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On the Amusements of Youth.


On the Amusements of Youth.

James Dodson


[Lecture VII.] 

Strongly do I feel, my young friends, that the task assigned me this evening is a difficult and a delicate one; delicate, as requiring me to discuss topics on which a considerable difference of opinion may exist; and difficult, because thus delicate. It is scarcely possible to treat of the Amendments of Youth before a promiscuous audience, without the risk of being misunderstood. The opinions that may be advanced are apt to be mistaken, both in their matter and tendency; and he who advances them is liable to be regarded as the real, though not the avowed enemy of human enjoyment. He may get credit, perhaps, for the benevolence of his intentions; but he may think himself happy, if for this he has not to forfeit the reputation of being a person of sound judgment, correct taste, or liberal-minded charity. While admitted, by an effort of candour, to be a well-meaning man, he shall have reason to felicitate himself, if he escape being stigmatised as a weak, demure, frigid, gloomy fanatic, ignorant of human nature, and inimical to the happiness of his species. From the apprehension of such consequences I am happily relieved, to a good extent at least, in the present instance. The complexion of this audience, together with the circumstance of my having been invited by yourselves to discuss this topic, holds out to me the assurance that I shall obtain a favourable, nay, an indulgent hearing. You will look upon me, I trust, not as a captious censor, delighting to find fault, and seeking to abridge your pleasures; but as your chosen friend and counsellor, willing to approve where that can be conscientiously done, and doing his best to give you good advice on what nearly concerns your dearest interests. And should you feel disposed, as is not impossible, in estimating the worth of the advice given, to make a pretty liberal allowance for the supposed prejudices, professional or otherwise, of the speaker, you will allow me to remind you, that it is at least possible the prejudices may not be all on one side. In common candour, you are bound to admit, that young people are likely enough to be prejudiced in favour of pursuits which promise to minister to their pleasurable emotions, and which happen to possess the sanction of dominant fashion and long established custom. It will be my duty to overcome as far as possible the prejudices which are apt to exist on the one side; see that you do the same, in reference to those which are apt to exist on the other.

Without further explanation or apology, I proceed to the proper business of the Lecture; invoking for myself promised assistance from the Spirit of all grace; and beseeching of you an attentive and prayerful consideration of whatever, under this guidance, I may be enabled to bring under your notice.

Man was made to be happy. This may be inferred from the benevolent character of the Creator; or rather, it may be regarded as an axiomatic truth, a first principle, which, like other first principles, if it admits not of formal proof, needs none, but approves itself directly to every sane understanding. The desire of happiness is deeply implanted in the human constitution, accompanied, in the beneficent arrangements of the almighty Author of our being, with both the capacity and the means of happiness. The desire without the capacity had been tormenting, the capacity without the means useless. Accordingly, He who in the beginning “made all things very good,” not only conferred on man diversified capabilities of enjoyment, sensitive, intellectual, moral, but surrounded him with ample sources of gratification in each department. In the exuberance of his bounty, he provided at once light for the eye, music for the ear, and fragrance and the smell; furnished innumerable subjects on which the understanding might dilate, the judgment decide, the memory put forth its tenacious grasp, and the imagination wing its lofty flight; and inculcated duties, personal, social, and religious, from the daily performance of which he might derive the most exquisite satisfaction and purest delight. These springs of true pleasure, so diversified, so perfectly adapted fully to occupy every capacity without leaving an “aching void” behind, and withal, so dignified and worthy of the powers and destiny of an immortal creature, are universally diffused and placed within the reach of every human being. The rich, the noble, the learned, have no monopoly here. The poorest and the most affluent; the peasant and the prince; the mechanic and the philosopher; the “sons of toil” who labour with their hands for their daily sustenance, and the “children of ease” who are born to plenty, who are clothed in gorgeous apparel, and fare sumptuously every day, have access alike to them all. The glories of earth, ocean, sky, the verdure and fragrance of the fields and lawns, the majesty and awfulness of the deep, the beauty and lustre of the heavenly orbs, the workings of thought and the visions of fancy, the conscious sense of moral approbation and the mutual reciprocations of fond affection, the pleasures of religion and the joys arising from communion with God; these are not the exclusive possessions of any select or privileged class, but the common property of man.

“Nature, enchanting nature, ……..

Is free to all men, universal prize!”

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. The Lord is good to all. The eyes of all wait upon him. He openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.

Let it not be supposed, however, that all that is necessary to man’s being happy, is, that he possess the capacity, the means, and the desire of happiness. There is something more required. Unless under an enlightened moral control, by which he shall be induced to seek the gratification of the desire by having recourse to proper and adequate means, you can easily see how possible it is for him to miss his object, and to become really and utterly miserable. Before the fall, man was under such control. The desire of enjoyment turned for gratification only to legitimate and appropriate objects. Then, man sought God in everything, and every thing in God. He had not yet learned to wander from the Chief of God. Consequently all his longings after pleasure were crowned with success. Man was happy, because he was holy. With the loss of his holiness came the loss of his happiness. The evil influence that blighted his moral powers, at the same time seethed and withered the tree on which grew the golden fruit of his enjoyments. That which poisoned the spring of his virtuous emotions, contaminated also the fountain of his delights. The Serpent, while he injected the polluting and mischievous venom into the minds of the happy inhabitants of Eden, spoiled with his loathsome trail the fragrant flowers of Paradise. But, by the fall, man lost neither the desire, nor the means, nor the capacity of happiness; he lost the right direction of the desire, the fine moral taste which alone would detect and appreciate the proper means of gratification. Toward sources of real enjoyment he contracted a strong distaste and hatred; while his vitiated propensities pointed toward forbidden and polluting pleasures. He forsook, in short, the Fountain of living waters, and hewed out for himself cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. In this way he not only lost happiness, but became unhappy, miserable; furnishing to his posterity the momentous lesson, (which may God engrave on all our hearts!) that in order to be happy man must deserve to be happy, and that to deserve to be miserable is to be miserable!

The change man has undergone, in regard to this department of his nature, is well illustrated in the appetite for vain and sinful amusements, manifested more or less by all, but which is apt to show peculiar strength in the season of youth. Amusements embrace but a limited class of youthful pleasures. The term describes those enjoyments to which men have recourse by way of relaxation from severer exercises, by way of refreshment after toil, of relief from the pressure of heavy cares and sorrows, in short, what are styled recreations or diversions. We are, of course, saved the necessity, at the present time, of considering those grosser pleasures to which many are addicted; the temptations to which are, in a large city, and indeed everywhere, so numerous; which bring with them such a frightful train of miseries; which are so polluting and debasing in their own nature; and against which the inspired writers have uttered so many pointed warnings and prohibitions. “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” Our subject at this time is, in some respects, of a less disagreeable character; although, as we shall see, one great objection to some of the amusements of youth, is their very tendency to stimulate and foster the carnal propensities of man’s fallen nature.

In discussing the former, there is one advantage certainly which is not enjoyed in reference to the latter; I mean that of being able to produce direct Scripture authority in condemnation of them. There is no difficulty in pointing to passages in the word of God which expressly condemn those “divers lusts and pleasures,” in which many indulge. It is otherwise in regard to certain amusements; which, nevertheless, we may feel ourselves called upon to pronounce foolish, and even sinful. The latter are what may be called indeterminate evils. The distinction between determinate and indeterminate virtues is well known to moralists. The former are those, betwixt  which and their opposite vices, a precise line of separation admits of being drawn; justice, for example, which stands in such palpable, diametrical contrast with injustice, that the slightest deviation from the one involves all the moral turpitude of the other. The latter are those, betwixt which and their opposites, again, no definite line of separation can be drawn; as, for example, generosity, which, instead of being placed in any given action in direct opposition to what is ungenerous, admits of many degrees of approximation on the part of the one to the other. “In the determinate virtue,” as has well been said, “one, by a single farthing, or a single footstep, might pass from a state of pure and exalted morality to a state of crime. In the indeterminate, there is what painters call a shading off, a slow and insensible graduation. The man who differs from his neighbour in withholding the farthing that is due, differs as much from him as a vice does from its opposite virtue. The man who differs from his neighbour in withholding the farthing that would have brought his donation to an equality with that of the other, differs not in kind but in degree, and that very imperceptibly, being only a little less liberal, and a little less generous than his fellow.”[1] Now, this distinction between determinate and indeterminate virtues, may help us to form an idea of the distinction between determinate and indeterminate vices. There are vices which stand distinguished by a broad and clear line of demarcation from the opposite virtues; adultery, theft, lying, for example, and these may be styled determinate. There are vices, again, such as cruelty and avarice, the turpitude of which in every case does not admit of being accurately defined; and these may be called indeterminate. In the case of determinate virtues and vices, it is easy to bring forward express commands and prohibitions from the Bible; but in the case of such as are indeterminate, it may not be possible to do this. Yet in reference to the latter, we can seldom, if ever, be at a loss to bring some great established Bible principle to bear upon them. And be it here remembered that it is a settled canon in the interpretation of the word of God, that whatever, “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture,” [Confession of Faith, chap. 1.] is every whit as obligatory, or the contrary, as if it had been in so many words expressly commanded or forbidden there.

