such ground to convict you of doing wrong. If you doubt its lawfulness, and yet persist in doing it, you are in the way to hell.
2. So where an individual is engaged in an employment that requires him to break the Sabbath.
As for instance, attending on a Post-office that is opened on the Sabbath, or a Turnpike gate, or in a Steamboat, or any other employment that is not a work of necessity. There are always some things that must be done on the Sabbath, they are works of absolute necessity or of mercy.
But suppose a case in which the labor is not necessary, as in the transportation of the U.S. Mail on the Sabbath, or the like. The least that can be said, the lowest ground that can be taken by charity itself, without turning fool, is that the lawfulness of such employment is doubtful. And if they persist in doing it, they sin, and are on the way to hell. God has sent out the penalty of His law against them, and if they do not repent they must be damned.
3. Owning stocks in steamboat and railroad companies, in stages, canal boats, &c. that break the Sabbath.
Can any such owner truly say he does not doubt the lawfulness of such an investment of capital? Can charity stoop lower than to say that man must strongly doubt whether such labor is a work of necessity or mercy? It is not necessary in the case to demonstrate that it is unlawful, though that can be done fully, but only to show so much light as to create a doubt of its lawfulness. Then if he persists in doing it, with that doubt unsatisfied, he is condemnedand lost.
4. The same remarks will apply to all sorts of lottery gambling. He doubts.
5. Take the case of those indulgences of appetite, which are subject of controversy, and which to say the least, are of doubtful right.
(1.) The drinking of wine, and beer, and other fermented intoxicating liquors. In the present aspect of the temperance cause, is it not questionable at least, whether making use of these drinks is not transgressing the rule laid down by the apostle, "It is good neither to eat flesh nor drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or made weak." No man can make me believe he has no doubts of the lawfulness of doing it. There is no certain proof of its lawfulness, and there is strong proof of its unlawfulness, and every man who does it while he doubts the lawfulness, is condemned, and if he persists, is damned.
If there is any sophistry in all this, I should like to know it, for I do not wish to deceive others nor to be deceived myself. But I am entirely deceived if this is not a simple, direct, and necessary inference from the sentiment of the text.
(2.) Tobacco. Can any man pretend that he has no doubt that it is agreeable to the will of God for him to use tobacco? No man can pretend that he doubts the lawfulness of his omission of these things. Does any man living think that he is bound in duty to make use of wine, or strong beer, or tobacco, as a luxury? No. The doubt is all on one side. What shall we say then, of that man who doubts the lawfulness of it, and still fills his face with the poisonous weed? He is condemned.
(3.) I might refer to tea and coffee. It is known generally, that these substances are not nutritious at all, and that nearly eight millions of dollars are spent annually for them in this country. Now, will any man pretend that he does not doubt the lawfulness of spending all this money for that which is of no use, and which are WELL KNOWN, to all who have examined the subject, to be positively injurious, intolerable to weak stomachs, and as much as the strongest can dispose of? And all this while the various benevolent societies of the age are loudly calling for HELP to send the gospel abroad and save a world from hell! To think of the church alone spending millions upon their tea tables, is there no doubt here?
6. Apply this principle to various amusements.
(1.) The Theatre. There are vast multitudes of professors of religion who attend the theater. And they contend that the Bible nowhere forbids it. Now mark.What Christian professor ever went to a theater and did not doubt whether he was doing what is lawful. I by no means admit that it is a point which is only doubtful. I suppose it is a very plain case, and can be shown to be, that it is unlawful. But I am now only meeting those of you, if there are any here, who go to the theater, and are trying to cover up yourselves in the refuge that the Bible nowhere expressly forbids it.
(2.) Parties of Pleasure, where they go and eat and drink to surfeiting. Is there no reason to doubt whether that is such a use of time and money as God requires? Look at the starving poor, and consider the effect of this gaiety and extravagance, and see if you will ever go to another such party, or make one, without doubting its lawfulness. Where can you find a man, or a woman, that will go so far as to say they have no doubt? Probably there is not one honest mind who will say this. And if you doubt, and still do it, you are condemned.
