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Title: Amusement: A Force in Christian Training
Author: Vincent, Marvin Richardson, 1834-1922
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Amusement: A Force in Christian Training" ***

                *Amusement: A Force in Christian Training*

                                  By The

                          Rev. Marvin R. Vincent

           Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Troy, N.Y.

                     Wm. H. Young, 8 & 9 First Street

                                Troy, N.Y.



Religion And Amusement.
The True Nonconformist.
The Church And The Young Man.
Thoughts For The Clergy on the Amusement Question.


These discourses are not presented as a series. With the exception of the
last, which was prepared merely for publication, they were delivered at
considerable intervals, and to meet certain aspects of the subject as they
presented themselves. As they all develop substantially the same
principles, they will probably contain some repetitions. The interest
awakened by the publication of the essay before the Albany Convention, and
the very general desire expressed to see the second and third of these
discourses in print, have decided the author against remoulding the whole
into one treatise which he at one time contemplated. He therefore sends
them forth in their original shape, with earnest prayer that the great
Head of the church may use them, with all their imperfections, to awaken
Christian thought and friendly discussion on a subject of vital importance
to the welfare of our youth.

Marvin R. Vincent.

Troy, _Jan. 9th, 1867_.


    An Essay, Delivered at the International Convention of Young Men’s
                         Christian Associations,

                      Held In Albany, June 1, 1866.

The religious thought of the age must soon face this subject more fairly
than it has yet done; and seek for some more satisfactory adjustment of
it. At present its status is very indefinite. The church is by no means at
one concerning it. The pulpit too often evades it. Private Christians
waver between the results of independent thought and of early education,
undecided whether to approve or condemn; while extremists take advantage
of this hesitation to lay down the sternest dogmas, and to thunder
denunciations at every head that will not bow to their _ipse dixit_. The
questions at issue are not to be dismissed with a sneer at fanaticism and
over-scrupulousness on the one hand, and with a protest against
unwarrantable liberality on the other. The whole subject must be
reëxamined with reference to fundamental gospel principles by both
parties, in a spirit of Christian moderation, and with the desire of
ascertaining not only what is _safe_, but what is _right_.

To prosecute thoroughly such an examination within the limits assigned me,
is, of course, impossible. I can only deal with a few of the great
principles underlying the case, and urge their application to a single
practical question which has arisen in the experience of our own, and it
may be, of other Christian associations.

The idea of _development_, which is perhaps the fundamental one of
Christianity, has been to a very great extent swallowed up in the idea of
_safety_. It is not an uncommon error to regard Christianity almost
exclusively in a defensive aspect; the Christian merely as a _safe_ man,
protected by Divine safe-guards from temptation, rescued by Divine mercy
from the terrors of death and judgment. Correspondingly with this mistake,
the tendency has grown to strengthen the defenses of character, rather
than to foster its growth. To keep it from temptation, rather than to
teach it to overcome temptation. To teach it its danger from the world,
rather than its duty to the world. Consequently we have heard more about
keeping unspotted from the world, than of going into _all_ the world, and
preaching the gospel to every creature. More about coming out and being
separate, than of knowing the truth which shall make free. More of
separating wheat from tares, than of leavening lumps.

The false instinct of self-preservation, which sent the Romanist into
cloisters and convents, and tore him from the sweet sanctities of domestic
life, has perpetuated itself more than some of us think in Protestant
thought and church legislation. And in nothing has this tendency revealed
itself more distinctly than in the matter of amusements. For amusement,
having the effect to make men feel kindly toward the world, and, more
readily than duty, falling in with human inclination, has been regarded as
unsafe, and therefore as a thing to be kept at arm’s length by the church,
and admitted to her folds only under the strictest surveillance, and in
gyves and handcuffs.

The developments of this spirit are so familiar that I need not stop to
enumerate them. The important thing now is to discover the right
stand-point for discussion. And here let me say what, until recently, I
had supposed there was no need of saying: that amusement is a necessity of
man’s nature as truly as food, or drink, or sleep. Physiology, common
sense, experience, philosophy, are all at one on this point. Man needs
something besides change of employment. He needs something pursued with a
view solely to _enjoyment_. Those who deny this are ignorant of the
simplest fundamental laws of mind and matter. Men who assert publicly that
they need no amusements, and “want to die in the harness,” will have the
opportunity of dying in the harness some years earlier than would be
demanded in the ordinary course of nature. Nature will not suffer even
zealous Christian men to violate this law with impunity. She forbids man
to labor continuously, and if he persists in disregarding her prohibition,
she will revenge herself by imbecility, uselessness, or death.

This must be assumed in all discussions of the subject; and it being a
religious, no less than a physical truth, it throws into new prominence
the question, how, as Christians, we are to discharge this duty without
being led away by the temptation which adjoins it so closely.

Let it be borne in mind that we are not now dealing with individual cases
of conscience, but with general laws. While then there is obviously a
distinction between amusements—while it is granted that some develop
greater capabilities of abuse than others, the attempt to adjust this
question on the basis of _discriminating between amusements_ must result
in failure. It always has, and it always will. This basis is secure only
in a question between an innocent amusement, and one involving a palpable
violation of the law of God. The advocate of any particular amusement is,
on this ground, shut up to the necessity of proving that what he approves
and practices is _absolutely pure, and incapable of perversion_. The
moment it is admitted that it can, by any possibility, be turned to base
uses, the lists are thrown open to all corners, and the utterly insoluble
question arises, _just what degree of capacity for perversion entitles an
amusement to approval or rejection?_ Insoluble, I say, because, not to
speak of any other difficulty, one is obliged to confront the fact that no
one amusement presents a similar temptation to abuse to all alike. That in
which the slightest indulgence might tend to lead one man to ruinous
excess, excites no interest in another. It might possibly be dangerous for
one man to play at backgammon, while to another it would prove no
amusement, but only a tedious method of killing time. On this ground, in
short, it is utterly impossible to adjust this matter satisfactorily or
consistently. The only consistent or safe rule in this view of the case,
is _rigorously to exclude all_, because all are partakers of the universal
taint of sin.

    “The trail of the serpent is over them all.”

It is innocent for boys to play marbles, but sinful to play dominoes.
Wherein, pray? They can learn to gamble with one as well as with the
other. It is sinful to play billiards, but highly graceful and innocent to
play croquet. But why? Really, when it comes to a comparison, the first is
infinitely the more beautiful and intellectual game. The ethical
distinctions are positively bewildering between balls of ivory and balls
of wood; between mallets and cues; between green baize and green grass. A
Christian household must not sit down and play at whist, but they are
engaged in a Christian and laudable manner if they spend an evening over
Dr. Busby, or Master Rodbury cards. Really, it is hard to draw the moral
line between cards bearing aces and spades, and cards with the likenesses
of Dr. Busby’s son and servant, Doll the dairymaid, and the like. When it
comes to a question of profit, one is an amusement involving a good deal
of healthy, mental exertion, while the other is about as silly and
profitless a way of spending an evening as can well be imagined. Youth
must not dance, but they may march to music in company, and go through
calisthenic exercises, involving a good deal more motion than dancing. But
if people may march to music and be guiltless, it is very hard to see how
skipping to music converts the exercise into sin. It is said that the
_associations_ make the difference; but the advocate of this theory is
shut up to proving that the associations are inseparable from the
amusements. And here is the place to remark that the best amusements are
the ones most likely to be abused—the ones which experience shows _are_
most abused, and about which cluster the most evil associations. The
children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of
light. Men do not care to counterfeit a coin of inferior value; and the
world is very clear-sighted to discern the best and richest sources of
worldly pleasure, and utterly unscrupulous in appropriating them entirely
to itself. The amusements which are most abused, are commonly those which,
from their intrinsic value, call most loudly upon virtue to rescue them
from their abuses.

The above method of reasoning, in short, will not stand the test of plain
common sense. It is trifling, ignoring all distinctions which rest on
principles, and substituting factitious ones; and Christians who assume
this ground, lay themselves open without defense to the logic and ridicule
of any intelligent man of the world who may be disposed to test the
reasons for their scrupulousness. They condemn themselves in those things
which they allow. The amusements they approve cannot, in many cases, be
compared with those which they deprecate, either in elegance, profit, or
the amount of intelligence they require.

What point then shall we take for the consideration of this subject? We
are confined to one—the stand-point of the Bible. As Christian
associations we have but one question to ask: “_What saith the Word_.”

In the New Testament we find little said about the _degrees_ of sin. The
thought which it throughout tries to impress is, that sin is everywhere;
and under any form, or in any degree, is a horrible and fatal thing. The
tares are gathered _in bundles_ and burned; no matter if one grows a
little shorter, and another a little longer. The lustful glance is placed
in the same category with the licentious act. The angry thought is of the
same piece with the act of murder. The gospel contemplates the sins of the
race very much as a man looks at an orange: the rind is full of little
protuberances, and a close scrutiny will show that some of these rise
higher than others. But nobody pretends to notice these variations; they
all spring from one spherical surface, and their variation is not such as
to destroy the general effect of roundness. So all these fearful
developments of sin spring from one plane, and God hath concluded the
whole sinful world in unbelief.

The gospel, therefore, wastes no time in making distinctions between sins,
but aims straight at remedying the great fact of _sin_ as it exists
everywhere. Nor does it leave us in doubt as to its method. It assumes its
own power to purify anything, and therefore lays down as its great law of
operation, _the law of contact_.

This law it sets forth under a parable: The kingdom of heaven is like
leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the
whole was leavened. The great truth here illustrated, is the innate power
of the gospel to pervade and assimilate to its own nature the whole
worldly order of things, just as leaven thus pervades and assimilates the
lifeless lumps of dough. This then, is its simple lesson: Put the gospel
into contact with everything sinful—the heart of man, the life of man, the
employments of man, the amusements of man—into society, its customs, laws,
institutions, and it will purge them of evil, and bring them into harmony
with the Divine order.

But be sure and note, that the entire success of this action depends upon
the contact—upon _the putting the leaven into the lump_. Fail in this, and
the lump remains heavy. It matters very little whether the salt have lost
his savor or not, if the meat remain in one dish and the salt in the

How thoroughly and beautifully this truth was carried out in the life and
teachings of Christ, will appear to us more clearly, if we shall recognize
the uniform policy of the gospel _to work for the destruction of evil,
chiefly through the lodgment and development of good_. Both Christ and his
apostles are exhibited in the gospel story as engaged chiefly in asserting
and illustrating the truth, and not in combating error. Christ comes into
a world lying in wickedness—besotted by it, plagued and tormented by it;
full of abominations starting boldly out without pretense of concealment,
from every phase of private, social and civil life. But he does not
approach these as a mechanic would an old building, saying, “this beam is
rotten and must come down; this roof is decayed and must be stripped off;
this floor is unsafe and must be pulled up.” He does not propose to his
disciples to enter upon a wholesale denunciation of profanity and
licentiousness. He points out and condemns many of these things it is
true; but the main lever of his teaching is the assertion of the great
gospel principles. For these he seeks a place of lodgment everywhere. The
old tables of the law contained but one commandment that was not
prohibitory. Every line portrayed a crime, with a law standing on guard
beside it, and warning men away with its “Thou shalt not!” Christ asserts
the authority of the law; but in the new table it is seen beckoning toward
the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.”
His instructions to his disciples do not so much concern the things which
they are to avoid, as they tend to fix upon their minds right conceptions
of his character and mission. So, I repeat, Christ’s work is less a
crusade against evil, than an assertion of good by precept and example as
the surest means in the end of removing evil. Look, too, at Paul at
Athens, surrounded by heathen temples, statues and altars. He does not
proceed to demonstrate to the curious multitude that the philosophies of
Zeno or Epicurus are wrong; or that the worship of Hermes or Athene is
absurd. He throws out at once, bold and stern as a mountain headland, the
assertion of the Divine unity, and follows it up with the doctrines of
salvation through Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment. In a
few bold strokes he delineates to the astonished skeptics some salient
points of natural and revealed religion, and then leaves the truth to
germinate and crowd out the evil in its own way and time.

There is indeed a sublimity in this invincible faith in the power of truth
exhibited by the Son of Man. In the calmness with which he moves amid the
moral ruin that encompasses him, without that anxious haste, and longing
for immediate results, which characterize so many modern reformers. The
world would have expected a direct and tremendous onslaught upon evil. It
would have said that the dropping of a seed of positive truth here and
there, would never result in anything. Christ knew better. He knew the
latent power of truth; its inherent capability of growth; and he knew that
wherever it should find a lodgment, it would grow; and wherever it should
grow, it would shake down from its branches, like the mighty tree of the
tropics, the germs of a thousand growths like itself. Now it is this very
faith in the power of gospel truth, as the most effective destroyer of
evil, prompting to put the good boldly into the evil to leaven it, which
is sorely needed in the moral movements of the age. Bring the subject of
amusements to this test. Compare the action of the church upon it, with
the principles so evidently regulating Christ’s dealing with evil, and see
whether it gains by the comparison. Is it not true, rather, that the
Christian world has, to a very large extent, acted upon an entirely
opposite principle? It has spent much time in peering into amusements to
see what evil they contained, and has kept digging away at this, instead
of putting Divine grace into them, in simple faith in God, and letting
_that_ at once purge and regulate them. It has been so absorbed in
ferreting out and declaiming against the evil, as to have forgotten
measurably that a corresponding duty lay upon it to develop the good.
Overlooking, or at least slighting the great philosophical truth, that
amusement is as necessary to man as bread, and fixing its gaze upon the
fact that it is capable of perversion, it has most signally failed in the
_regulation_ of popular amusements, and in teaching how to use, without
abusing them. It has withdrawn utterly from many most innocent sources of
pleasure; crying, “come out from among them;” they are not _safe_;
Christians must have nothing to do with them. And with its withdrawal, the
Devil has come in and taken full possession, and their last state is worse
than the first. When the church has touched the subject of amusements, it
has generally done so, I think, in a censorious spirit. It has selected
certain amusements as sinful, and issued decretals and resolutions against
them; it has prescribed penalties against church members who should engage
in them; leaving the question in its broader relations untouched. It has
fenced off this and that corner of the field of recreation, and put up
signs: “_all church members are warned against trespassing on these
grounds, under penalty of the law_,” instead of trying to teach Christians
how to avail themselves, with profit and safety, of any part of the field.
We are cut off from Hamlet, and Lear, and Othello and Macbeth. We cannot
avail ourselves of the interpretation of these by the best histrionic
talent, because the theater has been suffered to fall so completely into
the Devil’s hands, that a Christian cannot countenance what is good in it,
without at the same time countenancing much that is profane, licentious
and indecent. But if the intelligence and culture of a community endeavor
to apply the principle I have been advocating, and, in the shape of
private theatricals, to furnish a refined, beautiful, and instructive
dramatic exhibition, the outcry is little less than if they had leased
Wallack’s or Niblo’s, with a first class troupe; and those Christians who
witness it, are condemned as inconsistent and backsliders. Just so with
dancing. The idea of Christianity having the remotest connection with this
amusement has been scouted as absurd. A procrustean law has been
enacted—“_Thou shalt not dance_.” And surely, one would think from some
exhibitions of this amusement, that Christian leaven _had_ been pretty
thoroughly withdrawn from it. One cannot much wonder at the disgust
excited by those importations from Paris brothels, the round dances,
which, with the present style of female attire, really leave modest men at
some loss what to do with their eyes. Let us have as much thundering at
these as you will. Let us not mince words. Let ridicule, and sarcasm, and
denunciation exhaust their armories, for these are abuses; positive evils.
But these abuses are not inseparable from the amusement, which, in proper
forms, is healthy, graceful, innocent, and highly commendable. Just here
an incident occurs to me which so forcibly illustrates this last remark
that I must relate it as the involuntary testimony of an enemy. An amiable
and most excellent clergyman of this state, happened to be present one
evening when some young ladies went through a quadrille. He looked on with
great apparent pleasure. The next morning he was rallied by some of his
townsmen on having countenanced dancing by his presence; when he roundly
denied the charge, and asserted that no dancing had taken place, but only,
as he expressed it, “_a most beautiful exercise_.” Now, I ask, in the name
of common sense, why not devote a little Christian care to separating from
its abuses, and regulating in its conduct an exercise which improves the
bearing of our youth, tends to relieve their natural awkwardness in
society, and gives them innocent exhilaration? But no! _Thou shalt not
dance._ That is Alpha and Omega. Dancing is liable to abuse, and
therefore, O most astoundingly consistent logic, leave it to become a prey
to all manner of abuses and abominations. So, if a Christian household
makes the attempt to leaven this unfortunate lump, and claims that it can,
and does introduce graceful and modest dancing into its family gatherings
and social reunions, it is too often denounced as an enemy of Christ and a
corrupter of the young. For one I am glad that certain Christian families
of high standing in the church of all denominations, have at last asserted
their right to act out their own convictions in this matter, and have
demonstrated that even this much berated amusement may be elevated,
refined, and made a source of social pleasure and profit by the infusion
of Christian principle.

