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A DISCOURSE ON THE EVILS OF DANCING


DELIVERED MARCH 8, 1846,

BEFORE THE CONGREGATION

OF

THE GERMAN REFORMED SALEM CHURCH

OF

HARRISBURG, PA.,

By the Pastor, the Rev. John F. Mesick,

PUBLISHED BY THE VESTRY.

HARRISBURG:

THEO: FENN, PRINTER.

1846.


HARRISBURG, March 11, A. D. 1846.
REV. JOHN F. MESICK - _Dear Sir:_ On last Sabbath evening, 8th
inst., you preached a sermon to our congregation on "_The Evils
of Dancing_." As this is a custom which is in much practise even
by those who consider themselves patterns in society, and, who
generally comprise the youth, and say that it is an innocent
amusement. We would esteem it as a favor if you would furnish us
with a copy thereof for publication that it may be circulated in
our Sabbath Schools, among the votaries of dancing, the parents
and friends of those who have been assenting to it, in the hope
that they may read it and learn its evil consequences, and
abstain from its practice hereafter, and be satisfied that its
use is not in character with the present age, whatever may have
seemingly commended it in former days.

JOHN C. BUCHER,
GEO. P. WIESTLING,
GEORGE ZINN,
DANIEL W. GROSS,
ELIAS ZOLLINGER,
JACOB SHELL,
LUTHER REILEY,
GEORGE BEATTY,
RUDOLPH F. KELKER,
SAMUEL B. KEYSER,
VALENTINE EGLE,
GEORGE L. KUNKEL.

* * * * *

HARRISBURG, March 11, 1846.
_To the Vestry of the German Reformed Salem Church:_
DEAR BRETHREN: Although the Discourse preached on Sabbath
evening last, was prepared during the preceding week as a
regular duty, without a thought in reference to a request of
this kind; yet as you have been pleased to express a wish to see
it in print, in the hope of extending its usefulness, the
manuscript is at your service.
With sincere esteem and affection, yours, &c.,
JOHN F. MESICK.




THE EVILS OF DANCING.

ROMANS, XII. 3. - "BE NOT CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD."


The Bible is the only rule for all who wish to be saved. The professed
Christian, not only, but every unconverted man, must bow to its
precepts, if he would gain the favor of God. There is but one way, and
but one gate of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, for saint and for
sinner. Whatever, therefore, shall be acknowledged to be the duty of the
covenanted follower of the Lamb, is equally the duty of every individual
who stands disconnected with the visible Church.

It is a doctrine of revelation that, both classes of persons will be
judged by the same law, and will be tried with equal impartiality and
rigor. We are taught that, what Divine justice shall demand from the
one, it will demand from the other; and that there is no respect of
persons with God. The human race, as dependent and accountable agents,
are placed on the same moral level in his sight. Each commandment of his
word is addressed to every hearer of the Gospel. And all are under
obligation to obey its injunctions, as they value the eternal welfare of
their immortal spirits.

It is on this incontrovertible principle that I shall proceed to speak
from the text: "Be not conformed to this world," - assuming it as an
undeniable truth that, what God requires of his children, he also exacts
from the people of the world; and that whatever is inconsistent with the
reputation or character of a good church member, is no less inconsistent
with the eternal salvation of those persons who have not made a public
profession of religion.

We take our ground boldly on this portion of scripture, and assert that
the fashionable amusement of Dancing, is contrary to the _spirit_ and
_aim_ of the Gospel, and, therefore, is opposed to the revealed will of
God. Your attention is invited to two points:

FIRST - To the necessity of non-conformity to the world; and

SECONDLY - To the facts proving that Dancing is an act of conformity to
the world.

I. We begin with _the necessity of non-conformity to the world_.

The Scripture sense of the term, _world_, is that collection of
idolaters, unbelievers, and wicked men who constitute the great bulk of
the inhabitants of our globe; in short all persons who do not belong to
the Kingdom of God.

