A TESTIMONY AND WARNING AGAINST SOME PREVAILING SINS AND IMMORALITIES: ADDRESSED TO CHRISTIANS IN GENERAL,
Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. ISAIAH lviii. 1.
I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. EZEKIEL xxxiii. 7.
PRINTED BY STEPHEN YOUNG, PRINCE’S STREET.
DOUGLAS, 6th March, 1804.
The Reformed Presbytery met and constituted—Sederunt, &c.
A proposal was made in the Presbytery and agreed to, that a practical Warning should be published by them against the prevalent immoralities of the present age. After conversation on the subject, an appointment was laid on two members to prepare a draught of a Warning to that effect. Said draught was laid before this meeting, and a part of it read. It was agreed that some additions should be made to the first part, to make it more uniform with the second, betwixt and the November Presbytery, and that the copy should be circulated among the members, to be perused by them privately until that time.
Extracted by ARCH.D MASON, P. Clk.
HAMILTON, 9th November, 1804.
The Reformed Presbytery met and constituted—Sederunt, &c.
The Presbytery, finding that they had not leisure at this meeting to read and examine the forementioned draught against immorality with due care, appointed a Committee of their number to meet at Glasgow as soon as possible, to prepare it for the press.
Extracted by ARCH.D MASON, P. Clk.
GLASGOW, 12th February, 1805.
The Committee met, according to appointment, and constituted, &c.
Having read over the Warning against practical immorality, paragraph by paragraph, and made what amendments they judged necessary, the Committee unanimously approve of the same, and order it to be published, under the inspection of two of the members, with all convenient speed.
Extracted by THO.S HENDERSON, Com. Clk.
N.B. The original copy, being drawn up by different hands, will account for the difference of the style, and mode of reasoning.
Christian Friends & Brethren,
GRACE, Mercy, and Peace be multiplied unto you, through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord.—It is the command of the great Jehovah to gospel ministers, as watchmen of the city of God, to know the signs of the times, and to give warning from him against all the public sins, and gross immoralities, which have a tendency to bring down Divine Judgments upon guilty nations and Churches. It is predicted by the Apostle, 2 Tim. 3.1, “That in the last days perilous times shall come.” And, when we consider this day of treading down in the valley of vision, we have cause to fear, that they are now really come. The gates of human depravity are burst open, and wickedness, like an impetuous torrent, threatens to carry holiness and morality along with it. The greater part of mankind, by imbibing the sentiments of infidelity, have gone over into practical atheism, contempt of ordinances, and disregard to every religious duty, which God requires in his word. This infidelity of principle has been productive of a numerous train of immoralities in practice. Nothing else indeed can be expected, because want of the true knowledge of God, and contempt of his moral authority, as revealed in the holy scriptures, are the genuine source of all the evils which appear in the life. This is plainly declared by the Spirit of God, Rom. 1.28, “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” Belief of the truth, and gospel holiness are inseparably connected together by God in his word, 2 Thess. 2.13. But alas! it is a prevailing evil of the present generation, to separate what God has joined together. On this account, he seems to have given them up to counsels of their own, to strong delusions, to believe lies. Great numbers, even of the professors of religion, are left to follow a multitude to do evil. Like Israel of old, they mingled with the nations, and have learned of them their ways. [Ps. 106.35] Notwithstanding of the most solemn engagements, made at Baptism and the Lord’s table, to renounce the service of the Devil, the world, and the flesh, and to bear faithful and true allegiance to Zion’s glorious King, according to his holy law, yet how many give the lie to their solemn profession, by voluntarily serving sin, Satan, and their own lusts, walking “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” Eph. 2.2.
We have our own fears, that many things in this Warning may appear as idle tales to this luke-warm age, and even to many, of whom better things might be expected. But we need not think this very strange, as it is one of Satan’s great devices, to alleviate sin as much as possible, and to cause men call evil good, and good evil, and to put light for darkness, and darkness for light: and our corrupt natures are very ready to acquiesce in the sinful suggestion. This is peculiarly the case, in respect of common sins, fashionable amusements, and favourite lusts. The language of the heart concerning such is, It is a little one, spare it. But as the prevalence of every species of wickedness is an aggravation of it, therefore men ought to be most watchful against the sins that do most easily beset them, because by these they most dishonour God, reproach religion, and hurt the best interests of their immortal souls.—Whatever may be the corrupt opinions of men about these matters, we have classed nothing in the list of immoralities, but what we have shewn from the word of God to be truly criminal: and the same sentiments have been maintained by the best informed and most eminent Christians. Therefore, although speculative, unconverted, men should differ from us in their views, and ask what is the evil of this or of that, without caring about any reply; we exceedingly prefer the cool and deliberate judgment of the true Christian, sincerely lamenting the precious time which he has misspent in sinful pleasures, and especially, when, in the views of approaching death, he solemnly warns his surviving friends and companions against the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.
It is a mournful truth, that the nominal professors of religion are greatly disposed to turn the grace of God into wantonness, and to sin because grace abounds. To prevent this infatuation, the same Divine revelation which informs us that we are justified freely by the grace of God, Rom. 3.24, informs us also that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, Heb. 12.14. Whatever aversion natural men have to holiness, it is essential to all the saints. They are elected, redeemed, and called, to be holy, Eph. 1.4; Tit. 2.14; 1 Pet. 1.15. God confers his grace upon them, to teach them, that, denying all ungodliness and worldly lusts, they should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world, Tit. 2.11,12. Holiness is a part of the image of God, after which they are created, and the Spirit of God requires the Apostle to recommend the practice of good works to believers, Tit. 3.8. But without abstaining from immorality it is impossible to be holy, because sin and holiness are irreconcilable. Study therefore to be holy in all manner of conversation.
As we formerly published a Testimony and Warning against the idolatries of the man of sin, and another against Socinian and Unitarian errors: so with a view still farther to discharge our duty to God, to ourselves and to the generation, we now add this solemn Warning against the most prevalent sins of the age.—We beseech all of you, into whose hands it may come, to give it a serious perusal, to read it with calmness and attention, without prejudice; to receive it for reproof and correction, as well as for instruction, and to pray for the Divine blessing upon it, that it may prove a mean of preserving you from the paths in which destroyers go.—We entreat you, by the authority of the eternal Jehovah, by the love of a dying and compassionate Saviour, by the consolations of the Holy Spirit, by the regard that you ought to have to your own immortal souls, and by the respect which you owe to gospel ministers, as ambassadors for Christ, that you ponder seriously the arguments which are here used, for informing your judgment, and influencing your conduct, and improve them, by the assistance of Divine grace, as an antidote against the commission of these sins, which are fast filling up the measure of our public iniquities; and on account of which, God is saying to us, in the words of the prophet, “shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” Jer. 5.29. We earnestly solicit your particular attention to the subject matter of this address. Consider that, while you are reading these pages, numbers of the human race are dropping into their eternal state, and many of them into hell, without any hope of deliverance. None of you can say but the commission may next be given to the unrelenting messenger, concerning yourself. Therefore, O think of the folly, as well as sinfulness, of wasting precious time, in the practice of sin, and treasuring up to yourselves wrath against the day of wrath. After you may have spent but a few hours more, in the service of your corrupt lusts, with your vain companions; after you may have taken a few more pleasant draughts of the intoxicating potion: and after you may have enjoyed a little more of the precarious riches, and bewitching pleasures, of the world, your portion will be spent, your pleasures ended, and nothing left, but a heavy reckoning with your judge. Having sinned against love and mercy, against light and knowledge, and against counsel and warning, you can have no excuse: but the words of Christ are applicable to you, “It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, in the day of judgment, than for you.”—O that you were wise, that you understood this, that you would consider your latter end!
While we address this Warning to Christians of all denominations, we particularly call upon the people under our pastoral and Presbyterial inspection, to take good heed to it. Over you the Holy Ghost has made us overseers. For your souls we watch, as they that must give an account, and you are under solemn obligation by the authority of Christ, to submit to us in the Lord. Remember, that if you follow any of the sinful practices, here condemned from the holy scriptures, you are very inexcusable, as you have been particularly instructed in the criminality of them from your early life; and that, if you despise this additional Warning, you will justly expose yourselves to the censures of the Church, as violators of her laws. Privilege and duty should ever go together, and if Church members will not be confined within the limits of Christian duties, they can have no right to Church privileges. Christ gives this positive command to his servants, “Give not that which is holy unto dogs,” and surely those, who will not be governed by his laws, are of this description. The same regulations must extend to all Church members, and no one person has a dispensing power to violate them, more than another. Gospel ministers themselves have no right to come and go in these matters, but to require all to obey the Divine injunction, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ,” Phil. 1.27. Amidst the great variety of abounding immoralities, it cannot be expected, that we can take up the whole. We have selected a few of those, which we judged most prevalent, and have considered them at some length. But it is not to be understood, that this Warning is to be confined solely to those sins, which are particularly specified. It is evidently designed also, to include all others of a similar nature. Although practical atheism, false worship, unfaithfulness in different relations, murder, lying and covetousness be not classed into particular sections, yet such, as believe those particularized to be criminal, because contrary to the word of God, will be satisfied as to the sinfulness of these also, because equally against the same law. Although horse races, cock fightings, and vain shews be not arranged under distinct heads, yet such, as view promiscuous dancing and stage plays aright in the glass of the Divine law, will be disposed to avoid those likewise, because equally opposite to the spirit of genuine Christianity.
We now proceed to consider the prevalent acts of immorality according to the order in which they are classed.
TESTIMONY & WARNING, &c.
THE VIOLATION OF THE SABBATH.
THERE is scarcely a divine ordinance, about which a greater diversity of opinion has obtained, than about the Sabbath. Every thing respecting it has been controverted. Its change from the seventh to the first day of the week, with its obligation under the New Testament, is denied. It has been ranked among the Jewish ceremonies, and held to have evanished with them. Others, admitting the duty and propriety of appropriating some part of time to the service of God, maintain that a discretionary power is committed to the Church, to determine what particular day shall be observed, and how often. Some contend that the Sabbath ought to be observed with all that strictness peculiar to the Jewish dispensation; whilst others consider themselves as warranted to appropriate all that time, not occupied in public worship, to recreations and convivial entertainments. It does not consist with our present design to enter upon any of these controversies. What is now proposed respects the practical sanctification of the Christian Sabbath, as a mean to check the present mournful abuse of it, now become so prevalent.
The Sabbath means that seventh part of our time, which God claims as his own, and to be employed in his service. Mere cessation from bodily labour does not comprehend the whole work of sanctifying the Sabbath; nor is it, strictly speaking, any part of the positive service of it: for by this we are not distinguished from the brutal creation. This is, however, required. On the Sabbath, God ceased from working. So did the Saviour, on finishing the work of our redemption, on the first day of the week. These are exemplary to us. But God also blessed and sanctified the Sabbath; and thereby set it apart for holy spiritual purposes. By blessing it, he annexed some good to it, to be enjoyed by man, in the due sanctification of it. By enjoining him to rest on that day, he gave him to understand that it was not his property, as the other days of the week. And by sanctifying it, he signified, that it should not be spent in indolence and inactivity; but in the active duties of his service. The fourth precept in the decalogue contains substantially, the work and service of this day. “Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.” We are enjoined to keep the Sabbath “from polluting it; to call it a delight, the holy of the Lord and honourable; not finding our own pleasures, not speaking our own words.” Notwithstanding these explicit injunctions, an allowance is given for doing such things as are of moral necessity. Man and beast must have their necessary food: both must be relieved in distress, and defended against imminent danger. Jesus himself wrought miracles on the Sabbath to relieve the distressed, and justified the disciples in plucking the ears of corn, &c. The doing of these things does not convert sacred time into civil. It is still the Lord’s day, and, in doing these, a spiritual frame of soul should, as much as possible, be studiously maintained. It is to be feared that too many convert such allowances, into an occasion of encroaching on the Sabbath, and of appropriating it to unnecessary civil pursuits. Necessity is urged, while the only operative reason is convenience. This is to make the goodness of God an occasion of sin; and to rob him in proportion as he is bountiful. To many this holy day is a galling yoke, from which they are anxious to be relieved. “What a weariness is it to serve the Lord?—“When will the sabbath be gone, that we may set forth wheat?” [Mal. 1.13; Amos 8.5.] Carnal men would have the time, to be employed in the service of God, left wholly to themselves. They cannot be restricted within the limits set by him. A seventh part of time is, with such, by far too much to be abstracted from their secular pursuits, and appropriated to the service of Jehovah. Tho’, from prudential considerations, they may abstain from pursuing civil business openly, they can easily attend to it in private. Such, instead of regarding the Sabbath, hate it. Others, who profess some regard to the Sabbath, in many instances, depart from the duties of it: either through a culpable inadvertence, not considering what are properly matters of necessity, or by following an established custom. It may not be improper, in this place, to take notice of a few things, out of many, by which the Sabbath is profaned.
As the particular day is specified, we are apprised beforehand of its return, and ought to be in readiness to enter upon the duties of it. “Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy.” This is not merely a caveat against forgetting the Sabbath when it arrives, or mistaking it for some other day. It must relate to some previous duties preparatory to it. These relate to both civil and religious things. The sanctification of the Sabbath is a spiritual work and requires a suitable frame. This ought to be kept in view, and a proper frame obtained against its return. Every thing that tends to prevent or destroy such a frame, ought to be guarded against. Even the lawful pursuits of the world tend to unhinge the soul, and unfit it for holy duties. The design of the Sabbath, the nature of its duties, and the difficulty of sanctifying it in a proper manner, ought to be frequent subjects of meditation. Secular business ought to be seasonably finished, so as neither to encroach on the Sabbath, nor disqualify the mind for sanctifying it. These would prove happy means of acquiring and improving a suitable frame. Instead of this, anxiety about the world, and indifferency about religion, banish divine things from the mind. The Sabbath, of course, becomes a weariness, and the duties of it are performed with reluctance. It frequently happens that the hurry of civil business increases, as the Sabbath approaches: nor is it given up even when it has commenced. Nothing proves more unfavourable to religion. Necessary spiritual preparation is altogether neglected; family and secret duties are omitted, or at least very superficially performed. Thus the mind is carnalised and distracted, and every spiritual impression nearly effaced. The body also, deprived of its necessary invigorating repose, proves a clog to the soul, and unfits it for every holy duty; or otherwise God is robbed, by lengthening out the time of rest, and encroaching upon the Sabbath. This evil practice prevails in families, where other things might be expected. Frequently heads of families go to bed, leaving servants in the hurry of civil business, even after the Sabbath is begun. Whatever such heads of families profess, they are far from carrying Joshua’s resolution into effect, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Were the same preparation made for religious exercises, as for secular pursuits, more success would attend our efforts. No work can be properly conducted where necessary materials are awanting: and the due sanctification of the Lord’s day is impossible, where the greatest attention has not been paid to previous preparation. Both will and ability, for the work, will be awanting. The native consequences of this will be, a decline in the life of religion, and a want of the experience of God’s rest.
On the Sabbath itself, the practice of many is a striking contrast to the nature, design, and exercise of that day. This will be found a fruit of neglected preparation. The carnal soul will easily find employment suited to its peculiar cast: and, in one form or other, the hands will be full of civil business. Many things omitted on the preceding day, through negligence or design, must be done on the Sabbath, though they might, with very little inconvenience, be delayed till it were over. Kitchen preparations, both for man and beast, are conducted as usual, and often more extensively. The Sabbath is thus prostituted for the purposes of feasting and drinking. And so powerful is the influence of the sensual appetite, that many cannot admit the least deviation from their usual hours of repast. This prevents their attendance on the dispensation of public ordinances, unless they are limited to so short a time, as to render them little else than a mere form. The body must be pampered, if the soul should perish by want. To such, “Their god is their belly, they mind earthly things.” [Phil. 3.19.] It is not here intended to inculcate ceremonial restrictions, concerning the Sabbath; as if it were to be converted into a day of fasting: nor is it any breach of it to prepare what may be necessary to the body. Nevertheless whatever can be conveniently prepared beforehand, ought to be done; and to prepare more on Sabbath than is necessary, is certainly sinful. Moderation in these things will be found favourable to a spiritual observation of the Sabbath. And such as delight in a spiritual frame, will carefully guard against what is prejudicial to it.
Though many, from prudential considerations, may abstain from their ordinary civil business openly, yet they easily find some other way of occupying themselves, equally inconsistent with the sanctifying of the Sabbath. Instead of perusing the oracles of truth, a great portion of sacred time is filled up in reading public papers, travels, civil history, political compositions, plays, novels, romances, &c. Amusements, recreations, profane, carnal, and trifling conversation, are indulged. The Sabbath is embraced as a favourable opportunity, to inspect the state of their affairs, to fill up and adjust their books, and to form such plans as may expede the business of the ensuing week. Such a practice evidences a mind, “To every good work reprobate.” [Tit. 1.16.] Neither the world nor religion are properly understood by them, they discover as little sense of religion as the inferior creation. The gratification of animal passions is all their aim. Whatever such persons may be in judgment, they are atheists in practice.
When the mind is disengaged from civil pursuits, it often becomes restless. Getting weary of one exercise it shifts to another, and is constantly pursuing new objects. Hence arises the unhallowed practice of strolling on the Sabbath. Many cannot confine themselves within their own houses to sanctify that day socially. It affords more satisfaction to visit acquaintances, neighbours, &c. to walk in the fields, and to associate with such companions as occasionally offer. In heads of families, in particular, this practice is peculiarly sinful and hurtful. An evil example is set before others, especially the youth. Subordinate members of families are left without the restraints that may be necessary, and are deprived of such instructions and exhortations as might prove advantageous to them. Too frequently do heads of families either absent themselves from the other members, or neglect their proper work, when present. Instead of conducting some profitable religious exercise, they often introduce unseasonable, improper, and carnal conversation, foreign to the nature and design of the Sabbath. Children and servants are allowed, either to indulge what conversation they choose, in the house, or to recreate themselves in clubs, in the fields. The sin of these will be charged upon their superiors, who ought to, “Command their household to keep the good way of the Lord.” It is to such superiors that the fourth precept of the decalogue is more immediately directed. “Six days shalt thou labour—thou shalt not do any work, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant,” &c. There is a peculiar propriety in thus addressing superiors. They fill a place of power and trust. To them it belongs to restrain all under their inspection, from secular pursuits. Nor is this all. The prohibition of what is improper, necessarily implies the opposite duty. The influence of such a place ought to be used to promote holiness as well as to curb vice. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [Josh. 24.15.]
Though no duty, belonging to the sanctification of the Christian Sabbath, be more indispensable, or of greater importance, than attending public ordinances, yet none is treated with greater indifference. Little attention is paid to that preparation which is necessary to a profitable hearing of the word. Duties of the closet and family are neglected, or very indifferently performed. The necessities of the soul are not inquired into. Suitable conceptions of the nature and design of gospel ordinances are awanting. The divine presence in them, and a blessing upon them are not sought after. While inattention to these things prevails, gospel hearers cannot know what is their proper work in attending God’s ordinances. Many, especially in towns, more fond of indulging corporeal repose, than of engaging in spiritual exercises, spend too much of the holy Sabbath in bed: and when they have shaken off their slumbers, so much time is necessary in dressing, so as to meet the approbation of the fashionable world, that it is impossible for them to attend public ordinances, on the former part of the day. Thus every duty is displaced, and many altogether omitted. An unnecessary attention is paid to the body, while the soul is neglected. And if there be in any such persons, a principle of spiritual life, it is left to languish. They divide the Sabbath between God and the flesh. The latter is first served, and it is much if God be not justled out of his altogether. Such want the Psalmist’s disposition, and have no relish for his exercise of, “Seeking God early—Thirsting for him in the courts of his house—Longing for him and following hard after him.” [Ps. 63.1,8.]
With many, even external decorum, during the time of public worship, is awanting. A little slumber, a little sleep must be indulged. Body and soul are both asleep. Unimpressed with a sense of Jehovah’s presence, and their immediate work with him; and insensible of the spiritual wants of their own souls, they are neither afraid of sin, nor aware of the danger. The most trifling occurrence often excites a smile: and the entrance of an individual into the assembly, attracts the attention almost of every eye. These things, though they may appear trifling in themselves, bewray a mournful disposition of soul. While men profess to attend to the things of God, their hearts seem to be under restraint, and only wait an opportunity to break loose. Were the soul under the influence of that fear which will not offend Jehovah, and animated with that love which delights in him; were it acting that faith which discovers his excellency, and captivates the heart with his glory—that faith which relies on him, cleaves to him, and derives all from him: were it duly impressed with its own vileness, unworthiness and wants; and were it properly engaged in the work of the day, its attention would not be so easily diverted by every trifling occurrence. Loose reins are given to the imagination: It catches at every passing object. The external senses, not being properly guarded, furnish it constantly with new objects. In this way many insult and rob God while they profess to render him his due.
The time not employed in public worship, is spent in very improper conversation. The precious truths of the gospel, their importance and design; the state of religion in general, the power and life of it in the soul; the peculiar dispensations of providence, and the proper exercise of believers under them, are rare subjects of conversation. Controversies are often unseasonably introduced. The affairs of civil life, the amusements, vanities, and sinful practices of the world, the state of trade and commerce, improvements in agriculture, political affairs of nations, &c. are general topics. Youth of both sexes, whatever serious air they may assume, have too often no other design in attending ordinances, on the Sabbath, than to see favourite acquaintances, enjoy carnal converse with them, and to make appointments to meet on other occasions. Such profane designs give birth to these wanton looks, immodest gestures and signs, so very common; and which indicate the impurity of their hearts, and contempt of every thing serious. A particular detail of circumstances, at a play or a ball, a fair or a penny wedding, suits the dispositions of many much better than the spiritual work of the Sabbath. Should they be disappointed in these, they can easily fill up the time in observing the peculiarities of dress, or the deportment of others, &c. In this way provision is made for conversation in the way home, and on the evening of the Sabbath, and during the ensuing week. Such practice, on the Sabbath, is much worse than to appropriate it to lawful civil business. The practical language of such conduct is, that God has instituted the Sabbath, not for holy ends, but for the basest of purposes.
Not unfrequently is the Sabbath profaned by surgicaloperations, &c. In many cases, these may be necessary. The urgency of a case may render it a moral duty. Convenience, for the most part, is the reason why the Sabbath is fixed on. Such operations or the use of medicine, might incommode the body a little for work, so must be put off until Sabbath, though it should equally unfit the person for sanctifying that day. Men, by a too eager pursuit of the world, often bring indisposition upon their bodies, and then rob God of his sacred time and service, in order to have themselves cured. Though the soul labour under the most dreadful spiritual maladies, necessarily tending to its destruction, no attention is paid to its healing. The Sabbath is the day fixed by the Physician of great value, for meeting with sinners to heal them. The vast importance of this object should induce them to a due observation of the Sabbath. But such is their infatuation, that the body must be attended to, while the soul is left to perish.
Not unfrequently is the Sabbath profaned on occasion of marriages and baptisms. It is not judged sufficient for the purposes of festivity and friendship, to convene a party and entertain them, at the solemnizing of marriage; the same thing must be done on some ensuing Sabbath. The practice is unnecessary; and can serve no good end. It tends greatly to obstruct the interest of religion, while the holy Sabbath is thereby profaned. Impressions, exceedingly unfavourable to religion, are made on the mind. Though it be allowed that an attendance on public ordinances is in view; yet there are other ends, purely secular: and it is much if the mind be not more intent on these than on any thing else. It is an object of attention to appear in a dress suited to the occasion. This, with many, is all the preparation made for attending public worship. A vain ostentatious parade is made to and from the house of God by the company; while a party is left at home to prepare for their entertainment. These are denied access to the gospel; and, at home, prostitute the Sabbath by mere secular and unnecessary labour. Thus men do their own work, and find their own pleasures, instead of accounting the Sabbath, the holy of the Lord, honourable [Isa. 58.13.]—In the case of baptisms the same improper practice prevails. There is, in this ordinance, when duly observed, a solemn transacting with God according to his promise, “To be a God to parents and their seed.” [Gen. 17.7.] Serious inquiry should be made by parents into their interest in the promise, and their present believing improvement of it, both for themselves and their seed, with solemn dedication of both to God, in faith of his promise, and with fervent prayer for a blessing on the ordinance. Such exercises not only suit this ordinance, but the sanctification of the Sabbath. But are these duly attended to by parents? Are they concerned that the fruit of their bodies should be the seed of the covenant? And, while their little ones are uncapable of using any means for this end, are they conscientious in using such means as belong to them? Could they more suitably sanctify the Sabbath, than by such exercises? But alas! there is too good reason to suspect, that, in the discharge of these duties, they are culpably negligent. More than usual attention is paid to the body both with respect to food and dress. An assemblage of friends, &c. is called; a suitable entertainment is prepared, an ostentatious parade is made to the church: and not unfrequently the female party spend the time of public worship in a tavern or elsewhere. Nor is this all: Many Heathenish and superstitious usages, borrowed from the times of ignorance, are appended to the ordinance: at any time sinful, but peculiarly so on the Sabbath. Could we follow such persons through the whole scene, and mark every step of their procedure, we could not help thinking, that a regular plan was formed and acted upon, for the prostitution of the Sabbath, and the solemn ordinance of baptism.
Another prevailing practice, by which the Sabbath is profaned, is the burial of the dead. In certain cases it may be necessary, though it seldom happens. When it does, all circumstances respecting the time, the attendants, and the entertainment, ought to be so regulated as to encroach upon the sanctifying of the Sabbath, as little as possible. In most cases, the reasons proceeded upon are insufficient to legitimate the practice. The thing is purely civil, and, in all ordinary cases, ought to be done on civil time. Many attend funerals on Sabbath, without any call, and do not concern themselves about the urgency of the case. Vicinity, acquaintance, or distant relationship, are the only reasons. Though some may prostitute the Sabbath by fixing funerals on that day, yet this is no reason why others should, by complying with the invitation, countenance such a robbery of God.
