STATED AND ILLUSTRATED
2 TIMOTHY iii. 4.
REV. ANDREW THOMSON, A.M.
MINISTER OF ST. GEORGE’S, EDINBURGH.
PRINTED FOR WILLIAM BLACKWOOD, PRINCE’S STREET:
AND T. CADELL AND W. DAVIES, STRAND,
ST. GEORGE’S CHURCH, EDINBURGH,
WITH GREAT RESPECT,
THEIR AFFECTIONATE PASTOR,
2 Timothy iii. 4. last clause.
“Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Whether the times in which we live, be the “perilous times” spoken of by the Apostle in this chapter, it is not our present intention to inquire. This much, at least, is certain and indisputable, that every one part of the description which he here gives, to whatever period of the world or of the church it refers, involves in peril every individual to whom it correctly applies. And it is too obvious, that, in our day, there are not a few professing Christians, of whose character the words of my text delineate a leading and predominant feature.
It is no doubt a serious charge against any who profess to be Christians, to say, that they are “lovers of pleasures more than they are lovers of God.” And, if directed to them personally and individually, it would be apt, even though they were conscious of its truth, to excite no small portion of resentment and indignation.
The Scripture, however, declares, that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” [Rom. iii. 23.] and the history of the church demonstrates, that the profession of Christianity is frequently maintained by those who are leading worldly and wicked lives. Our sinfulness manifests itself in a variety of forms, o our peculiar dispositions, and temptations, and habits, and circumstances; but every varied form in which our sinfulness appears, tends to establish the same melancholy statement respecting our spiritual condition. And as it is of vast consequence that we should be made sensible of our spiritual condition, and as the faithful ministry of the word of God is one means of accomplishing that end, none can be reasonably offended when we illustrate and apply such parts of Scripture as seem calculated to unfold to them their real state, and demerit, and danger. Although the disclosure may be painful, it may also be salutary. And therefore those who are instrumental in making it, should not be regarded as acting either an unkind or an officious part.
It should also be considered, that “the heart is deceitful above all things;” [Jer. xvii. 9.] and that self-deception operates with peculiar force and effect, in the case of those practices from which we are accustomed to derive our chief enjoyments. So that the sins of which we are least sensible may be the very sins to which we are most addicted, and against which we need to be most plainly warned.
Nor can the subject we are to consider be justly regarded as unseasonable. The preference mentioned in the text, is one to which human nature constantly and powerfully leans. In past ages, the love of pleasure has been a striking characteristic of fallen man, and the fertile source of misery to individuals, and families, and communities. And from all that we see, and hear, and read of the maxims and manners of the present times, it cannot surely be alleged, that the tendency of human nature has become, in this respect, less decided or less alarming. Suffer me, then, in the first place, to point out to you, in a few particulars, the characters implied in the language of my text. And, in the second place, to call your attention to the folly, the guilt, and the danger which belong to such characters.
I. WE ARE FIRST TO POINT OUT THE CHARACTERS IMPLIED IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE TEXT. THEY ARE “LOVERS OF PLEASURES MORE THAN LOVERS OF GOD.”
1. And here, it must be observed, in the first place, that these words are unquestionably descriptive of all who indulge in pleasures which are sinful in their own nature—in pleasures which are expressly prohibited by the divine law.
The great principle of moral obedience, as laid down to us in the divine law itself, is love to God. [Deut. vi. 5. and Matt. xxii. 37.] And “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” Every gratification, therefore, in which we violate any of these, affords a decisive proof, either that this affection has no place at all, or that it holds but a very subordinate place, in our hearts.
It will not do to say, that the pleasures to which we are devoted, are far from being the grossest and most debasing of those which prevail in the world—that they have the voice of fashion to comment and to sanction them—that we do not go so far in them as many others around us who have greater professions—that the temptations which they hold out to us are peculiarly strong—that, if their consequences be mischievous, they hurt nobody but ourselves—and that we have virtuous or benevolent qualities in our conduct, by which all that is wrong in them is more than counterbalanced.
These allegations are frequently offered by such as habitually “serve diverse lusts and pleasures,” [Tit. iii. 3.] in order to extenuate or to justify their conduct. But they derive no countenance or support from the records or the statutes of Scripture morality. And they totally lose sight of the only feature of those practices they are adduced to vindicate, which, comparatively speaking, is worthy of being kept in view; namely, their contrariety to the revealed will of heaven. In all circumstances, and in every degree, they are forbidden by the authority of God. And not only has he denounced against them the threatenings of his wrath; he has also entreated us, by his mercies, to resist their influence, and keep ourselves from their pollutions. He has sent his own Son, to “deliver us from that bondage of corruption” under which they have hitherto held us. He has appointed the Holy Spirit to purify our minds from those desires in which they originate, and to subdue those habits which they have already produced. And as it is the precept of his word that we deny ourselves to every one of them, so it is the direct object of the whole of hit system of grace under whose operation he has placed us, to encourage and assist us in the exercise of the self-denial which he prescribes. If, after all this, we still allow them to “have dominion over us,” then surely it cannot be denied, that we are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” We permit the pleasures of sin to be competitors with God for our attachment. And, what is more, we permit them to succeed in the competition, and to occupy the throne on which he alone is entitled to sit and reign.
Examine yourselves, then, my friends; and see whether the pleasures in which you indulge be inherently criminal. If they be so, then you cannot hesitate a moment in admitting that the text applies to you. Do not cherish self-deception, by fixing your regard on the grossly and openly licentious part of mankind, as if it could only be affirmed of them; or as if sin only deserved the name, when it assumed its more hideous and disgusting forms. It is true, we observe too many sacrificing every thing that is good and honourable at the shrine of vicious indulgence, and making it their sole business to gratify their unhallowed appetites without measure and without remorse. But then, while others cannot doubt, they themselves would not think of denying, that they are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” They are not ashamed of being lovers of pleasure; they make no secret of it; they glory in it. But they have no pretensions to be “lovers of God;” “God is not in all their thoughts,” [Ps. x. 4.] as he is not in all their ways.
Do not imagine, however, that because the text unequivocally embraces the character of such sensualists and profligates as these, its application to you who have not gone quite so far, is either ambiguous or unfair. The simple fact, that you are addicted to sinful pleasure, is sufficient, upon the principles of the Bible, to include you in the guilt and condemnation of this scripture. Remember, that there is no concord, and can be none, between God and sin. You cannot love, and you cannot serve both. You may be attempting to do so; but success is impossible. You may be hugging yourselves in the idea, that you are moderate in the indulgence which you give to your passions: But if God prohibits it altogether, can you be said to love him with sincerity, when you deliberately disregard his prohibition, and give to another object any portion of that affection, which he requires exclusively to himself? You may not be open and shameless in your unlawful gratifications: But know you not, that the eye of God penetrates the recesses of your heart, and follows you into your darkest and deepest retreats, and demands that you shall be pure there, as well as in the light of day, and in the face of the world You may come regularly to his house of prayer—you may even lend your assistance to the propagation of his word and Gospel throughout the world: But what avails it, when you straightway go to contradict his will and dishonour his law, and to fulfil your own inordinate desires, at the expense of that unreserved submission which you owe to his authority? You may be able to boast of having done many good deeds to your fellow-men: But if these proceeded from love to God, (and they were not good unless they did so,) how comes it that the same principle does not constrain you to mortify your irregular propensities; or how is your wilful indulgence of these, in any case, to be reconciled with devotedness of soul to Him who has commanded you to restrain and to subdue them?
No, my friends, such pleas as these are unsubstantial and vain. They are consistent neither with reason nor Scripture. They are the mere efforts of a conscience trying to relieve itself from compunctions occasioned by a sense of guilt. They are arguments forced into the service of sin, by a mind that is perversely anxious to continue the enjoyments of which it knows it should never have partaken. And you must beware of yielding to the delusion with which they would soon overwhelm all your better feelings. Whatever you may be in other respects, yet, if in one point you are wilfully indulging yourselves in gratifications which the divine law forbids, you are among those whom the words of my text are intended to delineate; and whatever be the folly, whatever be the guilt, whatever be the danger implied in it, you are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
2. In the second place, The text describes those who indulge in innocent pleasures improperly or to excess.
Our heavenly Father has opened up to us many sources of sinless enjoyment, in this the land of our pilgrimage. And a moderate and seasonable application to these, is at once an expression of gratitude to Him by whose kindness they are provided, and a means of fitting us for engaging with spirit and advantage in more serious occupations. Considered in this modified and regulated view, nothing would attempt to shut us out from them, but ignorance of the nature and condition of man, and most unwarrantable views of the nature and obligations of true religion. They are furnished by God himself, for our use and our satisfaction; and when we go to them under the government of good principle, and indulge in them, only so far as their purpose is duly served, we do nothing that is incompatible with the supreme regard which we owe to Him.
But the case is quite altered, when the pleasures of life, however unexceptionable in themselves, are abused or carried to excess. They are no longer innocent; or rather, we are no longer innocent, who, in our pursuit of them, overleap those bounds which the maxims of reason and of the Gospel have prescribed. And the moment we enter upon forbidden ground, that moment we shew that the object for which we have done so, is preferred by us to the favour and the honour of Him by whom the prohibition has been issued. We then, either directly or indirectly, fail in the duty which God imposes upon us, as the subjects of his moral government, and the expectants of his heavenly kingdom. We are mindful, not of what pleases him, but only of what pleases ourselves. Instead of receiving with contentment and thankfulness the indulgences which he has seen proper to grant us, we go on to enjoy them in a way, and to an extent, which we cannot doubt will offend him deeply; because he has said, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther.” And thus abusing the bounties of his providence, and transgressing the limits which he has fixed, and listening to the voice of temptation, rather than to the voice of his authority, we give evident proof that we are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
We are authorised to apply a still stricter rule. The divine injunction runs in these terms, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” Now, when we consider that our supreme, or rather our whole affection is required in such absolute terms, it is not to be questioned, that a much lower degree of attachment to the pleasures of the world than what is commonly felt, will place us among those to whom the Apostle refers. Not only must our esteem for these be infinitely less than the regard that we should study to cherish towards our heavenly Father; but our indulgence in them must be always in subserviency to his will and glory. So that if, in our eagerness to enjoy them, we neglect or lose sight of this paramount object, we are plainly chargeable with the delinquency mentioned in the text.
My friends, I would press upon you this view of the subject, for it is here that you are most likely to be deceived. When the gratification to which you are tempted is radically and obviously sinful, you can be on your guard against it from the very first. It carries the stamp of guilt upon its very front. At the moment it invites you to approach, it warns you of the precipice over which you are about to fall. And perceiving that it never was, and never can be lawful, you are fixed in an attitude of firm resistance, from which it will be difficult to displace you. But when the gratification is once clothed in the garb of innocence, and you have tasted of its sweets, you are unwilling to think that it can ever assume any other dress. What was allowable to-day, you will conclude to be just as allowable tomorrow. What was right and proper in others, you will presume must be right and proper in you. What was expedient in certain circumstances, and in a certain degree, you will be reluctant to admit, may not be expedient in all circumstances, and in every degree. And in this manner, you will be likely to flatter yourselves into the conviction, that what is at this moment innocent, can never become criminal.
Such we believe to be a very common practical error; and to this cause we attribute, in a great measure, the prevalence of that character which our text describes.
The young, in particular, to whose period of life it is natural to be gay and susceptible, who readily cherish the notion, that it is not only allowable, but becoming in them, to be rather merry than serious, and, who would scarcely think themselves prepared for the sedateness of advanced years, but by a crowded course of amusements and of pleasures in their earlier days—the young easily go into the delusion, that they may indulge, without limit, and without controul, in those enjoyments against which there is no express prohibition.
The old, too, in the recollection of former times, and under the influence of former habits, though they may be forced to a different class, and confined to a narrower range of pleasure, seem to have similar conceptions of their lawfulness, and to think themselves entitled to persevere in the pursuit of them as long, and to as great an extent, as they have a mind; provided only they be not forbidden by name in any part of the decalogue.
Very little reflection, indeed, is necessary to discover, that in all this there is a grievous mistake. But, alas! the mistake is frequently committed; and the reflection is seldom made. And therefore it is, that in these days of thoughtless and general dissipation, I would urge it upon you to remember, that pleasures, however innocent in themselves, may be carried to a criminal excess; that it may be useful for you to consider how far you have been heretofore observant of this principle in morals; and that on every occasion on which you are hereafter asked or tempted to indulge in the gaieties and amusements of life, you should pause and inquire at your own hearts, whether the word of divine truth does not justly describe you in these terms—“lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
If you ask me how this can be the case, when you keep to enjoyments that are lawful and harmless, I will tell you, by offering to your consideration a few examples—requesting you to bear in mind, that love to God is always to be proved and measured by obedience to his will, diligence in his service, and endeavours to promote his glory.
