"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."--Gal. 6:7.
I know of no more suitable text in all the Bible for the subject that I have in hand. And by the presence of such a vast audience and by the expectant look upon your upturned faces I am sure that you will not expect me to utter one word of defense on the amusement proposition.
I suppose some may winch at the plainness with which 1 will speak, but remember it costs me severe pangs of regret to be compelled to do it. If the ingenious skill of the Devil is to be defeated, there is but one of two alternatives open to the man who assaults the most Hell-soaked institution with grit and courage.
One of two alternatives. He can consume his energy and time in talking about the minor usages of the possible limits one might go, or he can peel the bark away and show the thing full of wormholes and run the risk of losing his fair reputation. I want to say I have willfully and deliberately, and with malice afterthought, chosen the latter course. I don't care a rap what you think about it before I begin or after I am through. I have a message that burns its way into your soul and into my heart. My words may be strong, and if they are you must remember they are blood-red with conviction. With the cry of lost souls ringing in my ears, I cannot remain still. I must cry out.
Judged in the court of human desires, I might be condemned by everybody who wants to do it, but judged in the court of human conscience and I will receive a universal verdict.
We always associate in our minds certain amusements--the theater, the cards and the dance. While some will justify one, others will condemn it. Some who play cards will seek to justify that and condemn the theater; and those who go to the theater may condemn the cards. In my opinion the theater is of such doubtful character that it has been relegated to the class of forbidden amusements.
You know that the theater had its beginning in the church and was intended to be the handmaid of religion. It produced so much fuss and trouble that they were compelled to drop it. Unless the theater is redeemed it will fall by its own stinking rottenness.
I want it distinctly understood that my scrap is not with the theater as an institution. I fight the saloon as an institution, but what I am against, hammer and tongs, are the things that the theater stands for and the rot and filth and rubbish and trash that are spewed out over the stage.
If you want obscenity you will find it in the theater. If you want to see character destroyed, you will find that both behind and before the footlights. Your show has to be tainted in order to gather in the coin. The capacity for amusing people along decent lines seems to have gone by. That may sound foolish, but you let somebody go out on the road with a Shakespearean play and that somebody will go into bankruptcy while the musical show and the burlesque show and the leg show are playing to full houses across the street and the people are drinking in from them gutterish ideas and filthy lines and obscene songs.
I do not mean to say that all plays and all actors are rotten. But you will have to hunt pretty hard to find those who are not. They will tell you that there is money in the theater. Well, there is money in highway robbery and there is money in prostitution and there is money in the saloon. Sure, there is money in it!
You will find the theater trafficking in love--why, that is the hasis of the average play--and yet they call it "art." You will find divorce smeared all over the stage, and adultery even lurking in the flies. Why, there are shows where they have beds right in the middle of the stage, and carryings on which, if they happened in your own homes, would probably result in your receiving a visit from the police.
I haven't darkened the door of a theater since I was converted twenty-nine years ago, except perhaps, to preach. The last time I went to a show was at the McVickar Theater in Chicago, and I am not sure, but I think I saw old Joe Jefferson in "The Cricket on the Hearth." Now, I am not sure--it might have been Denman Thompson in "The Old Homestead." They had pretty good shows in those days, didn't they? And, you can bet that old Joe Jefferson would not have stood for what is going on on the stage today.
I had a narrow escape once from going on the stage myself. Old Tom Keene, the great tragedian, asked me once to go out on the road as his understudy. "You would make a crackerjack, Billy," he said to me. That was the last time we played at the Polo Grounds, and old Tom came to me and begged me to go out on the road as his understudy. Tom was a good scout, but I am a preacher, not an actor.
You remember when the Iroquois Theater burned in Chicago every little cheapskate theater in the country and all the city officials had spasms of virtue. When the Iroquois Theater burned the theaters all over the country were restricted; and in Chicago they were closed for a month. The actors said that if they were not opened there would be excessive drunkenness and that a good many would commit suicide, for there was no way of entertaining the people.
At the expiration of a month, the Chicago RECORD-HERALD said evidently no such dreadful things had occurred as had been prophesied.