There is a reason to suspect that some, who by their profession, and general deportment, seem to respect the Sabbath, take occasion from the circumstances of time, place, and company, to indulge unwarrantable freedoms. When such persons are from home, or not under the immediate eye of their domestic or religious connections, they are too ready to throw off some restraints. They mingle with other company, are exposed to peculiar temptations, and meet with new excitements to break through the duties of the Sabbath. New objects, curious and entertaining, offer. Peculiar fashions and customs are to be observed. These lead to carnal conversation. Personal countenance is also sometimes given to corrupt and unfaithful teachers. Thus the carnal heart, formerly under fetters, escapes from its confinement, and engages in pursuits more adapted to its disposition. Natural conscience and opposite habits may occasion some inward remorse. This however is too feeble to overcome the sinful propensity, to resist temptation, and to excite to duty. The Sabbath is thus violated in opposition to light. Divine love has no influence on the mind. Persons may be lawfully in circumstances where they are exposed to peculiar temptations. More than ordinary circumspection is then necessary. This is not studied. A voluntary compliance is made. Proper means to escape are not adopted. Rather, opportunities are sought to act otherwise. A kind of necessity is urged. The polite part of mankind, as they are called, are ready to ridicule them as morose, bigoted, and superstitious. It will be so. But this is no reason why the Christian should deviate from the paths of holiness. By acting out of character, he justifies and confirms the profane, in their wicked courses; induces them to consider religion as a fable; and with greater freedom to ridicule its professors. He gratifies the profane at the expense of dishonouring the Lord Jesus. Whereas by a steady, uniform, and conscientious adherence to righteousness, he might be instrumental in reclaiming them. To those who can indulge such conduct, a religious profession is only a veil on hypocrisy, which can easily be removed, when occasion requires. In them an experience of the power of religion may be justly suspected; as such experience would lead to a very different exercise.
Having mentioned these few, among many instances of Sabbath profanation, as a specimen, the sin and danger thereof fall to be considered.
This portion of time is sacred to Jehovah: He has appropriated it to his service. As time is wholly his, he might have claimed a much greater proportion. He has a right to fix what work shall be done in it. He has done so. “Keep the Sabbath-day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God commanded thee—The Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath-day.” Deut. 5.10,15. The sum of the command is, “Keep it holy.” The will of God is our law. This ought to be our choice and delight. When we resist his command we dispute his right to legislate to us. We presume to dictate to him, and to alter what he has enacted. Jehovah hath said, “Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep.” [Exod. 31.13.] Our practical language is, Verily thy Sabbaths we will not keep. The formal nature of sin lies wholly here. We refuse to comply with the divine will. While we either omit holy duties, or employ the Sabbath in unnecessary secular pursuits, we rob God: we claim that time as our own. We do not consider what God requires, or what is his pleasure; but we please ourselves. To do God’s pleasure is to do what he requires: to do our own pleasure, is to resist his will, and rob him of his right. When he enjoins the sanctification of the Sabbath, he gives this as the reason of it, “I am Jehovah.” Lev. 19.30. Thus he asserts his exclusive title to it, and to our sanctification of it. On the same account, he often calls it, “My Sabbath.” This robbery of God is most unreasonable. He has allowed us a large portion of time for ourselves, in proportion to what he claims to himself. Besides, he allows us, on the Sabbath, all that necessity or mercy can require. Nay more, though the Sabbath is to be appropriated to his service, it is no less conducive to our spiritual interest. If it be criminal to rob men, much more God. That he needs not our service can be no apology to us. It is enough that he requires it, and that we owe it. Besides, did he need our service, the sin of robbing him would not be so heinous, as it would be robbing a creature only, because the creature only can be in need.
In the violation of the Sabbath there is the greatest disregard to, and contempt of the Redeemer, and the great work of our redemption. The Christian Sabbath is a standing memorial of this work; as the seventh day was of the finishing of the work of creation. On that day God ceased from creating, pronounced his works all good, and took pleasure in them. “He rested and was refreshed.” [Exod. 31.17.] By this he fixed a Church state connected with an eternal rest for man. The Sabbath was also a pledge of that rest. To profane that day was to contemn the work of creation, the constitution of the Church, and that rest which God connected with it. Redemption by Christ is the foundation of the new creation. This gives rise to a new and more glorious Church state, connected with more excellent privileges, and a much more glorious rest. All this is for sinners of mankind. In this work there is a display of astonishing love and condescension, by the Son of God. He undertook our cause, assumed our nature, and secured our salvation. To commemorate this the Sabbath was instituted. From its special respect to Christ and his work it is denominated, “The Lord’s day.” [Rev. 1.10.] As this great work was for us, gratitude would say, that we ought to sanctify the memorial of it. The Author of this work is entitled to all glory, all worship, and obedience from us. For this end the Sabbath is instituted. The work of redemption opens a wide field for our contemplation and spiritual exercise. In it the divine perfections are wonderfully displayed; and should excite our love, wonder, and adoration. By disregarding the Sabbath, we declare that the Author of our redemption has not performed any great work, that he has no claim to any honour for it, and that his work is of very little moment to us. We undervalue both the Redeemer and his work, as unworthy of our notice. We prefer our sinful and wretched condition, to that happy state, to which he has redeemed sinners. In his resurrection, on the first day of the week, he finished his victory over all his and our enemies, and consecrated this day to be a rest to us, by enjoying communion with him in his victories. By profaning the Sabbath, we prefer the abject slavery of sin and Satan, to the most happy liberty in him. We cannot conceive sin more aggravated than in this case. Every thing great, amiable, and glorious in God is despised; and all that is valuable to ourselves, is vilified and rejected.
Moreover, Sabbath profanation implies contempt of that happy spiritual intercourse with God in Christ which flows from the work of redemption, and for the enjoyment of which this day is appointed. The improvement, and felicity of the soul, lie in spiritual intercourse with God. Where this is enjoyed the soul is transformed into the divine likeness, and filled with spiritual delight. Sin had set man at a distance from God, and rendered the soul totally unfit for communion with him. Redemption by Christ removes that evil thing sin, and restores that happy intercourse which it had obstructed. “God is in Christ reconciling sinners to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” [2 Cor. 5.19.] Through the Mediator believers have access by one Spirit unto the Father. All the influences of the Spirit, and all happy intercourse with God, are fruits of redemption by Christ. By his blood, sinners are redeemed to be kings and priests unto God, to serve him, and enjoy the highest honour. Through it they have access into the holiest with freedom and boldness, and are assured of a gracious welcome at the throne of grace, and a seasonable supply of all their wants. Gospel ordinances are means appointed for the enjoyment of God on the footing of this redemption. Here he meets with his people, converses with them, relieves their wants, subdues their enemies, and satisfies their souls with ravishing displays of his love. The Christian Sabbath is peculiarly appropriated for these purposes. While it is a sacred memorial of the redemption of sinners by Christ, it affords a happy opportunity of enjoying the spiritual fruits of that redemption. The Sabbath is thus made for man. He enjoys not only a cessation from bodily labour; but also a spiritual rest for his soul. The Sabbath and the ordinances of gospel worship, are God’s rest. He delights in them, and offers himself as the rest of his people through Christ. It becomes them to observe these and delight in them. The lawful pursuits of the world, the time which they engross and the manner in which the mind must be employed about them, tend greatly to obstruct and embarrass the believer in the exercise of religion. It is often perplexed, distracted, and discomposed. Spiritual habits are weakened, and spiritual impressions are lost. To such as are exercised unto godliness, and value the power of religion; to such as delight in communion with God, and regard redemption by Christ as a leading to it, the return of the Sabbath will be very acceptable. Then the world is laid aside, its cares and turmoils are banished, and the believer devotes himself to exercises more adapted to his spiritual nature. The love of God shed abroad in the heart transports it above the best temporal enjoyments, and ravishes it with the relish of divine things. In the due sanctification of the Sabbath, the soul makes its nearest approach unto heaven, both in its exercise and enjoyments, of which happy state that day is a pledge and earnest. Under the influence of strong affections, and on the wings of a lively faith, the believer abstracts himself from the world, speeds his way heaven-ward, and seeks the things that are above. He anticipates the heavenly rest. His soul is wrapt up in visions and revelations of the Lord. He enters into the rest of glorified saints, as far as present imperfection and circumstances will admit. His heart is there because his treasure is there. Of this, his faith affords him a realizing view, and certifies his interest in it. The holy Sabbath is a happy opportunity for enjoying all that blessedness of the heavenly state attainable as an earnest in this life. Heinous indeed must the sin of prostituting the Christian Sabbath be. The great work of redemption, and that love which gave rise to it, as is so gloriously displayed in it, are contemned. The wonderful condescension, the astonishing humiliation and the exquisite sufferings of the Saviour are vilified. The fruits thereof are accounted of no importance to sinners. The Holy Spirit, in all his gracious influences, is rejected. God, as infinitely good and gracious, and as the alone portion of the soul, is treated with contempt, as unworthy of being sought after. The whole scheme of grace is treated as a cunningly devised fable. The best interests of the soul are overlooked, and all means appointed for its salvation are discarded, as deserving no attention. All the complicated guilt of despising the gospel of salvation, is implied in the profanation of the Sabbath. A more convincing proof need not be desired, of the infatuation and insensibility of professors about the spiritual concerns of their souls, than the abuse of the Sabbath. And as this is an abounding iniquity, it discovers the prevalence of sin in the minds of men, indicates a want of the Spirit of Christ, and the mournful decline of religion. To the most part, the Sabbath is not, in a spiritual sense, a delight, but a weariness. [Isa. 58.13; Mal. 1.13.]
The sin of Sabbath violation is much aggravated from the influence that it must have on others. All Christians ought to be exemplary to each other. Superiors, as Magistrates, Ministers, Heads of families, ought to be more peculiarly so. Their peculiar places demand this. They ought to exemplify, in their practice, what they are bound to promote, by their authority. The conduct of superiors, on this head, is truly mournful in these times. By their profane example, many are more emboldened to profane the Sabbath. Were the authority of civil rulers duly exercised, in restraining open Sabbath-violation, and were they exemplary in their own conduct, many salutary effects would flow therefrom. It is a well known fact, that not many years ago, the Bakers in London obtained a decision of the Court of King’s Bench, to oblige their Journeymen to work during the whole of the Sabbath. The Parliament modified this decision, in a Bill for the better observation of the Lord’s day, enacting, that they shall be obliged to work, only to one o’clock in the afternoon. It is also well known that artillery and troops, for foreign expeditions, have been conveyed from one place to another and shipped, on the Sabbath. By national authority troops are trained and exercised, merely to prevent a waste of civil time. Is it to be expected that the holy Sabbath will be respected by the nation, when the legislative authority sanctions the abuse of it? May not the same authority abolish the Sabbath altogether, as well as annul the Divine law with respect to a part of it? It is rather curious—it is astonishing, that we should so liberally brand a neighbouring nation with atheism and infidelity, for having abolished the Christian Sabbath, while we ourselves are treading in the same unhallowed path. Shall the sacred Code find no more protection, in the hands of the British Senate, than in a Robespierre's? Those too, who are clothed with the sacred office, and whose work it is to inculcate a regard to the Divine law discover little regard to the Sabbath, in their practice. Many of them have no sooner finished the form of Divine service, than they associate with the profane in various scenes of dissipation. Even the very form of religion is laid aside. It is not to be expected that such will doctrinally inculcate the sanctification of the Sabbath: but if they should, the effect of it will be counteracted by the inconsistency of their practice. Heads of families are no less culpable. Their example would have a powerful influence on the minds of youth, were it duly attended to. When proper instructions are omitted, proper restraints taken off, and when a contrary practice is gone into, the effects will be mournful. When these things are duly considered, the rapid progress of infidelity and profanity needs not astonish any. The immorality, irreligion, and profanity of the rising generation, may certainly be ascribed to the evil example of their superiors, especially respecting the Sabbath. Where the fear of God, and a regard to the Christian religion is lost, no check to profanity remains. But where Sabbath profanation is practiced, there the fear of God is lost. This is certainly a very fertile source of deism and infidelity. There is no more reason for believing any Christian doctrine, or for observing any gospel institution, than for sanctifying the Christian Sabbath. From the peculiar respect that the Sabbath has to the Christian system, the profanation of it must involve a disregard to the other. While this day is abused, in a manner inconsistent with every principle of Christianity, by its professors, the minds of such as are not very cordially attached to it, must become more prejudiced against it. If Christianity be calculated to promote religion, holiness, and morality, it certainly becomes its professors to prove this, by a careful attention to its institutions. But an opposite practice denies that it has any such tendency. This leads others to question the truth of it. The charge of guilt, lying against superiors in respect of their inattention to the sanctification of the Sabbath, is certainly very great. It does not comprehend their own personal abuse of that day only, but, in some sense, the iniquity of those, who, through their inattention and example, pursue the same practice.
As Sabbath-violation is a sin attended with peculiar aggravations, we may be assured that God will not easily overlook it. Exemplary punishment may be feared. There can be no reason why this sin should pass with impunity more than any other sin. Under the former dispensation this sin was capitally punished. “Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people—whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath-day, he shall surely be put to death.” Exod. 31.14,15. In consequence of this law the man, who was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath-day, was stoned. Numbers 15.[32-36.] It does not appear that this arose from the peculiarity of the ceremonial dispensation, or the political condition of Israel. It seems rather owing to the peculiar heinous nature and tendency of the sin. All sin deserves death. But were every transgression of the Divine law to be capitally punished, the human race would in a short time be wholly extirpated. The Church herself would soon cease to exist in the world. In the present dispensatory state of things then, God has appointed that only some particular sins shall be capitally punished. These are sins peculiarly heinous, in their nature, and very pernicious in their tendency. Of these the avowed contemptuous abuse of the Sabbath is one. It was given as a sign. This was with a special respect to God’s covenant. The Church has never had the revelation of a rest but by a covenant. The Sabbath is a sign and pledge of that rest, and consequently of the covenant. God rests with delight in the covenant. In this way his glory is advanced, and his people are saved. The Sabbath is a sign of this. It is a sign, that God is the God of his Church: That he sanctifies her, and is her rest. “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever.” Exod. 31.16,17. “It is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.” verse 13. The violation of the Sabbath involves a very particular contempt of the covenant of grace, and of the God of that covenant. It strikes against, undervalues, and contemns, not one thing, but all that is in the covenant. This renders the sin very heinous. This is doubtless a principal reason why God will have Sabbath-violation punished in such an exemplary manner. Severe national judgments are denounced against this sin. “But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath-day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” Jer. 17.27. This sin is often found particularly mentioned in the catalogue of Israel’s sins, for which the severest judgments were entailed upon them. Ezek. 20. Amos 8. It has been punished by leaving those who were guilty of it to fall into other heinous and abominable sins. Ezek. 20.24-26, “Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my Sabbaths,” &c. “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire, all that openeth the womb,” &c. God commanded the fire, the sword, and the pestilence to destroy them. He subjected them to the execution of fearful threatenings. He left them to adopt and observe laws, rites, and commandments, of men—The statutes of Omri. Mic. 6.16. The statutes of the heathen. 2 Kings 17.8. He left them to offer unto idols their first-born, whom they ought to have dedicated to him, as he had commanded them. When he thus gave them up to their own counsels, to follow the lusts of their own hearts, and to walk in their own ways, he left them to punish themselves for their pollution of his Sabbaths. Individuals, who profane this holy day, may fear that God will leave them under the power of unmortified lusts, to work unrighteousness, and to have pleasure in it; and that he will judicially harden them therein. And as a nation, laden with the sin of Sabbath-profanation, we may certainly look for severe rebukes from Jehovah. As he did to Israel, He may cause our Sabbaths to cease, and to be forgotten in Zion. Hos. 2.11. Lam. 2.6.
Christian Friends, we have now stated a few of the many sins, by which the holy Sabbath is profaned, and have endeavoured to point out the evil thereof. We beseech you, as the Friends of Jesus, to regard his authority, and to observe the holy Sabbath, as the appointment of the great Jehovah, having a peculiar respect to the great work of Redemption, and affording an opportunity of enjoying sweet intercourse with himself. Follow not the example of this degenerate age; but, while the greatest part spend the Lord’s Day in carnal pleasure, civil business, or mere speculation about religion, give yourselves to close and serious meditation about God and religion. Attend to the exercises of the heart as well as to the public ordinances of Divine Worship. Seek to be in the Spirit on this day, and account it the holy of the Lord, honourable. In this way it will prove a rest unto your own souls: and you will hereby give a practical testimony, in favours of the Christian religion, and against those that break the fourth Commandment. See then that ye remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy.
THE ABUSE OF LOTS.
MISTAKEN conceptions of things, as well as contempt of them, lead men into an improper, and even criminal, practice concerning them. Such mistakes proceed from culpable inattention, and neglect to candid inquiry. Men act before they think; and proceed on such ideas as strike them without investigating their nature and tendency. A common custom is complied with, while neither the evil of the thing nor its tendency, are considered. This will hold in the abuse of lots, as much perhaps as in any thing else.
That the use of lots was a Divine institution under the Old Testament, is admitted by many who deny it to have any warrant under the New Testament. The very nature of a lot, as consisting in an immediate appeal to Jehovah, is denied by others, because they affirm, That they have no such design in view. Others refuse that there is any lottery in many instances where it is manifestly used.
A lot may be defined, an ordinance of God, in the observation of which, a solemn appeal is made immediately to himself, to interpose and determine, in an important matter of difference among men, which cannot be otherwise adjusted.
Lotting is a divine ordinance. Nothing could legitimate the use of it without this. An appeal to Jehovah for his decision, in any case, without his sanction, would be the highest presumption. To him, as supreme Legislator and Governor, belongs the determination of all events concerning his creatures; and also to fix in what manner it shall be done. To rational creatures his will is the supreme law. It is his right to determine in what way this shall be made known. The Scriptures are the alone directing standard, in all ordinary cases. And where this can be applied no recourse ought to be had to any other means. Cases however may occur to which men cannot apply this standard. In these he has warranted an immediate appeal to himself by a lot. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” Prov. 16.33. Were it no ordinance of his, it is inconceivable how he should interpose in the decision by it. This text plainly implies God’s approbation of the lot, and, on that ground, his deciding by it. It is true, we do not find any direct institution of lotting in Scripture, nor particular directions respecting the use of it, nor in what particular cases. A lot, in its nature, is exceedingly simple. Particular directions are less necessary. The same respect to God, and the same solemnity ought to be attended to as in other divine ordinances. In some particular cases we find the use of it commanded. In the case of the two goats for the sin-offering, to determine which should be the scape goat, &c. Lev. 16. In the division of the land of Canaan, “And ye shall divide the land by lot, for an inheritance among your families—every man’s inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth.” Num. 33.54. In fixing the courses of the sons of Eleazar and Ithamar, as officiating priests. [1 Chron. 24.5.] The Church has ever considered it as warrantable on proper occasions. An Apostle to fill up the place of Judas, was chosen by lot. The Divine warrant for lotting seems to be as clear as for several other occasional duties; as national covenanting, fasting, assertory oaths. The propriety of using it must be determined by the nature and circumstances of the case. These may be collected, partly from the instances recorded in Scripture, and partly from the nature of the ordinance itself. Inattention to these has occasioned a gross abuse of the lot.
In lotting there is an immediate appeal to God, for his decision in some matter of difficulty. Two things belong to a lot—The casting of it—and the decision of it. The first belongs to man, the last to God. By the casting of the lot is meant that particular method or means that are adopted to put the determination of the event wholly out of the power of man. This distinguishes the event from any other which is merely contingent. An event purely contingent is brought about by God himself, or by some cause unknown to us, and without our influence. It is no ordinance of God; that being always something prescribed by him to be observed by us. The casting of the lot is the putting of things into a state of absolute contingency, that the decision shall, in no respect, be influenced by the person who casts it. It is his deed that renders it purely contingent to him. The determination is entirely put out of his own power. This is the design of both parties. It is done for the purpose of obtaining a decision. This takes place, an event falls out, an effect is produced. There must then be some determining cause, to which the effect is to be ascribed. While the parties disavow it, God claims it. “The whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” [Prov. 16.33.] He judges between the parties at variance, and determines equitably what is referred to his decision. To him no action is contingent. He acts as an arbiter. And there is as certain a reference made to him by a lot, as when a difference is submitted to human arbitration. If persons at variance cannot adjust their differences themselves, and if they do not refer them to another, they cannot be accommodated. This will hold equally in the case of a lot. Men do not determine the matter, and if they do not refer it by lot to another, there is no decision. The very nature of a lot is a reference to God, whether men design so or not. When the lot is cast into the lap, it is that the Lord may dispose of it. In many of the instances recorded in Scripture we find a direct reference made to him. When the two goats were to be lotted, Aaron was to present them before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and cast lots upon them. In the division of the land of Canaan, Joshua cast lots before the Lord. When the tribes would have a king, the people were assembled and the lot cast before the Lord. When this was done before the Lord, it not only implied, an acknowledgment of God as authorizing what was done; but also an immediate and solemn appeal to him for a decision. In order to discover who had secreted the accursed thing in the camp of Israel, the people were brought before the Lord according to their tribes, and the decision referred by lot to God. [Josh. 7.] The apostolic Church referred the decision between Matthias and Joseph unto God. “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen.”
When these things are duly considered, it is certainly a wicked abuse of lots, to use them and at the same time deny their nature—ascribe their determination to no cause at all—or to a wrong cause. Because many, in lotting, have no design of making any reference to God, for the decision of it, they deny his influence in it. Every ordinance of God has its peculiar nature, independent of our conceptions. These ought to be formed according to the nature of these ordinances. It is in this way that the mind acquires the knowledge of truth. This lies in the agreement of our conceptions with the true nature of things. The opposite of this is error. This same objection may be made to every ordinance of God. An oath, in its very nature, is a solemn appeal to God, though men prostitute it by profane swearing, at the same time affirming, That they intend no such appeal. Though one should sit down at the Lord’s table and declare, That he has no design to eat the Lord’s Supper, but to make a common meal, this certainly could not nullify it as a Divine ordinance. Wherever that is done, which in the nature and form of it constitutes a Divine ordinance, it ought to be regarded as such, the Author acknowledged in observing it, and the design thereof carefully kept in view. When a lot is cast, all that belongs to it, as an ordinance, is done, but if such as use it have no such design, they are guilty of a solemn mockery of God. It is one of his solemn institutions, in and by which he displays his sovereignty and righteousness; wisdom and goodness. It cannot then be altered by men. But to use a lot without this view of it, is a presumptive attempt to nullify the authoritative deed of Jehovah. It is such a gross prostitution of a Divine ordinance, as if one should observe all things that belong to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and yet declare, That he had no view of their being Divine institutions, but meant to cleanse the body by the one, and nourish it by the other.
Many ascribe the issue of the lot to no cause at all: or, in other words, to chance. This view of it implies that it is no Divine ordinance, nor observed as such. The words chance and fortune are almost in every person’s mouth, while the most part know not what they intend by them. These words mean no more than, That we do not know the immediate cause of certain events. The vulgar idea is, That these events proceed from no cause at all, and that, though they fall out in one way, there is nothing to hinder them from falling out in another way. The supposition is both irrational, and atheistical—It is irrational; because a positive effect is ascribed to no cause. But a positive effect cannot take place without a positive cause.—It is atheistical; because it denies the superintending, all-directing providence of Jehovah, which extends to every one of his creatures, and to the minutest circumstances concerning them. If the falling of a single hair from our head, or of an insignificant sparrow to the ground [Matt. 10.29,30.], cannot take place but by Jehovah’s determination, much more, the solemn decision by lot. In many instances, of sport, &c. lotting is as unimportant as the falling of a hair from our head. This however arises, not from the nature of the lot, but from the abuse of it, and the wrong conceptions of men concerning it. With equal propriety and reason might we ascribe to blind chance, the rising of the sun, the commencement of storms, the falling of rain, the effects of lightning, the growth and decay of vegetables, as we can find no cause that produces them, unless we ascribe them to God.
But some have ascribed the decision of the lot to secondary causes: to holy angels, to departed saints, to the influence of heavenly bodies, and even to the devil. To ascribe it to the stars is too heathenish; to saints departed, is too popish; and to ascribe it to the devil savours too much of demon worship. Holy angels may be employed in deciding the fall of a lot; but they must be employed by God. And as we know not if they be at all employed, we do not acknowledge them in it, but God. The lot is a notification of the Divine will, and it may be done by an angel. To ascribe it ultimately or absolutely to any secondary cause, or inferior agent, is both to deny it to be God’s ordinance, and to make creatures act independent of him. It ascribes to them, that sovereignty, wisdom, and equity, which belong exclusively to him. It is to rob him of that worship which is due to him, in the use of the ordinance.
Some, who deny the very nature of a lot, pretend to account for it wholly upon Mathematical principles, without any Divine interposition. The existence of such certain principles cannot be denied, and that, in some modes of lotting, the event will fall out according to them. But these principles are only a part of the fixed laws of nature, the author of which is God. According to these laws, by calculating, the force impressed upon a die or peeble, its specific gravity, and the resistance it shall meet with, &c. it may be determined with certainty what side will turn up. But while he who casts a lot is incapable of acting on these principles, the event is as contingent to him as if no such principles existed. And were he capable of applying these laws, so as to determine, with certainty, any event, then such an event would have nothing of the nature of a lot, more than the demonstration of a Mathematical problem. Nor could it answer the design of a lot. Since then no man can apply these principles, he can no more be the determining cause of the event of a lot, than if the die or peeble had been put in motion by wind or lightning. But this view of lots implies that though men cannot apply these laws, yet the casting of the lot proceeds accurately according to them, it is therefore inferred that there is nothing of lottery in it. In various modes of lotting it must proceed according to these laws. It cannot be otherwise. But by whom are these laws applied in determining the event? Doubtless, by the Author of them. Moreover, because the heavenly bodies observe their regular motions, the ocean its regular tides; and because we enjoy the regular return of day and night, and of the seasons, and according to established laws, must we deny the immediate agency of the great Creator therein? While all things proceed according to fixed laws, independent of mortals, it proves, in a most striking manner, the all-directing hand of Jehovah. It is so in a lot. The event is determined with Mathematical exactness; but it is by God himself. No views that men may form of the matter can alter the nature of it. Even in the greatest abuses of this ordinance, he decides. It cannot be otherwise from the nature of the lot. At the same time he does not approve nor countenance the prostitution of it, either in men’s views or designs. His decision no more implies an approbation of their conduct, than his uniting a rational soul to a body, illegitimately begotten, implies his sanctioning the criminal co-habitation of the parents.
