CONSIDERATIONS ON LOTS.
John M. Mason,
PROFESSOR at the THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY of the ASSOCIATE REFORMED CHURCH.
The Nature of a Lot.
THE frequency of public lotteries, the enormous system of private frauds which has grown out of them, the extensive ramifications of their principle through the community, and the facility with which many well disposed persons are seduced into the support of that principle, seem to require an investigation of the true nature and use of the lot. We shall accordingly devote some papers to that subject.
A lot is an action, intended to decide a point without the aid of human skill or power. This definition includes every form of the lot, or every decision which in common language, is said to be left to chance. Thus, whether the lot or the chance consist in drawing a ticket at random out of the lottery-wheel, after it has been turned round to prevent collusion, or in the position of a die which is thrown after rattling it in the box, or in the particular distribution of cards after a promiscuous shuffle, or in the tossing up of a piece of money, is a matter of no moment. The principle of the action is still the same; the decision to be effected is put avowedly out of the control of human skill and power.
My design is to show that every such action, that is, every lot, is a direct appeal to the living God, as the governor of the world, and that his holy providence is concerned in the event.
For, if it be not an appeal to God, what is it? Not a reference to the tribunal of men; for it is so constructed as purposely to exclude their jurisdiction. Not a reference to any other creatures superior to man; for it would suppose them to be omnipresent, which is an attribute of Deity. Not a reference to nothing; for that is a contradiction. Not a reference to chance; for that is atheism. There is, indeed, much talk of chance: and, in its popular use, signifying something which happens in a manner unforeseen by us, the term is harmless enough. But when used philosophically, that is, when applied to the doctrine of cause and effect, it is either absurd or blasphemous. For what is this chance? It either has a real existence or not. If it has no existence, then when you say that a lot is determined by chance, you say that it is determined by nothing: that is, you say here is a sensible effect produced by no cause at all. This is pure nonsense. If your chance is a real being, what sort of being? Either it has life, intelligence, and power, or not. If not, then you say that millions of effects (for there are millions of lots in the world) are produced by a cause which has neither power, nor intelligence, nor life: that is, you say, that millions of actions are performed by an agency which is essentially incapable of any action whatever. And this is as pure absurdity as the former. If you say that your chance is a living, intelligent, and active being, I ask who it is? and how you got your knowledge of it? You certainly imagine it to possess omnipresence and omnipotence; for you suppose it capable of producing, at the same moment, millions of effects in millions of places; and thus you have found out a being that displays perfections of God, and yet is not God. This conclusion is as blasphemous as the others are insane. There is no retreat. Survey the subject in any possible light, and you are driven to this issue, that the lot is, by the very nature of the case, a direct appeal to the living God, as the Governor of the world.
As the appeal is to him, so his providence regulates the event.
To many it seems irrational that the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity should descend to our little affairs, and take cognizance of things which minister to our amusement or agitate our passions. They call conceive of a providence which keeps worlds in their sphere and legislates for the universe. This general government fills them with magnificent ideas, worthy as they think of the Supreme; but to such petty concerns as the common incidents of human life, they judge it beneath his majesty and felicity to attend!
This sort of argumentation is not the only instance in which atheism puts on the cloak of reverence for God. I do not assert that all who adopt such notions are atheists, but that the doctrine itself is atheistical there can be no doubt. It makes a distinction between a general and a particular providence, admitting the former and exploding the latter. We are to believe, then, that Jehovah rules the whole of his universe but not its parts; or that he has fixed certain laws by which its operations go on independently of his interposition. A fine world of creatures truly that can "live, and move, and have their being," in a state of complete separation from the influence of their Creator! According to this scheme, he has had no sort of interest in them from the moment he gave them out of his plastic hand, and never shall have any during the whole period of their being. And as for those who dream of his presiding over suns and stars, without noticing the puny inhabitants of our globe, they might with equal reason dream of his creating suns and stars without his having created men, or beasts, or insects, at all. That which it was not unworthy of him to create, it is not unworthy of him to preserve and govern. It would surely be inverting all propriety to maintain, that in proportion as creatures are feeble, they can dispense with his fostering care; and that rational creatures, formed for immortality, are exempted from the empire of his law. For however artfully the sophist may play off his quibbles, a sound mind will perceive that, without a particular providence, man cannot be accountable.
This doctrine of a providence extending even to the most trivial occurrences pervades the system of revelation, and is stated in the scriptures with the utmost precision and perspicuity. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I, JEHOVAH, do all these things. (Is. 45:7.) Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they (the young animals) are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth. (Ps. 104:30.) Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father: but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Mat. 10:29, 30.) What can be of less importance than the perishing of a sparrow? What more worthless than a hair of one’s head? And yet, the Truth itself being witness, both are objects of the divine regard. "It accords with the most liberal spirit of philosophy to believe, that not a stone can fall or plant rise without the immediate agency of divine power." This is good sense, and Christianity owns it all. If, then, the providence of God directs and disposes all other, the most minute events, by what reasoning shall it be proved to have no concern with lots? especially as he has declared the lot to be under his immediate inspection? The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord. (Prov. 16:33.) This will be decisive with him who in simplicity and reverence inquires after the truth. But as there are captious spirits which seek to hide themselves in the mist of objections, and as arguments addressed to the love of dissipation and of gain are apt to make "the worse appear the better reason," we shall pursue a little farther the denial of such a providence as embraces the drawing of a ticket or the cast of a die.
To deny, then, that the divine providence is concerned in decisions obtained by lot, is to deny that it has any concern with individuals or their actions. For it cannot be shown that the government of God affects any individual or any action, but upon the broad principle of its extending to every individual and every action. If this position is incorrect, a line of distinction must be drawn between persons and actions that are and are not under his immediate control. If there are individuals to whom his providence, which is another name for the administration of his government, does not reach, then all such individuals are exempted from the obligation of his law, and are neither accountable nor dependent. For it is absurd to talk of dependence, and law, and responsibility, while you exclude the only agency which, by ascertaining facts, motives, and character, can lay the basis of a perfect judgment.
