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scandalous assignations, of rioting and drunkenness, assume by being perpetrated on the sacred day of God! and more frequently too, than on other days! what an insult on the majesty of heaven! what a sacrifice, rudely snatched from the altar of God, and even ostentatiously hurried by some to that of his enemy! Profanation is infinitely too soft a word for such practices as consist in an impious perversion of that which is most sacred, to purposes enormously flagitious.
But as if these execrable encroachments on piety and common decency were not sufficient proofs of contempt for infinite Majesty, and attachment to the author of sin; I am told, it is, of late, become usual, among the more dignified slaves of fashion, to celebrate the day of God with cards and dice. How blasphemous a sound is made by the conjunction of that awful name with those implements of wickedness, even in a discourse intended to lash that wickedness!
Play, in its most favourable sense, that is, when trifles only are staked, is of all amusements, the most senseless; and never called to the relief of any, but such as are heartily tired of one another, and of themselves. Whosoever therefore says to his company, let us have cards, says in plain English, let something, any thing, be done, to parry the extreme stupidity of our conversation. What mean they who complain, that life is short, and yet have recourse to a pastime that wastes and cuts off so great a share of it; nay, that, by an almost total inaction, exceedingly impairs the little health, on which life subsists, and, for the time, degrades the rational being, the Lord of this world, into a mere machine for shuffling and flinging paper? They call this, killing time. Shocking expression! Is it possible, they can be so grossly ignorant, as not to know, that he who kills his time, murders himself? At what a stand is the economy of our families, and the infinitely more important economy of our minds ; at how dead a stop, the improvement of our intellectual powers; or rather, how rapidly backward does it run, while we are at play! But as this piddling tends strongly to lead us into a habit and taste for gaming, properly so called, it is but the school of wickedness, and the bye path of fools to vice; for,
Gaming, that is, playing for considerable sums, is wickedness, if there is any such thing as wickedness, on earth, or in hell. Avarice, iniquity, and atheism, are the very principles, on which it is built; avarice, because the gamester covets the property of another, and plays on that motive alone; iniquity because he covets the property of another without the least intention to give him value for it; and atheism, because he puts chance, if not villany, in the place of Providence and honest industry; for, as an opinion, that the world was made by chance, is the atheism of the head, so gaming, which is a wish that it were governed by chance, is the atheism of the heart. It may be naturally expected, that a mind, thus principled, should pursue its schemes at the gaming-table by sharping and the basest arts, and should lie perpetually exposed to the most outrageous passions, to oaths, blasphemies, quarrels, and murders. These things, surely make, gaming a vice on any day of the week.
What then must it be on the Lord's day? Is the practice of a vice, so monstrous in itself, and attended with such shocking effects, a proper method of commemorating the goodness of God in giving us being, and every means of making that being happy? Is he in a way to improve his mind, and so to ensure the favour of God, who, in the eager pursuit of ill-gotten money, purposely keeps God, religion, his soul, eternity, out of sight, at the very time appointed for a close attention to them all, purposely, I repeat it, that his impious amusement may help him to fence against the intrusions of the day upon his ulcerated conscience ?
I know nothing so fitted to give us a dreadful idea of the times we live in, as the elaborate apologies we hear every where made for gaming on the Lord's day. One or two I beg leave to take notice of.
‘Other nations, as good as we, they tell us, think it neither sin nor shame, to game on Sundays.' As good as we! If they are not a great deal better, their customs have no right to become precedents. Other nations worship false gods, even the devil, and practise, every day, all manner of wickedness. Is this a reason why we may do the same? Is every custom right, and fit for our imitation, that obtains in foreign countries? All our vanity and luxury, imported by an equally foolish, flagitious, and ruinous imitation of foreigners, are here justified by these apologists for gaming, on the same footing with their own favourite vice; and well indeed they may, if that can be defended, from which alone the exorbitant expense of those fashionable vices can hope to be supplied with speed, proportionable to their impatience. But is fashion to found itself only on borrowed customs ? How mean, to be wicked merely at second-hand ! Or is fashion, howsoever founded, absolutely to govern those who are forbidden, by the first rule of action, to be conformed to this world.' But, too much of this.
Another plea for gaming on Sundays is couched under a pretended regard for the day. "Sunday, say some, is a time intended for relaxation and rejoicing, which are impracticable, without some amusements; and cards and dice are as innocent amusements, as any that can be had, especially if we entertain ourselves with them in so private a manner, as neither to tempt nor offend the weaker part of mankind by the notoriety of the practice. Besides, gaming, add they, is, in an evening, the only preservative, we know of, against hard drinking.'
