Horace Bushnell.

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you, if you go, that you go to be one with the com-


pany. To go half condemning yourself in what you al
low, to go packed full of little timid scruples, abstain
ing, questioning, and making yoitrself an annoyance
to the company, is even a Christian impropriety or ab
surdity planned for beforehand. Undertaking to en
joy the occasion you must not churlishly mar the
enjoyment, by looking askance and timidly on every
thing done. You must not be asking whether this
thing or that, which is innocent in itself, has been
flavored by some form of incantation ; whether this
or that article of food has been seasoned from a cup
partly offered in libation. Be not there as a man tied
up in scruples, but as a man rather who is free, and
knows how to enjoy the innocent hilarities of the oc
casion. If you speak of duty, this is your duty, else
it was your duty not to be there. You are not there
to be higgling at questions of casuistry about things
innocent in themselves.

Taking now this ground, we have a broad, just, plat
form charter for all manner of amusements not licen
tious, or corrupt, or indulged beyond the limits of tem
perate use. And it would be well if certain over-rigid
disciples, and teachers of religion, much honored in the
former times, had been able to allow and justify this
kind of freedom. Such were always asking questions
for conscience sake, about things that are really inno
cent in every thing but abuse or excess ; and gave in
this manner an air of austerity to religion that was
only forbidding and repulsive ; creating reactions also
for infidelity or the total rejection of religion itself,


that have been growing more and more detrimental in
their effect. Happily some of our most forward and
capable teachers ndw are pressing a revision of the
whole matter, and cutting loose detentions of scruple,
in reference to a great part of the amusements that in
times past were put in embargo. They take up the
question of amusements as a question of morality,
and bring out their decisions in the plane of ethical
adjustment. And the general conclusion is that of the
apostle be free, only be responsible for all excesses
and abuses. Do not reduce religion to the grade of a
police arrangement, and make it a law of restriction
upon the world s innocent pleasures. It can not afford
to hold a position so odious, and withal so nearly false ;
for there is no sound principle of ethics that makes it
a wrong, or a sin, to indulge in plays and games of
amusement, save when they are carried beyond amuse
ment, and made instruments of vice, or vicious indul
gence ; when of course they are wrong, even as feed
ing itself may be. Why strain a principle of restric
tion till it breaks, and lets out the waters of sin to
sweep it clean away, and all sound virtue with it?
Draw out terms of detention just where detention is
wanted, and not a long way back, to make sure of al
lowing no possible danger. Why, there is danger in
food must we therefore keep it off by starvation, or
must we set limits on it by the right use of our liberty ?
There is, I grant, no kind of amusement that may
not be the beginning of some vicious excess. But if
we are to cut off every thing which has a danger in it,


and may easily run itself into excess, we shall have
almost nothing left. There is a possible intemperance
even in the use of water. Dress has this clanger.
Study has it. There is no kind of business that may
not easily rush itself into some infatuation, or finally
some course of fraud that blasts the character. Polit
ical life who that goes into it, with however good in
tentions, does not put himself in fearfully critical mo
mentum towards bad associations, and selfish combi
nations that are corrupt ? Even religion may hurry
itself into excesses of fanaticism, that rapidly burn
out character. Every thing in short requires self-reg
ulative prudence. Innocent in itself, it can be, and
very often is, a gate that opens towards excess. The
true thing to be said is all these things are free.
Refuse them not, but have a guard against their perils.
We can not refuse every thing that has perils in it, for
then we should stand back from every thing. Take
amusements under the same law ; not to be mastered
by them, but to master them, and be just so much
further advanced in all high manly virtues

Sometimes a distinction is attempted between recre-
tions and amusements. But as all recreations are in
some sense amusements, and all amusements recrea
tive in the same manner, the distinction is of no great
value. The distinction between athletic sports and
amusements holds good partially, because of the gym
nastic effects obtained by one, and not by the other.
Boating, fishing, hunting, bowling, base ball, and the
like, have a certain value as modes of athletic exer-


else, and jet there is not one of them that may not be
connected with gaming or some other kind of license.
Let every man have his liberty in them, detained by
no foolish and weak scruples, and then let him be re
sponsible to himself, for such kind of practice in them
as belongs to a pure, well kept life. Let him not be
afraid to enjoy himself in them, or be tormented by
foolish misgivings, as if it must be wrong to have
such pleasures. Ask no questions for conscience sake
till the confines of just use are reached.

