R.W. Dale, 1895
(Casuistry. The science of dealing with cases of conscience; the science of resolving cases of doubtful propriety, or of determining the lawfulness or unlawfulness of what a man may do, by rules and principles drawn from the scriptures, from the laws of society, or from equity and natural reason; the application of general moral rules to particular cases.)
Since Jeremy Taylor and Richard Baxter, English Protestantism has had no great casuists. Nor is this to be regretted. Simplicity, robustness and manliness of character, are seriously imperilled whenever the conscience is perplexed by the refinements and intricacies in which casuistry delights. It is safer to leave men to the guidance of those great and obvious moral laws whose authority every pure and honest heart acknowledges. The maxim, "Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves," may convey sound advice to a man who wants to build up a fortune — but it is utterly false when applied to the culture of character. Not the minor details of conduct, but the supreme objects of human life and the broad principles of integrity and honor, should receive our chief thought. To be more anxious to avoid little sins than to develop great virtues — will produce an effeminate moral delicacy, instead of an heroic vigor; and people who are very scrupulous about small matters, are often miserably weak in the presence of great temptations.
There are moral and religious scruples over small matters, which is ruinous to moral and religious health. If a man's physical constitution is sound, a few general principles will guide him better than a whole encyclopedia of minute regulations about "what to eat, drink, and avoid." A healthy appetite, vigorous exercise, pure air, temperance in all things, and adequate rest — will do far more to keep him in good health, than taking incessant drugs, and measuring his bread and meat by ounces. And let a man have a fervent love for what is pure and just and honorable; let him have a cordial abhorrence of what is sensual, base, dishonest, and ungenerous — and he will not go far wrong.
It may be said that casuistry is necessary for spiritual "directors," just as medical science is necessary for doctors. But Protestantism has, very wisely, made no provision for placing sick souls under the care of spiritual physicians. Casuistry and the Confessional go together — and we have renounced them both.
Our principle is, that the soul is safest in God's hands; that no man, whatever his sanctity or knowledge of human nature, or skill in ethical analysis, is competent to "direct" another man's moral and spiritual life. The spiritual diseases to be remedied are too subtle; the symptoms, for the most part, are too vague and indefinite — to make an accurate diagnosis possible; and the "treatment" is beyond the resources of all human wisdom.
The only sound method of training men to purity, integrity, and honor, is to let them know the broad outlines of God's directives, and then to trust them to the light of conscience and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, most of the moral evils from which men suffer will not disappear under direct remedies; what is necessary is, the development of sincere consecration to God and holiness.
Practical questions may sometimes actually arise about which an honest man may be in doubt, and practical questions may be imagined which only an expert could answer; but Jeremy Taylor says, very admirably, that "the preachers may solve infinite number of cases of conscience, if they will more earnestly preach and exhort to simplicity and love; for the want of these is the great multiplier of cases.
Often men do not serve God with honesty and heartiness, and they do not love Him greatly, but stand upon terms with Him, and study how much is lawful, how far they may go, and which is their utmost stretch of lawful, being afraid to do more for God and for their souls than is simply and indispensably necessary. And oftentimes they tie religion and their own lusts together, and the one entangles the other, and both are made less discernible and less practical.
But the godly man understands the things of God; not only because God's Spirit properly instructs him, but because he has a way of determining his cases of conscience which will never fail him. For, if the question be put to him whether it be fit for him to give a shilling to the poor, he answers that it is not only fit, but necessary, to do so much, at least; and to make it sure, he will give two shillings. In matter of duty, he takes to himself the greater share. In privileges and divisions of right, he is content with the least. And in questions of priority and dignity he always prevails by deferring, and ever is superior by sitting lowest. He gets his will, first, by choosing what God wills, and then what his neighbor imposes and desires.
As for such questions as good Richard Baxter raises in his "Christian Directory," many of them are so easily solved by plain common sense, others are so frivolous, and others arise from such exceptional conditions of human life — that it was hardly necessary to discuss them. Who, for instance, need make it a matter of solemn inquiry whether or not it is lawful "for a person that is deformed to hide their deformity by their clothing? and for any people to make themselves (by fancy dressing, or makeup) to seem to others as lovely and beautiful as they can?"