The amusements against which I mean this evening to warn you, my youthful hearers, belong to the class of indeterminate evils. Permit me, therefore, before specifying what these amusements are, to call you attention to certain Scripture principles, by which we mean to put them to the test. These criteria you may perhaps find of use in other cases. Young people not seldom find themselves in circumstances in which they are at a loss to determine what is the clear path of duty. They are frequently obliged to stop short, not knowing whether to recede or advance, to refuse or comply. They feel as if they would give anything for a principle which should determine for them the course of action, and release them from their painful state of hesitancy and suspense. Now, in situations like these, the principles I am about to lay before you, likewise counsellors, will be ever ready to be summoned to your aid; may save you many a perplexing, harassing struggle; and may protect you from the evil consequences of many a supple and hasty compliance with plausible but deceitful temptations; “whispering evermore in your ears,” as Lord Bacon says, “when friends and advisers are mute and silent.” The principles to which I would beg your attention are: Christian consistency, usefulness, the value of time, and conformity to the Redeemer.

The first test we mention is Christian consistency. There are few things more valued among men than consistency, or more heartily despised than its opposite. Inconsistency, in any department of action, is sure to bring a person into speedy contempt; and in nothing is it more likely to do so than in religion. The men of the world have a keen perception of the violation of this rule; nothing can escape their penetrating sharp-sightedness; a very trifling deviation is all that is required to furnish them with a pretext for denouncing an individual as a worthless hypocrite, who wears his religion only as a mask to conceal the hideous deformity of his real character. The nature of Christianity, as a serious, holy, self-denied, heavenly system, is universally understood: and accordingly, every one can discern the contrariety to its spirit of whatever is vain, light, trifling, impure. Nothing is so injurious to the cause of the Gospel as the unworthy conduct of those who profess it. Were we called upon to say who are the worst enemies of religion, we should not name Pagans, or Mohammedans, or Infidels, or Heretics, but the men “who have only a form of godliness, while they deny the power thereof; who “profess that they know God, but in works deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate;” those “deceivers and being deceived,” who go about in “sheep’s clothing, but are inwardly ravening wolves.”

Utility furnishes another test. Amusements are not to be sought after on their own account. Who is there, above the period of childhood, that would not be ashamed to avow that he followed diversions for their own sake? They are uniformly regarded as a means toward the attainment of an end of higher importance than themselves. To recreate the body, to refresh and invigorate the mind, to banish lassitude, to prevent ennui, to fit, in short, for the better discharge of incumbent duties, are the common pretexts for the pursuit of amusements, and the only grounds on which they can be justified, in consistency with the intellectual and moral elevation of man’s nature. Whenever, therefore, any species of gratifications are such, as, either in themselves or their tendencies, either in their own nature or their liability to be carried to excess, tend to produce weariness of body, languor of mind, satiety, sickness, or stupefaction of the higher powers and feelings of the soul; or whenever, from their peculiarly fascinating influence, they so captivate the mind and haunt the imagination, as to disqualify for discharging with pleasure the ordinary and more important functions of human life; they cease of course to be lawful, because they not only fail to serve the purpose for which they are professedly designed, but, by becoming positively injurious, they directly counteract it. It is not enough, even, that they do no harm, that they are “innocent,” as it is called; for, in a world where there are so many more useful spheres for the exercise of our faculties than we can ever occupy, we are not at liberty to make any exercise terminate in itself. If so, how much more deserving of being condemned and put down are all amusements which exert an absolutely pernicious influence! There is good sense as well as good poetry in these well-known lines of the author of ‘The Task:’ 

“Whom call ye gay? That honour has been long

The boast of mere pretenders to the name.

The innocent are gay; …………………..

But save me from the gayety of those

Whose headaches nail them to a noon-day bed:

And save me, too, from theirs whose haggard eyes

Flash desperation, and betray their pangs

For property stripped off by cruel chance;

From gayety that fills the bones with pain,

The mouth with blasphemy, the heart with woe.”

 But in unfolding this test, we must not confine ourselves to usefulness, as regards the present state of our existence. We are entitled, may bound, to try the lawfulness of amusements, by their influence on man’s eternal interests. Is it in this connection principally that we understand these powerful words of Solomon, “I said of laughter, It is mad, and of mirth, What doeth it?” The subject of which he is speaking, you perceive, is the very same that is now under consideration. “Laughter” and “mirth” are the symbols of pleasures in general. They include, as the original terms import, whatever is fitted to occasion a brisk circulation of the animal spirits or sportive agitation of the body; all that goes by the name of gayety, jovialty, merriment; the carnal enjoyments and useless pastimes of a giddy and profligate world; such especially as commend themselves to persons under the control of youthful passion more than of reason or conscience. We pass over the severe but faithful verdict of the wise man, when he speaks of these as “madness,” as indicating nothing short of derangement of intellect, amounting to proofs of a temporary frenzy, and implying a partial dethronement of reason from the empire of the mind. We call your attention to the pointed interrogation, “What doeth it?” Solomon, you see, fixes on the test of utility. What doeth it? What can such a course of conduct be expected to do? What profit can it yield? What happiness, worthy of the name, can it ever produce? What consolation can it afford in sickness? What support in death? What safety in judgment? What, in one word, can it do, in the way of preparing for eternity? I need not say to you, that to put such questions is to answer them, that they carry in them the strong negation which is elsewhere plainly expressed: “For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools. Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.”

The next criterion we would submit for testing the lawfulness of amusements, is, the value of time. I shall not make any attempt to convince you of the truth of this. It were easy to give utterance to an abundant list of commonplaces on such a topic. But it is unnecessary. You admit it. Time is valuable. Precious in itself, it derives additional preciousness from its shortness and uncertainty. We know not what a day may bring forth. Time lost, too, can never be recalled. Every moment of it, howsoever it may have been spent, must be minutely accounted for. And O when we reflect, on its inseparable connection with eternity, when we remember that the one is given to prepare for the other, when we consider that on the use we may make of the present, depends the unalterable complexion of our future destiny, with what importance is every, even the least portion of it invested! Yet, instead of improving, men contrive to dissipate time. Instead of feeling is too short for the momentous concerns that hang upon it, they act as if it were too long. They speak of it even as hanging heavy on their hands, and have recourse to sundry expedients for the very purpose, as they are not ashamed to avow, of killing time. What a bitter reflection on the wisdom and consistency of multitudes, is even the name by which their favourite pleasures are designated, PASTIMES; a name which, however innocently it may sound, implies a severe condemnation of the pursuits in question, inasmuch as it supposes a criminal and reckless abuse of one of the most precious gifts of reason. Well might our great Christian poet severely satirize, as he does, the conduct of those who have recourse to such miserable expedients!  

“To fill the void of an unfurnish’d brain,

To palliate dullness, and give time a shove.

Time as he passes us, has a dove’s wing,

Unsoil’d and swift, and of a silken sound;

But the world’s time is time in masquerade!


Thus deck’d, he charms a world whom fashion blinds

To his true worth, most pleased when idle most,

Whose only happy are their wasted hours.”

