James Smith, 1856
"Abstain from all appearance of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:22
"Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 2 Corinthians 10:31
A few years ago, a young man was called to dwell for a time in a strange country town. He was directed to a respectable householder — but was informed that he was very particular as to the character of his lodgers; application was made, and proved successful. The first evening of his residence there, when the whole family was assembled, he was surprised to see all present draw around the table, and a pack of cards introduced. He feared God, and felt dismayed. He was invited to join the party — but objected, saying that he did not understand card-playing. The reply was, "We'll soon teach you." But he felt determined never to learn, and therefore at once positively refused to join them.
Many days have passed since then, and the young man is now getting into the autumn of life — yet he has never regretted the decision of that evening; but he has often looked back, and thanked God that, young as he was, and naturally shy and sensitive, with a strong desire to please in his constitution, he was enabled to repel the temptation, and overcome the foe.
Reader, shall I tell you what young man's reason was for refusing to engage in what is called "a harmless game at cards?" It was not because he was not fond of amusement — for he was. Nor was it because he was not of a social, lively disposition — for he has often felt he was too much so. Fun, frolic, and all kinds of youthful games — were once thoroughly enjoyed by him; and after he knew "the grace of God in truth," he often went as far as was lawful in youthful games, and at times much too far. No; ho was not dull, gloomy, or sour — but just the reverse.
Yet he would not learn to play at cards. He felt he ought not. His conscience was enlightened, and he dared not. But he had reasons for his conduct, and many reasons too. The great reason was, he believed that the New Testament was an inspired book, and therefore he took it for his guide; he believed that the words of that book would "judge him at the last day," and therefore he made them the rule of his life. Every departure from that rule, caused him grief — but in keeping its commandments, he found there was a great reward. But he had several particular reasons for not playing at cards.
For instance, he knew he was required to "pray without ceasing," and he felt that he could not go down upon his knees, and pray to God to bless him in card-playing, before he began; neither could he lift up his heart, and pray for his Heavenly Father to smile upon him while he was playing. His New Testament also commanded him "in everything to give thanks," but he did not feel that he could praise God while playing, nor find a good reason, or suitable disposition to do so after he had finished. He was also exhorted thus, "Whatever you do in word or deed — do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." But he could not understand how he could play at cards in the name of the Lord Jesus. He certainly was not authorized to play at cards by his Savior; nor would he expect to receive his sanction while doing so.
He had often felt the force of these Scripture words:
"Abstain from all appearance of evil."
"Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
"What, don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who you have from God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
Now he could not see how card-playing would glorify God. He did not believe that when people sat down to cards, they did so in order to glorify God. Nor did it appear to him consistent, that a temple of the Holy Spirit should be so employed.
In addition to this he read: "Every one of us must give an account of himself to God." And the questions would arise: What account can I give of the time spent, the spirit excited, and the money lost or won at card-playing? Then conscience would ask: Would you sit down to play at cards — if you knew you would die before morning, or that the Lord Jesus would come while you are at cards, and call you to his bar? Would you play cards just before going to the Lord's supper? These questions convinced him that card-playing was not justifiable, and therefore he refused to play.
He knew also that card-playing was not necessary for his health, or to pass away his time, or to add to his enjoyments; for he could be healthy, occupied, and happy without it.
Reader, do you think this young man was justified in refusing to play at cards? Do you think he was to be commended? Do you ever play? If so, can you be justified? Will you reflect upon card-playing with pleasure on your sick-bed, or on your dying pillow? Will you be able, just before you launch into eternity — to thank God that you have spent so many hours at the card-table, or that you have played so many games?
But perhaps my reader will say, "I make no profession of religion, and therefore the case is different with me." But why do you not make a profession of religion? Perhaps you say, "Because I have none." But ought you not to have religion? What will you do without it, when you come to die? But what is religion? Is religion believing God? It is; and if you do not believe God — then you make him a liar. How awful this! Is religion faith in Christ? It is; and this is God's commandment, that you should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ? What fearful disobedience, then, is yours? Is religion love to God? It is; and this is the first and great commandment. Is religion love to men? It is; and this is the second great commandment. Is not religion being and doing just what God requires in his Holy Word? Ought you not, then, to be what God requires and to do what God commands?
To be religious is . . .
to be like-minded with God,
to walk in fellowship with God,
to obey from the heart the precepts of God,
and in all things to aim to glorify God.
None but the Holy Spirit can produce this, we know — but this is no excuse for you being destitute of it; for what said Jesus? "If you being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." If you have no desire to be religious — you will not ask for the Holy Spirit; and if you do not ask for it — then you have no right to expect it. But will this excuse you? Will this justify you in living as an enemy to God, and wasting your precious time in card-playing, and similar frivolous and sinful amusements.
Is trifling with God's Word, insulting God's mercy, and refusing to ask for God's Holy Spirit — a justification of your irreligion? Can it be? Conscience, to you I appeal, can it be? Be assured of this, you ought to profess religion; and you ought to profess it but only because you possess it! And possessing it, you ought to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present evil world; and so adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. You ought to avoid the very appearance of evil; and spend every day as you would wish to spend your last day; so that whether you live, you may live unto the Lord, or whether you die, you may die unto the Lord; so that living or dying, you may be the Lord's.