Now, is it not equally the language of nature and of revelation, that God requires you to provide for your own household? If then, instead of fulfilling this obligation, you squander upon your pleasures that property which should have ministered to the comfort, and secured the independence of your families—obtained for them the benefits of a useful or liberal education, and assisted them in the pursuits of honourable ambition—that is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Does not God command you to be merciful to the poor, and kind to all your brethren? If, then, you shall spend on your pleasures, what should have gone to relieve their wants, and to advance their welfare; if, instead of “giving them alms of such things as you have,” and contributing to their temporal prosperity, you “waste your substance in riotous living,” or in providing those luxuries and gratifications that “perish with the using”—that is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Is it not the precept of God’s word, that you “redeem the time,” and be diligent in “working out your salvation?” If, then, you devote to your pleasures, the precious hours that should have been devoted to employments so urgent, so interesting, and so momentous—that is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Is it not prescribed to you, that you shall faithfully observe the ordinances of religion? If, then, you pursue your pleasures so far as to encroach on the sanctity of the Sabbath—to neglect the exercise of prayer—to forget the reading of the Scriptures—to “forsake the assembling of yourselves together”—that is to. be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Are you not exhorted to guard against those temptations which might endanger your fidelity to God, and lead you to transgress his law? If, then, in the pursuit of pleasure, you shall enter into scenes, and mingle in entertainments which tend to corrupt the purity, and cool the piety of your minds—that is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Should not you be very jealous of the divine honour and authority—that the one may not be insulted, nor the other set at defiance? If, then, for your pleasure, you countenance exhibitions and representations in which the name of the Lord is wantonly profaned, his word exposed to ridicule, and the loose morality of the world boldly substituted for the dictates of his righteous will—that is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Is it not a sacred duty, for the right discharge of which you must be responsible to the great parent of all, to “walk in your house with a perfect heart,” and faithfully attend to the improvement, and virtue, and comfort of those whom God and nature have committed to your care? If, then, in the incessant chase of pleasure, you shall, day after day, and night after night, expose them to all the fascinations of folly, or leave them to their own wild misrule, or set them an example of idle dissipation, which they will take the first opportunity to imitate—that is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Should not a regard to the divine authority, and to the interests of practical godliness, lead you to deny yourselves to personal indulgence, whenever such a sacrifice is required, for the advancement of these objects? If, then, you shall engage in exercises or amusements, which, though not sinful of themselves, are yet calculated, from your situation, or character, or influence, to betray others into error, or afford them a handle for abusing what, in your individual case, was justifiable and proper; and if you thus sacrifice the prosperity of religion among your friends and neighbours to your own selfish gratification—that is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Can you be sensible of the value and necessity of the Gospel of the grace of God, without being sensible, at the same time, how incumbent it is upon you to do what you can for propagating that which, in its doctrine, and in its plan, and in its effects, redounds so much to the divine glory, and to the happiness of man? If, then, in the midst of your pleasures, you forget this transcendently important object—if upon these you consume the time, and the efforts, and the means by which you might have blessed thousands of your fellow-creatures with the knowledge of salvation—or if, by their degrading influence, you have become a hindrance instead of a help to the progress of “pure and undefiled religion” in the world—that also is to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
I mention these as specific illustrations of the general statement. Many more instances might have been adduced for that purpose. But these are sufficient to shew what is meant by the excessive or the improper use of pleasures that are innocent in themselves, fixing upon you the character described in the text. Let me exhort you to ascertain, without delay, how far any of them, or any modification of them, may be applicable to your conduct. Inquire not only whether the pleasures to which you are attached be lawful, but whether, being so, you have used them lawfully—whether you may not have carried them to excess—whether you may not have allowed some of them occasionally, or perhaps frequently, to interfere with the performance of religious and moral duties. And do not attempt to hide the truth from your own minds: But if, in the words of my text, you find the image of yourselves, let the conviction, however humbling and however painful, go deep into your hearts—that you are indeed “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
3. In the third and last place, The text describes those who enter with greater eagerness and relish into the pleasures of the world, than into the exercises and pleasures of religion.
We do not suppose such persons to be altogether irreligious. They would be extremely indignant were we to apply such an epithet to them. And we would not willingly take from them a single portion of that, of which, by the most liberal mode of judging, they can claim so very little. But, though they are not altogether irreligious, still you may perceive from their manner, their conversation, and their conduct, that religion, even in the limited extent to which they profess it, holds but a very inferior place in their regard, when it comes into competition with their darling pleasure.
Invite them to a participation of some favourite amusement; and observe with what delight they hear the invitation, and with what readiness they accept of it. But ask them to engage in a sacred exercise, the propriety and usefulness of which they are even forced to acknowledge; and see with what indifference they listen to your request, and with what sluggish reluctance they comply with it, if they comply with it at all.
Talk to them of any diversion in which they have been mingling—and they will speak about it for hours, and their eye will glisten with joy at the recollection of it, and they will expatiate upon all its adventures and its charms, and they will never have done with it, if you will only give them opportunity and encouragement. But try to introduce, with whatever prudence, the subject of religion—try to converse with them about the love of God, to poor fallen creatures, such as they themselves are, about the grand work of their redemption by Jesus Christ, or about the heaven and the immortality to which even they would be thought to aspire, and you have all the conversation to yourselves. Such topics might be tolerable to them in church, or on a Sunday evening, but they are too serious for every day’s discussion. They speak with no interest, no feeling, no rapture, if they speak at all, on themes which command the attention, and awaken the halleluiahs of angels. They become not merely serious but sad, and eagerly endeavour to escape from meditations to which neither their thoughts nor their tongues have ever been accustomed.
See them again actually engaged in the pleasures and amusements to which they are attached. They grudge no expense, no time, no inconvenience, no sacrifice of soul or of body, in order to secure, to diversify, and to perpetuate their indulgence. Every thing they do demonstrates that their whole heart is alive with interest, and expanded with delight.—But look to them when they are called to the discharge of Christian duties; how unwilling! how languid! how slothful? The Sabbath, which commemorates the resurrection of the Saviour, and is the jubilee of his disciples, is to them a weariness. A sermon that unfortunately exceeds the half hour, almost tires them to death. Exhort them to read the Bible, they sit down to it, and rise up from it, as a distasteful task. When they pray, their prayer is anything but communion with God—it is short, and cold, and formal. Request them to give their personal labour to a work of charity—they have not leisure for it. Beg a little from them to assist in sending the Scriptures to the poor and the ignorant—they have no money to spare for such a purpose.
In short, to everything that is spiritual—every thing that has an immediate relation to God—every thing that forms a leading or essential part of the great work of faith and righteousness which he has given them to do—to every thing of this kind they shew, because in truth they feel, a strong aversion; they engage in it with unconcern, not from inclination, but from a regard to form, or at best a dry sense of duty; they derive no satisfaction from it; they abandon it as soon as opportunity occurs, or decency will permit: And thus they exhibit a very marked and striking contrast with the activity, and zeal, and joy, which characterize their attachment to the amusements and gratifications of the world.
Now, my friends, you will understand this delineation—you see the principles on which it proceeds—you see the manner in which it is to be applied. Apply it, then, to yourselves: And though you may not be able to trace the resemblance in every minute particular, yet, if you find it faithful in its leading and substantial features—you cannot deny that whatever be the shame or the consequences, you must be contented to rank with those whom the Apostle condemns as “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
The folly, the guilt, and the danger implied in this character, shall form the subject of another discourse. In the mean while, let the statements that have been made receive your serious attention. Plunge not again into the gaieties of life, without reflecting deeply and impartially on what you have heard from the word of God. If you have even a suspicion that hitherto you have been “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” stop your career, till that suspicion has been disposed of by calm inquiry. And if conscience tells you that it is indeed the case with you, form the resolution at once, and keep it steadily, that you will no longer—no never even once again—yield to the solicitations of the world, or to the dominion of fashion, or to the corrupt tendency of your own heart, but that you will cast away from you all that interposes between you and your God—between your soul and its salvation,—and that you will be devoted entirely and supremely to the fear, and the service, and the glory of Him by whom you are stationed upon earth, and whose favour alone will constitute your felicity in heaven.
2 Timothy iii. 4. last clause.
“Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
In discoursing on these words, we proposed to point out, in the first place, the characters implied in the language of the text: And, in the second place, the folly, the guilt, and the danger which belong to such characters. The first of these heads of discourse we have already discussed; and our attention was turned to the illustration of the three following particulars. First, Those are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” who indulge in pleasures which are sinful in their own nature—which are expressly prohibited by the divine law. Secondly, Those are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” who indulge in innocent pleasures to excess—in a way, and to a degree, which must prove offensive to God and injurious to their own spiritual interests. And, thirdly, Those are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” who enter. with greater eagerness and relish into the pleasures of the world, than into the exercises and pleasures of religion.
II. WE NOW GO ON TO POINT OUT THE FOLLY, THE GUILT, AND THE DANGER OF BEING “LOVERS OF PLEASURES MORE THAN LOVERS OF GOD.”
1. That folly is a leading attribute of this character, is obvious from various considerations. Wisdom unquestionably dictates that we should proportion our affections to the relative value of those objects on which they are set. Objects of small value require but an inconsiderable portion of our regard. Objects of great value, on the other hand, demand a higher degree of attachment. And he is reckoned to act the most prudent part, who can assign to each of them that precise place in his esteem which they are severally entitled to hold. To do this exactly, is perhaps too difficult a task for anyone to perform; but it is certainly an attainment at which every man of sound judgment and good feeling is expected to aim; and it is an attainment which every man of ordinary understanding actually reaches in all the concerns of a present life. He would be accounted a fool who should give all his time and trouble to the acquisition of a mere trifle, while he expended no time, and no trouble, in the pursuit of ends the most splendid and magnificent. But if this be deemed folly, what terms shall we get to express the extent of that folly which characterises those who are “ lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God?” For, in point of real worth, what comparison is there between the two? Are all the most exquisite enjoyments of the world to be put into competition for a moment with the least conceivable measure of interest in the divine favour? Or, rather, is not the difference between them infinite? And why should not that which you would not scruple to denominate folly in the concerns of the world be any thing else than folly in the concerns of religion? Surely, on the principle to which we have referred, it is folly in perfection—it is madness which, in any other case, men would be ashamed to exhibit—to be more anxious to please their own corrupt propensities or idle imaginations, than to please that great Being to whom they owe their existence, and on whom they constantly depend.
Again, to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” is folly, because it is to prefer that which cannot secure real happiness to that which can. It is your object to be happy—to be truly happy to have a happiness suited to your nature, and least liable to be interrupted or impaired. Well then, where shall you go to find it? It is easy to see that if you go to God, the fountain of all good, and put yourselves under his direction, and obtain an interest in his friendship, and engage in those occupations, suited to your intellectual and moral nature, which he prescribes, and walk in those ways into which he guides your steps, and to perseverance in which he has annexed his blessing and his promise, it is easy to see that by this means, if there be any truth in religion, you secure for yourselves the highest, the purest, the most permanent happiness which you can possibly enjoy in the vale of mortality. But the persons mentioned in my text make light of this. They “forsake the fountain of living waters:” And where do they go? We may safely say, that they go to the “broken cisterns which can hold no water.” [Jer. ii. 13.] They have recourse to the pleasures of sin and of sense, which are far from being calculated to satisfy the longings of a rational and immortal soul, constituted, and circumstanced, and destined as the soul of man is.
It is not to be denied, that they have a happiness of their own. But it is the happiness of ignorance and delusion. It is the happiness of the convict sleeping on his irons, and dreaming that he is free. It is the happiness of the maniac chained in his narrow cell, and fancying himself the monarch of the world. Awaken the convict, and he is in bondage still. Let the maniac come to his lucid interval, and he exchanges the crown and the sceptre for poverty, wretchedness, and scorn. In like manner, when he who loves pleasure more than he loves God, is smitten with adversity, how rapidly and how completely do his enjoyments pass away! He loses his worldly substance by misfortune or by extravagance; and, with that, all the resources of gratification are gone, and nothing but a dreary miserable waste is left behind. He is laid on a bed of sickness; and to the wearisome days and sleepless nights which he has to pass there, the pleasures of the world administer no relief—he has no desire for them—he has no relish for them—he has no access to them—his spirit loathes them, and he has no other refuge to flee to. He is deprived by death of those who were dearest to his heart; but what can all the enjoyments and amusements of life do to heal the wound that has been inflicted, or to soothe the sorrows that he feels? Miserable and insufficient comforters are they all. Or if, in the midst of that wantonness, or that insensibility which the immoderate love of pleasure frequently generates, he seeks his consolations in the fascinating and shadowy joys of the world, he is more than ever the victim of folly. When, to assuage his grief for the loss of parent or a child, of a brother or a sister, he betakes himself, not to the word of God, not to the throne of grace, not to the hope of immortality, but to the idle pageantry of a theatre or a ball-room;—if this be not folly in its worst and most disgusting form, then there is no wisdom, to be found in the heart or the habitations of man.