If, on the other hand, the divine providence embraces all persons, but not all actions, it follows that the actions thus omitted are not subject to the divine law; and, of course, that men are at one period of their lives amenable to God for their conduct, and at another period are not amenable. And between these two states of being with and without law to God they are perpetually vibrating. But how are they to know when these alterations take place? God has not revealed it, and they cannot discover it for themselves. But no judicious man can be reconciled to so miserable a subterfuge from a pinching argument. It will not bear examination for a single moment. The alternative is, that the providence of God directs every thing or nothing. If the former, then even the casting of a die; if the latter, we are plunged into atheism at once; for a God who does not govern the world is no God at all.
Perhaps it will be urged, that the Creator has "fixed certain laws in the physical world; that the doctrine of chances, founded upon these laws, is a subject of calculation; and that their operation is the only thing to be seen in the combination of chances."
I assent to the proposition, but contend that the objection grounded upon it is either futile or impious.
Futile—for it amounts to no more than this, that the Most High acts by second causes; unless, indeed, they can act without him. The objection, to have any force, must mean that they can so act; and then,
It is impious—for it strikes at the whole government of God, in so far as it is carried on through the medium of physical laws. To repeat the substance of a remark already made, if his providence has no concern in one, two, or twenty actions or events, occurring according to physical laws, it is equally unconcerned in all such events and actions; and thus we arrive at the old inference, that God has nothing to do with us nor our affairs. This mode of reasoning, pushed a little farther, will expel every thing but physical laws out of the universe. If I may shut my Maker out of all events happening according to these laws, why not myself and every other rational agent? And if I set my neighbor’s house on fire, or cut his throat, why not refer these things to the class of facts happening according to the laws of muscular motion? You shall not tell me that my rational and moral nature acted through the instrumentality of the firebrand or the knife; because this is to assert what you have just denied, viz. that intelligent and moral power acts by physical means. On my principles I admit your solution, but then it spoils your philosophy; for I shall as soon believe that an axe can hew wood without the agency of man, as that physical events can be produced, or physical law exist, without the agency of God. And I shall as soon deny the hewing of wood with an axe in my hand to be my own act, as deny the production of an event by physical laws to be an act of the divine providence. In truth, all moral order is maintained, and all moral events come to pass, by the intervention of physical law. And thus the conclusion forces itself upon us, that the disposing of the lot is as much the act of God, as if he were to perform it by some visible interposition. And therefore a wanton or needless appeal to him by the lot is a profanation of his name.
It will not avail to plead, "the unseemliness of supposing that men of profane minds can, whenever they please, compel the Almighty to become umpire between them." The same objection applies to the oath. Shall men of profane minds compel the Almighty at their pleasure to ascend his throne of judgment, and decide on perjuries and blasphemies? Such language is irreverent and ought not to be uttered. The plea, however, may be retorted. Shall the laws of God’s world be suspended, or his ordinary agency interrupted, because men choose to be wicked? Shall they oblige him to work miracles in order to keep himself out of the way so often as they incline to sport with his providence? Nay, his appointments stand. His laws go on. His agency in them ceases not for a moment. And if men convert them to an unholy use, he will not alter his course to prevent either their crime or their punishment.
To exhibit this matter in another light. If the divine providence is not to be considered in the lot, why is it to be considered in any other action? And if in no other, upon what principle can there be any religious worship? Why should men pray? Is the Most High to leave them in their pastimes and sins, and come at their beck in the hour of trouble? How can there be any future retribution? For this proceeds upon the supposition of God’s perpetual presence and agency; as there is none in earth or heaven, but himself, who can render to every one according to his works.
The sum is, that against the interposition of God’s providence in the decision by lot, there can be advanced no arguments which do not lead directly to atheism. Consequently, all such arguments are false; and a decision by the lot is a decision of God’s own providence. And as the lot, in every form and under all circumstances, is an appeal to him, it ought to be employed in a manner suitable to its nature. What the proper use of the lot is, and how it is abused at the expense of much sin, shall be pointed out hereafter.
Its Scriptural Use.
IT has already been proved from the very nature of the thing, that a lot is, in every form and upon every occasion, an appeal to the Most High God as the Governor of the world, and that the decision obtained by it is to be regarded as his decision. My doctrine, however, comes clothed with an authority much higher than that of argument, the authority of his own oracles. The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord. (Prov. 16:33.) This whole disposing, a good translation from a term of great latitude, cannot comprehend less than the following declarations:
1. That as soon as the lot leaves the hands of men, it passes into the hand of God.
2. That the direction of it to its issue is his own act; and,
3. That he acknowledges the result as a judgment given by himself.
Can there remain any doubt on this point with a serious mind? Is there any suspicion that the reasoning upon it may have been overstrained, or the sense of the passage just quoted mistaken? Let us compare them with scriptural facts.
The patriarch Jacob, on his dying bed, fore-told by the spirit of prophecy the future condition of his sons, and even marked out the districts which some of them should inhabit. Moses, in his parting blessing, was equally particular with respect to certain of the tribes. And yet the land of their inheritance, by a statute of Moses himself, was directed to be divided by lot: and was actually so divided under the inspection of Joshua, Eleazer, and the principal men of the nation. Thus, also, in the election of the first king of Israel, Saul, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, was pointed out to Samuel the prophet by special revelation, as the man whom God had designated for that high station. For The Lord had told Samuel in his ear, saying, To-morrow, about this time, I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people Israel. And when Samuel, the next day, saw Saul, the Lord said unto him, Behold the man whom I spake to thee of! This same shall reign over my people. In pursuance of this intimation Samuel took Saul apart, and poured a phial of oil upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?
This affair, the reader will notice, was between Samuel and the new monarch alone, as the former had, of set purpose, excluded all witnesses. It appears also to have been kept a profound secret. For when God had given to Saul "another heart," and the prophetic spirit had fallen upon him, the people were astonished, and said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? But had they known the nature of the interview between him and Samuel, they would have been prepared for this singular, and to them inexplicable, occurrence.
Shortly after these transactions, the good old prophet assembled the tribes of Israel, before God, in Mizpeh; and when he had, in the most dignified manner, but without success, remonstrated against their folly and their sin in rejecting their God, and desiring a king, he ordered them to present themselves by their tribes, and to choose their king by lot. The tribes came near; the lot was cast; and fell first on the tribe, next on the family, and finally on the person, of Saul.
