Family Lessons 5: Against Gaming, Musick, Dancing

My 9x great uncle, John Kelsall, wrote a tract back in 1682. He gave it the following, snappy title:

A Testimony against Gaming, Musick, Dancing, Singing, Swearing, and Peoples calling upon GOD to DAMN them. As also against Drinking to Excess, Whoring, Lying and Cheating. Commended to the Consciences of all People in the Sight of God, but more especially to those, who keep Publick Houses.

I’ve read it. It’s not as longwinded as its title suggests though I could not but wonder at his naivety or optimism that pub landlords would a) be prepared to rid their premises of those profitable drunks, whores and musicians and b) read his tract at all. Still, he tried his best. One account suggests he died ‘of a stoppage’ in prison two years later, for unlicensed preaching. Within the pamphlet, he comes across as a rather stern, joy-killing puritan:

First, SEE that you suffer none to play at any sort of Game in your Houses,viz. Cards, Dice, Tables, Shuffle-board, and the like; for in so doing you will displease the Lord, and may cause him to bring a blast upon all your Undertakings: But on the contrary, Reprove and Admonish such in God's Fear.

These games may have been means of gambling, though this point he does not make. Colourfully, he exhorts the reader to

bear your Testimonies faithfully against Gaming, for it is as it were a piece of Witchcraft: for when Mens Hearts and Minds are exercised in it, they are even overcome by the same, and so are serving the Enemy of their own Immortal Souls with all their strength, and the Fear of the Lord is not before their Eye.

Strong stuff. But if witchcraft-based board games warranted his ire, playing music comes off little better:

See that you suffer none to Play upon any sort of Musick, nor any to Dance, Sing or Swear in your Houses; but bear your Testimonies against such things, both by reproving them in God's Fear and Love, and in obstructing the same: for they are all displeasing in the sight of the Lord; and may cause his Judgments to come upon your Houses and Families.

The songs of his century were often bawdy and rude, and sexually suggestive dancing which presumably accompanied such lyrics could hardly be deemed wholesome. Banning music, however, places him on shakier ground, for which he therefore offers additional explanation:

Musick is a thing, that stealeth the Hearts of them that play upon it, or adhere unto it, from the Lord, (and tends to raise up a light, airy, frothy, wanton Mind; for they that live in Pleasure, are dead while they live; and they that live wantonly, kill the Just) for when Mens Hearts and Minds are exercised by it, they remember not the Lord that made them and all Mankind for a purpose of his own Glory;

Uncle John would have sung psalms in worship, unaccompanied. I know a number of large, contemporary churches, the professional-sounding music of which does very little to address the theologically light, airy and frothy minds of those who go to enjoy it. Still, one may object to his blanket ban by citing scripture, which he cleverly anticipates.

Some that delight in Musick may object, That David and others of the People of God, did play upon Instruments of Musick. Answer, David and others, who were faithful to God, did not play upon Instruments of Musick to stir up, raise and elevate a vain, sinful, unclean Mind in themselves or any others; but their playing upon and use of Instruments of Musick, being under the Shadowy Dispensation of the Law…

I know reformed churches to this day which teach music was a feature of the old covenant and that Christian saints sung unaccompanied. So although I think him mistaken, there are still those who share his view. 

Also Swearing and calling upon God to Damn them, and Blaspheming the Pure Holy and Undefiled Name of God, proceeds even from the same Root

Tantalisingly, he fails to cover the issues of ‘Drinking to Excess’, ‘Whoring’, ‘Lying’ and ‘Cheating’, which his imaginative mind would have condemned in a similarly engaging way as those sins listed above. Perhaps he ran out of time or nerve. Or paper.

The tract fails to distinguish between those who believe in Christ and those who don’t. From the unregenerate, one can hardly expect godly living; at a time when all or most considered themselves Christian, how one lived was a sure indicator of whether one sincerely believed. The Christian is called to be holy, that is, set apart for the Lord and therefore set apart from the world. I am certain games, imbibing, enjoying music and even dancing are not wicked, but the believer should certainly be careful of his company and location. Any pleasure, leisure, hobby or pastime should in no way dislodge Christ from His pre-eminence in the Christian’s affections. Let Uncle John have the last word:

Therefore all you that are concerned as Witnesses for God, see, that you bear your Testimonies against these things, that the Lord may bless you and prosper you in all your Ʋndertakings, that the Praise and Honour, which is his due, he may receive from you, and you from him a Crown of Glory, which fadeth not away, when time here shall be no more.

London, Printed by T. Sale, at the Crooked-Billet in Holloway-Lane, Shoreditch; and are to be Sold near the Meeting-House in White-Hart-Court in Grace-Church-street, 1696. Early English Books Online, University of Michigan:;view=fulltext. Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay