Popular Amusements!

By Hiram Mattison, 1867


Let us turn to the Voice of the Scriptures to see what light, if any, they throw upon the subject.

To every Christian, the Bible is the end of all controversy. He should do whatever it enjoins and shun whatever it condemns. And as we all recognize this Book as the rule of our faith and practice, it shall be our next business to compare the amusements already noticed with the tenor and spirit of the Word of God.

It is not, of course, claimed that the Bible condemns dancing, billiards, theaters etc., by name. Neither does it so condemn gambling, lotteries, betting on elections, horse racing, forgery, or arson. But it inculcates principles which cut up all such follies and sins, root and branch. And it is upon this ground that we contend that participation in the popular amusements of the day, such as dancing, card-playing, billiards, theater-going, etc., is incompatible with the Christian profession, spirit, and life and should therefore be discountenanced by all true friends of Christ and of the Church of God.

 

I. The Scriptures represent conversions to Christ as A GREAT CHANGE, to be followed by a corresponding change in the Outward Life of its subjects.

2 Corinthians 5:17: "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things have become new."

But men of the world "mind earthly things," and look wholly upon "things that are seen and temporal." In these they seek and find their only earthly enjoyments to eat and drink, and dress and amuse themselves, and get money and spend it. Such were the lives of the early Gentile converts, at least, before conversion and so live the unconverted now.

But in conversion, old things are to pass away. New associations are formed, new desires, aspirations, and hopes are implanted in the soul, and new sources of enjoyment are opened up. Henceforth we are to look, not at the things that are seen and temporal but at things not seen and eternal. Our affections are to be on things above, and not upon things on the earth. If, then, we are thus renewed and changed in the current of our relishes, desires, and hopes then a new life necessarily follows; as when the tree is changed the fruit also will be changed. This general principle covers the whole case. If "old things are passed away," and "all things have become new," we shall hereafter seek our delight in the things of God, and shall abandon forever the vain pleasures and delusive follies of an unbelieving world.

If professed Christians are to live like others so far as worldly pleasures are concerned then how is the world to see that there has been any real change wrought in their hearts? "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good," said the Savior, "or else make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt for the tree is known by his fruit." If the tree professes to be good let the fruit or life correspond with the profession.

 

II. The Scriptures bear a general testimony against a life of worldly pleasure, as inconsistent with a Christian profession.

1 Timothy 5:6 Paul says, "but she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives!" That is, if she lives a pleasure-seeking life, she will be dead in religion. And let none suppose that the phrase "lives in pleasure" means something worse than mere worldly gaiety. It means precisely such a life as all those lead, who follow the fashionable amusements of the world, and nothing else.

Donnegan in his Greek Lexicon defines the original word rendered pleasure thus: "to live luxuriously or sumptuously; to riot in luxury to frolic." A perfect picture of a modem "party," with a luxurious supper, with plenty of champagne, and a general frolic until daylight; but not the slightest intimation of impurity, unless the "frolic," implies it.

Parkhurst's Lexicon defines the word pleasure to mean "to live extravagantly, luxuriously, or voluptuously."

Dr. Albert Barnes says, "the Greek word for pleasure means to live in luxury, voluptuously; to indulge freely in eating and drinking; to yield indulgence of the appetites. It does not indicate grossly criminal pleasures, but the kind of pleasure connected with luxurious living, and with pampering the appetites."

Dr. Adam Clarke thus renders the passage: "She that lives delicately voluptuously indulging herself with dainties. It does not indicate grossly criminal pleasures; but simply means one who indulges herself in good eating and drinking, pampering her body at the expense of her mind."

And after citing an ancient Greek author to justify this definition, he says: "I have introduced this long quotation the better to fix the meaning of the apostle to show that the life of pleasure mentioned here does not mean prostitution or immorality of any kind, though such a life may naturally lead to dissolute living."

Dr. MacKnight, than whom there are few better Greek scholars, says, "the word pleasure signifies one who fares deliciously;" and his paraphrase or commentary upon the whole verse is, "But the widow who lives in gaiety and luxury is dead while she lives in that manner," etc.