_This definition_ corresponds with the declarations of Christ: "My
kingdom is not of this world;" "Ye are not of the world, even as I am
not of the world;" "If ye were of the world, the world would love his
own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of
the world, therefore the world hateth you."

The sentiment of the text is not the voice of a solitary passage, but is
amply sustained by other portions of the word of God. There are many
similar precepts addressed to believers: "Arise ye and depart, for this
is not your rest; because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even
with a sore destruction;" "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye
separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." "Love not
the world, neither the things that are in the world; if any man love the
world, the love of the Father is not in him." "Know ye not that the
friendship of the world is enmity with God?" "Ye cannot serve God and
Mammon." "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." "If the Lord be God,
follow him; but if Baal, follow him."

These commandments of our Heavenly Father, are not _hard sayings_ to the
soul that has been delivered from this present evil world through faith
in Jesus; for it has acquired through the work of the Spirit, a holy
resignation to every intimation of the Divine will, and supreme delight
in God as infinitely lovely, which causes every other source of pleasure
or of happiness to become tasteless and insipid. To carnal minds, we
admit, that they will sound like tyrannical edicts, because they seem to
them to take away their natural liberty; shutting them up from the
pursuit of that kind of enjoyment for which they pant, which they know
not where to find, and in search of which they wander "through earth,
its gay pleasures to trace."

But to souls renewed by Divine Grace, the yoke of Christ is easy and his
burden light. True Christians, the heirs of glory, are separated from
the world, not only by profession, not only by external badges, but what
is of higher moment, by their character and spirit. They are essentially
a peculiar people; singular in their opinions and practices, and created
unto good works. They are distinguished by a conversation in Heaven.
They move through society as pilgrims and strangers on the earth. They
keep themselves unspotted from the world, as temples of the Holy Ghost.
They seek in Heaven an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled,
and that fadeth not away, as heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus
Christ. And they reflect the love and holiness of Jesus, as those who
bear the Saviour's image.

_A wide and unalterable distinction exists, therefore_, between the
servants of God and the people of the world, a distinction as
perceptible as that which divides the night from the day, and the
darkness from the light. "The one are born from above, the other from
beneath. The one are quickened by Divine grace; the other are dead in
trespasses and sins. The one are governed by the Spirit of God, and the
other are under the dominion of Satan. The one consult the glory of God,
and cheerfully resign all for Christ; the other make self the centre
around which they move."

Such irreconcilable discordance in the primary elements of their
character forbids the thought of their amalgamation. We might as
reasonably expect that oil and water would commingle and become one
fluid, as that true Christians should blend their hopes and interests
with those of the world. The natural and ardent opposition, growing out
of their respective principles and aims, renders a separation between
them inevitable, absolutely necessary, necessary at least for the
safety, comfort, consistency, and usefulness of believers.

There is no need of further exposition, to show that the injunction of
the text is deep-laid in the very constitution of things - and is the
natural result of the incompatible differences between submission to the
will of God and rebellion against his moral government. The followers of
Christ can never consent to a compromise involving these principles,
unless they are willing to sacrifice his cause. Allegiance to Heaven
demands that true Christians should never shrink in the hour of trial
from the ignominy or suffering of the cross. If they would be holy, they
must possess the courage to dare to be singular, and to meet the world's
derisive laugh on account of the tenderness of their consciences, or
their inexperience in the vanities and customs of fashionable life. They
should receive as an honor its scorn and ridicule, when heaped upon them
because they continue faithful to Christ; because they implicitly follow
the directions of his humbling doctrines before men; and because they
steadily maintain the line of separation between the church and the
world.

No man deserves the name of Christian, no man can indulge a good hope of
salvation, unless his faith in Christ is productive of non-conformity to
the world; a stand which is indispensable to his separation from a
perishing race and his incorporation into the Kingdom of Heaven.