Think also of the uncertainly of those pleasures which the persons mentioned in my text love more than they love God. Though they were much purer, much more exalted, much more accommodated to our nature than they actually are, yet this quality being stamped upon them, renders the preference with which they are treated irrational and absurd. You may have them to-day in the richest variety and abundance, but what security have you for their continuance? None: Tomorrow comes, and they are gone; and gone for ever. A thousand accidents may conspire to take them from you, or to prevent you from finding in them your accustomed gratification. At present you may be rejoicing in all that can minister to the desire, or delight the heart of the sensualist; pleasure in its every charm may be playing around your feelings or your fancy; the whole scene before you may be music to your ear, and beauty to your eye, and pour upon you unnumbered delights; but, in a little month, or in a little moment, the curse of heaven may light upon it, and turn it into a waste and barren wilderness. This may be anticipated from the very nature of worldly pleasures; and the experience of thousands has given truth and reality to the lesson which reason inculcates. And it is here that you would set up your rest!—here that you would fix all your regard!—here, that you would confine your wishes, your happiness, and your hopes! This, indeed, would be pardonable if you had no other resource—if you had nothing more certain to apply to and to rest on. But herein is the folly without excuse, that for these pleasures, unstable as they are unsatisfying, you abandon God. You renounce Him who is unchangeable in his power, and in his willingness, and in his promise to make you blessed. You go from Him who will “never leave nor forsake” those that love and serve him, and who will amply and surely compensate you for all the pleasures to which you may deny yourselves for his sake. And you have recourse to pleasures which not only “perish with the using,” but on whose permanency you are forbidden to rely, by all that reason, and experience, and Scripture tell you, and which may unexpectedly “make to themselves wings,” and leave you equally without pleasure and without God. And beyond all doubt, when we denominate this to be folly,—folly too of the very worst and grossest kind, we are no more mistaken than we should be, were we to accuse that traveller of folly, who would prefer the meteor’s flash, which shone for a little and then suddenly abandoned him to midnight darkness, to the steady, and continued, and increasing light which a morning sun has shed upon his wandering and weary steps.
The folly of being “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” might also be illustrated from the absolute sinfulness of that character. Taking it for granted at present that it is sinful, then its folly is undeniable. For sin is the very essence of folly; and on that account is a convertible term with it in the sacred Scriptures. Sin is rebellion against God; and he who rebels against God must be regarded in every point of view as destitute of true wisdom. His conduct is inconsistent in itself; he cannot possibly succeed in his resistance to Supreme and Almighty power; and he is sure, if he perseveres in it, to bring down upon himself ultimately the vengeance of an offended Deity. So that whatever he may enjoy in this short-lived and fleeting scene, he in the end loses every thing, and gains nothing. And if this be not folly the most infatuated, the most unmingled, the most fatal, there never was, and there never will be folly in the world.
2. Let us now consider the sinfulness or the guilt implied in the character of being “ lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
If these pleasures are inherently criminal, then the guilt of indulging in them is, we may say, self-evident. This is involved in the very statement. But the degree of criminality is much enhanced by the deliberate and settled preference of that which is unholy, to God himself. Even though the object were itself lawful and innocent, yet to give it a higher place in our affection than we give to Him, is indisputably wicked. That wickedness, however, is greatly aggravated, when the object is in its own nature polluted, and wears upon it the mark of his righteous displeasure. There is here a double sin: And it would be well if the lovers of criminal indulgence would seriously reflect on this view of their conduct, and consider what a gross affront they are offering to that Being who is at once possessed of supreme authority, and distinguished by infinite excellence.
But suppose the pleasures to which you are addicted to be inherently innocent, still to be lovers of them more than you are lovers of God, is undeniably to contract guilt. There is in this a natural impropriety, and could we conceive that there is sin where there is no law, we would say, independently of any specific enactment, that it is not only sinful, but “exceeding sinful.” It would be preferring the creature to the Creator—that which is imperfect to that which is adorned with infinite perfection—that which is mean and transitory to that which is great, and exalted, and permanent—that which may make us miserable, but can never make us truly happy, to that by which our distresses are alleviated, our moral improvement promoted, and our eternal felicity secured. In such a preference as this, there is all that debasement and perversity of mind which would lead us to transgress whatever rule our Maker might prescribe to us when it thwarted any of our propensities to unhallowed indulgence. And accordingly we find such rules laid down in Scripture, as not merely to prohibit criminal pleasures, but to forbid us to be lovers of any kind of pleasure more than lovers of God. I allude not to the passage in which my text lies, and in which it is ranked with some of the worst crimes which human nature can commit. I allude to general precepts, in which it is clearly and strongly interdicted in all its forms and in all its degrees. Of these I shall only mention two.
“Love not the world,” says the Apostle John, [1 John ii. 15, 16.] “neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Here we are peremptorily commanded not to set our affections on the world, or on any of its objects and enjoyments: for by doing so we shew that we have not set our affections on Him who made the world, who is worthy of them in all their purity and ardour, and on whom we are expressly enjoined to place them. We have a natural inclination to attach ourselves to the pleasures of the world. There is an affinity between them and our fallen nature. And when we allow them to acquire any ascendancy over our feelings, considerations of a spiritual kind are apt to be forgotten and disregarded. It is to check such a wayward and dangerous tendency that the divine Spirit has dictated such prohibitions as the one that I have just now quoted.
But the great fundamental law which is given for the government of our affections, and by which all the others are to be qualified and explained, is contained in these words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” This lies at the foundation of all religious and moral duty. It is addressed to every individual, and it is binding on every individual. And we cannot thwart it, without violating our most solemn and important obligations as the creatures of God and the subjects of his law. Now, if you be lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, whether these pleasures be criminal or innocent in themselves, you are directly opposing, you are deliberately violating this “first and great commandment.” Instead of giving to God your supreme affection, which he authoritatively demands from you, you give it to the pleasures of the world, from which he as authoritatively requires you to withhold it. And thus you erect the standard of rebellion, as it were on the very spot which he has specially consecrated to himself, and on which he has proclaimed the grand principle of obedience to all his intelligent creatures.
But the guilt in which this involves you does not rest here. It goes into every part of your conduct, in so far as it is influenced by the love of pleasure. If your love of pleasure has prevented you from securing the comfort and independence of your families—if it has shut up your bowels of compassion to the poor and needy—if it has hindered you from redeeming the time and attending to the work of your salvation—if it has kept you back from the ordinances of religion, or made you irregular and in devout in your observance of them—if it has led you into scenes of temptation by which you have been perverted or led astray—if it has induced you to countenance representations and exhibitions that were unfavourable to the interests of religion or of purity—if it has caused you to neglect the welfare of your children and of your household—if it has led you to give offence, or to be an occasion of stumbling to the young, the simple, and the ignorant around you,—or if it has left you no leisure, no inclination, no means for advancing the interests, the knowledge, and the influence of Christianity—then your being “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” not only implies the guilt of disobeying one great general commandment, but comprehends the guilt also of all those specific violations of Christian duty to which this preposterous and melancholy preference has given rise. So that the persons whose character is described in my text have a load of guilt lying upon them, far heavier than what they might at first imagine, or be disposed to admit. But it is vain to conceal the truth. The truth is to produce its effects only when it is revealed in all its magnitude. And I would beseech every immoderate lover of pleasure, to think impartially of the extent as well as of the nature and reality of their guilt—to trace it throughout all its numerous ramifications—and to take a full and comprehensive view of its enormity—that beholding it as it is, they may see what reason they have to be humbled before God, and to cry for pardoning mercy and for sanctifying grace.
3. Let me now say a few words on the danger of being lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.
I speak not here of the danger that may result from this character to your health—to your fortune—to your reputation—to your families. All these, indeed, are considerations worthy of your serious notice, and all of them are more or less involved in this subject. And it is to be wondered at, that those to whom this world is all in all should pursue a course which directly tends to render it less productive of enjoyment, and to bring their residence in it sooner to a close. But I speak only of the danger which threatens your immortal souls. I need say little even about that: for the guilt and the danger are inseparably connected; and if you allow the existence of the one, you must allow the existence of the other.
You cannot think that perseverance in any sin is consistent with your spiritual safety. And if there be one sin more hazardous than another, it must be that which consists in the deliberate preference of worldly or of sinful pleasure to God. Thus “living in pleasure, you are dead while you live:”[1 Tim. v. 6.]—dead to all the principles, and sentiments, and hopes of that religion which alone can give you comfort here, and happiness hereafter. And thus alienating yourselves from God, you have provoked his wrath, and every moment that comes to you, comes fraught with the perils of a righteous judgment and of a dread eternity.
Numerous, it may be, and various, and fascinating, are the joys of which you are now partaking. But should he to whose favour and service you are preferring them, send the messenger of death to summon you away; alas! what could they avail either in delaying your departure, or in preparing you for the event? All the blandishments of worldly pleasure cannot soften or avert the king of terrors; he breaks in, without remorse and without ceremony, upon the gayest scenes of human life, and cuts off the votaries of fashion in the very midst of their enjoyment and their folly. And, O! how dreadful must it be to pass, unrenewed and unprepared, from the world of vain or sinful indulgence to the world of judgment and of retribution; and in a moment after you have been drivelling away your time in a round of frivolous amusements, or revelling in the haunts of unhallowed delight, to find yourselves standing before the bar of that God, whose favour, and service, and glory you have sacrificed to these paltry gratifications, and who is then to decide your fate for eternity!
Should it even please him to spare you a little longer in his world, what will your pleasures do, if you still allow them to have dominion over you, but harden your heart, separate you still farther from God, and render you “ vessels of wrath,” more fit than ever for destruction? They will become as essential to you as the food which supports your life. Any evil which you may have occasionally perceived in them will gradually disappear. Those religious exercises or moral duties which they have so long supplanted will be thought of no more, or occur only to be dismissed as interrupters of your happiness. Advancing age may cool your natural desire, and impair your wonted relish for them; but they have acquired the force of habit, and you must continue to partake of them. Serious views of a future state will be systematically excluded, and even in the midst of infirmities, and on the very verge of the grave, you will be seeking your comforts, in diversions of which a thoughtless child might almost be ashamed; and the only consolation or tranquillity you can enjoy in that awful hour which shall witness your departure, will arise from the insensibility, superinduced by pleasure upon your hearts, to the truths of religion and to the prospects of futurity.
Be exhorted then, my friends, not to turn away your thoughts from the danger to which you are exposed, so long as you love pleasure more than God. Banishing it from your minds, however completely you may succeed in doing so, will not affect its reality, nor diminish its imminence. I am aware it is not agreeable to be disturbed by the anticipations of death and judgment, when you are drinking of the stream of worldly joys. But you should be also aware, that it is not safe for you even then to drive away all such anticipations, or to treat them as the dreams of fancy, I would not wantonly dash your cup of pleasure: But before you taste it, I would have you to examine whether it may not contain the poison of sin and folly. And I would beseech you to remember, that if there be sin and folly there, death is there also. Desist, then, ere it be too late, Renounce the pursuit of pleasure, in which the greatest success will be your greatest misery; and give yourselves to God, who will lead you in the peaceful and pleasant ways of wisdom, and will fill you with “a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.”
Thus have I endeavoured to illustrate the character mentioned in the text, and to point out the folly, the guilt, and the danger belonging to it.
I do not expect that what I have said on this subject will be palatable to all, or that it will be believed by all, or that it will be submitted to by all. I have too much experience on such subjects, to form or to cherish expectations so extravagant. Though the doctrine I have brought forward, had been literally transcribed or read from the word of God itself, yet it stands so much opposed to the prevailing maxims and manners of the world, as well as to the natural bias of the human heart, that, even in that case, it would have been utterly despised by not a few, and practically rejected by many. And as it is, I have no doubt, that while the statements I have thought it my duty to offer to you will give offence to some, they will be misunderstood and misrepresented by others, who, to save their consistency, will exaggerate the positions which they cannot deny, and ridicule the arguments which they cannot refute; and hold out the preacher, as an avowed enemy to all the pleasures and amusements of life, however innocent they may be in themselves, and in whatever way they may be used.
As far as I myself am concerned, this gives me not the least uneasiness. So has it fared with the ministers of truth in every age. Because John the Baptist was abstemious and rigid, his enemies alleged that “he had a devil;” and even Christ himself, because he associated with men of the world for the purpose of doing them good, was called “a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” [Matth. xi. 18, 19.]
But yet I would not, for obvious reasons, have any one to go away with the idea that I am a foe to the innocent enjoyments of life—that I consider all amusements to be pernicious, and all pleasures to be sinful. That is not my meaning. Such a sentiment is quite foreign to my convictions and my feelings; and it is so, because I think it not only unwarranted by Scripture, but hurtful to true religion. True religion is better calculated than anything else to promote that cheerfulness which gives such a charm to social and domestic life; and it wages no war with those exercises and amusements by which that cheerfulness is most innocently and most effectually secured. Accordingly I made an explicit reservation in favour of these; and confined your attention to the conduct of those who abuse them so far as to shew that “they are lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” And, surely, no person will be so bold or antichristian as to maintain, or even to insinuate, that a character such as this, which the Apostle denounces as symptomatic of “perilous times,” and which carries its own condemnation on its very face, is to be regarded as neither foolish, nor guilty, nor dangerous.
If it be alleged, that in our illustration of it, we have trenched on that latitude of indulgence to which every Christian may lawfully lay claim; this is a different question. But, even here, I have no wish that you should adopt my opinions except in so far as they are found agreeable to reason and to Scripture. My only object is to promote your spiritual and eternal good. And if that could be secured, without observing the limits prescribed by Revelation; or if you felt no propensity, and were tempted by no allurements to go beyond them, I should deem it cruel to harass you with unnecessary remonstrance. Widely different, however, is your situation. “I know how apt the hearts of the best of men are to go after the idle or the sinful vanities of a “world that lieth in wickedness.” I see the young and inexperienced rushing with eagerness into scenes where they can learn mothing that is good, and must learn much that is evil. I cannot be ignorant of the prevailing and predominating passion for amusements which seems to mock at the distresses of the times, and threatens to absorb every Christian principle, and-every serious feeling. And I am anxious to do something to put you upon your guard against it in this spring-tide of dissipation—when one wave of pleasure is rolling after another in rapid succession, till all the ordinary and legitimate bounds of gratification are overflowed, and the sacred territory of religion and morality itself is almost buried by the overwhelming flood. If, in prosecuting this object, I have stated opinions that are not true and Scriptural, then my first and only wish is, that you should cast them from you, and give them to the winds. But if they are founded on the word of God, then I say, despise them at your peril. I have spoken to you with fidelity, and not, I hope, without kind affection. “My heart’s desire and prayer for you is, that you may be saved;” and for that end I would address you with all boldness and with all earnestness. It would neither be profitable to you, nor would it be safe for myself, were I to see your danger, and not to warn you of it; to speak flattering words when I observe you tempted to go astray; and, like the “prophet or the priest, who dealeth falsely,” to say to you, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” [Jerem. vi. 14.]