Since the sole determination by lot belongs to God, he ought to be acknowledged in a solemn manner in using it. This becomes us in every ordinance. In a lot we deal immediately with God, and in a very peculiar manner. Something is referred to him which we cannot decide. In doing this we acknowledge his wisdom and righteousness, as fitting him to decide equitably, and his goodness as ready to relieve us in difficulties. Prayer becomes such a solemn appeal to him. Saul, though none of the best of men, when casting a lot to discover who had transgressed his solemn charge, prayed that, The Lord God of “Israel would give a perfect lot.” [1 Sam. 14.41.] And the Apostolic Church, when filling up the vacancy occasioned by the death of Judas, “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen.” [Acts 1.24.] His goodness should be gratefully acknowledged in allowing us an immediate appeal to himself, in difficult cases, which surpass the wisdom of men to adjust. Nor is it enough that we put the decision wholly out of our own power, by casting the lot; we ought in faith to deliver it wholly into the hand of God, to rely on his wisdom and equity, his goodness and faithfulness, that he will decide righteously; and we ought cordially to acquiesce in it as such. The decision is as much a declaration of his will, as if it were given by an audible voice. The least dissatisfaction with the event is highly criminal. It impeaches the wisdom, equity, and goodness of God, and charges him with partiality. We have often good reason to fault the decisions of men, but never those of Jehovah. If the decision be not referred to God, but to blind chance, &c. &c. there cannot be any reason why men should acquiesce in it, because there is no ground on which it can be said that the decision is equitable. “But the lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty,” [Prov. 18.18.] because God decides equitably. God may indeed give such a decision to a lot, when improperly used, as will be a punishment to those who use it. It will nevertheless be righteous. In many instances, much dissatisfaction prevails about the issue of lots, particularly in gaming, selling of goods, and in the state lotteries, men’s hopes being greatly disappointed. There is no more reason to be dissatisfied with the issue of a lot than with any other event in providence.
If the nature and solemnity of a lot be duly considered, it will be easily seen, that men ought not to have recourse to it on every occasion, nor for every purpose. The abuse of it however, on this head is very great. This is aggravated, in proportion as the lot is solemn. Three things are necessary to warrant the use of the lot—The matter to be determined must be lawful—It must be important—And such a case as cannot be determined by any other means.
The matter to be determined must be lawful. What the moral law will not warrant, ought never to be put to the decision of a lot. It may be, and often is, prostituted even in things that are in themselves lawful. But there being no warrant to do what is sinful, it must be impious to have recourse to a lot in such a case. Bands of robbers and murderers sometimes determine by lot, which of them shall first make an attack, or commit an outrage. There cannot be a greater insult offered to Jehovah. It insinuates that he approves of their wickedness, and associates with them in it. It is to account Jehovah such a one as themselves. It is an appeal to him to determine, which of them shall act the most flagitious part in violating his law, and provoke his indignation; in what manner, rather than another, they shall insult him, and rebel against him. It may be observed that the lawfulness, or sinfulness, of any matter is not the thing to be determined by lot, but the difficulty of an alternate case, both sides of which are equally lawful. The law is adequate to determine what is sin and duty in every case. And if in any case one side is sinful, the law, and not the lot, is to be applied.
The matter must also be important. The interest of society ought to be so much interested in the decision that it cannot well be dispensed with. God has particularly consulted the interest of society, in allowing such an immediate appeal to himself. In all ordinary cases, and such as are of small importance, a decision may be made by ordinary means. It is certainly sporting with that great and fearful name, The LORD our GOD, to refer trifles to his decision. The supreme court of a nation would consider itself insulted were the most trifling differences brought before it, especially if other sufficient means of decision were appointed. There is no method of decision so solemn as a lot, and none so certain. Differences are adjusted by oath, when legal evidence cannot be had. In both God is considered as the omniscient discerner of the heart, and as the supreme and righteous judge. In both there is a matter of difference to decide. An oath is to men an end of all strife. [Heb. 6.16.] And the lot causeth contentions to cease. [Prov. 18.18.] In both a direct and solemn appeal is made to God. But in the lot there is something more solemn than in the oath. In the oath, the juror solemnly appeals to God as the supreme witness and judge of the uprightness of his mind, and of the truth of what he affirms, while himself determines the issue of the matter, which after all may be wrong. In the lot a solemn appeal is made to the same Jehovah, and the parties wait his decision, which is infallible. God is not so immediately seen in the decision by oath as by the lot, as the falling of it is his immediate act. The determination by oath will again be brought under review and tried; but that by lot cannot. It may be compared with the Levitical Urim and Thummim, by which God communicated his mind immediately, in some very important cases. [Num. 27.21.] It will be allowed by all who fear an oath, that recourse ought not to be had to it on every trivial occasion, and that such use of it tends to destroy, in the mind, due impressions of the solemnity of it. This will also hold in the case of the lot.
Moreover, the case ought to be such as cannot be decided by human prudence. In all ordinary cases, this, in a due use of ordinary means, is sufficient. General rules are laid down in Scripture for this purpose. These are as much the will of God as a lot; and ought to be consulted ere recourse be had to the lot. To omit this is, to contemn the authority of God, to despise his goodness, and presumptuously to dictate to him, in what manner he shall make his will known to us. Were parties disposed, they might adjust their differences. When they cannot, the assistance of their brethren ought to be called. And if they cannot the lot may be used. In such cases it is warrantable; and even duty. Then God is honoured in the appeal, and his wisdom, equity, and goodness displayed, in the decision. But when an appeal is made to him in a matter that may be settled by men, he is dishonoured, because we act contrary to his will, practically ascribe no more to him than to men, and do not give him an opportunity of making the same glorious display of himself which he would otherwise do. In appealing to him, in a difficult case, we perform a solemn act of religious worship. We ascribe to him infinite wisdom, righteousness, and goodness; a supreme right to direct all the affairs of his creatures, according to his own will. We also profess our faith in him, that he will act righteously. It will not be denied that it is a prostitution of an oath to interpose it in any case that can be adjusted by ordinary means. So must it be in the use of the lot
Though the lot is a very solemn ordinance of Jehovah, a very general and unhallowed prostitution of it is practiced, in trifling, unimportant, and sinful cases. This age of boasted light, erudition, and piety, finds no difficulty in violating every sacred obligation, in profanely prostituting every Divine ordinance, and sacrilegiously robbing Jehovah of his honour. It cannot be deemed improper, in this place, to animadvert a little on some of these abuses, as it may prove a mean of correcting them, especially where it is done inadvertently.
It is very common, in dividing of goods to have recourse to a lot; by drawing of cuts, tossing up a piece of coin, casting of dice, &c. In such cases, various other easy methods may be used. But what is still worse, the lot, in these cases, is not regarded as an immediate appeal to Jehovah, as an act of solemn worship paid to him, nor is he invoked to give a perfect lot. Thus its nature is misunderstood, its solemnity disregarded, and its design prostituted.
It is an abuse of the lot when used in any case that is merely personal. The lot, as well as the oath, seems to respect society. Its design is to adjust differences among its members. “The lot causeth contentions to cease and parteth between the mighty.” [Prov. 18.18.] These words clearly express the nature of that case, in general, proper for the use of the lot. Even the affairs of society, when there is no difference among its members, are not to be settled by lot. In no approved instance of lotting, recorded in Scripture, do we find it used in the case of a private person. An individual may conduct his own affairs according to his own pleasure, and by his own prudence. The secrets of providence belong not to him. It may perhaps be alleged that men do not use lots in their private business. They do in many instances—[1.] To discover secret things, as lost or stolen goods, or persons suspected of having done injury to others, by what is vulgarly called skaith. In these cases there are not two known parties equally concerned. There is a supposed party unknown, to discover which is the design of the lot, and not to settle any difference. Innocent persons often fall under suspicion by such conduct. Many events in providence are conducted under a veil, and must remain so, unless the great Author of them see meet to unveil them. Such things are properly matters of judicial cognizance; and if they cannot be so decided, they must be dismissed as matters which God affords no means of adjusting.—[2.] To discover future events, diviners and fortune-tellers, and their employers, abuse the lot. The practice is a daring presumptuous intrusion upon the sovereignty of Jehovah. We have no occasion for any further knowledge of futurity than God has revealed in his word. Further discoveries must be left to his Providence. “Secret things belong unto the Lord, our God; but things that are revealed, to us and to our children.” Deut. 29.29. Whatever is necessary to the good of society, God will unfold in the proper season. And it does not belong to us to know the times and seasons which God hath put in his own power. Though in such practices, there may be some difference from what is formally a lot, yet there is doubtless something of that in it. Cards are cut, cups are cast, &c. and from certain supposed appearances it is pretended, that future events are known. The whole is indeed a diabolical imposition on the credulity of the unwary. God alone knows the end from the beginning [Isa. 46.10.]; and it must be an insult to pry into his secrets in such a manner. If it be supposed that the communication is made by the devil, then such persons ascribe to him that knowledge of futurity which belongs only to God.—[3.] In the abuse of the Scriptures. Some propose to themselves, to determine certain cases and events, and to obtain direction and comfort, from that text or portion of the Bible, which first occurs to them, on opening the book at random. This they construe as speaking the mind of God concerning the matter which they want determined. Whatever view such persons have, there is in this an appeal to God. There is something to be determined, the person puts it to issue in this way, and puts it out of his own power to act rationally in determining it. It is an abuse of the word. The Scriptures contain a discovery of the mind of God respecting every particular use that is to be made of them. They are to be consulted in order to know the Divine will and how to apply it. They are given to supersede the lot, in all ordinary cases, and never to be used in the way of lotting. “Search the Scriptures,” [John 5.39.] is the Divine injunction. The practice is attended both with guilt and danger. Men may cause them speak the very opposite of what is the mind of God in them. It tends to lead men into error, or into some presumptuous sinful conduct. God may leave them under some fatal mistake, and give them up to believe a lie. When men walk in this light of their own striking up, they may be emboldened to what is improper, or led into security in a state of great danger. This, instead of being an inquiry after God’s mind as expressed in the word, is men’s putting their own sense thereon. God may, by his Spirit, direct his people to such passages of his word as may strengthen, direct, and encourage them, in particular cases. This however is very different from the other. In that the Spirit is not sought after to lead into all truth.
Lots are abused in gaming. This soon appears in the diversions of children. They are not aware of it. The reason is, they are not taught by their parents. It is not considered, either by the parents or children, that, in these plays [i.e., lots], there is an appeal to Jehovah. It is in the nature of the lot whether the persons intend so or not. It were to be wished that this existed only among children. All games or amusements, when in any sense regulated by a lot, though otherwise innocent, become sinful. The lot is used to fix the parties, and who shall take the lead in the game. In some cases lottery runs through the whole, and influences it; as in cards, dice, back-gammon. This practice prevails among all ranks, even such as possess discernment, and seem to regard a religious profession. Though lottery be confessed to exist in the dice, it is denied in cards playing. But on due consideration it will be found to exist in these as well as in the other. The cutting of the cards before the deal is evidently a lot. The point in question is, what shall be trumps. The determination is made by cutting. This is the casting of the lot, by which the person puts the determination wholly out of his own power. In the deal there is every thing belonging to a lot. Who shall have the best hand for managing the game, is the thing to be determined. Every card taken off is the casting of a lot. And there are just as many lottings as there are cards in the pack. The person who deals does not decide the matter. To prevent this, the greatest care is taken to shuffle the cards beforehand. When the determination is thus put out of all human power, there must be some superior to whom it is referred. This is God. No event can possibly take place, which is absolutely casual, but in this case, it is made so to man, and is determined by Jehovah. That the success of the game depends much upon the proper management of the hand is admitted. This does not however remove the lottery that is in it. The distributing of the different hands, and the management of them are very different things. The former is wholly lottery, the latter not. There is no instance of lottery, being used in gaming or recreations, recorded in Scripture. Amusements are too trifling to be referred to a lot. If men may not use it in their ordinary secular affairs, much less in trifling amusements. It will be pretended, that stakes make the matter important. But have men a right to put their money and property at stake, and then solemnly to appeal to the great Jehovah, whether they shall retain their own, or if it shall pass to another? Such a mode of making gain is exceeding improper. It proceeds from covetousness, implies robbery, tends to poverty, and leads in its train many evils. The sinfulness of the practice renders the application of the lot much more heinous. It is scarcely supposable, that even the most profane will venture to plead the necessity of lotting, in such cases. Can they not gratify their covetous dispositions, nor recreate themselves, even in innocent amusements, without appealing to Jehovah? In gaming, and other amusements, there is too little seriousness for the use of a lot.
The most glaring abuse of this ordinance in the land, is that of the state lotteries. The design of these is to raise money for the service of the nation. They are warranted by the authority of the state, and subjected to particular regulations. More than four hundred lotteries have been known to exist in the Capital alone, at the same time. By some late statutes their number has been much reduced. The practice is sinful, and when sanctioned by National authority is impious. Private lotteries, or sales of goods by lot, proceed upon the same principles. In these lotteries there is no proper matter in question, requiring a lot. There is, no doubt, a matter uncertain as to its issue, namely, who shall be successful purchasers, and how far. But this is a matter rendered uncertain by men themselves, not by the sovereign all-directing Providence of Jehovah. In no such case can it be lawful to use a lot. Men may as well cast themselves into the hands of robbers, and murderers, and then apply immediately to God to rescue them. In all civil commerce, money is not lawfully acquired, unless an equivalent be given for it. This is not the case in state lotteries. Nor is it ever intended. If it were, the state could derive no benefit from them. All purchasers of tickets cannot have value for their money. They all however wish it and expect it. Covetousness is the reigning principle both in the proprietors and purchasers. Wherever there is a wish to have, and an attempt to acquire the property of another, without giving an equivalent, it is covetousness. Both parties in the lottery are guilty here. The state is guilty in the first place, for if value were meant to be given, there would be no lottery. Purchasers are also guilty. It is not their desire to obtain an equivalent, but a prize far above the value of the purchase. On the part of the state, it is certainly a species of robbery under the colour of law. It does not alter the matter to say, that no person is compelled to purchase, and consequently whatever is given, is voluntary. It is so. But the most powerful temptations are held out to the unwary public, by a few capital prizes, to induce them to purchase. The state intends to have more money than they give value for: Some must be robbed. Instead of determining themselves who shall be robbed, and who not; who shall be enriched, and who impoverished, they refer it to God by a lot. He must determine, from what particular persons the money shall be taken, without giving them value, in order to fill the Exchequer. The foolishness of purchasers can be no apology for the state in authorizing it. Both are parties. Both refer the matter to a lot. They unite in prostituting a solemn ordinance. Justice, benevolence, and patriotism are equally awanting in both. In transacting by the lottery, there are no moral rights. Previous to the drawing, no purchaser can claim any thing. None are to be seen after it, for the successful purchaser has only received the money of which another has been robbed. The consequences of the lottery are often truly bad. Many deny themselves the necessaries of life in order to save money for purchasing tickets. Much previous time is spent attending the drawing. The mind is agitated with hope, fear, and anxiety. Disappointment, which happens to far the greatest number, increases the distress. A scene of misery opens. This often forces men to illegal means, in order to support themselves, and families, which sometimes issues in an untimely end. A train of evils frequently attend success. It furnishes the means of dissipation, drinking, gaming, reveling, lewdness, &c. These are all concomitant evils, and open to the view of every one. But the great intrinsic evil lies, in not regarding the lot as an ordinance of God, in not considering him as the sole Arbiter in deciding by lot, and in prostituting it to a purpose sinful in its very nature.
In fine, the lot is sometimes abused even in cases where it is lawfully used. This is done when an attempt is made to influence the decision one way rather than another. Where this is done by one party, it is fraud and injustice practiced against the other. It is moreover a solemn mockery of God. A reference is avowedly made to him to decide the matter in question, and at the same time the decision is taken out of his hand. We ought to confide in him for an equitable decision, and cordially to acquiesce in it. By attempting to influence the decision, we declare, either that we do not wish a righteous one, or that we cannot depend upon the wisdom and equity of God to decide equitably. By such an attempt the moral character of Jehovah is impeached, and the other party imposed on.
We now solicit your attention, Christian friends, to these observations, on the subject of lots. Although a sinful generation, accustomed to vilify every thing sacred, should ridicule the idea of considering lots, as an ordinance of Jehovah, and as being in their own nature an immediate appeal to him, yet this renders your practical testimony against the abuse of them the more necessary. Many condemn before they deliberately examine the subject; we therefore beseech you to give this Essay a fair and impartial perusal, that you may have your judgment informed concerning the lot, as a Divine ordinance. Perhaps you may have abused it inadvertently; but beware of thinking the profanation of God’s name by it a trivial matter, on that account. Rather confess and give glory to God by repentance and reformation. Deceive not yourselves with the opinion, that you do not intend an appeal to God in what you do. The Divine law ought to regulate your intentions, and the breach of that law is criminal, whether you intend it or not. We entreat you, give no countenance to public nor private lotteries of any kind; connect the lot with no amusement; this is sinful and profane. It is much to be feared, that the frequent abuse of this ordinance, in childish games, is one great reason, why it is so prevalent at a more advanced life. Therefore let all of you, who have youth under your care, be attentive to restrain them from cards, dice, and all these diversions, in which a lot is abused, and to instruct them in the evil of profaning God’s name in this way. And let all of you, who regard the honour of the Christian name, and would not knowingly offer him an insult by an unlawful appeal to him, be cautious in what cases, and in what manner you use the lot.
THE more congenial any practice is to the depraved human mind, and the more fuel it furnishes to its favourite lusts, the greater is the difficulty of convincing men of their mistake, and of persuading them to discontinue the practice. Whatever tends to excite, and to gratify the depravity of the heart, gives it an additional influence over the whole man. By means of this it accomplishes its designs more easily. A more striking proof of this will scarcely be found, than in the practice of promiscuous dancing. The greater part of mankind, in every stage, and in every sphere, of life, are exceedingly fond of the practice. Nor is it easy to convince them that there is any impropriety or evil in it. When men are hurried on under the violent impulse of the passions, neither the voice of reason nor religion can be allowed a fair hearing. The serious consideration of such things is left to morose, scrupulous, weak, and melancholy minds. Though, in such an age as the present, little success may be expected from an attempt to expose this vain, sinful, and pernicious practice, yet this ought not to supersede the Church’s testimony against it.
The kind of dancing, which we have chiefly in view to expose, is that which is practiced in the promiscuous assemblies of the two sexes, is a plain indication of carnal mirth, levity, and wantonness, and has been condemned by the best Reformed Churches, as well as by the most eminent evangelical ministers, of various denominations.
Although it has been alleged that this practice has been warranted by Scripture, yet not a single passage of the sacred volume can be produced to sanction promiscuous dancing. We indeed find dancing, in some instances mentioned, as expressive of religious joy: but the religious dance recorded in the Old Testament was a part of the worship of the ancient Jewish Church, and like the instruments of music, then in use, was peculiar to that dispensation. See Exod. 15.20; 2 Sam. 6.16; Ps. 149.3; and 150.4. Therefore no argument can be drawn from this in favour of that species of it, which is here condemned.
The words of the wise man have often been adduced as a warrant for the practice. Eccl. 3.4, “A time to dance.” This passage contains no warrant for any of the things that are mentioned. Its design is to show that there is a time fixed by God, at which all these things shall take place, and that man cannot alter them; to show the vanity of all sublunary things, and to induce man to pursue more elevated and durable objects. Every wicked purpose, and every sinful action of man are here included. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” verse 1. It is not affirmed, That every thing that men do, and every purpose which they form, is lawful; but only that there is a time and season at which they shall do so. And it is only said that there is a time to dance, not that there is a warrant for it. It is said, in general, “That there is a time to kill,” not that it is lawful. The time at which men shall lose their lives, whether by accident, by the hand of the magistrate, or by the hands of murderers. Moreover, there is nothing of promiscuous dancing here, and though the passage were understood to contain a warrant for, or approbation of dancing, it could only be that kind of it which is approved in Scripture. It is plain that dancing here is only another word for rejoicing, because it is opposed to mourning. “A time to mourn, and a time to dance.” If the dancing here be warranted, then the time of it must mean the season or proper occasion of it. The season of any thing is that time in which it is proper to do it, in contradistinction to another time in which it would be improper. There is one season proper for joy, and another for mourning. When the captives hanged their harps upon the willow trees, it would not have been proper for them, “To have gone forth in the dances of them that make merry.” [Jer. 31.4.] But the time and season proper for doing any thing must always respect things lawful. There is no season proper to steal, murder, or bear false witness, &c. This text then cannot be dragged in to support any species of dancing but what is otherwise approved in Scripture. But that is never promiscuous dancing.
Promiscuous dancing has a powerful influence upon the passions and lusts, and leads the way to various sins. The influence of the passions is a blind, undiscerning, yet irresistible impulse. Man cannot be in a more dangerous situation, than to be wholly under their influence. The affections, passions, and desires, when spiritual, and under the influence of grace, are the seat of religion. The more powerfully these act, and influence the soul, the more vigorous will be the life and power of religion. These can never be too powerfully excited, nor can the soul ever be too much under their influence, nor can too much attention be paid to the means and motives proper to excite them. Much of the perfection of the spiritual man and of the heavenly life lies here. The object of these, thus excited, is God and his law. The desires of the soul are to God. They lead to delightful contemplation on his excellencies, and on his works, and relish with great pleasure, the words of his mouth. But the heart is naturally under the dominion of sin. Even in believers much of this remains. They find a law in their members warring against the law of their mind, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin which is in their members. Rom. 7.23. This is nothing but the affections and passions, powerfully excited by innate corruption, opposing the spiritual exercise of the soul, and drawing it into sin. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Gal. 5.17. When the flesh assumes the ascendancy over the passions, the soul is irresistibly hurried on to what is sinful. Whatever tends to excite lust, to carnalize the affections, and to divert them from spiritual objects, ought to be carefully guarded against. When these are excited, they tend to certain objects, congenial to their nature, and calculated to gratify them. These objects are pursued in proportion to the violence of the passions, and to the want of contrary principles. The voice of reason is silenced, the remonstrances of conscience are disregarded, and the motion of religious principles, if there be any, are completely checked. The mind is now prepared to banish modesty, trample upon morality, and prostitute religion; and even for the criminal gratification of these furious lusts. Thus were the passions of Herod excited, when the daughter of Herodias danced before him. His reason was suspended, and his judgment warped. An unlimited promise is made to the wanton female, and confirmed by an oath. “And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.” Mark 6.23. Instructed by her abandoned and spiteful mother, she demands the head of Christ’s harbinger, and obtains it. He was indeed already disposed to murder the Baptist, but feared the people. So far he acted rationally. But when passion had assumed the ascendancy over his reason, he promises—he swears, to give, he knows not what, and acts accordingly. It will be pretended by none that dancing tends to improve religious affections. And many are not ashamed to avow that they are never more under the power of unclean lust, than when engaged in this practice, and if they wished to seduce an unwary female, they know no better method, than to lead her to a dance. All the artifice possible is used, in dress, in the various attitudes of the body and its affected motions, to excite the passions. It is the influence of the passions that lead to it. And the practice furnishes fuel to inflame them still more. It has a powerful tendency to destroy that modesty in youth, especially in females, which is one of their chief ornaments, and an impregnable defence to their chastity. “Women are commanded to adorn themselves with modest apparel, with shame-facedness and sobriety.” 1 Tim. 2.9. Dancing strips them of this triple ornament. The dress must be vain, otherwise it is unsuitable to the occasion. Modesty must be banished. The modest blush gives way to the wanton impudent look. Sobriety gives place to a fit of voluntary madness, and a display of vanity, pride, and folly. Numerous instances of uncleanness, that have fallen under the cognizance of Church Courts, have been traced to a ball as their origin. This need not be wondered at, since every guard of chastity was removed, and means leading to the prostitution of it adopted.