II. In the second place we proceed _to adduce the facts proving that
Dancing is an act of conformity to the world_.

1. Even if could be shown that it is a _healthful amusement_, the
position assumed by the text, would exclude it from the recreations of
those who love and obey God, imposing on them the obligation to refrain
from it, and to resort to other means of exercise, to which no valid
objection could be made.

No apology, we are sure, can be offered for Dancing, as usually
conducted, _more weak_ than the common one, that it promotes the health
of the body. Some thing doubtless might be accomplished by it for the
attainment of this object, if it were practised in the day-time and in
the open air. But usually, in obedience to the arbitrary decree of
fashion, _the most unseasonable hour, and the most unfavorable
circumstances are chosen_.

Many an untimely death has been the dreadful penalty incurred by
exposure on such occasions; and the fearful blow has generally fallen
among the ranks of lovely woman. Follow the fragile, venturesome forms
of our delicate, modernly dressed ladies to the ball room. They pass
from their habitations, arrayed in a garb whose style and materials
would render it a fit garment to be worn only at mid-summer; covered
with a light wrapper, lest the decorations of the toilet should be
deranged, and protected from the snow or frozen pavement only by thin
soled shoes. They spend several hours together under the excitement of
lively strains of music, and of the glittering array of beauty and
fashion, in a chamber brilliant with a multitude of dazzling lights, and
crowded with guests to the destruction of the vital properties of the
atmosphere; and in physical exertions to which they have been
unaccustomed, and which open all the pores of the skin. The system is
also deranged by loading the stomach with indigestible food, and by
encroaching on the ordinary and necessary hours of repose. Then with
heated and wearied frames, in that state peculiarly exposed to the
injurious action of the cold, they suddenly exchange the warm
temperature of the assembly chamber for the chilliness of the damp night
air - the tropic of the ball room for the Siberia of the street. Alas!
what a perilous price to pay for the admiration of the fashionable
throng, or for the fleeting gratification of the hour. In that wintry
blast consumption smites his smiling victims, and fills up the weekly
calendar of his fearful ravages. In our large cities, where this insane
contempt of health and life is sanctioned by the uniform practice of the
God-forgetting multitude, this fell destroyer snatches his prey from the
ranks of fashion by scores, and scourges them more fatally than the
pestilence.

And yet individuals can be found in the midst of our community, so
devoid of wisdom and foresight as to advocate the introduction of this
pernicious amusement into our social circles. We trust that if they
cannot be reached by any higher motives, that a regard for the health
and lives which will be sacrificed to this modern idol, will induce them
to pause, and to consider well the way of their steps.

2. The position assumed by the text, would exclude Dancing from the list
of Christian diversions, even if it could be shown _that it is innocent
in itself_.

This, however, is a point which the worldling labors in vain to prove by
the most skilful use of religious sophistry.

Persons on whose judgment we rely with great confidence in matters of
this sort, have abandoned the idea which they, in common with others,
once entertained, that Dancing, if properly regulated, might be
harmless. It is their settled opinion, founded on considerable personal
experience and on observation, "that the nature of the amusement itself,
even in its least exceptionable forms and in limited exercise, is
such - that it has a tendency to inflame passion, to poison virtue, to
endanger purity, and to lead on to gross and deadly evils."

Modern dancing, as generally practised, is a gay and guilty pleasure. It
receives no warrant from the Bible. The only kind of Dances recorded in
the Sacred Scriptures, are religious Dances, forming part of the worship
of God: "with the exception of that of the vain fellows devoid of shame,
of the irreligious families described by Job, and of Herodias" - which
are no more an example for us because they are recorded in the sacred
narrative, than the treachery of Judas Iscariot, in betraying his master
with a kiss.

But then we must remember the fact that the Religious Dance was
practised only on joyful occasions; that it was performed in the day
time, in the open air, and only by one of the sexes at a time. There is
not a historical notice in the word of God, of _promiscuous dancing_
either as an act of worship or amusement.

And those persons were reckoned among the vilest of mankind who
perverted Dancing from a sacred use to mere purposes of amusement.

