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“To whom thus Belial, in like gamesome mood;
And stumbled many." “Being amused,” says Fuller, in his Church History of Britain, (B. ix, $44,) “with grief, fear and fright he could not find the house."
But whatever may have been the original sense of the word, its present meaning is sufficiently clear. Every one understands by it some pleasurable pursuit which engages the mind to the exclusion of laborious or serious occupation. This definition, however, would include recreations, diversions and entertainments as well as amusements, words whose meaning, though similar, is not the same. A recreation is some pleasurable pursuit taken up as a refreshment from business and only enjoyed because the worn and wasted powers become thus recreated, while an amusement is pursued and enjoyed for its own sake and not because it procures anything farther than itself. In recreation we always take some active part, but in amusement we may find our pleasure simply in the passive reception of it. Thus a game of cricket may furnish recreation to the players and amusement to the lookers on. Still farther we are diverted by that which turns off our thoughts to something of livelier interest; we are entertained by that which brings our minds into agreeable contact with others, as conversation or a book, but our amusement is that which occupies us lightly and pleasantly without reference to any other person or any other end.
It can hardly be doubted that the desire for amusement is natural to the human breast. Everybody has it. The child plays by an original impulse long before he knows anything about work. After he has been taught to labor he still finds greater delight in his sports, and runs to these at every opportunity with tireless interest. The same is true when he be
At Potsdam, in one of the palaces built and occupied by Frederick the Great, there is still to be seen a grotesque Chinese toy with which the great warrior and king used to amuse himself in moments released from more serious
To come it might seem strange that such a man could
comes a man.
ever occupy himself with such a trifle, but, probably, if we could discover the actual facts in any man's experience we should never, even among the most laborious, find a similar disposition entirely wanting.
Is then this desire, thus original and permanent, wholly wrong? Should we treat it like one of the impulses of our selfseeking nature, which we should ever repress and endeavor to extirpate? It is certainly not wrong to desire rest from protracted toil, for God has appointed the Sabbath as a day of rest no less truly than of worship. Moreover, what is our worship when closely and truly considered? Certainly it is not work. Our acts of worship are no means put forth to secure some end beyond themselves. They are themselves an end. Even prayer, in its highest and most satisfying exercises, is not the seeking for some future good, but the enjoyment of a present blessedness. It is most spiritual, most blissful, most heavenly, when the supplication loses itself in adoration. We do not, indeed, call these acts of worship amusements, and yet their deepest element is precisely that absence of all means to a farther end, and that enjoyment of the end in the exercise itself, which we have seen to be the precise quality in amusement. What shall we say then? Is the desire to stop working, the desire to forsake the treadmill, and delight ourselves in what has no constraint of drudgery or toil, an unhallowed longing? But the desire for communion with God is just such a feeling. And so is the desire for anything truly spiritual. In fact the distinction between our natural and our spiritual life is in just this point. Our natural life is a life of toil. In it whatever we do is not for its own sake, but for the sake of something to be thereby gained. We build houses that we may have a home, we toil that we may eat and be clothed, we labor that we may live. Even those processes of our natural life which may be called spontaneous never rest in themselves. We breathe in order to keep up the circulation of the blood; our hearts beat that the course of assimilation and nutrition may continue unimpaired ; and while these go forward in order to the preservation and perfecting of our bodily life, the life itself is consciously for the sake of something beyond. We all live for some end other than life. But it is very different when we enter the realm of our spiritual activity. Here everything has an intrinsic value. Whatsoever is spiritual we prize on its own account and not because it will purchase for us something else. We would sell everything in our natural life, even the life itself for a sufficient price, but can any price be named for our spiritual possessions? Can there be anything more valuable than goodness? And can the worth of truth be more than truth itself?