 Those amusements, therefore, my young friends, cannot be innocent which make large demands on the time given you for more important purposes. If they require a great part of a day or even of an evening to be immediately devoted to them, with perhaps a considerable portion beforehand in preparing for them, and as much if not more afterwards in talking about them, and if they repeat their demands at no very distant intervals, you cannot surely hesitate as to the path of duty in regard to them; or if you do hesitate, unless regardless of all respect for the authority of Holy Writ, one short text will be sufficient to bring you to a decision: “See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

I shall trouble you with only one more test. But it is a valuable one: one which rightly understood and justly applied, you can never be at a loss. I refer to conformity to the example of Christ. It is laid plainly down in these words of the Saviour to his disciples. “Ye are not of the world even as I am not of the world.” Mark this saying. It asserts, most unequivocally, that those who are Christ’s will be characterised by a strong resemblance to him; a resemblance to him in their sentiments, their conversation, their pursuits, their enjoyments. The particle AS is exceedingly emphatic. It expresses, of course, not sameness in degree, but similitude in kind. It denotes, however, a high degree of such similitude. The resemblance supposed is not slight but striking; not faintly delineated, so as to require an effort to recognise it, but marked, prominent, palpable, so as to be perceived on a glance; not consisting in one or a few things only, but in all points which can be deemed of any importance. “Ye are not of the world, even AS I am not of the world.” Such is the noble standard to which every Christian must seek to be conformed, the high principle on which he is bound to regulate his conduct at all times and in all matters, and which, consequently, he must bring to bear on amusements as well as other things. If then amusements are essentially worldly, if they are marked by a worldly spirit; if they go directly to foster worldly dispositions, if they are indulged and delighted in chiefly by worldly men; if they are such as it would shock every better feeling of our nature to suppose practised, or even countenanced by the Redeemer himself; then are we bound, if we would stand the test before us, to keep aloof from them with conscientious vigilance and steadfastness. Mark the striking juxtaposition of these two verses: “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Such are the principles by which we propose to try certain youthful recreations. With these principles you will find little difficulty, we presume, in testing the lawfulness of any of those fashionable follies into which you may be in danger of being enticed. You may be able to find, perhaps, no express condemnation of them in the word of God. They may not seem to be what you would call decidedly sinful. They may not seem to be what you would call decidedly sinful. They may not appear to lie clearly within the line of divine prohibition, but rather to occupy a sort of border territory, which you may be disposed to regard as disputed ground. But you have only to make a faithful use of the principles laid down, to preserve you from venturing on what is, at the best, doubtful. You are not to content yourselves with avoiding only what is palpably wrong, but what tends to wrong. You are not to abstain only from evil, but from every appearance of evil. You are not only not to sin; but, true to the maxim obsta principiis, you are to have a dread of whatever may prove an occasion of sin. It must not satisfy you that the ground you occupy is not plainly forbidden, it must not be even disputed; you must shun the border territory as that which, in morals not less than in geography, is apt to be infested with dangerous marauders, lying in wait to assail and to take captive the unwary. You must eschew, if you would be safe, that accursed casuistry which should dispose you to inquire how near you might go to what is dangerous, and adopt that which will teach you rather to consider at how great a distance you can keep yourselves from what is sinful. Instead of tampering with temptation, and running with open eyes into scenes of peril, deeply conscious of the corruption and manifold deceitfulness of your hearts, you will do well oft to send up to the throne of the Eternal the earnest ejaculation, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity!”

We now proceed to apply the tests of which we have spoken to some of the popular amusements of youth. Of course, we shall not be expected to discuss any of these fully. There is not one of them, on which it would not be easy to spend more time than can be afforded for this Lecture altogether. We aim at little more than showing you, how the principle on which we have been insisting may be brought to bear on certain given cases.

We begin with the Stage. Theatrical entertainments are confessedly among the pleasures to which youth are addicted. They are favorites, we believe, in particular with young men. This amusement consists in acting characters, accompanied with scenic representations. Its existence can be traced to the earliest periods of Grecian and Roman history. It is still sought after in modern times. Though not so common in Britain as on the continent, there is after all scarce a city or town of any size in our country, which has not one or more theatres; and even places of inferior size receive occasional visits from strolling parties. This kind of amusement is countenanced by persons of all ranks, from titled wealth, and royalty itself, down to the very lowest of the populace; and the matter of the entertainment is skilfully regulated to suit the taste of all classes, from the rulers of the land to the apprentices of the workshop. We speak not of what the stage is capable of being made, but of what it is, and what it always has been. We may fairly be excused from spending time in discussing the merits of a beau ideal, which however much talked of has never yet been realised, a pure stage. We address ourselves to matters of fact. We take things as we find them, and ask leave to apply our tests.

Of the dramas that are commonly acted, some, of course, are better and others worse. But we speak on good information when we say that they are all more or less profane, impure, and defective in the morality they teach. Is not the name of God frequently invoked in a light and irreverent manner? Are not prayers sometimes offered up in a way calculated to burlesque this holy ordinance? Are not licentious characters introduced, base maxims sported, double entendres spoken, and wanton, immodest gestures unblushingly obtruded, and even loudly applauded? While vice is palliated, are not the honest virtues of life often held up to ridicule? Are not false principles of honour commended? Is not the mind familiarized to scenes of guilt and horror and pollution? And is not a spurious sensibility for scenes of fictitious misery engendered, which is only fitted to create a distaste for what, after them, is likely to be regarded as the dull monotony of common life? Do not the most profligate of both sexes frequent the theatre, as affording a favourable opportunity for following after their base and wicked practices? Is it not a fact that every attempt to shut out certain characters, in the view of realizing the idea of a pure stage, has involved those who have made it in such pecuniary loss as to compel them to return to the former method of loose and indiscriminate admission? A pretty strong proof this of the low standard of morals which exists among those who frequent such places of amusement. We say nothing of the character of the great majority of actors, further than that it is not certainly calculated to give us the highest idea of the moral influence of the profession they have seen meet to adopt. And the exceptions taken to the plays themselves, apply, be it observed, to the very best that are produced, to those of the far-famed “Bard of Avon” himself, and even to some that have come from the pen of men invested with the sacred office. All this is quite notorious, and defies contradiction.[2]

How, then, can this amusement stand the test of Christian consistency? Surely, for those who profess to be born from above, to be under the influence of the holy, self-denying, ennobling principles of the Gospel of the Son of God, to be living above the world, and journeying heavenward; for such to take pleasure in witnessing the profane, impious, immoral, childish scenes which enter so largely into this species of public entertainment, is altogether out of character. How can any man, not lost to all sense of decorum and propriety, ever allow himself to be one day at church and another at the theatre; one day mingling with the worshippers of a holy God, and another with such abandoned characters as frequent these haunts of dissipation; to-day, it may be, uniting in the celebration of the most sacred rites of religion, to-morrow listening to some licentious comedy or profane and ribaldrous farce! The law of Christian consistency must sit light indeed on the consciences of those who can give themselves up to such grotesque alterations. Why, virtuous Pagans themselves might read such a lesson. It would be no difficult matter to gather from the writings of heathen philosophers testimonies against the Stage which might put to the blush the lax morality of professing Christians. Mr. James of Birmingham tells us that a catalogue of authorities against the Stage was made in the time of Charles II, which “contains every name of eminence in the heathen and Christian worlds; which comprehends the united testimony of the Jewish and Christian churches, the deliberate acts of fifty-four ancient and modern, general, national, and provincial councils and synods, both of the eastern and western churches; the condemnatory sentence of seventy-one ancient fathers, and one hundred and fifty modern authors, Popish and Protestant; the hostile endeavours of philosophers, and even poets, with the legislative enactments of a great number of Pagan and Christian States, nations, magistrates, emperors, and princes. Now must not this,” adds Mr. James, “be regarded in the light of a very strong presumptive evidence of the immoral tendency of the stage? Does it not approach as near as can be to the general opinion of the whole moral world?”