It is to be hoped, too, that husbands and wives are very seldom perplexed with the question "what to do in case of known intention of one to murder the other?"
Nor were the men of the Commonwealth at all what I take them to have been, if they needed to be told what must be done "if a gentleman has a great estate, by which he may do much good — but his wife be so proud, selfish, extravagant, and peevish, that if she may not waste it all in fancy furniture and pride, she will die, or go mad, or give him no quietness" — poor gentleman! What a man's duty would be "in so sad a case," most husbands would determine without Richard Baxter's assistance, by the help of a certain rough instinct, and common sense. And if a text was needed, the unhappy "gentleman" would be likely to remember what Paul said about the husband being the "head of the wife," even as Christ is the Head of the Church.
What amusements are lawful to people who wish to live a holy life — is one of the questions by which many good people are sorely perplexed. The stricter habits of our fathers are being everywhere relaxed, and there are very many who wish to do right, who know not what to think of the change; they yield to the current customs of the times, but yield with hesitation, discomfort, and apprehension.
At first sight, some of the distinctions which have been drawn between amusements which are permitted and amusements which are forbidden, appear to be altogether arbitrary. They seem to originate in no moral principle — in no spiritual instinct. Why should card-playing stamp a man as "worldly" and chess be perfectly consistent with devoutness? Why should fishing be permitted even to clergymen, and shooting be regarded by many as a sign of unregeneracy? Why should people take their children to a circus, who would be horrified at their going to a theater?
The things allowed are so like the things forbidden, that the distinction which has been drawn between them will probably be pronounced by many people to be altogether irrational. No sensible man, however, will ever suppose that strong convictions which extend through large communities are altogether without foundation in reason or experience. If he cannot understand them, he will acknowledge that it may perhaps be his own fault. Nothing lives without a real root somewhere; if not in the nature of things, yet in the accidental history of the people among whom it has sprung up. Many of the broad moral distinctions which evangelical Christians make between amusements which are very much alike, receive an easy explanation when we consider the very different accessories with which, either in our own days or in former days, they have been associated.
For instance, it is no doubt quite as easy to play at chess for money as to play at cards for money; but people who want the excitement of gambling are impatient of the tedious length to which the one game often extends, and prefer the more rapid movement of the other. The two games are equally games of skill, and require an equal amount, though a different kind, of intellectual effort; but by the one a clever player may win a good of money in an evening, while the other is too solemn and slow to be made subordinate to the financial profits of success. Professionals may play for a heavy stake, and heavy bets may be laid on the rival players as the fortunes of the game ebb and flow; but under ordinary circumstances chess is not a convenient disguise for gambling.
This is probably the reason that a chessboard may be found in hundreds of houses where the difference between spades and diamonds is quite unknown. There can be no more harm in playing with pieces of colored cardboard than with pieces of carved ivory; but cards have been always associated with gambling and chess has not.
Nor is it difficult to explain why bagatelle (a small indoor table game, the object of which is to get a number of balls past wooden pins, which act as obstacles, into holes) is allowed and billiards are forbidden. A billiard-table is a large and costly piece of furniture. It needs a room for itself, and a room such as few families belonging to the middle classes have ever been able to spare for the purpose. It must be treated as tenderly as a newborn infant — kept in an unvarying temperature, if it is to be of any real use. To play at billiards, therefore, people have had to go to a public table, and generally to a hotel. The game has come to be associated with late hours and alcohol. Public playing has brought gambling with it. But bagatelle boards, sufficiently small to afford considerable amusement, are cheap enough to be within the reach of people of very moderate means; and they have been made of a form and size which render a special room unnecessary. Bagatelle, therefore, has been dissociated from the evils which have given an evil name to billiards; it has made home pleasant; the girls and the boys have played with their father. While the nobler game has lost its reputation from bad company, the inferior game has kept its honor almost stainless.