You see that this principle touches a whole class of things, about which there is a controversy, and where people attempt to parry off by saying it is not worse than to do so and so, and thus get away from the condemning sentence of God's law. But in fact, if there is a doubt, it is their duty to abstain.
(3.) Take the case of balls, of novel reading, and other methods of wasting time. Is this God's way to spend your lives? Can you say you have no doubt of it?
7. Making calls on the Sabbath. People will make a call, and then make an apology about it. "I did not know as it was quite right, but I thought I would venture it." He is a Sabbath-breaker in heart, at all events, because he doubts.
8. Compliance with worldly customs at new-year's day. Then the ladies are all at home, and the gentlemen are running all about town to call on them, and the ladies make their great preparations, and treat them with their cake, and their wine, and punch, enough to poison them almost to death, and all together are bowing down to the goddess of fashion. Is there a lady here that does not doubt the lawfulness of all this? I say it can be demonstrated to be wicked, but I only ask the ladies of this city. Is it NOT DOUBTFUL whether this is all lawful? I should call in question the sanity of the man or woman that had no doubt of the lawfulness of such a custom, in the midst of such prevailing intemperance as exists in this city.Who among you will practice it again? Practice it if you dareat the peril of your soul. If you do that which is merely doubtful, God frowns and condemns, and His voice must be regarded.
I know people try to excuse the matter, and say it is well to have a day appropriated to such calls, when every lady is at home and every gentleman freed from business, and all that. And all that is very well. But when it is seen to be so abused, and to produce so much evil, I ask every Christian here, if you can help doubting its lawfulness? And if it is doubtful, it comes under the rule: "If meat make my brother to offend," if keeping new-year's leads to so much gluttony, and drunkenness, and wickedness, does it not bring the lawfulness of it into doubt? Yes, that is the least that can be said, and they who doubt and yet do it, sin against God.
9. Compliance with the extravagant fashions of the day.
Christian lady! have you never doubted, do you not now doubt, whether it is lawful for you to copy these fashions, brought from foreign countries, and from places which it were a shame even to name in this assembly? Have you no doubt about it? And if you doubt and do it, you are condemned, and must repent of your sin, or you will be lost forever.
10. Intermarriages of Christians with impenitent sinners.
This answer always comes up. "But after all you say, it is not certain that these marriages are not lawful." Supposing it be so, yet does not the Bible and the nature of the case make it, at least, doubtful whether they are right? It can be demonstrated, indeed, to be unlawful. But suppose it could not be reduced to demonstration. What Christian ever did it and did not doubt whether it was lawful? And he that doubteth is condemned. See that Christian man or woman that is about forming such a connectiondoubting all the way whether it is righttrying to pray down conscience under the pretext of praying for light, praying all round your duty, and yet pressing onTAKE CAREyou know you doubt the lawfulness of what you propose, and REMEMBER that he that doubteth is damned.
Thus you see, my hearers, that here is a principle that will stand by you when you attempt to rebuke sin, and the power of society is employed to face you down and put you on the defensive, to bring absolute proof of the sinfulness of a cherished practice. Remember the burden of PROOF does not lie on you, to show beyond a doubt the absolute unlawfulness of the thing. If you can show sufficient reason to question its lawfulness, and to create a valid doubt whether it is according to the will of God, you shift the burden of proof to the other side. And unless they can remove the doubt, and show that there is no room for doubt, they have no right to continue and if they do, they sin against God.
1. The knowledge of duty is not indispensable to moral obligation, but the possession of the means of knowledge is sufficient to make a person responsible.
If a man has the means of knowing whether it is right or wrong, he is bound to use the means, and is bound to inquire and ascertain, at his peril.
2. If those are condemned, and adjudged worthy of damnation, who do that of which they doubt the lawfulness, what shall we say of the multitudes who are doing continually that which they know and confess to be wrong?
Woe to that man who practices that which he condemns.And "happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."