The test of utility will be found to be as fatal to the practice of play-going as that of consistency. Even on the score of bodily and mental recreation, little, we presume, can be said in its behalf. When the late hours to which the amusement is protracted, the vitiated atmosphere that must be inhaled, and the exciting nature of the performances themselves, are taken into the account, it seems more calculated to exhaust than to recreate. On the higher ground of moral good, it is less likely still to stand the test. We urge the criterion of Solomon, and demand an answer to the question, “What doeth it?” What has it done, what can it ever do, for man’s best, his eternal interest? What can it do for its votaries in the way of preparing them for sickness, for death, or for judgment? Who, on a bed of languishing, would ever think of finding consolation for his conscience-stricken soul, by reflecting on the entertainments of the theatre? Who does not shudder at the thought of being summoned out of the world from the midst of such scenes? We hear much, it is true, of the theatre as a school of morality; but who would choose to be called to the bar of the righteous Judge of all with no other preparation than the morality that had been acquired in this school? A school of morality, forsooth! How comes it, pray, to exert so little influence on the teachers, and to attract towards it persons whose moral character is at the lowest point in the scale? Truly the morality cannot be of the most refined quality which is acquired where the scenes, the company, the music, the sentiments, the performances, are all more or less of a voluptuous character. “Blessed are the pure in heart;” and if you would seek to attain to this blessedness, my young friends, let me beseech you to shun the fascinations of the theatre.

We need not waste your time in applying the other tests. The amusement in question is not the less indefensible when tried by the value of time, and conformity to the example of Christ. Such as contract a fondness for the theatre, give evidence of their being but little alive to the weight of the apostolical admonition, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short.” And there are few, we presume, even of those who are most addicted to this species of entertainment who would not feel shocked at the bare supposition of the Redeemer having spent his time thus. If every one must perceive the outrageous incongruity of supposing it consistent with the dignified and holy character of the Savior to have frequented the theatre, (the very statement of the supposition is felt to border on profanity,) they who feel themselves bound to be not of the world even as he was not the world, will pause before they venture on any such indulgence. Indeed, when the moral dangers with which this species of entertainment is surrounded, are duly weighed; when the company with which it brings the young into contact, the scenes with which it tends to familiarize its votaries, and the nature and tendency of the moral principles it inculcates, are seriously considered; and when the dire experience of thousands, who have traced their ruin to their having formed an unhappy attachment to this species of entertainment, is taken into the account; is it going too far to say that there is one short word of three letters, employed to designate a portion of its accommodation, that may be viewed as not inaptly descriptive of the whole? or that the satirist exceeded the bounds of truth when he spoke of the inscription on one entrance as applicable to the entertainment as a whole, the way to the Pit! Tell me not of those who have indulged in this amusement, and yet have escaped its demoralizing tendency. What of that? Because some constitutions resist the plague, is the plague innocuous, and ought all men recklessly to expose themselves to its virulent influence? Young men, if you have any respect for consistency of Christian character, if you have any desire for the enjoyment of spiritual good, if you have any regard to the value of time, if you would aim at being conformed to Him who was not of this world, you will never cross the threshold of a theatre.

From the theatre we pass, by an easy transition, to the Ball-room. On this point, still more than on the other, we are prepared to meet with difference of opinion. But, with all possible disposition to cherish candid feelings towards those who cannot go the full length with us, we must insist on being allowed to apply our tests even here. The question before us does not respect the lawfulness or unlawfulness, abstractly considered, of the mere art of dancing, the simple circumstance of beating time with the feet, or of gracefully regulating the movements of the body to music. It is with promiscuous dancing, practised as an amusement, that we have at present to do. This, all are aware, is very generally deemed an elegant and polite accomplishment, and an indispensable qualification for mingling with good society: it is even regarded as a healthful recreation, and, at the least, a most harmless mode of spending an evening.

But, notwithstanding all this, and at the risk of being pronounced a gloomy cynic, a heartless ascetic, an enemy to all rational enjoyment and innocent cheerfulness, I venture to put in a caveat against the amusement in question. I avail not myself at present of the circumstance of its having been condemned by almost all the Reformed Churches, of its being specified by the Westminster divines, in the Larger Catechism, among the things forbidden in the Seventh Commandment, or of its having been unequivocally condemned by the more enlightened among the heathen themselves. Neither do I wait to consider particularly the text in Ecclesiastes, “a time to dance,” which is thought by many a sufficient Scripture authority for the practice in question, simply remarking, by the way, that, on the same principle, like authority might be pled for “killing” and “hating,” for each of which there is also a time specified in the context. Besides, this passage leaves the questions, Who are to dance? When is it to be done? and How is it to be conducted? altogether untouched, but the answer of which, in the light of Scripture, may perhaps give a result for which the apologists of the recreation in question are not quite prepared. For while they may be conducted to the conclusion that dancing was practised at one time as a religious act, at another as an expression of public joy, and at a third as an amusement, they will find not a shadow of countenance, we believe, for promiscuous dancing. And even in those cases in which it may have been followed as an amusement, they will find themselves in company of which they are not likely to be proud, seeing, as far as we can recollect, they will meet with no better examples than certain vain fellows, irreligious families, and persons lost to all sense of decency. [2 Sam. vi, 20; Job, xxi. 11; Matt. xiv, 6.] On these things, however, I do not wait, but hasten to bring this amusement to the test of the principles formerly laid down. Is it quite consistent with the gravity, and seriousness, and decorum of the Christian character? Is it really beneficial to either the body or the mind? Is it a profitable occupation of precious time? Can it be though compatible with conformity to the character of Him who was not of this world, and who requires all his disciples to be so also, even as he was? Instead of giving you my own application of these tests, which, from certain circumstances, might not have the same weight, but run some risk of being placed to the account of sectarian prejudice or peculiarity, I take leave to lay before you the words of a writer of a different religious community from my own, whose sentiments on this point I fully adopt.

“Let me not,” say Dr. Morison of London, “be deemed a recluse, or austere, because I cannot subscribe, ex animo, to the absolute morality of promiscuous dancing, and its numerous attendants and results. Sprightly, and graceful, and bewitching as is the exercise, I fear it ranks among those things which in the estimate of an inspired apostle, ‘are not convenient.’ I speak not of the midnight revel, where only the sons of profligacy are to be found; but I speak of the regularly organized ball, of the well adjusted assembly, where everything is under a moral eye, where the laws of good society prevent every infringement upon delicacy, and where everything passes off to the satisfaction of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and companions. Even here I strongly demur. Contemplating human nature as it is, (and how can I allow myself to do otherwise?) I tremble for consequences. I tremble for the vanity of human nature; I am afraid of its rashness, its inexperience, its sensuality, its irreligion. To say nothing of health sacrificed, disease accelerated, and simple and inartificial manners outraged, I cannot but hesitate about the utility and moral fitness of an amusement, which more than any other recognises as necessary the intercourse of the sexes, which acts with incalculable force on the animal spirits, which makes a demand for flattering and often insincere attentions; which so directly tends to perpetuate the reign of folly and thoughtlessness; which gives birth to many premature and clandestine marriages; and which, by a thousand agencies, tends to remove from the minds of the rising generation the contemplation of that most sacred of all subjects, the salvation of the immortal soul. I am so thoroughly convinced,” continues Dr. M., “of the moral danger of the promiscuous ball-room, that no child of mine shall ever be furnished with the necessary preparation for appearing with credit in such a doubtful scene. To this line of conduct I feel myself pledged, as I would not become the instrument of the future injury of my offspring. As to the ordinary opinion, that dancing is necessary to easy and graceful manners, nothing can be more shallow or absurd: in as far as many who were never within the walls of a dancing school have been models of all that was polite and elegant; and in as far, too, as multitudes who have attended this far-famed school of manners have nothing to recommend either their grace or their case. Let Christian parents, who have no wish that their children should mingle in the dance, or swell the ranks of a gay and fashionable dissipation, consider well ere they furnish them with a facility of injuring themselves, and lay the foundation for future and pregnant regret to their own minds. I speak not at present,” the writer adds in a note, “to those parents who contemplate dancing as a necessary preparation for the anticipated gayeties of future life. I rather address myself to those who would be greatly afflicted by seeing their children the votaries of fashionable amusements, but who, at the same time, from the very general usages of genteel society, esteem it desirable that their sons and daughters should receive instruction in the science of dancing. Now, suppose, for a moment, that a child belonging to such a family, should discover an early preference for the fascinating amusement of the ball-room. In such a case how shall the parent convince the judgment of his child that it is right to restrain the powerful propensity? May not his son or daughter turn round upon him and say, ‘Why father did you permit me to learn, if I am not to be allowed to practise? It might be said, indeed, that this young person might abstain from the ball-room, and yet retain all the features of the ‘carnal mind;’ but in vain will this be urged while it remains altogether a problem how far the lessons of the dancing school may have tended to impress a fixed character of folly and vanity upon the mind.”