Other instances are at hand, but these two are sufficient. The certainty of the event is previously ascertained in both, by the testimony of God; and yet the lot is cast in the same manner as if nothing had been revealed! Who does not see, that the credit of his prophets and the truth of their inspiration, were put, by such a proceeding, to the most hazardous of all possible experiments. Who does not see, in the exact coincidence of the sortilege with the prediction, a divine finger directing the lot to that same issue which a divine prescience had foretold? The alternative is plain. You must either deny the scriptural narrative to be true, for you must concede that the "whole disposing of these lots was from the Lord." Samuel exclaimed, when Saul was produced to the people, See ye him, whom the Lord hath chosen? They knew of no choice but that of the lot. They never so much as hesitated whether it was the divine act or not. Nor was their opinion at all uncommon. The very same opinion runs through the whole history of lots as recorded in the Bible. And, by the way, it is not impertinent to ask, How such a notion took possession of the minds of men? To say that superstition early prevailed, and that it easily corrupts the moral and intellectual powers, may satisfy all infidel, but not an inquirer, far less a thinker. Superstition obscures, abuses, and degrades, whatever it touches, but it creates nothing. It misapplies, and throws into a thousand absurd contortions, the religious character of man; but without the pre-existence of that character it can have no materials to act upon. The lot could never have been an engine of superstition; I will add, could never have found its way into sober discussion, and thence into foolish pastime, but in consequence of a deep laid conviction that it is a mode of manifesting the divine will. Ring the changes upon the word superstition as often and as loud as you please; you do but beg the question; you give no explanation; you are not a hair’s breadth nearer the solution of the problem. Besides, in the cases which we have examined, there was no room for superstition. It is not the attribute of that blind and senseless tyranny to look into the secrets of a future age; and the coincidences between the prophecy and tile lot, both in the division of Canaan and the elevation of Saul, were too many, too minute, and too public, to have been either fortuitous or fraudulent, What remains, but that the conviction of which we are speaking could have had no other origin than a faith in the particular providence of God, commingling with affairs apparently the most casual, overruling them to a proper termination, and instamping the lesson upon the use of the lot? This beautifully elucidates certain scriptural phraseologies which otherwise are hardly intelligible. Thou sustainest MY LOT. Thou shalt stand in THY LOT. The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the LOT of the righteous. INHERITANCE (LOT) among them that are sanctified. Giving thanks unto the Father who hath made us meet to be partaker’s of the INHERITANCE (LOT) of the saints in light. Neither as being lords over God’s HERITAGE (LOTS).
How could men ever have submitted their wishes, their reason, their fortunes, their lives, to the lot, without a strong assurance that the wise and righteous God speaks by it? How could the term "lot" have been adopted to signify their condition and circumstances, as ordered by his providence, without a settled belief that the lot is regulated by his providence? Or, if this belief is erroneous, how could it have been admitted into the devotional language of his church, and sanctioned, from time immemorial, by his Spirit of truth?
These considerations preclude, in a great measure, an objection which readily offers itself, and is not without force. "That the lots mentioned in scripture, were extraordinary, and became appeals to God, and expressed his will, in virtue of his own commandment, which is equally necessary to every similar application of them; and therefore, that the instances quoted do neither prove his particular agency in ordinary lots, nor furnish any general principle of reasoning as to their nature and use."
This objection, though deemed by some to be unanswerable, is not valid.
1. It is incorrect in its facts. For although there are instances of God’s directing an appeal to him by lot for special purposes; yet there are others in which the appeal was not founded upon any such direction; and so must have rested upon the known design of the lot.
2. It is incorrect in its assumption, viz. that it was the special injunction of God which converted the lot into an appeal to him. Whereas the injunction presupposes such an appeal as being essential to the lot; and in appointing it to be employed on special occasions, only appointed the use of a known method of bringing a matter before the divine tribunal, in preference to other methods which might have been selected.
3. The objection throws its authors and advocates into that gulf of atheism, to which, it was demonstrated in our first paper, the denial of God’s providence in the lot most certainly tends.
From the whole of the foregoing view we collect, that the lot is an act of high and solemn worship, as an appeal to the God of the earth and of the heavens must necessarily be; and that it ought never to be interposed but in matters which warrant such an appeal.
What then are the uses of the lot? When is it proper? And how should it be conducted? The uses of the lot are two.
1. It bears witness to a particular providence. It does not merely acknowledge God as an upright judge who will, at such time as shall please him, reward the good and punish the evil; but it incorporates with an act of worship, a profession of faith that he is present, and pronounces judgment on the spot. It is his finger which moves the lot, and his voice which utters the decree! The operation, then, of the lot, is to check, by a visible rebuke, that forgetfulness of God to which we are so prone, and which produces, in all their variety, the bitter fruits of iniquity and of wo—to assert his dominion not only over every world, but over every creature, and over all the circumstances which relate to that creature’s happiness or misery—to erect a barrier against the inroads of both speculative and practical atheism—and to strengthen the influence of that pure and undefiled religion which is built upon the doctrine of a particular providence.
2. The lot is of use to determine questions among men.
Like the oath, it is a last resort. The one appeals to God for the sincerity of our declarations: the other for the direction of our choice. They are different forms of acknowledging his government, but the effect of both is the same—to put an end to controversy, by putting a limit to human research. Thus the scripture represents them—
to cease, and parteth
between the mighty."
For conformation, is
an end of all strife."
The parallel is exact, and leads to the second question,
When is the lot proper?
In cases of importance; which cannot be decided by other means in the exercise of our reason; and for the prevention or termination of strife.
The case must be important; for appeals to the living God with thoughtless frequency, upon mere trifles, is an impiety which cannot be indulged with impunity, nor thought of without horror.
The case must not only be difficult, but such as our best discretion is unable to bring to a comfortable issue.
For if we appeal directly to the judgment of God in things which may be fairly and wisely settled without so appealing, we depreciate the value, by superseding the exercise of our rational faculties—we endeavor to disturb the order which God has established, subjecting the tribunal of human reason to the tribunal of his supremacy; inasmuch as we attempt to abolish the inferior tribunal by withdrawing causes which are of its proper jurisdiction; and thus, impeaching his wisdom, not honoring his throne, we provoke him rather to inflict his curse than to command his blessing.