The same is to be said of dancing. If there be
lewd dances, whether round or square, as we certainly
know there are, these are for nobody. Masquerade
balls are contrived possibilities of license, and belong
to high society only when it runs low. Late hours of
dancing, in crowded assemblies, heated by exhilarating
bowls, are both morally and physically bad, and the
true discretion is to avoid what takes away discretion.
But dancing itself is beautiful movement, and may
well be a recreation wholly innocent and pure. Music
is the chime of motion, and motion in the beat of mu
sic touches a fine, deep law of the creation. And if
there be exhilaration in it, why should there not be,
when the rhythm of the world prepares it ?

Billiards have been largely connected, and now are,
with the vices of drink and gambling. The public
tables of cities are commonly infested by this danger.
But as private tables multiply, the perils of the game
are much less felt, and many are inquiring whether
any other indoor amusement can be found that is less


exceptionable in itself, or lias more to commend it.
Men and women and invalids can have the game to
gether, and it is not in any sense a game of chance.
It provides a mild, gently athletic exercise. It trains
an exact eye, and an exact hand, and a close computa
tion of the combinations of causes, all of which are
gifts of great value. It is only a little more fascina
ting than it should be, and is likely to occupy time
tlrat should be given to other things. The same too
may be said less emphatically of croquet, which is
only a kind of out-door billiards. It has, too, just
as little inherent connection with gaming. Must
we add that when billiards are practiced at pub
lic tables, and the defeated party takes the expense by
forfeit, with perhaps another forfeit in cigars and wine,
there is a double peril incurred, both of gaming and
of a drinking habit. All such dangers are factitious
as regards the play itself, and will less and less appear
when it is an accepted pastime, and is set in its proper

Games of chance, like cards, and dominoes, and
backgammon, have a certain recreative value, but
no value as exercise. They are objected to by many
because they are games of chance ; and, to a certain
extent, with reason ; for if any young person gets
absorbed in that kind of game, so far as to have the
habit of his mind cast by it, he is just so far incapaci
tated for the wise conduct of life. Who can be weak
er or more nearly a fool, than a man who goes into
life looking for luck in every thing, expecting to get


on by hick and seeing really no other hope. Still
there is a certain diversion in seeing, for an hour, how
chances go, and even a kind of instruction beside; for
a great many things in the world are turned, as far as
our human perception goes, by what to us are chances.
The sound rule here appears to be, that no one should
be so much in these weaker games, as to be addled
by them, and forget that carving out his way by stout
endeavor, and a keen perceptive judgment of causes,
is the true manly wisdom. He may play with chances
enough to see how they go, but if he worships them
as a devotee, and lives in their thin atmosphere, he
will be as nearly nobody as he can be and be a man.
Sometimes it is urged for these lighter games that they
make society. Rather say substitute society ; for that
is their worst objection. To shuffle, and cut, and deal,
and throw the dice, are exactly not society, but when
over indulged are just the way to keep it off, and make
an empty-headed play of the fingers, the only accom
plishment learned or possible to be enjoyed. Conver
sation, humor, social and intellectual vivacity, get no
place to grow at these tables, where the parties wink
and do not speak, and where the glow is kindled by
the chances ; not by the souls engaged.

The opera is a kind of amusement that is furnished
by one of the finest of the fine arts. It is music float
ing in sentiment, or sentiment dramatized in music.
It is very nearly as good as a good concert, and scarce
ly more objectionable only it can be, and sometimes
is, a great deal worse. Be it as it may, a man who


finds no atmosphere but this to live in, no food but
this soft luxury to enjoy, will turn out finally t,o be a
man wholly steeped in sentimentalities, having no
great purposes and manly energies left.