At the present time, as we cast our eyes over the map of the world, we
discover that dancing is still practised as an important part of
religious worship by the inhabitants of all heathen countries; by the
Indians of our own Western forests; by the superstitious natives of
Africa, and by the effeminate and luxurious Asiatics. But as employed
among the ceremonies of idolatry in Southern Asia, it has been changed
from the slow measured movements, practised by the ancient Greeks and
Romans, to a style, which one Missionary remarks, "would not be
tolerated on the boards of the lowest theatre in Europe, or in America."
Dancing girls, arrayed in the most costly ornaments of dress, and quite
equal in skill to some of the modern exhibitors of that art in the
theatres of civilized lands, are invariably connected with heathen
temples in the East Indies, as their constant attendants.

Let us turn our attention from these regions of idolatry, and inquire
among what nations of Christendom this amusement is most popular, that
we may trace it throughout its various existing associations. At the
head of what are usually denominated civilized countries, we must place
France, Italy and Spain, where on the Sabbath it is deemed entirely
consistent with the claims of Christianity to go to the house of God in
the morning, and to a bull-fight and a dance in the public gardens in
the afternoon. And it might be an instructive commentary as to the evil
effects of this amusement on the morals of those nations, to go more
into particulars, were it not that the facts concerning the virtue,
purity and chastity of the fashionable circles of France and Italy,
disclosed by travellers, are too appalling to be repeated.

In England the chief patrons of the dance are their card-playing,
theatre-going, and horse-racing aristocracy; who are indebted to their
purse and to their title for their standing in society; who are too
indolent generally to cultivate their minds; and who are seldom capable
of gaining distinction, except by extravagance and debauchery. In these
_higher_ circles no man is deemed respectable who cannot "trip it on the
light fantastic toe." And that person is scouted as a mawkish prude or a
hypocritical fanatic, who scruples to go the whole round of these
_elegant_ amusements. Says a writer of this class: "He must be a
desperate gnat-strainer who gives and goes to dances and yet objects to
cards. The strictest Pharisee in the land, indeed, _could find no
argument against it_." This is a modest assumption which we have no time
to notice. In commenting on this quotation, it is sufficient for our
present purpose to remark that the opinions and practices of the
fashionable world, compel us to class these recreations in the same
category.

Let us now look at the _introduction_ of this fashionable amusement into
the United States. It comes from the gay saloons of Paris and of London,
and it is an imitation of the corrupt and ruinous fashions of the old
world. It is the entering wedge of luxury and licentiousness, the fatal
antagonists to the purity and simplicity of our republican institutions
and manners.

Look again at the _tutors_ of this art, to whom fond parents entrust
their beloved children, to enable them to acquire this agreeable
indulgence, and you will generally find that they are the very refuse of
foreign cities; men destitute of either stability or principle; who, on
account of their profession, are not esteemed worthy of an introduction
into the social circle of the families by whom they are employed. Every
judicious person must acknowledge that there is great danger that the
tender and susceptible minds of youth will be contaminated by such
associates. There is not a family in our land, so high or well governed,
but that its children are more or less exposed to temptation and
destruction; and we cannot, therefore, with too great jealousy or care
guard against the beginnings of evils.

Look, also, at the style and character of those modern dances, which are
most admired and most fashionable; and you will perceive at a glance
that their movements, attitudes and evolutions are repugnant to a
natural sense of propriety, and inconsistent with that unsullied purity
of mind which we consider inseparable from the individual to whom we
would yield the homage of our hearts. The soul that commands the love of
the virtuous, must be spotless as the unfallen snow. Genuine attachment
can be based only on esteem. In all honesty, therefore, we must strike
that from the list of innocent amusements, which, from its very nature,
involves such a perilous trial of moral principles; that contact with it
almost inevitably inflicts a loss of mental refinement, if not positive
pollution, by opening the doors to a licentious imagination.