One more case in point. When our Young Men’s Christian Association of Troy
furnished their new rooms, they did so on the principle that prayer
meetings and religious periodicals, though important in their place, would
not, of themselves, suffice to attract young men from without. They had
tried the experiment in their forlorn rooms under a machine shop, in an
out-of-the-way place, furnished as a miniature chapel, and a very seedy
one at that, and the result was that about six months ago the Association
was in a fair way to die, and make no sign. Young men would not go to that
dismal hole to spend an evening when more attractive places abounded in
the city; and I would not if I had been in their place. But the
Association got a new lease of life. It engaged large, airy, pleasant
rooms, in a central position. It kept its prayer meeting room neatly and
appropriately furnished, but it added a large social parlor, its walls
adorned with pictures, a fine piano invitingly open, the best current
periodicals, secular and religious, upon the tables, and games of
checkers, chess, and dominoes distributed about the room. The young men
came in crowds. They were thrown at once into contact with the Christian
youth of every church in the city; with the city pastors; with committees,
specially appointed by the churches to take strangers in charge, with good
music, religious literature, and innocent amusement. For one I thanked God
with all my heart. I thought the Association had done a great Christian
deed. I hailed it as a happy omen that the Christianity of our city was
beginning to see that the Devil had tools which _it_ might use to
advantage, and was going to take them away from him. But so did not think
others who turned their backs on the Association, and denounced it as
_encouraging gambling_.

This, in short, is the course pursued to a very great extent with this
whole subject of amusements: assuming that the gospel has no business with
it except to denounce and warn; taking the leaven away from the lump,
instead of putting it in. Creating a wide separation between two things,
which, of all others in the world need to be brought into contact—religion
and pleasure.

And the practical results of this policy are before us. It may be said
that the tendency now is altogether in the direction of excess; that some
Christians are becoming much too liberal, and are fast obliterating all
old landmarks. All I have to say to this is, that the more true it is, the
better for my position. For, granting, for argument’s sake, all that is
asserted, this fact shows that there is a reaction from an old and false
sentiment, which even if excessive, is a healthy indication. And the one
error goes to prove the other; for excessive reactions are pretty sure to
grow out of excessive stringency in another direction. At any rate, the
great error of the church on this subject is clearly exposed, namely: her
failure to regulate amusements. She ought to have been the gospel’s
instrument in purifying them from abuse; but she has not been. She has
been afraid of them; has stood aloof from them; has been almost totally
absorbed in detecting their evil tendencies; and, on account of these,
forbidding Christians all contact with them. And to-day she stands
comparatively powerless in this matter. Church assemblies meet and pass
strong and elaborate resolutions on this or that amusement, condemning it,
and those who engage in it; and a few persons are deterred by these. But
every year the class is increasing that utterly disregards these mandates.
It has been said, I know, that in proportion as the church or individuals
are engaged in religious efforts, the desire for amusement declines, the
implication being that a desire for amusement characterizes only a low
state of religion. This deduction is entirely unwarranted, and the process
by which it is reached is fallacious.

It is true that in a season of deep religious interest in a church, there
will be less disposition to amusements. But the same is true of other than
religious interests. Under _any_ absorbing, popular excitement, men do not
turn to amusement. A special religious interest will draw men’s minds from
_business_ as well as from pleasure; and the inference to the condemnation
of business is just as legitimate as to that of amusement.

Again, the statement is not borne out in the ordinary religious life of
individuals. Many, very many of the best, most efficient, and most
steadily growing Christians in the church exhibit habitually a keen relish
for amusements, and for some which are most sternly condemned, and
participate in them most heartily.

And once more: while at revival seasons in individual churches, a
temporary decrease of amusements may be seen, the more important fact is
that the aggregate of Christian society has been for many years past
developing a steadily increasing interest in the subject, and a
corresponding liberality of sentiment respecting it. Scores of Christian
men have billiard tables in their houses. Colleges, from which in years
past, students would have been summarily expelled for rolling ten pins,
have now bowling alleys of their own. Even in the corridors of staid old
Williams the sound of the balls may be heard; and the revival record of
the college does not indicate that even this stupendous innovation has
wrought to the banishment of the Spirit of God. The assertors of this
inverse ratio between piety and amusement must, in short, dispose as best
they can, of the fact that along with the growth of Christian
intelligence, Christian benevolence, and Christian activity, there has
been developed in the church itself a growing sympathy with many of the
very forms of amusement most condemned by the religious sentiment of an
earlier age.

And this too, not on the part of the careless, and pleasure loving, and
half-hearted members of churches, but of men and women high in position in
the church; persons of liberal culture and unquestionable piety. These
persons, as well qualified to understand the teachings of God’s word on
this subject as any of the clergy, are asserting their right to act out
their own conscientious convictions in their amusements: claiming that
they owe to the resolutions of synods, and conventions and conferences, no
more than candid and respectful consideration, maintaining the privilege
of adopting or rejecting them at pleasure; and accordingly they are
throwing open their homes to certain banned amusements, very much to the
enhancement of home attractions; very much to the detriment of the
saloons; very much to the increase of their children’s attachment to home.
Church legislation on this subject has been a humiliating failure. It has
not compassed its intent. Nay, more, it has over-reached itself. It has
kept noble and intelligent youth out of the church by insisting on their
relinquishment of certain amusements, in the proper and moderate use of
which they were unable to see evil. It has tended by this insistence to
foster that too common sentiment which paints religion with sombre hues,
and couples it with the most forbidding associations. It has tended to
drive some to seek in the more liberal atmosphere of Unitarianism the
liberty of conscience denied them by orthodoxy; and all this it might have
avoided by a clearer recognition of the gospel teaching on this subject:
by being less afraid for the purity of the truth, and by throwing
Christian presence, and Christian participation, and Christian sentiment
boldly into the midst of the people’s amusements, with a view less to
exscind than to regulate.

I say, “less afraid for the purity of the truth.” For Christians shrink
from an experiment so bold, especially after so large a proportion of
amusements has been usurped by the Devil through their neglect to
interfere. The church is shy of a faith in the power of good which comes
eating and drinking; which sits at the table of publicans and sinners. The
conviction grows on me that Christians have too little faith in the
gospel. They do not trust it enough in popular reforms. They realize that
evil is a tremendous power, alike to be feared, whether it wear the armor
of Goliath, or sing its sweet seductions in the form of a siren; and their
instinct of preservation extends beyond themselves to the truth itself.
They regard truth as a tender stripling, to be rolled up in mufflers, and
suffered to walk out only in charge of certain staid nurses of theory; and
not as a man of war in panoply, and with strength enough to take care not
only of itself, but of them and their trusted theories too. They are
afraid the evil will overwhelm or corrupt the truth; that the leaven,
instead of imparting virtue, will be spoiled by the deadness of the lump.
We need have no such fear for it. All the developments of the age show
that the world needs it in closer contact with its evil than it has ever
been yet. It is sometimes urged that in pursuing this course, Christians
will bring upon themselves from the world the charge of inconsistency, and
moreover will grieve weak Christian brethren. But surely this principle
may be pushed too far. With the very fullest recognition of the obligation
upon Christians not to let their good be evil spoken of, and not to wrong
the weak conscience—concessions made for the sake of Christian charity are
surely not required to extend to all the vagaries of individual prejudice,
nor to the abandonment of principle. And there is a principle involved in
this question of amusements, a principle of far greater importance than
many are willing to admit; and to which, if the Christian thought of this
age do not take more pains to define it and act upon it, the eyes of the
church will be most painfully opened by and by. There is a question here
involving not only the enjoyments, but to a great extent the moral welfare
of our youth. The young will have amusements, and the question is whether
the devil or the church shall furnish them. Whether home, or the ball
room, and drinking saloon, and gambling house shall be the more
attractive. Whether Christians will resolutely take up good and noble
amusements, and give them to youth purged of their evil,—or whether they
shall let them remain girt with all their allurements, yet more widely
separated from good, and gathering yearly to themselves new elements and
associations of evil. Very probably the world, and much of the church will
assail the Christian who, in this view of the subject oversteps the line
of received opinion, with a cry of inconsistency. But remember that the
world judges the church out of its own mouth, independently of the real
merits of the case; and requires that it be consistent, not with _their_
views, but with its own as publicly expressed. Yet sometimes it is better
to be _right_ than even to be _consistent_; and if the church has with all
sincerity, yet with mistaken zeal, fostered a false sentiment on any
subject, do not Christians who discern the error owe to society the
benefit of their clearer light? Have they a right to withhold it for fear
society should turn on them and call them inconsistent? One would think
from a sentiment like this that the gospel process was to be reversed.
That not the Christian is to leaven the world, but the world the
Christian. Christian sentiment is not to wait for popular sentiment. It
claims to be in advance of it. It is to Christians and not to the world
that the promise is given, “_Ye shall know the truth_;” and Christian
thought, so far from waiting for the movement of these ever shifting
popular tides, is the luminary which God has set high in the darkness of
this world’s sin to draw the tides in his appointed channels. The
practical value of truth like that of money, consists in its circulation.
It is worth nothing hoarded up or used secretly. If it is ever to be worth
anything in correcting false impressions which society may have formed of
Christian teaching, it will be by letting it out into society to speak for
itself. Nor am I begging the question at issue here. Even an error is
better outspoken than cherished in secret. It comes into the field of
discussion, and is turned over and examined and exposed, and so truth is
the gainer after all. But I think it will be difficult to prove an error
in this case. The gospel truth is “_put the leaven into the lump_;” and
why the gospel should not be put into our amusements, even into those
which are confessedly abused, I cannot see. The more liable to abuse they
are, the more they need regulating; and the practical workings of this
principle when men have the courage to face prejudice and carry it out,
triumphantly vindicate it. The man who furnishes his son a billiard table
in his own house, where he can practice that beautiful game with his
friends without the adjuncts of liquor and rowdyism, does a good deed. He
keeps the youth at home, he keeps his associations under his own eye; he
gives him a good, healthy, intellectual amusement purged of its abuses.
The college board that erects a bowling alley for the students; that says
to young men, “rolling ten pins is not evil, but rolling ten pins in bar
rooms, surrounded by drunkards and swearers and indecent pictures _is_
evil, and we therefore give you the amusement without these associations,
and bid you enjoy it, and draw health and strength from it,”—that college
board I say, has promoted something more than _muscular_ Christianity. It
has given the young men a better opinion of religion; has withdrawn them
from the influence of temptations to which they expose themselves only
because they cannot find the amusements freed from these vile
associations. It has drawn just so much patronage from the grog shop. The
parents in whose family circle dancing in proper modes and with approved
associates and within reasonable hours is encouraged, are doing just so
much to keep their daughters from the unhealthy hours, the immodest
displays, and the indiscriminate associations of the ball room. They
deserve the thanks, not the reprobation of the church. They are the
friends, not the enemies of religion. Let us not be scared by names. Let
us not deal, as the pulpit has dealt too much, in vague generalities on
this subject. Let us see what those terrible words “billiards” and
“dancing,” and others of a similar cast mean. Let us see if they are evil
and evil only. Let us not assume that our youth are attracted to them only
by their native depravity; but see if there be not some goodness, some
beauty, some intellectual stimulus which renders them so fascinating. If
they need regulating, surely Christian wisdom can regulate them if
anything. If any can use them safely, it is Christians who are taught by
Divine grace to use this world as not abusing it, and not those who are
swayed by impulse and love of pleasure only. But the church does not
regulate them, and she never will or can regulate them on the old theory
of separation. Never, so long as she persists in wholesale denunciations
which she can sustain neither by scripture nor by logic, and against which
the common sense of the educated and thoughtful rebels. A more liberal
policy in the past, a juster appreciation of the gospel teachings on this
subject, would not only have done much towards separating amusements from
their abuses, but would have saved her from her present humiliating
attitude as the declared enemy of many forms of amusement, from
participation in which she has no power to restrain her members.

This principle has been assailed on the ground that the world will abuse
it. That they will read in words like these the church’s endorsement and
license for unlimited indulgence. But if the world draws unwarranted
inferences to suit its own depraved wishes, surely that is no reason for
suppressing the truth, but rather calls for the full and most careful
statement of it. If the world read the gospel wrongly, and wrest it to its
own destruction, those who set forth gospel principles are not
responsible, unless, as has too often been the case with reference to this
subject, the trumpet give an uncertain sound. And the world is too ready
to pervert this truth, and does pervert it. Christians, if properly
instructed, are so far from being disqualified to use amusements safely,
the best qualified of all others to develop their highest uses, and to
enjoy without abusing them. The world regards only the permission to
enjoy, and ignores the corresponding rule of restraint. In this respect it
is like the prince in the Arabian tale, who mounted the enchanted horse,
and set him in motion without having informed himself as to the means of
guiding or stopping him.

For, let me be clearly understood, I do not lay down this general
principle without recognizing the existence of practical limitations to
its action, though I assert that the fixing of these limitations belongs
chiefly if not entirely to the individual Christian conscience. I have
said that the tendency of religious teaching with reference to this and
kindred subjects has been to make the idea of _safety_ more prominent than
that of _development_. Yet I do not overlook, as was implied in the
remarks of one who objected to my views, the defensive aspect of the
gospel. I admit both the fact and its urgent necessity I could not do
otherwise, knowing that the heart is deceitful, and remembering the prayer
which Christ puts into every man’s mouth, “Lead us not into temptation.” I
am pleading for the restraints as well as for the privileges of the gospel
in the matter of men’s amusements; for more and not less care and
watchfulness to be brought to bear upon their future regulation.