To all of you I say, Resist, in divine strength, the tendency of a carnal mind—“awake to righteousness and sin not”—take the Gospel and not fashion for your guide—and tell those worldly and thoughtless companions who falsely call themselves your friends, and shew their friendship, by helping you forward in the career of folly,–tell them, that you are looking to heaven; and that, as your heart is there, you are resolved to have your conversation there also.
I say particularly to parents, Guard your youthful charge against those “foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” [1 Tim. vi. 9.] Let not your conduct give proof to the allegation, that our very children must now be initiated into the follies of the world—that though infants in years, they must be matured in the ways of dissipation—and that they must be taught, almost in spite of themselves, to be “ lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” Do not suppose that I wish you to throw a shade of gloom, and austerity, and sorrow, over your domestic circle. O no: let religion be presented to them in its native garb of cheerfulness, and courtesy, and joy. But let their thoughts be guided to the immortality for which, they are destined; let their views be directed to the Saviour, who died to redeem them from the “vain conversation” and evil maxims of the world; let them be diligently taught the precept, and steadily inured to the habit of self-denial, in the midst of those temptations with which they are constantly surrounded; and let their minds be so deeply imbued with religion, that all the gaieties of life, in which they are permit. ted to indulge, may be tempered and regulated by a sense of God's presence, and the prospects of death and judgment.
Finally, I would say to the young themselves, Be continually in an attitude of resistance to “the sin which most easily besets you”—the love of pleasure and amusement. Forget not your spiritual privileges, and your immortal hopes. Remember that, young as you are, you are but like the oldest of us, “strangers and pilgrims upon earth.” And though you may pluck the roses of worldly delight, as you move along, think, O think, how poor and fading they are, when compared with the pleasures of religion, and with the fruit of the tree of life which grows in the paradise above, Wisdom’s “ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” [Prov. iii. 17.] Walk in them, and it shall be well.with you now and for ever. But if, in the flush, and impatience, and impetuosity of youth, you turn a deaf ear to these exhortations, and go on to be “ lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” take this warning along with you. It is written in the book of God, and says, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth: and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth: and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that, for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment.” [Eccles. xi. 9.]
 We will certainly devote the greatest share of our time to that object which we deem most important, or which possesses most of our affection. Now, employing this as a test, how many are there of whom it may be justly concluded, that they do not love God at all, and that they regard pleasure as their supreme good? If we propose that they shall occupy an hour or two every day in the exercises of religion, they look upon it as an intolerable burden; a task which there is no present necessity for them to perform, and to which it is altogether inconsistent with their happiness to submit. But they scruple not to spend the whole evening in idle amusements, besides a great part of the day before in preparing for them, and a great part of the day following in talking of them: And this they do, not merely now and then, but for weeks together, and almost during the course of a whole season. They even boast of the multitude of engagements they have on hand; and have sometimes so much to do in this way, that they must go to several in one night, or get into disgrace. And yet these persons, were we to tell them to their face that they loved pleasure more than God, would resent it as a groundless and calumnious charge! I would request them to consider the matter calmly; to think of the connection which practice has with principle; and to shew us by what other means we are to determine the relative strength of their affections, and their cordial preference of one thing to another. I would ask, whether, on the supposition that they really, were what the Apostle describes, they could give us a better or more convincing evidence of the fact than we actually observe in their conduct. I would ask them to recollect, that God is the author of life; that he requires it to be employed in his service; that the cultivation of religion is a necessary expression of love to him here, and a necessary qualification for enjoying his presence hereafter; and then to say, if this sentiment has any considerable influence, not to speak of a paramount dominion, over their hearts, when nearly the whole of life is spent in vain show and momentary gratification? I am sure there is not an individual, however young and foolish, and however much borne away by the tide of pleasure, or by the breath of fashion, to whom, if he will only bestow one thought upon it, the inference is not plain and irresistible, that they are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” And I only desire, that such as profess Christianity would allow themselves to bestow the thought; that they would not continue to grudge a moment to their Maker, and lavish a month on their diversion, and still to cherish the false and flattering idea that they are “good enough ;” and that they would not repel the accusation brought against them, as if it were unjust, when conscious that it is true to its full extent, or crush the conviction by which it has been succeeded, when it involves such a deep and awful responsibility.
 Prayer, reading the Scriptures, sanctification of the Sabbath, and attendance on public worship, are duties prescribed by divine authority, and intimately connected with that preparation which we must make for seeing God, and enjoying his presence in heaven. Pleasure is neither the one nor the other. Even in its most innocent forms, and in its most limited degrees, we are under no obligation to partake of it: and we may abstain from it without either contracting guilt, or sustaining injury. If, therefore, we shall give ourselves to its indulgence, so as to neglect or violate the duties mentioned above, it is impossible to deny that we love it more than we love God. No sophistry, however subtile and acute, will enable us to avoid this conclusion.
Now let those individuals who are much devoted to worldly amusements, examine their conduct and their sentiments by this rule, and reject, if they can, the inference, which we have drawn. Is it not true, that in consequence of the bustle in which they are involved, and the effect which it produces on their feelings, they feel little or no inclination to peruse the word of God;—that, if they had the inclination, they really cannot command the leisure that is necessary;—and that, in point of fact, they seldom or never look at their Bible while the gay season lasts, except it be in church, where it forms a part of the service, or on a Sabbath evening, when public decency forbids their ordinary entertainments? Must not the same kind of confession be made with respect to private and family prayer? Amidst their evening routs, and their morning preparations, is the one ever thought of, or is the other even practicable? Is their mirth ever succeeded, or is their repose ever interrupted, by confession of sin, or by supplication for mercy, or by thanksgiving for the various blessings of providence and of grace? In short, is any department of religion attended to; or is any one of the means appointed for supporting its influence and authority employed with that seriousness, and with that diligence, which are necessary to render it effectual? And, if not, what can we infer, but that, in the case of those who act in this manner, there is no great concern felt about the place which their Maker holds in their affections, provided only they be not interrupted in their course of dissipation and folly?
There is one instance which I would particularly notice, and of which professing Christians do not seem to be sufficiently aware. Parties of pleasure on the Lord’s day will, we doubt not, be condemned by all who would be considered as truly religious. But such parties on the Saturday evening are by many regarded as perfectly harmless, and in no way inconsistent with the maxims of godliness. Viewed in their own nature, or in an insulated light, there may be nothing wrong in them; but is this the case when they are traced to the state of mind which they cherish, and to the practical effects which they produce? In the economy of the family where they are held, are not they attended with a direct violation of the fourth commandment? Do not they lead to absence from the house of God? And, even when this is not the case, do not they unfit the persons that have engaged in them for the exercises of devotion? Do not they occasion levity of mind, or distraction of thought, or drowsiness and langour, and a total want of spirituality in the employments of the sanctuary? Can any due preparation be made for the services of that place? Or rather, is not a complete indisposition created for the meditations and solemnities of Christian worship?
It is very probable, that not a few prefer the Saturday evening for pleasure or amusement parties, because they can more easily take the succeeding day for the purpose of recruiting their jaded spirits. Such persons, of course, can have no pretensions to Christianity; and of them we do not speak. But I would request those who make any thing like a serious profession, to reflect on the absurdity of such conduct in them. Why should they join others in a treatment of divine institutions so contemptuous and profane? Why should they conform to the world in that, which none but worldlings can consistently practise? Why should they act upon the principles which wicked men avowedly maintain, as being favourable to their peculiar views and habits? Why should they do all this, and yet be offended at us for saying of them, that they are lovers of pleasures more than they are lovers of God? If they devote the Saturday to their own gratification, because they are to use the liberty of spending the Sabbath in idleness, or in sleep, or in otherwise refreshing their exhausted frame, I know not on what pretext they can repel the charge that is brought against them in the words of the Apostle.
But while those who are lovers of pleasure, care not though their parties and their amusements encroach upon the Lord’s day, there are some who have such a regard to decency, such fear of giving offence, or such notions of religious duty, that they are scrupulously careful not to retain company in their own houses, and not to remain in the houses of others beyond the hour which separates Sunday from Saturday, Whatever may have been the gaieties of the evening—however light their hearts, and however boisterous their mirth, all is over and quiet by twelve o’clock; and thus they flatter themselves that no commandment is transgressed, and no evil done. Alas! their piety is at a low ebb, when they enter into such nice calculations, in order to avoid the sin of sabbath-breaking, and only escape from it, in a literal sense, by counting to the last minute which it is safe for them to spend in amusement. But, granting that they are not legally guilty on this point, what is the frame of mind with which they are to enter on the duties of that day which God has sanctified to himself? Are they so constituted as to pass easily and instantaneously from the gaieties of an assembly, or the display of a theatre, to the exercises of private devotion, and to the solemnities of social worship? And if not, where is the innocence which they dreamt of securing by mere attention to the clock?—And then, have they nothing to attend to in such cases, but their own personal interests? What becomes of those who set them down at their own doors when twelve strikes—or to whom that hour is but the signal for beginning labours that may last till sun-rise? Are not servants and others constrained, as it were, by their folly, limited though it be on their own account, to profane the Lord’s day by works that are unnecessary, and by watchings that forbid them to engage in any thing of a sacred kind? And shall we indeed be told after all this, that those in whose love of pleasure it wholly originates, are in any just or rational sense of the expression “lovers of God?” It is impossible to credit the profession, so long as we know what it is to love God on the one hand, and to love pleasure on the other.
 It would be absurd to conceal, that I here allude particularly to theatrical amusements. And when I object to these, I am quite aware that I tread upon unpopular ground, incur the risk of giving offence to many to whose good opinion I cannot be indifferent, and expose myself to the imputation of puritanism and illiberality. But I must not, for such reasons as these, be deterred from stating my sentiments on this subject, and from stating them freely and explicitly. It is told of Mr. Hume, that he was pitied by the wits of Paris, as being too much of a fanatic, because he maintained among them the doctrine of a Supreme Intelligent Cause. And after this, a minister of the gospel need not be afraid of any censure he may receive for questioning the propriety of frequenting entertainments much less exceptionable even than those of the theatre, as to their influence on Religion and Morality.
I am far from being so dogmatical as to charge those from whom I differ on this subject, with a want of regard to the great interests of piety and virtue. As it cannot be affirmed, that every one who keeps away from the theatre is a true Christian; so neither would I venture to allege that every one who goes to it, however seldom, forfeits all title to that character. But convinced as I am, that this practice is improper and injurious, and believing that many indulge in it from not sufficiently considering its nature and tendency, I am not surely presuming too much, when I endeavour to point out its inconsistency with the love of God, and remonstrate, against it with those who not only wear the form, but pretend also to the power of godliness.
It will be observed, that the allusion to theatrical amusements is placed under the particular which speaks of pleasures, innocent in themselves, but indulged in improperly, or to excess. And, on this account, I shall no doubt be blamed for making an unwarrantable concession. I shall be told that the theatre is radically vicious and hurtful; and that to argue on the supposition of its ever being otherwise, is to adopt a view which is neither justified by the nature nor the history of the case. And perhaps I may be accused of furnishing an apology, of which some will be happy to avail themselves, for persevering in what a different lesson might have induced them to abandon. To the substance of these remarks, I have no great objection; but really I am not disposed to maintain the absolute impossibility of regulating the drama in such a way as to render it harmless; and though I were, I do not see the propriety of leading the practical question under review with discussions which might exercise ingenuity, but are not essential to its determination. All that I assert at present is, that the amusements of the theatre, as it exists, are incompatible with the love of God; and to the illustration of this position I would request for a little the reader’s serious and candid attention.
It will scarcely be denied, that the generality of those who frequent the theatre, are persons in whose esteem religion is not the “one thing needful.” They are the thoughtless and dissipated votaries of fashion. They are the disciples of a philosophy, which is either coldly indifferent, or avowedly hostile, to the interests of Christianity. They are idlers who will do nothing, or who have nothing to do, and resort to places of diversion, that they may relieve their ennui, and kill their time. They are profligates of both sexes, whose purpose it is to seduce the young and unwary, and who would not be so constant in their attendance, if they did not know from experience that their purpose could be accomplished, and if they did not regard the scene to which they thus resort, as an appendage and a nursery to the school of vice. Such are those of whom the great body of the audience in a theatre generally consists. And if this be the case, is it at all likely that the exhibitions by which they are attracted, and which they find so agreeable to their taste, or to their views, should be accordant to the spirit of the gospel? Or rather, may not we fairly conclude, that they stand opposed to those truths and precepts by which the gospel is distinguished as a rule of faith and conduct?
