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The Fragrance of Christian Ideals
Fragrance of the Sabbath -- Its Sanctity - Golf

THERE is a question in our Westminster Catechism, “How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?” And the answer given is, “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and spending the whole time in the public and private exercise of God’s worship except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.”

The answer, it will be observed, begins in a negative strain. Because to sanctify a thing was originally the opposite of profaning it, and that was a familiar warning in the early history of the race. Profane ground was ground outside sacred enclosures. It was ground in front of the fane or temple. Within was holy; without was profane. And the profane man was the man who treated the consecrated interior with disrespect. The sin was not primarily a sin of the tongue; it was an attitude. It consisted in regarding things as if they were common, in rubbing away the polish, in stealing away the perfume.

Perhaps we would not be far afield if we were to say that this is the cardinal sin of our time. We are tearing down fences. The line between the sacred and the secular is becoming blurred. The theatre is just as venerable, we are being told, as the temple, and Shakespeare as much inspired as Jeremiah. Some say the age is scientific, some that it is sceptical, but it would seem that those come nearer the truth who claim that it is irreverent.

And by way of illustration look, for instance, at the noble game of golf. I am not much of a golfer, although I golf “at it” a little, but I am very fond of the game, and it is because I am so fond of it that I am sorry to see it being pressed so insistently and so successfully into the service of sin. The game is a fascinating one, as everybody who has given himself to it with any degree of devotion will readily confess. It stirs the blood, grips the hearts, and makes fools indeed of not a few who seem to think that the chief end of man is to play golf -- by a sinful overindulgence. Yes, and it taxes the patience, and challenges the honour, tests the self-control. What a splendid moral gymnasium the links are! I sometimes think that the man who can challenge a Colonel Bogey to a match some fine afternoon and play the game dead square, never advantaging his lie by the good colonel’s absence, and never losing his poise or his calm when things do not connect, and dubs and tops and bunkers and boomerangs are all the go -- I sometimes think that that man must be in, or at least “not far from,” the kingdom.

Then what a fine physical elixir! It calls one out into the open with a few odd-looking sticks -- and by the way, the fewer the better: five are better than fifteen for the average player -- and a ball; and it says, “Hit that little ball into that hole over there. Do not touch it with your hand or your foot or your finger; address it not in any unchaste language with your tongue. Do not push it or shove it or tickle it in any way, just hit it with one of these clubs in that bag. Hit it clean. Watch it. Keep your eye on the little rascal -- marvellous how it will elude you! Do not press; do not crouch; do not jump at it. Use your wrists. Follow through. Keep in mind about sixteen things at once just before the moment of impact.”

The point is plain. It rivets attention. No man can play golf and play stocks at one and the same time. He cannot drive a ball and drive a bargain. Everything else must be forgotten, absolutely forgotten -- business, care, joy, sorrow, disappointment, friction -- all forgotten. It is the greatest system for forgetting things ever invented. So it heals headaches; it drives dull care away; it relaxes tension; it slays worry; it carries off surplus activity. It makes the poor pilgrim forget the things that are behind and press forward to that little rubber bulb before.

And the beauty about it all is that one does not need to be a first sixteen player or even a second sixteen player to get wholesome pleasure out of the noble game. The third sixteen foozler enjoys it full as much -- sometimes I am tempted to think more. For golf has a happy greeting for everybody. No matter in what mood we approach her, she breathes a benediction. She is the ideal queen of sport.

Another reason, I think, why so many people are taking to this outdoor form of amusement, is that it is a supremely thoughtful game. I suppose more books have been written on the science of golf and the subtlety of golf and the psychology of golf than any regarding any other outdoor game. For half the mischief one gets into is purely mental. Every expert player tells us this. The best golfer is a sort of Christian Scientist. One can imagine more trouble in golf than in any other game, and the moment one does that it becomes terribly real. He is in distress for sure!

That is why the thinker takes to it. It is a slow, studious, reasoning game. One does not have to make up his mind what to do in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, as in tennis, or baseball, or cricket; and save the very long drive, which only a few master, there is little that is spectacular or cheer-evoking. I suppose the putter would be conceded to be the most important club in the bag, but what a shy, sensitive little fairy she is! Even a whisper disturbs her, a passing bird, a breeze, a call from a far-off caddie. Who has not felt that solemn, death-like stillness when the little putter is meditating and about to proceed! So, I repeat, it is a game for the thinker, the student; a quiet game, a philosophical game, subjective, introspective -- the Hamlet of sports.

And it has had a most honourable history. It has been associated with less objectionableness than any other American form of athletics. It has small attraction for the gambler, little or none for him whose hand is unsteady with anything fermented, none whatever for the man of unclean life. It is a sport pure as the Highland rills whence it had its rise.

It was my fortune recently to be on an automobile trip through the northern part of the State of New York. We arrived Sunday [contributor’s NOTE:- The author means Saturday morning -- a typographical error or one in the writing of the manuscript itself, and overlooked in its publishing.] morning at a country club located about five miles outside the limits of a city. We played around the course in the afternoon; and as there were rooms in connection with the club, we decided to remain and rest there over Sabbath. What was my regret in the morning about eight o’clock to hear underneath my window the crack of a golf ball! Up to ten o’clock I counted some seventy-five players starting out. In the afternoon there was no lull. Possibly one hundred or one hundred and fifty caddies were engaged during the day. No tournament could have been more full of excitement and bustle.

And the question kept swimming into thought, What is all this going to mean to the future of the church? Let it be borne in mind that there are about a thousand organized clubs in the United States to-day, with a membership of more than a quarter of a million, and the number increasing every week. What does it mean that 100,000 caddies are being kept away from Sunday-school every Sunday morning? It is a well-known fact that in most places the links are more crowded on Saturdays and Sundays than any other days. Indeed, in some instances guests are not permitted Sunday privileges, there being no room. In some a double charge is made. I can count just now, without any warning, from twelve to twenty members of churches who up to two years ago would have been shocked at the idea of Sunday golfing, but who to-day are spending every Sunday morning on the links.

We chanced at dinner on the occasion just cited to be seated by a certain gentleman, who remarked:

“Well, did you have a good game to-day?”

“I never golf on Sunday,” I answered; “I always go to church.”

He laughed. “My family were there, I guess, but I confess I haven’t been around very much this summer. To tell the truth, I find that this does me more good.”

“Then I suppose you would be ready to make that a position of universal law,” I ventured. “Would you advise it for everybody? Do you approve of it for the caddies?”

But just then the gentleman across the table chimed in that it looked a little like rain, and the discussion was dropped.

I think there can be little doubt that this matter is fast becoming the most serious Sunday desecrating question before the church. Because the man who takes to golf is a man of a religious tint of mind. He is not the noisy shouter of the diamond or the turf. The game draws its devotees largely from business and professional life. It is a keen blade thrust into the very life of the church, and dangerous -- much more dangerous than the coarser weapons. The foe that is to be feared most is the polished foe.

We are losing our Sabbath day by leaps and bounds and flashes. It is running away with us at breakneck speed. The man who denies it knows not the facts. Our condition to-day is little better than continental. The automobile and the links are doing more to-day to empty our churches than any other lure of the evil one. They are the response of a worldly Chrisitanity to the irreverent challenge of the age.

The breath of the Lord’s Day is its sanctity.
No man can make of it a common holiday and long retain the aroma.

from: The Fragrance of Christian Ideals
Malcolm James (MacLeod) McLeod
Minister of Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas,
New York City

Fleming H. Revell Company
New York, Chicago, Toronto,
London and Edinburgh

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