Again, there are large numbers of good people who look kindly upon the fishing rod and the line, though they regard a man that carries a gun as belonging to the devil's regiment. How is this? Perhaps the root of the distinction lies in this — that men commonly go alone to the river to fish — and in parties to the hunt. The angler is generally a quiet, meditative man; he is silent, solitary, and gentle; half his enjoyment lies in penetrating into the secret places of nature, in contemplate her shy and hidden beauties, in watching the pleasant wooing which is always going on in summer between the murmuring rippling waters and the ash tree, the oak tree, and the willow tree, which bends to kiss them as they pass.
He loves stillness and peace. The country parson may think over his text while his float drifts lazily with the current, or while he wanders by the stream watching for the silver flashes which tempt him to throw his fly.
The men that delight to hear the whirr of the partridge are generally of another sort. But with many people heavy drinking is inseparably associated with heavy bags of game. Good people do not object to eat the partridges when they are shot, but they have the impression that the men who shoot them are a vicious, rollicking set, with whom it is undesirable that their sons should be too intimate. All this is rapidly changing; in many parts of the country it has quite disappeared; but I am inclined to think — speaking of those whom I know best — that though a Nonconformist minister, with a cast of flies on his hat and a rod on his shoulder, would feel no shyness at meeting accidentally the very gravest of his deacons; he would rather be on the other side of the hedge if he happened to have on his hunting gear and to be carrying his gun.
The traditions of what is allowable, and what is forbidden, which have come down to us are explicable; and if we are people of sense, we shall ask whether the same circumstances which made certain amusements objectionable a hundred years ago, or fifty years ago — make them objectionable now.
I believe in reverence for the deliberate judgments of godly men; what they have generally shrank from and condemned, must have had some evil in it. Their spiritual experience, not merely their theoretical opinions, is embodied in the habits of life which they have transmitted to their descendants and followers. But we bring them into contempt if we do not try to understand what it was they really objected to. If they censured particular amusements because of the sinful accessories with which, in their days, those amusements were associated, and not because of any evil in the amusements themselves, we are actually imperiling their reputation for moral discernment and good sense, by appealing to their authority in condemnation of what is plainly harmless, when the evil accessories have disappeared.
In some instances, the very things which they condemned have changed, and yet their condemnation remains uncancelled. Reading of novels may, perhaps, be legitimately considered an amusement. A hundred years ago devout people were, I suppose, almost unanimous in excluding novels from their houses. Nothing, they thought, could be more ruinous to their children than this captivating, ensnaring, and exciting literature. But what kind of novels did they condemn? Would the men who would as soon have seen their girls drinking poison, as have seen them reading a novel — have had the same objection to their reading of T.S. Arthur?
Would the traditional veto on works of fiction, have ever been uttered if George MacDonald had been writing his novels a hundred and fifty years ago? There are curious corners of English society where the pleasant fact has not yet been discovered that Sir Walter Scott regenerated fiction; and some of the brightest and noblest creations of modern genius are regarded with distrust, on the ground of what was said "by them of old time," about books which every good man would thrust into the fire with disgust at their impurity, or fling into his waste-paper basket with contempt for their frivolity.
We are bound to understand the judgments of our fathers before we appeal to their authority; and while we should be guilty of presumptuous folly if we did not honor the cautions suggested by the experience of wise and devout men who have lived before us, we must take care to ask what that experience really was.
Profanity, impurity, and cruelty are always evil, whether connected with our amusements or with the common business and habits of life. Whatever tends to these things is evil too. If any recreation, however pleasant, involves a clear breach of moral laws, it must be bad for all men and under all circumstances. Or if, though harmless in itself, immorality has become inseparably connected with it, every good man will avoid and condemn it.
Prize-fighting, cock-fighting, and bull-baiting are plainly inhuman sports. It is utterly disgusting that men should be able to find any pleasure in them; and the right feeling of English society has made them all utterly disreputable. As for horse-racing, there can be no intrinsic harm, I suppose, in the magnificent contest. But horse-racing has become a mere pretext for gambling; and if a tenth of what is reported during the race-week is to be believed, our races are disgraced by drunkenness and abominable profligacy!