We are told that the theatre is a school of morality. This at least does not appear from the habits and principles of those that most frequently go to it. And then the leading motive which carries them there is, undeniably, the love of amusement, not the desire of instruction. This is: demonstrated by their uniform language on such occasions. There are few of them, indeed, who will not confess the allegation to be true, and say, with a tone of defiance, why should it not be so? And at any rate, the fact itself bears a testimony which cannot be disputed. The fact is, that immoral plays are tolerated, and even popular, if they be only clever, humorous, or entertaining; and that if they be destitute of these qualities, their tendency to edify and improve the heart will not redeem them from condemnation. Dull and insipid, they are on this account, alone insufferable. And every body knows, that while a set of good actors, or even one great performer, cannot overcome the disadvantages of an ill constructed play without much difficulty; they can gain admiration to a play that is glaringly at variance with “pure and undefiled religion,”—if that be its only fault, without any difficulty at all—It may also be observed, that frequenters of the theatre do not commonly make any inquiry into the moral character of the performance they are going to witness. If it have the recommendation of novelty, or if it has been well received at some other theatre, or if it is to be for the benefit of a favourite actor, or if a [Sarah] Siddons or a [member of the] Kemble [family] is expected to display their extraordinary powers, the play itself may be any thing, however exceptionable to Christian feeling—they neither ask about it in that view, nor do they much care about it. Their sole object is amusement; and into that amusement they rush without consideration, and bravely sit it out, notwithstanding the profaneness and impurity with which their ear is wantonly assailed.
The usual conduct of theatrical managers leads us to the same conclusion. Their object and their study is to supply the public with what will please their fancy, and secure their attendance. And beyond this, whatever be their private inclination, it certainly is not their ordinary practice to go. That which promises to bring a crowded house, is that which they prefer and exhibit; and if the public mind happens to be careless or corrupted in this respect, is there any instance of those who officially make the selection refusing to accommodate themselves to the wishes and dispositions of those whose favour it is their interest to secure? I believe there is none. But many instances of the contrary might be pointed out. A lady composes a drama, the “Chapter of Accidents,”—in which some of the principal characters are females who have lost their chastity. The manager of a theatre takes it upon him to exhibit it to virtuous ladies, and professing Christians. This shews the opinion which he entertained of their delicacy and their religion. And the result demonstrates, that his opinion was far from being incorrect. For though they condemn the play so strongly, that he must not represent it again; they do so, evidently and avowedly, because it is dull and stupid, not because it is impure, insulting, and pernicious.
Of the personal character of players in general, I will say nothing that can be deemed harsh or hurtful. I know that there are individuals among them, amiable in private life, respectable as members of society, and willing, but for the infelicity of their circumstances, to abandon the stage for ever. But I must add, that there are also individuals among them of an opposite description. And it cannot, I think, be disputed, that, on the one hand, they never seem to have considered it necessary to recommend themselves to public support, by their piety and virtue; and that, on the other hand, the public are not very rigorous in requiring from them any religious and moral excellence, or at all disposed to withhold their patronage when that excellence is obviously wanting. One performer finishes his engagement here on Saturday, and he travels all Sunday, (so say the Newspapers,) because he must begin to fulfil another, engagement at some distance on Monday evening. Another is so much addicted to habits of intoxication, that he frequently disappoints his audience by failing to appear; and sometimes presents himself before them in a condition which unfits him for acting his part. A third is notoriously living in illicit connection with some profligate of the day; and treads the boards as unblushingly as if she were known to be innocent and good. And not a few habitually contemn the ordinances of Christianity, employ the Lord’s day as a season of preparation for the exhibitions of the ensuing week; and in the course of acting, volunteer profane exclamations and lascivious gestures, in the ear and the eye of what we must call a Christian assembly, not only without censure, but generally with approbation, and sometimes with marked applause. [To prevent mistakes, I must here observe, that I mean no specific allusion to the Edinburgh Company. But the facts which I have stated are facts which have actually occurred, and which cannot fail to be known to every one acquainted with the history of the theatre.] Players who are possessed of good principles and proper feelings, must themselves disapprove of these things. And yet we find these things Completely overlooked, or regarded as trifling circumstances, provided only the actors to whom they attach, are of superior merit in their art, or the drama in which they appear is calculated to excite a lively interest, and to furnish much amusement.
I am aware, that writers against the stage dwell much upon the abandoned conduct of the actors and actresses, and upon its tendency-to produce and to encourage the depravity by which they are characterised. And I shall probably be accused of blinking a fact, which is at once indisputable, and of great importance to the general argument. Be it so. I do not like to pass an indiscriminate censure on any class of men. Nor do I mean to go farther than what is essential to the point which I set out with affirming, and am endeavouring to establish. Whatever there may be in the more general statement which others have made with regard to the character of players, it is enough for my purpose, that there are some of them who are open violators of the law of God, and that these are countenanced, and lauded, and supported, in spite of all their demerit, merely because they have talents which fit them for giving entertainment to those who frequent the theatre. For I put it to any candid and consistent moralist to say, what pretensions our sex can have to Christian propriety, or the fair sex to virtuous sentiment, when they consent to place their feelings, for the time, under the sway of a profligate or a kept-mistress; and to derive their amusement from the tragic or the comic efforts of persons who are utterly destitute of all that should command esteem—who are flagrantly bloated with all that should excite aversion and abhorrence... We see plainly their unbounded love of pleasure; but alas! what has become of their love to God?
The inference which may be justly drawn from these considerations respecting the religious principles of those who frequent the theatre, is much strengthened by the general character of the plays which are acted. The plays in ordinary use are distinguished by their opposition to the gospel. Instead of being favourable to its truths and maxims, encouraging the conduct, which it prescribes, or recommending the happiness to which it directs its votaries, they seem to be the production of men with whom Christianity is but a fable or a name, and to be intended to sanction a quite different system of opinions and of manners. They who go to church and then to the theatre, must be sensible of the direct opposition which subsists between the tendency of the one, and the instructions of the other, as to the spiritual life. We are not prepared to say positively that there are no exceptions to this remark. There may be some dramatic compositions to which it is not strictly applicable. But if there be any of this innocent description, their number is extremely limited. I confess, I have not been so fortunate as to meet with them. And certainly by far the greatest proportion of those which are held in highest repute, and are therefore most frequently brought forward, have no pretensions even to forbearance on the score of morality, and still less to any thing decidedly in favour of it. I would only request the Christian reader to take the first half dozen of them that occur to his mind; to weigh them in the balance of the sanctuary; to compare them with that standard of sentiment and conduct which is set before him in the Bible; to forget for the time that they are destined for his amusement; and then, under a sense of his obligations to God, and of the strictness of the divine law, and of the account which he must render at last, to say, whether they be such as he should countenance by his presence, or apply to as sources of satisfaction and enjoyment.
1. They are frequently, I might even say almost always, characterised by profaneness.
When I affirm this, I do not merely allude to that vulgar swearing which is so often introduced as a stroke of humour, and received with bursts of laughter and applause. This is bad enough—it is exactly what we hear, though in still greater perfection, from the lowest ruffians that walk our streets—and says very little indeed for the piety either of the persons from whom it proceeds, or of the persons to whom it is not merely tolerable, but entertaining. But I refer chiefly to that wanton use of the name and attributes of God, which is so common on the stage. This vice has been justly reprobated, and will be carefully avoided, by every religious man. It will greatly shock him when he observes it practised by those with whom he maintains the ordinary intercourse of life. He will not unnecessarily or intimately associate with such as are addicted to it. And if it be so abhorrent to his feelings, even when he has to encounter it in the course of lawful business, or in the discharge of social duties, how is it possible that his detestation of it should be less, when it occurs in places of amusement; or how can he be willingly present where he is sure that it is to be employed for the very purpose of heightening his pleasure? If our parent, our sovereign, or our friend, were to be insulted in the theatre, would not we loudly protest against the outrage, and withhold ourselves resolutely and indignantly from the scene in which it was committed? And shall the principle cease to operate, or cease to exist, when the insult is offered to God, our heavenly Father, our supreme Lord, our compassionate Saviour? Shall we resent the indignities that are offered to creatures with whom our connection is but partial and transitory? And shall we sit with patience to hear irreverence or blasphemy uttered against Him who has made and redeemed us; who is worthy of the profoundest homage; and who has expressly said, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?” Shall we do this, and yet pretend to love our Maker with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind? The inconsistency here is too glaring to be concealed or overlooked. And I fear, that in such a case we must necessarily be considered as “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
2. How very many of our dramas are stained with impurity! And how deeply does it pervade even such of them as are in the highest estimation! We do not mean to allege, indeed, that in general, and far less in every case, they contain gross indecencies; or that where these occur in the original plays, as they certainly do in not a few of Shakespeare’s, they are brought forward on the stage. But, though not outrageous and extravagant in the respect alluded to, they may still be extremely loose and exceptionable. That they are so, cannot easily be denied, and cannot possibly be disproved. Licentious characters, both male and female, are brought before us with daring effrontery; language is made use of that would not be endured in a private company; scenes of indelicate humour are exhibited, at which we are expected to laugh; lascivious maxims, double entendres, and wanton gestures, are every now and then introduced, as if they were not only allowable, but highly conducive to the interest and effect of the representation; and sometimes an illicit amour, with all its vile and polluted accompaniments, constitutes its very essence and character.
This may seem incredible, when it is recollected, that every audience at a theatre contains a vast proportion of females, who are both intelligent and virtuous. But it is nevertheless the fact. And this is the marvel; that females of that honourable description should go where their feelings are to be so rudely insulted by every shabby fellow, and by every infamous woman, who may happen to be a player.
When any thing of this kind occurs, indeed, they look very grave and simple, and appear to be quite ignorant of its meaning. But do they really imagine that they get credit for this grimace?—that we have such a low opinion of their acuteness, as to believe that they do not understand what is going on?—that if we admit their want of penetration, we can also admit their want of suspicion, which is the same thing, in such cases, to a chaste and delicate mind?—that we do not consider their behaviour on these occasions as a mere compromise between regard to appearances and passion for amusement? And if we are convinced that the coarse joke, or the unchaste inuendo, is perfectly intelligible to them, though they pretend otherwise, what are we to think of the real state of their principles and feelings? Leaving religion out of view, are they such as every good man must always wish the fair sex to be, when they voluntarily: put themselves in the way, and passively submit to the affronts that are publicly offered to them, merely because they wish to have an evening's diversion? But if the influence of the Gospel be permitted to operate, which of them that feels and cherishes that influence, can suffer what it so pointedly condemns, and against which it so earnestly cautions believers? If they truly love God, will not they have respect to all his commandments? And has he not expressly prohibited “filthiness, and foolish talking, and jesting, which are not convenient?” Has he not forbidden impurity, in all the forms which it has been or can be made to assume? And has he not said, that “because of these things, his wrath cometh upon the children of disobedience?” [Ephes. v. 3, 4, 5, 6.] If, then, these things are borne with at a theatre, can those who witness or listen to them pretend, with any justice, to be actuated by love to God, or by regard to his authority ? Or is it only at a public entertainment that they can be lawfully brought forward? And is it only in the presence of ladies of fashion that they become innocent and harmless? Be it so; but I speak of what “becometh women professing godliness:” and I put it seriously to these, whether they do not, by the conduct in question, shew themselves to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Nor is the argument to be limited to the female sex. To them, indeed, it applies with peculiar force. But it applies, with perfect justice, to the other sex also: for as to the obligations respecting purity of mind, and speech, and conduct, Christianity has no respect of persons. No doubt, it is a common enough notion, that men have, in such cases, a greater latitude than women. And, so far as this view goes to preserve and to perpetuate the strictest propriety among the latter, we regard it as one of the highest moment to the welfare of families and of society. But if it be employed to countenance the former in anything that may be termed licentious, we deprecate it as unsound and pernicious: and must take the liberty of saying, that the seventh commandment neither sanctions nor acknowledges any such distinction. To that commandment, in its spirit as well as in its letter, all are equally subject. And whosoever yields himself to the indulgences which it prohibits, whether by personal impurity, or by giving ear to the obscene language of others, or by taking delight in indelicate scenes and exhibitions, is guilty of that sin against which it is intended to guard him, and cannot be reckoned among those who feel respect to its great Author.” He commands us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit;” [2 Cor. vii. 1.] to “watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation;” [Matt. xxxi. 41.] and to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” [1 Thess. v. 22.] But can we be said to obey these precepts, if we frequent a place where unchaste language is employed, and unchaste ideas are excited, and unchaste characters are represented; and thus not only give our open patronage to vice, but expose ourselves, in our passion for entertainment, to those “evil communications which corrupt good manners? [1 Cor. xv. 33.] And are not we, in such circumstances, preferring our own gratification to “whatsoever things are pure and lovely,” and justly liable to the charge of being “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God?”
3. The general run of plays are unfavourable to morality, by substituting a system of man's invention in the place of that which is revealed in the gospel.
If we love God, we will also love his law, which exhibits a transcript of his perfections, and obedience to which equally promotes his glory and the welfare of his creatures. We will be jealous of every thing which tends to encroach on its authority, and its strictness, and its purity. And we will feel as if we were joining in rebellion against its great Author, when we give countenance to any maxims or rules of conduct which are at variance either with its spirt or its precepts.
