Casting of Lots in Trivial Matters Such As Games- A Third Commandment Issue

Casting of Lots in Trivial Matters Such As Games- A Third Commandment Issue


Westminster Larger Catechism states,

“Q113: What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?

A113: The sins forbidden in the third commandment are… by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; …”

“When is the use of the lot sinful? “The Lot is a mutual agreement to determine an uncertain event, no other way determinable, by an appeal to the providence of God, on casting or throwing something” (Buck’s Theological Dictionary). The use of the lot is sinful (a) when it is used for a trivial matter; (b) when used for a matter which could and should be determined in some other way; (c) when used in a light or flippant spirit, without reverence and faith in God.” Vos’s Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism

Again, Westminster Larger Catechism states,

“Q142: What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?

A142: The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required …as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us.”

“What is “wasteful gaming” and why is it wrong? By “wasteful gaming” the catechism denotes all forms of gambling, which are inherently sinful because they involve an attempt to gain wealth without rendering an equivalent value in return. If the gambler wins, he is a thief; if he loses, he is a waster of his Lord’s property. The fact that gambling is involves an implied agreement to transfer money or property one way or the other as determined by the “chance” fall of dice, etc., does not make it legitimate. A contract to do something sinful is itself sinful. Gambling includes “slot machines,” raffles, “punch boards,” betting, lotteries, games of chance played for money or prizes, various forms of “pools,” etc. All of these are essentially immoral, and Christian people should leave them all strictly alone. Gambling is not only a sinful vice, but a fever which grows on a person until he cannot let it alone. The only safe and right course is to have nothing whatever to do with gambling in any form. Of course churches and civil organizations that sponsor any kind of gambling scheme are beneath contempt.” Vos’s Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism

Increase Mather wrote,

“AS for Games of Hazard and Chance, such as Dicing and Cards, and sundry Games at Tables, there are great Divines (as anon we shall shew) who judge them to be in their own nature Unlawful. Others suppose that if the Rules which should be remembered in all Recreations, respecting the Time, and Measure, and Manner, and the End of them, were duly observed, they might without Sin be used. Two things we may assert. 1. That it is best and safest, wholly to abstain from the Games mentioned. 2. That as they are commonly practised, there is much Sin and Provocation to God in them. Both these I shall endeavour to clear. My first Assertion is, That it is best and safest to decline all such Games; and that for these Reasons:

1. There is real weight in that Argument, commonly made use of by Divines, from the Lottery which is in the impleaded Games, to prove that they are Breaches of the Third Commandment, and so in themselves Unlawful. It is granted, that there is Art and Skill mixed in some of these Games; Nevertheless, there is a Lottery in them. Now a Lot is a serious thing not to be trifled with; the Scripture saith not only (as some would have it) of Extraordinary Lots, but of a Lot in general, that the whole Disposing (or Judgment) thereof is of the Lord, Prov. 16:33. So that when the Lot is cast, God sits in Judgment. The Lot (as Mr. Cartwright [In locum] speaks) is as God’s Deputy, who is Judge of the World, and unto whose Providence appeal is made to decide the Question. Mr. Perkins (who was a man of a very clear and accurate Judgment) well observes [Cases of Consciences. p. 163.] that in the use of a Lot there are four things, “The first is a Casual Act done by man, as the casting of the Die. The second is the applying of this Act to the Determination of some particular Controversy, the ending whereof maintains Peace, Order, &c. The third is Confession, that God is a Sovereign Judge to end and determine things which can no other way be determined. The fourth is Supplication, that God would by the Disposition of the Lot order the Event. Now from these Considerations, Grave and Great Divines have esteemed all Lusory Lots to be Unlawful. We may not either by Words or Actions invocate the Name, and make Appeals to the Providences of God on every trifling occasion. As an Oath or Prayer, so a Lot is prophaned, when not solemnly used. A worthy Person [Mr. Morton against the Gaming humour, p. 14.] speaks well to this purpose, when he saith, What an Abomination would it be to any Christian to see a Pulpit, a Communion-Table, a Font exposed on a Stage, or the Gestures of Worship aped by Players? And it is not much better, when men play with Appeals to God, or make themselves sport with Lotteries. Whereas some have affirmed a Lot fittest for trivial matters, their Assertion is very unsound. We do not find in the Scripture, that ever a Lot was made use of, except in matters of great weight, either in themselves, or in respect of their Consequences; sometimes when the matter has not been great in it self, yet to prevent endless Contentions and Controversies, a Lot has been used amongst the Lords People of Old, Lev. 27:32. Prov. 18:18. but not in matters of Disport. The very Gentiles themselves thought there was aTi Theion, something Divine in a Lot, as is manifest from Jonah 1:7. They concluded that some Numen or Deity must needs direct their Chance, which (being ignorant of the True God) they did superstitiously ascribe to Fortune. And do not Gamesters at this day use to say, They’ll try their Fortune: And that they had bad Luck, that Fortune was against them, and the like Paganish Expressions, by which nevertheless they acknowledge a Director of the Chance. This must be either God, which if they confess, the cause is yielded, or a Good Angel by his direction; or an Evil Angel, unto whom they will not own that they make any Appeals, or owe any Subjection. He that makes use of a Lot, wholly commits his Affair to a superior Cause then either Nature or Art, therefore unto God. But this ought not to be done in a Sportful Lusory way.