A well-known member of Parliament, a man of the world, making no pretensions to religion, told me, that on being applied to immediately after his election for the usual subscription to the races — he wrote at once to say that in his judgment there was no institution which inflicted greater moral injury on the community than horse-racing, and that sooner than subscribe a single penny to encourage it, he would forfeit his seat.
You cannot see the horses run without becoming a party to the gambling, and to the vices worse than gambling, which races everywhere encourage; if, so long as the sport remains, the wickedness associated with it remains too, no refinements of casuistry are necessary to show that the sport is unlawful.
But there are amusements which cannot be called immoral either in themselves or their accessories, about which a good man will have serious doubts.
The object of all recreation is to increase our capacity for work, to keep the bodily health strong, and the brain bright, and the temper kindly, and sweet. If any recreation exhausts our strength instead of restoring it, or so absorbs our time as to interfere with the graver duties of human life — it must be condemned.
How does this principle affect the great English field sports? There are many men to whom hunting is the best possible exercise; one day out of seven after the hounds doubles their energy during the remaining six. Putting aside questions which belong to economy rather than to ethics — questions about the injury that hunting inflicts on the land — there seems to be no good reason why such men should not hunt. The horses like the sport; the dogs like it; and as for the fox, he lives such a roguish life that I think he may be sacrificed with an easy conscience for the general good.
But if a man must hunt three days a week all through the season instead of one; if half of his waking life during a great part of the year must be spent on horseback in the field — he is surely forgetting the very object of recreation.
Now it is hardly possible to maintain a great hunting establishment, like the famous one at Tedworth, for instance, without making hunting one of the supreme objects of existence; and, with all respect for enthusiasm, whatever grotesque form it may assume, it is rather hard to accept the judgment that "the noblest of all occupations is hunting."
If anyone can hunt a single day a week, and so keep himself in better condition for his work in the manufactory, the counting-house, or the study — no one has a right to blame him; but when a man begins to keep so many hunting dogs, it seems hard to practice moderation. Nor should Richard Baxter's sixteenth test to determine the lawfulness of an amusement be forgotten in connection with this recreation, "Too costly recreation also is unlawful. If you are but God's stewards, and must be accountable to Him for all you have — then it is sinful to expend it needlessly on sport."
Amusements are objectionable which interfere with regular and orderly habits of life, and which, instead of increasing health and vigor, produce weariness and exhaustion. What time do young ladies breakfast the day after a ball? How do young gentlemen feel at eight or nine o'clock on Friday morning — who were dancing until a couple of hours after midnight on Thursday? Dancing itself need not be wrong; and the sweeping moral objections to it which have sometimes been urged from the pulpit, are unpardonable insults to thousands of women who are as pure-minded as any in the country. There may be some dances which good taste and delicate moral feeling disapprove, but so long as high-minded English ladies find pleasure in the ball-room, no one shall persuade me that the offensive and indiscriminate charges which have been recklessly flung out against dancing have any truth in them.
But these charges may be all false and yet there may be very adequate grounds for discouraging balls. It is very pleasant to see a dozen or a score of graceful children, daintily dressed, dancing on a lawn in summer time, or, with the bright red berries and rich green leaves of the holly and the pale-white mistletoe about them, on Twelfth Night. Children were made to dance — as birds were made to sing. They sleep sounder for it and wake up all the fresher the next morning. And if young men and women find themselves getting chilly on a snowy winter's day, or if their spirits are very exuberant, I cannot see why they may not push the tables aside and ask someone to sit down at the piano and play a song.
But for people to leave home deliberately at ten o'clock at night, with the intention of dancing for three or four hours, appears to me to be a violation of all the laws and principles which should determine the choice of our pleasures.