But withal, I am not bound to abandon the general gospel principle of
purging amusements by a closer contact of religion with them, because in
certain cases this regulation becomes a matter of extreme difficulty and
delicacy; because I cannot precisely say _how_ the gospel leaven is to be
conveyed into certain forms of amusement. Just as consistently might I
have refused to denounce slavery as a crime against God and humanity
because I could not prescribe an effectual scheme for abolishing it. And
that such difficulties do arise in the applications of this principle, I
freely admit.

There, for example, is the theatre. I believe this principle applies to
that as well as to any other amusement. For myself I wish that I could
occasionally see Shakespeare interpreted by the best histrionic talent,
with all adjuncts of scenery and costume. To me it would be a rich
pleasure and a source of intellectual improvement. But as the theatre is
now conducted and sustained, I am clearly of the opinion that no Christian
ought to frequent it. He cannot do so without, I think, in the great
majority of instances, committing himself to very much that is indecent
and coarse. And just how this difficulty is to be surmounted, how
scholarly, Christian men who love such entertainments and are qualified to
profit by them, are to be furnished with them freed from their abuses, I
am not now prepared to say. I think it might be done; but the theatre, as
it now is, is no place for a Christian.

This, however does not, as before observed, in the least invalidate the
general principle. It is merely a question of means. Nor, as was very
roundly asserted, does the principle lead to this conclusion that every
Christian man must have his box at theatre or opera. It by no means
follows that such a course would produce the desired effect. It would be
just about as pertinent to argue that because a sewer in a certain street
needed cleansing, and because a proper array of men and buckets and brooms
would cleanse it, therefore every man and woman on the streets, grave
doctors of divinity, stately Mr. Dombey, Flora McFlimsey and Edmund
Sparkler, should each shoulder broomstick or bucket, and plunge pell mell
into the reeking filth. This argument proceeds upon the assumption that
Christians can purge amusements only by using them in the forms and with
the appliances attendant upon the world’s abuse of them. This is assuming
altogether too much. We must get religion into these things, but there are
various ways of doing it. You cannot sow broadcast in all soils.

I do not know whether I ought notice one other line of reply to these
remarks; but as it seems to be a favorite one, and moreover was adopted by
some who I was surprised to see descending to it, I will add a few words
on this.

It may be described as an attempt to invalidate a principle by showing
that its application to persons of widely different times and
circumstances involves an absurdity and then from the absurdity inferring
a sin. I do not pretend to give the exact words used, but they were in
this style: “Think of Paul dancing; or Peter playing billiards! Do you
think we shall have checker-boards in heaven?” And much more of the same

Now this is not argument. It is sheer nonsense; and most unworthy trifling
over a serious subject. The reasoning, if it be worthy the name, is simply
this; Certain things appear incongruous with our ideas of the character
and work of certain men: therefore these things are sinful. It is the
easiest thing in the world to invent situations of this kind. Such men as
Paul and Peter are associated in our minds with but one set of ideas;—with
one great, glorious, solemn work; and their association with any inferior
matter affects us unpleasantly at first. Even when we think of Paul making
tents, there is at first view something that clashes in our mind with the
speech on Mars Hill, and the healing of the cripple at Lystra. But who
thinks of disputing from this the propriety of Paul’s own hands
ministering to his necessities? After all, if there is no sin in rolling
ten pins, I know not why Peter should not have participated in that very
excellent and healthful recreation with as much propriety as any of the
numerous ministers of the present day who “roll” with so much zest and
assiduity at our fashionable watering places. Think of Paul dancing! Well,
think of him! Think of Paul wearing a blue swallow-tailed coat with brass
buttons! How he would have looked under the shadow of the Acropolis, the
winds of the Ægean gently swaying his cerulean skirts, and the eager faces
of Stoic and Epicurean reflected in the bright buttons! Think of Peter
skating; cutting figures of eight, and performing “outer edge backwards!”
Think of John in a white cravat; or of Bartholomew putting up seidlitz
powders; or of Timothy running with a fire-engine! How _would_ they have
looked? Therefore hasten ye trim gentlemen, to doff your guilty blue and
brass, and don the toga. Lay aside your skates, boys. Peter would have
looked very strangely skating, therefore it is sinful to skate. Tear off
your white chokers, ye Reverends, and throw away your pestles ye
apothecaries, and be like the apostles. Shall we have checker-boards in
heaven? No, brother, I presume not. Neither shall we marry, nor be given
in marriage; but pray don’t condemn us to celibacy on that ground while we
remain upon earth. “Would you play chess on your death-bed?” Probably not,
my friend. Neither would I put on my boots, or do a great many other very
innocent things. Death stands out in startling contrast to _all_ our
employments: to business and study, as well as to recreation; and you
would find it vastly inconvenient to act upon the principle that nothing
must be done which you would not do on your death-bed.

But enough of this. I come now to the one practical application of these
principles out of which this whole discussion has grown.

When our Troy Christian Association adopted the practice of introducing
games into their rooms, I gave it my hearty approval. My opinion on this
subject has been confirmed by what I have seen and heard of the results of
the experiment. It was based on the principles I have been advocating in
this paper, and on the farther consideration, growing out of these, that
we must take some of the devil’s weapons and sanctify them before we could
successfully fight him on his own ground. As remarked already,
prayer-meetings will not draw irreligious young men into the sphere where
we want them. Give them first well lighted and warmed apartments,
handsomely furnished, where they can find music and books and newspapers
and games, and you stand some chance then of drawing them into the
prayer-meetings. And indeed the direct religious influence of these
associations, while highly important, is nevertheless subordinate to their
work in bringing young men into contact with the various churches of the
community, where the religious appliances are of course more perfect. The
great point is to get them into some position where the churches can reach
them. They will not come to church, many of them, when they first enter
the community. The church has but limited facilities for finding them out
in their stores and boarding-houses and schools; and it may find therefore
a powerful auxiliary in these associations, which bring the stranger youth
where it can bring its influences to bear on them. But for this purpose
the place of rendezvous must be made attractive. We must have
head-quarters as pleasant as the devil’s. I hope all of you have read the
article in _Guthrie’s Sunday Magazine_ for January, 1866, entitled “_The
house that beats the public house;_” that splendid iron structure in
Colne, Lancashire, built expressly for the irreligious working class.
There are fountains, and pictures, and games, cabinets and books and
newspapers. There are quiet reading rooms, there are refreshment rooms,
even smoking rooms. There is a school room, there are musical
entertainments on stated nights, there are religious services on Sabbath
evenings. “On Christmas eve, 1863,” says the writer, “the musicians at one
of the public houses piped for some time, but no dancers presented
themselves, till at length the players themselves adjourned to the meeting
at the Iron School. An attempt to open the theatre that winter failed
through the same influence. The actors, after struggling for a week in the
face of empty benches, left the place in despair.”

Here is a clear and successful recognition of the truth that religion has
not such strong alliance with the unregenerate heart that she can afford
to dispense with all legitimate aids and recommendations. The firemen have
their upper parlor in the engine house furnished richly and tastefully.
The drinking saloons are invested with all the attractions that marble,
and glass, and drapery and pictures can give them. One man who appeared
last week before the excise commissioners, said he had expended ten
thousand dollars in fitting up his saloon. He knew it would pay; and we
cannot expect irreligious young men to be drawn away from these by mere
religious appliances. We must employ other attractions. We must make our
houses beat the public houses. We must sanctify new forces for this end.
Pictures and cabinets, carpets and draperies, music and games are not the
devil’s any more than they are ours. Young men will have some retreat
beside their comfortless boarding-houses; some society besides their
landlord’s family, and it is a match between the devil and the church
which of us shall furnish these. Depend upon it, if the church do not give
them amusement, regulated on a liberal Christian basis, the devil will
give them abundance that is unregulated. God forbid that Christian
squeamishness should suffer them to turn aside to the house whose gates
lead to hell, and to habits which shall make mothers curse the day they
gave them birth.

I will give two incidents showing the practical working of this new system
in the Troy Association. A member of my church, walking in the street one
evening, saw three young men just before him, and overheard one say to the
others, “Come, let’s go and take a drink.” One of the others replied, “No,
I don’t care to take a drink. Let’s go to the Christian Association
Rooms.” “Pshaw!” said the third, “I don’t want to go there to prayer
meeting.” “No, no,” was the response; “they’ve got a right nice place
there, and we can have a good time.” He went on describing the rooms, and
then added: “_and they’re for just such fellows as we are_.” He gained his
point, and they followed him to the rooms.

Three clubs of young men, or boys rather, were broken up soon after the
new rooms were opened. I do not know their character fully, but have been
told that drinking was practiced at their meetings. They now frequent the
rooms of the society, and pay over into its treasury their club
subscriptions. There are many more of such cases. They speak with trumpet
tongues as to the value of this policy. They show that its practical
influence is against the groggery and the gambling saloon, and if it work
no other result, that of itself is vindication enough.

And now I leave the subject. I do not shrink from the application of this
Bible principle to our amusements. The other, the separative policy, the
keeping of leaven and lump apart, has been tried, and has failed, utterly

Will it not be well to try another policy? I want for our youth a
Christianity that shall not relax one iota of its obligation to God or to
man. That shall not bate one jot from an entire consecration of heart and
life to God; that shall walk closely with God, and feel as deeply as human
weakness can feel, the necessity of watchfulness and of divine care to
keep it from temptation. I challenge any man to draw undue license from
the principles I have asserted. But I want more joy brought out of the
world by Christians. I want the gospel carried boldly into some things
from which it has been kept aloof. I want Christian life to be in the
spirit more than in the letter. I do not plead for less but for more
conformity to the spirit and teaching of Christ. Not for a lower but for a
higher Christian life; for a wider application of gospel principles, a
more implicit trust in the leavening power of truth; a more practical
belief in the assertion that the weapons of our warfare are mighty through
God to the pulling down of strongholds. I want Christian conscience
clothed with principles and not with dogmas. I want the word of God read
and interpreted fairly, and that allowed which it allows. I protest
against its being twisted and perverted into rules for the unnecessary
abridgment of Christian liberty, where it lays down only general
principles for the conscience. I want less of the religion that is

“Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern,”

and more of that which is full of child-like trust in the love of God and
the power of truth, and of freedom purged by love from license.


              A Communion Sermon, Delivered Sept. 16, 1866,

              In The First Presbyterian Church, Troy, N. Y.

    Rom. xii, 2. “_And be not conformed to this world: but be ye
    transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what
    is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God_.”

By itself, this command is ambiguous. Common sense testifies that, in very
many things, every Christian _must_, more or less, conform to the world.
Many of the world’s customs are not only harmless, but salutary,
beautiful, ennobling, necessary to the very being of society. We need some
test by which to interpret this command.

Let us first endeavor, as a means of discovering it, to clear away a
preliminary error, viz.: the not uncommon idea that difference from the
world is a matter of any value or consequence of itself. A great many
persons, lamenting over real or supposed deficiencies of Christians, make
this the staple of their complaint; _you cannot distinguish them from the
world:_ and when urging upon them some duty, or the relinquishment of some
practice, enforce it by the argument, Christians should aim to be distinct
from the world.

There is truth in this, but there is also falsehood. Christians, _real_
Christians, will always be distinct from the world, and the distinction
will be very clearly defined. But Christians should not make it their
_object_ to be distinct from the world. They should aim to be Christians,
and let the distinction follow in its natural order and degree.
Singularity, in itself, is no virtue. It is just as likely to be a vice. A
man is not necessarily better because he is unlike the rest of the world.
Difference from the world, therefore, is not an _end_ of Christian
discipline, but a result and concomitant of it. This distinction is of the
utmost importance. If distinctiveness is regarded as an _object_ of
Christian effort, its value is sacrificed. Its tendency is to formality;
to the substitution of a variety of _outward_ standards of duty for a
single _inward_ regulative principle. To pride and self-righteousness on
the ground of singularity. Such have been its developments, for instance,
in certain religious sects who insisted on plainness of dress as a duty.
Undoubtedly the spirit which originally prompted the requisition was good,
Christlike. It was the desire to take from the useless adornment of the
person and bestow upon objects of Christian effort and charity. It was the
desire to remove temptations to vanity and idle display. But in too many
cases these things were forgotten. Christians received the precept in the
letter and not in the spirit. They came to insist on plainness of dress as
a mark of a true Christian, and forgot that materials of plain or sad
colors might be as costly and rich as gayer ones. They came to pride
themselves on their plainness as a distinction from the rest of the world.
They said bitter and unchristian things against the man who should carry a
gold watch or the woman who should wear a feather or a ribbon. They
perverted scripture to uphold this ridiculous whim, and brought scorn upon
themselves and reproach upon the cause of Christ, because they turned
their eyes from the inward, regulative power of the gospel to one of its
natural developments, and looked at that until it grew out of all

How then are we rightly to apply this command?

The apostle, in giving us an answer, takes up the question at the very
point at which most inquirers do, viz.: at the matter of _sacrifice_. For
this is the way in which it presents itself to most minds. In order not to
be conformed to the world, I must sacrifice much that is of the world.
What, now, may I retain, and what must I relinquish?

And in Paul’s answer, he strikes directly at any such method of putting
the question. Non-conformity to the world involves sacrifice, it is true,
but not a sacrifice made in any such spirit as this—a spirit that ere it
gives itself to Christ, sits down and begins to sort its possessions,
pleasures, pursuits, into two piles, saying: “this for God, this for the
world: this goes back to my treasure house, this I throw away.” Not so. He
sweeps the whole into one heap, and says, “I beseech you brethren, by the
mercies of God, that ye _present your bodies a living sacrifice, and be
transformed by the renewing of your mind_.” He asks that the _whole man_,
with all his belongings, be made an offering to God, even as he says in
another place, “the very God of peace sanctify you _wholly_, and I pray
God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He rises above details of sacrifice to a
sacrifice which includes and regulates all details; and in so doing he is
but insisting upon the precept of Christ: “If any man will be my disciple,
let him _deny himself_.” And notice particularly the meaning of this
precept which is so generally but half understood. It is not, let him cut
himself off from this thing or that thing, but let him _deny himself_;
literally, let him _say that self is not_, and that the will of Christ is
_everything_. Holding fast this principle a man cannot greatly err. The
will of Christ and the will of the world are so diametrically opposite,
that he cannot go toward the one without going away from the other. A man
has no business to waste time pondering over the _details_ of his
sacrifice for Christ’s sake, tormenting himself with deciding between what
is right and what is wrong; what is worldly and what is heavenly. The will
of Christ once heartily embraced as a rule of life will teach him to
decide. Christ received into the heart will regulate its affinities and
repulsions. The law of the _spirit_ of life in Christ Jesus shall make the
soul free from the law of sin and death, so that it shall hate the things
it once loved, and love those it once despised.