The practice will be found very unfavourable to religion. Those who have not attained to the knowledge and truth of religion will, by this practice, be set at a greater distance from it. And those, who have already attained to religion and know any thing of its power and exercise, will suffer much injury by it. Much time and exercise ought to be spent by sinners about the means of their salvation. It is a matter of deep regret, that these hours, which may be spared from lawful civil pursuits, should be wasted at a ball. Then it is, that the sinner should retire to his closet, institute a close and serious inquiry into the state and the concerns of his soul, seek to be properly affected with it, and to deal with God about it. Balls must have time, though this can be ill spared from lawful pursuits; and matters of eternal concern must be altogether excluded. The money lawfully and laboriously gained is expended purely for the purpose of dissipation and revelling. While this waste of time and of means is indulged, and concerns of infinite moment neglected, the mind is totally unhinged, distracted, and rendered incapable of any serious exercise. Religious exercise requires a composed tranquil state of mind, free from agitation and distraction. Without this, faith, love, and holy meditation are impossible. In religion, divine things lay hold of the soul, and the mind gives itself wholly to them. In the prospect of a ball or of any promiscuous dance, the attention of the mind is preengaged. Preparation must be made; partners engaged, and a suitable dress, &c. prepared. Loose reins are given to the fancy. It invents and presents unto the mind a thousand vain, foolish, and imaginary things, momentary pleasures, and bewitching pernicious gratifications. These lay hold of the mind, banish the thoughts of other things, and destroy any serious impressions formerly acquired. During the phrensical revel the mind reaches the summit of its distraction, its pride, its vanity and folly. It is now like a vessel in a storm, without her rudder, driven by the impetuous tempest. The passions are now become ungovernable. Their voice alone is heard; and their dictates are obsequiously obeyed. To this, as the native cause, are to be ascribed all these wicked and disgraceful consequences that often succeed these associations. When it is over, the mind, disappointed in many of its imaginary hopes, its momentary gratifications having entirely subsided, and being a little recovered from its delirium, begins to feel remorse. The waste of time and money, the neglect of matters of the utmost importance, and the corrupting of both body and soul, rush upon the conscience, and fill it with fear and disquiet. The uneasiness now felt more than counter-balances all the carnal satisfaction formerly enjoyed. This however is but temporary. When it has subsided, the mind is fully prepared to repeat its former irregularities, and takes the first opportunity for that purpose. Where this does not take place, the mind takes a retrospect view of what is past, as it formerly anticipated it, and still seeks gratification. Other things are excluded from a place in it. Nay more, the mind is rendered totally incapable of attending to them. This state of mind is, of all others, most unfavourable to religion. It is produced by exercises the very reverse of religious ones. These beget in the soul habits and dispositions of a similar nature. Thus the soul is become listless, and indifferent about spiritual things. It is rendered incapable of relishing these, or the pleasures which they afford. If an attempt is made to attend to divine things, the attention is immediately called off, by these other objects which have laid hold of the mind. If religious exercises are persisted in, the whole of them is spent in the soul’s running from one thing to another in the greatest distraction. Its attention is no sooner turned to divine things than it runs off, and every new attempt to fix it proves equally abortive. There is not in the mind a simple indifference; but there is a positive aversion to religious exercises, and a positive powerful inclination to the opposite of them. This aversion will be best discovered to the person’s self, when he essays any religious duty. It is then, that he attempts to divert the heart from its favourite objects, and to engage it in something else. The attachment to other pleasures is so powerful, that the mind recoils at the thought and forcibly resists the effort. This attempt puts the soul in fetters, and abridges its lawless liberty. It tries every effort to escape, and is so far successful as to destroy the real exercise of religion in the heart. If any soul will attend to, and compare its frame and exercise in religion, before he admits the thoughts of a ball into his mind, with these after he has attended the revel; he will be able to form a better idea of the injury he has sustained, and will be more fully convinced of the impropriety of his conduct, than by any thing that can be offered by another. But such a comparison is not to be expected, because the mind is totally disqualified for it. If any serious soul shall, through inadvertence or temptation, be led to join in such a practice, the loss, in spirituals, which he sustains, will render him more cautious in future, not to tread on such enchanted and forbidden ground. The Apostle draws a brief, but striking character of such a person: 1 Tim. 5.6, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” The body is lively, vigorous and active, in pursuing carnal pleasures, while the soul is spiritually dead, incapable either of exercising religion, or of relishing its pleasures. It is given as the character of such as belong to Christ, that they crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts. Gal. 5.24. These affections, which lead men to attend balls and other promiscuous dancings, belong either to the flesh or to the Spirit. If they belonged to the Spirit, they would be gracious religious affections. Nothing could be more favourable to religion than to be under their influence, and to indulge them. But this will not be pretended, even by the keenest patrons of the practice. If these affections were of such a kind, the mind would be most spiritual in the heat of the revel, because then the passions are most excited. But the truth is, they belong to the flesh, as the indulgence of them is most pernicious to religion. They must of course be mortified by all, who would be found interested in Christ. The indulgence of them is, “Making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Rom. 13.14. It is, “To live after the flesh,” which if we do, “we shall die; but if we, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body we shall live.” Rom. 8.13. The practice discovers the soul to be spiritually dead; or otherwise greatly obstructs spiritual life in it. The practice must either be from Christ, or from the world. Not the former, otherwise it would tend to promote the advancement of his kingdom, in the conversion of souls, and the building up and establishment of believers. It must belong to the world; not as lawfully considered, for it would then promote the civil interests of society, whereas it has a contrary tendency. It must then belong to the world as sinful. It is fairly included in the Apostle’s description of the world. 1 John 2.16, “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Hence the command, Rom. 12.2, “Be ye not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The indulging of these lusts and affections is inconsistent with the power and progress of religion in the soul, and every exertion ought, on that account, to be made to mortify these. That time, which is spent in these pernicious practices, ought to be employed about the means of salvation, in order to obtain grace where it is not, and to strengthen the habits of spiritual life where they have been already formed. Attention to divine things must often be intermitted. Lawful civil business demands it. During such intermission the greatest care and vigilance are necessary, lest spiritual attainments be either weakened or lost. Things that necessarily have this tendency are ever to be avoided. Such is promiscuous dancing. The divine injunctions, “Be fervent in spirit—continue instant in prayer—pray always—pray without ceasing,” [Rom. 12.11,12; Luke 21.36; 1 Thess. 5.17.], certainly imply that a frame for religious exercises ought ever to be preserved, and that every sinful and unnecessary thing, tending to destroy or weaken it, ought to be avoided. When the proper frame is awanting, no spiritual duty or exercise can be performed.
Many things sinful, and prejudicial to men, attend the practice of promiscuous dancings, either as concomitants, or as consequences. The waste of precious time has been already mentioned. This is considerable, both in preparing for, and during, the ball, &c. Considerable sums of money are expended. As dancing is now accounted a part of a polite education, many parents spare neither time nor expense, to have their children instructed in the art, whilst in many instances they can neither read the Scriptures, nor repeat the Shorter Catechism. Children are thus educated, not for the service of God, but of Satan. The time thus wasted is equally precious as any other part of time, and might be employed in a manner more advantageous to ourselves and to others. The money so expended is equally valuable with what we apply to other purposes. Neither our time nor our money are our own absolutely; nor is it lawful for us to do with them as we please. They are the gift of God. He allows us the use, but not the abuse of them. He has fixed the purposes, to which we are to apply them. When persons thus devote their time and money to vanity, folly, and madness, they ought seriously to consider whether God will approve of their conduct, and what account they will give him when he shall demand it. Often, families may be seen clothed in rags, and, in times of scarcity and dearth, half starved, while their children must be sent to the dancing school, and completely fitted out for a ball. In many instances, children, who are more advanced in life, expend their substance on such practices, while their parents are supported, in part at least, by the Church and the public. Were this waste of time and money duly redeemed, the situation of many might be much more comfortable, and the necessities of the poor more amply relieved. If dancing be viewed as a part of a polite education, we may be certain, that it does not belong to the school of Christ. It is not to be found among his institutions. It makes no part of the work assigned to his ministers. It has no relation to the affairs of his kingdom. And in place of contributing to its success, it impedes it. It must belong to another department. Men are taught neither religion nor morality by it. In its very nature and tendency, it is equally unfavourable to both. From its peculiar connection with the lusts of the flesh, it is much better calculated to fit persons for being proper subjects of Satan’s kingdom.—Dancings are often connected with drinking, and lead to quarreling and fighting. Dancing and drinking seem to be twin-sisters. They are both lusts of the flesh. They both possess something of a bewitching nature. Men are charmed by both. Whether men be under the power of liquor, or of the lust of dancing, they are equally under a suspense of the proper exercise of their reason. In both cases the effect is produced by the power of unmortified lust. Hence it is that these are often found in company. It rarely happens that dances are altogether disconnected from drinking. By both the passions are powerfully excited, and reason almost completely silenced. Pride, self-importance, and jealousy begin to appear. Strife and animosity ensue. The consequences are often serious. It will be urged, that all this might take place, and often does, where there is no dancing. True. Nevertheless, in this case it is the occasion of it. Were persons to attend their lawful business, or the study of religion, at home, there would be no such association, and so no such consequences. And though these consequences do not follow in every instance, yet it is sufficient that the practice natively tends to produce them, as it excites those passions which lead to them. As the consequences of such a practice, some have lost their health, others their chastity and character, and others their lives.—There is a particular practice of this sin not to be omitted in this Testimony against it, viz. Charity Drinkings, as they are vulgarly denominated. As these are practiced only in some parts of the country, it may not be unnecessary to give an account of them. There is some little difference in the manner of conducting them, so immaterial as not to deserve notice here. The thing is done for the benefit of some poor person. An entertainment of meat and drink is provided by that person, sometimes to a considerable extent. A day is fixed, and an invitation is given to the neighbourhood to attend. A very large promiscuous company of both sexes often assemble. These all contribute so much money for their entertainment. This is given partly to defray the expense of the entertainment, and partly to relieve the necessities of the poor person who provided it. The party very frequently eat, at least drink to excess. A promiscuous revel of dancing always accompanies. The scene often terminates with beastly intoxication, fighting, and abominable lewdness. Instead of answering the pretended design of it, the poor person often does not receive what will defray the expense of the entertainment. It were indeed to be wished that this were always the consequence, as no mean would more effectually abolish the practice. That the poor ought to be provided for, there can be no doubt. God has left them as a charge upon others, to whose hand he has laid more plentifully. This ought to be done by lawful means, and from Christian principles. The poor who adopt this method of relieving their wants are the occasion of all the excess, irregularity, abuse, and wickedness, gone into on such occasions. Such a mode of obtaining support can never be blessed to them. The motives which induce people to attend are not principles of charity, and regard to the poor. They have an opportunity of gratifying their lusts. All is conducted, however, under the pretense of charity. This heightens the wickedness exceedingly. A religious duty—relieving the poor, is the ostensible reason for this assemblage of people. Under this mask they hesitate not to run any length in excess and sin. An occasion of this kind is truly a revel. Were charity the motive, it would more effectually relieve the poor to give them the sum of money without any revel of eating and drinking, dancing, &c. But this would not furnish fuel for their lusts, consequently would not take place. The person providing such entertainment, takes the advantage of men’s lusts and the dissipation of the time; throws a temptation in their way, and leads them into wickedness. The things which tend most to inflame the passions must be had, drink and dancing. These prepare them for other irregularities.
When this sinful practice is considered, and the consequences of it duly weighed, it must appear exceedingly improper, and sinful for serious disposed persons, or testimony bearers to be present where it is practiced, though they do not actually take part in it. Dancing is often connected with what is in itself lawful, as marriages, &c. These occasions ought not to be countenanced, when such irregularities are connected with them. This would be a decided testimony against the practice. Some think there is no evil in being present, while they join not in the practice. But doubtless they expose themselves to temptation: and many have been imposed on and led into the sin, and by means of it to abandon their profession. One may receive injury by being present where sin is practiced, though they join not actually in it. It does not appear that Herod danced along with Salome. She danced in the circle, while he looked on. He was foolishly affected, and acted rashly. It will ever be found safe to avoid temptation, and to abstain from all appearance of evil. [1 Thess. 5.22.]
It is pled that dancing is an innocent and harmless recreation. Recreation in some cases may be necessary both to relieve the mind of the studious, and to exercise and invigorate the bodies of the sedentary. The greater part of those who go into the practice have no need of it on either of these accounts. Besides it is well known that dancing affords no amusement, but by a mixture of the sexes. As an ancient Divine says, “Take away the promiscuousness of dancing, and itself will cease.” This shews, that there is nothing in it as a recreation, considered in itself; but as promiscuous with women.
But something must be urged for the practice while it prevails. It may deserve notice, that wherever reformation in religion obtained, the practice has been condemned; and when religion has declined, and profanity, immorality, and licentiousness abounded, dancing has prevailed. The more enlightened heathens themselves had no favourable opinion of it. The great Roman Orator, Cicero, calls it, The last of vices, because it follows former bad actions.
We therefore earnestly warn those that are parents not to send their children to dancing schools, these seminaries of wickedness, to acquire this part of what is called polite education. O consider, how contrary this is to the solemn obligations that you came under for them at baptism, to bring them up in the fear, nurture, and admonition of the Lord; and beware, lest, by such education, you form their minds and dispositions for promoting the interest of Satan’s kingdom. Attend to the divine injunction, “flee youthful lusts,” [2 Tim. 2.22.] and this will preserve you from putting your children in the very way of exciting and indulging these. Be not so cruel, as to permit their attendance on those places, which tend to rob them of their modesty, which God has given them as a defence against many temptations; but rather use your utmost influence, by precept and example, to keep them from the paths in which destroyers go. [cf. 1650 Metrical Psalter, Psalm 17.4.]
We have represented to you, dear brethren, the dangerous tendency of promiscuous vain dancing. We entreat your deep and serious consideration thereof. Let not the prevalence of the practice, nor your own attachment to it, induce you to pass over the matter slightly. Consider the nature of true religion, and the manner of its progress in the soul: consider also the innate depravity of the human heart, in its opposition to genuine holiness. Whatever has a tendency to add fuel to the sinful lusts, and to draw forth the latent seeds of corruption, ought to be carefully avoided by the Christian. Among these things we have classed promiscuous dancing: and none who are properly acquainted with the internal workings of sin and lust in the soul will deny it. The votaries of this exercise may well be denominated lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. [2 Tim. 3.4.] No real Christian can say, that he ever reaped any advantage from it, and we are confident, that many have sustained much injury from it. We beseech you, take a serious view of the precious time, that you have wasted in it; of the dangers to which you have exposed yourselves by it; and of the inconsistency of it, with a life of faith; and especially consider, how unsuitable it is to times like the present, when the aspects of providence are truly alarming, and the vengeance of heaven impending over us. See Ezekiel 21.10. Such provocations of sons and daughters may add to the bitter ingredients in that cup of Jehovah’s righteous judgments, which he is threatening to pour down upon our guilty heads.
INATTENTION TO THE TRAINING UP OF CHILDREN.
THIS article will probably be, by many, excluded from the class of immoralities. It is not a positive vice. It is however omitting to discharge a relative duty enjoined by the moral law. Not complying with a positive precept is sin, or moral evil, as well as the positive violation of that precept. It will also prove a source of many positive immoralities. The depraved mind is a fertile spring of all wickedness. Proper culture is a necessary mean to prevent it from producing its native fruits. If neglected it proves like the uncultivated field, left to remain in a natural state, its productions are not only useless, but noxious.
Parents ought to consider their offspring as a special trust put into their hand by God. They are instrumental in bringing them into existence. They have not only a natural relation to them as parents; but a moral relation as members of the same moral society. Children have the same moral nature with their parents, and are also to occupy similar places, and perform similar duties in society. They must be prepared for this. Of all living creatures they are the most helpless, and require most attention. Neither body nor mind are capable of acting for the benefit of society. Both must be improved. This belongs in general to society, particularly to their immediate parents. Society is either civil or religious. Children belong to both. They ought to be so trained as to fit them for being both good citizens and good Christians. Subordination, education, and religion are necessary. Without these, society, instead of deriving advantage from them, must sustain much injury. The circumstances of all parents are not alike. More is not required than what is in their power. Provision is made by society to supply defects. Besides, it is not necessary, that all members of society should possess the same talents, either natural or acquired. It has places and work suited to every capacity. However necessary a proper culture of youth is, it is shamefully, in many instances neglected. Due attention is often paid to one branch, while others are totally overlooked. Neither the interest of society, nor of children themselves is, in such omissions, duly attended to. Man, in an unimproved state, is very little superior to the brutal creation, and of little more advantage to society. When the state and character of the youth, at the present period, are attended to, it will be easily seen that a culpable inattention will attach to parents.
Subordination is essential to the existence and happiness of society. Were every individual member to claim the liberty of acting according to his own will, independently of the laws of society, the greatest anarchy would ensue. Society would be destroyed. Whoever enters into society surrenders a part of his individual liberty. This is done for the better security of what remains, and for a general good. Society has its general laws, and appropriate persons for the administration of them. When these laws are wholesome, subordination to them preserves the existence of society and effectually promotes its interest.
A family is society on a small scale. The laws of it are fixed by God. The authority is parental. In some respects it is subordinate to society at large. The interests of both depend much upon domestic subordination. Man is endued with the faculty of will. He naturally inclines to choose and act for himself. This is seen at a very early period of life. The depravity of nature, with his infantile state, disqualify him from choosing aright. The will of the parent must be his law. To this it is necessary that he be trained to submit. At a very early period a fond indulgence is shown by parents to their children. Every object they incline must be given them. In no instance can they allow them to be counteracted. The child soon becomes peevish, capricious, and contumacious. The mind through time becomes more stubborn, and arbitrary. When afterwards it becomes necessary to impose some restraint, the attempt is vain. Frequently parents are insulted, instead of being obeyed, by their children. The blame lies wholly with themselves. Their sin is great. Their children become the instruments of their punishment. Parents refuse to obey God, in neglecting to form the young minds of their children to obedience and subordination, and children in their turn spurn at the authority of their parents. At a much earlier period of life, than is generally thought of, children are susceptible of impressions of right and wrong. Though they want intellectual discernment of their difference, yet such impressions may be made by means of some things, as will considerably influence their actions. It would be improper for parents to exercise an arbitrary authority over their children. This would only be preparing them to act a similar part, when grown up. Moral reasons of subjection and obedience should be given, and frequently inculcated, so as to make an impression. Severe rigid austerity, and a mere passive indulgence, are equally improper. This encourages contumacy, that tends to dispirit and discourage young minds. Children are very soon susceptible of impressions from hope and fear. This might be improved to a good end. Some years elapse before many parents think of restraining their children, or instructing them, foolishly supposing that it is too soon. But by this time they have contracted a powerful habit of stubborn disobedience, and copied many bad examples. To this negligence of parents, many evils in their families and in society in general, are to be ascribed. The authority which they have lost cannot be recovered. Parental exhortations are disregarded. Great irregularities and vicious practices are gone into, in the face of all means used to prevent it. An attempt to restrain them from one evil only provokes them to run into another. They become impatient of all family restraints, and break through all family order. This mode of training children is an easy introduction to every vice. Where the difference between good and evil is not known, and suitable impressions thereof wanting, the mind naturally pursues evil. Such youths are but ill prepared to be useful members of society in general. The common good can be no object to them. The laws of society will be trampled on by them with all freedom, except where they are deferred by fear. Whatever is not proposed by themselves, or does not suit their peculiar dispositions will be opposed in an arbitrary manner, and every thing done to prevent society from acting for its interest. Early culture is of much advantage to the after period of life. “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22.6. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” [v. 15.] Improper indulgence gives it a more powerful hold of the mind. The rod becomes necessary to check it. Many parents apply it with much reluctance; some very improperly; others not at all. Whenever the rod is necessary, and the only case in which it is peculiarly so, in young children, is disobedience, it ought to be applied. When applied early it will have good effect. When long neglected, it tends more to excite the stubbornness of the mind. “Chasten thy son while there is hope.” Prov. 19.18. This can only be in youth, ere an evil habit is acquired. “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” Prov. 29.15. “Correct thy son and he will give thee rest; yea he shall give delight unto thy soul,” verse 17. David’s indulgence of Absalom was fatal to himself, and hurtful to the nation. “His father had not displeased him in saying, Why hast thou done so?” 1 Kings 1.6, &c. The consequence was, he rebelled against his father and treasonably aspired to the kingdom, and came to an untimely end. Eli’s sons were very abandoned. They made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. For this his sin, God sware that the iniquity of his house should not be purged with sacrifice for ever. 1 Sam. 3.12, &c.
Education of children is also much neglected. The circumstances of parents are to be considered. No more is demanded than what lies within their reach. Distance from schools renders it impossible for young children to attend. Parents might supply this inconvenience in a good measure, were they inclined. Children are capable of learning at a much earlier period, than is generally imagined; and without injuring them, if it be properly conducted. The children of the poor, as soon as they can do any thing, are set to some work. Their situation renders it necessary. On this very account early attention should be paid to their education. Many parents send their little ones to school merely to have them out of the way. Hence it is, that they are indifferent whether they learn or not, and a very irregular attendance is given. Bad, listless and indifferent habits are contracted. The efforts of parents ought to co-operate with those of the teacher. Nothing is more necessary; nothing more useful. Some task is to be performed at home, as the repeating of the Catechism, &c. Parents should see this punctually done. Inattention to this obstructs the child’s progress, subjects it to the rod in school, and so leads to discouragement, and an aversion to learning. Nothing is more necessary in school than proper subordination. From the very improper indulgence allowed to children at home, they are impatient of restraint in the school. Complaints, and false representations, of the conduct of teachers, are often made by such children to their parents. These are received and encouraged. Prejudices are formed against the teacher, and children permitted to relax their attendance. In this way they make more progress in evil habits, than in useful learning. Much time is lost, and the mind not improved. Such parents and children both come to see their folly when too late. Though the circumstances of many parents can but ill afford the means, even of an ordinary education to their children, yet they find means to encourage and support them in vanity and folly. They must be sent to the dancing school. Every thing necessary to this branch of polite education must be furnished. Money is got with less difficulty, and expended with less grudge, to prepare for balls, penny weddings, and other dancings, than for purchasing the Scriptures, or for teaching children to read them. They are sent to service during one part of the year, and, though they should be afflicted with poverty, hunger, and nakedness, the little which they have gained is to be expended on dancing. Many children appear in Church without the Scriptures in their hand, but if seen at a ball, &c. not one article suited to that occasion is awanting. It is not difficult to judge, whether the parents of such children are more careful to train them for God, or for the Prince of this world. Many children are lost by not being trained to habits of industry. Much time is wasted in idleness. Indolent dispositions and habits are contracted, and an aversion to necessary and useful labour prevails. This leads to looseness, dissipation, and every vice. The mind is active: It is ever in pursuit of some object. When not occupied about some virtuous pursuit, its depravity will avail itself of the opportunity, and pursue objects suited to itself. Evil associates are at hand: They project and execute wicked schemes. All this is owing to parents not accustoming their children to some laudable useful employment. Children so trained are, during a great part of their life, the very pest of society, and, in the evening of life, a burden. In the one period they are active to corrupt it, and in the other are supported by it.
Religious instruction is of the utmost importance. It is however least attended to. Youth is a favourable season to instill religious principles and instructions into the mind. Impressions made in youth are not easily effaced. The mind is more easily bent: Opposite habits and prejudices have not taken possession of it. In more advanced life, vanity, folly, and conformity to the world lay hold of the mind. The cares of lawful things too have their place, and their influence. It will be found advantageous to commence religious instruction ere these begin to lay hold of the soul. Afterwards it will be much more difficult. This is the divinely instituted mean of obtaining grace. Religion is the best security against temptation of every kind: It teaches the fear of God. This leads to regard the good of society.
This deistical age has produced many, who maintain that no religious instructions ought to be communicated to children, nor religious impressions made, until they become capable of judging for themselves. It is supposed to destroy, in a certain respect, human liberty, to warp the mind with prejudices unfavourable to free discussion. This, if it proves any thing, proves too much. At one stroke it discards every species of instruction, moral or political. The right of private judgment, in respect of these, is as sacred and independent, as in respect of religion. It will set aside every part of education, because when the youth grows up he may question the propriety, and even lawfulness, of many things in which he had been initiated. No trade nor business of any kind ought to be taught youth; nor qualifications for one active department of life more than another acquired by them, till they become fully acquainted with all, and so judge for themselves. The doctrine is irrational. It denies the moral relation between parents and children. A moral relation implies mutual moral duties. Among these is moral and religious instruction. No moral duty can be performed without moral instruction, and moral habits. The condition in which infants are ushered into the world, as to their moral capacity, is sufficient to confirm this. These are equally incapable, as the members of the body, for action. If parents are to withhold all moral instruction from their children while such, they can be said to do no more for them, than the brutal species do for their young. But the ideas and notions which have been imbibed in youth cannot hinder the mind from a candid examination of the truth and propriety of them. There is nothing to prevent the mind from examining its own ideas, any more than the ideas of others. But the application of this principle will necessarily abolish both the practice of religion and morality. Children receive impressions, and contract habits, more readily from example than from precept. By it they easily acquire notions of right and wrong. By copying a religious pattern a bias favourable to religion will be formed; and, by following an immoral example, the mind will become powerfully prejudiced in favour of sin. To prevent such prejudices on one side or another, all action must cease. Parents are to do neither good nor evil, at least in the presence of their children. Nay more, if at any time children should do what parents believe to be evil, they must not fault them, forbid them, nor correct them, because these would tend to form a peculiar habit, and produce peculiar ideas in the mind. Lying, swearing, stealing, disobedience to parental authority ought never to be faulted. A more effectual method to destroy society could not be adopted. It would be to allow children to grow up under the powerful influence of innate depravity, without the least check given it. But there is nothing more certain than religion, nothing more advantageous. It is learned from Divine revelation alone. There many injunctions are laid upon parents, respecting the religious instruction of their children. Deut. 6.6,7, “And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.” Chapter 4.9,—“Teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” Abraham was commended for his attention to his children, on this head. Gen. 18.19, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment,” &c.
There is reason to suspect, that these deistical principles are fast gaining ground. The practice of many parents is the native consequence of such principles. Whether they have adopted these principles or not, their procedure towards their children is practically so. The instruction of youth in the first principles of religion is left to public teachers. But many of these have banished this from their schools. The Scriptures are little used; and the Shorter Catechism not carefully taught. The practice of many families is little better. Even the form of religion is not to be found in them. The Scriptures are not read: Family worship never observed: Family instruction and catechizing entirely neglected. Even where a form of family religion is attended to, children are kept under no restraints. Heads of families are not careful to have the whole family collected before proceeding to family worship. Children are employed about their diversions in the fields, and servants about their work, and often doing nothing. In many families not a copy of the Scriptures is to be seen at family worship, but the one used by the person leading in the duty. Were every one, especially children, obliged to have the Bible, it would be a mean of fixing the attention in part, during the duty. Such inattention soon makes children averse to be confined during family duties. It will render them equally averse to attend public ordinances. Nothing has a better effect on young minds than family catechizing. The evening of the Sabbath is a very fit time for it: Though, in the case of children, it should not be confined to the Sabbath but done occasionally at other times. This duty, however necessary and useful, is much neglected. Many parents, to their shame, are grossly ignorant, and equally indifferent. Their children are mournfully neglected. Some practice this duty only during the winter, and lay it wholly aside during the summer. By means of this the irksome tedious evening insensibly steals away. During the summer, the evening being agreeable, can easily be filled up some other way. What is gained during one season of the year is lost in another. With equal propriety might such heads of families give up with family worship, or attendance on public ordinances, during summer, as family instruction. The strictest attention will be paid to the beasts of the field, that nothing shall be awanting to them. Does it become the Christian to pay more scrupulous attention to his ox or his ass, than to the souls of his children! Rarely are they brought to religious societies, and habituated to sit with composure, during the performance of religious duties. Here they might receive instructions and impressions, favourable to religion, and more likely to be taken notice of, in social supplications unto God. No restraint is laid upon them during the holy Sabbath. Hence they are often to be seen in groups in the fields, either sporting, or doing mischief. When parents and they are both disengaged from the world, it is certainly a proper season to instruct, exhort, and admonish. Again, how frequently are parents in the church without their children, except it be one on the breast, who could not be left at home? If they choose to attend they may; but no parental authority is used to make them do it. Such parents are a contrast to Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [Josh. 24.15.]