The public has a capacity for amusing itself in other ways. It is only a matter of amusement and that is trifling. The time is long past when any number of serious-minded citizens look to the theater for entertainment or instruction. Crude melodramas, mawkish plays and literary claptrap form the staple production of the average theater. The extravaganza is an elaboration of the burlesque of our grandfathers' days. It is estimated that closing the theaters that month in Chicago saved the people two million dollars.
Spectacular drama! If it were not for the leg shows the theater would go bankrupt. All are not bad. Who said they were?
You say that the theater has power. Certainly; nobody denies that. The theaters of Chicago are worth between thirty million and forty million dollars, but nobody will defend the theater because it has power. Nobody defends the whiskey business because it has unlimited capital back of it. Not for a minute.
An actress whose name I will not give said this: "After years on the stage I am convinced that the theatrical business is the most corrupt in the world." It is upon the charred souls of women that most of the men who are a power in the theatrical world have climbed to their height.
Cyrus Townsend Brady, famous author, went to twenty-one plays--picked ones--and out of the twenty-one there were only eight that were unobjectionable, and two of the twenty-one were grand opera. It is almost impossible to find in the theater decency and purity.
You sow bridge whist and auction pitch and five hundred in the home and you reap a crop of gamblers. You sow the dance and the ballroom and you reap a crop of brothels. You sow saloons and you reap a harvest of drunkards.
You must want a lot of prostitutes or you wouldn't sow dances; you must want a lot of vomiting, puking drunkards or you wouldn't sow saloons, and you must want a bunch of gamblers or you wouldn't play cards in your homes.
If you have any cards in your home, you had better throw them in the furnace when you get back there or else throw your Bibles in the furnace. The two won't mix. Oh, you need not gasp! I am handing it to you straight! There is no use having Bibles around your house if you are going to make a joke of His Word by playing bridge.
The theater is a caterer and the church's business is to be a surgeon for the truth. The only way to reform the theater is to turn it into something else. The church stands for what is right, and the theater cares very little for what is right and helpful.
Israel Zangwill says that the playwright gets up his productions to satisfy the lust of the age and not for what good they will do the world.
Archbishop Lennon said to go night after night to the theater is a mark of decadence. You avoid the pesthouse and lepers, and yet night after night you will rush to the theater to enjoy this procession of moral lepers, exposed on the stage for the plaudits of the people. The rogue and scoundrelism and man's infidelity form the groundwork of most plays. These are paraded before the people as exhibitions of genius and fit for art.
When the church quits pouring money into that business it will stop, and when the church of Jesus Christ stops voting for the whiskey business, and drinking and playing cards, and going to the theater, and stops dancing, you know that those things will die. The four rottenest things on earth
have their existence because of the indulgence of the church. You listen to me! I defy anybody to contradict what I have to say about this matter.
Somebody says: "What is the matter with that preacher? Doesn't he believe in amusements?"
There is not a man in Omaha who believes more in amusements than I do. But I believe that they should be recreative and harmless. Nobody believes more in amusements than I.
What games do I play? Well, I play baseball and lawn tennis, although I think that that is a girl's game and I don't like it- -and I play golf and checkers and chess. Somebody says: "What is the difference between a game of cards and a game of checkers?" Well, just as much difference as there is between Heaven and Hell. Ever since the day that cards were invented to satisfy the whims of an idiotic king they have been the tools of the gambler.
Many a boy is inveigled into a gambling room and listens to the roulette wheel ¥ the faro bank and keno and listens to the ribaldry and the jest and the blasphemy, and he is reminded of home. What a wonderful heritage to bequeath to a boy! To have him go into a hellhole like that and have it remind him of home! Men who have been spending their funds and lives to ferret those things out tell us that nine-tenths of the gamblers are taught in their homes by their mothers, or eighty per cent of them first learned gambling in the homes of professing Christian people.
When I talk to you about card playing in your home, I am trying to pound through your head that every pack of cards is but another steppingstone to Hell. I think the old painted hag or the broken down roue, hanging around the tables at Monte Carlo, or a down-and-out card shark bucking a crooked game in a gambling joint at three o'clock in the morning a sight more respectable than the church people or the professed Christian who permits card playing in his home.
"You take that picture back and give it to my mother, and tell her 'Damn her!' I never want to see her. She taught me to play cards and I killed a man at a gambling table and am serving fifteen years to pay for it. Now she has the audacity to send me her picture after she pushed me behind the prison bars," so said a condemned boy.