Now I request any one, who is at all capable of judging on such a subject, to take his Bible, and to compare the practical part of its record, with what is represented to him as an amiable and respectable character on the stage; and then to say, if the one does not stand in direct and essential opposition to the other, Is the hero of a play, who is brought most prominently forward, and is supposed to excite the greatest interest, and to produce the greatest effect, ever clothed with the attributes of vital Christianity? Do any of the subordinate personages of the drama attract us by their conformity to the perfect will of God, as it is made known to us in the Scriptures? Would it be thought decorous, or would it be tolerated, that the good among them should be praying, and church-going, and sabbath-loving, as well as pleasant and charitable, people? Whether would their being obviously addicted to these exercises excite admiration, or occasion ridicule? What are the qualities to which the name and the praise of virtue are most usually given in, theatrical representations? Are they those gentle, holy, and heavenly graces, which we find so strongly inculcated in the pages of inspiration? Is an honourable place assigned to humility, meekness, patience, sobriety, separation from the world, forgiveness of injuries? On the contrary, are not these despised as indications of a mean spirit, or derided as the mere appendages of methodism and hypocrisy And are not pride, revenge, gallantry, superiority to the rules of temperance, conformity to the dictates of fashion, disregard to prudence and propriety, are not these either boldly held up to our unqualified admiration, or are not they so varnished over with imposing names, or so connected with generous qualities, as to assume the appearance, and even the attractions of real worth? Even in those cases where the actions which are represented are virtuous in their own nature, are not the motives and principles from which they are performed such as Christianity disapproves? Or rather, is it not made a matter of indifference whether the motives and principles from which they are performed be good or bad, worldly or religious? And while the character which is blazoned on the stage as deserving of applause and imitation, scarcely corresponds at all with that character which the gospel requires; is it not, at the same time, exhibited as perfectly sufficient from its own merit, in direct contradiction to the whole spirit of the gospel, for sustaining the hope and securing the welfare of those who have acquired it?
But is a morality which is thus constituted and thus regarded, such as a Christian can see pourtrayed, however pleasing its accompaniments may be, without feeling that it is an insult to God, by its being substituted and recommended in the room of that obedience to his good and holy law which he authoritatively requires of all his creatures? Certainly not. So far as a play succeeds in producing an impression against sin, or in favour of holiness, he who loves God may see it acted with innocence and advantage. If, however, it tends to establish maxims of human conduct different from those which are taught in the Scriptures,—if it refers not to the divine will, but to some erring and corrupt standard, for direction in the path of duty,—if it lead to the formation of a character in which we seek in vain for the features of true and practical Christianity—and this, I humbly conceive, is correctly descriptive of our plays in general,—then surely to those, who feel a due regard to the authority and glory of their Maker, instead of being a source of satisfaction, it must be an object of abhorrence; and he to whom it affords amusement, cannot fail to be considered as a “lover of pleasures more than a lover of God.”
Such appears to me to be the complexion and tendency of a very large proportion of our most popular dramas. But specific examples may perhaps produce a stronger effect than general allegations. And, therefore, I shall submit to my readers a few criticisms on some particular plays which are frequently acted, and greatly admired. These will serve at once to prove the truth of my statements, and to impress the mind with a clearer and more forcible view of my objections.
I begin with the School for Scandal. This is certainly one of the cleverest, most entertaining, and most popular of our English comedies. But that it should be witnessed with satisfaction and delight by those who feel the power of Christian principles, does seem strange and unaccountable. The name of God is taken in vain by several of the characters without any ceremony; and where plain broad swearing is avoided, there is a plentiful supply of minced oaths, and vulgar, or, for any thing I know, fashionable imprecations. Impurity is carried so far, that not only are there many jocular allusions to criminal passion and conjugal infidelity, but in one scene [Act iv. sc. 2.] a gentleman is represented as making dishonourable proposals to a married lady in terms equally intelligible and unprincipled, and the lady as listening to him with marvellous patience and good humour. And then what sort of morality is recommended to our notice and respect? Sobriety, prudence, outward decorum, all that we have from the author in the form of religion,—is connected with vile and hardened hypocrisy in the person of Joseph Surface; while his brother Charles, who defrauds tradesmen, calls justice an “old, lame, hobbling beldam,” is “extravagant,” “loves wine and women,” “games deep,” and, in short, is a thorough-paced debauchee, is held out as amiable, and made quite fascinating to the female heart, because he has something of a generous temper, and cannot be prevailed upon, forsooth, to sell his uncle’s picture! Joseph gets into disgrace, and deservedly; though the association which is formed in our minds by his demerits is by no means favourable to decent profession. But why should the profligacy of Charles be crowned with those rewards which are due only to real worth? And why should the affection and the person of a virtuous female be selected as the recompence of his vices?
The Stranger, I believe, is a favourite with the public. And it must be acknowledged that the concluding scene is extremely pathetic and affecting. But what is the great fact which it exhibits? A wife, who had abandoned her husband and lived in criminal connection with her seducer, is, after three years of sentimental penitence on her part, and after a struggle between love and pride on the part of him whom she had forsaken, restored to the confidence which she had so basely betrayed. The doctrine taught in the course of this preliminary to reconciliation is, that repentance makes “atonement for past offence,” and “obliterates crime.” The person on whom the eye and the interest of the audience are chiefly fixed is an adulteress. And, before the curtain falls, she is folded in the embrace of him whom she had wronged, and regains her place in the domestic circle which she had robbed of all its peace. And all this no doubt is very friendly to good morals, and very agreeable to the feelings of honourable men, and very inoffensive to the delicacy of modest women, and very consistent with the pure and dignified tone of Christian piety!—Similar remarks apply to John Bull and Pizarro.
Need I do anything more than name the Beggar’s Opera? Certainly not to those by whom it has been either read or witnessed. I do not say that it has actually sent young men to the highway who would not have gone there at any rate. Put I do say, that for character, sentiment, and language, it is not easy to conceive any thing of a dramatic kind more deserving of reprobation. Robbers, pickpockets, and women of the most abandoned description, constitute the gang that figure in this performance. The maxims that they sport are just what might be expected from such worthless beings. And their conversation is couched in terms by far too gross for good and decent company. It is somewhat surprising that Macheath and Peachum, and the rest of the fraternity, swear so little. This, it must be confessed, is rather out of character; but the defect is copiously supplied by certain other habits to which they are addicted, and in which they glory. And the whole piece has not one trait of virtue in it to relieve the uniformity of its pollutions. Yet the production of Mr. Gay’s muse, so vile and so disgusting, never fails, I understand, to attract a multitude! The secret lies in the music with which it is interspersed. Take that charm away, and would any person of tolerable reputation ever think of going to see it exhibited? Would it not be hissed off the stage with universal displeasure, as equally silly and disgusting P But are its demerits cancelled by the introduction of fine airs set to wanton and obscene words, and sung even by an Incledon or a Dickons? Will a few good melodies compensate for the more than ordinary violation of good morals by which it is characterised? It may be so with men of the world; but let them not then be very resolute in denying that they are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
Astonishing and unrivalled as is the genius of Shakespeare, yet who can deny that his mightiest efforts exhibit many specimens of impurity in its grossest and lowest style, and of profaneness that must shock every pious mind? I scarcely know one of his plays, indeed, that is exempt from these deformities, even after it has undergone a purification to fit it for the stage; and, in not a few of them, the poet indicates a mind destitute of reverence for God, and familiar with all the feelings and expressions of lasciviousness. This might be proved by an analysis of his Othello, his Hamlet, his Henry IV., his Merry Wives of Windsor, and many others. But I refrain from the minute and lengthened exposition into which that would lead me; and shall only remark, that though the dramatic powers of Shakespeare strongly tempt us to overlook the many blemishes which we find in his compositions, they ought not to reconcile us to anything which is injurious to the interests of religion and righteousness; that it would be infinitely better to lose all his plays together, than to lose one doctrine or one precept of Christianity; and that he who can sit to hear the divine honour insulted, and the divine commandments set at nought, merely because it is done by the authority of Shakespeare, and because Shakespeare gives him more entertainment than any other poet, has no experimental knowledge of the love of God, or of the faith of the gospel.
Perhaps the tragedy of Douglas may be thought free from the faults to which the rest are liable. This I find to be a very general opinion, but it is a mistaken one. Douglas-written by a clergyman, and so greatly esteemed, and having in some points so much dramatic excellence—even Douglas has no just claims to Chris. tian forbearance, and far less to Christian approbation. It is not indeed, so far as I recollect, polluted with in delicacy. But there is much profaneness in it. Lady Randolph, with all her piety, is continually exclaiming, “Mighty God!” “God of Heaven!” Her lord tells us that
“There is a destiny in this strange world
Which oft decrees an undeserved doom.”
Glenalvon is made to swear “ by the most blessed cross,” because we suppose, the author has chosen to make him a villain who has not
“—— One grain of faith
In holy legends and religious tales.”
And is it to be tolerated, that the heroine of a play should be seen on the stage kneeling in the attitude of devotion, and addressing the true God in a prayer which sets at defiance all the principles of our holy religion? The following is her supplication—
“O thou all-righteous and eternal King!
Who Father of the fatherless art called,
Protect my son.—Thy inspiration, Lord,
Hath fill’d his bosom with that sacred fire
Which in the breasts of his forefathers burned;
Set him on high like them, that he may
Shine, the star and glory of his native land.”
i.e., in plain prose, “Thou hast filled his bosom with a passion for war and military renown;—deign to gratify that passion, that he may not disgrace the martial honours of his ancestors.” A fine prayer truly, to be offered up to the God of meekness and of peace, in the presence and for the amusement of those who are taught to avoid wars and fightings, as coming from their lusts! This pious lady, not having received an answer to her petition, is disappointed; falls into depair; and, for the edification of the Christian audience, throws herself headlong over a precipice! And are we any better provided with religious and moral entertainment when we turn to the spirit and conduct of her newly discovered son, for whom our pity, and our love, and our admiration, are all pathetically bespoke? Not in the least degree. Young Norval is one of those men of honour [“Honour, sole judge and umpire of itself.”] who are easily provoked to shed the blood of their fellow-creatures. Warlike ambition is the ruling passion of his soul. “His sword and his life are his only possession.” We do not discover in this prodigy of nature and child of providence, one expression of Christian temper. His very affection for his mother owes all its force to the pride of family rank, and the hope of worldly distinction. His only desire is to go to the field of battle, and to reap a posthumous fame. And when he receives his mortal wound, his piety evaporates in this apostrophe—
“O destiny! hardly thou deal’st with me!
Clouded and hid, a stranger to myself,
In low and poor obscurity I lived.”
And no wonder that he thus died reproaching the ways of Providence, when his whole virtue is comprised in the following six lines:
“O! had I fallen as my brave fathers fell,
Turning with fatal arm the tide of battle!
Like them, I should have smiled and welcomed death,
But thus to perish by a villain’s hand
Cut off from nature’s and from glory’s course,
Which never mortal was so fond to run.”
What is there—I would ask in one short sentence—what is there in the tragedy of Douglas for the Christian to admire; and how can he love the pleasure which it gives, and yet be a lover of his God?
Before concluding this long note, I think it proper to remind the reader, that my remarks are not intended for people of the world, who make Christianity a mere matter of form, and take their faith and their direction from the Gospel only in so far as it does not interfere with their prejudices and their passions.
Even with most of these, I might argue, on common ground, the impropriety and the danger of theatrical exhibitions. I might give them the opinion and the reasoning of the celebrated Rousseau, over whose discussions religion seldom possessed any authority. There are points of morality in which we agree with worldly men; and I might ask them, in the case at least of many plays, how they themselves can be present at them, and still more, how they can allow their wives and their daughters to witness such violations of decency? I might ask those females, with whom fashion is superior to Christianity, but who are to be considered as the daughters of virtue, with what consistency they can go to the theatre, when their feelings are to be outraged by the representation of abandoned characters, and the utterance of unchaste language? And, if they do this, I may ask them, how they are to prevent us from entertaining suspicions of their delicacy; or by what logic they can repel the ungallant and merciless speech of Glenalvon, when he says, in their hearing,
—— “He seldom errs
Who thinks the worst he can of womankind.”
But I have to do chiefly, or rather entirely, with professing Christians, who would be thought to act agreeably to the spirit and the principles of the Gospel. If other classes will persevere in the indulgence we have been speaking of, let them do so. It is perhaps more natural, and less dangerous, than many indulgences to which, if it did not exist, they might have recourse. To such, however, as pretend to take sound and spiritual views of religion, it is a matter of important consideration, how far they can be frequenters of the theatre in its present state, and yet feel that supreme love to God, which must be abhorrent of every thing that insults his honour, and tramples upon his authority. I am convinced that the two things are contradictory and impossible; and I cannot but press it on Christian readers to weigh the subject deliberately and conscientiously, and to be resolved that should their judgment pronounce sentence against both their inclination and their practice, they will not hesitate to make it henceforth the rule of their conduct.
I know how difficult it will be, for those who have been accustomed to seek for amusement within the walls of a theatre, to renounce pleasures so fashion able and so fascinating. I know how awkward they will feel in company, when the conversation turns up on a play which they have not seen, or a performer of whom they can say nothing. I know how galling it is for them to bear the sneers of acquaintance, of companions, and of friends, with whom they now refuse to associate in going to scenes which they willingly frequented before, and to whose thoughtless and intolerant minds they can offer no satisfactory reasons for their change of conduct. I know all this; but I know also, that if we would go after Christ, we must “deny ourselves, and take up our cross;” [Matt. xvi. 24.] that if we love any thing more than God, or fear any thing more than God, the very first principles of religion are yet for reign to our heart; that it is said by the Spirit, in commendation of Moses, that he “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;” [Heb. xi. 25.] and that the period is coming, perhaps it is not far distant, when the gratifications of time, and the ridicule of the scorner, shall be lost in the awful realities of judgment and eternity,” and when they only shall be safe and happy who have been faithful amidst temptation, and have “kept them selves unspotted from the world.”
