The Review and Herald



January 4, 1881

Literary Societies


It is often asked, Are literary societies a benefit to our youth? To answer this question properly, we should consider not only the avowed purpose of such societies, but the influence which they have actually exerted, as proved by experience. The improvement of the mind is a duty which we owe to ourselves, to society, and to God. But we should never devise means for the cultivation of the intellect at the expense of the moral and the spiritual. And it is only by the harmonious development of both the mental and the moral faculties that the highest perfection of either can be attained. Are these results secured by literary societies as they are generally conducted? RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 1

As the question was first stated, it would appear very narrow-minded to answer in the negative; but in every case where a literary society has been established among our people, its influence has proved to be unfavorable to religious life, and has led to backsliding from God. This has been tried in Battle Creek and in other places, and the result has ever been the same. In some cases, long-standing evils have grown out of these associations. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 2

The irreligious and unconsecrated in heart and life are usually admitted, and are often placed in the most responsible positions. Rules and regulations may be adopted that are thought to be sufficient to hold in check every deleterious influence; but Satan, a shrewd general, is at work to mold the society to suit his plans, and in time he too often succeeds. The great adversary finds ready access to those whom he has controlled in the past, and through them he accomplishes his purpose. The association of the God-fearing with the unbelieving in these societies does not make saints of sinners. For a short time, there may be nothing seriously objectionable, but minds that have not been brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ will not take readily to those things which savor of truth and righteousness. If they had heretofore had any relish for spiritual things, they would have placed themselves in the ranks of Jesus Christ. The two classes are controlled by different masters, and are opposites in their purposes, hopes, tastes, and desires. The followers of Jesus enjoy sober, sensible, and ennobling themes, while those who have no love for sacred things cannot take pleasure in these gatherings, unless the superficial and unreal shall make a prominent feature in the exercises. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 3

The purposes and objects which lead to the formation of literary societies may be good; but unless wisdom from God shall control these organizations, they will become a positive evil. Various entertainments are introduced to make the meetings interesting and attractive for worldlings, and thus the exercises of the so-called literary society too often degenerate into demoralizing theatrical performances, and cheap non-sense. All these gratify the carnal mind, that is at enmity with God; but they do not strengthen the intellect nor confirm the morals. Little by little, the spiritual element is ruled out by the irreligious, and the effort to harmonize principles which are antagonistic in their nature proves a decided failure. When God's people voluntarily unite with the worldly and unconsecrated, and give them the pre-eminence, they will be led away from him by the unsanctified influence under which they have placed themselves. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 4

Many literary societies are in reality young theaters on a cheap scale, and they create in the youth a taste for the stage. While writing upon this point, my eye falls upon the following striking incident from real life: RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 5


“‘It is of no use, Mrs. W., I have tried again and again, and I cannot become a Christian.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 6

“‘So you said a year ago, yet you thought there was nothing in the way.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 7

“‘I don't think there is now, but I don't feel any different from what I did then, and I don't believe I ever shall be a Christian.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 8

“The first speaker was a bright girl somewhat over twenty, who, on a previous visit nearly a year before, had confided to her elder friend her earnest desire to become a Christian. Of her evident sincerity there could be no doubt, and the visitor was sorely puzzled to understand why her young friend had not yet found peace. The two were standing by the half-opened door of the Sunday-school room, where a rehearsal for an ‘entertainment’ was in progress; and the girl, looking in, seemed suddenly to find there a suggestion for further thought. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 9

“‘I believe,’ she said hesitatingly, ‘there is one thing I cannot give up.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 10

“‘Give it up at once, dear.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 11

“‘But I can't.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 12

“‘Come to Jesus first then, and he will give you the power.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 13

“‘I don't want him to. I believe if I knew I should die and be lost in three weeks from tonight, I would rather be lost than give up my passion.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 14

“‘And what is this dearly loved thing, worth so much more than your salvation?’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 15

“‘Oh, it isn't worth more, only I love it more, and I can't and won't give it up. It's that I—I want to be an actress; I know I have the talent; I've always hoped the way would open for me to go upon the stage, and I can't help hoping so still.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 16

“‘Do you think it would be wrong for you to do so, provided the way did open?’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 17

“‘I don't know that it would be a sin; but I couldn't do it and be a Christian; the two things don't go together.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 18

“‘How did you come by such a taste? I am sure you do not belong to a theater-going family?’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 19

“‘Oh no! my father and mother are Methodists; they always disapproved of the theater. I've been in Sunday-school all my life. They used to make me sing and recite at the entertainments when I was four years old, and I acted the angel and fairy parts in the dialogues; and when I grew older, I always arranged the tableaux, charades, etc. Then I joined a set of sociables got up by our church young people. At first we did “Mrs. Jarley's Wax-works,” and sung “Pinafore” for the benefit of the church; and then we got more ambitious, studied, and had private theatricals, and last winter we hired Mason's Hall and gave a series of Shakespearean performances, which cleared off a large part of the church debt. But that's only second-class work, after all. I want to do the real thing, to go upon the stage as a profession. My father won't hear of it; but I hope some time the way will be opened that I may realize my heart's desire.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 20

“‘And meantime, will you not come to Jesus and be saved?” RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 21

“‘No, I cannot do it and keep to this hope, and I will not give this up.’ RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 22