I say it may not injure you, but it is damning others. Many a boy leaves home and goes to board in some miserable, no-account church-member family. The first night they draw out a card table and take out a deck of cards and say: "Won't you play a game with us?"
"No, my mother taught me not to play."
They laugh at his ignorance. Time rolls on, and he gets to think a good deal of one of the girls in the house, and one night she says: "Won't you play a game of cards with me?"
But he says: "I don't care to play cards." She turned her dove-like eyes upon him, and with her raven tresses and teeth like pearls (that is a tough place to put a fellow in!) she smiles, and he wilts. He learns rapidly and becomes an expert.
One time he walked into a gambling room and thought he saw a shorter route to fame and fortune, and he started out a professional gambler. He had been employed at the Pinkerton agency as a detective, but he gave that up. He was nearly killed in a quarrel in a house of ill-fame and then he ran away to Tennessee, and began the old life. Over a game of cards he got into a fight, and as he lay wounded a woman said: "Let him die; he has been damning our young men." But they took him to a hospital, and when he recovered he went to Florida to a town where a friend of mine was shelling the woods for Jesus, and he was converted and started to preaching. All that after being thirteen years a professional gambler, led into it simply because that good-for-nothing church-member family could not see any harm in a game of cards in the home.
I have just as much respect for the old gambler who will
bet his last soul as for the women who will sit around in their homes and play cards for prizes. They are just as much degenerate, blackleg gamblers as the gambler in the gambling hell. They ought to be put in the calaboose with the rest of the gamblers. You have no right to find fault with the city officials when they don't suppress gambling, when a thing so near akin to it is carried on right in your own home. I believe that cards and dancing are doing more to damn the spiritual life of the church than the grogshops. I believe more people backslide on account of the social side than the saloon.
A seemingly estimable woman will tear and snort and pout through an afternoon- -what for? I mean the diamond-wearing bunch; the automobile gang; the silk-gowned--that is the bunch. So she can take home a dinky cream pitcher or a whisk broom. There is nothing so tame as to ask a fellow to play cards for the fun of it. It does not make any difference whether it is penny ante or sky limit. So we have progressive euchre, and lots of church members have cards on their tables as often as food and they are progressing to Hell. A woman who will play bridge whist is no better than a man who will go out and play poker, and the man who comes home with a pocketful of money won at a poker game is no worse than his wife who has been playing auction or five-hundred all evening for a nice cut glass dish in which to keep the bouquets that are sent to her by her church-going friends.
Now, I am not trying to cram anything down your throats. I am appealing to your sense of reason and decency, and if you are not man or woman enough to listen, I guess God Almighty doesn't need you. If this world was made up of only one family I probably would not need to preach this sermon. But, fortunately or unfortunately, we are made up of many families. If you are lax in the care of your children it makes it harder for me to take care of mine. If you don't care whether your children go to the dance, and I do care, you make it that much harder for me to keep my children right. But I will keep them right if I have to slap my next door neighbor in the face.
Somebody says to me: "Mr. Sunday, are you going to include the square dance?" They all look alike to me. It does not take very long to cut the corners off. There was a time in America when the stately cotillion seemed to satisfy America, but it is too slow for the hot blood of the twentieth century. They must have something that will chase hurdles through their veins.
There is nothing that is so insipid for the devotee of the waltz as to dance a quadrille. I remember years ago, over twenty-two years ago, my wife and I went out to Kansas to see my mother, and we went out in the country to attend a Fourth of July celebration. They had spread eagle oratory and red lemonade, and the young fellows with hand-painted neckties had little blue-sashed maidens and fed them gumdrops and candy hearts with reading on them. They would spend as much as thirty cents on them.
They had the inevitable country dance. The upper end of the platform was on the ground and the other end on posts as high as this platform. I stood at the corner by a barrel and some ladies were with me. On the platform they were getting ready for a quadrille. A great big red-headed, freckled-faced, lantern-jawed, trombone -necked fellow was the caller for the dance. (I had just as soon be chambermaid in a livery stable.) He spit tobacco juice enough to drown a jack rabbit. He got into a chair and resined his old, three-stringed fiddle and said: "Salute your pardners-everybody swing ." A great big strapping country fellow, big enough to pull a thrashing machine, had a fat voluptuous girl for a partner. He threw his arms around her, lifted her right off the floor and she shot her heels right at my head. I said to my wife: "Well, Nellie; they all look alike to me. The round and square dances are the same.