We sometimes speak of frivolous amusements and the term is doubtless well chosen. Ilow trifling many of them seem ! But low as they may be, they reveal glimpses of something truly lofty. Sin itself, with all its degradation, gives us a very powerful impression of the original dignity of a sinning sou). In the very depth of our fall there is evidence of the height from which we came, and which we even now should occupy. The brute can not sin, and is incapable of a fall. The fact of sin, dark as it is, shows us to be possessed of an endowment above the brutes and kindred with the angels. In like manner, even our frivolous amuseinents disclose a serious aspect of our being. We never speak of the amusements of an animal. What we sometimes call the sportiveness of a kitten or the play of dogs is only the early and instinctive exercise of what will afterward show itself in the pursuit of their prey or their game. They amuse us but not themselves. It is with this as with laughter. The brute does not laugh. He can not. He has not even the muscles requisite for it. The
The power of laughter, however inane some of its exhibitions may be, bears witness to what is both rational and cultivated. If he is a simpleton who is laughing all the time, we should call him a savage who never laughs at all.
We can not then properly lament the possession of this universal desire for amusement. Neither can we properly seek to repress or to remove it. It belongs to the realm of our spiritual activity.
It points us upward, however earthly many of its manifestations may seem. The right treatment of it is to give it a right direction. We can not wish that we had no souls because they have led us to sin and brought upon us unspeakable woe, but we remember that these very souls are as capable of glory as of shame, and instead of the power to annihilate we seek an influence to redeem, to renew and to perfect them. In like manner we may take this desire for amusement, and recognize not only its divine origin, but, when properly directed, its divine tendency. That in the soul out of which it grows
is good, in whatsoever forms of evil it may be clothed. .
But what forms of it are evil and how shall they be removed? The answer is not difficult if we keep in view the right aspect of the question. Anything is evil which renders the heart more callous to divine impressions, which benumbs or deadens its sense of goodness, which sunders or separates it from God. But nothing can produce this effect except it be the intention of the heart to have it do so.
No outside power ever enters the citadel of the human soul, except as the soul itself first prepares it room and then opens its gates and bids it welcome. We may storm batteries and fortresses, Gibraltars or Ehrenbreitsteins may be conquered, but no number of embattled legions can successfully assail the defences of a single soul. It is conquered only by its own chosen submission. It never yields to evil except by its own treachery. “There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him these are they that defile the man." The real evil, the inournful, melancholy thing is not so much in the acts of a man as in the actor himself. The greatest of all wrongs is the intention to do wrong. A man may take the property of another, believing it to be his own, or he may declare a falsehood believing it to be true, and this may be attended with sad consequences to the person defrauded or deceived, but the saddest thing possible in such a case would be the intention to defraud or to deceive.
If there is, therefore, any evil in amusements, it must be found in the evil intention with which they are pursued. They are evil then and only then when they are intended to be so. Now it must be confessed that the action of the heart is very subtle here. It has wondrous skill in hiding its real motives even from its own eyes. It can cover its purposes till it wholly conceals them, or if they must appear, it can clothe them in garments which give them a guise not their own.
But we can always test them and reveal them in a true light if we will. If the effect is evil the cause is evil. If any of our
actions bring evil to our souls, it must have been our intention to have them do so, whether we noticed it or not. And if there be any harm in any amusement, the harm must be in soine prior tendency of the soul which has sought and found manifestation in this way.
That which is first and most important for us to notice, here as everywhere else, is therefore the state of the heart. “Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure.” It is not the acts of an unrenewed man which need changing so much as it is the actor himself. It is not simply a new affection which is needed but a new heart. All moral culture and improvement therefore must aim at a true renovation of soul. If the soul can only be right its actions will be right spontaneously, but so long as it is wrong its deeds will be wrong inevitably. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree can not bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them."
But it may be asked here: Is not some fruit manifestly evil, and are not some amusements evidently wrong? If we should answer this affirmatively it would come round to the same point again. For, if there were no corrupt tree, there could be no evil fruit, and all wrong amusements with every other wrong thing would disappear if the evil heart were gone. The wrong is nowhere else than in the unrighteous will. Now this unrighteous will can manifest itself either in the prayer meeting or the ball room, and it will assume the one form rather than the other, whenever it can thus best gain its selfish ends.
But is every act then in itself indifferent, and are we to take no heed of anything done, while we look only to the intention of the doer? Are there not some practices against which we must set our faces like a flint ? Do not some things have an appearance of evil which we are expressly commanded to avoid ? This inquiry can be most clearly answered if put in a different form. In general terms the question amounts to this : Does the action of a man have any reflex effect upon the man himself? Stamped as it is with the moral quality of the