Young people often come to their pastor saying: “If I become a Christian,
must I give up such and such things? Must I discharge such and such
duties?” And for myself I reply to them—“I have no answer to give you. I
will not encourage you to come to Christ in this mean, bargain-making
spirit. If your conscience tells you a thing is wrong, as it does in many
cases, you have no need to ask me if Christ will require its
relinquishment. You know he will, without any compromise. But when it
comes to any doubtful matter, waive that question. You have nothing
whatever to do with it now. Christ requires of you to be willing to obey
him implicitly in all things, without regard to your own feelings or
preferences, your own prosperity or safety, no matter what duties or
sacrifices obedience involves; and I simply ask you _are you willing to do
this?_ If you are not, Christ does not want you. A young man goes to a
recruiting office to enlist. The sergeant examines him, and says: ‘you are
just the kind of man I want. Here, put down your name. Your bounty is so
much; your pay will be so much.’ The recruit takes the pen in his hand,
but stops suddenly in the act of writing his name, and says: ‘How far
shall I be required to march daily? What kind of a tent shall I have? Must
I do picket duty beyond regular hours? To what kind of a climate am I to
be sent?’ How long do you suppose the officer would keep patience with
such a man? How many of these questions would he pretend to answer, even
if he could? He would simply say to the man: ‘we make no terms with you,
sir, beyond your bounty and pay. If you enlist, you do so with the
understanding that a soldier has nothing to do but obey orders; to serve
where, when, and how he may be directed. If you want to know these things,
enlist, and you will find out when you are in service.’ Just so I say to
one who begins inquiring into the details of Christ’s service: If you want
to find out, enlist. Commit your life to Christ’s keeping. Devote yourself
to Christ’s service, and ‘if any man _wills_ to do his will, he shall know
of the doctrine.’ An inquirer for salvation, tormenting himself about what
he must do and what relinquish, forgets that he is in no condition to
decide such a question. To decide it he wants just that spiritual insight
and those new affinities which faith in Christ and the consequent renewal
of his nature will give him. He wants to see these things from a
stand-point which he has not yet attained. He had far better let them go
for the present, and concentrate his resolution on this one point: ‘I give
myself to Jesus without reserve. Whatever he tells me I may enjoy I will
endeavor to enjoy in his love and fear. Whatever he bids me cast away,
though it be a right hand, I will cut it off and cast it from me.’ ” A
young man once came to me saying: “There seems to be but one thing in the
way of my entire surrender to Christ. If I become a Christian, and a
member of the church, I don’t see how I can ever take any public part in
the religious meetings. If I could only decide whether God required this
of me, I think my way would be clear.” I said to him, “My brother, you are
not called on to settle that question now. You have no means of deciding
it. You had better drop it altogether for the present. God has promised
that if you will commit your ways unto him he will direct you. Now I
believe you sincerely want to do God’s will, and that you are ready,
whenever he shall show it you, to pledge yourself to do your duty. Leave
the matter there; and if, at any time, this duty should be thrust upon
you, do it in God’s name and strength.” He soon after joined the church,
and has borne himself since with a fidelity and devotion which speak well
for the thoroughness of the work of grace in him.

Now this is what the apostle means by a _living_ sacrifice. This spirit of
consecration infused into sacrifice fills it with life. The sacrifice
becomes “living” only when self dies; when the man says

“Here Lord, I give myself away:
’Tis all that I can do.”

The other method of securing nonconformity to the world by acting for the
mere sake of difference or according to circumstances, constitutes a dead
sacrifice. Such were the sacrifices of the Pharisees. They thanked God
they were not as other men; but the difference was but outward. To the
spectator’s eye they were not conformed to the world. They did not dress
like it. Their prayers were longer and more frequent. They did not eat
with publicans and sinners. But these differences had become the chief end
of their religious life. Their development was like arranging the limbs of
a corpse for exhibition. They were not the natural, spontaneous outgrowths
of a living inward principle; and hence the Pharisees have passed into
history as the representative hypocrites of all time.

The essential character of this self-sacrifice will farther appear from a
correct understanding of the phrase _reasonable service_. On this, two
things must be remarked. 1st, that the expression does not belong to the
words “_living sacrifice_” alone, but to the whole exhortation. In other
words, it is not the _living sacrifice_ which is a reasonable service, but
the presenting the bodies a living sacrifice, “holy, acceptable unto God.”
2dly, it is to be noted that the expression “_reasonable __ service_” is
very commonly misunderstood to mean a service which is proper or becoming;
which we have the best of all reasons for rendering. This is all true; but
this is not what the text means. It signifies a service whose main spring
is in the _thinking, reasoning, spiritual_ department of man’s nature—a
spiritual service rendered to a God who is a spirit, and who requireth to
be worshiped in spirit and in truth. Of such Peter says: “ye also, as
lively stones, are built up _a spiritual house_, a holy priesthood, to
offer up _spiritual sacrifices_ acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” In
pursuance of this idea, the apostle, in our text, after speaking of the
presenting of _the body_ as a living sacrifice, and of such a presentation
as a _reasoning_ service, gives us the key to the whole thought by his
final exhortation, “be ye transformed by the _renewing of your mind_;” so
that it is clear that the outward conformity of the body to God’s will, is
made both a living sacrifice and a reasoning service by having its
mainspring in a renewed mind. Only thus will the body be offered alive to
God. Only thus will the mind be truly transformed. All the outward
developments of the life will then bear the stamp of a reasoning service.
The way of peace will be chosen from conviction. The will, self-impelled,
will set toward God. The conscience will be alive with a divinely inspired
sensitiveness. All the affections and desires, of their own accord, will
stretch their hands towards Christ, and the renewed man will daily realize
that the water which Jesus gives is _in_ him, living water, springing up
into everlasting life.

It is then clear, I think, from what has been said, that nonconformity to
the world is not the _aim_, but one of the incidents of Christian life.
The Christian’s _aim_ is distinctly stated here to be the proving of the
will of God—that which is good, acceptable and perfect. Yet nonconformity
to the world will develop itself as a _necessary incident_ of Christian
living. Being transformed by the renewing of the mind, the outward life
will necessarily be transformed also, and will cease to be conformed to
the world. The soul which desires that which is good, acceptable, perfect,
can no longer find affinity with that which is bad, imperfect, and
displeasing to God. The differences are not incidental, they are generic.
The Christian and the world belong to different orders; are regulated by
different laws. The Christian is, as it were, grafted upon the new stock,
and can no more bear the fruit of his old sinful life, than the ingrafted
branch can bear its former fruit. Old things have passed away. All things
have become new. He is a new creature in Christ Jesus. These differences
have not to be marked by finely drawn lines of casuistry. There are indeed
points at which the worldly and the Christian life run for a little way
parallel. Points where neither party can very well act differently from
the other. But for all that, the divergence is wide enough at many other
points to leave no doubt. I am speaking now of _true_ Christians,
thoroughly renewed in the spirit of their mind; courageous, unflinching,
consistent Christians: not of those whifflers and compromisers who call
themselves Christians, and who try to trim between God and the world, so
as to relinquish no advantages on the side of either. A man cannot live
many hours by the rule of Christ without coming into direct issue with the
world. And now, as to these points of difference, they are, of course, too
numerous to be dealt with in detail. And I can, therefore, only call your
attention to one or two classes of them.

1st: On which I need not dwell, is the class of _worldly sins_. Of course
the transformed man will not be conformed to the world in these. Not that
a Christian never errs, by any means, but that the general current of his
life will set in the direction of pleasing God, and away from those things
which are plainly contrary to his will.

2d. A marked difference develops itself in the region of the motives, the
tempers, the dispositions, and the principles of action. Sometimes it is
difficult to pronounce upon these differences with certainty, yet some of
them are easily recognizable. Two men will often do precisely the same
thing from different motives. A Christian and a worldly man, for example,
are foully abused by a profane ruffian. Both receive the abuse in silence,
and go their way without bestowing any attention upon him. But the two are
commonly actuated by very different impulses. The one turns away with
anger and loathing, and is silent because it is beneath his dignity to
reply, or to notice the aggressor. The other, though tempted to anger,
remembers the example of him whom he serves. Who, when he was reviled,
reviled not again and leaves the railer, striving to pity his ignorance,
and to forget his insult. Pride accomplishes, outwardly, in the one case,
what Christian humility does in the other. So in cases of great
affliction, it is sometimes hard to decide, from outward indications,
whether divine grace or native force of will is the stronger. The worldly
man will exhibit equal composure with the Christian; will seem, for the
time, to accept the visitation with no less equanimity than the other. But
those who are much with men under such circumstances, and come perhaps as
close to their hearts as it is possible for man to do, recognize a very
decided difference. They know that the composure which springs from
stoicism, iron nerve, indomitable will, is a different thing from that
which is born of submission and resignation to the will of God. That the
one but crowds the sharp grief deeper into the heart, and shuts up the
fountain of healing tears, and makes the man hard and sullen and defiant,
and chills his sympathies, and disposes him to solitary brooding, and
after all, gives way at last, and leaves him a broken reed, while the
other finds in the breach which God made in his cherished plans, an
opening through which heaven smiles on him, rises on the ruins of his
wrecked hopes to a purer and more unselfish life, draws sweetness out of
his sorrow, and wins a firmer trust in God, and a deeper and more
comprehensive sympathy for his sorrowing brethren everywhere. These
differences are endless. They cover every variety of experience. The world
talks of the dignity of man, asserts his knowledge and his unimpaired
judgment. The Christian distrusts his deceitful heart and fallen nature,
and becomes a little child that he may know the truth. The world walks by
sight and sneers at faith. Faith is the Christian’s atmosphere, out of
which he cannot breathe freely. The world talks of law, the Christian of
providence. The world knows God, either vaguely, as a deity to be feared
for his power, and but dimly apprehended by man, or as a mere aggregate of
laws divorced from any real, apprehensible personality. The Christian
communes and walks with him daily as a tender, loving, and wise father.

But I hasten to a third class of differences, with which I shall deal more
at length: I mean those which appear in the Christian’s conduct respecting
those things which he uses in common with the world. Under this head falls
that large class of actions, which, _in themselves considered_, have no
moral value, but acquire one from the end they are made to serve, the
manner in which they are pursued, or the motive in which they originate.
On these arise the most perplexing of all moral questions, the most subtle
cases of conscience, and too often, I grieve to say, the most acrimonious
discussions. Under this head are included most of those vexed questions as
to amusements, dress, meat and drink, and the like. And this text, I am
sorry to say, has been made the basis for inculcating some most false and
pernicious doctrines concerning these things.

Now it seems to me that very many of the difficulties which arise on these
subjects are quite unnecessary, and would be in great part destroyed by
resting upon the simple, unequivocal testimony of the Bible. I do not
think that God’s Word is at all wanting in explicitness on these points.
Here is this text for instance. Nothing can be plainer. It tells us our
first great duty is to submit our wills to God’s will; to commit ourselves
to his guidance without reserve, a living sacrifice; to be transformed;
and that when this shall have been done, we shall know what the will of
God is; we shall practically prove what is good and acceptable and
perfect, and, as a matter of course, shall not be conformed to the sinful
principles and practices of the world. Now it follows from this that
whatever is good and acceptable and perfect, not opposed to the new
principle of life in us, is ours, given us by God to use and enjoy; and
that in the use and enjoyment of it within the limits he prescribes, we
_are not conformed to the world_ in any bad sense. I say this, well aware
that every one of these things contains capabilities for abuse, and that
the world does most sadly abuse them; and this brings me directly to my
point that the difference between Christians and the world as respects
these things is to be developed _in the proper use and regulation by
Christians of what the world abuses_. Christians are not to be driven from
every point which the world sees fit to occupy by the hue and cry of
nonconformity. They are to remember that in these things there is a duty
to be done as well as a pleasure to be enjoyed, and that they are to show
their nonconformity, not by abandoning, but by refusing to conform to the
world’s excesses, and by insisting on the restraining principles of God’s
Word. Let us here hold closely by the opening thought of our discussion,
that conformity to the world _in itself_ is no sin, and nonconformity _in
itself_ no virtue. Conformity to the world is sinful when the world’s
practice is sinful and not otherwise.

Now this is a very plain rule. It is Christ’s rule. Paul takes it directly
from Christ. But I am aware that another question enters here, namely,
that of expediency. There may be private considerations tending to make
the relinquishment of a harmless thing expedient for you or for me. There
may be considerations growing out of your relations to others which may
render use inexpedient. In such cases, expediency, of course, assumes _to
you_ the obligation of law. But as regards these cases no man can decide
for you. The Bible throws them on your own conscience. Let every man be
fully persuaded _in his own mind_. Expediency is a matter for individuals.
No law can be laid down for it. The two things necessarily exclude each
other. If you lay it down that such a course is expedient for _every one_,
you remove the matter at once from the region of expediency, and put it on
the ground of law; and this course no man nor body of men is ever
justified in pursuing. Such a step trenches on the sacred enclosure of the
individual moral sense, a holy of holies, into which man and his Maker
alone enter. At the same time, abundant light will be given to every
humble, faithful child of Christ, to settle these questions of expediency.
When love to God is the moving principle of a man’s life, it develops in
him an insight which guides him unerringly through questions where
casuistry would become hopelessly entangled. You may see the same truth
illustrated in your own homes. See that loving, obedient child, whose
highest delight is to perform your behest and anticipate your wishes. How
very few errors that child commits, even in cases where you have laid down
no rule. It reaches the knowledge of your wishes through a kind of
instinct as reliable as it is undefinable. Surely faith ought to teach us
to expect a clew through such mazes from a Father who has promised that he
will direct the paths of those who acknowledge him.

And here, I insist, whether the question be one of law or of expediency,
has been a grave error of the church in not trusting enough to this inward
principle of life in the soul, to this insight of love, to regulate the
outward developments of the life, and to prevent the obliteration of the
lines between the church and the world. She has busied herself too much
with details, and not enough with that which lies back of them; too much
with the circumference and not enough with the centre. Christ teaches us
that if the fountain be pure, the streams must be pure. But the church, in
her unconscious distrust of the purifying power of the fountain, has
thrown into the streams such abundance of mint, anise, and cummin, that
the taste of the original water is sometimes sadly impaired. Too often,
while she has been busy with the streams, the fountain head has been
gathering unsuspected poison. While I recognize the church’s duty to watch
carefully over Christ’s flock, to counsel, rebuke, restrain, I think that
she has encouraged, in many cases, by her want of faith in the power of
the relation between Christ and the believer, an artificial religious
life, a factitious conscience, a life wanting the freedom and naturalness
of movement properly engendered by the gospel. I think she should have
insisted more on having this clearly defined and constantly maintained,
more on a full assurance, and a lively faith, and an ever burning love,
and less on details which these would have regulated of themselves. I
believe that if she had done this, and moreover had preached the word
literally and boldly to the people, had told the people their privilege to
use God’s gifts, and pointed them to the principle of love to God as
competent to regulate use, and not twisted its declarations into warrants
for the abridgment of Christian liberty,—there would be in the church
to-day more simple, strong, manly, intelligent piety, and far less
conformity to the world. This distinction between safe and unsafe truths
is a Romish and not a Protestant idea; and the temporary gain secured by
acting upon it is more than counterbalanced by the final pernicious

It is far safer for me and for you that I preach this truth to you boldly
and plainly; and I have a special object in bringing it to your notice
now, at this solemn season when you are reviewing the past, and making a
new consecration of yourselves to the service of Christ.

