The way to do good is to amuse people!
(J.C. Ryle, 1884)
A great change has taken place in the last forty years. A quantity of church work is continually being carried on both by clergymen and laymen, which, however well-meant, can hardly be called Christian — and in reality has a painful tendency to throw true Christian work into the background, if not to throw it entirely out!
No one, for instance, can fail to observe that a large number of professors are spending all their time and strength on church music, church decorations, church programs, and an incessant round of church attractions. Others are equally absorbed in social work, feeding the poor, and improved dwellings for everyone. Others are incessantly getting up popular concerts, secular lectures, and evening recreations. They proclaim everywhere, that the way to do good is to amuse people!
Others are always occupied with secular guilds, and societies, and associations — and think you very wrong and heathenish if you do not join them. Myriads of professors are restlessly busy about such things from one end of the land to the other; and superficial observers are often saying, "What a great deal of church-work there is in these days!"
Now I would not for a moment be supposed to mean that all the things I have just mentioned are wrong and wicked. Yet I doubt whether the present state of things is altogether healthy. I doubt whether the work of the Holy Spirit on hearts and consciences, is not insensibly being left out in the cold and neglected. Amidst the incessant hustle and bustle about matters of entirely secondary importance — I doubt whether the sort of direct spiritual work to which the Apostles wholly gave themselves, receives as much attention as it ought.
It is quite certain that musical services, and church decorations, and concerts, and bazaars, and social work, and the like — will not save souls.
It is equally certain that, without repentance, and faith, and holy living, and practical, self-denying, kindly charity — no one is fit for Heaven. Do these simple, old-fashioned graces fill the place which they ought to do, in the daily proceedings of many so-called church-workers in this day? I confess I doubt it exceedingly.
I certainly see on every side a vast increase of what people call "church-work." But there is little or no increase of true religion. There undoubtedly is more show and glitter and display. But I extremely doubt whether there is more spiritual reality, and more growth of practical godliness.