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the flesh, is flesh.” So God himself declared of man before the flood :-" My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh :" wholly fleshly and carnal;—"sensual, not having the Spirit.” The desires, the pursuits, the delights of natural men are only worldly. Their cry is, “Who will show us any good ?”
What shall we eat, what shall we drink, wherewithal shall we be clothed ?” The world, in some form or other, is their beloved object. But the people of God, " redeemed from their vain conversation," have a nobler object in view. They are spiritual in their taste and pursuits; they can no longer grovel in the dust, or feed on husks; they are renewed in the spirit of their minds, and seek the things that are above. How poor, and mean, and low, are the sordid objects of the world in their esteem! Even the wisest and greatest among natural men are amusing themselves with the toys of children, the baubles of idiots, or the pranks of madmen, compared with the manly, solid, heavenly aims and employments of true believers.
4. The Christian must not be conformed to the company of the world. The men of the world are not his chosen companions. We have already observed, that converse with them cannot be wholly avoided : the lawful business of life will necessarily bring them together. But we speak of making them intimate friends, and the companions of leisure hours. But “how can two walk together, except they be agreed ?” What fellowship hath light with darkness? What concord hath Christ with Belial, or Christians with the sons of Belial? Either must the Christian conform himself to the light, vain, frothy, and often profane conversation of worldly men, or they must conform themselves to his spiritual views; and which of these is most likely to happen, it is not hard to tell. We become insensibly like our intimate friends, and naturally drink into their spirit: as, therefore, there is in general but little probability of doing good to carnal men by our company, it is far the wisest and safest for us to keep our distance. Intimate and habitual friendship with wicked men is considered in the Scripture as opposition to God. St. James, addressing himself to conforming professors, saith, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.” If our chief happiness be in the things of the world, and if we court the friendship of wicked men in order to procure them, we are at heart enemies to God; and, in persons of a religious character, who profess to be betrothed unto Christ as their spiritual husband, this is heart-adultery.
And if this occasional conformity to worldly persons be so blameable, what must we think of forming connexions with them for life? How criminal and how dangerous to act directly contrary to the grand rule in this case! To marry—“only in the Lord.” 1 Cor. vii. 39.
5. Christians must not conform themselves to the world in their carnal amusements. The taste of men discovers itself in nothing more plainly than in their choice of amusements. It is easy to know what these are, and what is adapted to the corrupt taste of the carnal mind. Worldly men are never so much in their element as when engaged in them; and, to enjoy them, they will often sacrifice their most important interests. Among these, the amusements of the theatre have the first place ; for these the world strongly pleads, and affects to place them on a level with divine ordinances, by saying, They can learn as much from a good play as from a sermon. But it should be remembered, That sermons and means of grace derive all their virtue from the authority of Christ who appointed them, and has promised to bless them: but the advocates of plays can never pretend that Christ has either ordained them, or engaged to put his blessing upon them.
So far are plays from being useful to the cause of virtue, that they are one of the most successful engines of vice that Satan ever invented. Several of the heathen philosophers and lawgivers opposed them in the strongest terms. Plato banishes them from his commonwealth. Xenophon commends the Persians for not suffering their youth to hear any thing amorous; thinking it dangerous to add any weight to the bias of nature. Seneca complains, that by the stage vice made an insensible approach, and stole on the people in the disguise of pleasure. Tacitus says, the German ladies preserved their honour, by having no play-houses amongst them. The Athenians would not suffer a judge to compose a comedy. The Lacedemonians would not endure the stage, under any kind of regulation. The Romans, in their better times, reckoned the stage so disgraceful, that any Roman turning actor, was degraded. And we may add, that the English laws, till very lately, denominated stage-players Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars.
The earliest Christians abhorred them. Tertullian, in the second century, says, “We (Christians) have nothing to do with the phrenzies of the race-ground, the lewdness of the play-house, or the barbarities of the bear-garden.” Some of the ancient councils ordained that players should be excommunicated ; and that the sons of clergymen must not be present at plays, “it being always unlawful for Christians to come amongst blasphemers.” A good writer says, 6. Will you not avoid this seat of infection? The very air suffers by their impurities; and they breathe the plague. What though the performance be entertaining; what though innocence and virtue shine in some parts of it; it is not the custom to prepare poison unpalatably. No: to make the mischief spread, they must oblige the sense, and make the dose pleasant.
Thus the devil throws in a cordial drop to make the draught go down, and steals some ingredients from the dispensatory of Heaven. Look upon all their fine
sentences, their flights of fortitude, and their loftiness of style—as honey dropping from the bowels of a toad, or the bag of a spider.”—“6 And, admitting,” says another, that some good may be learnt at the playhouse,—do people use to send their daughters to a bawdy-house to learn discipline? Do gentlemen educate their sons under highwaymen to teach them courage? Or will any man venture on board a leaky vessel, that he may learn the art of shifting in a storm ?” Besides, if plays have such a moral tendency, how is it that the players are generally the most immoral people in the world, and the neighbourhood of play-houses the very sink of filthiness?
Archbishop Tillotson thought plays “a mighty reproach to Britain, and not fit to be tolerated in a civilized, much less in a Christian nation.” He calls the play-house “ the Devil's Chapel : the school and nursery of vice and lewdness.” And one of the judges well said—“ One play-house ruins more souls than fifty churches can save.” :
Dancing.–The dancing of both sexes, and especially in public places, is another species of amusement highly pleasing to the world, but extremely dangerous to good morals. The gaiety it inspires, the company into which it leads, and various evils connected with it, render it every way unbecoming the Christian; who has the utmost need to cultivate seriousness, and gravity, and to live and act as a pilgrim and a stranger. There is scarcely any thing, not absolutely and notoriously wicked, in which conformity to the world consists more than the amusement of the ball-room. Not a few have been called out of it into eternity ; but where is the person who would wish, when summoned to the bar of God, to be found so employed !
Playing at cards is another favourite diversion with the world. The express purpose of this amusement is a sufficient argument against it; it is to kill time. Alas! our time is short enough, and will die of itself; we need not hasten its exit. Our days are as an hand
breadth, and our age is as nothing. We complain of the shortness of life, and yet labour to reduce its narrow span. It may be justly doubted whether any game be lawful which depends upon casting a lot'; but dealing the cards is of that nature, and is therefore a kind of appeal to God for the success of our play ; for “the lot is cast into the lap, but the disposal thereof is of the Lord.” But, not to insist upon this, it is really a childish business. It is a poor employment for rational and immortal beings to spend many hours of precious time in throwing about bits of spotted paper. The conversation that accompanies it is generally frivolous and foolish; the passions of avarice and anger are frequently excited; and the tragical consequences of gaming are so perfectly opposite to the Christian character, that a good man ought to reject the amusement altogether.
There are other diversions, as horse-races, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, &c.as well as conformity to the world in gay, indecent or too expensive fashions of dress, upon which we have not room to comment particularly. There is one grand rule applicable to them all, and which may afford a pretty good test of their propriety or impropriety. You will find this apostolic direction in Col. iii. 17, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Now, can you tell me how to see a play, to dance a minuet, or to play a game at cards, “in the name of the Lord Jesus, and to the glory of God ?” Can you pray for the Lord's presence and blessing on these engagements ?-A good man once convinced a company of the folly of these things, by offering to say grace before cards, or to pray for a blessing on them ; the company felt the impropriety, and asked him what he was going to do? The good man replied,—“God forbid that I should do any thing, on which I cannot ask his blessing.” Copimon sense forbids you to say, “Lord, go with me to the play-house, and bless the good instruction I go to receive !" or