This reasoning might be strengthened by adverting to the consumpt of time which the amusement occasions, the unseasonable hours at which it is usually indulge, the love of display which it tends to foster, the mental dissipation it occasions, and its tendency to unfit for religious exercises, whether secret or domestic; not to speak of other evils which would easily be named. But I forbear.

The next amusement I shall name is Horse-racing. Notwithstanding that the very highest patronage in the world of fashion is enlisted on its side, I feel as if it were a waste of time to insist on applying our tests to this entertainment. Might it not suffice to advert to the unnecessary pain it inflicts on one of the noblest and most useful of the inferior animals, to the imminent hazard to which it exposes even human life, to the gambling to which it necessarily gives rise, to the description of characters whom it collects together, thieves, cheats, swindlers, and profligate persons of both sexes, to the scenes of drunken revelry and debauchery by which it is commonly succeeded? And then, be it remarked, that all these evils are unattended by a single mitigating circumstance; for what is there here to improve the mind, to enlarge the intellect, to gratify the taste, to refine the character, to strengthen the affections, to exercise the moral feelings, and to better the heart? Any one of the testing principles is quite sufficient, and more than sufficient, to ensure the condemnation of such an amusement as this. And let me say to you, that, if you have any respect for these principles, you will never be found among the busy crowds which are seen hurrying with eagerness, from time to time, toward such scenes of fashionable dissipation and blackguardism.

Permit me here to say a single word upon Fairs. These, you know, are now looked upon principally as affording opportunities of enjoyment and recreation to the working classes, to servants, tradesmen, journeymen, and apprentices. They present a sort of concentration of all kinds of amusement; which are adapted, as regards the degree of refinement, to the standard of taste among the persons who take pleasure in frequenting them. We feel as it would savour of burlesque to propose trying, by the test of high Christian principle, the character of those childish follies, and disgusting extravagances, and mountebank recreations, in which, on such occasion, so many of our population are found ready to indulge: recreations, half an hour’s inspection of which, apart altogether from their wickedness, were enough to cause every rational onlooker to blush for the pitch of degradation to which human nature has sunk. But we would take the liberty of remarking, whether, I say, it might not be a question worthy of being considered by the public authorities, how far their entire abolition would serve to promote the peace and morality of the community at large, and save the working classes much useless expenditure, both of time and money, without abridging in the least their real happiness.

It will be expected that I say something of Games of Chance. We are not, indeed called upon to treat professedly of gaming or gambling, in the common acceptation of that term. This may be regarded as rather a profession than an amusement. No individual who has any respect to his moral character will be found following this practice, and it needs no other condemnation than that which is pronounced upon it by the circumstance, that the places where it is avowedly carried on, have by common consent, received the name of the place of future misery. They are technically styled Hells; and, it is believed, not inappropriately so, when the nature of the passions which are cherished and indulged in them are taken into account.

We refer, however, at present to something less atrocious, to card-playing, dice, and other kindred practices which are followed as recreations, and into which the idea of sortition or sortilege essentially enters. I need not say how extensively these amusements prevail, nor how commonly they are sought after by the young. What I would have you to fix your attention upon is, that they involve the profanation of a divine ordinance, the ordinance of the LOT, and thus expose those who engage in them to the threat denounced on such as take the name of God in vain. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of God.” These are the words of Holy Writ; and no language can more explicitly declare that, in every use of the lot, divine Providence is immediately concerned. Every effect must have an adequate cause. Philosophically speaking, there is no such thing as chance. We ascribe, indeed, certain occurrences to chance; but we do not mean by this that there is no cause for their existence. “Chance” is merely a word invented to express our ignorance of the cause, not to denote that there is no cause, or that it is itself a cause. It is only “a direction which we cannot see.” To understand it in any other light is downright atheism. The lot, in its very nature, is a direct appeal to the living God, the moral Governor of the universe. As soon as the decision leaves the hand of man, it passes directly into the hand of God. if nothing can occur without a cause, the result which flows from the casting of the lot, whether it be by the shuffling of cards, or the throwing of a die, or the drawing of a ticket at random from a wheel, is brought about by divine agency. It is nothing to say, that it occurs in virtue of certain fixed laws of nature. We admit that it does. But what, pray, are the laws of nature, but the rules according to which the God of nature chooses to act? You might as soon persuade me to believe that an axe can hew wood without the agency of man, as that the laws of the universe can operate without the agency of God. Games of chance, then, involve a direct appeal to the Almighty: and whether we be warranted to make such an appeal for the purposes of a frivolous amusement, may safely be left to the decision of any one who is not lost to all sense of the reverence due to the Deity. This conclusion is greatly strengthened, when, in addition to what is implied in its very nature, the lot is regarded as an express institution or ordinance of God, appointed for the purpose of determining questions which would not be otherwise settled, just as an oath is for putting an end to disputes by giving confirmation to truth. As “an oath for confirmation is an end of all strife,” so the “lot causeth contentions to cease.” [Hebrews, vi, 16; Proverbs, xviii, 18.]

Perhaps I shall be told that the card-player has no idea of there being any thing sacred in the lot, and is, therefore, all-unconscious of there being any irreverence or profanity in the use which he makes of it for amusement. The thing is done thoughtlessly and without any evil intention; it cannot, therefore, be that he is chargeable with the guilt of profanation. I reply, might not the very same excuse be pled in justification of profane swearing? Is not it also often done thoughtlessly, without even the person being aware perhaps, that he is uttering an oath? and are we to suppose that in such cases the individual commits no sin, but is free from all blame? Beware, my young friends, of thinking that the thoughtlessness with which an evil action is done, takes away its criminality. If a thing is positively wrong in itself, the unconsciousness that it is wrong, will not, certainly, in all cases screen him by whom it is done from blame in the doing of it, any more than it will shelter him from the curse which necessarily follows the impenitent violation of the law of rectitude. The very unconsciousness of wrong may itself be the consequence of deep and stupefying depravity of heart.

We would not be understood as holding that all the evil consequences attendant on an abuse of the lot are directly chargeable on every one who takes part in games of chance. We may believe that a principle which is held, or a practice that is pursued, leads naturally to atheism, and yet not feel at all at liberty to pronounce the person who holds the one or does the other an atheist. Just so is it in the case before us. Though the persons who engage in the amusements of which we are speaking, may not lie under all the guilt to which, if pursued to the full extent of their consequences, they would lead, let them beware of concluding that they are chargeable with no blame at all. To be ignorant or regardless of the evil consequences of any line of conduct we pursue, may be itself blameworthy in no small degree. No one, therefore, need think of sheltering himself from the imputation of blame, by pleading, that in the practices in question he was quite unconscious of there being any thing criminal, and that, in following them, he never once thought of the consequences they involved. Whence this unconsciousness and thoughtlessness? May it not be fairly questioned, whether a rational and responsible being can be warranted in doing anything whatever thoughtlessly? If this plea were to be admitted in exculpation in every case, would it not go far to justify almost all the aberrations of youth, few of which are gone into otherwise than in thoughtlessness? Nay, would it not go to render the conduct of the most profligate perfectly innocent, inasmuch as it is a well known fact that whatever compunctions may have been felt at the outset of a career of crime, scarce anything of the kind is felt when the character has been hardened by a continued course of iniquity? Games of chance, then, however thoughtlessly gone about, involve an irreverent appeal to the Almighty, and you know that God will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