Cases in which the lot may lawfully be used, are such as these:
The division of property: when the portions of it are adjusted with impartiality and skill; and yet the claimants cannot agree upon the distribution. The appointment of men to a service of a peculiar interest or hazard; when more than the requisite number appear; and their respective qualifications or disqualifications are pretty equally balanced.
The selection of victims; when several, involved in the same crime, are under the same condemnation: but the government, leaning to mercy, and resolving to make an example, requires only a part to suffer, and does not name the individuals. The reader can easily add other illustrations.
I have only to answer the third question upon this head; viz.
How should the lot be conducted?
As it is an act of worship, the glorious majesty of Him with whom they have to do, should be present to the minds of the worshipers. Passion, levity, indifference, should be laid aside. The name of God should be invoked by prayer; and the lot cast as under his eye. When the issue is declared, the parties concerned should repress every feeling of resentment or dissatisfaction; and acquiesce with promptitude and reverence, as they undoubtedly would have done, had their Almighty Umpire rendered himself visible, and given sentence in their hearing.
There cannot be a happier elucidation of the right manner of applying the lot than the example of the apostles at the election of a colleague to fill the place of Judas. They knew that an apostle could be chosen only by the immediate act of their Master in heaven. They knew, however, that he must have certain qualifications which Peter mentioned. They looked round among their brethren, and found two thus qualified. They had gone as far as they could go in fixing upon the man by ascertained rules, and an insuperable difficulty presenting itself in the circumstance of two answering the general description, while only one was wanted, they refer the decision to their ascended Lord. Having set the candidates before him, they prayed and said, Thou, Lord, (it was the Lord Jesus to whom they prayed,) Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. The decision was received with profound submission, as the decision of the Lord Jesus himself. Not a soul disputed it; not a whisper was heard of discontent or doubt. Let Christians, in their use of the lot, go and do likewise.
IN the preceding numbers we have established to the satisfaction, we hope, of the serious reader, these two propositions:
1. That the lot is a direct appeal to God as the Governor of the world, founded on the faith of a particular providence.
2. That when used on proper occasions, and in a proper manner, both of which have been explained, it is an act of high and acceptable worship.
From this doctrine the conclusion is plain, that all unnecessary, light, careless, or customary uses of the lot; all uses of it, other than such as are holy, reverent, and warranted by the rules of the written word, are sinful, and to be avoided as profanations of the divine name.
For under the name of God is comprehended every thing by which he makes himself known. In the oath he is solemnly invoked as the Omniscient, whose "eyes are upon the truth." In the lot a decision is put into his hands as the Sovereign Umpire between his creatures, who dispenses to them the most pure and perfect righteousness. In both, his dominion over us, his right to dispose of us and our affairs, and the account which we shall render to him, are fully acknowledged.
The sinfulness of profane swearing consists in treating with levity that NAME of God which the spirits of heaven adore; in impairing our sense of his majesty; in weakening the restraint which his authority imposes on the lusts of men; and diffusing, in the same proportion, the influence of practical atheism. If, then, as has been proved, the lot is an ordinance of the same general nature with the oath; if it involves the same homage to the divine government; if it is calculated to promote the same great moral and social purposes, who can doubt that the irreligious use of it is of the same complexion with the irreligious use of the oath, and like it belongs to that "taking of the name of the Lord in vain," which "the Lord will not hold guiltless?" We question not that many who would on no account pollute their lips with a profane oath, are in the habit of misapplying the lot without any conscientious scruple whatever. The reason is to be sought in their want of instruction and reflection. That they sin is not less certain than that the lot is an appeal to God. Their sin, we hope, must be referred to ignorance; but that ignorance cannot be invincible; and is, therefore, culpable; and the excuse arising from it grows less valid with every opportunity of information, and with every call to "consider their ways."
This deduction from the foregoing reasoning we might submit without comment to the conscience of our readers. It contains the substance of those conclusions by which, on many accounts public and private, we wish them to try the use of the lot as it occurs in the present state of society. But as a general truth is often best perceived in its details, we shall exemplify our principle by pointing out several abuses of the lot.
1. It is often employed as a means of determining the spiritual state and character of individuals. This is done in three ways.
Cards, with texts of scripture on one side, the other being blank, are shuffled together, and then dealt out to the company, who read the text on their own cards, under an impression of its being a divine message to them respectively. To what lengths this species of game is carried, or under what restrictions it is conducted, we pretend not to know; but that such a game exists we are perfectly certain.
In place of these cards the leaves of the Bible are sometimes substituted; the book being kept shut, a pin is stuck between the leaves, and a message from God is looked for in one of the pages between which the pin is inserted.
Nearly allied to this, and substantially the same, is the practice of opening the Bible at random, and taking the passage first caught by the eye as the message intended.
These methods of applying the word of God carry with them the mark of such puerile and absurd superstition, that it may seem needless even to mention them. But the mind in distress about eternal things, under the influence of erroneous views of religion, is often bewildered, and impelled by temptation to expedients very ill calculated to yield relief. However incredible it may be thought, this very practice of turning the Bible into a lottery has filled some weak yet well meaning people with unfounded confidence, and driven others almost to desperation. One man finds on his card, or selects with his pin, or catches by a sudden glance of his eye, an assurance of grace, or a promise of eternal life, and he is transported with ecstasy. Another by the same means lights upon a threatening or a curse, and he is broken with terrors as if an angel of God had written before his eyes a sentence of reprobation. That which has happened already may happen again, and Christians should be on their guard against such delusion. Delusion it undoubtedly is, if words of truth and soberness are entitled to our regard.