Here, as you renew your original vow to come out from the world, it is
well that you do this with no vague idea of what you promise. What I shall
now say applies to most if not all of you, but especially to the younger
members of the church. As you enter upon a season of special religious
activity, you also enter upon a season which society is wont to devote
largely to pleasure. Ere another communion season shall have come round,
the season for evening entertainments and festal gatherings, will be at
its height. From the nature of circumstances you will be called upon to
participate in these more or less; and it is at these points that the
temptation to conformity to the world will be most likely to assail you.

Most of you are probably aware of the ground I have recently taken before
the public on the subject of amusements; a position which has excited
considerable comment, and some censure. I do not see why it should. There
is nothing novel in my views on this subject. I have merely stated the
gospel principle, the principle which Christ propounded, and by which he
lived—that the proper and only way to preserve our pleasures or anything
else from abuse, is to put Christian leaven into them. That our duty in
such matters, is not to give them over bodily to the devil and to the
world, to be abused and perverted at their pleasure; but to save them from
such perversion, and make them legitimate instruments of Christian joy and
growth, by using them in the name and under the law of Christ. If these
things are evil, we have no right to have anything to do with them. If
they are, though not evil in themselves, so under the dominion of evil,
and so dependent upon evil for support, as the theatre, for example, is,
that Christian participation cannot separate them from their abuses, we
ought to abandon them. But as to the general principle, that it is abuse
and not proper use which Christ condemns, and that many of the things
which the devil has usurped, are as much yours as his, there can be no
doubt. I have not one word to modify or retract of what I have written on
this subject. Challenged, I would reiterate it word for word, if I knew I
should go from this pulpit to my grave. And I dare any Christian to draw
from what I have written, or from what I have said to-day, license for
improper conformity to the world. If you do so, depend on it, _you_ and
not _I_ will be condemned. And I rejoice especially to-day, in having
assumed this position; because I have never had so good ground from which
to counsel you as to your intercourse with the world of pleasure. If I
were to put this matter to you on the ground of men’s rules and decrees,
if I were to try and show you, by subtle hair-splitting, that this thing
is one degree more capable of abuse than that thing; and that, therefore,
you may use that, and must abandon this, I should expose myself to
merciless logic, and to just ridicule. I leave this ground entirely. I put
myself on God’s word, and say to you this morning, be not conformed to
this world. I say to you as the first, the indispensable requisite for
deciding in what conformity consists, see that your relations to Christ
are properly adjusted. Present yourselves living sacrifices to him. Be
transformed by the renewing of your mind. Submit your will to the will of
God without reserve. Then shall you be able to prove what is his will,
what is good and acceptable and perfect. Then shall your judgment be so
enlightened as to enable you to render a reasoning, a reasonable, a
thoughtful and discriminating service. This is the first thing.

For this I pray for you. For this I am anxious for you, that you be
vitally united to Christ; that you have a living, active faith in him; a
clear witness of your acceptance with him, an ever burning love for him.
If you have these, I know that the details of your lives, whether they
concern your pleasures, or your business, or your studies, will take care
of themselves. But remember this prerequisite. Do not go away saying, “my
pastor says I may lawfully indulge in this or that, and I need give myself
no further trouble about it.” I say to you no such thing. I say that you
want your whole nature renewed by the indwelling of Christ, and that
without this you are not safe in the world one moment. That without this
you are in continual danger of conformity to the world. Without this you
are in no condition to decide in what you may engage, or how far you may
engage in it without abuse. Withal, you _will_ need to trouble yourself
about these matters; to study God’s law; to watch closely your own heart
and life; to avoid needless temptation; to exercise strong resolution when
pleasure beckons you beyond the bounds erected by Christian duty. I bid
you rejoice in your youth. I bid you use those amusements which are
innocent in themselves, freely and with gratitude to God, but to beware of
their abuse. I can safely tell you some things which God’s word will teach
you as to this matter. It will tell you that where you make pleasure the
end and rule of your life, and duty the exception, you are guilty of
abuse. It will tell you that when pleasure saps the fountains of your
health, when it steals away your hours of sleep, and tempts you to
excessive indulgence of appetite at an hour which nature prescribes for
the rest and recuperation of your organs, when it leads you to expose
yourself to sickness by inadequate clothing—it is a gross abuse for which
God will hold you accountable. It will tell you that when any description
of pleasure trenches on the limits of modesty, it is an abuse; that the
public embracing of young men and women in the vile dances of the day, is
an offense against decency, an abomination against which manly nobleness
and maidenly delicacy ought to cry out with all their power. It will tell
you that when pleasure of any kind interferes with your covenant
obligations to the church, and keeps you from the ordinances of God’s
house, it is an abuse; a conformity to the world, against which God warns
you in this text.

Come then and give yourselves to Christ, not repelled by any false,
ascetic views of his religion, but believing, as his word entitles you to
believe, that it is the promoter of innocent joy, of healthy and grateful
recreation, of the highest and purest pleasures. Come, and he shall show
you by his own life how to be in the world, yet not of it. How to live in
strictest conformity to duty, and yet be free indeed, and exhibit to the
world a broad, noble, generous Christian life—a life in the spirit and not
in the letter. He shall teach you to live by the insight of love, and not
by the prescriptions of a bare scheme of duty. Oh, that you may grow to
the stature of perfect men and women in Christ; that you may be living
examples of a reasoning service, models of a piety, enthusiastic yet
judicious; all aglow with the love of Christ carried into every detail of
your lives, into your pleasures, your conversation, your business;
bringing everything, great and small, into conformity with the law of
Christ, and making the whole life move sweetly and harmoniously round him.
You will not then be a worldly church. You will not then be stumbling
blocks to the kingdom of Christ. You will be living epistles, read and
known of all men, and they, seeing your good works, shall glorify your
father which is in Heaven.


         A Sermon Delivered on Sabbath Morning, November 4, 1866,

                 In The First Presbyterian Church, Troy,

         At The Request of The Young Men’s Christian Association.

    2 Sam. xviii, 5. “_And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and
    Ittai saying, deal gently for my sake with the young man, even
    with Absalom._”

There are few passages of Holy writ more beautiful or suggestive than
this. Notwithstanding the astounding character of Absalom’s rebellion;
though the mind of the sovereign and father of his people is torn with
indignation at this outrage upon his throne and person, and is busy with
plans for the security of his kingdom and the repulse of the invader;
though David is stunned and bewildered at this high handed display of
ingratitude and rebellion on the part of his favorite child, the father
finds place to assert itself amid the cares of the sovereign, and to
breathe a word of caution to his generals respecting the person of his
dearly loved boy.

In accordance with the request of the Young Men’s National Christian
Convention to the churches, I propose to devote this service to a
discussion of their relations to the church. I take this text as setting
forth a similar charge given by our Lord and King Christ to his militant
church, to deal gently with the young man. I therefore invite your
attention to the following points respecting the relations of young men to
the church:

I. The church _must_ deal with them.
II. The church _ought_ to deal with them.
III. How the church should deal with them.

I. _The church must deal with young men._

Absalom, however foolish and wicked his revolt, however strange his
rebellion against his royal father, notwithstanding his youth and
inexperience, was a stubborn fact, with which the leaders and counselors
and armies of the kingdom found themselves obliged to deal. Otherwise
David would have been dethroned and his authority violently usurped. If
not dealt with so as to suppress him, he must be dealt with in the more
unpleasant capacity of a suppressor and tyrant.

Young men are a fact in society; and as such cannot be without relations
to the church. Not only so, they are an important fact; a prominent fact;
a potent fact. They are a force in the business, the social, the
political, the governmental relations of the community. If they have not
wisdom, they have strength and energy. If they have not caution, they have
enterprise. If they have not experience, they have tact, intelligence and
knowledge. If they refuse to follow old rules, they succeed ofttimes in
the use of their own methods. Society concedes much to them, entrusts them
with serious responsibilities, seeks them for positions of power and
influence, is powerfully swayed in whatever direction they choose, as a
body, to throw themselves, applauds and welcomes their success.

The relations of such a body to the church of Christ must be important.
This mass of manly strength, energy, independence, intelligence and
enterprise must, if set on fire with Christian ardor and enlisted on her
behalf, greatly conduce to her prosperity; while it cannot but be a
serious hindrance to her success if this element is neutral, or arrayed
against her. If neutral, indeed, it is against her. If she have not the
young men incorporated with her membership, at work in her sabbath
schools, in regular attendance on her ordinances, woven into her social
relations, throwing their strength and generosity and enthusiasm into her
benevolent enterprises, contributing their fresh thought to her
assemblies, working, through the closer intimacies which mark their age,
to increase her numbers, she will have to move under the drag applied by
their indifference, resist their fascinations exerted in drawing others
away from her standard, contend sharply against the skepticism to which
youth is naturally prone, and if they are won at last, win them when the
freshness of youth is gone, and by a double expenditure of power. The
church _must_ deal with them as the friends or as the enemies of religion;
must appropriate or resist their power. They come to her in the flush of
their manly strength, like the Roman envoys to Carthage, holding in their
robes peace and war, and offering the church her choice.

II. _The church ought to deal with them._

1. In simple consistency with her own principles. Not only to touch them
where she must, but where she can. Not to regard them as aside from her
peculiar work, but as constituting a peculiarly important and interesting
part of her work. She professes to labor for the salvation of men, where
can she find excuse for failing to provide _special_ appliances if need
be, for the salvation of young men? She professes to be an _educator_ as
well as an evangelizer. Here is material in its most inviting shape, and
at the stage best adapted for her moulding. She professes to provide for
the extension of her doctrine and spirit. Can she, with any show of
reason, neglect the force furnished her in this mass of youthful energy
and enthusiasm. She professes to rescue men from danger. Does she see any
danger more imminent than those which menace young men, any temptations
more seductive, any ruin more pitiable? Does she see any more susceptible
of these influences than youth with their high spirits, superfluous energy
and glowing passion? Does she see any victims which appeal more powerfully
to her compassion than these sons and brothers in whose success and virtue
are bound up the hopes and affections of thousands of parents, every one
of whom cries to the world and to the church, “deal gently for my sake
with the young man?”

2. But the church ought to deal with them, in the absence of other
appliances to reach them. The church has few enough, far too few; but
there are fewer elsewhere. Take business. What does it furnish? It deals
with the young man. Not always gently either. It deals with his youthful
strength; with his clear and active brain; with his enterprise and energy.
It uses these to build up trade and accumulate wealth. It deals, I say,
not always gently. It is often exacting and severe. It often binds burdens
too heavy for youthful shoulders. It often refuses leisure which health
imperatively demands, and denies compensations which might furnish less
temptation to crime. But I am not here to speak of these now. How does it
deal with the young man morally? Does business take into the account, to
any great extent, the fact that young men are moral and intellectual
beings? How much leisure does it afford them for mental or religious
culture? Alas, with the most charitable view of the case, with the noble
exceptions clearly recognized, business presents a sad aspect in this
regard. The maxim “_business is business_” is carried too far. What the
_world_ may think or do in this matter is not the question here; but to
Christian men, who believe or profess to believe that religion belongs
everywhere, business should be something more than business. How many
Christian business men recognize in its contact opportunities for the
exertion of Christian influence as well as for making money? How many see
in their clerks something besides the hired arms or brains to carry on
their trade? How many recognize them as beings with social instincts as
well as with sharp wits; immortal souls as well as clear heads;
susceptibilities to temptation as well as to self-interest; young men who
are to fill a place in these democratic communities, to cast their votes,
exert their influence, be each the centre of a greater or smaller circle,
be fathers to train up children and perpetuate their own moral character
and sentiments whatever they be? How many consider the influence which
their position of employer gives them over the moral destiny of these
youth; the power they may wield through the truly affectionate and
confidential relations subsisting between them? How many concern
themselves as to where their clerks go after business hours, what
associations they form, whether they have a place of worship or not? How
many of you business men, here to-day, are in the habit of asking the
young men in your employ to accompany you to church, or to Bible class, or
to prayer-meeting?

Take the community at large. _Its_ influence, if exerted in this
direction, must be chiefly confined to furnishing some counter attraction,
moral, but not necessarily religious, to the attractions of the haunts of
sin. And a great work can be done here, in which men of the most opposite
religious theories, and men with no religion at all can unite. There, for
instance, is the temperance question. There is a variety of views on the
subject; but all agree that intemperance is an awful evil, and one which
all moral and religious men are called on to resist and suppress by every
possible means. _We_ believe that the only effectual method of reforming a
drunkard, or of keeping a man from becoming one, is to make him a
Christian. That will reform in _all_ respects. But we cannot bring the
community to agree on this platform. Here then is one where all can unite,
namely, in organizing some force to overbalance the attractions of the
dram shop. It need not be distinctively religious, only free from vicious
associations. The saloon keeper understands perfectly that not one young
man in ten comes to his haunt originally to drink or in which to gamble.
He wants a warm and pleasant room to sit down and chat with his companion;
to read his evening paper, or it may be to procure a meal. So this
minister of corruption proceeds to make provision for these natural and
healthy cravings, that, through them, he may excite those unnatural and
depraved desires, the satisfaction of which constitutes his chief source
of profit. He furnishes his rooms tastefully and comfortably. He provides
food of all kinds prepared to please the most fastidious palate. A small
sum will secure a quiet and cosy retreat where the youth and his friends
may pass an evening. But he furnishes the bar with its tempting array of
liquors. He gathers there his array of well dressed and gentlemanly
confederates who are always ready to challenge to drink, and to sneer at
the principle which refuses. He has his licentious pictures to stimulate
the passions, and abundant facilities for their gratification. And
thousands of youths who went thither at first, only because they could
find no other retreat, have come at last to frequent it for the
gratification of the basest appetites, and have gone from its doors at
last, hopeless, homeless drunkards.

Now suppose a community should say (and no individual with a shadow of
moral sense could say otherwise), the rumseller takes an unfair advantage.
He unites things which may just as well be separated. There is no
necessity that all the light and comfort and retirement should be
associated with liquor and licentiousness. Let us furnish these to the
hundreds of poor young men who have no retreat but their offices and
boarding houses. Let us build a house or hire a large suite of rooms. Let
us have a suitable person employed to dispense proper refreshments at a
reasonable price. Let us have a reading room furnished with the best
papers and periodicals, and with a good library. Let us have a
conversation room, where young men can chat or play their game of chess or
backgammon. Let us have a ten pin alley, and even a smoking room. Would
not this be in the interest of temperance as well as of many other
virtues? Would it not keep scores of young men from the gin palaces? Could
not society, independently of any religious views, easily inaugurate and
carry out such a plan? It has been done, and has worked wonders. The
slight approach towards it made by our Young Men’s Christian Association,
saying nothing now of the religious adjuncts, has proved what a strong,
well organized effort might effect in this direction. And yet what has our
communities of this character? What organized appliance have our cities
anywhere to act upon young men? There I know are the Young Men’s
Associations, and they are good as far as they go; but they make provision
chiefly for intellectual wants. Their libraries, and reading rooms, and
lecture courses are doing a good work; but after all it is for the
community at large, male and female, as well as for young men. There is a
lower class of wants peculiar to young men, and to young men of a certain
class, which will be supplied somehow, and which a proper effort may
supply judiciously, without injury to the youth, and in a way to create
wants and lead to associations of a higher character. If the moral and
Christian part of the community do not supply them, the immoral part will.