In the general Epistle of James, 5:1, 5, addressing certain rich men in the church who were corrupting it, as some are doing now, he says, "Go now, you rich men, weep and howl for the miseries that shall come upon you." "You have lived in pleasure on the earth; you have nourished your hearts as in the day of slaughter." Here the same Greek word is used as in the passage last cited "to riot in luxury, to frolic;" and the same unchristian practices are solemnly condemned.

All this shows how specifically and emphatically Paul condemned a mirthful and pleasure-seeking life as utterly incompatible with the life and power of religion in the soul. If we live in pleasure, we are dead while we live.

Galatians 5:19-21, "Now the works of the flesh are manifest: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, revelings and such like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God!"

In this passage we find "revelings and such like" enumerated among the works of the flesh. This phrase plainly covers dancing, wine-drinking, mirthful, festive parties, and all worldly folly. But to break its force as against worldly amusements, it has been alleged, as in regard to the preceding passage, that "revelings and such like," has no reference to feasting and dancing but to lasciviousness! This I emphatically deny, and will give the proof:

1. The passage itself shows upon its face that this cannot be the meaning of the phrase; for the apostle had already mentioned "adultery, fornication, immorality," and "lasciviousness;" and hence, to represent him as again using a phrase which means lasciviousness is to accuse him of the strangest tautology. But when we take it to mean worldly amusements, its position is natural and comprehensive, "drunkenness, revelings, and such like." And who does not know that dancing, and billiards, and theater-going, and drinking are usually associated?

2. The Greek word komoi, translated revelings, does not refer to lasciviousness, but to precisely what answers to a modern ball or "party," with its accompaniments of wine and music, dancing and late hours. Let us consult the Greek lexicons:

Parkhurst defines the word thus: "Reveling, feasting [not conduct, mark] with songs and music." Donnegan defines it to mean "A jovial assembly of friends, who met at an entertainment, or to celebrate a festival, with music, dancing, and singing hymns, and odes a band of revelers, etc." Here you see that the komoi forbidden by the apostle included music, dancing, and a sumptuous supper, and tendencies to lasciviousness, but did not include lasciviousness itself. It means an ancient ball, and nothing else. And the phrase "and such like" covers all similar worldly pleasures and follies. There is no evading this fact, unless we are determined to wrest the word of God to accommodate our own carnal appetites and longings. And if we do this, we may as well cast off God's authority over us and our conduct at once, and give up all pretensions to piety and all hope of Heaven at last.

3. Do not fail to notice that these "revelings and such like" are specifically designated as "works of the flesh," and are classed with adultery, murders, drunkenness, etc. And nothing of the kind is found among the fruits of the Spirit; for they are "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance against such there is no law." And the apostle immediately adds that "those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts;" that is, they have put down and overcome all these fleshly lusts for the pleasures and vanities of the world, and are seeking happiness in Christ alone and the things of religion. Depend upon it, brethren, if we are Christians, we are "debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh; for if we live after the flesh, we shall die. But if we through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live.'" Romans 8:12.

4. Mark with what solemn emphasis the apostle concludes the passage. After having enumerated the works of the flesh, even to "revelings and such like," he adds: "Of which I tell you before [before the day of judgment and final retribution], as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things Shall Not Inherit The Kingdom Of God." May God in mercy help us all to heed the solemn warning!

1 Peter 4:3-4, "For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, revelings, banquetings, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you!"

Here observe:
1. That Christians were not to live as formerly, and like other men--in folly and dissipation.
2. That "revelings" and "banquetings" are specified, which covers all balls, parties, and masquerades, at least.
3. That the early Christians had ceased to run with those who walked in these follies.
4. That the ungodly thought this very "strange" and over-rigid.
5. That the ungodly spoke evil of Christians, on account of their peculiar abstinence and self-denial.

And today the same holy course meets the same unholy treatment, even at the hands of some who profess religion, and ought to be found wholly upon the Lord's side.

2 Timothy 3:1-8, "This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, etc., despisers of those that are good, traitors [to God and religion], heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof from such turn away."