The circumstances of many families are such that the children cannot always remain in them. They are set out to service; often when very young. The inattention of parents is often manifest here. No attention is paid to the character of the family in which they engage them; whether religious or profane. A religious education, and a promising youth have often been both lost by such inattention. Religious impressions have insensibly worn off. Religious instructions have been lost, through the want of continued teaching to keep it afresh upon the mind. Contrary evil habits have been contracted. Children, who, under the tuition of attentive religious parents, made a hopeful appearance, have, on being introduced into irreligious families, become dissipated and profane. It is still a truth, that “evil communications corrupt good manners.” [1 Cor. 15.33.] It is nearly impossible for youth to mingle with the wicked, and not learn of them their way. [cf. 1650 metrical Psalter 106.35.]
It is doubtless of much importance, and a singular blessing, to have the truth and principles of piety fixed in the minds of children; and to have their affections attached to them. As they grow up and advance in life, they are exposed to many temptations, from education, talents, riches, or preferment. By these the mind is apt to be carried off from religion. A religious education is the best preservative against this. Trained under the tuition of pious parents, Moses was fortified against all the temptations of learning, wealth, power, and greatness. The mind naturally grasps at these things with eagerness. Early religion prevents their undue influence. “Moses chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” [Heb. 11.25.] If parents neglect the religious education of their offspring, they must account to God for the loss of their souls. Moreover, children are the seed of the Church: Families are her nurseries. If these be neglected she cannot flourish. Children are to succeed their parents, and act for them in the Church. It is in this way that she is preserved in the world. They must be prepared. This is the peculiar work of families. “The father to the children shall make known thy truth,” Isaiah 38.19. “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children that should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” Psalm 78.5-7.
We have here exhibited a few hints, Christian Brethren, on the duty and necessity, of the religious education of children. Consider, that the souls, as well as the bodies of your children, are committed to you, as a solemn charge by Jehovah;—that you have dedicated them in baptism to him, and therefore are under solemn obligation to train them up for him. Remember, that by your negligence in fulfilling your engagements, you will incur the displeasure of God against yourselves, and entail a train of miseries on your offspring. Vanity and folly will carry away their minds: evil principles will lay hold on their hearts. Contumacy and disobedience, vice and irreligion will be the native fruits of such neglect. You are not surely indifferent, whether or not your children shall be the seed of the covenant, and heirs of salvation; then use the means of Divine appointment which lead to that end. Begin early to communicate religious instruction, and to impress their tender minds with a sense of good and evil. Discover to them, from the word of God, the universal corruption of their nature, as averse to good, and inclined to evil. Teach them the way of salvation by Christ alone, together with the connection betwixt grace and holiness. Travail as in birth until Christ be formed in their souls, [Gal. 4.19.] the hope of glory, and earnestly pray, that they may be a part of that seed that may do service to God in their generation.
SLANDER AND CALUMNY.
THE importance of a good character, in every condition of life, is universally admitted. To such as would acquire honour or affluence, this is no less requisite than talents or address. Human nature, though depraved, retains an esteem of excellence. In all the transactions of life we wish, if possible, to deal with persons of integrity. A greater injury can scarcely be done to an individual than to wound his reputation. Every member of society, civil or religious, will find some persons, who, even under the mark of friendship, view him with the eye of envy or jealousy. These are eager to revive any tale, to which truth has given the slightest foundation. In this turbulent and confused scene, where words and actions are often misunderstood, and oftener misrepresented, it is indeed very difficult even for innocence and integrity to avoid reproach, contempt, and abuse. These not only hurt our interest and impede our advancement in life, but sensibly hurt the feelings of a tender and delicate mind. “A good name is better than precious ointment.” Eccl. 7.1. As every man ought to value his own reputation, and avoid whatever may tend to injure it, so ought he that of others. And if he thinks himself injured by others, when they impeach his character, he ought to consider, that he is equally culpable, if he impeach theirs. “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Matt. 7.12. Little regard is paid to this rule. The greatest freedoms are taken respecting men’s character and reputation. The charge which God brought against the wicked may now be very generally applied: Psalm 50.20, “Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.”
Calumny betrays an heart ill-disposed towards others. Brotherly love, and mutual benevolence ought to possess, and influence the hearts of all Christians. It is the command of their Redeemer, “That they love one another.” [John 13.34.] It is also a certain evidence of their interest in him: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13.35. Did this principle reign in their hearts, they would consult the interest of others, as much as their own. This interest depends much on their good name. Love will then make them tender with respect to it. Love will not easily listen to an unfavourable report of others. Wishing it to be false, it entertains it as such, until it obtains more certain information. If the report prove true, love wishes to extenuate the fault, and, as far as may be, to draw a veil over it. It will be ready to forgive the fault, suppress all resentment against it, and study to conceal it from others. At the same time it will not suffer sin upon a brother. [Lev. 19.17.] An inspired Apostle enjoins this on Christians as of all things the most necessary. 1 Peter 4.8, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity (or rather love) shall cover a multitude of sins.” And as the wise man expresses it, Prov. 10.12, “Love covereth all sins.” This love is often pretended where the truth of it is awanting. The heart is not influenced by it. It is under the power of another principle. Under this mask a secret wound is given to the character of another, a professed object of regard. This is not the wound of a friend. It is the kiss of an enemy. Of such the man according to God’s own heart complained bitterly: Psalm 55.12,13, “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man, mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.” The design of so much pretended friendship was only that he might wound the deeper. “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords,” verse 21. The prosperity, respect, and honour of others, are often envied. Many cannot bear to see others enjoy greater affluence, or more esteemed, than themselves. This induces them to depreciate their reputation, in order to enhance their own. Such a principle is truly malicious. It is unlike that, “Charity which suffereth long, and is kind, which envieth not, is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil,” &c. [1 Cor. 13.4,5.] Some very trifling offence given, and often only taken, becomes the occasion of reproach. Words and actions are misconstrued. An import and design never meant, and never thought of, are affixed to them. This is denominated by an Apostle, “Evil surmisings,” 1 Tim. 6.4, or wicked jealous suspicions of evil designs on the part of others. Rash hasty conclusions are drawn from certain appearances, and time and attention not employed in order to discover, whether what is suspected be true or false; but “Charity believeth all things, hopeth all things.” [1 Cor. 13.7.] It readily credits every good report, and allows its full import to every favourable appearance in others. When these are unfavourable it allows them no place, hoping they may be false, and wishing the other to be true. From the character and disposition of the present age, and from the freedoms taken with characters, it may be fairly inferred, that few, very few, are actuated by this love.
There seems to prevail an anxiety, to find something unfavourable to men’s reputation. When any thing is found, it is received with pleasure, and propagated with diligence. This is often done, even when known to be false. “A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.” Prov. 17.4. Those who give ear to evil reports are no better than those who propagate them. They both unite in wounding the good name of others. Some are forward to invent groundless calumnies, and circulate them. Others as anxiously receive them. Among those who are excluded from the new Jerusalem are, “Such as love and make a lie.” Rev. 22.15. It is one of the peculiar characteristics of heaven’s favourites, “That they backbite not with their tongue, nor do evil to their neighbour, nor take up a reproach against their neighbour.” Ps. 15.3. Reports, though not altogether groundless, are often greatly exaggerated by those who propagate them. A good report loses much, and a false one gains much, in circulation. Men will have it so: They make it so. This is the only way that yields them satisfaction. Some, who go not into open calumny, have recourse to secret and indirect insinuations, calculated to convey a very unfavourable opinion of others. Nothing is positively laid to their charge, or otherwise part of the truth is suppressed. This leaves others to conjecture. It proves an occasion of exaggeration, and of greater reproach. This is done often under a pretense of delicacy and tenderness for the character of others. It is only a pretense. Reputation is exposed to suffer more by it, than if the true state of the case were fully given. Rehearsing real faults and weaknesses, when done either without a proper call, or with a bad design, are justly accounted slander. No fault, weakness, nor improper act, in a person’s conduct, ought to be made public, unless, and as far as it shall be conducive to some good end, either to the person or to society. Men’s faults natively tend to their prejudice. The more generally these are known, the greater will be the injury they sustain. To propagate them can do no good to society, and to deal privately with the offender is a more likely way to promote his interest. If these are notour they become objects of judicial cognizance. The design of this is the good of all. It will be conducive to it, being of Divine appointment. Not content with recent failings, the past part of life is ransacked, and faults, that were committed to oblivion, and even repented of, are revived. This is to impeach a man with an evil of which he is not guilty. Paul was once a blasphemer, a persecutor. Of these he repented, and from them reformed. Had any, after his conversion called him a blasphemer or persecutor, they would have charged him with what he was not guilty of. This would have been a gross calumny. Some very slight offence given often provokes men to act this ungenerous and unchristian part.
The profession of religion, especially a strict adherence to it and faithfulness in it, are the occasion of reproach and calumny. The dispositions of believers are very different from the dispositions of the world. They are at perpetual variance. The seed of the serpent can never be reconciled to the seed of the woman. [Gen. 3.15.] An Ishmael will still mock and persecute, and an Isaac must bear it. It has been so from the beginning. It will be so to the end. The holy life of believers is a practical condemnation of the irregular and sinful conduct of the wicked. It is a daily living testimony against them. This they cannot endure. Malice prompts them to try, by various means, to fix some stigma upon their character. One while they are branded with the odious names of hypocrite, fanatic, bigot, melancholy, unsocial, &c. Another while they are held out as weak, narrow minded, illiberal, &c. This proceeds from no other cause, but that they cannot associate with the wicked in their folly, vanity, and iniquity. The schemes of human policy are often at variance with the laws of Jesus, tend to impede the prosperity of his kingdom, and obscure his glory. Fidelity to him and attachment to his interest prevent them from concurring with these schemes, and from taking an active part in the execution of them. Instead of this they consider themselves as called to testify against such measures. This affords abundant occasion for their enemies to fall foul of their character. They are exclaimed against, as the enemies of peace and social order; as disaffected to the interest of the state, and as actuated by seditious principles. If faithful Christians will avoid all sinful associations, with the enemies of their Redeemer and of his interest, they may expect to be loaded with reproach. “If they will go forth unto him without the camp, they must bear his reproach.” Hebrews 13.13. When the weeping prophet had faithfully delivered the Divine message, and testified against the violence and wickedness of his countrymen, contempt, ill usage, and obloquy, was all the requital, they rendered him. His plain dealing with them, and his regard to their safety, by pointing out their danger, only procured their farther contempt, their keener calumny, and their designs against his life. “I have heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it: All my familiars waited for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed; and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.” Jer. 20.10. Thus it was, that pretended friends encouraged one another, in propagating false reports against him. They only wished to hear him prophecy, that they might find something on which to ground an accusation against him, and so satiate their revenge. David found himself in a similar situation. Psalm 31.13, “For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.” The present day furnishes manifold instances of such treatment. Nothing now exposes the Christian so much to the obloquy and resentment of men in general, as innocence, holiness, and faithfulness. Evil surmises are formed, and groundless calumnies, and gross misrepresentations of principles, words, and actions, are propagated against them. This is done from the worst motives, and with the worst designs. But his followers need not think this strange, since this was the treatment the Redeemer himself received. “He was a reproach of men, and despised of the people—One who perverted the nation, and forbade to give tribute to Cæsar.” [Psalm 22.6; Luke 23.2.] This is the heaviest reproach and slander that believers meet with. It wounds deep, and in the tenderest part. There is nothing which they account so valuable, as their religious character. By this wicked and cruel practice an attempt is made, not only to injure it, but to rob them of it. It is their ornament and their honour. It is the chief thing, by which they wish to recommend themselves to the respect of others, and by which they wish to consult their interest. Every attempt to rob them of it, is considered as the greatest injury done them. They are thereby prevented both from doing the good to society that otherwise they would, and from deriving that advantage from it to which they are justly entitled. The present very general prevalence of this evil discovers how much the minds of men are under the influence of envy, malice, and jealousy; and how little of the truth and power of religion exists, and is experienced among them. The injury done by calumniating our neighbour is very great. No man who has done so can ever repair it. The injury done to society is great; as much of the person’s usefulness in it is prevented, by the unfavourable impressions made on the public mind thereby. Truth and uprightness are injured. An evil example is set to others; and no one is more readily copied. Defamation of character is criminal against any person; but it is peculiarly aggravated, when done against ministers of the gospel, as it has a tendency to destroy their public usefulness, and, so far as the malice of the calumniator can reach, to prevent them from ever doing good to the souls of men. Such may be assured, that wherever a minister’s labours have been blasted, or his success prevented, by their malevolent tongues, they will be accountable to God for all the injury done to the souls of men thereby.—Calumniators and slanderers ought to be held as the dangerous enemies of society. Much of that animosity, disaffection and distrust, many of those misunderstandings, strifes, and contentions, which disturb the peace, and obstruct the prosperity and happiness of society, are occasioned by them. “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” Prov. 17.9. “A whisperer separateth chief friends.” Chapter 16.28. Let not the righteous be discouraged, nor deviate from the paths of holiness and faithfulness, though they may be loaded with groundless reproaches. “Though they are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people,” [Ezek. 36.3,] in due time God will vindicate their innocence, and punish those that reproach them. “Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings: For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool.” Isaiah 51.7,8. Comfortable and encouraging are the words of their Redeemer: “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and shall cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.” Luke 6.22.
Christian friends and brethren, we have here presented to your serious consideration a few thoughts on that illiberal, yet prevalent custom of injuring the characters of one another. A good name is better than great riches, and, in some respects, than life itself. It ought to be equally dear to all, equally sought after by all, and equally preserved by all, as far as possible, in a lawful way. Every person ought to account a fair character of great value, and to reckon every attempt to rob him of it an act of great injustice. Then, beware of doing that to another, which you would take greatly amiss, if done to yourselves. Be assured, that you are no more at liberty to slander the character of another, than to steal his property: but you are equally bound to defend and protect both. It is no way surprizing, that Christians should suffer reproach from avowed enemies; but it is very hard to bear it from professed brethren, who go to the house of God in company. We beseech you then, cherish generous and benevolent dispositions towards one another, and be ever ready to put the most favourable construction on words and actions that they will reasonably bear. Attend to the Divine injunctions, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” [Matt. 7.12.] “Speak evil of no man.” [Tit. 3.2.] “Love as brethren.” [1 Pet. 3.8.]
AMONG the evils practiced in our day, that of drunkenness is none of the least. The instances of it are very common; as every one, who takes notice of what passes before him, must frequently have occasion to see persons staggering through wine, or strong drink. There are many, who make no account of this sin: and there are not a few, who are so egregiously wicked, as to make a mock of it, and to amuse themselves and their companions, with repeating and hearing the excesses, which they have committed in their rambles. It is with sorrow that we have it to remark, that drinking to excess is not confined entirely to the openly profane; but many professors of religion, from whom other things might be expected, are too often to be seen in a state of intoxication. In order to point out the evil of this sin, and deter the generation from the practice of it, we would suggest the following observations concerning it.
It is a sin, which divests man of his glory, and sets him upon a level with the beasts of the field. It will be allowed, that our reason is a noble faculty, by which we are distinguished and dignified above the inferior animals. Thus we are told by Elihu, Job 35.11, “He teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and, maketh us wiser than the fowls of the heaven.” But by this sin of drunkenness mankind do wantonly divest themselves of that, which is their glory, and make themselves beasts in human shape. When once they become intoxicated, they no longer act like persons possessed of reason; but appear to be under the influence of a temporary madness. Then do they commit the most unaccountable excesses, practice the grossest incivilities, utter the most extravagant nonsense, and perpetrate the most horrid crimes; the very thoughts of which, in their sober moments, would be rejected by them with abhorrence. If the sin of drunkenness in its nature and consequences be so degrading to human nature, it is altogether unbecoming the Christian character to live in the practice of it.
It may not be amiss also to observe, that if our reason be such a noble faculty, as that we are ready to make our boast of it, we ought certainly to improve it, to the glory of the Author of our nature, who hath conferred it upon us. But by the drunkard it is wantonly abused and impaired. And instances are not awanting, of persons endued with excellent natural abilities, rendering themselves entirely useless to society, through their attachment to drinking. Their talents are either hid or abused, and their usefulness in their generation prevented; while they themselves become the object of the ridicule and contempt of those, by whom they might otherwise be esteemed and respected.
Drunkenness is a sin, which has a native tendency to impair the health of the body, and even to endanger life itself. We are told by the Apostle, Eph. 5.29, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it:” and Christians are undoubtedly both warranted and obliged by the commandment of God, to use all lawful means for the comfort and preservation of their bodies. But the drunkard wantonly sports with his health and life. For by drinking to excess; he renders himself as unable to do any thing for his own preservation and comfort, as a new born infant; and also exposes himself to the greatest danger imaginable, while at the same time he is altogether incapable of eluding any danger whatever. Many instances occur (and it is a signal evidence of the goodness of Providence that they are not more) of persons meeting with sad disasters, as the consequence of their excessive drinking. Their bones are broken, their joints are dislocated, their flesh is mangled and torn, and their blood is shed like water on the ground. Many also do meet with such shocking accidents, as put a period even to their life. How mournfully unprepared, in such a case, must they be, for entering into the world of spirits, and appearing before the great Judge of all!
But even though the drunkard should, in his intoxication, meet with no accident, to break the bones, or tear the flesh of his body, yet he is then sowing the seeds of innumerable diseases, that may be the source of great trouble to him afterwards. Apoplexies, gouts, rheumatisms, &c. are all the natural consequences of intemperance; so that by gratifying his beloved lust, the drunkard seems to be weary of the health and strength of youth, and courts the approach of the infirmities of old age. Hence it is no uncommon thing to observe those, who are addicted to drunkenness, affected with tottering hands, with shaking limbs, and other frailties incident to old age, while they themselves might otherwise be only in the very prime of life.
This sin of drunkenness is in its very nature a dreadful abuse of the bounty of Divine Providence. All the favours, which we receive at the hand of God, ought to be improved to his glory, and our own comfort. That they ought to be improved to his glory, is evident from the express words of the Apostle, 1 Cor. 10.31, “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” But by the sin of drunkenness, this end is entirely perverted. For the bounties of Providence, in this case, instead of being used in a subserviency to the Divine glory, are consumed upon the lusts of men, and abused to the dishonour of the giver. Thus do mankind often make a more ungrateful and unreasonable return unto God, for his kindness, than even the beasts themselves will do to their benefactors. Justly may the Lord complain of drunkards in the words of the prophet, Isaiah 1.2,3, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.”
The bounties of Providence are given to us, to be used also for our own comfort: and when they are used in a way conducive to this end, no blame can be incurred. Thus it is said by the wise man, Prov. 31.6,7, “Give strong drink unto him, that is ready to perish, and wine to those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” To the same purpose the apostle speaks unto Timothy, 1 Tim. 5.23, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine, for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities.” Thus when strong drink is used in moderation, either for refreshing the heart, or nourishing the body, it is made to answer the very end, for which it is bestowed upon us by God. But by the sin of drunkenness this end also is altogether perverted; for instead of promoting his own comfort, the drunkard ruins both soul and body at once, and entirely blasts his character and usefulness in the world.
The evil of this sin will farther appear, if it be considered, that it is an inlet to every vice. When persons are once intoxicated, it is hard to say, what is the mischief that they will not commit. In such a state, many seem as if they were under the immediate influence of Satan, and were instigated by him to perpetrate all manner of wickedness. Solomon appears to be sensible of this, when he says, Prov. 23.29,30, “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath bablings? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine, they that go to seek mixed wine.” By proposing such a variety of questions, the wise man seems to insinuate, that it is impossible fully to enumerate all the mischievous fruits and consequences of drunkenness. It may not be improper to mention a few of these, in order to discover more of the evil tendency, and detestable nature of this sin.
It is a great incentive to the sin of uncleanness. This was well known even to the heathens; so that they could say, Sine Baccho, frigida Venus; i.e., ‘When Bacchus the god of wine was not worshipped, the rites of Venus the goddess of impurity were also neglected.’ We find in scripture also, that drunkenness and uncleanness are often connected together. Thus it is said, Hos. 4.11, “Whoredom and wine, and new wine take away the heart.” And in Prov. 23.31-33, Solomon plainly declares, that those, who are addicted to wine, are in the greatest danger of falling into uncleanness. “Look thou not,” says he, “upon the wine, when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things.” Instances often occur of persons, when inflamed with strong drink, practising the most abominable lewdness; whereas, at other times, they are not known to be guilty of unchastity. Something like this appears to have been the case with righteous Lot. [2 Pet. 2.7; Gen. 19.] His daughters well knew, that if the wickedness, which they wished him to commit, were proposed to him, when he was in his ordinary state of sobriety, he would reject their proposals with abhorrence. But by making him drunk with wine, this holy man, notwithstanding the recent and remarkable deliverance which he had obtained, was brought to commit the filthy and unnatural crime of incest with both his daughters. Gen. 19.33,35.
It is very often attended with the grossest profanation of every thing sacred.—The name of God ought never to be used, but with the greatest veneration. But where drunkenness is practiced, the name of God is wantonly blasphemed, and such horrid oaths and imprecations are uttered, as if the mouth of hell itself were opened. Accordingly we see, what jealousy in this respect was exercised by Job over his children. After their days of feasting with one another were ended, he sent and sanctified them, by offering burnt offerings unto the Lord in their behalf; “for,” says he, “it may be, that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Job 1.5.—The saints of God are represented in scripture, as the excellent ones of the earth; but these, when drunkards meet, are made the objects of general derision. Hence the Psalmist makes it the matter of his bitter complaint unto God, Psalm 69.12, “I was the song of the drunkards.”—The ordinances of religion ought always to be observed and treated with the greatest seriousness. But at drunken meetings they are grossly profaned, and every thing that has the appearance of religion is treated with the greatest abuse and contempt. The prophet accordingly brings this charge against God’s ancient people, Hosea 7.5, “In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine; he stretched out his hand with scorners.”—And if it should so happen, that the professors of religion are seen overtaken with this sin, immediately the cause, to which they adhere, however good it may be in itself, comes to be reproached, and their fellow professors severely lampooned. Now if drunkenness be attended with consequences so pernicious to the credit and public interests of religion, all who have any thing of the fear of God in them ought, for this reason, to stand at the greatest distance from it.
This sin is oftentimes attended with strife and contention. Indeed there is nothing more common than quarrels among drunkards; for the very same persons, who at other times would live in peace and harmonywith each other, will very readily fall out, when they are over their cups. Hence the wise man, when enumerating the evil concomitants of drunkenness, says, Prov. 23.29, “Who hath contentions? who hath wounds without cause?” It is well known, that it is natural for drunkards to entertain the most extravagant notions concerning their own importance, and to offer the grossest insults to all others: of consequence strife and blows are introduced, which often issue in the effusion of blood, and even in the loss of life itself. The Apostle says, Rom. 12.18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” But in a company of drunkards, it is as impossible to maintain any thing like peace and regularity, as to still the raging waves of the sea, when they are agitated by boisterous winds.
Such are some few of the evils, that usually follow the practice of drunkenness. It would be very easy to mention many others; but these which we have mentioned, will, we apprehend, be sufficient to show somewhat of the pernicious nature and tendency of this sin. We proceed farther to observe, that
Drunkenness renders persons entirely unfit for the management of their civil business. The most part of mankind are laid under a necessity to attend to the concerns of this life, that they may procure sustenance for themselves and their families. Nor are Christians freed by their profession, from all concern about these things; but on the contrary, they are laid under the strongest obligation, to attend to them, with all due diligence. Hence it is said by the Apostle, Rom. 12.11, “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” But the drunkard, by laying aside the exercise of his reason, subjects himself to a temporary derangement, and renders himself entirely incapable of attending either to one thing or another. Of course his business is neglected and his affairs are thrown into a state of confusion.
But the mischief does not end here. Not only does he render himself incapable of managing his business, but at the same time, he squanders away what substance he may previously have in his possession. The Apostle says, 1 Tim. 5.8, “If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” By the drunkard this admonition is entirely disregarded, as what should be used, for procuring the necessaries and comforts of life for himself and his family, is spent by him in the gratification of his lust. It is a thing confirmed by experience, that there is something singularly infatuating in the sin of drunkenness; as those, who are once addicted to it, will rather submit to every kind of inconvenience whatever, than give up the practice of it. They will not be reformed by all the distressing consequences of it, which they frequently experience; but will often subject themselves and their families, to the greatest poverty and hardships, for the sake of indulging themselves in their rambles. To this purpose we find the wise man speaking, Prov. 23.35, “They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick: they have beaten me, and I felt it not; when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.” Hence poverty is incurred, debts are contracted, creditors are defrauded, and the drunkard and all who are dependent on him are brought to ruin. This deplorable consequence of drunkenness is very beautifully described by the same inspired writer, Prov. 23.20,21, “Be not among wine-bibbers, among riotous eaters of flesh; for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty, and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.”
This sin of drunkenness entirely incapacitates those, who are overcome by it, for any religious or any serious exercise whatsoever. If the drunkard be unfit for transacting business with his fellow creatures, he must be far less fit for maintaining spiritual intercourse with God, in the duties of religion. For if he should presume, when he is intoxicated, to approach unto God in the exercises of religious worship, there is every reason to think, that he would utter that, which would be affronting to the majesty of heaven, provoking to the Divine holiness, and calculated to draw down vengeance from on high on his own guilty head. We may see the dangerous nature of such unhallowed exercises, in what befell Nadab and Abihu the two sons of Aaron. It is said, Lev. 10.1,2, “Nadab and Abihu the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them; and they died before the Lord.” It would appear, that the sin of Aaron’s sons at this time was committed through the influence of wine: for immediately after this awful judgment, we find the Lord expressly prohibiting the priests to use wine, when they were about to minister in holy things. So it is said, verses 8,9, “And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine, nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die; it shall be a statute for ever, throughout your generations.” Christians are a spiritual priesthood unto God, and consequently such as live in the habitual practice of drunkenness, are utterly incapable of offering up to him those spiritual sacrifices, in the performance of religious duties, which he requires at their hands.