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof; for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work." But in order to reap this excellent fruit from the holy writings, they must be studied, searched, compared. They are addressed to us as rational beings, whose faculties are to be exercised in discovering their sense, that we may understand what is the revealed will of God, and what opinion we are to form of our own character. Serious inquiry into these matters, with an ardent desire for the guidance of the Spirit of truth, will, for the most part, enable us to determine with tolerable precision every question affecting our substantial interests. They who are the most devoted to it are not only the most intelligent Christians, but, ordinarily, enjoy the most settled peace, and are most abundant in the "fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God." But now all this use of the scriptures, and all the blessed effects accruing from diligent and holy investigation of them, are completely set aside by converting them into a lottery. The greatest and the least acquaintance with them are exactly on a level. Progress in the knowledge of their doctrines, precepts, promises, is of no avail. All comparing of things spiritual with spiritual is at an end. There is no more room for self-examination. The trial of tempers, affections, habits, principles, corruptions, graces, declensions, revivals, by the word of God, is superseded. The Bible ceases to be a rule of faith and conduct, for every judgment is made to rest upon an immediate revelation obtained by lot. They who resort to such a summary method of getting at spiritual results ought in all consistency to pursue it in temporal things. It would prevent the trouble of much circuitous industry; it would engender no sloth more ignoble than what it creates in the concerns of the soul; and it is obviously as proper to decide by the turn of a shilling whether we shall plough or not, as to interrogate the point of a pin whether we shall be saved or perish.
It is surprising that they, who are addicted to this unhallowed use of the scriptures, do not perceive their self-contradiction; and what is infinitely worse, their endeavor to draw into self-contradiction the God with whom they have to do. They either lay some stress on the issue of their lottery speculations in the scripture, or none. If none, the contradiction lies in their attempting to produce something by means which, according to their own concession, can produce nothing. If, on the other hand, any stress be laid on them, the contradiction lies in attempting to make these very means destroy their own result, which is always done by repeating the experiment. And when the issues differ, as in most cases they will, one conclusion is set off against the other, and yet both are valid. Thus, if a man shall draw a blessing this moment, and a curse the next, he is bound to believe himself both blessed and accursed; for the reason of his believing the one is equally strong for believing the other, or else for not believing either, which would be as gross a contradiction as the former.
If this; however, were all; if in these their liberties with the Bible men of vain, irregular minds, merely displayed their own folly, they might expose themselves at their leisure. But they actually endeavor to draw the Most High God into self-contradiction. For if they view those passages of his word which are assigned to them by lot, as expressing his decision, they ought never to try again because his "counsel shall stand." Whereas, by the very fact of "trying again," they ask him to reverse his own judgment. And thus, their characters remaining the same, should they happen, as in the example above, to get now a curse and then a blessing; they ascribe to him two opposite judgments, in one of which he must necessarily certify a falsehood. These are daring freedoms indeed. The very thought of perverting his book of life into a book of gambling should fill us with horror.
But let not our reprehension of such profaneness, for by no softer name can we call it, be misunderstood. Let us not be suspected of denying that portions of divine truth, suddenly and unexpectedly presented to the mind, have in many instances been accompanied with extraordinary effects. A careless man has unintentionally opened the Bible at a place which arrested his notice and flashed light in upon his conscience. It was an arrow from the quiver of the Eternal, shot into his very heart, and it stuck there, drinking up his spirit, till it was extracted by the healing hand of mercy.
So, likewise, many of those who "fear the Lord," and yet "walk in darkness and have no light," proceeding in the path of duty, mourning and depressed, have taken up their Bible, hardly knowing whether they should read it or not; and have been directed to some unlooked for passage, which, being powerfully applied to their hearts, has dispelled their fears, and filled them with "peace and joy in believing." We know that all this is exploded by many, and even by some who are called, and who ought to be, ministers of the gospel, as blind fanaticism. If the reader be of that class, we have at present no dispute with him. He is welcome to the consolation of laughing at that which multitudes of believers, now in the church, and multitudes more among the "spirits of just men made perfect," can attest to be a divine reality. He has much higher reason to doubt his own Christianity than the sobriety of their experience.
But while we allow in the amplest manner for such cases as these—while we are far front "limiting the Holy One of Israel"—we cannot forget that his sovereignty is not our rule of action, nor concede that his interposition in such instances as we have mentioned affords the smallest countenance to the practice we have condemned. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." But the sentence of "the law and the testimony" is not to be procured by cutting it up into lottery tickets, nor to be used as if the promises of life and the denunciations of death were pasted among its leaves, to be distributed by lot. As well might the divine promises and threatenings be parceled out on a back-gammon board, and the dice be rattled for a chance of heaven or of hell. If every man, whose soul is not lost to seriousness, shudders at this idea, let him also shudder at the other, which is equally profane. It is a gross abuse of the lot, and therefore a prostitution of an ordinance by the proper use of which the name of God is glorified.
WE exposed, in our last number, that signal abuse of the lot which employs it as a means of determining the spiritual state and character of individuals. We proceed to point out another abuse far more extensive in its operation and most fatal in its effects, we mean games of chance. Under this general appellation we comprehend cards, dice, and other games, of which tine lot is an essential part.
The universal and decisive objection to them in every form and under all circumstances is, that they are profane appeals to the divine throne, and a wanton prostitution of a divine ordinance. For the premises which support this conclusion we refer the reader to our first two numbers.
We are aware that our position will not readily obtain the concurrence of many who are far from being friendly to gaming or gamblers. Both are held in abhorrence by sober-minded men throughout the whole world. But their opinions greatly vary as to tine nature of the games.
Some consider them, or at least certain forms of them, as innocent and pleasant recreations, when they are not subservient to the sordid passions; that is, when the parties either do not play for money, or for no more than is necessary to keep up the spirit of the competition.
Others despise them as frivolous and ignoble pastimes, without attaching to them the blame of direct immorality, unless they become incentives to crime by becoming the sources of unlawful gain.
Many beyond doubt there are, whose indulgence in these sports carries them to no such excess; who treat gaming and gamesters with merited contempt; and who, while they give a leisure hour to the card-table or the die, have not the smallest suspicion that their amusement has all irreligious taint, or tends to weaken in the slightest degree the sense and effect of those obligations by which shall is bound to God his Maker.
With these we remonstrate: with all who are not strangers to compunctious feeling after they have risen from a game of hazard; and with all, who, although they have occasionally speculated upon the question, have never been at the pains to decide it satisfactorily to their own minds.
Gaming has always had an evil reputation in all civilized countries, especially such as have been enlightened by the Christian revelation. It is both curious and instructive to mark the gradations of this sentiment.