3. But the church ought to deal with young men, _because she has the
means_. She has organization. The community at large is not organized to
carry out such efforts. Special organizations have to be made when such a
movement is undertaken by it; and even then the _personal sympathy_ and
cooperation of individuals, except perhaps through their purses, is not
secured. A moral movement agitated outside the church requires a good deal
of time and effort to bring it into contact with men’s minds, and to get
them enlisted in it. It has to work principally upon individuals. But the
moment a question of moral reform starts with the church, it works from
the very first upon and through an organization. That is the reason why
the agents of all great benevolent enterprises and reform movements try
first to get before the churches. The subject is presented to masses. It
reaches the larger part of the community through their religious
detachments, so to speak, and by the mouth of their chosen and respected
religious instructors. The organization is already formed to discuss the
question, to decide upon it, to raise means for carrying out the
enterprise, to delegate men to represent this or that branch of the church
in it. Added to this is the personal sympathy evoked. As a moral question
it is brought home to the church on her own ground. If it concerns the
salvation of men, every individual, as well as the church at large has to
do with it. It appeals to him as a man and as a brother; to his prayers,
to his pocket, to his effort.

The church has the wealth. I need only say, that the church represents by
far the largest proportion of the money of our communities. Take our own
city for instance, and count up our wealthiest men, and you will find that
the most of them are not only members of congregations, but also members
of churches.

4. The church ought to deal with young men, _because she represents the
only restraining and reforming power_.

No reform that is not Christian in its essence is radical. No restraint
that is not Christian is permanently effective. Other influences are
partial in their operation. They modify one side of character. They
protect it partially at one or two weak points. They touch the outward
developments of the life merely; trying to regulate it from the
circumference. This goes to the very seat of life, purges the fountain
head of impulse and desire, creates a new man to do new works, and does
not simply ingraft new works on the old character, putting the new piece
into the old garment. This brings the thought and will into conformity
with the law of Christ, and develops the man _as a whole_, makes him
something, as well as restrains him from evil. Without this, who can say
that any restraint will be effectual; that any memories will be sacred
enough, any admonitions forcible enough, any associations attractive
enough, any moral purpose strong enough to keep one pure? Alas, the shore
of life is strewn so thickly with wrecks of youthful hope and promise, the
annals of crime embrace so many youth of noble aims and high attainments,
reared under the holiest influences of home and sanctuary, that we may
well ask—who is safe?

While then, I would not discourage an effort at reform made in good faith
by society, yet without any distinctively religious character, while I
believe that many such efforts have done good in their sphere, I say
distinctly, that their sphere is not large enough. Their influence does
not reach deep enough. They help reform or restrain certain developments
of the life; but they do not inaugurate any positive moral development.
Nay, the very fact that many of them are forced, as a condition of their
existence, to denude themselves of anything but the most general and vague
religious character, makes them incapable of fostering any high moral
development. To take the instance cited a few moments since. The community
establishes a coffee room, or reading room, or resort of any kind for
young men, without the vicious attractions of the fashionable restaurant
or saloon. It does a good and laudable thing. Its influence is good as far
as it goes, in keeping young men away from worse places. But the moral
influence exerted, depends entirely upon these outside appliances. In
other words, this institution keeps them from evil so long as they can
have recourse to it, but does not implant within them a principle which,
in the event of their being deprived of this privilege, would cause them
to forego their comfort and recreation, rather than seek them amid
debasing associations.

On this point then I am avaricious. I want the church to control all
schemes of reform. I want them to originate in the church as their only
legitimate source, so that in every effort put forth for the protection,
or restoration, or training of youth, the gospel of Christ, the only power
which can ever thoroughly regenerate individual or society, may be
paramount: so that the effort may be not only a conservative but an
aggressive force, winning youth to Christ as well as keeping them away
from Satan, creating positive developments of character as well as
securing simple safety or harmlessness, narrowing the boundaries of the
devil’s empire as well as keeping Christ’s from infringement. For this
reason I am anxious that instead of its being left for secular
organizations to inaugurate such movements, the church should enlarge her
Christian organizations so as to take in and sanctify every force that is
requisite to meet the demands of the various characters with which she has
to deal.

And just at this point, I want to call your attention to a thought which
bears especially upon our city churches.

It is commonly thought that the city is the fountain head of all vice, and
with some reason I admit. Parents have a traditional horror of sending
their sons into large cities. They think they are going into the very jaws
of death and destruction. They draw a fearful picture of the gayeties and
the temptations of city life. They look upon young men reared in cities
with suspicion. They are inclined to regard them all as loose in morals,
and as taking naturally to sin.

Now I do not believe that, as a rule, young men or any other men are worse
in cities than elsewhere. Sin is pretty much the same thing, I apprehend,
among grain and trees, as it is on sidewalks. Propensities just as
vicious, passions just as furious and debased, exhibitions of vice quite
as disgusting, more so, perhaps, because more coarse and pronounced, are
to be seen in farming districts and in country villages as in cities. The
appliances of vice are quite up to the proportion of the population in the
former, both in quantity and in quality. A good deal of injustice is done
the city in this respect. It is often said that a young man’s ruin
commences from the time he leaves his quiet country home and goes to the
city. But the fact is that, in many cases, the city only completes what
was well begun at home, begun in evenings spent in country grocery stores,
and on the piazzas of village taverns.

But there is another aspect of this matter which would perhaps startle
those who think that all piety and orthodoxy reside in the rural
districts; and that is, that the city, _as it is_, affords far greater
encouragements to well developed piety than the country; and that if the
church were fully awake to her duty towards young men, and actually
employing all the means afforded her by her wealth, organization and
influence to shield, restrain, influence and reform them, the city would
be the safest place on earth for a youth. If the city is the stronghold of
vice, it is in the church’s power to make it the stronghold of virtue. For
it is admitted that, in other respects, the city affords superior
advantages. Young men leave the country store and come thither if they
desire to learn business on a large scale. They are obliged to seek the
city for large literary opportunities. The great popular literary
attractions seldom move out of the track of the cities. Here the pulse of
life beats quicker. Men live faster. Thought is more energetic and prompt.
The same is in a measure true of religious life. It develops more
activity, more benevolence. It invests religious instruction with more
attractions, and throws more life and power into social worship. Go into
such a prayer meeting, for instance, as you can find in scores of churches
in our large cities, where the large numbers present augment the sympathy
of each with the common object, where thoughtful, practical, energetic men
pour into the common treasury streams of fresh, living thought, where the
singing is an inspiration, and say what you will, a man will be stirred
and stimulated as he cannot be in the thin assemblies of too many country
churches, where the minister is chiefly depended on to give interest to
the meeting, where the singing is faint and slow. I know God is often in
the one place as in the other. I know there is true religious life there,
and that souls are converted there. But so long as men remain human, their
piety will not be insensible to such influences. So too, the influences of
the city churches tend more to develop young men. My impression is that in
country districts age is a prime qualification for responsibility; young
men are kept back, and not expected to bear a prominent part in religious
services until later in life. With us, it is part of our creed to educate
young men by responsibility. We love to hear them speak or pray, not only
because they bring us good and fresh and profitable thoughts, but because
we know that these exercises are developing them into strong men for the
future leaders of the church. Not only so, but our larger religious
machinery, the wider sphere of our activity, furnish places for them to
work. We must depend largely upon them to carry on our mission schools,
and to carry out other practical schemes of benevolence. Under these
influences, I say, they develop faster, and as I think better. As a rule,
the young man of a city church is more capable, more efficient, than one
of the same age and of equal natural abilities in a rural district.

But then these influences do not reach the class of unconverted youth
directly. They have no interest in prayer meetings, little in sermons.
This is the plain question before us then:

III. _How shall the church deal with the Absaloms_: the erring youth or
those of no religious bias, the careless and pleasure loving? _There is
such a class._ Are you surprised at my stating a fact which seems self
evident? I state it because it seems to have been practically forgotten.
Some men frame their schemes of reform on the principle that every one
must be appealed to by the same influences which appeal to them. For
instance, when it is proposed to furnish, under Christian supervision,
certain innocent appliances which may counterbalance the attractions of
the saloon, and perhaps lead to the exercise of some more distinctively
religious influence, we are flatly told by some that there is no need of
recreation. Youth are on the brink of the grave, and should find enjoyment
in singing psalms. Others tell us there is recreation enough in the
contemplation of the heavenly bodies, and of the beauties of nature, and
that these ought to satisfy the soul without its having recourse to lower
joys. Now you and I like to sing psalms. They are suggestive to us of many
rich and comforting thoughts. Some of you can find sufficient enjoyment in
the beauties of nature, not only because God has opened your eyes to see
him in all things, but because study and knowledge have prepared your mind
to discern and appreciate the wonders of creation. I don’t think you
particularly loved to sing psalms before Christ touched your heart. And
the practical point we have got to meet, and meet as Christians and with
Christian methods is, that there is a large class that cannot be appealed
to by the beauties of nature and the charms of literature, and the glory
of the starry heavens. Have we anything to do with these? Just as
indubitably as David’s army had to do with the erring Absalom. And we have
got to deal gently with them too; not force them upon the procrustean bed
of our methods, and give them their choice of these or none. If the church
says to these unconverted, careless ones, “If you will not come to our
prayer meetings, if you will not listen to our sermons, we have done our
duty and cleared our skirts, and you may go on to perdition as fast as you
please,” I say the church is awfully in error. Her skirts, are in that
event, soaked with the blood of ruined youth, and it cries aloud against
her from the ground.

What are we to do then? If the church has a duty to this class, has she
also means to discharge it? Is it in her power to make the city the best
place for irreligious as well as for pious youth? I say, yes. But she will
be obliged to enlarge her scheme of work. She must sanctify new forces to
this end, if she has to take them out of the devil’s hand. She must
institute new attractions, under her own control, to draw youth within the
sphere of her influence, and to hold them when drawn. She must employ
forces with a view merely to restrain from worse influences, until she can
bring direct religious influences to bear. Without compromising principle
one iota, abstaining from the very appearance of evil, she is nevertheless
to press into her service everything that she can separate from low
associations, everything that will enhance her own social attractions,
everything which will amuse, interest, instruct, to keep these away from
the palaces of hell, and to draw them into contact with the influences of
the gospel. The wisdom of Christianity is shown in its dealing with men as
they are. In reaching them at their own level; and the church will best
show her wisdom by not trying to be wiser than her Lord. The mountain will
not go to Mahomet, and Mahomet must go to the mountain. We have a variety
of characters to deal with, and must use a variety of means. Gather such a
band of youth together, and preach to them that they ought to be satisfied
with the beauties of nature, or with books, or the like, and you simply
drive them the faster from religious influences, and cut every tie between
you. Here is one young man who loves books. Let the church give him books.
Let him know that he receives this high and pure pleasure from the hand of
Christianity. Here is another that loves pictures. Let Christian art adorn
the walls, and Christian liberality pay the price. But here is another of
a lower grade of culture. Not vicious, not specially inclined to
dissipation, but finding little interest in books or pictures. Throw him
among these higher influences, of course, for they will insensibly educate
him; but if a checker board or a game of dominoes will attract him, and
keep him for an evening away from the liquor saloon or the theatre, pray
tell me why Christian hands should not furnish him these, and a pleasant,
quiet place in which to play his innocent game, where no profanity greets
his ears, where no bar presents its seductions. Another loves music; why
should not Christian liberality furnish him the gratification of this
taste, and Christian hands and voices join with him in swelling the
harmony in which his heart delights?

It is, of course, impossible for me to go into details here, but the
general principle I think is clear. It seems to me that the only way in
which the church can reach any large proportion of these young men, is by
the judicious union of attractive and direct influences; by bringing under
her own control and using all those appliances which appeal to the social
instinct, to the taste, to the intellect, to the necessity for recreation,
freeing them from debasing associations, and thereby drawing the
unconverted youth within the range of direct religious influences. She
must be content to keep them out of the hands of evil for the time, if she
cannot fully commit them to piety. But then, let it be clearly understood
that these things are to be under the control of religion. That the
_salvation_ of the young men is the great end toward which these are only
means. The moment our Young Men’s Christian Associations, to which we must
chiefly look to carry out this plan, let their rooms become mere lounging
places; the moment the prayer meeting is dropped; the moment the young men
cease to be on the watch for opportunities to speak the word of religious
counsel, that moment they are no longer the allies of the church; they
will have become no better than clubs. I want to say to the young men of
our own association who have so boldly and, thus far, so successfully
carried out this theory, you must guard yourselves here. The Troy
Association has drawn the eyes of the church throughout a large part of
the country upon itself by its course in this matter. It is thought by
many a bold experiment. By many it is openly denounced. Many predict that
the result will be the ruin instead of the salvation of young men. If you
would silence and convert your opponents, if you would convert the
wavering into enthusiastic supporters of your policy, guard well the
religious side of your work. Infuse the gospel spirit into everything.
Strictly enforce the rules which Christian prudence lays down for the use
of means and attractions not distinctively religious. Let the word
_Christian_ be in the largest letters on your sign. Remember your great
object, the duty thrown upon you by the nature of the case, thrown upon
you by similarity of age, by congeniality of taste and pursuits, thrown
upon you by the church, thrown upon you by Christ; the church’s head, is
the _salvation_, not the entertainment of the young men. You use these
appliances to entertain, only that thereby you may bring other forces to
bear, which may make them Christians, add their power to the various
churches of the community, and unite them with you in the work of saving
others. The moment you forget this, Ichabod will be written upon your
banners, and the cause of Christ receive a blow which all the good you
have heretofore accomplished can scarcely heal.

The practical working of this theory is the best answer to its opponents.
We have this answer among us to-day, and I am thankful from my inmost
heart that the Young Men’s Christian Association is to-day, what it was
not two years ago, among the great religious forces of our city. Those who
have opposed its later proceedings have some stubborn facts to get round.
These facts demonstrate this: that since the Young Men’s Christian
Association inaugurated the policy of _attracting_ youth to its
head-quarters, its _distinctively religious force has increased ten-fold_.
As one evidence of this, the city missionary says, “since we entered upon
our present plan, a larger number of young men than ever before have been
brought to sympathize with me and my work, are ready to sit up with the
sick, to visit the needy, to labor for the spiritual good of their
fellows. Our rooms have resulted in increasing the effective force of
spiritual co-laborers with me, more than _ten-fold_.” Last month, the
daily prayer meeting from twelve to one, was attended by an average of
twenty-two daily, mostly young persons, and generally conducted by young
men converted under the agency of the association. Some of you remember
the old noonday prayer meeting, and to such I need say nothing as to the
contrast. The call for this noonday meeting was signed by about fifty
young men. The call itself was drawn and circulated by a young man who,
six months ago, came to our city penniless, was made to feel at home in
our rooms, was furnished with employment by the agencies of the
association, came to the weekly prayer meeting, was converted, and is now
counted among our most earnest Christian workers. Young men are being
converted through this agency. I give you one instance out of a number. A
young man visited the rooms on Thursday night, and was invited with others
down to the young men’s prayer meeting. He went, and was deeply
interested, and immediately after the meeting returned to the parlor, and
was seen earnestly studying a Bible at one of the reading tables. At the
hour of closing, some of the Christian young men accompanied him home, and
urged upon him the subject of personal religion. They followed him up for
two or three days, until he gave his heart to God; and he has since been
an active co-laborer with the young men in the work of the association.