This sin incapacitates persons, not only for the acts of immediate worship, but also for all serious exercises about a future state. All, who are acquainted with the life and power of religion, are much exercised about the second coming of Christ. This event seems to them to be of the greatest importance, as they must then appear before his tribunal, and have their eternal state unalterably fixed by the sentence, that shall proceed from his lips. It is their exercise, accordingly, to look for his coming, and to use all manner of spiritual diligence, that they may obtain a peaceable and comfortable meeting with him. So says the Apostle, Tit. 2.12,13,—“live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the Great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” But it is evident, that the practice of drunkenness unfits all those, who are under its influence, forany serious exercises about futurity, and consequently for any spiritual diligence in preparing for a future state. When the Lord Jesus, therefore, describes the character of those, who are no way prepared for meeting with him at his coming, he points them out as addicted to the sin of drunkenness. So he says, Matt. 24.48,49, “But and if that evil servant shall say, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken, the lord of that servant shall come in a day, when he looketh not for him,” &c. From these words it is abundantly plain, that indulgence in the sin of drunkenness, and all serious exercise about the second coming of Christ are directly opposite the one to the other; so that where the one is practiced, the other must of course be neglected
From these observations, Christian friends and brethren, you will easily see, that the practice of drunkenness is of the most sinful and detestable nature. Let it be your study, then, carefully to abstain from it, and from all temptations to it. Avoid all persons and places, that are likely to prove a snare unto you, and to lead you into a state of intoxication. Beware of unnecessarily frequenting the tavern, and spending the evening in public houses, as this is sure to be attended with the most dangerous consequences. Nor let it satisfy you, that you are not guilty of this sin in your own persons; but let it be your exercise to mourn over it, when it appears in others; inasmuch as it is a sin, by which the name of God is dishonoured, the bodies of men are destroyed, their worldly substance wasted, and their precious souls eternally ruined.
THE evil, which we proceed next to consider, is that of uncleanness, which is well known to be exceedingly prevalent. Some are so impudent in their lustful impurities, as to make a jest of them, and openly to proclaim their sin as Sodom. Others, who are not so lost to all sense of shame, use the greatest diligence to conceal the uncleanness which they practice: but by the instances of it, which are brought to light, it is evident, that it is a sin by no means uncommon, at the present time. It is so far from being uncommon, that it is rapidly increasing. Of this the Office bearers in the Church are fully convinced by their own mournful experience; as they have far more frequent occasion, now than formerly, to deal with persons, who have fallen into this sin, and to subject them, to Church censure for it. And all, who take any particular observation of the present corruption of the times, will be convinced of the same thing. In order to point out the dangerous and sinful nature of this growing evil, we would offer the following remarks concerning it.
This sin is of such a description, that, when God would represent to us the odious nature of other kinds of wickedness, he compares it to that of uncleanness. Thus when he would impress the minds of his ancient people, with a sense of the abominable nature of the sin of idolatry, he represents it to them, under the notion of whoredom and adultery. Accordingly in his exhortation unto Israel to renounce their idolatry, he says, Hos. 2.2.—“let her put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts.” In like manner, when he is expostulating with Samaria and Jerusalem about their idolatries, he compares them to two sisters Aholah and Aholibah, who lived in the constant practice of uncleanness. Thus speaking of the idolatry of Samaria, under the name Aholah, he says, “Thus she committed her whoredoms with them, with all them that were the chosen men of Assyria, and with all on whom she doted; with all their idols she defiled herself.” Ezek. 23.7. And in the 11th verse following he adds concerning the idolatry of Judah, “And when her sister Aholibah saw this, she was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she, and in her whoredoms more than her sister in her whoredoms.” Now it will surely be granted, that idolatry is a sin of a most abominable nature, as it is both provoking to a jealous and holy God, and also exceedingly debasing to human nature. For what can be more provoking to a jealous God, than to deny him that honour, which of right belongs to him, and to give it to mere creatures, or even to stocks and stones? and what can be more debasing to human nature, than for mankind to disown the true God, and fall down and worship the workmanship of their own hand? If God then, in order to impress our minds with a sense of the detestable nature of the sin of idolatry, sees meet, in his infinite wisdom, to represent it under the notion of uncleanness, surely the sin of uncleanness itself must be very abominable indeed.
Those who walk in uncleanness are represented in Scripture, as singularly guilty in the sight of God. Thus when the Apostle is making mention of a variety of sinners, who are enormously guilty, those who wallow in uncleanness are placed first in order. So he says in Romans 1.29, “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness,” &c. In 1 Cor. 6.9, he also says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,” &c. And again in Gal. 5.19, his words are, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,” &c. The different classes of sinners, enumerated in these passages, are of a very black description; but in all of them, those who are addicted to the sin of uncleanness, in its different shapes, are always ranked in the front; as if they were the most distinguished of all the transgressors of the divine law, and exceeded all others in wickedness.
As this sin is represented as singularly heinous, so those, who are guilty of it, are exhibited as the particular objects of God’s righteous displeasure. And indeed it is but natural to think, that, since they are accounted peculiarly abominable in his sight, his abhorrence of them shall be signally manifested in their punishment and destruction. To this purpose we find the Apostle speaking in 2 Pet. 2.9,10, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished; but chiefly them that walk after the flesh, in the lust of uncleanness.” None of the impenitently unjust, of any description, shall escape the righteous judgments of God; nor shall these judgments, when executed, be accounted contemptible by the sinner; but as those, who walk in uncleanness, are accounted peculiarly guilty, so the most terrible of all judgments are kept in reserve for them.
This sin is in its very nature opposite to that holiness, which God enjoins upon his people. As God is a being perfectly and infinitely holy in himself, so he inculcates the study and practice of holiness upon all, who make a profession of his name. So says the Apostle, 1 Peter 1.15,16, “But as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Now uncleanness and holiness are as opposite to one another, as light and darkness; so that those, who live in the practice of this sin, do exhibit thereby the most undoubted evidence that they are entire strangers to true holiness. Hence it is said by the Apostle, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.” 1 Thess. 4.3. And in the 7th verse following, he contrasts holiness and uncleanness, as two things, that are in their nature and tendency directly opposite to one another. “For God,” says he, hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” From these passages it is exceedingly obvious, that holiness and uncleanness are altogether incompatible with each other; and consequently, as all the people of God profess to be a holy people, the practice of uncleanness is entirely inconsistent with their character.
It may not be amiss also to observe here, that sometimes the Lord punishes those, whom he has rejected, by giving them over to practice all manner of uncleanness. He has indeed appointed a day for the full punishment of the wicked at last; but sometimes even in this life, he punishes them with sore spiritual plagues, and particularly delivers them up to the predominant and raging power of their lusts. In this way he punished the heathen nations of the world, who wished not to retain the knowledge and service of the true God among them. Remarkable to this purpose are the words of the Apostle, Rom. 1.24,25, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves, who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature, more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever, Amen.” Now if God leave those, who are cast off by him, to the reigning power of their lusts, so as that they practice all manner of uncleanness, then surely every appearance of this sin ought to be avoided by those, who profess to be his people. To this agree the words of the Apostle, Eph. 5.3, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, and covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints:” and if it is not once to be named among the saints, far less is it to be practiced by them.
This sin is often punished by God with sore temporal judgments. What the Apostle Peter says of some, may be very properly applied to those, who are addicted to uncleanness. 2 Pet. 2.3, “Their judgment of a long time slumbereth not.” Their judgment does not seem to be delayed till the last day, but the Lord gives visible tokens of his displeasure against them, even in this life.
The wanton and unclean do often bring upon themselves a very painful and lothesome disorder, (the Venereal.) This disease is said to have been altogether unknown to the ancients, and, according to some accounts, none were ever affected with it, till the Spaniards invaded America. The conquerors then gave loose reins to the most abominable lusts, and, by the insatiable and unlimited gratification of them, brought this disorder upon themselves. Thus did the Lord appear to testify his displeasure against them, for this sin, by the visible and immediate stroke of his judgment. Since that time, it has spread among other nations, and raged with the most unrelenting fury among those, who live in the habitual practice of uncleanness. It is accordingly no uncommon thing, to see those, who wallow in this sin, afflicted with this disorder to such a degree, as to have their constitutions wasted, their flesh covered with ulcers, and their bones consumed with rottenness, before they are laid in their graves.
Another dismal consequence, that follows the practice of uncleanness, is that of poverty. It is very customary, for the debauchee to spend his substance with the most lavish prodigality, for the purpose of gratifying his raging and filthy lusts. But while part of his substance may be wasted in this way, the curse of God is drawn down upon the rest; in consequence of which, it is entirely blasted, and spent without satisfaction. The necessaries, the comforts, and even the luxuries of life, which he formerly enjoyed, are wasted like smoke, his beautiful attire is changed into rags, and his abundance into want. In this manner the words of the wise man came to receive their fulfillment, Prov. 6.26, “For by means of a whorish woman, a man is brought to a piece of bread, and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life.”
Not only the wealth, but the character also of the debauchee is ruined by this sin. A person’s character is a very delicate object; and it is no small acquisition to obtain a good name. Eccl. 7.1, “A good name,” says Solomon, “is better than precious ointment.” By the practice of uncleanness, however, one’s good name is often effectually blasted. For, though the grossest dissimulation and the most deceitful artifices are used to conceal this sin, yet it is somehow or other often brought to light, in the course of Divine Providence; so that the characters of those, who are guilty of it, are marked with an indelible blot. And thus is the Divine threatening verified, which is denounced against those, who live in uncleanness: Prov. 6.33, “A wound and dishonour shall he get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away.”
These are some few of the evils, which usually follow the practice of uncleanness; and by them the Lord distinctly points out to us it’s dangerous and detestable nature.
The evil of this sin will farther appear, if it be considered, that it is dreadfully infatuating. So the prophet of the Lord says, Hos. 4.11, “Whoredom, and wine, and new wine take away the heart.” Such as live in the habitual practice of uncleanness, are exceedingly besotted by it: their consciences are hardened, their minds are debased, their rational powers are enervated, and their conduct in life becomes inconsistent and unreasonable. The wise man accordingly uses language singularly just and striking, in his description of the character and fate of the simpleton, who is taken captive by the whorish woman; Prov. 7.22, “He goeth after her straightway, as an ox to the slaughter, and as a fool to the correction of the stocks.” Persons, who at other times behave with the greatest prudence and sagacity, appear, through the infatuating influence of this sin, to be overcome with an unaccountable stupidity. We find this remarkably exemplified in the case of Solomon, who was the wisest of all mankind. Nothing, surely, can be more foolish, than to fall down before dumb stock and stones, acknowledging them as Deities, and offering up religious homage to them. Yet this practice, foolish as it is, was what the wisest of men fell into, in consequence of gratifying his impure desires. So we read in Neh. 13.26, “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.”
So dreadfully infatuating is the lust of uncleanness, that very few of those, over whom it has gained an ascendancy, ever obtain deliverance from it. And therefore, when Solomon is cautioning the youth against all dalliances with the harlot, he says, Prov. 2.18,19, “For her house inclineth unto hell; and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.” How lamentable is it to think of the multitudes of precious souls, that are daily perishing, through the captivating power of this ruinous and prevailing evil; for very few, comparatively none, are ever recovered from it. Or if any do, through the mercy of God, obtain a view of their sin, and have the remedy, which God has provided, effectually applied to their souls; yet the remembrance of it occasions the most bitter and cutting reflections. Of this we may be abundantly satisfied by the testimony of one, who speaks from experience. Eccl. 7.26, “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands; whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be taken by her.”
Another circumstance, which exceedingly aggravates the sin of uncleanness, is, that it involves two persons in guilt at one and the same time. Other sins may be committed by individuals alone; but when uncleanness is actually practiced, it is like a chain-shot, wounding the souls of two at once. And thus, though the one party may obtain the blessing of forgiveness, and have their souls given them for a prey; yet by this sin, they have been accessory to the wounding and perhaps the ruining of the soul of their companion in iniquity. All, who have any sense of the worth of their own souls, must certainly be concerned about the welfare of the souls of others; and ought not Christians, for this reason, to abstain from uncleanness, because that by this sin, they not only injure their own spiritual interest, but also reach a wound to the souls of their companions in guilt, which may issue in their everlasting ruin?
These observations, which have been offered, do apply to simple fornication, and every species of uncleanness whatever. But this sin makes its appearance among us in a very aggravated form, when one or both parties are in a married state. It is then known by the name of adultery: and it is too notorious that this species of uncleanness is by no means uncommon in our day. Adultery is a crime, which God in his law has expressly commanded to be punished with death. [Lev. 20.10.] But it so happens, in the present age, that while thieves, who steal property to a very inconsiderable amount, are, without the warrant of the Divine law, punished with death; adulterers, who according to the same Divine law should suffer death, are allowed to pass with a punishment, that is comparatively trivial. This circumstance, perhaps, may have some influence upon the minds of the generation, and induce them to entertain extenuating thoughts concerning this sin. We would, therefore, offer the two following observations concerning adultery in particular, in addition to what has been suggested concerning uncleanness in general; in order that we may testify against this prevailing evil, and if possible, may convince the generation of its abominable and ruining nature.
This sin of adultery is a dreadful violation of the most solemn vows. When parties do enter into the marriage covenant, they come under solemn promises of mutual fidelity and affection; and these promises are confirmed by the oath of the Lord. Accordingly, when the Lord reproves the Jews, for putting away their wives without just cause, he says, “yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” And again, “let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” Mal. 2.14,15. Now since parties who are joined together in the bond of marriage, confirm their mutual promises of fidelity, by a solemn appeal to the great God of heaven and earth; those, who commit adultery, do not only perpetrate a deed of uncleanness, but perjure themselves at the same time, by breaking the most solemn engagements, that it is possible for mankind to come under. Who, that has any sense of the Majesty and Authority of God, can entertain trivial or indifferent thoughts of such horrid wickedness?
This crime of adultery has a great tendency to destroy all manner of family comfort. When persons are equally and agreeably yoked in the marriage state, and live in the exercise of mutual fidelity and affection, they certainly enjoy a great measure of domestic felicity. But when either party is guilty of defiling the marriage bed, disgust, jealousies, and family feuds and contentions do naturally take place, together with the loss of all manner of family comfort. Nor is this all: It is well known, that cruelties, even to the shedding of blood, are often the consequence of lustful amours. Adulterers have frequently taken away the life of their fellow creatures, that they might conceal their wickedness, might effect their abominable purposes, or avert the disagreeable and dreaded consequences of their unhallowed embraces. Of this we have a remarkable instance in the case of David, when he defiled Bathsheba. In order that he might prevent the effects of Uriah’s resentment, and in order that he might have an opportunity to take Bathsheba home as his own wife, David caused the brave, the generous, and innocent husband to fall by the sword of the children of Ammon. A practice, ordinarily attended with such terrible consequences ought never once to be named among Christians.
Before we conclude the section, it may perhaps be necessary also to condemn the thoughtless, the wanton, and the irregular manner, in which many enter into the matrimonial life. This custom is evidently connected with the sin of uncleanness, and calculated to increase the practice of it. For if marriage be viewed as a wanton frolick, or an insignificant rite (as seems to be done by many;) then it may naturally be expected, that persons of different sexes will have the most intimate connection with one another, before their marriage; and will be careless even after their marriage about observing that conjugal fidelity, which they owe to another.
But Christians ought certainly to consider, that marriage is an ordinance which has God himself for its Author; as it was first instituted and dispensed by him to our first parents in Paradise. And therefore when they have a prospect of entering into the marriage bond, it ought to be respected as a Divine ordinance, and observed by them in a religious manner. So the Apostle enjoins the Church of Corinth, 1 Cor. 7.39, “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord.”—It also merits our attention, that marriage is a matter of the greatest importance, as the future comfort of the parties very much depends upon it. If Christians, therefore, are bound to “acknowledge the Lord in all their ways,” [Prov. 3.6,] they ought to acknowledge him particularly in their marriage: they ought to ask counsel at his mouth, and implore his blessing upon them, when they are making such a change in their lot. But from the manner in which many do enter into the marriage state, it would appear, that, in this matter, they neither acknowledge the Lord, nor seek his blessing; and therefore it is not to be wondered at, though they enjoy little comfort in their married life.
From what has now been suggested unto you, Christian friends and brethren, concerning the sin of uncleanness, you may plainly see, that it is an evil of a very defiling and dangerous nature, tending to bring down the judgments of God on persons, families, churches, and nations. It is indeed oftentimes coloured with the gentle name of gallantry, and such like epithets. But let it be your study to have your minds impressed with a sense of its dreadful nature, according to the light, in which it is represented to you in the word of God. Mourn over it before the Lord, as a most provoking sin, which is exceedingly prevalent in the generation, and has, of late years, made rapid progress among the professors of religion. Abstain from all appearance of it, from all wanton dalliances, secret night meetings, lewd companions and places of dissipation, with every thing else that may prove an incentive to this abominable sin: and let it be your endeavour, in the strength of divine grace, to live in the world as persons, whose bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost: remembering the words of the Apostle, 1 Cor. 3.16,17, “Know ye not, that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
ANOTHER evil, very common at the present time, is that of profane swearing. Though there be some, who are not ordinarily addicted to this sin, except when they are put into a passion, by some provoking or disagreeable occurrence; yet there are others, so abandonedly wicked, that they can scarcely open their mouths, without some horrid oaths and imprecations. There are many also, who would shudder at the blasphemous and unhallowed expressions uttered by the notoriously profane; but they themselves scruple not to swear by some of the graces of the Spirit, such as faith and truth, and use the phrases of soul and conscience, as common expletives in their ordinary conversation. It is our design, in the present section, to point out the evil of this practice; and for this purpose we would offer the following remarks concerning it.
Profane swearing is a dreadful affront offered to the Majesty of heaven. God is a being possessed of infinite perfection and glory in his own nature; and so is infinitely exalted above all the creatures, that he hath made. He is therefore entitled to the most profound reverence from the children of men, and his name ought never to be used by them, but with the utmost veneration, whether it be in their immediate addresses to himself, or in their common intercourse with one another. Accordingly it is said in the third precept of the moral law, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” [Exod. 20.7.] Moses also says to the children of Israel, Deut. 28.58, “If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law, which are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD; then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, &c. Thus is the name of God to be held sacred on all occasions, and never to be used but with a becoming reverence. But profane swearers do, by their wanton abuse of this holy name, express their contempt of the Divine Majesty; and by the imprecations, which they utter, do they openly avow their disregard of his displeasure, as if it were a thing which could give them no uneasiness.
This sin is of such a nature, that those, who practice it, can promise themselves no pleasure nor advantage from it. In other cases, when sin is committed, there is some profit or pleasure expected. Thus when thieves steal, it is with the prospect of increasing their substance; when the wanton and unclean gratify their filthy desires, it is with the design of enjoying pleasure; or when drunkards are carousing over their cups, it is with the expectation of drowning care, of banishing sorrow, or satisfying their craving appetites: but profane swearers can look for no pleasure nor advantage from their sin. They appear to sin for sinning’s sake, and act as the voluntary servants of Satan. For as it is the practice of that apostate spirit to rebel, and to manifest his enmity against God, both by sinning himself, and endeavouring to draw others into it; so those, who are addicted to profane swearing, seem to discover something of a similar disposition. It is, indeed, impossible for them to destroy or diminish that essential blessedness and rest of which God is possessed in himself; but nevertheless, by their wanton and unhallowed profanation of his holy name, without any advantage to themselves, they manifest the most malicious and inveterate enmity in their hearts against him.
Profane swearers are mentioned in scripture, as the marked and determined objects of the Divine displeasure. Thus we find the Lord himself saying, “that he will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.” Exod. 20.7. When it is said, that God will not hold such sinners guiltless, there is evidently more implied than expressed. He will not only not hold them guiltless, but highly criminal, and will assuredly execute upon them all that vengeance, which their sin deserves. Sometimes the Lord manifests his displeasure against this sin, by visiting those, who are guilty of it, with dreadful temporal judgments. This is evident from what is recorded concerning the Jews, both when they were carried away captive by the Chaldeans, and when they were dispersed and destroyed by the Romans. The sin of profane swearing abounded exceedingly among them, on both of these calamitous occasions, and contributed to fill up the measure of their iniquity. When the prophet Jeremiah is warning them of their captivity by the Chaldeans, he mentions this among other procuring causes of that calamity, that “because of swearing theland mourneth.” Jer. 23.10. It is also said, that the same sin prevailed exceedingly among that people, before their overthrow by the Romans. This made the Apostle James tender the necessary caution to his countrymen, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” James 5.12. Now if this sin among the Jews drew down the judgments of God upon them, to their destruction, surely the same sin prevailing among a professing people, at the present time, must give the Lord provocation to execute similar judgments upon them, and hasten apace their utter ruin.
But though judgment be not always executed upon profane swearers in this life, yet we are by no means warranted to conclude, that they shall always escape: for the Lord will not hold them guiltless. There is a day coming, when he will call them to account, and execute upon them all that vengeance, which they wantonly imprecated upon themselves. Human laws have, indeed, been framed, to restrain and punish this sin; but these have been found altogether insufficient to prevent it. The Lord will, therefore, take the punishment of profane swearers into his own hand: and however deplorable must their case be, when they have to meet with him, as an avenging and implacable adversary?
This sin of profane swearing is directly opposite to that love, which we owe, both to ourselves, and our fellow creatures. The second great commandment in the law is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” [Matt. 22.39; Lev. 19.18.]
From the commandment it is evident, that there is a love to ourselves, which we are warranted to cherish. The practice of profane swearers, however, entirely counteracts this self-love: because it is very common with them, on every trivial occasion, to imprecate damnation upon themselves. Thus do they wantonly seek their own destruction; and, in this respect, they even exceed the devils themselves in wickedness. We find some of these fallen spirits, in the days of our Saviour, manifesting the greatest fear, lest their eternal and expected torment should then commence; and expressing a strong desire, that it might be suspended for a season. Thus they cried out, “Art thou come to torment us, before the time?” [Matt. 8.29.] We are told particularly, in Luke 8.31,32, “The devils besought him, that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding upon the mountain; and they besought him, that he would suffer them to enter into them.” But profane swearers seem to go beyond them in wickedness, by the horrid imprecations, which they wantonly use; as if they set God himself at defiance, and challenged him to pour out on them the utmost of his displeasure.
This sin is opposite also to that love, which we owe to our neighbours; for it is a very common practice among profane swearers, to imprecate damnation on their fellow creatures, as well as on themselves. Now when damnation is executed upon a sinner, he is thereby rendered perfectly miserable; inasmuch as he is deprived of all good, and subjected, by the out-pouring of God’s wrath, to unspeakable and endless torments. To imprecate damnation, therefore, upon a fellow creature, is wantonly to express a desire that he may be rendered perfectly and eternally miserable. How unlike is this to the disposition of those, who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them? Says the great Apostle of the Gentiles, Romans 10.1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved.” When salvation is obtained, all good is enjoyed; and this is what we ought to pray for, in behalf of one another. But to imprecate damnation upon our fellow creatures, is wantonly to desire their eternal destruction, and discovers more of the disposition of the Devil, than of a Christian.
The practice of profane swearing is exceedingly prejudicial to the peace and welfare of civil society, inasmuch as it has a natural tendency, entirely to destroy all the solemnity of an oath. It is well known, thatoaths, or solemn appeals to God, are common among all civilized nations, and serve the most valuable purposes in social life. When the prince ascends the throne, he swears, or binds himself by an oath, to administer the laws, in the way of mercy and justice: and his subjects, on the other hand, swear allegiance to him, or bind themselves by an oath, to give unto him all due obedience. In civil and ecclesiastical courts also, oaths are often used with a view to discover and establish the truth: for “an oath among men is for confirmation to put an end to all strife.” Thereby the jurant makes a solemn appeal to the Just and Omniscient God, to attest the truth of what he declares; and at the same time imprecates the vengeance of the same God upon himself, if he declares any falsehood. But when profane swearing is very common, it has an evident and natural tendency entirely to annihilate the solemnity and binding obligation of an oath. For it is but natural to think, that he, who is addicted to profane swearing, will never hesitate to call the God of truth to witness a falsehood, since he is daily guilty of offering the most provoking and unhallowed affronts to his Divine Majesty: nor will he scruple to call for the vengeance of God to be executed upon himself, when he is grossly prevaricating; since it is a very common thing with him wantonly, to imprecate damnation both upon himself and his fellow creatures. Thus is human society in danger, by this sin, of losing all the advantages, that result from the practice of solemn swearing of oaths. It has, accordingly, been ranked among those crimes that are punishable by civil rulers; and laws have been enacted against it. Now if Christians are bound, “as they have opportunity, to do good to all men.” Gal. 6.10, it must be altogether inconsistent with their character, to follow this pernicious practice, which has a tendency to introduce disorder and confusion into civil society.