 The injurious effects produced by that succession of midnight routs in which many indulge, on the morals of the servants, are incalculable. Even under the best and strictest management, we know how difficult it is to regulate their deportment aright, and to make them what they ought to be. And what can be expected, when not only no care is taken to instruct and to guide them in the ways of godliness, but when they are wantonly and frequently exposed to temptations, by which it is almost certain they will be overcome? Is it to be supposed, that they will continue decent, when the ordinary controul and superintendence to which they are subjected, are withdrawn? Is it to be supposed, that when their immediate superiors are giving themselves to all manner of dissipation, they should have resolution enough to remain sober and temperate? Is it to be supposed, that the irregular habits which are every day presented to their view, and in contributing to which they must take their humble but necessary share, shall have no evil influence on their general modes of thinking and acting, and shall not tempt them to indulge in similar gratifications, so far as they are suited to their taste, or within their reach 2 If they are young, into what a school are they introduced, for learning all that can increase the levity natural to their period of life, and remove the safeguards of innocence, and render them an easy prey to the arts of the seducer! If they are persons of good principles and of unblemished morals, will not their residence in such families as those I am alluding to, tend to pervert their minds, and to allure them into practices which may terminate in their ruin? If they were previously thoughtless and dissolute, will not they be encouraged and hardened in a course of sin, from which it would have been no more than common charity to attempt their deliverance? For though the persons whom they serve do not themselves plunge into the depths of vice and profligacy, yet to them there are such facilities of unlawful indulgence afforded, that they can scarcely fail to be corrupted. They see little else around them, and above them, than an eager chase after worldly pleasure. Night is turned into day, and day into night, even as to their peculiar offices. They are led to associate with persons of both sexes, who are already walking in the ways of sin. They find the Sabbath devoted, by those to whose example they naturally look, to feasting or to idleness. They have no opportunity of reading their Bible, and no inclination, in the midst of so much gaiety, to engage in that sacred exercise. Good impressions are by this means gradually effaced, and . bad ones are strengthened and confirmed. Religious principle is weakened. A sense of moral obligation ceases to be felt. Temptations to falsehood, dishonesty, and other transgressions, consequently prevail. The fear of God being removed, sinful propensities are indulged just as opportunity occurs. The love of pleasure having come in its place, every thing appears lawful which contributes to the gratification of that passion. And hence the whole character becomes rotten to its very core, and exhibits all that is base, and vicious, and destructive.
It is not an uncommon thing to hear servants condemned in the bulk. The censure is certainly too indiscriminate. Many of that class of the people deserve encouragement and praise. But unquestionably the sentence of malediction comes with a bad grace from those, who may justly be considered as the cause, in a great measure, of that worthlessness which they so readily and keenly reprobate. Why must it be thought, that persons acting in a menial capacity should be better by nature than the persons who employ them—less inclined to go wrong, and more able to resist temptation? Why must it be thought, that whatever treatment they receive, and whatever example is set before them, they are peculiarly guilty, when, in conformity to these, they deviate from the path of righteousness? Why must it be thought, that though neglected, misled, and left, unadvised and unprotected, to a thousand allurements, they should prove an exception to the rest of their species, and exhibit the wonder of remaining, in these circumstances, pure and virtuous? It is altogether unreasonable and absurd.
When servants, indeed, violate their peculiar duties, and break the law of God, I am far from asserting their innocence, or pleading their cause. In that case, the Scripture has declared their criminality, and pronounced their doom; and if they knew the will of their Maker, and did it not, it will be no justification of their conduct, that they only walked in the footsteps of their earthly superiors. But what I say is this, that they are constituted like all other human beings; that their passions and propensities are naturally wayward; that their conduct must depend very much on the situation in which they are placed, and on the usage which they experience ; that they require all the usual discipline which can be made to bear upon their minds, in order to keep them in the right way; and that, it these considerations are disregarded, and if no pains are taken to promote their improvement, and secure their good behaviour, it is foolish to look for anything else than a degree of degeneracy proportioned to the disadvantages under which they labour.
Now, by whom should that care and tuition which are necessary for them be exercised? Who are their natural and proper guardians? Who are they, whose duty and whose interest it is, to watch over their virtue and their welfare? Undoubtedly, the persons whom they serve, under whose roof they live, and to whose authority they are more immediately subject. The masters feel no concern, and if they shew none, for the spiritual benefit of their servants, then it may not merely be affirmed, that they have very little reason to look for fidelity, but it must be evident to every one, that they are ignorant of the force and the extent of their religious obligations, and are destitute of that Christian principle, which leads those in whom it operates to do good to all; and, of course, to do good, in an especial manner, to those with whom they are connected by any near or intimate relation. Love to God will produce and cherish in us love to man. Our love to man will exhibit itself in advancing his moral and eternal interest. The more that he is within the sphere of our influence, and the more exclusively that, in the course of Providence, he is committed to our care, the more incumbent is it upon us to attend to him. And surely the relation which subsists between master and servant, is one of those which, from its nature and circumstances, calls in a peculiar manner for the performance of this duty. As, on the one hand, negligence, evil example, and irregularity of domestic life, on the part of the former, will go far to corrupt the principles, and insure the profligacy of the latter; so, on the other hand, instruction, reproof, guidance, orderly and pious habits, will tend to counteract the power of temptation, to preserve the feelings of integrity, and to produce an uniform propriety and respectability of deportment. “And it is upon this simple, but important view of the case, that those who allow their fondness for amusement and gaiety to withdraw their regards from their servants; who scruple not to habituate them to violations of domestic order and religious duty; who expose them to the assaults of strong and multiplied temptations; and who present them with a constant pattern of folly, voluptuousness, and dissipation, sanctioned by an authority which they are accustomed to respect—are pronounced to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
But if this hold with regard to servants, how much more strongly will it hold with regard to children! I have dwelt at some length on the case of the former, because it is not quite so obvious, and is too often despised, as unworthy of the consideration of people of rank and fashion. But surely I maintain a plea which can neither be contemned nor resisted, when I apply the same argument to the injury which the offspring of such people sustain from their love and their pursuit of pleasure. What an interesting and important charge is devolved upon them What claims upon their parental affection! What motives have they to diligence in giving instruction, to watchfulness in correcting error, to prudence and strictness in setting a good example! Have not they received these children from God, as a precious trust? Have they not devoted them to Him in baptism? Have they not come under solemn obligations to lead them in the ways of godliness? Are not they commanded by him to bring them up in his “nurture and admonition?” Can they shew their gratitude, their sincerity, their fidelity, their obedience, without making it one of their first and dearest objects to educate them in the knowledge of his will, and to fit them for the enjoyment of his presence? Would not a contrary conduct prove, either that they did not feel for the welfare of their children, or that they did not consider that welfare to depend upon the favour of God? And if we do not suspect them of the former, how can we avoid accusing them of the latter, and concluding that they themselves are destitute of genuine love to that Being, who has given them their sons and their daughters, and from whom all the happiness of all his creatures is derived?
Surely, therefore, the description given by the Apostle, applies correctly to those whose love of pleasure interferes between them and their duty to their children, and not only prevents them from leading them right, but even has the effect of leading them wrong. Their frequent parties for amusement at home and abroad leave them little leisure, and still less inclination, to communicate instruction to their youthful charge. They can have no earnestness in praying for them, and no consistency in praying with them, when their devotion and their practice are so opposite to one another. All the advices they may occasionally convey to them, and all the advice that may be given them from other quarters, will be inefficient; because these are belied by the frivolous, worldly, dissipated conduct of the parents whom they are taught to honour. And in the conversation to which they listen, and in the unceasing gaiety which plays around them, and in the devotedness which they see displayed to fashion and to pleasure, they read lessons which they easily learn, and are prepared to reduce to practice as soon as age, and opportunity, and circumstances permit.
While there is no rational way of accounting for this but a want of that love to God which yet the guilty persons will pretend to have, and while there is no excuse for it in those who profess to be Christians, it is melancholy to think how extensively the evil prevails, and how lightly it is thought of by those who are most deeply concerned. Our hopes of better times rest mainly on the rising generation. Much has been done, and much is doing, for their benefit. But how must our anticipations be damped when we see those of superior rank, and education, and influence, withholding from their children the elements of religious and moral excellence, and teaching them, by their own maxims, and their own manners, to make pleasure the great object of their attachment and pursuit! Let such persons think for a moment of the responsibility which attaches to their situation, and of the awfulness of that responsibility at the last day, if in the tone of their minds, and in the course of their lives, and in the treatment of their children, and in the effects produced by their character on the character of their age and of their country, they shall be found to have been “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
 There is reason to fear, that professing Christians live too exclusively to themselves, and consider too little, the effect which their conduct is calculated to produce upon their fellow-men. They are careful, it is true, not to mislead by setting an example that is intrinsically wicked. They acknowledge this at least to be wrong, and try to avoid it. But surely that scrupulous aversion to sin, and that anxious desire to promote the welfare of others, which uniformly flow from love to God, will lead to something more than this. These sentiments will make us cautious as to every.thing that we do, not merely as it may affect ourselves, but as it may affect any of those by whom it is observed, or to whom it is made known. And whatever may be injurious to their religious or moral welfare, from that we will carefully and rigidly abstain, even though, in its own nature, it may be perfectly legal and innocent.
This principle is not only reasonable in itself, and a native fruit of genuine Christian benevolence, but it is sanctioned by scriptural authority, and apostolic example. “We, then, that are strong,” says Paul, [Rom. xv. 1, 2.] “ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of them please his neighbour for his good to edification.” And his conduct corresponded with his maxim and his precept. When speaking of eating those things that were offered in sacrifice to idols, he affirmed that, in particular circumstances, this might be done without blame or injury. But, in other circumstances, it might not be harmless, and then it was not to be done: he himself would not do it, lest he should thereby bring others into a snare. “If meat,” says he, [1 Cor. viii. 13.] “make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
No Christian, then, will think that he lives to himself alone. He loves God. He therefore loves man. And the charity under whose dominion he is bound to feel and act, “ worketh no ill to his neighbour.” [Rom. xiii. 10.] He will look around him, and ascertain as well as he can all the influence which any part of his behaviour may have upon the spiritual condition of his neighbours, and refrain from that which will prove hurtful to them, or which tends to lead them astray. It is not necessary that he should yield to every foolish prejudice, and every unreasonable demand. This would be to put himself into a yoke of intolerable bondage. But he will always consider the moral safety and religious prosperity of others, as dearer to him than any personal gratification; and will be ready to sacrifice the one that he may promote the other. A few examples may be given to illustrate this point.
Suppose I were to walk in my garden, on a summer Sunday evening, that I might meditate on the beauties and wonders of creation, or, with my Bible in my hand, that I might also muse on the more glorious plan of human redemption; and that, along with these holy contemplations, I might draw refreshment from the cooling breeze, and be delighted with the stillness that reigned around me;—in this I should be doing nothing that is inconsistent with the nature and design of the Lord’s Day. The piety of my mind, as well as the health of my body, might even be improved by it. But suppose that I were to be seen by the young, the ignorant, and the giddy, to whom my motives and my feelings were unknown, and who might be incapable of understanding, or of entering into these, and that my conduct were to be construed by them, as it very naturally might, into an approval of the general habit of strolling about for amusement on the Sabbath, would I in that case be justifiable, on any good and acknowledged principle, in continuing the practice? Or should I consider it an unreasonable sacrifice to give it up, that I might not be instrumental in encouraging the profanation of that day which God has commanded us to sanctify? Certainly not.
There are rural recreations in which a parish minister may indulge with advantage to his bodily constitution, and to his mental vigour, and without any the slightest taint of error or immorality. But if, from the peculiar notions of his people respecting clerical decorum, or from the particular circumstances in which he is placed, his indulgence in these shall give offence, and mar the effect of his ministrations, can there be a doubt in the mind of a good man that he should instantly renounce them, and betake himself to others that are less obnoxious? An obstinate adherence to his own system of relaxation would betoken a mind in which religious views and sentiments had not obtained their proper place, or by which the functions of an ambassador of Christ were not fully understood. If he loves God, he will not surely allow his love of mere amusement to make him unacceptable to those over whom God has set him overseer for their spiritual and eternal good. And if, upon the principles of his office, he should be willing “to spend, and to be spent,” for the cause of the Gospel, it cannot be consistent that he should persist in gratifying himself at the expense of his own usefulness, and of his people’s salvation.