A more perfect portrait of a modern pleasure-seeking professor could scarcely be drawn. The love of pleasure stands associated with its kindred vices, contempt of the truly pious, unfaithfulness to Christ, pride, formality without religion, and hostility to God's faithful watchmen, who, like Moses of old, contend for the truth.

And mark the stern decree of the apostle "from such turn away;" that is, as Barnes well expresses it, "have no fellowship with them as if they were Christians; show no countenance to their religion."

1 John 2:15, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Here "the world" does not mean the globe, nor its inhabitants, but its amusements, follies and carnal pleasures. Hence it is added, "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." And no such love of pleasure, it is declared, can co-exist with the love of God in the same bosom. "You cannot serve both God and mammon."

 

III. The Scriptures constantly enjoin self-denial as an indispensable Christian duty.

Matthew 16:25, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."

Mark 8:34, "Whoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."

Luke 9:23, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Luke 14:27, "And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."

In his letter to Titus, 2:11-12, Paul says: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world;" and then adds, "these things exhort and teach."

Hebrews 11:24-26, "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward."

Here we have an example of self-denial set before us: Moses discarding the pleasures of sin, which were but for a season at best, and choosing even affliction with the people of God, that he might finally inherit eternal life.

But if Christians indulge in all worldly amusements and follies like others then where is the self-denial?
Where is the cross?
Where is the peculiarity?
Where is the difference in the life?

 

IV. The scriptures plainly require Christians to come out from the world, and not to be conformed to its spirit and practices.

Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."

But if the world dances, and play cards and billiards, and attends theaters, and we do the same things then are we not conformed to them, instead of their being conformed to Christ? In what sense is our body a living sacrifice to God, if we use it to play billiards and dance and attend theaters? Oh, how far are we from the divine standard, when thus swept away by the spirit and vanities of a prayerless and ungodly throng, who seek their only good in this world, and are hastening with every passing day to a dark and terrible hereafter! And yet professed Christians join the wild revel, and help to lead them on to death and destruction! Oh, may God pity and have mercy upon these professed Christians who have thus helped to deepen their blindness, increase their carnal security, render their conversion to Christ more difficult, and their final and eternal ruin more probable!

1 Peter 1:14-5, "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy."

But if we live a mirthful and pleasure-seeking life, as we did before conversion, are we not fashioning ourselves according to the former lusts? Where, then, is the holiness in conduct and deportment? Where the conformity to Christ, and the example that leads others to him and his service?

2 Corinthians 6:17, "Therefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing, and I will receive you. And will be a father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

Here the prohibition "not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers," is enforced by the general principle that Christianity and the world are not to be blended in the life of the same person. The Christian is to deny himself, even as to the choice of an irreligious companion, to "come out from" the irreligious and "be separate," that the Lord may receive him.

 

V. Christians should avoid even the appearance of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:22, "Abstain from all appearance of evil" not merely from that which is intrinsically and obviously sinful, but from that also which may be indifferent, but which others regard as wrong. Now who will deny that for a professed Christian to be seen playing cards or billiards, dancing or attending a theater appears wrong to nine-tenths of the people of God, and also to a vast majority of non-professors? And if this be so, no matter what such practices are in themselves, this text forbids Christians indulging in them.

 

VI. We must not unnecessarily cause or allow our Christian profession and character to be brought into disrepute.

Romans 14:16, "Let not then your good be evil spoken of." Do not practice those things, whether it is eating meat offered to idols, or anything else, which will bring a reproach upon Christianity, and give the unconverted occasion to speak evil of the religion which you profess. But for professed Christians to play cards, dance, or attend theaters, does give occasion for the world to reproach the cause of Christ; and therefore no Christian should ever indulge in such practices.

 

VII. We must not indulge in anything, however innocent in itself, if thereby a brother Christian is grieved or stumbles in the way to Heaven.

Romans 14:21, "It is good neither to eat flesh nor drink wine, nor anything whereby your brother stumbles or is offended, or is made weak."