2. Practices, which eminently Learnedly Divines and Holy Ministers of God, who are most likely to know the Truth, have looked upon as Sinful, it is best and safest to abstain from them. But this is true of the Games in question. I know that Popish Casuists (who in matters of Morality, as well as in matters of Faith, are many times corrupt) do justify the impleaded Games as Lawful. So Tolet, A Lapide, Delrio, and others. Yet Papists will not allow of such Games in Ecclesiastical Persons. One of them [Ignatius Lopez.] maintains it to be a Mortal Sin for a Clergy-man to play at Cards and Dice. Several Councils have made it a Crime worthy of Excommunication, for a Clergy-men either to Practise or to be present at such Games. Not only the Canonical, but the Civil Law of Old has stigmatized them. Amongst the Ancients they are reproved with great severity, particularly by [Lib. 3. Cap. 11.] Clemens Alexandrinus, [Homil.6. in Mat.] Chrysostom, [Epist. de Aleatoribus.] Cyprian, [De Tobia. p. 590.] Ambrose, [Epist. 119.] Austin. As for our great Reformers, they have generally condemned such Games. as in themselves unlawful. So Martyr, Gaulter, Rivet, Tassin, and Danaeus, who has written a Learned Discourse on this Subject. The Dutch and French Ministers of the Reformation, do generally disapprove of these Games; and so do our English Divines: In special Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Perkins, Dr. Ames, Mr. Fenner, Mr. Easty, Mr. Dod. Yea, and two Bishops also have testified against them, viz.Bishop Babington, and Bishop Downham. As for Dr. Hammond, who was a man very corrupt in many of his Notions, and in some points of Doctrine, which are of great concernment; I do not judge his pleading for the lawfulness of such Recreations worthy the taking notice of; nor can I call to mind more then two Protestants of Note, who have published any thing considerable in defence of these Games. [In casibus lib. 4. c. 4. Casu 10.] Balduinus (aLutheran Casuist) excuseth them. Also, our Learned Gataker has taken more pains to prove the Indifference of them, then any I have seen. But he writ that Discourse in his younger years; and has been well answered by Mr. Balmford, and Learnedly refuted by Voetius. Yea, and Mr. Gataker himself, after he had said all he could say, wisheth [Gataker of Lots, p. 267.] that men would in Godly Discretion abandon such Games, because they are so much abused, and many are unsatisfied in the lawfulness of them.

3. It is best and safest to abstain from all things which are of evil Report. The Apostolical Rule is, Whatsoever things are of Good Report; Practices that will cause a man to have a Good name among sober People, If there be any Virtue, if there be any Praise, think on these things. Phil. 4:8. which sheweth that things infamous or of ill report, should be carefully avoided. But so are the impleaded Games. The Satirist calls the Dice by the name of Alea turpis. And the Orator brands Cataline and Antony with this infamy, that they were men that used to play at Dice. And the generality of good men abstain from them as evil & infamous things. Are not such Games branded as infamous, when in every Indenture for a Prentice, these words are usual, At cards, dice, or any other unlawful and prohibited Games he shall not play.