“And so the visitor turned sadly away, thinking for what miserable messes of pottage men and women are willing to sell their glorious birthright as children of God; thinking also of the seeds which are being sowed in our Sunday-schools, the tares among the wheat, and the terrible harvest that may yet spring up from this well-meant but injudicious seed-sowing.” RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 23

It has been our study to devise some plan for the establishment of a literary society which shall prove a benefit to all connected with it,—a society in which all its members shall feel a moral responsibility to make it what it should be, and to avoid the evils that have made such associations dangerous to religious principle. Persons of discretion and good judgment, who have a living connection with Heaven, who will see the evil tendencies, and, not deceived by Satan, will move straight forward in the path of integrity, continually holding aloft the banner of Christ,—such a class are needed to control in these societies. Such an influence will command respect, and make these gatherings a blessing rather than a curse. If men and women of mature age would unite with young persons to organize and conduct such a literary society, it might become both useful and interesting. But when such gatherings degenerate into occasions for fun and boisterous mirth, they are anything but literary or elevating. They are debasing to both mind and morals. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 24

Bible reading, the critical examination of Bible subjects, essays written upon topics which would improve the mind and impart knowledge, the study of the prophecies or the precious lessons of Christ,—these will have an influence to strengthen the mental powers and increase spirituality. And why should not the Bible be brought into such meetings? There is a deplorable ignorance of God's word, even with those who are thought to be intelligent. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 25

“Most wondrous book! bright candle of the Lord!
Star of eternity! the only light
By which the bark of man can navigate
The sea of life, and gain the coast of bliss securely.”
RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 26

Why should not this book—this precious treasure—be exalted and esteemed as a valued friend? This is our chart across the stormy sea of life. It is our guide-book, showing us the way to the eternal mansions, and the character we must have to inhabit them. There is no book the perusal of which will so elevate and strengthen the mind as the study of the Bible. Here the intellect will find themes of the most elevated character to call out its powers. There is nothing that will so endow with vigor all our faculties as bringing them in contact with the stupendous truths of revelation. The effort to grasp and measure these great thoughts expands the mind. We may dig down deep into the mine of truth, and gather precious treasures with which to enrich the soul. Here we may learn the true way to live, the safe way to die. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 27

A familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures sharpens the discerning powers, and fortifies the soul against the attacks of Satan. The Bible is the sword of the Spirit, which will never fail to vanquish the adversary. It is the only true guide in all matters of faith and practice. The reason why Satan has so great control over the minds and hearts of men, is that they have not made the word of God the man of their counsel, and all their ways have not been tried by the true test. The Bible will show us what course we must pursue to become heirs of glory. Says the psalmist, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” But this is not the case when it is left unopened and unread. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 28

Literary societies are almost universally exerting an influence contrary to that which the name indicates. As generally conducted, they are an injury to the youth; for Satan comes in to put his stamp upon the exercises. All that makes men manly, or women womanly, is reflected from the character of Christ. The less we have of Christ in such societies, the less we have of the elevating, refining, ennobling element which should prevail. When worldlings conduct these meetings to meet their wishes, the spirit of Christ is excluded; for the Lord's enemies are not pleased with that which would strengthen and confirm a love for spiritual and eternal things. The mind is drawn away from serious reflection, away from God, away from the real and substantial, to the imaginary and the superficial. Literary societies—would that the name expressed their true character! “What is the chaff to the wheat?” RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 29

The mind is so constituted that it must be occupied with either good or evil. If it takes a low level, it is generally because it is left to deal with common-place subjects—unimportant matters,—not being called out and reined up to grasp those grand and elevated truths which are as enduring as eternity. The understanding will gradually adapt itself to the subjects with which it is familiarized. Man has the power to regulate and control the workings of the mind, and give direction to the current of his thoughts. But this requires greater effort than we can make in our own strength. We must stay our minds on God, if we would have right thoughts, and proper subjects for meditation. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 30

Few realize that it is a duty to exercise control over their thoughts and imaginations. It is difficult to keep the undisciplined mind fixed upon profitable subjects. But if the thoughts are not properly employed, religion cannot flourish in the soul. The mind must be pre-occupied with sacred and eternal things, or it will cherish trifling and superficial thoughts. Both the intellectual and the moral powers must be disciplined, and they will strengthen and improve by exercise. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 31

To understand this matter aright, we must remember that our hearts are naturally depraved, and we are unable, of ourselves, to pursue a right course. It is only by the grace of God, combined with the most earnest efforts on our part, that we can gain the victory. RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 32

There are, in the Christian faith, subjects upon which every one should accustom his mind to dwell. The love of Jesus, which passeth knowledge, his sufferings for the fallen race, his work of mediation in our behalf, and his exalted glory,—these are the mysteries into which angels desired to look. Heavenly beings find in these themes enough to attract and engage their deepest thoughts; and shall we, who are so intimately concerned, manifest less interest than the angels, in the wonders of redeeming love? RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 33

The intellect, as well as the heart, must be consecrated to the service of God. He has claims upon all there is of us. However innocent or laudable it may appear, the follower of Christ should not indulge in any gratification, or engage in any enterprise, which an enlightened conscience tells him would abate his ardor, or lessen his spirituality RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 34

Pleasure-seeking, frivolity, and mental and moral dissipation, are flooding the world with their demoralizing influence. Every Christian should labor to press back the tide of evil, and save our youth from the influences that would sweep them down to ruin. May God help us to press our way against the current! RH January 4, 1881, Art. A, par. 35