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And as cheerful discourse is not forbidden on the day, so neither is a cheerful use of God's creatures, who hath given us richly all things to enjoy. The religious governor Nehemiah, after the people had been assembled to hear the law, dismissed them with these words: Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lordt. And it is said of the first Christians, immediately after the mention of their worship, as if it followed immediately after, that they did eat their meat with gladness, and singleness of heart, praising Godt. But then both over-plentiful indulgence, and luxurious delicacy, making the gratification of our appetite a serious study, or in the expressive language of Scripture, a God of our belly §, is very inconsistent, not only with the business of the day, but with our whole profession. And yet more so are intemperance and debauchery : which profane our sabbath beyond comparison worse than labouring upon it would do; pervert it from the service of God to that of the devil; and make it a public mischief instead of a blessing. To prevent this therefore every one ought carefully to watch over himself, parents over their children, heads of houses over their families, and magistrates over the whole community. For very few things would either do inferiors more good, or entitle superiors to a larger share of divine favour, than if the latter would enable themselves to say, with the excellent governor above mentioned: I commanded to sanctify the sabbath-day: remember me, O my God, concerning this, and spare me, according to the greatness of thy mercy. But here a question may be put; supposing vice be
1 Tim. vi. 17.
+ Neh. viii. 10.
Acts ii. 46, 47.
|| Neh. xiii. 22.
avoided, may not amusements and diversions be allowed? Now in the first place, who are they that ask this? Persons that neglect religious duties? They have no right to ask it. Let them do what is commanded on the day, before they examine what is permitted: else their inquiry comes only to this, whether they may disregard it from beginning to end. For such to plead for relaxations after the business of the day is over, when, God knows, their whole business upon it hath been idleness or worse, is beyond measure absurd. And therefore, when some recreations on Sunday in the afternoon were unadvisedly permitted by authority, for a while, above an hundred years ago, they, who had not first attended both morning and evening service, were expressly forbidden to partake of them. And of those, who do attend the service of God, very few desire them. Such of the labouring and lower sort of the trading people, as profess any seriousness, are well content with indulging themselves afterwards, at home in amicable conversation, or abroad in a friendly visit, or the refreshment of going for a while to contemplate the beauties of the creation, which this day was appointed, amongst other things, to commemorate. And they are very sensible, that taking liberties, at all considerably greater, would be unfit and unsafe. The minds of men, even while they were at church, would be running on the diversions, that were to follow : they would be tempted by them to neglect, perhaps entirely, religious exercises in private: their amusements would grow to be light or indecent, or tumultuous and mischievous, or both: expences and excesses, drunkenness and debaucheries, quarrels and disorders, would attend them: the day would come by degrees to be regarded as a day of sport only; and
if once pious thoughts were banished at the time peculiarly appointed for them, when would they find a place in our hearts?
Now if these considerations ought to weigh, and do weigh, with those who are almost constantly kept to business, and for whom alone, on that account, the recreations formerly allowed were intended and calculated; much more may they, who have leisure for them nearly as often as they will, and perhaps employ a great deal too much of the remainder of the week in them, afford without murmuring to distinguish one day in seven by abstaining from them. Still the few of those, who do not abstain from them, and yet behave like serious persons in other instances, ought to be respected as such; and judged of, in this particular, with moderation and charity. But surely at the same time they should be asked: Where is the need, where is the good, of these indulgences of yours on the Lord's day? If you are very fond of them, you ought, as reasonable creatures, and moral agents, to mortify a fondness, for which you can have no just ground. And if you are indifferent about them, for what cause do you affect to make this innovation : contrary, we apprehend, to religion; contrary, you must own, to the laws and usages of your country? Is it to show, that you think farther than the vulgar? Show it in somewhat better. Indeed, think a little farther still, and you will see, that compliance with wise customs is a wise thing. And why is not that custom such, which hath obtained universally amongst us, till of late, in this matter? Is the observation of this day grown so excessively strict within these few years, that there is a necessity of taking new methods to relax it? Are all your servants grown so immoderately scrupulous, that you must try to weaken the
force of principle in them, by giving them to understand, that you have but little of it yourselves? For while they conceive you to violate the sabbath, they will conceive you to disregard God. Is this then the light, in which you would have them, in which you would have other serious persons, consider you? Whether they will inveigh against you, or only grieve for you, why should you give them cause to do either? Why should you countenance and encourage the profane, tempt the conscientious, by your example, to do what they inwardly condemn, or help to make them look ridiculous, if they stand out? But indeed, could you bring all people into your own opinion, would it be desirable? Are not amusements, and particularly that of play, grown much too general and frequent and expensive already? And why would you increase it thus? Why would you have the lower part of the world, whom happily their business preserves from such things on other days, come to think them lawful on this; when they have full leisure for them, and may argue very plausibly in favour of their own inclinations from the practice of their superiors? Must not the introduction of these liberties probably keep them, often from church, almost always from being the better for going thither; give them quite a wrong turn, waste their small profits and earnings, and drive them to many unjust methods of repairing their losses, and supplying their extravagances; by which, I need not tell you, their betters must be sufferers? On these accounts an author, not suspected of any religion, whom I quoted in my first discourse on this subject, had however policy enough to see, and lay it down for a rule, that diversions ought to be strictly prohibited on the Lord's day. Indeed, besides these particular bad effects,
the use of them on that day must contribute in general to perpetuate without intermission an eagerness for pleasure and entertainment, irreconcileable with a spirit of piety, and to exclude serious thoughts even at the most serious times.
It hath been said, that such employment is better, than talking and hearing scandal. But I am afraid the former by no means prevents the latter. Or say it did, where is the necessity of either? If our amusements alone restrain us from evil-speaking, we should put ourselves without delay under the influence of better motives. It hath been pleaded also, that diversions are used in other countries on Sunday evenings without harm. But in some they are used at that time, because they consider the Sunday as over at that time: for they begin to observe it strictly the evening before, and we do not. But still many of them think even this an insufficient defence of the practice; though travellers may happen, and no wonder, to be chiefly acquainted with the freer sort. That it doth no harm, is easily said, but hard to be proved. And were it to do but little, where men have been long accustomed to it, and are withheld, by a more general seriousness, and a severer exercise of authority, from abusing it; yet it may do infinite mischief, where it comes recommended by the charms of novelty; and is so unlikely, so impossible to be confined within moderate bounds, as in this most licentious nation. We have much more need therefore to learn from foreign countries their practice of going to church both in the morning and afternoon of the day, than of recreations in the close of it for it is extremely perverse to reject their authority in the former case, while we rely on it in the latter. And surely, upon the whole, every good,