This is the chief, but it is not the only objection to them. They are to be condemned, besides, on the score of the unprofitable consumption of time they occasion; the trifling conversation to which they give rise, the anger, envy, avarice, jealousy, and deceit, they are so apt to engender; the intellectual dissipation of which they are the cause, and the encouragement they hold out to gambling in its very worst forms, which, having just produced, they tend to keep up and perpetuate, with all its frightful train of attendant evils. We have only, then, to have recourse to our tests, to secure a full condemnation of all games of chance. Their very frivolousness, apart from their profanity, is at variance with the dignity of the Christian character, and utterly at variance with the desire of conformity to our great Exemplar. Many of you may be acquainted with the severe reproof which the celebrated philosopher Locke administered to certain British noblemen, and which well illustrates this point. “One day,” says his biographer, “three or four of these lords having met at lord Ashley’s, when Mr. Locke was there; after some compliments cards were brought in, before scarce any conversation had passed between them. Mr. Locke looked upon them for some time while they were at play; and taking his pocket-book, began to write with great attention. One of the lords observing him, asked him what he was writing. ‘My lord,’ says he, ‘I am endeavouring to profit as far as I am able in your company; for, having waited with patience for the honour of being in an assembly of the greatest geniuses of this age, and at last having obtained the good fortune, I thought I would not do better than write down you conversation, and indeed I have set down the substance of what has been said for this hour or two. The noblemen saw the ridicule, quitted their play, and entering into rational discourse, spent the rest of their time in a manner more suitable to their character.” Thus far, as respects the mere frivolousness of games of chance. Indulge me with another short extract from a different author, bearing on their inconsistency with the moral and eternal interests of immortal beings. The Vicar of Harrow has an admirable satire, entitled, ‘A World without Souls.’ And truly I may say that games of chance are adapted only to such a world, a world without souls; for whenever men come to feel that they have souls, and to appreciate in the light of the cross and eternity their true worth, such frivolous pastimes will be discarded for ever. In the satire in question, the author introduces the following scene: “A part of the room was planted with tables, at which usually four persons were seated. Each person held in his hand certain oblong papers, mysteriously spotted, which he seemed to take up for the very important purpose of laying down again. Their silence was almost without interruption; but the faces of some of them, in which fatigue, anger, disappointment, and avarice, were painted, the cloud of the eye, the curl of the nose, the storm of the brow, were sufficiently expressive of the state of their minds. If these persons had souls, said Gustavus, and consumed as they seem to do three hours per diem of the twelve in this employment, what a curious article it would form in the book of final account! Item, One fourth of life spent in watching painted papers.”[3]

I have thus specified a few of those things which pass usually under the name of amusements, and have brought them to the touchstone of sound religious principle. The enumeration might easily have been extended. I might have spoken, for example, of the Billiard Table, which, though not ranking with games of chance in the ordinary acceptation of that phrase, is, nevertheless, equally objectionable on the score of waste of time, and of liability to induce a taste for gambling. I might have spoken of certain books, the light ballad, the licentious poem, the fascinating novel, with all the kindred literary trash which forms the staple of some circulating libraries; productions which can supply no solid food to the mind, and whose natural tendency is to beget a distaste for profitable reading, and to generate a sickly sentimentalism, alike profitless, tormenting, and disgusting, just as the use of certain pernicious stimulants tends to injure the body, and create a disrelish for all wholesome and nutritive diet. I might have spoken of field-sports, as they are called, most, if not all of which it will be difficult to exempt from the charge of cruelty to the inferior animals, being a palpable abuse of that dominion over them with which man was honoured at the creation, consisting, however, not in the harsh and capricious rule of tyrant, but in the gentle and benign care of a master. I might have adverted even to the degrading, the nauseating spectacle of the Prize-fight, which is so undoubted a proof of the superior refinement of the age, and which seems to possess so much that is attractive to our young noblemen, the Honourables and Right Honourables of the land. But these, like those of which we have spoken, every one must perceive, when weighed in the balances of the sanctuary, are entitled to be labeled Tekel, wanting, as one and all of them are, in whatever is fitted to meet man’s insatiable cravings after happiness, and deserving of being put under one common proscription.

“What!” I can fancy that I hear the indignant remonstrance bursting from some youthful bosom, “proscribe all amusements! Deny us all sorts of pleasure, and bind us down, like beasts of burden or crouching slaves, to the dull monotonous routine of commonplace duty!” Not quite so hasty, my young friend. Think not the man an enemy to your happiness who would warn you against seeking it where it never can be found, who would dash in pieces the leaky broken cisterns by which you are deceived and mocked, and thus compel you to have recourse to the fountain of living waters. I am no enemy to human enjoyment, either in theory or practice. I would not subtract a single atom from the sum of your real enjoyments, would not abridge, by a single hair’s breadth, the field of your lawful pleasures. No; I would rather seek to enlarge them. I am far from condemning habitual cheerfulness, or wishing to substitute in its place moroseness and gloom. We not only see no harm, but much good, in occasional seasons of hilarity and sallies of sprightliness and humour. While we would condemn as irrational (and who would not?) a whole lifetime of laughter, we can approve of, and even join with all our heart in a well-timed and right earnest peal of joyous merriment. If you can find pursuits fitted to afford you due relaxation of mind and recreation of body, without being so closely allied to the amusements of the wicked as to confound and incorporate you with a vain and sinful world; pursuits that have no tendency to mar your religious exercises and impede your preparation for an eternal world; which, in one word, involve no violation of Christian principle, far, very far be it from us to interdict such pursuits. At the same time, we must tell you plainly, that for amusements, in the usual acceptation of the term, the men who are most likely to be happy will have least need; and what we would wish, above all things, is to raise you above the necessity of seeking after these, by producing a taste and a relish for pleasures of higher order. The only way in which the pursuits in question ever can amuse, according to the laws of our constitution, is by giving to the mind an opportunity of active yet tranquil exercise. But this may be obtained in other ways which are not so likely to disappoint, and which lie not open to the objection of being productive of no real good beyond themselves. If you then urge (as, after what has been said, we deem you fully entitled to urge,) the natural and legitimate inquiry, Where shall happiness be found, and where is the place of true enjoyment? we regard ourselves as bound to furnish you with an answer. The theatre says, “It is not in me;” and the card-table, the race-course, the ball-room, each in its turn, gives back the same doleful negation; and after you have gone round the full circle of worldly expedients, reiterating at each turn your demand, “Where shall happiness be found? you will still, my young friends, find yourselves doomed to the mockery of the echo which answers, “Where?” But if you are only sincere in the desire you have expressed, and willing to be guided by the light of reason and God’s word, we shall not despair of returning a satisfactory answer to your question.

Study then, we would say, first of all to acquire a taste for the works of Nature. In the contemplation of these you have a source of pure and true enjoyment. The very exercise required to bring you among them, the walk or ride that must be taken before you can escape from “the stir of commerce,” and have it even in your power to “gaze at nature in her green array,” is it itself fitted, by its health-giving influence, to contribute not a little to cheerfulness and vivacity. The scenes themselves, too, are fitted to impart happiness; while the reflections to which, from their delightful correspondency and appropriate uses, they are apt to give rise, and the sentiments of admiration and gratitude they cannot fail to awaken, together with the moral and even spiritual ideas with which they stand associated, are all calculated to give additional zest to the delight.  

“The spleen is seldom felt where Flora reigns.”

 A taste for such innocent enjoyments will draw you away form grosser pleasures, and at the same time exert a happy influence on both your intellectual and moral powers. The taste for the beauties of the external world is indeed, to some extent, natural to every bosom, as is evinced by the delight a ramble into the country never fails to afford to the young. But, although natural, it may be cultivated and improved; and in proportion as this takes place, the pleasure it affords must be enhanced. The greatest and best of men have been distinguished by their love of nature. The man after God’s own heart “considered the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars which he had ordained.” He who was wiser than all men, and whose fame was in all nations round about, disdained not to “speak of trees, from the cedar tree that was in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” The celestial hierarchy weave into their sublime devotions the ascription, “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created!” And He who is our great pattern has not only consecrated the whole field of nature to spiritual purposes, but himself must have been a close observer of outward objects, as his frequent allusions to the flocks of sheep, the flight of birds, the lilies of the field, and the aspects of the sky, abundantly manifest. Think it not, then, beneath you to seek enjoyment in the field of nature. To him who has acquired a taste for its beauties, a vernal or autumnal, nay, even a winter walk, will yield more exquisite delight, more true satisfaction, than the epicure ever derived from the richest or most magnificent banquet. And the natural relish of such enchanting scenes will be a thousand-fold increased if you are happy enough to have that conscious sense of relationship to the Almighty Maker of the whole, which can entitle you, as you “look abroad into the varied field of nature,” to


“Lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,

And smiling say, My Father made them all.