There are other evils of great magnitude, which strip off the mask of
innocency from this frivolous and sinful amusement. It occasions a loss
of precious time, which God has given for nobler objects. It produces
dissipation of mind, disqualifying it for the ordinary and serious
duties of life. It wastes money, which some cannot well afford to give
away, or which might be much better employed in furnishing the means of
intellectual improvement, or in works of benevolence. It encourages
extravagance in dress; inflating the mind with intolerable vanity and
pride, and training up our sons and daughters to become reckless
spendthrifts, despising honest industry and commendable economy. It is
ordinarily connected with the use of wine and of strong drinks, casting
down unwary youth from the path of sobriety, into the depth of poverty
and drunkenness. Finally, it indisposes the soul to _religion_, exciting
folly, levity, and kindred corruptions of the human heart, and begetting
disgust for the worship and service of God.

Miss Beecher, who ranks with the most distinguished ladies of our
country, and who owes her reputation to those circumstances only, which
should command esteem under our democratic institutions, to her
intelligence, refinement, and virtue, speaks of this art in the
strongest terms of disapprobation. "In the fifteen years during which
she had the care of young ladies, she affirms she has _never known any
case_ where learning this art, and following the amusement, did not have
a _bad effect_, either on the habits, the intellect, the feelings or the
health." A testimony so respectable, ought certainly to satisfy every
mind, which is governed by truth and reason, as to the evils of Dancing.

3. But a higher consideration, why dancing should be discountenanced,
and that indeed which decides the course of duty, is, _that it is an
amusement by which the world is distinguished from the kingdom of Jesus
Christ_.

It is part and parcel of an _education for the world_. Its object is the
acquisition of a graceful carriage, an easy movement, and elegant
manners. Its aim is to prepare an individual for introduction into
society with advantage. And its design does not extend beyond the
success of his worldly prospects.

No one has ever had the hardihood to maintain that fashionable dancing
is a medium of Divine blessings to the soul; that it secures the
influences of the Holy Spirit; or that it prepares the mind for the
hallowed exercises of the closet. No one ever yet adopted the absurd
idea that it was a substitute for Faith and Repentance; that it was a
means of recommendation to God; or that it was an accomplishment for the
employments of Heaven. No one ever yet expected that a revival of
religion would commence in a ball room; or that thoughtless sinners
would be converted by going to a cotillion. These significant facts
plainly show on which side of the dividing line, between the church and
the world it is to be placed. They forbid mistake.

Dancing, so far from being a means of Grace, is a part of a counter
system of means; devised by the God-forgetting, pleasure-seeking
multitude, to exclude their Maker from their minds and from his own
world. Their chief desire is to banish all serious thoughts of their
sinfulness, guilt and danger; of their obligations and duties to their
Creator; and of death, judgment and eternity. To escape reflection they
flee to the excitements of the dance and of the revel; where art
exhausts its skill and music lavishes its power to divert and engross
the attention. Amid scenes of delusive splendor, which, to the youthful
imagination, appear as enchanting as the creations of poetic fancy, they
contrive for a brief season to lose the pang of remorse, and to snatch a
draught of feverish and unsatisfactory joy. True happiness and solid
peace are perpetual strangers in the artificial gayeties, and gaudy
splendors of fashionable circles; where too often the honied words of
flattery disguise a hollow heart; and the studied smile, and merry
laugh, are assumed to conceal the sting of envy, jealousy and chagrin.
The bright illusions by which the young are spell-bound, gradually fade
away before the light of experience. And it is no uncommon thing in
these resorts of worldly pleasure, to find the utmost gayety of manner
in unnatural union with sadness of soul, produced by the discovery of
the selfish passions, covertly working beneath the surface in all minds
present; or by the sudden and irresistible conviction of its folly as an
occupation for an immortal being. Especially on the return of the
votaries of pleasure to the solitude of their chamber, have they been


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Online LibraryJohn F. MesickA Discourse on the Evils of Dancing → online text (page 1 of 2)