Comments on the Stage

Here are some excerpts from Timothy Dwight’s (1752-1817) [1] comments on the stage (here the word “stage,” I think, would apply to such things as movies and television where sin is being acted out upon the screen).

[1]  His mother Mary Edwards (1734–1807) was the third daughter of theologian Jonathan Edwards” (Wikipedia). [This is NOT a promotion or endorsement of Dwight as a true Christian.]

So here’s Dwight:

“Let us unfold the sacred page, and examine it with the most scrupulous nicety; let us search every page in the sacred volume, and in our search we shall not discover a single dramatic piece. No amusing representations, or theatrical exhibitions, are to be found here — every thing has a very opposite character. The word of God speaks to the man who reads it, and, shewing him things as they are in relation to himself, points him to the path of his own personal duty. Neither the term sacred drama, nor any bearing its import, ever occurs in the word of God: nor, but for the vanity of the restless spirit of man, thirsting for the applause of fellowmen, at the expense of being still more like gods, knowing good and evil, should we have ever heard the phrase” (Timothy Dwight; underlining mine).

We are to be as shrewd as serpents, and guileless (harmless) as doves; we are “to be truly wise [as] to good, but simple toward evil” (Romans 16:19; Matthew 10:16). Being “simple” toward evil is not a precarious naiveté when paired with shrewd and God-fearing wisdom.

“And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that [is] wisdom; and to depart from evil [is] understanding” (Job 28:28; cf. Philippians 2:15).

True Christians are NOT to become “less naive” by experientially knowing more good and evil — that is, it is NOT a mark of guileless prudence to watch wickedness on television in order to become “less naive” and “more wise,” or to “gain depth of insight”  into how unbelievers act and think. By “act and think” we are not speaking of watching an unbeliever give a lecture (or something like that). We are talking about blatant in-your-face acting out of things like violence, sexual immorality, lewd joking, etc.

“Characters have indeed been taken from the Bible, and mangled into dramatic form by dramatists. But the word of God ought never to be transformed into the likeness of a play, to be mocked and insulted by the ungodly minister and audience of the Stage: when so, pearls are cast before swine, and a jewel put in the nose that is only in its proper element when covered in the mire. But the Scriptures, before they can be put into the form of a play, must be transmigrated into a new body, having neither their original soul nor body. We find in the Bible neither Stage, nor Stage minister, nor Stage instruction” (Timothy Dwight; underlining mine).

Dwight’s thoughts about this mangling and “[transmigration] into a new body” are very important points. For some have the gall to cite Scripture’s account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba as a pretext or excuse for setting wickedness before their eyes on the T.V. screen (cf. Psalm 101:3).

Reading the Bible’s description of David and Bathsheba does not compare with watching “David” and “Bathsheba” acting out their respective parts on the stage or T.V. screen. In this particular context, one cannot use reading to justify watching, for they are two completely different activities.

“Impurity runs through in order that it may entertain and exhilarate the perverse mind with all kinds of immorality and violence” (Timothy Dwight).

And even if it does not exhilarate, this immoral sewage and wine of violence are not things true Christians are to marinate their minds with.

“For the rest, brothers, whatever is true, whatever honorable, whatever is right, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever of good report, if of any virtue, and if of any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8; underlining mine).

Dwight:

“But the approbation of the conduct of the clever villain, and the pleasure produced by its exhibition, universally transporting the audience, discovers their love of the conduct represented. A glow of joy shews [shows–CD] itself in every countenance — tongues, feet, hands, are all at work to testify the general approbation. The Stage, therefore, not only produces pleasurable feeling on seeing sin acted dexterously, but it is a source of extatic [sic] delight, which excites joy in the soul at the sight of sinful representation, and draws from its audience external marks of approbation and love” (Timothy Dwight; underlining mine).

Certain types of sin acted out dexterously may or may not, sinfully titillate a believer. Whether or not this evil titillation occurs, this sin or even the potential occasion for this sin, ought to be violently flung, or fled from. True Christians are to be militant, diligent, and vigilant in putting to death the deeds of the body by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:13).

” … who knowing the righteous order of God, that those practicing such things are worthy of death, not only do them, but also approve those practicing them. …Then the one teaching another, do you not teach yourself? The one preaching not to steal, do you steal? The one saying not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? The one detesting the idols, do you rob temples?” (Romans 1:32, 2:21-22).

It would be an insidious inconsistency if we teach others, “Do not commit adultery,” while setting adultery before our eyes on the T.V. screen.

“The man prepared for its commission, is effectually taught how to accomplish the crime, which, but for the teaching of the Stage, he would never have attempted. This is the real result of Stage teaching in life, and its genuine influence on the heart. But when, by this issue, the heart of man shall be made pure, and how much of such fruit shall be necessary to produce moral reform on beings altogether impure, are questions which ought to be seriously considered by the friends of Stage morality. Such an influence, and such results, are evils. But no augmentation of evil can change its nature; on the contrary, it adds to its malignity. Stage teaching, therefore, as it adds nothing to counteract its influence, makes evil worse, by increasing the evil that already exists. Out of the natural heart proceed all those evils which defile the man; and when the Stage comes into contact with it, these evils flow from it in greater strength and in greater numbers” (Timothy Dwight).

Impressionable persons are sometimes influenced and “given bad ideas” by watching evil set forth. Or, it may be that the soft-glowing embers are blown up and exacerbated into a ferocious flame.

True Christians are not to give any sort of specious defense or justification. But rather, to engage in a violent Christ-glorifying act of defenestration.

“And in the eleventh year of Jehoram the son of Ahab, Ahaziah reigned over Judah. And Jehu came to Jezreel. And Jezebel had heard, and had painted her eyes and adorned her head, and looked down through the window. And Jehu came to the gate. And she said, [Was it] peace [to] Zimri the slayer of his lord? And he lifted his face to the window, and said, Who [is] with me? Who? And two [or] three eunuchs looked down to him. And he said, Throw her down! And they threw her down. And some of her blood was splashed on the wall, and on the horses. And he trampled her. And he came in and ate and drank, and said, Now look after this cursed [woman] and bury her, for she is a king’s daughter. And they went to bury her, but did not find [any] of her except the skull, and the feet, and the palms of the hands. And they came back and told him. And he said, It [is] the Word of Jehovah that He spoke by the hand of his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel, the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel. And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung on the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel, so that they shall not say, This [is] Jezebel” (2 Kings 9:29-37).

“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not go in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn from it and pass on…For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence…My son, pay attention to my words; stretch your ear to what I say; let them not depart from your eyes; keep them in the center of your heart; for they [are] life to those who find them, and healing to all his flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it [are] the issues of life. Turn away from you the crooked mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and let your eyelids look straight before you. Study the track of your feet, then all your ways [will be] established. Do not turn to the right hand or to the left; turn your foot aside from evil” (Proverbs 4:14-15, 17, 20-27).

Amen.