The theater is or ought to be the most robust of all
amusements not athletic, but in its common associa
tions, it is worst and really lowest of all. To take it
in this day and find amusement in it requires a man
some way down the scale of pure sensibility already ;
otherwise the atmosphere will have a smell of disgust.
AVere a true redemption possible, it might teach great
lessons of virtue and character, and be even more and
better than amusement. If sometime a man asserts
his liberty in going, he will yet much better keep his
liberty in staying away.

So far we go in tracing the right of amusements
viewed in the plane of morality, or moral casuistry.
Considering the question on its mere ethical grounds,
we find no law against amusements, but only against
their excesses and abuses. As Paul said to the Corin
thians so we say, be free ; make up no mere scheme of
legal, self-restrictive, or ascetic virtue. Ask no ques
tions for conscience sake, such as badger and worry
the soul s liberty. Christianity is no dog Cerberus
barking at the gates of festivity, and galling the neck
of all innocent pleasures. Least of all does it contrive
to force a new chapter into the code of morals, that
was not in it before, and can not be maintained by its
accepted principles.

If now some of you should be surprised and alarmed,


by the exposition thus far made, the same which is
now being offered by many, as a complete exposition
of the whole subject there is yet another and very
different exposition to be added, which is even the dis
tinctly Christian part of it. As we have asserted the
free, so we now go on

II. To assert the more free. Thus the apostle, when
he slides in his subjunctive clause " and ye be dis
posed to go " does it, w r e may see, regretfully and
with a feeling sadly overcast. He understands that
many of the best beloved, godliest, and freest of the
brotherhood will not be disposed to go, could not in
fact be so disposed. They are in so great liberty that
their inclination itself is quite taken aw^ay, and he
wishes, how tenderly, it were so with all as alas, he
knows it is not. Did he want himself to go to those
feasts of the unbelievers ? Could he think with desire
of having a good time there and being greatly re
freshed by the hilarities of the guests ? And why not ?
We can not imagine such a thing, and why not ( Be
cause his great and gloriously Christed soul is too full,
and ranging in a plane of joy too high, to think of
finding a pleasure in such trifling gaieties. They are
chaff, only chaff, to him. So when he says " and ye
be disposed to go," he well understands that there are
some who will not be disposed. Kept back by no
ascetic scruples, or legal restrictions binding their con
sciences, they. will be kept back by their very fullness
and freedom and the uplifting sense of Christ which
ennobles their life. Thev are free in a sense to do it,


but they are also more free, too free to have any dispo
sition that way. Their tastes are too high, their incli
nations too transcendently pure, and the gale of the
spirit raises them into a divine liberty that is itself the
crowning state of life. The mere hilarities of feasting
are too coarse and tumultuous to suit the key of their
feeling, and will only be disturbances of their peace.
They are able to come down now and then it may be,
and touch the plane of nature in ways of playfulness ;
but it will not be to launch themselves on tides of high
excitement, and be floated clean away, but only to
freshen a little the natural zest of things, and keep off
the moroseness of a too rigid and total separation from
the socialities and playtimes of the world.

Our question of amusements then appears to be
very nearly settled by the tenor of the distinctively
Christian life itself. The Christian in so far as he is a
Christian, is not down upon the footing of a mere eth
ical practice, asking what he may do, and what he is
restricted from doing, under the legal sanctions of
morality. That kind of motivity is very much gone
by. He has come out even from under the ten com
mandments mostly negative and restrictive into the
love-law which unites him to God and his neighbor.
And here, out of his mere liberty in love, he will do
more and better things than all codes of ethics and
moral law commandments require of him. He is so
united to God himself, through Christ and the Spirit,
that he has all duty in him by a free inspiration. For
where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. He