Sure it is harmful, especially for girls. Young men can drink and gamble and frequent houses of ill fame, but the only way a girl can get recreation is in a narrow gauge buggy ride on a moonlight night or at a dance. If you can't see any harm in this kind of thing, why I guess the Lord will let you out as an idiot.
I am asked to give a reason to the unsaved, why should they not do it. The church of God forbids. The greatest and the most spiritual churches forbid it, and are against it. Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregational, the United Brethren and the Christian are all against it. The Methodist church was raised up for the very purpose of counteracting the dance in the church. God called Wesley to purify the Episcopal church and that movement which crystallized in the Methodist church was the rebuke which God gave. From that day until this the church has hurled sermons against these things until it is a generally accepted truism that men and women who do not preach against these things are too big cowards to pose as spiritual leaders, or they are too ignorant to teach God's people.
I know there are some churches that tolerate it- -they do not encourage it--and any church that encourages it is too low-down to deserve the name.
Listen, I will take the oldest church in Christendom--the Roman Catholic. Do you think that you can be a Catholic and do that? I will give you a quotation from a letter from the bishops and the archbishops in plenary council: "In this connection we consider it our duty to warn our members against this amusement which may become to them an occasion of sin, especially the fashionable dance, which is disgusting and revolting and fraught with the greatest danger to morals."
Listen to me! Are you here, Episcopalians? The Episcopal church is the best organized church in the United States. If it were only evangelistic, with its money and power and social position, there is not a church in the world that could do more good than the Episcopal. Bishop Hopkins of Vermont said: "Dancing is a terrible waste of time and of study and a premature incitement of passion."
Bishop Cox of New York said: "The enormities of the theater and the dance would not be tolerated another minute if the mothers would only set their faces against them."
Bishop Vincennes quotes from his records that the waltz would not be tolerated if Christian mothers would only set their faces against it and remove their daughters from this contamination. Alas! that women professing to follow Christ should not rally for the honor of our daughters and drive these things from society.
I have never known a Baptist or Congregational preacher worth a snap of the finger who did not cry out against the dance. That was on their own initiative, too. You tell us that young people must sow their wild oats. Oh, away with such spiritual rot. You can't sow sin and reap virtue.
If there were nothing but card players and dancers in the church, it would stink and rot out. The lowest-down rascal in any community is a dancing Methodist. You say: "Mr. Sunday, the church is too strict with us ." Who can charge the church with being too strict with its young people? The bars are so low now that any old hog can come and root and crawl in. Any old lobster with two or three suits of clothes and a bank account can break into most any church. Itell you that the church loves her young people and is indulgent with them and hopes that they will increase in common sense as they grow in years.
The dancing Christian never was a soul winner. The dance is simply a hugging match set to music. The dance is a sexual love feast. This crusade against the dance is for everybody, not merely for the preacher or the old man or woman who couldn't dance if they wanted to, but for everybody interested in morals, whether in the church or out of the church. I am preaching a sermon that Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant, infidel or Christian, if he wants better morals, can stand on my side.
I say that it is unspiritual. Many a pastor is heartbroken and is sighing for new fields because of the godless mob in the church. I had rather have twelve women filled with the Holy Ghost than a hundred theater-gadders, wine-guzzlers and frivolous dancers. What under God's Heaven do you amount to? The church is honeycombed with the rottenness of society. Somebody has to come out and run the risk of incurring your displeasure.
Say, if God Almighty gives you a rap on the back of the head and shakes a shroud over your old carcass, and telephones for the undertaker to come and measure you for your coffin, you will begin to whine and sniffle and cry to God, like a sick cat.
Girls! Listen! It is immoral. Every good man and woman carries in his or her breast passions the same as bad men and women carry, and thus your breast becomes a tinder box and you ought to be careful where you go and what you do lest you ignite it and there he an explosion and wreck of your purity and manhood and womanhood.