There is something, too, absolutely grotesque in it. At six o'clock in the evening a grown-up woman goes to her dressing room, spends three or four hours in arraying herself in gorgeous or beautiful clothing, in clouds of lace or in shining silk; at nine or ten, perhaps at eleven, her carriage comes to the door and she is driven off, it may be through hail or snow or rain, to a room which soon becomes intolerably hot; and there, in the middle of the night, she spends her time in graceful gymnastics. Gymnastics at midnight! Gymnastics in a crowd! Gymnastics in fine silk!
But it is not the gymnastics for which the throng assembles. It is for social fellowship. Well, are the conditions and circumstances favorable to social fellowship of a really pleasant and healthy kind? If we must meet our neighbors, is this a rational way of meeting with them? If young gentlemen and young ladies must come to know each other, is a ball-room, with its heat and excitement, and flirtation — the most desirable place for bringing them together? If we were savages still, dancing with each other might probably be the best possible way of spending our time together; but to say that civilized educated people are not able to do something better than this, is a grim irony on the last and highest results of our national culture!
I have spoken only of balls which are free from obvious moral objection. It is hardly necessary to remind my readers that in all our large commercial and manufacturing towns, there are public rooms for dancing, much frequented by baser people, both young men and women, by clerks, by milliners, by girls employed in factories, which have been the moral ruin of thousands!
Perhaps of all amusements, the theater involves the most intricate and perplexing questions for anyone who wishes to live a holy life. That for the last two hundred years there should have been a stern and deep antagonism to dramatic representations among earnest Christian people, need excite no surprise. The plays which were acted are a sufficient explanation of the horror with which, at least in evangelical families, the stage has been universally regarded.
But it is urged that all plays are not immoral. Dramatic genius — the very highest form of genius, perhaps, belonging to the province of pure literature — need not stain its glory by pandering to the most corrupt passions of corrupt men. Well, let the play be unimpeachable; purify the theater from all the evil accessories which cling to it — what shall we say then? Would it still be a sin to laugh at the pure comedy? Would it still be a crime to weep over the sorrows of Ophelia? To sedentary, careworn men, a brilliant light comedy is almost as refreshing as a day in the country; must conscience forbid them the most exhilarating recreation within their reach?
The question is not so simple as it looks. There are people of quick moral sensibility and vigorous good sense, who argue that original dramatic genius is a divine gift, and that dramas, from their very nature, should be seen, not read; that the powers necessary to a great actor are divine gifts too, and that it cannot be wrong to derive enjoyment from witnessing their exercise; that the craving for the kind of excitement which is produced by seeing a good play well acted is as natural, and therefore as innocent as hunger and thirst; that for good people to condemn amusements which satisfy a universal and harmless instinct, is to engage in a perilous contest with the very constitution of human nature, and must issue in most lamentable results; that the accidental evils now connected with the theater would never have existed, or would long ago have disappeared, had Christian people not given up all control of the stage, so that their alleged mistake has actually created, or at least perpetuated, all that is morally perilous in the actual condition of the institution; that the real alternative presented to the practical wisdom of those who are anxious to promote the morality of the community, is not, whether theatrical representations shall continue to exist or not — for while men continue to be what God made them, the passion for the drama will be inextinguishable — but whether theatrical representations shall be separated and cleansed from the baser associations which now make the theater the haunt of vice and the very center of all the corruption that curses and disgraces great cities.
But, after all, we have to take things as they stand. It is not our duty to send our sons and daughters into a region of moral evil, with the hope that in the course of a generation or two their presence will cause the evil to disappear. For themselves, indeed, there may be no serious danger. Our presence with them may shield them from all contact with what would harm them. They may be as safe in their box from the men and women, from whose lightest touch we should wish them to recoil, as when they are in our own drawing-rooms. But if they go, then hundreds and thousands more will go who have no parental shelter, and whose purse keeps them in the gallery or the pit. Are those young men and women exposed to no perils?
Moreover, if report does not greatly deceive me, there are still plays acted on the English stage whose moral tendencies can hardly be approved by a sensitive conscience. Such plays, it is alleged, would disappear if the better class of society attended the theater in large numbers. Perhaps they would; meanwhile, I do not choose to recommend my friends to sit down to a table where they are likely to find poisoned dishes, with the hope that by-and-by their influence will lead to the production of better fare.
