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PART II. THE LIFE OF FAITH AND LOVE FOLLOWED BY THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE LIFE OF NATURE.


CHAPTER SIXTH.


On the nature and regulation of the Social Principle.


ANOTHER of the propensive principles is SOCIALITY, or the desire of society. It is not necessary to enter into an argument to show, that men
naturally, (that is to say, independently of the influences of education and considerations of interest,) have a desire of the company or society of their fellowmen. Of the various doctrines, embraced in the philosophy of the human mind, there is scarcely any one, which is more satisfactorily established than this.

FIRST.— Our first remark under this general head is, that, among the duties which man owes to his fellowmen, one of the most clearly ascertained and important is that of social intercourse. The duty is so clear and imperative, whether we consult in its support the constitution of the human mind or what is said on the subject in the Scriptures, that no one can plead an exemption from it, except on the ground that the providences of God and other special indications render his case very different from that of others. A man, for instance, may be so physically disordered, that society is a burden, and solitude his only place of refuge. And this state of things may be combined with other providential indications, so marked in their character, that he may be justified in coming to the conclusion, that his great business, and essentially his only business here on earth, is that of solitary communion with God.

"Remote from men, with God he passed his days„
"Prayer all his business, all his pleasure, praise,"

Perhaps other situations and other providential indications may lead to the same result. John the Baptist was the "voice of one crying in the WILDERNESS." There is reason to suppose, that the special providence of God called him, in a greater degree than others, to dwell in solitary places, apart from the society of men. And we probably risk nothing in saying, that the same unerring Providence, operating upon a sanctified spirit, dictated the course of Anna, the aged Prophetess of the city of Jerusalem, "who departed not from the Temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day."

But these are exempt cases, which can be judged of only by special outward circumstances and special inward operations; and which, therefore, are to be regarded rather as exceptions to the general rule, than as the rule itself. We cannot hesitate, therefore, in saying, that the duty of social intercourse is obvious and imperative. The man, who violates his duty in this respect, by shunning, without any adequate reason, the society of his fellowman, not only deprives himself of the power of extensive usefulness; but he suffers under the operation of what may be called a natural penalty, in his own person, character, and interests, persons, who place themselves in this situation. without a special divine guidance, are self-punished. The mind, separated from the bonds which link it to others and falling back upon itself as both centre and circumference, becomes contracted in the range of its action. and selfish in its tendencies. The light of knowledge is, in many respects, shut out; and even the physical, as well as the moral and intellectual system feels the adverse influences of a course, which is opposed to the intentions of nature. Association, therefore, may be regarded as a necessary law to us. God has so linked us, man with man, and family with family, and community with community, that the life of one may be said to be multiplied in that of another; and no man, with the exception of the peculiar cases already indicated, can safely and usefully stand and act alone.

SECOND.— The social principle, like others, may become inordinate in its action. In the natural life, in distinction from the regenerated or sanctified life, every thing runs to excess, in consequence of the prevalence of selfishness and the absence of the love of God. And thus the social principle, implanted originally for a good end, may become, as in point of fact it often does become, more or less excessive and vicious in its operation. In what way then, shall the discharge of the duty of social intercourse be regulated, so that the divine blessing may rest upon it? In reply to this question it may be admitted, that it is neither easy nor safe to lay down specific rules applicable in all cases. It is obvious that what would be right and proper under some circumstances, would be inexcusable under others. It is perhaps best, therefore, that the conduct of each individual should be left to be regulated by the decisions of a sound and consecrated discretion, made in view of the circumstances of each occasion as it arises.

In all ordinary cases, however, it may be safely said, that some portion of each day, and especially a portion at the commencement of the day, should be devoted to solitary communion with God. The soul needs the resources and refreshment of such seasons of sacred retirement, in order to put itself into a situation to meet those trials of its faith and patience, which are incidental even to social intercourse.— Nor is this all. We should also have seasons of special religious recollection, while we are acting in and with society, in which we may turn our thoughts inward and upward; to the state of our own hearts on the one hand, and to God as the true source of wisdom and support on the other. Many pious persons have found this practice very important to them. It is said of Fenelon, in connection with the numerous claims of society upon him, claims which he promptly met with admirable condescension and wisdom, that he nourished the inward divine life, even in the midst of such multiplied interruptions, by praying "in the deep retirement of internal solitude."

THIRD.— The desire of society is natural; and the pleasure which results from it, when its object is secured, is oftentimes very great. But acting on religious principles, and with a view to God's glory, it is obvious that we must mingle in society, not only to enjoy happiness, but to do good and even to suffer.

If one motive with the holy person in mingling with society is to do good, we shall beware how we yield to our own choice. The life of nature would lead us to seek the company of the well informed, the wealthy, and the honorable; but the life of God in the soul, in connection with the safe rule of his blessed Providences, and in imitation of the Savior's example, will lead us among the poor and sick, the degraded and the sinful. But this is not all. We are not only called to do good in this way; but are sometimes called, as already intimated, even to endure and to suffer. When we mingle in society, we mingle with men; men, who are beset with many and trying infirmities, and who often show their weaknesses and errors, saying nothing of positive transgressions, both in manner and in language. As those, who seek to be wholly the Lord's, we are bound to endure the troubles, which result from this source, with entire meekness and patience. Not to bear meekly and patiently with those imperfections of others, sometimes greater and sometimes less, which we must always expect to encounter when we associate with them, would be a sad evidence of our own imperfection.

We are sometimes severely tried, even when we are in the company of truly devout and holy persons. Such persons may at times entertain peculiar views, with which we cannot fully sympathize; and may occasionally exhibit, notwithstanding the purity and love of their hearts, imperfections of judgment and of outward manner, which are exceedingly trying. These also are to be patiently and kindly borne with.

FOURTH.— One thing more remains to be said as to the manner of intercourse. It is obvious, that the claims of society can never be allowed to go so far as to interfere with and prejudice the claims of religion at the very time of social intercourse. In other words, we should always so conduct, when we mingle socially with our fellow men, that we may be known as religious persons, not merely by special acts of religion, but in our general manner. And it seems to us, that this desirable result may be secured, in consistency with a suitable regard to modesty of deportment; Men generally possess a prompt and almost instinctive power of interpretation on the subject of moral and religious character. If we truly possess religion, they will see it and know it. There is a calmness and propriety of manners on the part of truly holy persons; a placidity of countenance; a freedom from exaggeration and over-urgency; a modesty, and a sincere good-will to others, whatever may be their characters; a conscientious regard for truth and justice; a forbearance under ill-treatment and injury; a seriousness which is the opposite of foolish talking and jesting; an interest in whatever has relation to the claims of virtue and religion, which, taken together, and aided perhaps by other indications not less favorable, furnish significant DATA to those who behold them; and which cannot fail to stamp the character as religious without the formality of a specific declaration.