Gamesters themselves, in whom the avaricious lust has not quite overpowered both integrity and shame, know and feel that their occupation is vile; for they study secrecy, not merely to elude the penal statutes of the law, but also to save appearances among men better than themselves. Fame, low as is her credit for veracity, has put less truth into her tattle, than is usual even with her, if there are not in this very city of New York, gentlemen, and ladies too, who consume their midnights over the fascinating chance, amid piles of money; but who could never meet, in broad day, the infamy which confronts an avowed gambler.
This, it may be said, is referable to that wholesome discipline by which public opinion coerces the impudence of vice. For the most part it is so. But public opinion is an effect, and like all other effects must have a cause. Set the gamblers aside, and there remains a large body of sober, discreet members of the community who never gamble, who view gaming for money as altogether unjustifiable, as a system of rapacity and plunder, and would on no account whatever so far degrade themselves in their own eyes as to pollute their hands with the product of the gaming board. Yet a game of chance, detached from such applications of it, they will not stigmatize as immoral. How did they arrive at the distinction? How will they show that a thing lawful for the purposes of amusement may not be lawful for the purposes of emolument also? Why should that be ill-gotten which is not gotten by ill means? Why should an hour or two spent at the card-table gratis be consistent with virtue, and that same time spent in the same employment be condemned as criminal the moment it profits one’s purse? Making money is not vicious; by the terms of the argument cards and dice are not vicious; and yet making money by cards or dice is accounted vicious by such a strong and general coincidence of opinion as imposes law upon society. What is there, then, to render the combination immoral? It cannot be mere excess of ardor in the pursuit of lucre. Labor may be excessive; enterprise may be excessive; economy may be excessive; yet economy, enterprise, and labor, are not immoral methods of acquiring property. If the dreadful consequences, which in all ages have followed the spirit of gaming, be assigned as the reason, we ask why these dreadful consequences have followed? In the government of God evil consequences are the punishment of evil deeds. The loss, dishonor, and wretchedness, which sooner or later overtake the wicked, are the natural penalties by which he chastises sin, vindicates the goodness of his law, and proclaims his determination to enforce its authority. The universe cannot produce an example of a train of miseries associated, in every age, in every country, in every state of society, with any action or set of actions, in which there is no abuse of some divine institution. Thus, falsehood, debauchery, covetousness, dishonesty, revenge, and a thousand other vices, will all be found, upon close examination, to be abuses of God’s institutions, and their deplorable effects to be the punishments which he has annexed to them respectively.
Now as the fact is incontestible, that no curses are more conspicuous or regular than those which come down upon the head of the gambler, the inference is irrefragable that gaming must be a most provoking abuse of some divine institution. What is it? We answer, the lot. This solution alone goes to the bottom of the difficulty. This alone explains the moral phenomena which invariably attend the system of gaming. An ordinance which God has appointed for the holy and reverend acknowledgment of his superintendence over the affairs of men, has been perverted to the ends, first of amusement, and then of lucre. This perversion he resents and punishes. It will be a pitiful evasion to plead instances of persons who play with moderation as invalidating our general argument. There are degrees of transgression and of correction. "Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin;" but it is not till "sin is finished" that it "bringeth forth death." And the death which smites the perfected sin is only smiting the progeny of the parturient lust: The game of chance and downright gambling are but different stages of the same iniquity. They have always been coexistent; if not in the same individual, yet certainly in the same community. Let the former take its course, and the latter inevitably follows. So, when the spirit of gambling, which is the matured offspring of the game of chance, suffers the pains of divine displeasure, the blow is aimed at both together. It is the principle which the "Governor among the nations" is judging. If he strike it chiefly in its most depraved state and most offensive form, he does not indicate that in its earlier states and less ruinous connection he tolerates it, as innocent, but gives another document that he is long suffering and slow to answer. If this conclusion be at any time reversed, it is only a new fact in the history of an old imposture. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed SPEEDILY, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
All this, we are sensible, will be laughed to scorn by those who "like not to retain God in their knowledge." We leave them to their propensities and their reward. Judgments are prepared for SCORNERS, and stripes for the back of FOOLS.
But to those who have never weighed the subject seriously, or who are "halting between two opinions," as to the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the games in question, we address ourselves with better hope. They will not contemn, as unworthy of their regard, the reasonings which have already been submitted to them. They will hardly suppose that moralists, divines, and statesmen—Jews, Greeks, and Romans—political legislatures, and ecclesiastical councils—public principle, and private virtue, would all unite in reprobating an innocent amusement. But they have united in reprobating games of chance. A combination which seems impossible unless upon the ground of some common and strong conviction of their intrinsic immorality.
That the gospel of Jesus Christ has divinely illuminated the doctrine of morals, nothing but a profligate warfare against truth will deny. Where that gospel reigns in its purest influence; rectifying speculative and practical error; setting the heart at liberty from the bondage of depravity; and imparting a quick sensibility to the conscience, games of chance are always held in the worst repute.
So long as a man continues profane and wicked, he can generally game himself, and make companions of those who do. But when "he turns from his vanities to serve the living God;" when he ceases to have "fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness;" when his delights are with the saints, with the excellent of the earth; and, in the hope of seeing Jesus as he is, he "purifies himself, even as he is pure," he cannot easily fail to throw away his cards and his dice. There have been, and there are, professors of religion who retain a predilection for these amusements; but they are not, and never have been, noted for circumspect and exemplary Christians. Go the whole round of those numerous circles which encompass the card-table. You will find selections of all sorts, from low vulgarity up to accomplished fashion—from the refuse of the grog-shop, up to the most brilliant assemblage of the drawing-room; but if you fall in with a single card-party, composed of those who "worship God in spirit and in truth;" who remember that they were "redeemed from their VAIN CONVERSATION, with the precious blood of Christ;" and who are constrained by his love, to "live, not unto themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again;"—if you fall in with a single card-party composed of such Christians, (and they are the only ones who shall see God,) we will give up the cause.
What shall we say to these things? Shall we say that a point which appears so serious to the very best of the human race, is not worth our attention? Shall we say that in deciding on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of a particular set of actions, we will prefer the judgment of the thoughtless, the profane, the abandoned, to the judgment of them who "fear God and keep his commandments?" Shall we way that his church, in which his presence dwells, and his mercies are dispensed, is a worse guide in morals, than the "world which lieth in wickedness?" Shall we say that the Spirit and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ teach his people to cherish an unconquerable antipathy against practices which are not forbidden by his law? Who, that has not parted with reverence for whatever is most holy, and just, and good, will embrace the affirmative? And who, that vindicates the game of chance, does not embrace it?