This sin will appear also to be a dreadful abuse of the faculty of speech. We are ready to make our boast of that which we account honourable; and hence it is very natural for us to make our boast of our reason, because that by it we are distinguished from the brutal creation. But we are distinguished from them, and exalted above them, no less by our faculty of speech, than that of reason; inasmuch as by it, we are able to communicate our sentiments, thoughts, or knowledge to one another, which the beasts cannot do. Hence the tongue of man is in scripture denominated his glory: Psalm 30.12, “To the end that my glory (i.e., my tongue) may sing praise to thee, and not be silent.” Now when God has endued us with this distinguishing faculty of speech, nothing can be more reasonable, than that it should be improved to his glory. But by profane swearing, this end is entirely perverted; because hereby, what is the fruit of God’s discriminating goodness to mankind, is dreadfully abused to the profanation and dishonour of his great name. The inconsistency, the impropriety, and the wickedness of this practice cannot be better described than in the words of the Apostle: James 3.8-10, “But the tongue,” says he, “can no man tame; it is an unruly evil; full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”
The practice of profane swearing indicates a want of all serious apprehensions of the Majesty of God, and of the importance of divine things. We find that the Scripture, when it describes the character of those who are destitute of the fear of God, represents them as addicted to this very sin. Thus it is said by the wise man, Eccl. 9.2, “As is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.” By him, that “feareth an oath,” we are certainly to understand such an one, as is filled with an inward dread and religious fear of the Majesty of God, so as to be afraid of profaning his holy name by unwarrantable oaths. In like manner, by him “that sweareth,” as contrasted with him “that feareth an oath,” we are undoubtedly to understand one, who does not hesitate to prostitute and abuse the name of God by profane swearing. Now when the Scripture sets profane swearers in opposition unto, and contrasts them with those, that are filled with an inward veneration of the Great God; the Holy Ghost thereby gives us to understand, that such as live in the constant and avowed practice of this sin, have neither the fear of God before them nor any due impression on their minds of the importance of divine things.
This observation applies not only to those oaths, that are most horrid and blasphemous, but also to those, that are accounted more trivial, and are more commonly practiced; such as, swearing by faith, by truth, by conscience, by the Devil, and the like: for these do all indicate the same want of a due apprehension of the importance of divine things. We may illustrate this in one instance, which is very common; and that is, swearing by faith. Let it be observed then, that faith is that grace, by which, a sinner, convinced of his sin, and sensible of his danger of eternal condemnation, betakes himself for life and salvation, with the greatest seriousness and concern of soul unto the Lord Jesus, as he is exhibited in the glorious gospel. And therefore, the soul’s acting faith upon the Lord Christ is one of the most solemn exercises, in which it is possible for a human creature to be employed. Now it must be evident, that it is altogether inconsistent with the serious and solemn nature of this exercise to imagine, that any one, who has had the experience of it, can make use of faith, at every turn, as a common expletive in his ordinary conversation.—It would be easy to go through a number of oaths of a similar kind, and show, that they are all inconsistent and incompatible with that serious apprehension of divine things, which Christians ought always to have on their minds. We shall, however, content ourselves, with making a quotation from our Saviour’s sermon on the mount, which may be considered as a short and summary condemnation of all such forms of swearing. It is in Matt. 5.37, “But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
From what has now been suggested concerning the practice of profane swearing, we may learn somewhat of the dreadful nature of the sin of perjury. There is every reason to think, that this is an evil by no means rare in our day; considering the manner, in which public elections, and matters of a similar description are carried on. If the name of God is never to be used but with the greatest reverence, then certainly it is grossly profaned in the case of perjury. For therein the jurant calls upon the God of truth to attest a falsehood, and also, to cover his villainy, imprecates the vengeance of God upon himself, if he speaks falsely; while he is conscious at the same time, that he is practising the grossest deceit. For mankind to behave in this manner towards God, is in effect to say, that they have lost all sense of his Majesty; and can sport with his displeasure, as if it were a thing of no account. How guilty then must our land be, when it is notorious, that, this sin is exceedingly common?
We may from hence also see the wickedness of swearing unnecessarily, and repeating the same oaths, or oaths of the same nature and import. That this is an evil, very prevalent at the present time, is well known: and in some cases the same oaths, or oaths of the same import, are repeated so frequently, that the jurants seem entirely to lose sight of the dreadful and solemn nature of the oath of God. Hence the expression of “a custom-house oath,” is used to signify an oath, that is nothing accounted of. Now if the name of God ought to be used in no case, but with the greatest reverence; then appeals ought not to be made unto him, by the swearing of oaths, but in cases of great necessity and importance. We must, therefore, be egregiously guilty in his sight, when the same oaths, or oaths of a similar nature are repeated again and again, on the most trivial occasions, and with the greatest indifference.
From these observations, which we have made, Christian friends and brethren, concerning the sin of profane swearing, you will easily see, that it is a very dreadful, though very common evil, most dishonouring to that glorious name, which angels adore, which the saints bless, and at which the Devils themselves tremble. Let it be your study, to avoid all persons and companies that would tempt you to the commission of it, and mourn over it, when you observe it in others. Mourn over it as a great national iniquity which has infected both army and navy to such an awful degree, that, instead of proving a defence to the nation, as they ought to be, they daily provoke God, by their unhallowed oaths, to pour down his indignation upon our guilty heads. Endeavour to have your minds always impressed with a sense of the Divine Majesty, so that ye may be afraid of offending him. Study to have the saints of God for your companions, so that ye may be under less temptation to speak the language of worldly and of ungodly men. Let your thoughts be much exercised, in contemplating the certainty and solemnity of the last judgment, in which you must give account, not only of the deeds done in the body, but also of the words of your mouth: for the Lord Jesus hath declared, Matt. 12.36, “For every idle word, that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
THAT the sin of dishonesty is very common at thepresent day, will be allowed by all, who have any knowledge, how things are carried on in the world. It is very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to enumerate all the different forms, in which it makes its appearance. Thefts, robberies, and surprizing swindling tricks are daily practiced, with astonishing dexterity and success. In buying and selling, many take every advantage of the weakness, the ignorance, and poverty of those, with whom they deal, in order to cheat and defraud them of their property. There are some, who are very ready to contract debts, which they have no design nor wish to defray: and there are others, who, by their carelessness and extravagance, make dishonourable failures; whereby they involve not only themselves, but also their friends and connections, in the greatest distress. And it would appear, that a great part of the generation are desirous of increasing their wealth and substance, without ever consulting the equity or lawfulness of the means, which they use for that end. The evil of this sin, which is so very prevalent, will abundantly appear from the following observations.
It prefers the world unto God. The scripture uniformly speaks of God, as the portion of his people, in the enjoyment whereof their greatest blessedness consists. His favour is what they seek after, above all things in the earth, and when this is obtained and experienced by them, it fills them with a delight superior to all that the world can afford. Hence it is said by the Psalmist, Psalm 4.6,7, “There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness into my heart, more than in the time, that their corn and wine increased.” It is in the enjoyment of the same God as their portion, that they expect to find eternal blessedness in the heavenly state; and therefore it is said by the same inspired writer, Psalm 17.15, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness.” Now if God be the present and future portion of his people, it may naturally be expected, that when they are rightly exercised, they will seek after the enjoyment of him, as much as possible. But where dishonesty is practiced, this enjoyment can neither be desired nor relished: for as we “cannot serve,” so we can as little love, “both God and Mammon.” [Matt. 6.24.] Thus persons addicted to dishonesty dishonour God by giving to the world that place in their affections, which is due to God only; and by persisting in this sin, they evidently prefer the pleasure and profit of worldly gain, to the enjoyment of God, and the comforts arising from his favour. Whatever opinion such persons may entertain concerning themselves, the Holy Ghost assures us, that they are entirely disowned by God. For says the Apostle, 1 John 2.15, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
The sin of dishonesty is altogether inconsistent with that love which we owe to our fellow creatures. When our Lord Jesus sums up the whole of the moral law in two great commandments, he says, that the second of them is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It will readily be granted, that it is natural for us to exert ourselves, in order to promote the comfort and welfare of those whom we love, and to prevent and avert every thing, that may be prejudicial to their interest. But, if instead of studying the interest of our neighbours, we can deliberately defraud them of their property, and unjustly deprive them of those things, that are necessary to their comfort and accommodation in life; it is evident, that we do not love them as ourselves. Our Lord also says, Matt. 7.12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would, that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” It appears from this golden rule, that we ought to do nothing to our fellow creatures, which we, in their circumstances, would not wish to be done to ourselves. It would be needless to prove (for it will be denied by none) that we would not wish our fellow creatures to deprive us of our property, either by force or fraud. And therefore, ifwe act according to our Saviour’s direction, we will be guilty of no fraud or oppression in our dealing with them. But if we, without all regard to what is just and equitable, endeavour to enhance our own interests, by dishonest wresting of their lawful property from them, we exhibit the most undoubted evidence, that we do not love our neighbour as ourselves, nor follow the direction of the Lord Jesus.
Dishonesty has a tendency to embitter all the comforts, which a person can enjoy; because, where it is practiced, the blessing of God cannot be expected. The divine blessing is essentially requisite to our finding comfort or satisfaction in any enjoyment whatsoever. The wise man accordingly says, Prov. 10.22, “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich; and he addeth no sorrow.” When this blessing is bestowed, a small pittance of worldly substance will go a great length, in yielding such enjoyment, as worldly things are calculated to afford: but when it is withheld, the greatest abundance can give no satisfaction whatever; for worldly enjoyments are to us that, and that only, which God by his blessing makes them to be. Now, when gain is sought after, or obtained by dishonest means, it will be found, that as the blessing of God is not desired, so it can as little be expected; for it is impossible, that God could ever bless the transgression of his own law. And hence it happens, that, through the want of this blessing, many who are possessed of the greatest abundance of worldly things, are mortified and disappointed in the use of them. It is, “as when a hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint; and his soul hath appetite.” [Isa. 29.8.] Not only is the substance blasted, which is fraudulently got, but even that, which may be honestly acquired, is corrupted by it, and secretly consumed as with a moth. So the Lord says by the mouth of his prophet, Hag. 1.9, “ye looked for much, and it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it.” The reason of this loss and disappointment is abundantly obvious: the Lord takes the cause of the injured into his own hand, and makes his curse to follow such as have dealt treacherously or cruelly with them. Thus the Apostle says, 1 Thes. 4.6, “Let no man go beyond, or defraud his brother in any matter; because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.” And when the vengeance of God is executed, or when his curse alights upon any, all comforts will be embittered, and manifold calamities experienced.
The practice of dishonesty is entirely inconsistent with the religion of Jesus: and pity it is, that any instances of this sin should be found in those, who make a profession of it. We live in an age of infidelity, when many pique themselves upon their justice and uprightness, in their transactions between man and man; while they openly declare themselves to be the avowed enemies of Christianity. If such persons can discover any dishonesty among the professors of religion, they immediately reproach not only those who are guilty, but also the cause of Christianity in general, as if it allowed or sanctioned such wickedness.
It is abundantly evident, however, that nothing can be more opposite to the religion of Jesus. For while Christians are commanded to use all due diligence, to procure the necessaries and comforts of life for themselves, and their families; they are expressly enjoined to use only such means, as are consistent with the strictest justice and integrity. Remarkable to this purpose are the words, of the Apostle, in 2 Cor. 8.21, “Providing things honest in the sight of the Lord, and in the sight of all men.” If Christians then are so peremptorily required to provide things that are honest, those, who follow dishonest practices, do act a part directly opposite to the spirit and profession of Christianity. Moreover, our Lord Jesus has also said, Acts 20.35, “It is more blessed to give, than to receive.” From these words we may evidently infer, that it is more congenial to the spirit of the Christian religion, for the followers of Jesus to contribute of their substance, for the relief and comfort of others, than to take gifts from them. But all, who are addicted to dishonesty, seem to invert the very order of the words of Christ: for instead of accounting it “better to give than to receive,” they act as if it were better to receive than to give. And thus by counteracting the express words of Christ, they evidently declare, that they are none of his.
The sin of Dishonesty may be considered as one of the most pregnant sources of unspeakable mischief to the human race. If we carefully review the evils, with which mankind are afflicted, we will find, upon investigation, that they are, in a great measure, either occasioned or increased by the immoderate love of the world, or the dishonest practices, that prevail either among nations or individuals. The words of the apostle on this subject are very striking, 1 Tim. 6.9,10, “But they that will be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” A few of the evils that naturally follow the practice of dishonesty may here be mentioned, that the sinfulness of it may more fully appear.
It is ordinarily attended with gross lying. Indeed it is impossible to conceive, how dishonesty could be practiced without it; for it is only by lying and dissimulation, that dishonest gain can be acquired. We may see this exemplified in many instances; and particularly in buying and selling. When commodities are brought to the market, the most extravagant falsehoods are often told both by the vendor and purchaser; the one with a design to commend what he has to sell, and the other, to depreciate what he means to purchase. The wise man’s words are in this case remarkably fulfilled, Prov. 20.14, “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.” Such dissimulation is practiced on both sides, that each may have his gain increased: but little do they consider, that they are hereby performing service to Satan, the Father of liars, and following the footsteps of those, who are abhorred of the Lord; for we are told, Rev. 22.15, That whosoever loveth or maketh a lie hath no right to the tree of life.
Another evil concomitant of dishonesty is that of oppression. This indeed seems to be necessarily connected with it; for in transactions among mankind, if one party acts dishonestly, the other party must be defrauded of his right: and if one can secretly defraud his neighbour of his right, there is little reason to think, that he would scruple to take it from him by force, provided he could get it done without being called to account by the Judges. Hence it happens, that in times of general corruption, the poor, and such as have no helper, are commonly deprived of their lawful property by the hand of violence. We see this illustrated and confirmed in the case of the Jews, before they were carried away captive to Babylon. Thus it is said of them, in Ezek. 22.27, “Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.” In such a time, the poor can obtain no redress from man; for those, who should administer justice to them, are themselves their oppressors. Therefore do they cry unto God himself, who will undoubtedly hear their cry, and plead their cause effectually in due time: for says the apostle, James 5.4, “Behold the hire of the labourers, who have reaped down your fields, crieth; and the cries of them, that have reaped, have entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.”
It is no uncommon thing for dishonesty to be attended with bloodshed and murder. Nor is this at all to be wondered at; for if one has no scruple to deprive a fellow creature of the means of life, there is no reason to think, that he will hesitate to take away his life also; if he can get it done with impunity. The wise man accordingly speaks of this, as the general and prevailing disposition of all those, who seek after dishonest gain, Prov. 1.19, “So are the ways of every one, that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the ownerthereof.” It would be a very easy task (but we apprehend that it is unnecessary,) to produce many instances, both from sacred and profane history, of innocent persons having their lives taken from them, that their murderers might make a prey of their substance.
When dishonesty is prevalent among professors, it is sometimes the cause of their total and final apostacy. In order that Christians may be stable in their profession, it is indispensably necessary, that their affections be weaned from the world; for it often happens, that their profession cannot be maintained, but at the expense of their worldly substance; and even of life itself. Of this the Lord Jesus honestly warns all those, who enlist themselves under his banner: so he says, Matt. 16.24, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Again he says, in Luke 14.26,27, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Now it is not to be thought strange, that those should be guilty of final apostacy, who are actuated by an immoderate love to the world; as all dishonest persons are; for it is natural for mankind to cleave to what they are most attached. Whenever their worldly interest and the cause of Christ do clash one with another, they will naturally be inclined to renounce their profession, and cleave to the world, since it is this, that is dearest to them. The apostle accordingly gives us the melancholy account of one, who had formerly been his companion, 2 Tim. 4.10, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” Sometimes also, such worldlings do not only renounce their profession of religion, but for the sake of dishonest gain they likewise openly embark in the cause of the church’s adversaries. We see this illustrated in the case of Judas Iscariot: who not only deserted the company of Christ and his disciples; but, that he might get the thirty pieces of silver, he betrayed his Lord into the hands of his enemies, and became the guide of those, who came to apprehend him in the garden.
Such are the observations, Christian friends and brethren, which we have thought proper to lay before you, concerning the sin of Dishonesty. Let it not be once named among you. Take a serious view of it in the holy nature and righteous law of a holy God. Be cautious in contracting and punctual in paying all your just and lawful debts, and let moral equity run through all your civil transactions. While you study diligence in the management of your secular affairs, let the means, which you use, be both honest and honourable; and commit the issue of all your enterprises to the Providence of God. Let your minds be impressed with a sense of the vanity of the things of the world, and of the glory and importance of spiritual and eternal things. While ye are in the world, study to live above it: and let it be seen by your practice and deportment, that ye account yourselves strangers and pilgrims upon the earth, and that ye seek after a portion and inheritance superior to all that this world can afford. [Heb. 11.13-16.]
IT will be allowed by every one, who knows any thing of the history of theatrical performances, that they have been learned of the heathen, who know not God. In the early ages of Christianity, it was judged inconsistent with the Christian character, for persons either to act as stage players, or to witness their performances. In times not very ancient, play-houses were accounted by the inhabitants of our own land, to be hostile to the interests of religion: and all those, who wished to maintain a religious character, were careful to avoid such places of resort. But the times are now wonderfully changed: for play-houses are erected in every great town in the nation; and it is esteemed an innocent and fashionable amusement to frequent them. In treating this subject, therefore, we are aware, that in the observations, which are to be offered, we have to combat the prejudices of many, who may perhaps think it strange, that, in this age of boasted knowledge and refinement, any should be found to condemn a thing so generally followed and admired. In discharging our duty, however, to God, to the generation, and to our own souls, we are obliged to condemn this fashionable amusement, for the following reasons.
It has an evident tendency to palliate vice, and render the practice of it less odious. This indeed will not be allowed by those, who are advocates for the stage; since they alledge, that it has a tendency to promote the interests of virtue, and to render vice more ridiculous and detestable. But the very opposite of this will be found, upon inquiry, to be the case; for if we seriously consider the very nature of things, and attend to the experience of mankind, it will appear, that theatrical representations have a tendency, to palliate many vices, and consequently to encourage the practice of them. For the proof and illustration of this assertion, we beg the following remarks may be considered.
In the acting of plays, profane oaths are very often introduced, and consequently the practice of profane swearing is thereby encouraged. Of this the legislature appear to have been sensible, and therefore statutes have been framed, prohibiting the use of profane oaths, in any theatrical show, interlude, or play. But we are commanded by an authority infinitely superior to that of any mere man, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain:” [Exod. 20.7,] and therefore we must condemn the wanton and profane use of the name of God, on any occasion whatever. Now it is well known, that in theatrical exhibitions, the Holy name of God is often introduced, in the way of profane swearing; what can be thought to be the natural consequence of such a practice? Surely, when Christians hear the name of God irreverently used in those amusements, that are accounted both interesting and instructing, they will be led to do the same thing, without any remorse, in their common discourse. For if the profanation of God’s name be innocent in theatrical performances, it never can be criminal in the ordinary course of life.
Another vice, which the stage has a tendency to palliate and encourage, is that of uncleanness. This is a sin so expressly prohibited by God, that the strictest chastity is required of Christians, not only in their actions, but also in their words and conversation. Thus we are told by the apostle, Eph. 5.3,4, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient; but rather giving of thanks.” Now it must be allowed, that in comic performances, particularly, love and intrigue generally run through the whole; and in the course of the drama, obscene jests are often thrown out either in a more open, or in a more covert and indirect manner: and has not this a manifest tendency to instill into the minds of the audience extenuating and indifferent thoughts of the sin of uncleanness, and encourage them in the practice of it? For if people can be entertained with the exhibition of these things on the stage, there is no reason to think, that they themselves will be afraid to reduce them into practice, or be offended when they are practiced by others. How very different is this, from the representation given of the sin of uncleanness by the wise man? when speaking, in Prov. 9.18, of the arts used by the whorish woman for seducing the unwary youth, he represents her as saying, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant:” [verse 17,] but then he adds in very terrifying language, “He knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her gates are in the depths of hell.”
The stage has a native tendency to palliate and encourage pride and revenge. We are taught in scripture to study all manner of humility and meekness. Instead of aspiring at things above our sphere, we are required, 1 Pet. 5.5, “to be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” And instead of seeking to wreak our vengeance upon those, who may injure us, we are commanded to imitate the example of the meek and lowly Jesus. Of him it is said, 1 Pet. 2.23, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” It is evident, however, that the very opposite lessons are taught by the stage. In tragical performances particularly, the hero of the play is represented as receiving some affront or disaster, which he cannot survive; and therefore he resolves upon taking away his own life: or perhaps he meets either with some injury from a fellow creature, or with some disappointment in the pursuit of a favourite object; by which means, his passion and resentment are roused to such a pitch, that he cannot rest, till he destroys the very life of his antagonist. Now, when all this is exhibited, under the notion of a certain greatness of mind, surely those, who are entertained with such representations, will be disposed to act accordingly in common life. And thus we see, that instead of the meekness, the humility, and the self-denial, which are the ornaments of the Christian character, the passions of ambition, of pride, and of revenge are fostered by the stage
These are some of the vices which theatrical performances are naturally calculated to cherish among mankind; and surely, an amusement, so pernicious in its tendency to the morals of society, ought never to receive the support and encouragement of those who make a profession of the Christian name.
The stage is evidently adapted to increase that natural levity and vanity, with which the human mind is filled. The innate corruption of the heart makes its appearance, not only in meditating and contriving things, that are in themselves immoral, but also in inventing a thousand vain imaginations about things, that never had, and never will have an existence. This corrupt disposition it is the endeavour of Christians, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, daily to mortify. Such an exercise is essentially requisite, to enable them to attend with any deliberation to the invisible and important realities about which faith is conversant. For the extravagant workings of the imagination are directly opposite to that spiritual mindedness, which Christians are called to study; and consequently, the more that the mind is filled with them, the less it is disposed for any serious exercise about eternal things. Now in theatrical performances, occurrences and events are exhibited to the audience, not as they have actually happened, but as the poet has conceived of them in his own imagination: or if any real occurence is represented, it is clothed with an incredible variety of extravagant circumstances, which the fancy of the poet has invented, in order that it may make a deeper impression upon the mind. It is easy to see, that the natural workings of a vain imagination must be increased and strengthened by theatrical exhibitions, in which the elaborate workings of the imagination of the author are displayed. We may therefore conclude, that since the performances, acted upon the stage, are calculated to increase that natural levity of mind, which Christians ought to mortify, it is altogether inconsistent with the Christian character to seek after entertainment or amusement in them.
Theatrical representations have a native tendency to indispose the mind for the duties and exercises of religion. These duties it is the study of Christians ever to attend unto: and nothing whatsoever ought to be indulged, that renders them unfit for such exercises. Hence they are said in scripture to walk with God, Gen. 5.22, and 6.9, because in the duties of religion they enjoy spiritual intercourse and fellowship with him. That they may be fitted for such solemn and sublime enjoyments, the Lord fills them with his Spirit, by whose influences they are brought into spiritual frames, and secretly inclined to serious exercise about spiritual things. Now, no amusement whatever is to be indulged by Christians, that will agitate their minds so furiously, as to unfit them for the duties of religion; for this is entirely inconsistent with their character, and prejudicial to their interest. It is evident, however, that theatrical representations must have such a noxious tendency; for by them the minds and passions of men are exceedingly agitated. The things represented on the stage are not ordinary occurrences, that usually take place in human life; but they are occurrences extraordinary in their nature, and set off with the most extraordinary colourings, which the fancy of the Poet can contrive. By such representations the minds of the spectators are uncommonly moved: and sometimes whole audiences are so overwhelmed with grief, by a thing of nought, as to have their faces bedewed with tears. It must be evident therefore, that representations, producing such effects, will indispose Christians for the duties of religion: for it is impossible to conceive, how the mind, after such excessive agitation, can be composed for any serious exercise about spiritual and eternal things. Christians will find abundance of embarrassment in the performance of religious duty, arising from the workings of corruption within them, and from the cares and crosses of the world without; and therefore should never indulge themselves in any amusement, that has a tendency to increase the evil.
The general character of stage-players seems to form no contemptible argument against attending their performances. It is indeed maintained by those, who contend for the stage, that it is calculated to commend virtue, and expose vice. If this were true, it would be natural to think, that the players themselves would be remarkable examples of virtue; for if theatrical performances are adapted to promote the interests of virtue, none could be expected to be more virtuous and exemplary than the performers themselves. But can any pretend, that they are so? Is not the very opposite of this the case? Are not stage players remarkable, not for their regular and exemplary conduct, but for their extravagance, their dissipation, and prodigality? and are lessons of virtue to be learned from persons of such a character? We may here use with propriety our Saviour’s reasoning in another case, when he says, Matt. 7.16, “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” So we may say, “Are men to learn piety from the profane, mortification from the sensual, or modesty from harlots?” Surely Christians never can without sin give countenance to such persons, and encourage them in their employment.
Experience seems also to confirm the remark, that the interests of virtue and morality are not promoted, but rather injured, by such persons and such performances. For proof of this, we shall quote a passage from the Statistical account of the metropolis of Scotland. In order to show the degeneracy that took place and prevailed between the years 1763 and 1783, the writer makes the following contrast between these two periods.
In 1763, the question respecting the morality of stage-plays was much agitated—By those, who attended the theatre even without scruple, Saturday night was reckoned the most improper in the week, for going to the play. Any Clergyman, who had been known to have gone to the Play-house, would have incurred church censure.
In 1783, the morality of stage plays, or their effects on society were not thought of. The most crowded houses were always on the Saturday night. The boxes for the Saturday night’s play were generally taken for the season; so that often strangers that night could not get a place. The custom of taking a box for Saturday night through the season was much practiced by boarding Mistresses, so that there could be no choice in the play; but the young ladies could only take what was set before them by the managers. Impudent buffoons took liberties with authors, and with the audience in their acting, that would not have been suffered formerly.
The Galleries never failed to applaud what they formerly would have hissed, as improper in sentiment or decorum.”
Thus it appears from experience, that the stage is by no means calculated to promote the interests of virtue and morality, but the very contrary; for the greater the influence that stage-players have, and the greater the countenance, that is given to their performances, the more extensively will the morals of the people be corrupted.
The general character of those, who frequent the theatre, seems also to militate against the lawfulness of attending it. It cannot be denied, that every one takes delight only in that, which is suited to his inclination and desire; for every thing that is contrary to our inclination, is the object of disgust and aversion. Now, if the theatre were a place, where lessons of morality and religion are to be learned, we might naturally think, that those, who frequented it, would be eminent for their sobriety and religion; and if sobriety and religion formed the general character of those, who are accustomed to wait upon the stage, we would be inclined to think, that it might be an innocent and useful amusement. But is not the very opposite of this allowed to be the case? Are not those, who habitually attend theatrical performances, and find entertainment in them, rather the carnal, the sensual, and the profane? And if such performances are calculated to afford entertainment to persons of this character, they never can be amusements suited to the spiritual disposition of the saints of God; and therefore should never be encouraged nor countenanced by them.
