The spirit of Christ is that of self-denying benevolence; and his great aim, by his teachings and example, was to train his followers to avoid all that should lead to sin, especially in regard to the weaker ones of his family. Yet he made wine at a wedding, attended a social feast on the Sabbath,* reproved excess of strictness in Sabbath-keeping generally, and forbade no safe and innocent enjoyment. In following his example, the rulers of the family, then, will introduce the most highly exciting amusements only in circumstances where there are such strong principles and habits of self-control that the enjoyment will not involve sin in the actor or needless temptation to the weak.
The course pursued by our Puritan ancestors, in the period succeeding their first perils amidst sickness and savages, is an example that may safely be practiced at the present day. The young of both sexes were educated together in the higher branches, in country academies; and very often the closing exercises were theatricals, in which the pupils were performers, and their pastors, elders, and parents, the audience. So at social gatherings, the dance was introduced before minister and wife, with smiling approval. The roaring fires and broad chimneys provided pure air, and the nine o'clock bell ended the festivities that gave new vigor and zest to life, while the dawn of the next day's light saw all at their posts of duty, with heartier strength and blither spirits.
No indecent or unhealthful costumes offended the eye, no half-naked dancers of dubious morality were sustained in a life of dangerous excitement, by the money of Christian people, for the mere amusement of their night hours. No shivering drivers were deprived of comfort and sleep, to carry home the midnight followers of fashion; nor was the quiet and comfort of servants in hundreds of dwellings invaded for the mere amusement of their superiors in education and advantages. The command "we that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves," was in those days not reversed. Had the drama and the dance continued to be regulated by the rules of temperance, health, and Christian benevolence, as in the days of our forefathers, they would not have been so generally banished from the religious world. And the question is now being discussed, whether they can be so regulated at the present time as not to violate the laws either of health or benevolence.*
* Luke XVI. In reading this passage, please notice what kind of guests are to be invited to the feast that Jesus Christ recommends,
In regard to home amusements, card-playing is now indulged in by many conscientious families from which it formerly was excluded, and for these reasons: it is claimed that this is a quiet home amusement, which unites pleasantly the aged with the young; that it is not now employed in respectable society for gambling, as it formerly was; that to some young minds it is a peculiarly fascinating game, and should be first practiced under the parental care, till the excitement of novelty is passed, thus rendering the danger to children less when going into the world; and, finally, that habits of self-control in exciting circumstances may and should be thus cultivated in the safety of home. Many parents who have taken this course with their sons in early life believe that it has proved rather a course of safety than of danger. Still, as there is great diversity of opinion among persons of equal worth and intelligence, a mutual spirit of candor and courtesy should be practiced. The sneer at bigotry and narrowness of views, on one side, and the uncharitable implication of want of piety, or sense, on the other, are equally ill-bred and unchristian. Truth on this subject is best promoted, not by ill-natured crimination and rebuke, but by calm reason, generous candor, forbearance, and kindness.
* Fanny Kemble Butler remarked to the writer that she regarded theatres wrong, chiefly because of the injury involved to the actors. Can a Christian mother contribute money to support young women in a profession from which she would protect her own daughter, as from degradation, and that, too, simply for the amusement of herself and family? Would this be following the self-sacrificing benevolence of Christ and his apostles?
There is another species of amusement, which a large portion of the religious world formerly put under the same condemnation as the preceding. This is novel-reading. The confusion and difference of opinion on this subject have arisen from a want of clear and definite distinctions. Now, as it is impossible to define what are novels and what are not, so as to include one class of fictitious writings and exclude every other, it is impossible to lay down any rule respecting them. The discussion, in fact, turns on the use of those works of imagination which belong to the class of fic-titious narratives. That this species of reading is not only lawful, but necessary and useful, is settled by divine examples, in the parables and' allegories of Scripture. Of course, the question must be, what kind of fabulous writings must be avoided, and what allowed.
In deciding this, no specific rules can be given: but it must be a matter to be regulated by the nature and circumstances of each case. No works of fiction which tend to throw the allurements of taste and genius around vice and crime should ever be tolerated; and all that tend to give false views of life and duty should also be banished. Of those which are written for mere amusement, presenting scenes and events that are interesting, and exciting and having no bad moral influence, much must depend on the character and circumstances of the reader. Some minds are torpid and phlegmatic, and need to have the imagination stimulated: such would be benefited by this kind of reading. Others have quick and active imaginations, and would be as much injured by excess. Some persons are often so engaged in absorbing interest, that any thing innocent, which will for a short time draw off the mind, is of the nature of a medicine; and in such cases this kind of reading is useful.