The reader perceives that the immorality which we attribute to games of hazard, does not arise from circumstances; but is essential to their nature. We pronounce them immoral and unlawful, precisely on the ground of their abuse and profanation of the lot, which is an institution of God for special religious and moral purposes. We have introduced a view of their effects no further than was necessary for the prosecution of this argument. Not that we think these effects of trifling moment. They are of great and terrible moment. They should never be forgotten by any who incline to more indulgence than severity toward the games. By the light of the penalty, men often learn to read the law. An ear deaf to the voice of religion, may sometimes listen to the admonitions of prudence. An eye which sees no vice, may discern meanness; and the fear of disgrace or loss may control those who are intractable by piety.
For the sake of such, and for the confirmation of those who already obey the dictates of a well-informed conscience, we shall give in our next, a sketch of some evils incident to games of chance.
Evils Incident to Games of Chance.
WE have repeatedly stated, in the course of these papers, that our great objection to lots as they are commonly used, is the impiety of their principle; and that this constitutes the unlawfulness of games of chance, such as cards, dice, &c.
Assuming our doctrine as true, because it has been proved, we can view the mischiefs attendant upon gaming, in no other light than that of penalties which God inflicts upon the violation of his law. On the confirmed gamester we do not hope to make an impression. An understanding so blighted; a conscience so seared; a heart so cold, so selfish, and so hard, as enter into the composition of his character, render him deaf to remonstrance, and put him, for the most part, out of the reach of reform.
But they who hate gaming [i.e, gambling], while they love the game; who play freely for amusement, while they would, on no account, play for lucre; and who would shudder at the thought of promoting either vice or misery, are intreated to reflect whether there be not such evils connected with the game of chance, even in its least exceptionable form, and with its best limitations, as require them to abstain from it altogether.
1. A most unprofitable consumption of time, is, by general consent, among the fruits of the card-table and the dice-board.
Those relaxations and exercises which are necessary to health, to spirits, and to activity, ordinarily carry with them their own restriction. Bodily weariness, or the cessation of that charm which, for a short period, the mind perceives in occupations calculated to relieve it from its pressure, are of themselves, an admonition that the end is answered; that the recreation is over; and that we must return to the business of life. But there is, in the very nature of the game of chance, a perpetual and increasing incitement. It tempts, fascinates, absorbs. The glass runs out unheeded: hour is added to hour; and the party rises fatigued and exhausted. Exceptions there doubtless are; but that such is the tendency of the game, and such its very frequent effect, cannot well be denied. Let the reader pause. Let him ask himself whether this is an appropriation of time fit for one who means either to obey God, or do good to man? Let him ask, whether whole afternoons or evenings, thus expended, belong to the "redeeming of time;" or will afford a peaceful retrospect on the bed of death? Add up the moments which are squandered at the card-table, without the least imaginable benefit to body, to soul, or to society: look at their sum: see how much thou mightest have lived in them to thyself, to thy friends, to God; and remember that it is all lost, worse than lost, from those days, for every one of which thou must give an account.
2. An inseparable concomitant of the card-table is intellectual dissipation.
The writer of these remarks numbers it among the mercies of God, that he has seldom, very seldom indeed, been placed in circumstances which compelled him to witness the operation of cards or dice on the minds of those engaged. He has seen enough, however, to satisfy him perfectly of their baneful influence. Can any thing be more debasing or contemptible, than that men and women, qualified to bear a respectable part in conversation, and even to adorn the social circle, should descend from the elevation of their own good sense to the level of every stupid thing, male and female, that can giggle or swear over a pack of cards! Religion out of the question, this is no scene for understanding. Leave it to the coxcomb and the coquet, to the sharper and the fool; but let not a man or woman of cultivated mind be dishonored by taking a hand. The very atmosphere which surrounds them is poison, at once to the intellect and the heart. It were much to be wished, that some who have imperceptibly learned to degrade their lips with the jargon of the gamester, could occasionally get such a reproof as the celebrated Locke administered to certain British noblemen. "One day, three or four of these lords having met at Lord Ashley’s, when Mr. Locke was there; after some compliments, cards were brought in before scarce any conversation had passed between them. Mr. Locke looked upon them for some time, while they were at play; and, taking his pocket-book, began to write with great attention. One of the lords observing him, asked him what he was writing? ‘My lord,’ says he ‘I am endeavoring to profit, as far as I am able, in your company: for having waited with impatience for the honor of being in an assembly of the greatest geniuses of this age, and at last having obtained the good fortune, I thought I could not do better than write down your conversation; and indeed, I have set down the substance of what has been said for this hour or two.’ Mr. Locke had no occasion to read much of this conversation: those noble persons saw the ridicule of it; and diverted themselves with improving the jest. They quitted their play, and entering into rational discourse, spent the rest of their time in a manner more suitable to their character." If a similar record were made of the conversation of our card-parties, and published to the world, the ridicule would be intolerable: and if it should not deter men and women of sense from play forever afterwards, it would at least show how perfectly, for the sake of this paltry pastime, they confound themselves with the most arrant fools in nature.
"When blockheads," says a writer who will not be accused of bigotry, "when blockheads rattle the dice-box, when fellows of vulgar and base minds sit up whole nights contemplating the turn of a card, their stupid occupation is in character; but whenever a cultivated understanding stoops to the tyranny of so vile a passion, the friend to mankind sees the injury to society with that sort of aggravation as would attend the taking of his purse on the highway, if upon the seizure of the felon he was unexpectedly to discover the person of a judge."