acts now from the full, not from the empty ; having
inclinations outrunning mere duties, and doing all
things, so to speak, by the overplus of joy. lie is not
shriveled in scruple, but full-orbed in love ; and if he
asks, at all, what is duty to be done, it is not what is
duty by the moral code, under its legal motivities, but
only what is due to the supreme affection that has
united him to God and His Son. So that when you
come to him offering some kind of amusement, he
does not fall back straightway on his conscience, ask
ing whether he may have it, or trying whether he can
tease the reluctant monitor into acquiescence, he
does nothing in that way of legal exaction but he
says more likely to the offered amusement, " ]STo, I do
not want it ;" or, in the apostle s word, " I am not dis
posed " that way. And this he does without debate
of privilege, and without any argument of constraint ;
he must even constrain himself not to say it. Others
looking on may judge that he is under they know not
what scruples, and is making himself unhappy by not
daring to claim their enjoyments, but it is they that
are in the absurdity, not he. He is only too free in his
great, nobly divine pleasures, to find any thing but
loss and meagre littleness in theirs. Their world is
not his world, and he has renounced their world, not
because he must, which they probably think, but
because he has gotten by it and above it.

And here is the reason, I conceive, why we keep on
debating this question as we do, in the footing of the
mere moralities. The people of the world bring it


always to that standard, and do not imagine that
Christian souls can bring it to any other. And even
they, when taken off from so many amusements by the
new inspirations of their life, do not see quite likely
that, being a question of practice, it need not therefore
be a question of mere ethical morality ; and so they let
it be debated for them on the same old footing.
"Whereas what they now call duty is a wholly different
matter ; viz., what is due to their new footing of lib
erty and unity with God. And it turns out by a sim
ilar mistake, that graciously enlightened teachers
themselves, are all the while debating the question of
amusements, even for Christian people, as if it were a
question only of good morals. If they accurately un
derstand where Christian souls really are, and how, in
their divine ranges of liberty, they are lifted into other
dispositions and higher kinds of enjoyment, they
would put the question of amusements in a very differ
ent way. It is not the question whether we are bound
thus and thus, in terms of morality, and so obliged to
abstain ; but whether, as our new and nobler life im
pels, we are not required, in full fidelity, to pay it
honor, and keep its nobler tastes unmarred by descend
ing to that which they have so far left behind them.

It may be well to put the question in a different
way, which yet will not be really different except in
the form. It comes to us every hour, that men who
are deeply immersed in some great work, or cause,
have no care for any thing else, least of all for any
thing that appears to be trivial. Indeed almost any


thing is like to seem trivial, which is not in the line of
their engagement, even though it has far greater con
sequence. Any thing which has become the supreme
end of life, sinks the significance of every thing else.
In the pursuit of gain, if we speak of nothing higher,
they will look upon amusements how commonly as
mere nonsense, and will sometimes even forget the
feeding of their bodies. How then will it be when a
Christian man has become thoroughly engulfed in the
work and cause of his Master ? It is now his passion.
He wants nothing else. He only wants to love it
more, and do more for it, and, compared with this,
every thing is trivial ; he has no taste for the gaieties
of mere natural pleasure. Christian people are set off
thus, in a sense, from the amusements other people
delight in, by the stress of their own new love, and
the heavenly engagements into which it brings them.
Of course, on mere ethical grounds, they have a
right to do just what every body has, to claim all the
justifiable amusements, and go as far in them as moral
safety may allow, but to claim that right, they must
descend a long way into the spirit, as into the law, of
tfie world, and be really of it themselves. These
things we say are innocent, but they are not innocent
to them, because they bring down a spirit lifted far
above into better affinities, and nobler ranges of good.
Here open accordingly some very deep lessons for
Christian souls, that must not be lost. Being not sim
ply free, as all men are, to have their amusements,
they should also be more free, free enough not to want


them ; or to want them, at least, only in some very
qualified and partial way.