4. It has been observed by many that there is a secret Curse attending these Games. Hence it is that when persons have once a little used themselves hereunto, they can know no bounds therein. They are so [V. Gage survey of West Indies. p. 282, 283. ed. 3.] bewitched with a Gaming Humor, as that they will lose their Friends, Esteem, Estate and every thing else that’s desirable, rather then play no more at Cards. Infinite Evils and Miseries have sprung up from this bitter Root. So that the Tree has been justly suspected as not Good, upon which such bad Fruit has grown. [Bern] Non facile adducar licitum consentire, quod tot parturit illicita, It is then best and safest not to meddle therewith.

5. These Games are offensive. And that both to Good and Bad, The Scripture saith, Give none offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God. 1 Cor. 10:32. But these impleaded Games give offence to all. Good men are grieved at such Practices as in their Consciences are unlawful. And many Carnal ones are hardened in their Profuseness and Profaneness when they hear of any that seem to be Religious in other things, to do in these matters as they do, though perhaps not altogether in the like Degree.

6. If there were nothing else to be said, but that the lawfulness of such Games is doubtful, that’s enough to make wise men to abstain from them. Suppose it could not be clearly proved that they are absolutely and in their own nature sinful, yet if the matter be any way disputable, tis Best & Safest to keep clear of them. I am sure there is no sin in not playing at Cards and Dice. And then as long as there are other Recreations enough, concerning which there is no Doubt of their Lawfulness; it is best to desist wholly from them that are Doubtful, and make use of others. These things make good what I first proposed. My second assertion, is, That the impleaded Games, as commonly practised, are unquestionably sinful and provoking to God.

1. It is common for such Gamesters to play away their Estates, or to get other men’s Estates in this way, both which are exceeding sinful. When God has possessed a man of an Estate which he has a just Title unto, now for him to make it a Question whether this Estate shall be his or another mans, and then to decide the controversy by the shuffling of Cards or the cast of a Die, is unworthily to abuse the good Providence of God, and so to transgress the third Commandment. This is also to break the 8th Commandment in a very High Degree. To get another mans goods, at an under price is injustice and theft, and clearly against the Rule of Righteousness, how much more to take from another his Money and give him nothing at all in lieu thereof? It is a crying sin! Who can, who dare pray to God to bless his endeavours to get an Estate in this way? Most certainly the Holy God who hates Robbery for Burnt-offering, would not hold the man guiltless that should thus take his name in vain: when as all lawful ways of adding to our Estates may and should be prayed over. That worthy and truly Religious Gentleman Mr. John Bruen (see his life written by Mr. Clark p. 91.) was wont to say, that such Gamesters and Thieves were of the same Corporation, & the more cunning men are in that Art, the more wicked. And a late writer observes that Money gotten by Gaming is like the goods of them that dye of the plague, which commonly bring a Pest with them. He that shall add but a little to his Estate by getting money from another in any such unrighteous way, will perhaps find that little to be like a Moth that shall consume, and bring a secret Blast of God upon all that he enjoys. And He that gets Riches and not by Right (the man that gets a sum of Money by playing at Cards, has gotten Riches and not by Right)He shall leave them in the midst of his Days, and at his end be a Fool. Jer. 17:11. I would seriously advise all such persons, so far as they are capable, to return back their ill gotten goods again, as ever they desire pardoning Mercy at the Hands of God against whom they have grievously sinned. That saying of Austin’s is well known, and generally approved of, Non tollitur peccatum, nisi restituatur ablatum. He that has in a way of unrighteousness taken from another any part of his Estate, has no reason to expect the remission of his sin, until such time as he shall make restitution to the party wronged by him, so far as he is able to do it.

2. A world of precious Time (more precious then all men’s Estates) is commonly spent in these vain and vexatious sports. For a Christian to use Recreations is very Lawful, and in some cases a great Duty, but to waste so much Time in any Recreation, though never so innocent and laudable, as Gamesters usually do at Cards and Dice, and Tables, is hainously sinful. Every mans Eternity in another world, will be according to his improvement of time here. What a sad account will they be able to give to the Son of God at the last Day, who have spent a very great part of that Time wherein they should have been preparing for eternity, in nothing but idleness & plays? What can there be more contrary to that Divine Precept of Redeeming the Time, because the Days are Evil?”

-Increase Mather, A Testimony Against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs Now Practiced by some in New England, The Evil Whereof is Evinced From the Writings both of Ancient and Modern Divines


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