The wicked do not know how to enjoy life, but the closer we live to God the better we know and understand how to enjoy it. Live so that you can enjoy the Spirit of the Lord continually. 1
But when blessings and privileges are to be used by the Saints, it should be so as not to bring condemnation. Upon what principle, when, and where may we use them? I have the privilege of associating myself with my brethren and sisters in the dance. When can I do this without abusing this privilege, and thereby bringing condemnation upon myself? I answer, it is when I have performed every act, every duty that is incumbent upon me, when every necessary labor and requirement is accomplished, when I have served my God and my brethren, when I have performed every act required of me, until nothing remains to be done, but to lie down and rest, to seek recreation, then it becomes my lawful privilege, and not before. I fear this is quite different from the practice of many. I also, as well as others, could act upon unrighteous principles, if I would, and neglect my duties pertaining to life and salvation.
Suppose you go into some of the wards and say, “we have obtained some music, let us go into the schoolhouse and have a dance.” “O yes!” is the ready response, and they will immediately prepare, get ready their sons and their daughters, and, leaving all important duties pertaining to their welfare here and hereafter, unattended to, fill the house to overflowing. Brethren, you will use these privileges to your own destruction, if you are not careful. Yes, you could have a full house, dancing attendance to the sounds of revelry and music; but, on the other hand, suppose your invitation is to your neighbor, “Come, brethren, sisters, we are going to have a prayer meeting over at the schoolhouse. Will you go? Will you come? Not to dance, but to pray!” “Well, really, I do not see how I can; my work is not done; I have a few chores [trifling domestic affairs] to do yet; I have agreed to go to a neighbor’s on business; a neighbor promised to call on me tonight, and I cannot well leave. I should like very much to go, but I really do not see that I can tonight.” In short, excuses are not wanting. I say to you, my brethren, and to myself, if we take this course, condemnation is our doom, we will ruin, condemn ourselves, and the Lord Almighty will judge us out of our own mouths. This is the tale told as it is. It is not for any of us to enjoy the privilege of the dance, or any other recreation, until every duty that is enjoined upon us is performed.
I cannot, legally, have the privilege of exercising myself perfectly independent of my brethren, until I have performed every requirement that they have placed upon me; the same applies to you and all Saints.
I ask the brethren, do you pray before you go to these dances? When you return, are you not tired, fatigued, and is not your mind filled with nonsense, so that you do not want to pray; and finally, do you not conclude to wait, to put it off until morning? This abuse of this privilege, of this blessing, will bring condemnation to thousands; and not this alone, but all the privileges of this life, if they are not wisely used.
When you go to amuse, or recreate yourselves in any manner whatever, if you cannot enjoy the Spirit of the Lord then and there, as you would at a prayer meeting, leave that place; and return not to such amusements or recreation, until you have obtained the mastery over yourself, until you can command the influences around you, that you may have the Spirit of the Lord in any situation in which you may be placed. Then, and not until then, does it become the privilege of you, of me, or of any of the Saints, to join in the festivities designed by our Creator for our recreation. I wish that you would remember it; and that you may, I repeat that it is not your lawful privilege to yield to anything in the shape of amusement, until you have performed every duty, and obtained the power of God to enable you to withstand and resist all foul spirits that might attack you, and lead you astray; until you have command over them, and by your faith, obtained, through prayer and supplication, the blessings of the Holy Spirit, and it rests upon, and abides continually with you.
You can never obtain my consent to engage in amusements and recreations, until you are in this situation, until you are exercised and influenced by the Spirit of the Lord our God. Hear it, all ye Latter-day Saints! Will you spend the time of your probation for naught, and fool away your existence and being? You were organized, and brought into being, for the purpose of enduring forever, if you fulfil the measure of your creation, pursue the right path, observe the requirements of the Celestial law, and obey the commandments of our God. It is then, and then only, you may expect that the blessing of eternal lives will be conferred upon you. It can be obtained upon no other principle. Do you understand that you will cease to be, that you come to a full end, by pursuing the opposite course?2
Joseph F. Smith
But, you say, we must have recreation; what shall we do? Turn to domestic enterprises, and to the gaining of useful knowledge of the gospel. Let the love of reading good and useful books be implanted in the hearts of the young, let them be trained to take pleasure and recreation in history, travel, biography, conversation and classic story. Then there are innocent games, music, songs, and literary recreation. What would you think of the man who would argue for whisky and beer as a common beverage because it is necessary for people to drink? He is perhaps little worse than the man who would place cards in the hands of my children—whereby they would foster the spirit of chance and gambling leading down to destruction—because they must have recreation. I would call the first a vicious enemy, and refer him to water to drink; and the latter an evil spirit in the guise of innocence, and refer him to recreation containing no germs of spiritual disease leading to the devil! . . . It is not true that only that recreation can be enjoyed that is detrimental to the body and spirit. We should train ourselves to find pleasure in that which invigorates, not stupefies and destroys the body; that which leads upward and not down; that which brightens, not dulls and stunts the intellect; that which elevates and exalts the spirit, not that clogs and depresses it. So shall we please the Lord, enhance our own enjoyment, and save ourselves and our children from impending sins.3
One’s character may be determined in some measure by the quality of one’s amusements. Men and women of industrious, business-like, and thoughtful habits care little for frivolous pastimes, for pleasures that are sought for their own sake. It is not easy to imagine that leading men in the Church would find any pleasure that was either inspiring or helpful at the card table; indeed the announcement that a president of a stake, bishop of a ward, or other leading official of the Church was fond of card playing would be a shock to every sense of propriety even among young people who are not seriously inclined to the duties and responsibilities of life. Such a practice would be looked upon as incompatible with the duties and responsibilities of a religious life. Even business men, as a rule, are distrustful of business associates whose inclinations engage them in frequent card playing.
But it may be said that the same objections do not hold good in respect to young people who do not take life so seriously; but the evil is that young people who indulge in the frivolous and vicious pastime of card playing are never likely to take life seriously unless they forsake such questionable pleasures early in life. It is the serious and thoughtful man and woman who are most likely to assume the higher and nobler responsibilities of life, and their tastes and pleasures are never satisfied by means of a deck of cards. . . . Tell me what amusements you like best and whether your amusements have become a ruling passion in your life, and I will tell you what you are.4
Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 80
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:112-14
Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 328; Improvement Era, Vol. 14, June, 1911, pp. 735-8
Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 329-330; Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 38, September 1, 1903, p. 529