I am no friend to card-playing; and while I do not think myself entitled to call it inherently criminal, I think, at the same time, that there are arguments against it which could not be easily answered. But at present I wave the general subject. Suppose the practice to be lawful in itself, and suppose that a professing Christian looks upon an occasional game as a harmless and suitable recreation;—yet, if he is the head of a family, and if he finds that his children and his servants are following his example, and, what is very likely, abusing it, and that he is thus the means of forming them to idle or to gambling habits, will he not instantly renounce his amusement, and all the pleasure that it gave him, rather than do a material injury to his household? If he is not prepared to do this, he neither has the affection of a parent, nor feels his duty as a master. He is a stranger to the united operation of these two great Christian principles—self-denial and benevolence. And though he should not choose to take his rule from the Scriptures, he may be instructed in the same practical lesson, even by a heathen satirist 1 [see end of this note for reference]—
Plurima sun Fuscine, e fama digna sinistra
Et mitidis maculam harsuram figentia rebus,
Quae monstrant ipsi pueris, tradunique, parentes.
Si damnosa senem juvat alea, ludit et heres
Bullatus, parvogue cadem movet arma fritillo.”
“The path, Fuscimus, of perpetual shame,
Clouding the brightness of the noblest name,
The child oft follows, by the parent shewn,
And makes hereditary guilt his own.
when gambling play delights the vicious old,
The mimic young their little dice-box hold.”
Instances to the same purpose might be multiplied. But I shall only give another. I am not conversant in horse-racing. I cannot help thinking, however, that it should be condemned and exploded on the score of humanity to the brute creation. But granting that it were liable to no such objection; that it were a fine sight, and a harmless diversion, and all that is pleasing and innocent, when viewed in itself; should not a man of Christian principle consider the effect which it has on the interests of morality in the place where it prevails? And what is that effect? Why it brings together all the worst characters of the district, or of the country, who, on such occasions, outdo themselves, and encourage one another, in profaneness and debauchery. Were that all, the mischief might be of less consequence. But it also brings together, and into contact with the profligate and profane, those who are young, and industrious, and sober. These get infected with the prevailing disease. They learn to swear, to be idle, to indulge in intemperance, to associate with evil company, to think of nothing but the gratification of their appetites and passions. And thus they, and their houses, and their neighbourhood, become gradually corrupted, till vice and licentiousness gain the ascendency, and the common people incur the abuse of their superiors, for conduct which they themselves have had no small share in producing. And all this for what? That one beautiful horse may be seen running against another That those who contribute to the sport, and those who witness it, may bet, and gamble, and help to injure or perhaps to ruin one another’s families! That the rich man may shine in the ball-room, while the poor man, in his own way, goes to the alehouse and the whisky shop! And that a topic may be furnished for genteel conversation, and a paragraph for the different newspapers, while the moral pollution which it leaves behind is spreading through all the lanes of the town and all the cottages of the country, and producing misery which the lovers of pleasures will never know, and which the riches of the opulent can never cure, and which the efforts of a Christian ministry may struggle against in vain Can he who shuts his eyes, and steels his heart against these things, be a real or a zealous friend to religion? Or how shall he exculpate himself from the charge of being a “lover of pleasures more than he is a lover of God?” If he denies the existence of those evils which I have pointed out, as the consequences of the amusement in question, I have nothing to reply. But if he admits their reality in any considerable degree, the conclusion is irresistible.
1 Juv. Satyr. xiv. l. 1–5. This is perhaps the most moral and unexceptionable of Juvenal’s Satires. And when we read the lessons which it gives to parents respecting the caution which they should observe in avoiding every thing vicious or improper before their children, we may well be ashamed, that so many, who have a still better and more authoritative rule to regulate their conduct, should come so far short of the standard of an unenlightened and licentious Pagan. To those who, in this respect, “are lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,” we would address the following admonition of the poet:
“Fly them from deeds thy secret thoughts condemn,
Lest thy sons witness, and thou ruin them.
With greedy eyes they’ll suck the poison in:
For mature copies with success from sin,
While virtue’s image fails; and, though the earth
Give to a thousand traitors daily birth,
Though many a Catiline alive remain,
Brutus and Cato ne’er shall rise again.”
 I am far from thinking that a Christian should save every farthing beyond what is necessary for the support of himself and his family, that he may employ it for religious purposes. This seems to be maintained by some. But, were the plan generally adopted, it would soon defeat itself. And none at least should urge it very strenuously, till they have denuded their coat of every superfluous button, and limited themselves to the smallest quantity of food on which nature can subsist. Just as certainly, however, as this is altogether extravagant and absurd, so certainly will every man who loves God endeavour to promote his glory in the world, not only by walking himself in the ways of righteousness, but by doing what he can that the Gospel, which gives such a display of the divine perfections, may be more extensively known, and believed, and obeyed. There are various ways of advancing this end. It is not proper to prescribe to any individual what particular method he should prefer. But surely it may be said, that if he does little or nothing in furthering any plan that is proposed to him, and declines to establish and to encourage any plan of his own, he is indifferent to the divine authority, and to the divine honour. No man who is alive to the importance and the value of Christianity, who feels for the moral darkness and degradation of his species, and who sincerely desires to see the “name of God hallowed,” and his “will done upon earth as it is in heaven,” can seriously refuse to lend his aid to those exertions which may promise to enlighten, and reform, and bless the world. When he gives his guinea to a political, and withholds his shilling from a religious, purpose; when he expends his hundreds on mere personal gratification, and grudges his units, or his tens, for instructing his fellow men in the way of salvation; when he lavishes his fortune on fashionable amusements to his children, and can scarcely be prevailed on to give any thing for the moral tuition of the children of the poor;—can it be denied, or can it be doubted, that he is a “lover of pleasures more than he is a lover of God?” His most generous deeds of alms-giving will not exculpate him, so long as it is remembered, that the highest species of charity—that which assimilates us most to God, and will meet with the brightest reward—is the charity that strives to “save a soul from death, and thus to hide a multitude of sins.”
 The sin of wasting, or misemploying time, is too seldom considered in a serious point of view. And yet very little reflection is requisite to shew us, that this is a sin almost “above all others.” Let it be recollected, that when we do not make a proper and diligent use of our time, it is in vain that we are endowed with faculties, or favoured with the means of grace, or presented with opportunities of improvement and usefulness;–that time is given us for serving and glorifying our Maker upon earth, whom we can never serve and glorify enough;-that in time it is necessary to make that preparation for eternity, without which we can never be admitted into heaven, and which requires constant watchfulness and diligence;—that the time afforded us is not only short at the longest, but extremely uncertain, and that if we neglect the present season, we may be cut off by death, and sent to “the judgment-seat of Christ,” with all our guilt upon our head. And, recollecting these things, can we for a moment suppose that the practice of killing time is innocent?
“Innocent! Oh, if venerable time,
Slain at the foot of pleasure, be no crime;
Then, with his silver beard, and magic wand,
Let Comus rise, archbishop of the land;
Let him your rubric and your feasts prescribe,
Grand metropolitan of all the tribe.”
 These Discourses were preached in the month of February 1817.—
We all recollect the nature and extent of the distresses which the public suffered during the course of last year. The people had no employment—provisions were scarce and dear-respectable families were reduced to poverty—and many children were crying for bread, when there was no bread to give them. Such was the general condition of the lower orders of the community. And what was the conduct of the higher? I believe it will be confessed, that, in Edinburgh at least, there never was a season of more general or more extravagant dissipation. Gay parties, and fashionable amusements, prevailed in a degree which excited even the wonder of those who were most deeply engaged in them. And judging by this standard, one would have thought that the country had arrived at the very acme of wealth and prosperity, and that there was no want in our cottages, and no complaining in our streets.
To the eye of the Christian, this certainly presented a very striking and a very unseemly contrast. It is not alleged, that the rich were negligent of the poor; that labour was not provided for the industrious; and that relief was not communicated to the indigent. A great deal was done, and it was done judiciously. But, after all, what a scanty pittance was afforded to the needy? What multitudes were there who could with difficulty get the mere necessaries of life! How many were obliged to strip themselves of their clothes. and their houses of their furniture, that they might not be reduced to the hard alternative of begging or starving! And what a considerable number must there have been who were pining away with hunger, and cold, and wretchedness, but who were too proud to let their necessities and their sorrows be known! Yet these miserable creatures could scarcely creep along the street in quest of an alms, without having their ears saluted, and their feelings wounded, at every corner, by the mirth and the rioting of those thoughtless beings who “chaunt to the sound of the viol—and drink wine in bowls—and are not grieved for any man’s affliction.” [Amos vi. 5, 6.] If ever there was a call in Providence on the high and opulent classes of society to be sober, and to sympathise, and to mourn, it was then. But they appeared to forget their duty amidst that rage for pleasure by which they were actuated, and to banish the spectacle of surrounding misery, by occupying themselves more deeply than ever with the follies and the vanities of the world. Was it right or safe to set at nought the divine judgments in this manner? Was it becoming to rejoice so madly, when their poor brethren were pining and perishing for want? Could they have employed a more effectual method of alienating the affections of the populace, and converting all those sentiments of respect and esteem with which, when kindly treated, they naturally look up to their superiors, into bitter resentment and desperate hostility? It was not only unbecoming in itself—it was not only an ungrateful return to heaven for the comforts and the luxuries which they were permitted to retain amidst the general wreck—it was, moreover, a sad example of that wanton contempt of public feeling and public circumstances, which is too prevalent among the great and wealthy, and which tends, more than almost any other cause, to diffuse a discontented and revolutionary spirit throughout the great mass of the community.
Our condition is unquestionably better than it was. Yet there is reason to fear that this will be a season of hardship and difficulty to many. There is not yet an abundant supply of work. Provisions are not likely to be cheap. And those who suffered so much before, are not so well prepared as they were at first to encounter these evils. I trust, however, our city and our country will exhibit a different aspect. And it is especially to be expected, that professing Christians “ will let their moderation be known to all men.” They should recollect their high and holy calling, and not, suffer themselves to be drawn into the vortex of pleasure and dissipation. It rather becomes them to stem the torrent than to increase it—to be an example to others of temperance and compassion—to accommodate themselves to that state of things in which it has pleased the God of seasons and of nations to place the people of this country. Let them employ themselves in searching out cases of real distress, and in endeavouring to mitigate or to relieve them. Let them, by tenderness, and sympathy, and almsgiving, labour to soothe the minds, and to conciliate the good will of the lower orders. And instead of provoking them by flagrant insensibility to their case, and aggravating its worst features by encouraging dissipation and folly, let them apply their substance to the purposes of their education, their improvement, and their happiness.
 I have already spoken of the obligation that parents are under to beware of setting an example of folly and dissipation before their children. It is to be feared that such an example is too frequently exhibited before their eyes; and it is to be feared, that in many instances, they are not only permitted, but encouraged, to follow it to a most prejudicial extent. Balls are got up for masters and misses—who must, of course, attend them till midnight, and perhaps till long past it! Saturday evenings are preferred, that the secular studies may not be interrupted; and, as a suitable preparation, I suppose, for spending the Sabbath with seriousness and devotion! And young gentlemen, who have not left school, are sometimes initiated so far into the fashions of the day, as to attend two or three public places in one night!
In all this, there is something extremely preposterous and absurd. Such things are quite inconsistent with the age and the employments of children. Their spirits are sufficiently buoyant without these strong stimulants. Exercises of a more becoming kind, and more conducive to their health, are never wanting. And it is quite ludicrous to see them apeing the manners and the habits which are scarcely tolerable in maturer life.
Were the evil, however, to reach no farther than this, we might be content to overlook it. But it is much more extensive, and much more mischievous, in its operation. The practice complained of creates and fixes in the minds of the young persons engaged in it, a taste and a passion for pleasure; and as they advance in years, this worldly plant gathers strength, and strikes its roots deeper, and branches out on every side, and brings forth the poisonous and deathful fruits of sin in abundance. Being early taught to make a business of amusement, to enter into it on a large scale, and to pursue it as a thing essential to their happiness, the religious instruction, and the moral discipline, by which the love of it might have been counteracted, are either wholly neglected, or fail to produce their proper effect. Their propensity to gaiety and dissipation very soon acquires the ascendancy over every good principle which may have been instilled into them. The step from excessive indulgence in these, to actual vice, is short and imperceptible. Christianity loses its hold, if ever it had any hold upon them. And then they surrender themselves to the absolute dominion of fashion, which scarcely keeps any terms with piety and virtue, and indulges its votaries in all that their heart can desire, or their fortune command.
It is not to be wondered at, that parents who are unbelieving and ungodly, should thus introduce their children so prematurely into scenes of empty pleasure. But it is passing strange, that Christian parents should go so readily into the same folly, and nurture their offspring in the vanities of that world, from which they should wish to see them separated. Have they forgotten the admirable advice of Solomon—“Train up a child in the way he should go, that when he is old he may not depart from it?” They know what that way is ; they know its importance ; they know the necessity of walking in it; and they must know what a mighty influence an early and an intimate acquaintance with it, will exercise over the conduct of manhood and of age. Every person will acknowledge the justness of these lines—
“’Tis ranted, and no plainer truth appears,
Our most important are our earliest years;
The mind, impressible and soft, with ease
Imbibes and copies what she sees and hears,
And through life’s labyrinth holds fast the clue
That education gives her, false or true.”
And parents should not only be familiar with this maxim ; but they should keep it constantly before them, and reduce it steadily to practice. Let them recollect the weight of responsibility that lies upon them. Let them endeavour to secure their children against that love of pleasure which is so natural to them, and by which their minds, after all the caution and circumspection that can be practised, will be more than sufficiently influenced. And let them study to impress them with those sentiments, and to guide them into that course of action which will enable them to relish the innocent enjoyments of this world, and which will finally qualify them for dwelling with God, in whose “ presence there is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”