One more incident. A young man came to one of the members of this church
sometime since, saying, “I came to the city two years ago. I was a member
of a church at home; but here, no man seemed to care for my soul. I have
neglected my duty, have sought for no church home; but I was attracted to
your rooms. I went to the association prayer meeting. My heart was
stirred, and I became ashamed of my neglect and inconsistency; and now I
want to know when your next communion season is, that I may give my letter
to your pastor.”

I could give you others, but these speak volumes for the value of this
policy; and, from the bottom of my heart this morning, I say God bless the
Young Men’s Christian Association, and pledge them my poor efforts and
influence, and prayers to help forward the work so nobly begun.

I know not where to stop. My heart is so full that it seems as if I could
spend the day on this theme. But I must stop, and, in conclusion I say,
first to the church, accept frankly the responsibility which God throws on
you in the persons of these young men. You are the appointed agency, the
proper agency, and the only agency to save and restrain and protect them.
You cannot shirk it, especially as city churches. Into these centres of
trade and education God pours the young men, and he asks you and me this
morning if we are ready for them; if, while business and education are
multiplying their facilities, the gospel of Christ, represented by the
churches, is multiplying its facilities to make the city the _best place_
for the education of young men in virtue. He asks these churches if there
is nothing significant, no message to her in the concentration of the mass
of our young men and the mass of Christian culture, organized power, and
wealth, at one point? Have these things no relation to each other? Yes,
brethren, they have. There is no evading it. The finger of Providence
points unswervingly to these city churches as the great sources of
Christian influence upon young men. Let us not fail to hear these voices.
The ten thousand appliances of vice, confronting the church with brazen
defiance, or with devilish ingenuity and secresy sapping the foundations
of manly honor and integrity, call to us, deal gently with the young man.
Fathers and mothers, the yearnings of whose hearts you read full easily in
your love for your own sons, whose happiness, whose very lives are bound
up in the honor and prosperity of these sons and brothers, call to us from
their distant homes in quiet villages, and on the open farm lands, call to
us with agonizing earnestness—deal gently for our sakes with the young
man. Our community, our country, calls to us. Oh, when I look upon society
and see what characters ride rampant there, when I look at government and
see the awful corruption festering there, when I see how men in power,
from the chief magistrate of the nation down to the humblest postmaster,
will sell their souls for party, and betray their country to its enemies
through lust of power, or something else, God knows what; when I see
drunkenness holding high carnival in the nation’s capitol, reeling in the
seat of the President, and retailing its maudlin declamation before a
sickened country from Washington to Chicago, I can only turn to God and
the future. Our only hope is in the work of the Christian church through
all its agencies, social, ecclesiastical and educational, moulding out of
the glorious material so abundantly at its disposal, a band of men who
shall convert the seats of power into seats of righteousness, and make
government and purity synonymous terms. The young men themselves appeal to
us. This mass of intelligence, clear wit, energy, tact, education; these
noble brows on which God has set the seal of power; these frank, manly,
generous natures, these enthusiastic impulses, all speak to us, saying,
deal gently with us, and teach us by the power of Christian love how to
use our power; they speak to us, and warn us against letting so much power
and energy and culture be turned against us, or left to hang as a drag on
our wheels. And Christ speaks to the church, Christ who loves these young
men, Christ who died for these young men; Christ who from his seat of
glory at the Father’s right hand, yearns over these young men, Christ is
calling to his church to-day, to you, to me, to all the pastors and
congregations of this city, “_take care of them, take care of them, deal
gently for MY sake with the young men_.”

Christian young men, you have heard the call, and in some sort are obeying
it. In proportion as you have not feared to use the range of gospel
agencies, in proportion as your love has been kindled for the souls of
these youths, and your hands and tongues have been devoted to this end,
God has blessed you. Go on as you have begun. Go on, not defiantly, but
firmly, boldly, prudently. Dare to be singular, if it will compass your
end. Take the word of God as your highest authority. Use no means that is
not sanctioned by it. Use none of doubtful expediency, but enlarge the
range of your agencies. Wrest from the devil attractions which belong to
you rather than to him. Leaven them. Separate them from the debasing
associations with which sin has identified them, and in the name of Christ
your Master, set up your banners, rally your forces and join the churches
in their work of salvation.

And you, unconverted young men, one word to you. For your own souls’ sake,
for the sake of your best interests, for the sake of the parents who love
and hope in you, for the sake of your country, for Christ’s sake, deal
gently with yourselves. Remember, the only true manhood is Christian
manhood. No restraints which the church can throw round you will ensure
your safety against temptation; no strength of resolution on your part
will keep you pure, if you be not the children of Christ. Come to Jesus.
Come this very morning. Come and learn of him. He will deal very gently
with you. His yoke is easy, his burden is light. The life he gives you is
full of the highest impulses and of the purest enjoyments—a living spring
of water—and the eternal rewards he promises are such as eye hath not
seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived.


As pastors, we can no longer evade this question. Our people are hearing,
reading, and being influenced by discussions of the subject in various
quarters. Obviously, we must not let our congregations form their
conclusions on so important a matter, independently of their chosen
spiritual guides. The word of each pastor will carry with it, in most
cases, a weight which can attach to no other’s word. Let us see to it that
we separate ourselves, as much as possible, from prejudice in our
examination of this question. Let us face the facts fairly, and inquire
what provision is furnished by the gospel to meet them. We have nothing to
do with any other consideration. Whether the gospel principles and methods
applicable to this case appear to us safe or unsafe, we have no right to
advocate any other. We have no right to be silent.

What are the facts?

1. _The youth, as a class, are vitally important to the church and to the
state._ Our work as Christian teachers reaches beyond our own generation.
We owe to the future the proper training of the men and women who are to
mould its destinies. The present youth are the future leaders of church
and state. How they shall lead them, depends very much upon us. These
truths are self-evident.

2. _They are exposed to peculiar dangers calling for special effort on
their behalf._

Special efforts are being made to ruin them. The self-interest of vice is
interested in this work; for to youth its appliances look chiefly for
support. As one has happily expressed it, “Age has few passions to which
profligacy can appeal; and the proselytism of decrepitude and years are
enlistments of little value.” The withdrawal of young men from the rolls
of the intemperate and licentious, would leave two-thirds of the drinking
saloons and brothels bankrupt. The passions to which these appliances
appeal are such as are most active and dangerous in youth. They offer the
freedom and license which youth loves. They throw off the shackles which
youth hates. Our cities and villages swarm with traps set expressly for
them. Thousands are freely expended to invest the bar room and the
gambling hall with the cozy attractions of the parlor. The harlot’s palace
opens wide its doors. The public ball room displays its fascinations.
Dissipation draws round itself the attractions of wealth and taste and
fashion, and in its splendid club rooms secures for itself the pleasures
which expediency forbids it to seek more publicly. Vice literally flaunts
its banners in the face of the public. But a few days since I saw from my
window a banner carried through the streets, blazoned with the name and
attractions of one of the vilest fashionable groggeries in the city, and
preceded by the music of a drum and fife. The snug retreat, known only to
the initiated few, where licentiousness and drunkenness are secluded, and
thousands lost and won, was never more popular than now. Practiced decoys
lie in wait for the daughters of our families, and the whirl of general
society in which so many of them, at a tender age, are madly revolving
night after night, is no poor preparation for the fatal success of these
wiles. Young girls, who come from quiet country homes to seek employment,
cast adrift on these surging tides of life without a friend or an adviser,
readily fall victims to the wiles of young seducers whose social position
ensures their security. In a certain city, I was informed not long since,
of one keeper of a fashionable brothel who had removed her trade, because
it was too largely usurped by victims of this class to render it any
longer profitable. Young men, too, are coming to the cities in crowds, to
engage in business or study. They must have society and recreation; and
the votaries of vice are sparing neither pains nor expense to give them
abundance of both, fraught with ruin to soul and body.

Without going outside of our special sphere as pastors, viewing this
subject solely with reference to the youth of our congregations, as, in
common with others subjected to these and other temptations, _what ought
to be our influence in arresting and counteracting these evils_?

It ought to be second to none but parental influence. If the name pastor
mean anything, our position as the chosen religious teachers of
congregations ought to give us free access to every household in our
flocks, and the strongest influence over the youth whose moral training we
directly or indirectly shape. We ought to be not only _respected_ and
_reverenced_, but so loved as to be the familiar advisers and confidants
of the youth of our charges. Our word ought, next to the parents’, to have
weight in turning them from improper courses and associations, and in
keeping them from such. Moreover, our influence ought not to be merely
restrictive and admonitory. We should be sufficiently in sympathy with
them, familiar enough with the demands of their age and with the best
means of satisfying them, to be able to offer positive suggestions
respecting their employments, recreations, society, reading, and the like.
If we sustain proper relations to the youth of our charges, they will be
as likely to refer such questions to us, as matters of theology or
practical morality.

Now, the question of the amusements of our youth is as good a test
question in this matter as we need ask. _What, then, is the influence of
the clergy at large in regulating the diversions of the youth?_

I appeal to the experience of the mass of ministers, not with the few
_special friends_ and admirers, which most of them have among the young
people of their congregations, but with the _mass of the youth_. I appeal
to those judicious, farseeing Christians, who are wont to observe
carefully the tendencies of society, _if this influence is not a
comparative nullity_. In a question which, perhaps, as much as any other,
concerns the welfare of our youth, which has the most vital relations to
the attractions of home, which will enter, whether we may think it right
or not, into the considerations which influence the choice or rejection of
a religious life; at a point which the ministers of vice are fortifying
most strongly, wresting the best diversions to themselves, striving to
make them peculiarly their own, and to invest them permanently with
associations which shall exclude them from Christian homes; here, I say,
the Christian church, the appointed regulator and instructor in the ethics
of amusement, is, to a great extent, _at open issue with her own
intelligent youth, and practically powerless to execute her own decrees_.

It is well for us as ministers, to look this fact squarely in the face,
and to call things by their right names. How many pastors are in the
confidence of their youth with respect to the amusements of the latter? Is
not the fact rather that there is a tacit antagonism recognized between
the youth and the clergy on this subject, an antagonism growing, too,
every year less tacit and more avowed? Can it be denied that a very large
proportion of our youth regard their ministers as the foes to recreation,
and would sooner think of consulting them on any subject than on this? Is
it not the fact that while presbyteries and conferences and conventions
pass long and stringent resolutions on the subject of dancing and on the
use of cards and billiards, multitudes of Christian families practice
dancing; scores of them may be found playing whist at their own firesides,
and scores more with their billiard rooms fitted up in their own houses?
It will not answer to say that those who practice these things are
backslidden in heart and worldly minded, and that, if they were truly
Christ’s children, they would neither practice nor desire them. This is
begging the whole question at issue, and moreover is flatly contradicted
by facts. Many of those who engage in these recreations are among the most
devoted, enlightened, faithful members and even ministers of our churches.
Is it not the fact, again, that the pastors of these individuals would be
very much at a loss to administer discipline in such cases? Do they not
know that any attempt at authoritative interference would be regarded as
trenching upon individual rights of conscience, and would send scores of
active and faithful members to other communions? The truth is, and there
is no shirking it, that, in the cities especially, in the largest and most
powerful churches, the clergy are practically brought to a stand in this
matter. They do not and cannot control it. A vast mass of enlightened
Christian sentiment is against their attempts to enforce the traditional
church doctrines on this subject. Their people pay little or no heed to
the official utterances of church assemblies. Many of them treat them with
ridicule. There is no denying these facts. Hundreds of pastors are
painfully impressed with them. The church’s position in this matter is
most humiliating.

What then is the course of the clergy?

Some of them are more than half persuaded that the more liberal view of
their people is correct. They fully sympathize, perhaps, with that view,
yet they remain silent. They cannot conscientiously reprove; they refuse
to come boldly forward and define their position for fear of awakening
prejudice, or for fear their views may be misunderstood or misconstrued.
In short they think it is not safe. And yet, all the while, the initiated
in the congregation know pretty well the general drift of their minister’s
sentiments; that, though he says little, he winks a tacit encouragement to
many indulgences which far over-step the bounds of ancient orthodoxy. But
is _this_ safe? Is it safe or honorable for the church to be impotent to
carry out her own dogmas? Is it safe for her to be under the charge of
inconsistency from the world because her statute books and the practice of
her members are at open variance? Is it safe for the views of an
influential Christian teacher to be known only generally and vaguely, that
his church and the world may draw undue license therefrom? If he is
convinced that the church has been mistaken in this matter, and has in
past years committed herself to undue stringency, is it safe to let the
error remain untouched, and going on working its pernicious consequences?
If the gospel teaches a larger liberty, a broader conception of Christian
living and Christian enjoyment than the church has preached, has that
minister who conscientiously believes the fact any right to withhold the
truth because he deems it unsafe, and to let a falsehood (as he believes)
gain currency and power, and forfeit moreover the attraction presented to
a sinful world by his more cheering and liberal conception of Christ’s
teachings? Not safe! Will not God take care of his truth? Doubtless men
will misconstrue it. Doubtless they will wrest the preaching of gospel
liberty to the confirmation of worldly license. But the greater the danger
of this, the more reason why the truth, the _whole truth_, should be
proclaimed loudly, boldly, distinctly, frequently. When the water is first
let into a reservoir, it is apt to be very muddy; but that is no reason
why the reservoir should remain dry forever. The water will settle by and
by, and the whole people be refreshed. If there is truth in these more
liberal views of amusement, it is in vain for religious newspapers to
shirk the discussion of the question. It is in vain for influential
ministers to beg young men’s Christian conventions not to raise it. It is
in vain for the pulpit to preserve a discreet silence. The thing will out.
The truth will stay swathed in no cave in the rock. The things that have
been spoken in the ear in closets will be proclaimed upon the house tops.
The Christian public will the sooner attain correct views on this subject
through free discussion. If the thing be not of God, it will sooner come
to nought through this process than through any other. But by their love
for souls, and by their sworn loyalty to God and truth, let the clergy run
the sword of the Spirit through and through this matter, that the world
may know the truth and detect the falsehood.