A young Christian, for example, goes to his pastor
and says, " There is going to be a masquerade party,
or it may be a great game supper and dancing party,
where many of my friends are to be, and I am invit
ed ; will it be wrong for me to go ?" " No, not wrong,
the answer must be, as far as the mere question of
morality is concerned. But I am none the less sorry
to see that you want to be there. It shows that you
have either lost ground, or that you have not gotten
as far forward as I hoped in your Christian life. You
certainly might be close enough to your Saviour not to
be disposed to go, deep enough in the conscious joy
and serenity of your love to be totally indisposed to
go. But you seem not to have reached this height.
Go then, if you will, but understand exactly what it
signifies. To be restrained, or kept back, by mere
scruple, at the legal point of morality, will do you no
good. And if I should raise a scruple for you here,
and you still should go, it would only put you in a
struggle with your conscience, and set you on contriv
ing moral arguments of defense, for what is only spir
itual defeat, or defection. If you are disposed to go,
it is better for you to go understanding what it means,
and have nothing else to think of."

And what shall we say of the many Christian peo
ple so called, who are always putting the question of
amusements on trial, under the test arguments of com
mon morality ? Where is the harm, they ask, of this


or that ? Where is the principle ? What is the law
that condemns it ? Is it not better in these innocent
matters to be free ? Yes, and is it not better yet to
be more free ? to be living in ranges of illumination
so clear and full, and in holy liberty so high, that no
such hankering after the little driblets and titillations
of pleasures called amusements, will be felt ? God s
true saints below, even like the saints above, should be
a great way in advance of any such unsaintly kinds
of privilege.

Others again who do not mean to claim any such
privilege, as for themselves, have much to say of doing
what they can for their young people, and the green
age of society, in preparing festivities and pleasures,
such as will keep off the impression that religion is
an austere matter, having only frowns to bestow on
the common amenities of life. But no such impres
sion of austerity is ever given, I feel bound to say,
when religion is so lived as to be an atmosphere of joy
and true liberty. Here is no austerity, or the look of
it, but there is a glow, an ever-bright content and
hopefulness, a jubilant, all-loving sympathy, which
keeps every thing fresh and sweet as the morning.
Of course there should be gentle unbendings, and
moderate connivings at play, such as will suffice to
show that no morbid, self-restrictive, legally distem
pered conscientiousness makes a bondage of duty.
All mere niggard scruples, and rigidities of scrupu
losity, must be evidently far away. And they will, in
fact, be farther away from all Christian people, living


as in joy, than from any that make a point of catering
for amusements, when living in evident dearth and
dryness. What are these dry, dreary people doing,
some will ask, but contriving how to moisten a little
the aridities they live in ?

Besides, we need not be greatly concerned lest the
green age, down upon the plain of nature, will not
find as many festivities and ways of hilarity as are
really wanted, even if Christian friends should not be
making up card parties, and dancing parties, and pri
vate theatricals for them. Why, there is no trip-ham
mer beat, that keeps up a louder and more constant
noise, than the advertising racket of our newspapers ;
telling, every night and morning, what new shows
and budgets of fun are ready to be opened circuses,
rope-dances, feats of magic, troupes of colored min
strelsy, menageries, learned birds and pigs, automaton
players, gift-concerts, operas, public balls, theaters,
anniversary dinners, and I know not- what beside.
Our very brain is put a-whirling, if we try to just
keep track of the diversions promised. Many of
these things are innocent enough in themselves, some
of them instructive, but we have altogether too much
of them. And too much of innocent amusement is not
innocent, but even morally bad, another name for dis
sipation itself. Hence in this view the very last thing
any Christian person, woman or man, need concern
himself about, just now, is the contriving of diversions
to relieve the austerity of religion. It may be that
we sometimes take on a hard, dry, God-forsaken look


in the religion we have ; alas ! I fear it is true, but O
if we hadSnore, if we had enough to live in it and by
it, there would be 110 so glad faces, or winning graces
of life, as our liberty in the Spirit would show. The
very atmosphere of such is fresh and bright and free
as the day dawn. They live above scruple, they do
nothing by constraint, they go beaming where they
go. Every one sees that they have the deepest satis
factions, and are most completely alive of all people

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 24 of 29)