There is another consideration which appears to deserve great weight, though it would take too much space fully to develop it. How does it happen that actors and actresses have so often been people of questionable moral character? I am infinitely far from thinking that there have not been, that there are not now, men and women on the stage of whom it would be an atrocious slander to whisper or to insinuate an injurious suspicion. There are illustrious instances of honor unstained, and virtue untainted, by the perils and excitements which beset the actor's life. But are not those perils very serious and grave? They may defy analysis, but do they not exist? Should we honor with such warmth of admiration those who do not fall, if experience had not proved how hard it is to stand? We do injustice to those whose lives are blameless, if we think that their blamelessness is no proof of exceptional moral strength. Now, if any amusement involves grave moral danger to those who provide it — a good man will shrink from it; just as a gentle, kindly man shrinks from witnessing feats of skill which imperil the lives or the limbs of the performers.
What the theater may be in the next century, or the century after that, we cannot tell. It is hard to think that the genius of great dramatists will disappear when the moral condition of society shall have been regenerated by the influence of the Christian faith, or that the noble physical gifts and intellectual susceptibilities of great actors will then have a place only in the history of the darker times of the human race. It may then be found that a profession which appears to be singularly perilous to those who enter it, has been perilous only from the circumstances with which it has been accidentally connected, and that the neighborhood of a theater may be as decent and respectable as the neighborhood of a church. It is the safest choice to deny ourselves the pleasant excitement which the stage can give — rather than incur the responsibility of encouraging the evils which have so long been associated with its fascinations.
I have discussed the questions raised in this paper solely on moral grounds; and I have done this intentionally.
The common reason alleged for condemning certain amusements in which no moral evil can be shown to exist, is that they are "worldly." But there is no word in our language which is more abused than this. The sin of worldliness is a very grave one; but thousands and tens of thousands of people are guilty of it, who are most vigorous in maintaining the narrowest moral standards. One would imagine, from the habits of speech common in some sections of religious society, that worldliness has to do only with our pleasures, while in truth it has to do with the whole spirit and temper of our life.
To be "worldly" is to permit our transcendent relation to Christ Jesus our Lord — to be overborne by inferior interests, and by the opinions and practices of those in whom the life of God does not dwell. There is a worldliness of the counting-house as fatal to the true health and energy of the soul — as the worldliness of the ball-room; and there are more people whose loyalty to Christ is ruined by covetousness — than by love of pleasure.
There is a worldliness in the conduct of ecclesiastical affairs, quite as likely to extinguish the divine fire which should burn in the church — as the worldliness which reveals itself in the frivolity of those unhappy people whose existence is spent in one ceaseless round of gaiety.
There is a worldliness in politics — an oblivion of what God has revealed concerning the brotherhood of mankind, and the social and national duties which arise from the common relationship of all men and all nations to Him — quite as hostile to the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven in human society, as the worldliness which openly defies the real or conventional distinctions which churches have drawn between lawful and forbidden amusements.
Let no man think that he ceases to be worldly — ceases, that is, to belong to that darker and inferior region of life from which Christ came to deliver us — merely by abstaining from half a dozen of his old recreations. Not thus easily is the great victory won which is possible only to a vigorous and invincible faith. Not thus artificial are the boundaries between the heavenly commonwealth, of which the spiritual man is a citizen, and the kingdom of evil from which he has escaped.
But let it be granted that certain amusements are really "worldly," and it is still important to remind sincerely religious people that they have no right to condemn as morally wrong, amusements which are simply distasteful to the higher instincts of their own nature; nor must they translate into moral precepts, for the guidance of their families and dependants, the higher laws of their spiritual life.
A very devout man will find himself ill at ease in many circumstances in which the purest and most upright of his friends, who is destitute of religious earnestness, will be conscious of no discomfort. Excitements and pleasures may be morally harmless, and may yet be discovered by experience to be unfavorable to spiritual-mindedness and unbroken communion with God. Saintly men do not impose as duties on others, the exercises which they know are essential to the intensity and depth of their own devotional life. Nor should they impose as a duty on others, abstinence from certain pleasures which have become distasteful to their own spiritual instincts, or which spiritual prudence leads them to avoid.