It is confessed by some that they have given the subject no attention.
They have accepted the traditions of the church as they found them, have
preached and have tried to enforce them, or else have settled down upon
the assumption that the matter is of minor importance. I simply ask if
this is justifiable in view of the facts; in view of the contradictory
position of the church on this subject; in view of the important part
which amusements must play in the education of youth; in view of their
great and patent abuses; in view of the point urged in these discourses
that many of the popular diversions of the day may be wrested from the
devil’s hands and turned to good purpose in keeping the young from evil
influences and associations?

Some _positively refuse_ to consider the question under any new aspect. It
is settled, once and for all. The books are balanced, shut and sealed. The
wisdom of a past generation exhausted the question. Its dictum is to be
received as gospel. Little needs to be said here. Such declarations demand
the utmost stretch of Christian charity. They betray an ignorance which,
in a popular teacher, is unpardonable, and a blind acquiescence in the
conclusions of the past which is pitiable.

The truth, moreover, is not promoted, _in any direction_, by abusing those
of more liberal views on this question. The man who conscientiously
believes them wrong, and boldly says so, and does not simply declaim
against them but opposes them by fair argument drawn from scripture, is to
be honored. I would there were more such. But it will not in the least
tend to conciliate favor for the more stringent aspect of the question,
for its advocates to cast slurs upon the sincerity and piety of those who
differ from them, to announce them as corrupters of youth, enemies of the
church, underminers of pure religion, and the like. The day for this has
gone by. The best men may differ even on this question, which some think
so firmly settled; and the liberal view of this subject is supported by
too many shining names in the Christian ministry, by too large a mass of
Christian devotion and consistency and learning and intelligence, to
entitle such assertions to any notice whatever. The want of Christian
charity which leads one public teacher to asperse his brother’s Christian
consistency and purity of motive upon such grounds, is at least as
reprehensible as the holding of liberal sentiments on dancing or

Once more. The pulpit, in some places, though alive to the importance of
the subject, is holding sternly by its old, stringent views. It is laying
down the law authoritatively, decrying as sinful all but a very limited
allowance of amusements.

The results of this policy so long and so thoroughly tried, are before us.
With all this preaching, the prevalence and variety of amusements steadily
increases. Year after year such utterances of the pulpit fall with less
weight. Year after year the character and standing of those who openly set
them at defiance renders it more and more difficult to back them by
discipline. The clergy are not gaining ground with the youth. Hundreds of
the latter, repelled by this teaching, are tearing themselves away from
the churches of their fathers, to unite with folds where a more liberal
gospel is preached. A prominent merchant of the Methodist church, a man
whose name is known in both hemispheres, wrote me, not more than a month
ago, “the teachings of my own church on this subject have had the effect
to drive nearly my whole family into the Protestant Episcopal church.”

It is sometimes said: “Let them go. We are better without such. We do not
want members who will not relinquish these suspected amusements. We do not
want half way Christians, conformed to the world, trying to hold fast to
pleasure and secure heaven at the same time.” But such statements do not
fairly represent the case. Again, the whole question is begged. Many of
those who refuse to conform to the churches dicta on these subjects care
nothing whatever for the amusements in question. The matter is entirely
one of principle. They leave our churches, not because conscience is
relaxed, but because it is acutely sensitive, and because they would keep
it unsullied. The above method of putting the case assumes that all the
conscience is on one side; that, while it operates strongly to condemn, it
cannot possibly operate to approve. Many of these persons resort to other
communions, because they are too honest to compromise with conscience;
because they cannot see these questions in the light in which their own
churches present them; and rather than go to God’s altars with even an
implied falsehood upon their consciences, or embrace the alternative of
remaining outside of Christ’s fold, they will sever life-long ties,
entwined with some of their dearest and tenderest recollections, and go
alone with their conscience and their God to altars where no such tests
are imposed. And in these new associations they bear themselves with all
Christian fidelity. They bring forth rich fruits of grace. They walk
humbly and consistently with God. They are exemplary fathers and mothers.
They are liberal in their gifts to the cause of Christ, and active in
promoting schemes to advance it. Our churches have been driving away such
men and women as these who would have been their ornaments and bulwarks,
because they have sought unduly to constrain Christian conscience on these

Worse than this. This course is keeping youth away from _all_ church
communions; away from Christ. Few pastors have not received this answer,
when urging young persons to come to the Savior. “If I become a Christian,
I must be very solemn. I must repress my lightness of heart. I must
relinquish all my cherished enjoyments.” Admit that these views are
greatly exaggerated, as doubtless they are, the question forces itself
upon us, _why do we meet such views so often_? Why are they so generally
prevalent among our youth? Why does the immense amount of preaching,
forcible, eloquent preaching, on the comforts and joys of a Christian life
produce, seemingly, so little impression upon them? Why is it that they
persist in regarding _Christian_ joy as a sickly, stunted thing, and
religion as the enemy of all light and hilarity and taste and freedom?

Is all this result of native depravity? I cannot believe it. I cannot
dissociate a large measure of this most lamentable result from the old
teaching and practice of the church on the subject of recreation. It is of
no use to preach to ardent, active youth, that Christianity is a religion
of joy, unless they see some joy brought out of it besides mere smiles and
a class of recreations which to them as a class are insipid. To them
_Christian_ cheerfulness appeals as being less cheerful than any other
kind; as a sort of mild, repressed gayety, from which their quick
sensibilities and stirring blood revolts. They feel that in the church
they must be cheerful only in the way the church directs. Those ministers,
they reason, can be very cheerful, and even laugh uproariously over a
discussion on decrees; but what do I care for decrees? Those elderly
Christians can be cheerful in a quiet conversation on politics or on the
church. But if I want to be cheerful in a merry dance in proper society
and at proper hours, if I want to go to my friend’s billiard table and
play a quiet game, if I want to make merry over a few hits of backgammon,
or give my energy full vent in rolling ten-pins for an hour, I am a
heathen and a publican and unfit for the society of Christians.

As already observed, these views are doubtless greatly exaggerated by the
young. Yet does not the state of the case warrant us in asking carefully
and prayerfully if there is no connection between the stringent dogmas of
the church on the subject of recreation, and the general suspicion of
religion which characterizes the mass of unconverted youth?

Be this as it may, the case is narrowed down to this. Of all the subjects
naturally under the church’s supervision, there is not one in which her
influence is less than in this. She neither represses nor regulates. One
of two courses she must pursue if she would escape the stigma of
impotency. Either she must reassert her old dogmas, and back them by the
severest discipline, or she must modify them, and openly commit herself to
a larger liberty. Is she prepared for the first of these courses? Is she
prepared, first of all, to defend it from God’s Word. Every other defense
is worthless here. Is she ready to cut off remorselessly the man or the
woman, the youth or the maid who dances, however properly and modestly? Is
she ready to expel or suspend every minister who shall roll a ten-pin
ball, or while away an hour with chess or backgammon? Is she ready to lay
violent hands upon every member who fingers a card or handles a cue, or
strikes a croquet ball? If so, I tremble for the results of the
experiment. She will pause before she undertakes this course. Or will she
openly confess to undue stringency in the past, and write a new motto upon
her banners—“More abundant life?” Here what seems a formidable objection
is often preferred with great confidence. Grant that these more liberal
views are correct, still public sentiment is not yet such as to make it
safe to promulgate them. The argument, both in its character and result,
very strongly resembles that which used to be such a favorite with the
advocates of slavery. The negro is not fit for freedom. It recoiled on
those who advanced it. Who made the negro unfit for freedom but those who
held him in bondage until his imbruted nature ceased to prize or to desire
liberty? Similarly I say, if there is such a state of public sentiment,
_why is it so?_ How came this thing there? Who is responsible for a state
of sentiment in the church which makes it inexpedient to declare the plain
teachings of Christ on _any_ subject? There can be but one answer. The
responsibility lies between the church and the world, and the world surely
has not done it. The church herself has made this sentiment, has created
the factitious conscience, has awakened the morbid sensibility, by
preaching on this subject a theory which shrivels at the touch of Christ,
and which she has clearly shown her inability to carry into practice. And
the fact that such a sentiment exists, so far from calling for silence, is
the strongest of all reasons why the church should speak out with a voice
of thunder, and set herself right with the vast mass of conscience which
she so powerfully influences.

Would you then, says one, free this matter entirely from the restraints of
the church? By no means. On the contrary, I am calling upon the church to
regain influence which she has forfeited. I am pleading for a _regulation_
of these things by the church which does not now exist. Indulgence is
going too far in the church itself. But from her present stand-point on
this question, the church is, from the very nature of the case, almost
powerless to regulate. Assuming that the recreations in question are evil
and only evil, she _must not_ regulate. That would be compromising. She
must _crush_. Hence the matter resolves itself into a war of extermination
on both sides. Either these forms of amusement must be exterminated from
the church, or they must get the upper hand of the church’s statutes, in
which case the church has no law for them. She has only provided for
destroying them; and failing in this, must stand and see them run riot in
her very courts.

I would not have the church compromise one hair’s-breadth with sin. Better
that she should err in excessive stringency. But I would have her gain a
new vantage ground _by being simply true_, and not proclaiming unmixed
evil, where evil and good are blended in liberal proportions. By not
undertaking the task of _extermination_, where her duty is that of
_discrimination_. The moment she begins upon the principle of _analyzing_
these mixed elements, casting only the bad away, and using, developing and
enjoying the good, that moment she mounts to a point from which she can
regulate _any_ matter which falls under her jurisdiction. And to be thus
true, she must go direct to Christ. His word and example are conclusive,
and we may safely preach what we find there. Do we find any such principle
of repression as the church has preached for years past? No; we find abuse
condemned, and use allowed and approved. The Savior is at the hilarious
merry-making of the marriage, contributing to the festivity. His own
parable is on record, bidding men put the gospel into all the forms and
developments of life, to refine and fit them for human enjoyment. The long
list of exceptions with which men are forbidden to bring the gospel leaven
into contact has been added by men, not by Christ. He was condemned for
the very same reason for which hundreds condemn a so called liberal
Christian to-day; because he used the world which other men used, and
thought it not necessary to abstain from use because others abused. These
teachings are there if anything is there. They are for all time. The
conditions of no age can justify Christians in refusing to preach and to
apply them just as they stand. Nine-tenths of the really sinful indulgence
over which the church is mourning to-day, is simply because of the failure
to do this faithfully. Because good men have been startled by the
magnitude and power of evil, and have been too timid to meet it with
methods which seemed so slow, and which even gave room for the charge of
compromise. In being wiser than her Lord, the church has drawn the reins
too tightly, and the results speak for themselves. Much is said about
expediency; and Paul’s words about meat offending his brother, have been
saddled with more burdens than any ten other passages of scripture; but
after all, the result proves simply this, that it is always most expedient
to follow Christ implicitly.

I would, moreover, that the church in dealing with this question, would
consent to meddle less with its details, and leave them more where they
properly belong, with the individual conscience. No one man can decide
these things for another. No man has a right to insist that his standard
of expediency shall be his brother’s. Where God’s law is explicit, both
are bound alike. When it throws a decision upon conscience, neither has a
right to complain if the paths diverge. Both paths may not be right, but
to his own Master shall each traveler stand or fall.

The church, indeed, can do better than to busy herself with such details,
or, to speak more correctly, she can deal with them much more successfully
by shifting her point of power from the circumference to the centre. Her
duty in this case will be very much simplified and lightened, if she will
give more attention to the _springs_ of Christian life, to the conformity
of the _heart_ to the mind and will of Christ, to fostering an
enthusiastic devotion to him. Then these details and distinctions will
mostly take care of themselves. The church has lacked faith in the
regulative power of this principle, and has sought to supply its assumed
defects by innumerable special provisions; and the consequent tendency of
this course has been to fetter Christian individuality, and to insist that
love to Christ should express itself only in such modes as the church
might prescribe. Hence the sentiment often expressed, a true Christian
will have no taste for these things. But here again the whole question is
begged. You do not know, you cannot know what affinities a Christian life
may develop. All that you can with any confidence assert is the general
fact that he will love all that is good, acceptable, perfect, and hate all
that is essentially evil. As to other matters, things whose moral value
arises entirely from circumstances, a love to Christ as sincere and as
ardent as yours, may lead him in a direction the very opposite of yours.
Therefore it will be more in the interest of a true Christian
individuality, of a higher and more generous Christian manhood, for the
church to throw the soul more on its love to Christ as the great
regulative principle. Let her probe the hearts committed to her, deeply
for this. Let her strengthen this sentiment by every possible safeguard.
Let her urge her members earnestly to higher attainments in this, and her
difficulties in the regulation of the amusement question, and of every
similar question will, in a great degree, disappear. Her courts will be
full of the richest developments of grace, the most varied activities, the
most glorious examples of that wondrous unity in diversity which
Christianity alone displays.

Might not the church, moreover, profitably ask herself if there be not a
positive duty toward these much abused things, as well as a privilege of
letting them alone? If a thing has good in it, does Christ teach that our
duty to it is discharged in letting it alone for the sake of the evil
mixed with it? That is the easier way, I know. It is a good deal easier to
throw overboard good and evil together, than to separate them carefully
and to develop the good into a power. But if easier, is it better? I
cannot avoid quoting just here the exquisite words of Trench on the
Marriage at Cana, as bringing out clearly our Savior’s example on this
point: “We need not wonder to find the Lord of life at that festival; for
he came to sanctify all life, its times of joy, as its times of sorrow;
_and all experience tells us that it is times of gladness, such as this
was now, which especially need __ such a sanctifying power, such a
presence of the Lord_. In times of sorrow the sense of God’s presence
comes most naturally out; in these it is in danger to be forgotten. He was
there, and by his presence struck the key-note to the whole future tenor
of his ministry. He should not be as another Baptist, to withdraw himself
from the common paths of men, a preacher in the wilderness; but his should
be at once a harder and a higher task, to mingle with and purify the
common life of men, to witness for and bring out the glory which was
hidden in its every relation.” To the same purpose are the pertinent words
of Alford: “To endeavor to evade the work which he has appointed for each
man, by refusing the bounty to save the trouble of seeking the grace, is
an attempt which must ever end in degradation of the individual motives
and in social demoralization, whatever present apparent effects may follow
its first promulgation.”

“A terrible responsibility you are taking on yourself,” say some to the
writer. “Youth are going to perdition on your authority, pleading your
word and example as a Christian minister.” I have only to say I fear not
to meet such before the highest of all tribunals. If any man shall, after
carefully reading these four discourses, say that they give his worldly
heart full license to indulge its will, I tell him to his face, he is
either a fool or a hypocrite. Not proudly, I trust, but in humble reliance
upon him for whose sake every line has been penned, I bow my shoulders to
every morsel of responsibility which the utterance of these truths
involves. No youth will go to perdition on their authority. If he shall
infer the right to abuse from a plea for moderate Christian use, his
perdition be on his own head. The truth I have uttered shall condemn him.
If I err, God will bring this thing to nought: and I, who have erred in
good faith, and with an honest conscience, shall be dealt with by a tender
Savior as lovingly and leniently as I believe he will deal with those who,
with equal sincerity and zeal, may possibly have erred in so presenting to
youth a gospel of light and joy and freedom, as to make some of them
prefer the risk of perdition to embracing it.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Amusement: A Force in Christian Training" ***

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