The subject under consideration was, whether a Christian should eat the ftesh of animals which had been offered in sacrifice to idols. The Church was divided upon the question. Some ate and others were grieved, stumbled, and made weak in faith and love. Now how did Paul decide? "There is nothing unclean in itself." Abstractly considered, it is a matter of indifference. But "let no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." "If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died." And soon after comes the general declaration, "It is good neither to eat meat," etc., as already cited.

Now, for professed Christians to play cards and billiards, and dance, and attend theaters, does grieve and afflict, and stumble a vast majority of their fellow disciples; and I have no doubt has in various ways "destroyed" hundreds of our fellow immortals for whom Christ died. How then can Christians be justified in these practices in the light of this passage of Scripture?

 

VIII. We are to do nothing that we cannot do to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Here the same question is under discussion, and the apostle inculcates the same doctrine. "Give no offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God." But can men and women dance, and play billiards, and go to circuses and theaters, "to the glory of God?" Will such conduct honor the Christian name and profession? Do Christians, by so doing, "let their light so shine before men, that others [the irreligious], by seeing their good works [their good dancing and card-playing,] will glorify their Father who is in Heaven?"

 

IX. We are to set one affections upon things above, which we cannot do, if we indulge in worldly amusements.

Colossians 3:2, "If you then are risen with Christ [have been raised up from the death of sin and folly] seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."

But whoever gives himself up to worldly amusements soon becomes so fascinated by them, that his affections are much more upon them than upon God and eternity. His heart is not upon the things that are unseen and eternal, but upon those that are seen and temporal the fashion of this world which is passing away. Such a life of pleasure is, therefore, utterly at variance with that spirituality and heavenly-mindedness which this passage enjoins.

 

X. Indulging in such amusements is incompatible with that Spieit Of Prayer in which Christians are expected to live and die.

Our Savior taught, Luke 18:1, that "men ought always to pray, and not to faint;" and Paul's advice, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, is that Christians "pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks." In his first letter to Timothy 2:8, he says, "I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without anger and doubting." Now while these passages do not teach that Christians should be always upon their knees, or uttering vocal prayer, they certainly teach that Christians are to pray much, to pray constantly; that is, not to live days and weeks without praying; and that they are to maintain a spirit of prayer at all times, and wherever they are.

Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,
The Christian's native air;
His watchword at the gates of death,
He enters Heaven with prayer!

But, how can such a spirit be maintained while playing cards? What person carries a prayerful spirit to the ball-room? Who ever prayed even in his heart in a theater? Every votary of these amusements knows that the two things are as utterly opposed, the one to the other, as light and darkness. If, then, we obey Christ and his apostles, and maintain the spirit of prayer as they enjoin we must give up our worldly amusements and follies, for the two are utterly incompatible, the one with the other.

Such, then, is the general tenor and spirit of that blessed Book which is our only guide as to our conduct here, and the results thereof hereafter. It teaches us that at conversion old things should pass away, as the dry leaves of the beech are shed from the boughs and disappear when the buds are swelled by the warmth of spring that we cannot live mirthful and pleasure-seeking lives, and still enjoy the love of Christ in our souls it classes "revelings" among the works of the flesh, which debar their votaries from admission to heaven that the early Christians ceased to indulge in "excess of wine, revelings, banquetings," etc., when they embraced Christ that we are not to be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God that we are not to love the world, if we wish the love of God to abide in us that we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ that we are not to be conformed to this world, not to fashion ourselves according to the former lusts that we are to come out from the world and be separate, that God may receive us that we are to avoid even the appearance of evil, and not let our good be evil-spoken of that we should do nothing which will grieve, or stumble, or offend our brethren in Christ, such as card-playing, dancing, etc., does that we are to set our affections on things above, as we cannot if we follow the vanities of the present life and that we are to live in and cultivate such a spirit of prayer, as is utterly incompatible with a life of pleasure and worldly amusements.

These are but specimens of the general teachings of the Bible upon the subject; but enough to show that the practices against which I plead are entirely incompatible with the Christian profession, spirit and life. Whatever may have been our practice, therefore, or may be our present inclinations or preferences, such is the voice of God. It is not more certain that Christ came into the world and died to save us than it is that, the Bible being our guide, a life of pleasure and worldly amusements is incompatible with the Christian name and profession.