It may also be added here, that the play-house is generally allowed to be a place, very much adapted for carrying on lustful intrigues. Before the doors are opened, they are often crowded by those abandoned females, who prostitute their bodies for hire. If then the theatre be frequented by persons of such a description, is not this as much as to say, that they consider it as a place, where they may expect to meet with others as abandoned as themselves, with whom as proper companions they may carry on their unhallowed intercourse. And if such persons frequent the theatre, and find entertainment in it suited to their inclination; it never should be attended by any, who wish to live in the fear of God. We may here use, with all manner of propriety, the solemn address that was once uttered by an eminent patriarch, Gen. 49.6, “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united!”
Having offered these few observations, Christian friends and brethren, concerning the stage, that woeful seminary of wickedness, we would now solemnly warn you against all attendance upon it, whether in a more clandestine, or openly avowed manner. While others are squandering away their time in such vain and dangerous amusements, let it be your study to mourn over their sin, and to use all manner of spiritual diligence about your own souls. Keeping eternity continually in view, let it be your endeavour always to spend your time in exercises, that will turn out to a good account in the end. Let the heads of families be exhorted to use their influence and their authority, to restrain those who are under them, from attending those places and amusements that are so dangerous and ensnaring to youth. Instead of giving countenance to such exercises as promote the interests of vice and irreligion, let them imitate the example of faithful Abraham, of whom the Lord says, Gen. 18.19, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.”
HAVING offered the preceding remarks, dear Christian friends and brethren, in order to warn and convince you of the sinfulness of some of the prevailing vices of the present day, we shall now conclude our present address unto you, with a few general directions and exhortations.
We would exhort you to study all spiritual diligence in what concerns your own personal salvation. This is a matter of the greatest importance, and nothing can be more unreasonable, than to live in a total indifference about it. We see that diligence is used, and what exertions are made by mankind, to obtain a small portion of this world’s goods; but the whole world, though it were ten thousand times more precious than it really is, cannot once be compared with your immortal souls. Our Saviour, accordingly, hath said, Matt. 16.26, “What is a man profited, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Let it be your concern then, to have its eternal welfare secured. You will readily acknowledge, that you are sinners: but do you not consider, that by making such an acknowledgment, ye confess that ye have forfeited all title to the favour of God, and have laid yourselves obnoxious to his dreadful vengeance; both in this world and in that which is to come? How deplorable must your case be, if this vengeance were executed upon you? But blessed be God, that he, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, hath provided a Saviour, every way suited to your needy condition; and this Saviour does he reveal and offer unto you in the dispensation of the word. See then that ye close with him, and improve him daily for your everlasting salvation. O study communion with him; and endeavour to know much of the life and power of true godliness in your souls. Beware of resting contented with a form of religion before the world: it is easy to deceive our fellow creatures, and ourselves also; but there is a day coming when God will bring secret things to light, and then will many be found on the left hand of the Judge, who are accounted eminent saints in the world. Beware, then, of delusion in a matter, where a mistake may be attended with such fatal consequences to all eternity. See that ye have your standing on Christ Jesus, who is the Rock of ages; and never take rest unto your souls, till ye can say with the apostle, 2 Tim. 1.12, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuadedthat he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.”
See that ye be filled with the Spirit of Christ. Let the direction of the apostle be attended to by you, Eph. 5.18, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” All true and spiritual good can be possessed by you in your souls, and all true holiness can be practiced by you in your lives, only as ye are under the influence of the Spirit of all grace. Seek unto the Lord Jesus, that he may fill you with this Spirit; and be encouraged in your application to him, from his own words to the woman of Samaria, who, he declares, should have this blessing, merely for the asking, John 4.10, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is, that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” Ye have access, by the word, to the same Saviour, with the woman of Samaria; his compassion to perishing sinners, and his readiness to help, is still the same; let it be your study then, to seek incessantly unto him, for the living water of the gracious and sanctifying influences of his Spirit, that ye may be blessed with much spiritual prosperity in your own souls, and may be fitted for promoting the spiritual welfare of others. Be importunate with him also, for the out-pouring of his Spirit upon the present generation of the church. Alas, his gracious influences appear to be mournfully restrained; and there are but very few indeed, of whom it can be said, that they are “full of the Holy Ghost.” Ye may be assured, however, that till the Spirit be poured out from on high, the interests of true religion never can be revived either in the souls of individuals, or in the church of God at large. Let it be your daily exercise, therefore, to plead with him for the fulfillment of his own gracious promise, Hos. 15.5,6,7, “I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine, the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.”
Let it be your study also, to be established in a sound and scriptural knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. We live in a time of increasing division, when many are saying, “Lo here is Christ; and lo, he is there:” and not a few in the generation, from the loose notions which they have of the doctrines and principles of religion, become an easy prey to every seducer. The Apostle John informs us of a great apostacy, that took place in his day. 1 John 2.19, “They went out from us, because they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be manifest, that they were not all of us.” But that which preserved his believing brethren from this apostacy was, their sound and spiritual knowledge of divine truth; as he says in the following words, verse 20, “But ye have an unction from the Holy one; and ye know all things.” Let it be your endeavour then to consult the Scriptures of truth, and improve what inferior helps ye have access unto, with fervent supplication unto God, for the illuminating influences of his Spirit; so that ye may not be drawn away with the error of the wicked, but may have your minds filled with a solid and judicious knowledge of divine things. Study, in a particular manner, to be established in the present truth, even in the truths that are most opposed by an ungodly generation. For this end, seek after an acquaintance with the attainments of the Church in former times: for, in our own land these have been great. It pleased God to prosper the endeavours of our forefathers, in contending for purity and reformation, and to enable them to purge the land from all manner of Popish idolatry and Prelatical superstition. What attainments they reached, they bound themselves by the most solemn engagements to adhere unto; and many of them have handed down their testimony unto us sealed with their blood. Study an acquaintance with their contendings and with their attainments, that ye may “go forth by the footsteps of the flock,” [Canticles 1.8,] and may hand down the testimony of the Church in purity, unto the rising race. Thus are we commanded and exhorted by the Apostle, Phil. 3.16, “Nevertheless whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.”
Be exhorted also to make an honest and open appearance for the truth: ye are by no means to imagine, that ye have nothing more to do than merely to attend to the interests of your own souls; but ye are bound in duty to cast in your lot among the followers of Christ, that ye may give them all assistance and encouragement in your power, and to take part with them, in their contending and suffering for the truth. Consider the example of Moses in this matter, who relinquished all the honours and pleasures of the Egyptian court, to which he was entitled as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and associated with the poor and persecuted children of Israel. For says the apostle, Heb. 11.24,25, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Nor are you to suppose, that ye may stand as neutral spectators, and behold the church’s conflicts with her enemies, without taking part with her therein; for all such as are of this disposition are accounted enemies by Christ, Matt. 12.30, “He that is not with me is against me.” A woeful curse is also denounced against them, Judges 5.23, “Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” Your gifts, your influence, and your substance are all to be used in a way subservient to the public interests of religion, and all diligence is to be studied by you in your station, that the cause of Christ may prosper. Our forefathers were actuated by a laudable zeal for the public interests of religion, and were afraid lest they should have become liable to the awful threatening denounced by the Lord Jesus, Mark 8.38, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.” They therefore espoused the cause of Christ, and exerted themselves with vigour and success against its adversaries. Seek to be filled with their spirit, and endeavour to tread in their footsteps; that ye may act the part of faithful witnesses in your day, and may serve your generation according to the will of God.
We would exhort you further, to abstain from the vices that are fashionable and prevalent in the present day. A few of these have been mentioned and exposed in the preceding sections. Study all manner of circumspection in the way of avoiding them; for the times are so corrupted and ensnaring, that it requires no small degree of courage, of prudence, and of grace, to keep pure consciences and clean hands. The apostle has said, Rom. 12.2, “Be not conformed to this world:” and, therefore, instead of seeking to avoid the censures, or gain the applause of a thoughtless and ungodly generation, let it be your concern to avoid every thing dishonouring to God, wounding to the cause of religion, and prejudicial to the interests of your own souls. Ye need not be surprised, though your conduct should be thought strange and singular; for it has often been the lot of the people of God to be “men wondered at.” [Zech. 3.8.] Whatever may be the opinion of the world concerning you, endeavour to stand at a distance from every thing, inconsistent with the exercise of religion, and with the profession which ye make of the name of Jesus. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, and take encouragement from them, Rev. 3.4, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments: and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”
Be exhorted likewise to live in the constant views and expectation of a future judgment. For the apostle says, 2 Cor. 5.10, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Surely it is but consistent and reasonable, that ye keep this solemn day in your view. If, in this world, a person were to be served with an indictment, in order that he might be tried for his life, before an earthly judge; would he not be accounted destitute of the exercise of reason, if he were to lay aside all thoughts of the day of his trial, and use no exertion, to obtain an acquittal? May we not then account those actuated by a spirit of madness, who spend all their time in pursuing after the vanities and trifles of this present world, without any serious thought, concerning the appearance which they must make before the sovereign, the glorious, and Just Judge of all the earth? Let the day of judgment be much in your thoughts, O Christians, and be careful to avoid every thing, which might then fill you with confusion. Remember also, that he, who will then be your Judge is now your infallible witness, keeping his omniscient eye continually upon you, and faithfully recording, in the book of his remembrance, all the thoughts of your hearts, all the words of your mouths, and all the actions of your life; that he may bring them to light before the whole world. Let this consideration stir you up to diligence in the improvement of all the talents, with which you are entrusted; that ye may at last give in your account with joy, and not with grief. Study to remember and improve the words of the wise man, with which we shall close our address to you at this time. Eccl. 12.13,14, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
IN corroboration of this part of the church’s warning, the following summary is given of a serious address, concerning unnecessary frequenting the Tavern, and spending the evening in public houses, subscribed by 23 American Ministers.
After considering the practice as dangerous, criminal, and highly improper for the professors of religion to indulge themselves in, and soliciting earnest attention to the subject, they state the criminality of said practice in the following particulars: 1. As a very faulty waste of time, without doing or obtaining any real good, to estate, body, or soul; without serving any of the valuable ends of the rational, much less of the Christian life;—that, as precious time is a talent which we must all account for, we ought to study to redeem it, and to gather up every fragment of it, that nothing be lost.—That we ought to improve our day of grace, and to pass the time of our sojourning here in fear; looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of God.— 2. As an improper spending of money, for which no good account can be given.—That we are only stewards, and are accountable for all the goodness of Divine Providence to us; and that the time is hastening on, when it will be said to each of us, Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou shalt be no longer steward. And how dreadful will it then be to have wasted our Lord’s goods!— 3. As a criminal waste of words, and productive of much vain conversation, for which a very bad account will be given at the judgment:—that, at such meetings, we do not set such a watch before our mouths and lips as we ought: nor is our conversation such, that if our glorious Lord, who verily stands at the door and hears us, should appear, and say to us, as he once did to two of his disciples, What manner of communications are these that ye have one with another, as ye sit, and are merry, we should not find cause to say, upon serious reflection, O my God, I blush, and am ashamed.—And that this vain trifling conversation is ready to degenerate into slander, immodesty and even scoffing at religion.— 4. As exposing to temptation, and many dangers.—That we ought to beware of sin, and every thing that leads to it; that we should watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation, and not voluntarily put ourselves in its way; otherwise we lay ourselves open to the power of Satan, tempt Christ, and forfeit the Divine protection.—That, by going to Taverns, we are in danger of falling into evil company, and learning of them their ways; of running into intemperance, swallowing down one intoxicating draught after another, until we contract a confirmed habit, which at last will bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder. [Prov. 23.32.]— 5. As having already produced bad effects on the spiritual and best interests of those who attend them (viz. Taverns) and being well known to have ruined others.—That the waste of precious time, vain discourse, presumptuous venturing among the occasions of sin, &c. are such faults, as grieve the Spirit of God, have a natural tendency to corrupt the morals, to inspire the mind with vanity, and unfit men for communion with God.—That the amusements there have a pernicious influence to sensualize the soul, to weaken its powers, to damp virtuous inclinations, and to indispose to all that is solemn and serious.—That by this means the secret exercises of religion are either totally neglected, or very superficially performed, to the dishonour of God, and the hurt of our own souls.—That multitudes, who had begun in the spirit, and made a fair shew, have lost their religion there, and ended in the flesh: and that others, who perhaps have not totally fallen away, yet, from their first listing into a club, have visibly declined in their zeal and watchfulness, and become less disposed for such religious exercises and societies as they once made a figure in.— 6. As obstructive and hurtful to family order and religion.—That when the father or master spends the evening at the Tavern and tarries out late, the children and servants are likely to follow the pernicious example; that preferring the pleasures of a public house, to men’s dwelling with their wives according to knowledge [1 Pet. 3.7.], is ready to breed contention; that by staying late out, as the manner of some is, persons are much unfitted for family devotion; the best season for family worship is passed away, and the duties of it are like to be omitted, or hurried over, in a slight, drowsy manner. Such lean sacrifices must be of little account with the Holy God who hath said, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me. [Lev. 10.3.] When the strength and spirits of the mind have been spent on the world through the day, and wasted on trifling amusements in the evening, nothing remains but indifference and lukewarmness for objects of a religious concern. That instead of going from business to the Tavern, it would be better to return with David to bless our households with our prayers, counsels, and good conversation in Christ, that it might be well with us and our children for ever. [2 Sam. 6.20; Deut. 5.29.]— 7. As the example of such may have a fatal tendency upon others.—That bad example is a root of bitterness, which is generally productive of pernicious effects, and thereby many are defiled, and many destroyed. By it whole communities have been endangered, and cities ensnared. Professors of religion frequenting the Tavern, and spending the evening there, has a tendency to harden the wicked, who are ready to justify themselves by such example, discovers too much conformity to this world, and in a sense is sitting with vain persons [Psalm 26.4,] by frequenting the same houses, and sitting so often on the drunkard’s bench, and in the seat of the scorner. [Psalm 1.1.]—That as it may become an occasion of sin to others, it is casting a stumbling block before the weak, and giving offence to serious, tender Christians, which we ought carefully to avoid.— 8. As it is matter of grief to faithful ministers, who watch for souls, and to many serious Christians whose comfort and happiness we ought to promote.—God is our record how greatly we long after you all in the bowels of Christ, and that we have heaviness in our hearts on your account. If therefore there be any bowels and mercies in you, fulfil ye our joy [Phil. 2.1,2], and relieve us from our burden, by a speedy reformation.— 9. As the practice we are reproving was much unknown to our pious forefathers.—That we ought to be followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises; to follow them in the things that are pure and lovely—That some, who have gone into this custom, have perhaps had eminently pious ancestors, in whose lives no such conduct was to be seen: and that such may well blush to think how their example reproaches you, and what a figure, in this respect, you make from them. Return we beseech you, and see and ask for the old paths, the good way and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. [Jer. 6.16.]
Conclusion. Realize it, Sirs, that you are hastening to the grave, and stand upon the brink of eternity.—We beseech you, think what are like to be your reflections upon misspent time, and particularly on your Tavern hours, when you are got into the near view of a future state, and have the king of terrors staring you in the face: when your lives are hovering over the mouth of the pit, and your souls are just upon taking wing, to make their appearance before the dread tribunal of a righteous God; whose all-seeing eye is now continually upon you, compassing your path, and your lying down [Psalm 139.3], and who will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.—You may perhaps baffle conscience for the present, with one excuse and another; (and it may be some will put off this our address with a vain laugh and treat it with neglect, or vent their angry resentment;) but when you come to be upon a death-bed, if conscience be awake, we are persuaded this will read loud lessons of reproof and terror to you, silence all the frivolous pleas which you now make, and cause you wish you had inclined your ear to the voice of your teachers. Then the sin you now make light of will sit heavy upon your thoughts, and be a grievous burden to you. Though now it be sweet to your mouths, and rolled under your tongues as a pleasant morsel, yet it will be bitterness in the latter end, even as the gall of asps, yea, more bitter than death. And when your hearts are pricked within you—will you not be ready to confess with Saul, I have played the fool and erred exceedingly? Have you not hear of some who have gone out of the world in the midst of those bitter exclamations, Ale-houses are Hell-houses? call back, Oh! call back time: but alas! found it too late to redeem the precious hours they had so profusely thrown away.—Knowing the terrors of the Lord we persuade you. [2 Cor. 5.11.] O be wise in time: seeing the error of your way, instantly resolve upon reformation.—Carefully avoid every thing that would ensnare you.—Fortify yourselves against all enticements, daily committing yourselves to the keeping of divine grace. Thus we have shewed you our opinion, and given you our faithful advice. We now commend you to God, who has all hearts in his hand; and beseech him to crown this our endeavour with the desired success, by his effectual blessing.—However we humbly trust it will turn out to us for a testimony. Amen.
Additional Authorities Against the Stage.
AS the Stage is become a fashionable entertainment, and has many advocates, even among the professors of religion, it may not be improper to shew that the sentiments of our church respecting it are not singular, but have been maintained by the ancient fathers, and primitive councils, when religion was held in true esteem among Christians. We have not room to insert the canons themselves, nor to give full extracts from the writings of the fathers. The following will serve as a specimen.
Clemens Alex. says, “That not only the use, the sight, the hearing, but the very memory of Stage-plays should be abolished.”—“That pedagogues must not lead youths to plays or theatres, that may not unfitly be called the chaos of pestilence, because these conventicles, where men and women meet together promiscuously, to behold one another, are the occasion of lewdness, and there they give or plot wicked counsel.”— Cyprian says, “It is not lawful for faithful Christians, yea it is altogether unlawful, to be present at these plays.”— Tertullian calls the play-house, the chapel of venery, the house of letchery, the consistory of uncleanness.—Origen says, “That Christians must not lift up their eyes to Stage-plays, the pleasurable delights of polluted eyes, lest their lusts be inflamed by them.”— Ambrose calls Stage-plays, spectacles of vanity, by which the Devil conveys incentives of pleasure to men’s hearts:—therefore “let us” says he “turn away our eyes from these vanities.”—Chrysostom says, “That nothing brings the oracles and ordinances of God into so great contempt, as admiring and beholding Stage-plays:—And that neither sacraments, nor any other of God’s ordinances, will do a man good, so long as he goes to Stage-plays.”—Salvian says, “That in Stage plays there is a certain apostacy from the faith:—For what is the first confession of Christians in their baptism, but that they do protest, that they renounce the Devil, his pomps, spectacles, and works: know thou Christian, when thou dost knowingly return to Stage-plays, thou hast violated thy vow altogether.”—The ancient fathers appear harmonious in condemning Stage-plays, as being ordinarily stuffed with the names, histories, fables, rites, villainies, incests, rapes, oaths, imprecations, and invocations of the idol gods.— Epiphanius says, “That the catholic and apostolic church doth reprobate, and forbid all theatres, Stage-plays, and such like heathenish spectacles.” So much for the fathers.
Stage-plays in their several kinds were prohibited, reprobated, and condemned, and the actors of them appointed to be excommunicated by the canons of general and particular councils. E.g. the councils of Arles, Eliberine, Carthage, Hippo, the African, and that at Constantinople. The famous reformed Protestant church of France, that the other reformed churches have followed since, has these words, can. 28., “Moreover it shall not be lawful for the faithful (or Christians) to go to comedies, tragedies, interludes, farces, or other Stage-plays, acted in public or private, because in all ages these have been forbidden among Christians, as bringing in a corruption of good manners.”
The reasons why Stage-plays have been condemned by the fathers and ancient councils are the following. 1. As being a breach of the seventh commandment, tending to expose persons to lewd company, and lewd practices.— 2. As conforming to, and partaking with, heathens, in their idolatrous and superstitious practices, forbidden to the people of God in scripture.— 3. As contrary to, and a practical renunciation of, the baptismal vow of Christians, wherein they engage to renounce the Devil, and all his pomps, and works, which they reckon acting and beholding Stage-plays to be.— 4. As taking away the necessary distinction betwixt Christians and heathens.— 5. As being unsuitable unto and inconsistent with the gospel of Christ, which forbiddeth Christians to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, or to be conformed to the world; and requires them to walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time; and to abstain from all appearance of evil.— 6. As being a corruption of manners, incentives to levity and lust, and seminaries and nurseries of uncleanness.— 7. As holding their original, and institution, from the Devil, the inventor of them, being long devoted and appropriated to the worship and service of the heathen Devil-gods.
It may be alledged, that these observations apply to the Stage, only in its corrupt state; but do not apply to it now, when greatly refined. A few sentences from one, who wrote against it since its supposed refinement, will answer this objection.
The Stage is not condemned as some other diversions, because they are dangerous, and likely to be occasions of sin; but it is condemned, as drunkenness and lewdness, as lying and profaneness are condemned, not as things, that may only be the occasion of sin; but such as are in their own nature sinful.—It is a contradiction to all Christian holiness and all the methods of arriving at it. Can any one think that he has a Christian spirit; that his heart is changed and that he is born again of God; while he is diverting himself with the lewdness and profaneness of the Stage? Can he think, that he is endeavouring to be holy as Christ is holy, to live by his wisdom, and to be full of his Spirit, so long as he allows himself in such an entertainment——If you are asked, why it is unlawful to attend the Stage, you can answer, because it is an entertainment that is contrary to all the parts of the Christian religion, and contradicts every holy temper, which the spirit of Christianity requires. So that, if you live in the use of this diversion, you have no grounds to hope, that you have the spirit and heart of a Christian.——If you desire to be truly religious in heart and mind, it is as necessary to renounce the Stage, as to seek God and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
[1.] The Westminster Assembly in their Larger Catechism Quest. 139. The Reformed Church of Scotland, in their Act 19 July 1649. Session 18. Messrs. Perkins, Durham, Watson, Boston, Willison, R. Erskine, J. Brown, with many others, have all given their testimony against promiscuous dancing. Instead of quoting their sentiments on this subject at large, the following abstract of their arguments is here given.
1. Promiscuous dancing has a tendency to promote too much familiarity between the sexes, and to lead them into the way of temptation.—2. It is the favourite amusement of light and vain persons, who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.—3. It exposes to such company, as has a tendency to corrupt the morals and deprave the heart.—4. It tends to the gratification of these corrupt inclinations and passions, which we are commanded to crucify and mortify.—5. It is one species of revelling, which is ranked among the damning works of the flesh, 1 Pet. 4.3.—6. It is an open violation of our baptismal vows, as it is an evident serving, instead of renouncing, of sin, Satan, and our own lusts.—7. It is a great waste of precious time, and commonly at very unseasonable hours.—8. It is offensive to the serious and godly, who have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil.—9. It is never done with a design to glorify God, as all a Christian’s actions ought to be.—10. The sinfulness of it is greatly aggravated, when committed by persons trained up, and instructed in the criminality of such practices, and their becoming the defenders of it, against light and knowledge.—11. It unfits the mind for the serious exercises of religion, and is ready to make us neglect the duties of the closet, or family.—12. It puts us into a frame very unsuitable to meet with death. Numbers have been summoned before God immediately after a dancing ball, and it is to be hoped no Christian will think it a proper preparation for an eternal state.
[2.] See Act of General Assembly against slandering of Ministers. August 6th, 1642. Sess. 13. from which, such as profess reformation principles, should learn not to violate reformation laws.
[3.] See Appendix. [HERE.]
[4.] A quotation from a recent publication will sufficiently corroborate and justify the observation, which we have made, concerning the growth and spread of the sin of uncleanness. In the Statistical account of the metropolis of Scotland, the manners of the inhabitants in 1763 and 1783 are contrasted with one another: and it is evident from the contrast there made, that, in the interval of twenty years, the morals of the inhabitants had become exceedingly degenerate; and this degeneracy appeared particularly in the increase and prevalence of the sin of uncleanness. Among other things it is said,
In 1763, The breach of the seventh commandment was punished by fine and church censure. Any instances of conjugal infidelity in a woman would have banished her irretrievably from society; and her company would have been rejected even by men, who paid any regard to their character.
In 1783, Although the law punishing adultery with death was unrepealed, yet church censure was disused, and separations and divorces were become more frequent, and have since increased. Women, who had been rendered infamous by public divorce, had been by some people of fashion again received into society,”—&c.
In 1763, There was five or six brothels, or houses of bad fame, and a very few of the basest and most ignorant order of females skulked about the streets at night. A person might have gone from the Castle to Holyroodhouse (the then length of the city) without being accosted by a single street-walker. Street-robbing and pocket-picking were unknown.”
In 1783, The number of brothels had increased twenty-fold, and the women of the town more than a hundred fold. Every quarter of the city was infested with multitudes of females abandoned to vice, and a great many at a very early period of life, before passion could mislead, or reason teach them right from wrong. Street-robbers, pick-pockets, and thieves have much increased.
Stat. Acc. of Scot. Vol. 6, page 611, 612.
[5.] By the last statute against which (i.e., against profane cursing and swearing) 19. Geo. II. C. 21. which repeals all former ones, every labourer, sailor, or soldier, shall forfeit 1s. for every profane oath or curse, every other person under the degree of a gentleman 2s. and every gentleman or person of superior rank 5s. to the poor of the parish; and, on a second conviction, double, and for every subsequent conviction, treble the sum first forfeited; with all charges of conviction: and in default of payment, shall be sent to the house of correction for ten days. Any justice of the peace may convict upon his own hearing, or the testimony of one witness; and any constable or peace-officer, upon his own hearing, may secure any offender, and carry him before a Justice, and there convict him. If the Justice omits his duty, he forfeits 5l. and the constable 40s.—See Blackstone’s Comment. vol. 4th.
[6.] Besides the punishment for taking God’s name in vain in common discourse, it is enacted by statute 3. Jac. I. C. 21. that if in any stage-play, interlude, or show, the name of the Holy Trinity, or any of the Persons therein, be jestingly or profanely used, the offender shall forfeit £. 10. one moiety to the king, and the other to the informer. See Blackstone’s Comment. vol. 4.
[7.] See Witherspoon on the stage, pages, 64, 65. See also Appendix, [HERE].
[8.] See the Stat. acct. of the parishes of Scot. vol. 6.
[9.] Law’s Absolute Unlawfulness of the Stage.