My wife and I have been at the bedside of a girl who was dying in a house of ill fame. She said the reason of her downfall had been the dance, which she began when fifteen years old. She used to attend Sunday School. When we asked her if she had any message for the girls, she cried, "Tell the girls and warn them to let the dance alone." The dance is the dry rot of society. I say it is immoral. A society woman said that in the ballroom men took liberties with her that they would not dare take any place else or under any other circumstances.
Certainly! Perhaps the parties which you have attended have been free from immoral tendencies which have characterized others. Does not the swinging of the partners in the square dance bring the bodies of the partners into a position that would not be tolerated in decent society or anywhere else, or under any other circumstances? Would it not give a scriptural ground for divorce?
Ma and I stopped in to look at a ball at an inauguration ceremony. Well, I will be horn-swaggled if I didn't see a woman there dancing with all the men, and she wore the collar of her gown around her waist. She had a little corset on--oh, I can't describe it.
Supposing that you go to a dance tonight and then tomorrow you go around to some man's house when he is not there, that you might effectively impress upon his wife the dance and its necessary attendants and requisites. You intend to give instruction, and you go in perfect innocence. You assume the same position and attitude with your arms about her that you would take on the ballroom floor. The husband comes in the back door. and sees you there with your arms about his wife, and bang! bang! goes the revolver, and you fall dead. You could not find a jury of married men on God's earth that would convict him. I would have just one vote--and it would be: "Go home."
You cannot get around the circumstances. Is not that true about the position? Any man knows it is. It does not do any harm to keep away and it may ruin your daughter to let her go.
Do you go with your wife to the dance? You don't dance, and she is a fiend. You stand there and watch man after man as he claims her hand and puts his name on her list. Perhaps that fellow was her lover and you won her hand- -and you stand there and watch your wife folded in his long, voluptuous, sensual embrace, their bodies swaying one against the other, their limbs twining and entwining, her head resting on his breast, they breathe the vitiated air beneath the glittering candelabra, and the spell of the music, and you stand there and tell me that there is no harm in it! You're too low-down for me.
I want to see the color of some buck's hair that can dance with my wife! I'm going to monopolize that hugging myself.
Do you know that three-fourths of all the girls who are ruined owe their downfall to that very thing. You let a young man whose character would make a black mark on a piece of tar paper, who goes down the line every other night, hug and dance with your daughter, and see what happens. They are dancing the tango, the rottenest, most putrid, stinkingest dance that ever wriggled out of the pot of perdition- -that's what the tango is.
Are you a father? Are you a brother? Do you accompany your daughter or your sister to the ballroom and see young fellows come up to her--lecherous young bucks--asking the hand of your daughter or your sister for a dance--young bucks that you know live in sin, young fellows whose names are as common upon the lips of the prostitute as upon the lips of your daughter? Two or three nights in company with her at some ball or theater party, and two or three nights in the arms of some prostitute. You stand there and see young fellows come up and walk with your daughter and tell me that there is no harm in it.
You are too low-down for me.
Are you a mother? And do you chaperone your daughter and groom her, and you shove her in front of every marriageable buck, and you accompany her to the ballroom and you stand there and look at her with your head cocked on one side, and see a young fellow come up and wrap his arms around your daughter, and tell me that there is no harm in it? You must be made of basswood or putty or marble.
"But," said the woman, "you are too severe in your strictures regarding the dance. The positions have changed since you danced." Yes; I read that they have. I read the other day a report that said: "The devotee of the waltz ought to be satisfied with the latest position, entitled 'The Dream,' which brings the bodies in such close contact that a case knife could not pass between them."
When I danced on the puncheon floor in the log cabin on the frontier in Iowa, we used to be able to get a stick of wood between them, but now you can't get a piece of tissue paper between. We're going some nowadays. I can understand why some of the young people want to dance, but what some of you old fellows, who have to grease your joints before going on the floor, see in it, I don't know.
I read the other day that sitting out a waltz is going to be fashionable from now on. The only difference is that you will sit it out instead of dance it. A young man and a girl will sit on a sofa, and he will put his arm about her, her left hand in his, and she rests her head upon his bosom, and all that they have to do is just to sit there and "hug." I tell you that there is some sense in that. I have always considered it a nuisance to gallop a mile just to get a hug or two.