And should any here manifest a disposition to depreciate this source of enjoyment, or presume to put in comparison with it even the most refined of those amusements of which we have formerly spoken, we would take leave to bring forward the remonstrance of one whose high character and refined taste, apart from the exquisite beauty of his stanzas, give it a high claim on our regard:


“O, how canst thou renounce the boundless store

Of charms which Nature to her votary yields?

The warbling woodland, the resounding shore,

The pomp of groves, and garniture of fields;

All that the genial ray of morning gilds,

And all that echoes to the song of even,

All that the mountain’s sheltering bosom shields,

And all the dread magnificence of heaven;

O how canst thou renounce, and hope to be forgiven?”[4]


It was the possession of this taste for natural beauties, my young hearers, that enabled the Grecian bard, of old, amid the shipwreck of his fortune, to exclaim, in noble independence, I have lost nothing. “Well he knew,” says one who had himself realized the feeling, “well he knew that winds and waves would not waft from him his muse. They might fling him in mid ocean, and one single, solitary rock, amid the wilderness of waters might be his home; yet even there the Muse would follow. She would seat him on the topmost crag, and place all the grandeur of the sky and ocean beneath his dominion. He would exult in the terrors of the deep, and hold mysterious converse with the Genius of the storm. The very desolation that surrounded him would minister to his pleasures and add a fearful enthusiasm to his contemplation.”[5]

This naturally leads me to recommend the acquisition of useful knowledge. You have already heard much, and well, of mental culture. It is deserving of attention as a source of happiness, as well as on other accounts. “That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good;” not good in any respect, and, of course, not good as regards the capacity and means of enjoyment. The very exercise of man’s intellectual powers is itself delightful, apart from the mental stores such exercise enables him to amass; while these stores, again, apart from the pleasure they directly yield, both increase the stimulus and enlarge the capacity of further exercise and enjoyment. It is not, then, in the mere light of a duty that we would recommend mental culture, but as a source of happiness. Give yourselves to reading. Seek in books, and in literary and scientific pursuits, for which this favoured city affords so many facilities, what others seek, and seek in vain, in frivolous amusements or the haunts of dissipation. Give attention to history and biography, by which you may come to an acquaintance with the events of other times, and be enabled to converse with the spirits of the mighty dead. Writings on natural history and experimental philosophy, will give you an agreeable and profitable familiarity with the works of God. let your plan embrace treatises of systematic and practical divinity, by which your minds may be rendered conversant with the sublimest of all truths, those, namely, which relate to the gracious character of God, the moral economy of the universe, and the facts and principles of the Christian redemption; and by which also you may be fitted for the duties and trials of human life. In addition to these, you will do well to seek an intimacy with the verses of some of our best poets, among whom I would venture to name, as both pleasing and safe, Milton, Cowper, Wordsworth, and James Montgomery. And whatever you peruse, bear in mind the advice of Lord Bacon, “Read, not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.”

By such means as these ,there will be opened to you fountains of pure enjoyment, which cannot fail to produce a disrelish for the vapid pleasures to which persons of less cultivated minds are addicted. “Studies serve for DELIGHT,” not less than “for ornament and for ability.” That intellectual cultivation is fitted to afford exquisite delight, is well attested by the ardour with which men of taste pursue their literary studies; by the preference they give to their favourite lucubrations, over the most splendid formalities of fashionable company, and the tumultuous pleasures of the chase; and by the spontaneous bursts of irresponsible joy to which they give vent even in their moments of deepest solitude, on the occurrence of any brilliant conception or important discovery. Nor must it be supposed that this pleasure is confined to men who hold a high place in the walks of mental culture and attainment. No. We can easily conceive that the humble artisan, who has acquired a taste for reading, and who, after the toils of the day, sits down of an evening in the midst of his family with his book, it may be only a tract, may experience emotions, akin in nature, perhaps not much inferior in degree, to those which drew from the geometrician of Syracuse the enraptured “I have found it!” and rendered him insensible to the presence of the enemies who plundered his city. It is wise, therefore, by making sure of internal resources, to render yourselves, as far as possible, independent, with regard to happiness, of things that are without. Let the well-spring of our joys be in your own bosoms. Thus will you have it in your power to dispense with riches, honour, amusements. You will find them to be unnecessary; the want of them will not greatly affect your pleasures; you will be happy without them. No calamity by which you may be bereft of such things will be able to render you miserable: and, instead of turning everywhere with the imploring cry of felt vacuity and unsatisfied craving, “Who will show us any good?” you will realize in your own experience the truth of that striking saying of Holy Writ, “A good man is satisfied from himself.

Again, let me say to you, if you would be happy frequent the society of the intelligent and the virtuous. Not merely your intellectual improvement and moral well-being, but your happiness, is dependent much on the choice you make of companions, a subject to which, also, your attention has been with great propriety already directed. It is a fixed and invariable law of our nature, that certain states and changes should be brought about by mind acting upon mind in the common intercourse of life. So much is this the case, and I would solicit your special attention to the remark, that, although we have it fully our power to determine what society we shall keep, we have it not at all in our power to decide what influence the society that we keep shall put forth upon us. Whoever therefore would be happy, must give good heed to his companionships. He who, in the beginning, pronounced it not good for man to be alone, has chosen to place us in a state of mutual dependence on one another for our welfare and happiness. Some of the purest and highest of our enjoyments spring from the indulgence of the social affections. But if you deliberately connect yourselves with persons of frivolous minds or vicious habits, persons who are not happy themselves, and of course not qualified to make others happy, you must not be surprised that you reap the bitter fruits of such association. Form intimacies only with the well-instructed and the good. Beware of becoming the companions of fools. Make companions only of those with whom you would desire to be eternally associated. Take care never to receive to your hearts as bosom friends any whose intercourse will not tend to strengthen your minds, brighten your imaginations, cultivate your affections, or call into active and useful operations the social sympathies of your nature, and thus augment necessarily and infallibly the sum of your real enjoyments.

Allow me, still further, to recommend to the young to make conscience of doing their duty, and of employing themselves in deeds of benevolence. Let me assure you, that true happiness depends more on the ordinary occupations and incidents of everyday occurrence, than on any sources of occasional temporary excitement. Everyone has his own sphere of appropriate employment; and in doing your duty within that sphere, you will experience a calm, tranquil, permanent, solid satisfaction, which you will seek for in vain in the giddy scenes of fashionable resort. So employed, you cannot be unhappy, as it is impossible for you to be happy if this is neglected. It may be regarded as an incontrovertible moral axiom, that to be usefully, is to be happily, occupied. And let be it your aim to be useful to others as well as to yourselves. Devote yourselves to deeds of benevolence. It is a duty to be benevolent; but it is pleasure too. We have been so constituted, in great wisdom and goodness, as that the exercise of the benevolent affections should be itself a high gratification. The pleasure of pleasing has even become proverbial. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In such a city as this, there is no lack of opportunities of being useful to others. In conducting Sabbath schools; in collecting for Bible and Missionary associations; in distributing tracts; in visiting the poor and the sick; in giving instruction to the ignorant, and warning to the thoughtless, and counsel to those who are in difficulty; in these, and a thousand other ways, to scope afforded for the exercise of a benevolent disposition. No one can plead excuse here. If there be only the disposition, there will not be wanting a sphere appropriate to the nature and degree of your talents. Next to being blessed, the greatest privilege for which we have to be thankful, is that of being made a blessing. Strive, then, to do all the good in your power to the bodies and the souls of your fellow-men. Be solicitous of leaving the world better than you found it. “Deliver the poor that crieth, and the fatherless, and him that hath none to help him. Be eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; and let the blessing of him that is ready to perish come upon you. To do good and to communicate forget not. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” It is the will of God that “no man should live to himself.” Happy, then, you can never be, if you detach yourselves from your fellow-men, and wrap yourselves up in the folds of a hateful selfishness. Amusements are essentially selfish. Everyone seeks them on his own account, not that of others. Even those of them that are social cannot be called benevolent. They all tend to concentrate the thought of the person who pursues them very much on himself. There is nothing about them calculated to take men out of themselves, and to cause the warm current of charity to diffuse and expand itself over a wide surface. They teach no lessons of self-abandonment. They thus disregard that established law of Heaven, by which holy creatures to being happy are required to be useful, a law which extends to angels themselves, one of the conditions of whose felicity consists in their being “sent forth to minister to them who are to be heirs of salvation.” Think not that you can be happy on other conditions than those on which angels are happy. And, in addition to the case of saints and of angels, bear in mind that of the Son of God himself, whose meat and drink it was to do the benevolent will of Him that sent him, who for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich, and who went continually about doing good.