Let it be granted that a man who is trying to be earnestly pious will shrink from some of the amusements in which no one can discover any moral evil — does it follow that he is at liberty to require his children to avoid these amusements too? By no means. He rightly thinks it to be his own duty to spend a couple of hours every morning in reading the Holy Scriptures and meditating on the glory of God — but he does not insist upon all his children doing the same. He knows that the protracted spiritual solitude, which to him, with his religious intensity, is blessedness and strength — would be to them an injurious formality. Can he not see that the very same principle should restrain him from enforcing on them abstinence from pleasures which, not his moral sense, but the sympathies and exigencies of his spiritual life alone, have led him to renounce?
It does not follow that those who desire to lead a devout life should disregard the wisdom which has come from the experience of past generations, and avoid no pleasures from which their own spiritual taste does not lead them to shrink; or impose upon themselves no discipline, the uses of which they have not personally verified. There is no doubt a true spiritual philosophy underlying the advice which I am told is sometimes given by a very spiritual man to his friends, "Become Christians first, and then consider what your habits and amusements should be." But like all broad statements of great principles, it requires to be taken with some limitations.
If a man who had become religiously earnest happened to be in a position which was morally indefensible — if he were the manager, for instance, of a Joint-Stock Company which was being cunningly worked for the profit of its promoters, but to the certain ruin of innocent shareholders — it might be perfectly right, in a certain sense, to say to him — Trust to the Divine Mercy revealed through our Lord Jesus Christ for the pardon of sin and the gift of a new and higher life — and then think what changes you must make in your business affairs, if you are to be loyal to Christ's authority. And yet it is very certain that his religious life would be extinguished if he did not at once become an honest man. The moral conditions under which he would be living so long as he remained a rogue, would be absolutely fatal to religious sincerity and earnestness.
Now it is only a just deference to the experience of those who have tried, before ourselves, to live unto God, to believe that there are certain conditions under which this is impossible, and that there is such a thing as "worldliness," the evil of which may not be discerned while the religious life has not passed beyond its inferior and elementary developments, but which will certainly prevent its reaching perfect strength and beauty. It is perilous to adopt a "rule" which is far beyond us. But it appears to be the simplest and most obvious dictate of practical wisdom, to take some things on trust for a time, and always to set the line over which we will not pass a little further than our spiritual instincts at the moment actually require. This seems to be the natural condition of growth.
Incomplete as this discussion of a very wide subject must necessarily be, it would be unpardonably defective if I did not, in closing, remind my readers that our Lord's precept, "Judge not," has peculiar authority in relation to such questions as have been treated in this paper.
There are amusements which are ruinous to some people, which others can enjoy without danger. When the infallible guidance of great moral laws fails us, and we have to trust to the suggestions of expediency, we should be very cautious how we condemn the habits of our neighbors. That may be safe to them — which is perilous to us. If it is not intrinsically wrong, we have no right to censure them. It may be a sin to me to eat roast veal, because it injures my health and unfits me for duty; but all men are not to avoid the luscious dish because one man suffers from it. Are the weak always to give laws to the strong? No doubt the strong will sometimes avoid what they know to be lawful for themselves, that their weaker brethren may not be betrayed into sin; but there are limits to this self-abnegation.
Weakness is a bad thing; and if a constant homage to it tends to make me and others weak too. I may think it right, for the sake of my own moral vigor, and for the sake of the moral vigor of those who are in danger of becoming morbidly scrupulous — to live the bolder and freer life, which my own conscience approves. The sick-room is good for the sick man, but it will make the strong man sick if he always lives there. Habits of caution, in which some men find safety — may be to other men, of a different temperament and character, positively injurious.
We must learn, especially in a time like this, to trust each other. "Who are you that judge another man's servant?" It is possible that when I condemn in my brother with "worldliness" I may be violating the royal law of love.