Most men don't care a rap for the dance; it is the hug that they are after. That will give your old rheumatic and gout masters a chance. A fellow has to get powerfully old and decrepit when he doesn't enjoy a hug, I'll tell you that. I want to tell you I don't believe that there are many people who can go on the ballroom floor and dance with a pretty girl hugged to his breast and look upon her charms under the influence of fascinating music, and then go out with prayer -meeting feelings. I will bet you, sir, if men who dance would tell the truth, ninety out of one hundred will say: "You are right, Bill; you are the first one who ever had the grit to tell it."
I have more respect for a saloon-keeper than for a dancing teacher. I don't believe the saloons will do as much to damn the morals of young people as the dancing school. That is my position. I don't care anything about yours. Professor Faulkner said that he knew of one private dancing school that sent six girls into houses of ill fame in about three months. He talked with 200 girls and found that 165 fell as the result of the dance, twenty by drink, ten by choice and five from poverty.
Where do you find the accomplished dancers? In the brothels. Why? They were taught in dancing schools. Listen to me, girls. I have never yet, and never will, flatly contradict the man or the woman who tells me that he or she dances and never knew of premature incitement of passion. I say that I will never contradict them, but I will say then: "Thank God; and get out of it right now, for next time you may.
Listen. I want you to hear what I've got to say. They tried the municipal dance hall out in Cleveland and it was so rotten that the sheriff finally insisted that it be closed. Don't talk that municipal dance hall to me. There were more girls ruined around that lot and turned into public prostitutes than you can count. The public dance hail, whether run by a municipality or private enterprise, is the favorite ground for the panderer, and from it three-fourths of all the girls who enter the life of shame are recruited. Oh, the dance is rotten all the way through. Seven million girls go wrong in a century in this country, and three-fourths of them are ruined by the dance. The chief of police of New York says three-fourths of the abandoned creatures there fell through the dance.
Where did the drunkard get his first drink? In the social dance. Statistics only change in the adjustment, but the percentage holds good year after year.
There are 500,000 public prostitutes in the United States. Their average life is from three to five years. Three hundred and seventy-five thousand fall as the result of the dance. Am I my sister's keeper?
Sisters! If you countenance the dance you are your sister s murderess. You are responsible for her fall, because you could have thrown your influence against it. You become responsible for every fallen person as long as you champion the dance. You are responsible for every rotten drunkard as long as you vote for the grogshop.
It is charged that women are like a pack of wolves. You will stop long enough beside the fallen one to rip and tear what little character she has left, and leave her to rot and bleach on the shores of time. And when a girl does try to raise herself from the quagmires of filth and misery, you ostracize and stigmatize her from society and force her back into her life of shame; while you welcome with open arms the lecherous roue who caused her downfall.
I thank God that there are women that will rescue the fallen and help them to crawl out of the quagmire of filth. If I speak plain it is because of blood-red convictions, and I have the wail of lost souls ringing in my ears. God would condemn me, if I didn't cry out against these sins.
We have charity balls, and I think that they are the biggest insult to God Almighty and decency that God ever looked at. Are you so low-down that you would not give a dollar to charity unless they got up a dance which propagates harlotry and keeps the brothels full?
But you say: "Look here, Mr. Sunday, can't a man dance with his wife?"
"Dance with whom?"
You old lobster! You don't want to dance with your wife! It is some other fellow's wife. You had just as soon go out and husk corn all night by moonlight as to dance with your own wife.
I believe that the dance is founded on sexual preferences and I believe that passion makes the dance popular. You say that you don't believe it! You make men dance by themselves, and it will kill the dance in two weeks. You know that you don't care for the dance; it is the hug and the opposite sex.
A man drinks without women, and you gamble without women, but you make men and women dance alone and you will kill the dance and you know it. Say, if you dance because you like to dance, you can dance with some old lobster just as well as with a woman. The German and other round dances are favorites, and the liberties taken would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world.
When you die you don't send for the dancing master to pray over you.
No wonder that the world is not being brought to Jesus Christ.
People say to me: "Well, didn't they dance in the Bible?" Yes, they danced in the Bible, and they committed adultery, too; and they got punished. The dances of which their religion approved were never danced by both sexes. Men danced with men and women with women. I tell you, the dance nowadays is induced by the passions and seeds of passions. That is its only appeal.
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