3. Play for amusement leads to and perpetuates the whole system of gaming for money.
Very few, if any, learn to play with the design of becoming gamblers. But the progress to this issue is both natural and common. Knowledge of the cards is only a polite accomplishment, and an occasional hand no more than mere civility. What was acquiescence in the first stage becomes choice in the second, and passion in the third. A cent, a sixpence, or a quarter dollar, merely to keep up the spirit of the game, is all that many plead for or allow. The sum is indeed too trifling to be an objection, but are they aware of the principle? Do not the languor of the game without and its animation with the aid of this pecuniary stimulus, very strongly mark its tendency? Is not here the commencement of a course which carries the adventurer along with accelerated step to deep and fatal stakes? Let it not be said that the sober circles, which are the object of these strictures, never permit and would be among the first to resist such extremes. They put it seems a rolling body on the top of a declivity, set it a going, and stop it before it reaches the bottom! An admirable expedient! Is there no danger of its slipping through their hands, or of acquiring a velocity which they cannot check? There is a much better method—Never set it on the declivity at all! Plainly. Can these moderate and cautious players be sure that none of those whom they train up in what they term innocent pastime, shall ever fall in with others who have less scruple? Have they never heard of a youth who received the rudiments of his gaming education from his circumspect friends, becoming: in consequence of this very acquisition, the companion of vile associates, and the victim of their crimes? Have they never heard of an unhappy fair one, initiated in the mystery of the card-table under her father’s roof, being hurried away with the maddening fascination till her virtue and her peace were the price of redemption for her forfeited purse?
Such things have been, and such things may again be. The very possibility of their recurrence should inspire every one who values honor, truth, and purity, with a detestation of the sports which conduct to them, and impel him to lift up his voice and his example against their introduction or use in any shape or any circumstances. The amusement which they can afford will be a miserable compensation for a ruined wife or daughter, son, or brother, or sister. Considering the snares which beset the inexperienced foot, all the vigilance of parents and friends is little enough to keep our youth, the hope of our land, from error and harm.
It is neither right nor kind; it is wrong, and sinful, and cruel, to fit them for the most profligate company and deeds. Nothing does this more effectually than an acquaintance with games of chance; for there is no dissipated assemblage to which it is not a recommendation. To have the dearest parts of ourselves in a state of complete readiness for the most alluring temptation to the worst of crimes, is, to say the least of it, notwithstanding every safeguard, a most dangerous qualification. Keep them ignorant of cards and dice, and you erect the strongest human barrier against the seductions of gaming. Teach them the art, and that barrier is thrown down; thrown down by your own hands; thrown down to the breaking of your own heart; and when the destruction to which you yourself have been accessory overtakes your children, you sit down and vent the bitterness of your soul in unavailing complaint. The benefits of gaming none but a villain or a fool will undertake to display! Its mischiefs are palpable, horrible, endless! Its history is written in tears and blood. Its vouchers are the most fell passions of the human heart, and the most fearful excesses of human depravity. And yet, while facts, which ought to send alarm and abhorrence along every shivering nerve, are repeating their admonitions every hour, parents—parents professing themselves Christians—do, both by example and precept, put their own children directly into the gambler’s path! And as if the temptations which assault the age of puberty were too few, too feeble, or too tardy, parents themselves anticipate the work of corruption, antedate the progress of sin, and apply their own ingenuity to help in bringing forward their children to a forced maturity of' vice. We cannot exempt from this censure any who permit gaming, under whatever form or pretext, in their houses, and who do not discountenance it in their offspring, or others subjected to them, by their severest displeasure. It admits not of dispute, that if the orderly and reputable members of society were utterly to discard the game of chance, gambling would soon be destroyed or confined to the spendthrift and the thief. But how can we hope for such a blessed reformation, when, besides notorious gaming houses, many who figure in the higher classes of society play, and play deep, in their own houses. Could these public and private seminaries of all that is base and abominable be exposed at one view to the eye, we will not say of a Christian, but of a political moralist, he would almost despair of our country. The rage for play was lately so great in the city of New York, that public prints ascribed the desertion of the theatre to the multitude of gambling parties! A rare account of the virtue taught and learned at the theatre we must own! We ask a plain question. Had cards and dice not been reputable as an amusement, could they ever have become so general as a vice? And is it to be wondered at that those places of vile resort, the public gaming houses, should be crowded with our youth? Is it not a perfectly natural consequence of play among heads of families, merely to relieve a tedious hour, that children, apprentices, and servants, should pursue the practice farther, and at last plunder parents and masters, to meet the demands of the card-table and the billiard-room The number of those fine young gentlemen who have nothing to do; heirs of estates with pockets full of money; lawyers and merchants’ clerks; idlers, who, by a sad misnomer, are nicknamed students; beaux, whose greatest adroitness is shown in keeping out of the hang, of the bailiff at the suit of tailors, and shoemakers, and washerwomen; et id genus omne, which flock about the gaming houses, is incredible to those who have no opportunities of observing them. But it is not more lamentable than true, that from nine in the morning till eleven at night, and often much later, these nuisances are attended by a succession of youth. Some spend there the chief part of the twenty-four hours, and there are always adepts in iniquity to decoy the inexperienced and uncorrupted. Why is the suppression of these enormities so difficult? Why are laws so easily, so openly: and so impudently evaded? One reason is plain—gaming grows less infamous. It grows less infamous because, respectable people of both sexes game. The number of gamesters is so great because they are kept in countenance by so many who play only for amusement, let the experiment be fairly tried. Let the latter give up their sport, and we shall soon see multitudes of the former give up their lust. The community would speedily be rid of legions of those fiends who now haunt its retreats, and prey upon its strength. That immovable selfishness; that cold-blooded malignity that hardened impiety that fell desperation, ready for fraud, for robbery: for murder, for suicide, which form the character of a furnished gamester, impose upon every man a solemn obligation to resist the gaming system in all its parts and progress. Every man, whom the extinction of virtuous feeling has not prepared for adding to the dishonor and the miseries of human life, will perceive the obligation in proportion as he reasons correctly, and applies the discoveries of his understanding to the regulation of his conduct. All our principles on this subject are false, and all our deductions from them impertinent, or it follows, that every one who plays at cards or dice is responsible, to the whole extent of the influence of his example in preserving the knowledge and practice of gaming, for all its tremendous effects on body and soul, on property, character, and happiness—on the best interests of his fellow-creatures here, and on their best hopes for the eternal world.
 Malthus. Essay on the Principle of Population. Vol. II. p. 67. [back]
 Life of Mr. Locke. prefixed to his works, p. 22, 8vo. [back]
 The Observer, by Richard Cumberland, No, 22. [back]