In fine, let me exhort you, above all, to the study of personal religion. There can be no real enjoyment for fallen man without piety. There are, indeed, such things as the pleasures of sin, but they are vapid and evanescent; the tendency and end of them all are vanity and vexation of spirit. True happiness springs from the full and right occupation of all the faculties of our nature; and there is nothing adequate to accomplish this, except religion, the knowledge, the love, the service of God. The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, that is happiness. “It is life eternal to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.” Religion provides an antidote to every source of pain or uneasiness, to the curse of the law, the accusations of conscience, the turbulence of evil passions, the displeasure of God. It secures, besides, whatever can impart positive pleasure, enlightenment of understanding, peace of mind, comfort in affliction, communion with God, assurance of glory. It cherishes humility, inspires penitence, awakens gratitude, fills the soul with holy joy, and holds out the prospect of an eternity of bliss. It can strip disease of its languor, and rob pain of its sting; it can impart serenity in the midst of dangers, and composure in the midst of enemies; it can light up a cheering lamp in the darkest chamber of sorrow, and, even amid the gloom of death itself, can enable to descry a land of perfect and never-ending rest. This is a source of happiness, of which disease, affliction, death, nay even the final judgment, cannot deprive you; and which will prove itself available when gay and fashionable amusements will leave you to wring out the bitter dregs of disappointment and remorse. Make this, then, your first, your grand pursuit. So long as you are strangers to true religion, you will be strangers to true happiness. The amusements of the world will not only involve you in guilt, but debase your moral taste; whereas religion will not only enable you to avoid what is criminal, but elevate and ennoble you in the scale of real excellence. Pleasure, the more it is followed, the less it will satisfy; religion, the more it is cultivated, the more it will enlarge both the capacity and the sources of enjoyment. Have done, then, for ever with the accursed idolatry of the world. No longer seek the living among the dead. “Why spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not?” Forsake, forthwith and for ever, the broken cisterns. Go directly to the Fountain of living waters. Seek communion with God through an interest in Christ. From this will spring right principles, sanctified affections, pure desires, holy habits, correct morals, celestial tempers, heavenly aspirations; and the pleasures flowing from these are real, exquisite, lasting, blissful. They will not only compensate you for the want, but disqualify you for the pursuit, of vain amusements, even as the attainments of manhood unfit for the recreations of infancy. “When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

But may we not be happy without religion? some of your may be disposed to ask. Fearlessly we reply, No. Whoever would persuade you that you can, is your worst enemy. There can be no holiness, you will admit, without religion: and, by an eternal law in the moral constitution of the universe, there is no happiness without holiness. To be “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God,” is the surest way to be miserable. It is only Wisdom’s ways that are ways of pleasantness. “The innocent are gay.”

“Pleasure is nought but virtue’s gayer name.”[6]

If you would be happy as God is happy, you must seek to be made holy as He is holy. What man needs, in order to be happy, is not a change of circumstances, but a change of heart. He wants that renovating and sanctifying principle of divine grace within, which will produce a superiority to, and disrelish for, outward pleasures, and bring him back to the Chief Good from which he has so widely wandered. Let God but “lift up upon him the light of his countenance,” and there is an end for ever to the cry, “Who will show us any good?” and a sure foundation laid for the acknowledgement, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than in the time when corn and wine increased.”

Accommodating what Lord Bacon says of knowledge and learning to religion, we may say, “For the pleasure and delight of religion, it far surpasseth all other in nature. We see in all other pleasures there is satiety, and after they be used their verdure departeth; which showeth well they be but deceits of pleasure, and not pleasures; and that it was the novelty which pleased, and not the quality. But of religion there is no satiety, but satisfaction and appetite are perpetually interchangeable: and therefore appeareth to be good in itself simply, without fallacy or accident.”[7]

Allow not yourselves to be deceived by the world’s incessant outcry that religion is a gloomy thing. We have already furnished you with the means of refuting this senseless, groundless, heartless calumny. Who, we ask, are the men by whom it is framed and circulated? You never heard a religious person say so. The charge proceeds from the world. And what, pray, know the men of the world on such a subject? You would not take the opinion of the blind respecting colours, or the opinion of the deaf respecting sounds: and will you take the opinion of the irreligious respecting religion?[8] Men who are strangers to the experiences of religion, are utterly disqualified for determining whether it be gloomy or pleasurable. They can judge, you may say, from appearances. But this is not a thing to be judged of by outward appearances. Appearances are in nothing more liable to deceive. We shall mistake egregiously if we regard the boisterous merriment of the world as indicative of true happiness, or the gravity and seriousness of religious men as signs of inward gloom; for the most tumultuous expressions of animal joy may often serve only to conceal a sad and a heavy heart, and it consists with the heartfelt experience of thousands, that solemnity may characterise the exterior when within are the deepest fountains of placid, holy, heavenly gladness. He who pronounced

“The broadest mirth unfeeling folly wears,

Less pleasing far than virtue’s very tears,”

spoke not more truly than he who described the happiness of the world as

“Moody madness, laughing wild

Amid severest woe.” 

Oh! can there be, to rational and moral beings, a sight more heart-rendering than that of persons, void of religion, spending their time in thoughtless follies and obstreperous merriment; afraid to die, yet scorning the purpose for which they live! Persons who have religion will have no taste for the amusements of the world; and persons who have it not, what we demand, in the name of outraged reason and common sense, what have they to do with amusements? You would be shocked at a criminal, under sentence of death, spending his few last moments on frivolous diversions; and is it less shocking that immortal beings, lying under the frown of God’s anger and standing on the verge of perdition, having no relation to the Father or mercies, unsprinkled with the blood of atonement, without Christ in the world, and placed, withal, amid the thickflying shafts of death; that such should be eagerly going after amusements! O what have they to do with amusements, who may this moment be hurried away into the presence of the righteous Judge, and the next may be doomed to listen to the thundering sentence of exclusion, “Depart from me,” and the next again may lift up their eyes in hell! Ah! my young friends, “Eternity for bubbles” will prove, at last, “a senseless bargain!”

Young men! be strong; let the word of God abide in you; overcome the wicked one: and you shall be saved from such dreadful infatuation! Amen.


[1] Sermon by Dr. Chalmers on the death of Dr. Andrew Thomson, p. 17.

[2] See ‘Lovers of Pleasure,’ &c., by Andrew Thomson, D. D.

[3] On the subject of Games of Chance I beg to recommend a small work, entitled ‘Games of Chance Unlawful,’ which was republished some time ago from an American journal.

[4] Beattie’s Minstrel, book i, stan. 9.

[5] Wolfe’s Remains.

[6] Young.

[7] ‘Advancement of Learning.’

[8] The opinion of a man of the world respecting the pleasures of religion is not likely to be more worthy of regard than that of the blind man, who, on being asked what he thought scarlet was like, expressed himself, after some deliberation, to the effect, that it was like the sound of a trumpet.