3. Hypocrites often attempt to shelter themselves behind their doubts to get clear of their duty.
The hypocrite is unwilling to be enlightened, he don't wish to know the truth, because he don't wish to obey the Lord, and so he hides behind his doubts, and turns away his eye from the light, and will not look or examine to see what his duty is, and in this way he tries to shield himself from responsibility. But God will drag them out from behind this refuge of lies, by the principle laid down in the text, that their very doubts condemn them.
Many will not be enlightened on the subject of temperance, and still persist in drinking or selling rum, because they are not fully convinced it is wrong. And they will not read a tract or a paper, nor attend a temperance meeting, for fear they shall be convinced. Many are resolved to indulge in the use of wine and strong beer, and they will not listen to anything calculated to convince them of the wrong. It shows that they are determined to indulge in sin, and they hope to hide behind their doubts. What better evidence could they give that they are hypocrites?
Who in all these United States can say, that he has no doubt of the lawfulness of slavery? Yet the great body of the people will not hear anything on the subject, and they go into a passion if you name it, and it is even seriously proposed, both at the north and at the south, to pass laws forbidding inquiry and discussion on the subject. Now, suppose these laws should be passed, for the purpose of enabling the nation to shelter itself behind its doubts whether slavery is a sin, that ought to be abolished immediatelywill that help the matter? Not at all. If they continue to hold their fellow men as property, in slavery, while they doubt its lawfulness, they are condemned before God, and we may be sure their sin will find them out, and God will let them KNOW how He regards it.
It is amazing to see the foolishness of people on this subjectas if by refusing to get clear of their doubts they could get clear of their sin. Think of the people of the south; Christians, and even ministers refusing to read a paper on the subject of slavery, and perhaps sending it back with abusive or threatening words. Threateningfor what? For reasoning with them about their duty.It can be demonstrated absolutely, that slavery is unlawful, and ought to be repented of and given up like any other sin. But suppose they only doubt the lawfulness of slavery, and do not mean to be enlightened, they are condemned of God. Let them know that they cannot put this thing down, they cannot clear themselves of it; so long as they doubt its lawfulness they cannot hold men in slavery without sin, and that they do doubt its lawfulness is demonstrated by this opposition to discussion.
We may suppose a case, and perhaps there may be some such in the southern country, where a man doubts the lawfulness of holding slaves and equally doubts the lawfulness of emancipating them in their present state of ignorance and dependence. In that case he comes under Pres. Edward's rule, and it is his duty, not to fly in a passion with those who would call his attention to it, not to send back newspapers and refuse to read, but to inquire on all hands for light, and examine the question honestly in the light of the word of God, till his doubts are cleared up. The least he can do is to set himself with all his power to educate them and train them to take care of themselves as fast and as thoroughly as possible, and to put them in a state where they can be set at liberty.
5. It is manifest there is but very little conscience in the church.
See what multitudes are persisting to do what they strongly doubt the lawfulness of.
6. There is still less love to God than there is conscience.
It cannot be pretended that love to God is the cause of all this following of fashions, this practicing indulgences, and other things of which people doubt the lawfulness. They do not persist in these things because they love God so well. No, no, but they persist in it because they wish to do it, to gratify themselves, and they had rather run the risk of doing wrong than to have their doubts cleared up. It is because they have so little love for God, so little care for the honor of God.
7. Do not say, in your prayers, "O Lord, if I have sinned in this thing, O Lord, forgive me the sin."
If you have done that of which you doubted the lawfulness, you have sinned, whether the thing itself be right or wrong. And you must repent, and ask forgiveness.
And now, let me ask you all who are here present, are you convinced that to do what you doubt the lawfulness of, is sin? If you are, I have one more question to ask you. Will you from this time relinquish every thing of which you doubt the lawfulness? Every amusement, every indulgence, every practice, every pursuit? Will you do it, or will you stand before the solemn judgment seat of Jesus Christ, condemned? If you will not relinquish these things, you show that you are an impenitent sinner, and do not intend to obey God, and if you do not repent, you bring down upon your head God's condemnation and wrath for ever.