The sabbath, it is true, is a day of relaxation for the body, but'not of looseness and licentiousness for the mind, which is authorized to rejoice on this day indeed, but not profanely, not wickedly, we may be bold to say. This amusement is both wicked in itself and horribly profane, when practised on the Lord's day. Fine amusement, no doubt, which tends, by a wild waste of time and thought, to an utter dissipation of conscience and fortune! Fine amusement, enjoyed by one part of the company in plunder, no less iniquitous, than that of robbery (behold the innocence !), and suffered by the other in the midst of distraction and torture, too dreadful for the malice of an enemy, who curses in the bitterness of his soul; behold the amusement !
But if gaming on the sabbath is really an innocent amusement, and so well fitted to the festival intention of the day, why is it not as suitable to the place of devotion too? why do you not carry the gaming table into the church, where there is likely to be room enough in a little time? You start, as if I had talked of setting up an altar to the prince of darkness in the house of God. But why is the place of God's worship, which you only have appointed, held so much more sacred, than the time, which he hath appointed by an express commandment? A veneration for the one is not more superstitious, than for the other; at least you have no colour of right to think it is, and your posterity, refining still farther on your own plan, or rather example, will, with as much reason, game in church, as you now do on Sunday. As to the privacy, wherewith you purpose to cover this practice, it is but a flimsy pretence. You know very well, that nothing done by persons of your eminence, can be concealed. Your servants know and publish every thing you do, your very crimes, as precedents for vulgar imitation. Nay, you yourselves are apt to vaunt on other occasions, what, on this you so poorly excuse. The last part of your apology for gaming on this or any other day, to wit, that it diverts you from hard drinking, must, no doubt, be admitted as solid and satisfactory from men who can be amused, it seems, with nothing but wickedness, and know not how to party one vice, which they do not like, but with another, which they love.
Should the common people, and the poorer sort, fall generally into this practice of gaming, especially on Sundays, which give them leisure, what opportunity will be left them for inquiry after religion ? Will not universal ignorance be the consequence? And will not universal wickedness be the effect of that ignorance; if the great ones (I ask, because two or three such, both in eminence and wickedness, there possibly may be here), if the great ones, I say, set the profane example, will not the little ones follow? It is always their reigning ambition to ape the great as far as they can; and they can more easily ape those above them in this, than in their vices of higher gout. And what care we, you will say, whether they imitate us, or not? Stupid ! stupid in perfection! You have not, it seems, considered, what sort of tenants or servants a race of Sunday gamesters will make; nor how little is to be got by lording it over a footman, as genteel, or fleecing a tenant, as necessitous as yourselves, with minds as ill-principled, as desperate, as your own, and ten times bolder.
It is with a shudder, but mixed with a sort of indignant pleasure, that I foresee the chastisement you are preparing for yourselves, by this enormous vice, in the shoals of high
waymen, footpads, and cut-throats, which it will infallibly produce among your dependants. Considering the prodigious propensity in the lower ranks of mankind to imitate the upper (and all are upper who are richer), it were really much to be wished, that the great, when resolved to be wicked, would be greatly wicked, I mean, would find out some new extraordinary species of sin, wherein the sink of mankind could not so easily participate with them. People of distinction, who cannot otherwise be sufficiently singular, might surely distinguish themselves by their vices, and not leave it to every inferior fellow, to be as bold with heaven for farthings, as they for guineas; to sharp, swear, and profane the Lord's day, as fast as their betters. Pity! that there is but one real distinction among mankind, that is between the good and the bad. Pity! that vice is become a leveller, as well as virtue. Had the meanest of the people been in power, just nine and fifty sessions ago, and trained to gaming, particularly on Sundays, they could, with as good a grace, as the best among us, have bought and sold one another, and played away the nation. To the orator on the ladder, who, with more pathos, than a Tillotson or a Secker, holds forth on the vices of sabbath-breaking and gaming, should this whole group of beings, whether in silk or drugget, whether in coaches or behind them, be remitted both for precept and example.
These tart reflections on those who openly, atheistically profane the day of God by a vice which no words can scourge with sufficient sharpness, are not mainly intended for their reformation, who seldom come hither, and when they do, come only to contemn what they hear; but for your use, who begin to act, though not yet to think, as they do; who have some respect for religion, but more for fashion; who fear God over your prayer-book in the morning, and insult him over your cards in the evening of this day, who run upward or downward, with the tide on which you see the dignified mob afloat. It is as uncomfortable, as it is awkward, to halt between two opinions; but infinitely more so.
to attempt a journey in two contrary directions at once. - You cannot serve God and Mammon. You cannot serve
the Master who presides in this place, and him who governs at the card-table, especially in one day, and that appropri