The Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
ON THE CHOICE OF A COMPANION FOR LIFE
The first piece of advice I offer is, not to think of this all-important affair too soon, nor suppose it necessary that a young person of eighteen or nineteen should begin to pay or receive particular attentions. Do not court the subject, nor permit your imagination to be forever dwelling upon it. Rather put it from you, than bring it near. Repress that visionary and romantic turn of mind, which considers the whole space that lies between you and the marriage altar, as a dreary waste, all beyond it as a paradise—in innumerable instances the very reverse has been the case, and the exchange of a father's for a husband's house has been like the departure of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to a wide uncultivated wilderness.
It is on this ground that novels, the most pernicious mental poison the press can disseminate, are so much to be depreciated; they inflame the imagination with visionary scenes and adventurous exploits, on a subject which the heart ought never to approach—but under the guidance of a sober judgment. Young people should be cautious in their social communion of converting this subject into matter of merriment, much more should they beware of aiding and abetting each other in the formation of such connections. Never, never be the confidant of individuals who are engaged in an affair of this kind unknown to their parents; nor be the medium of communication between them. Third people, who have been ambitious of the honor of match-making, have often done mischief to others, which, however they afterwards lamented, they were never able to repair. I know some whose lives have been embittered, and ever will be, by seeing the rueful consequences of those ill-fated unions, of which they were, in great measure, the authors.
My next admonition is, Take extreme care of hasty entanglements. Neither give nor receive particular attentions, which cannot be mistaken, until the matter is well weighed. Keep your affections shut up at home in your hearts, while your judgment, aided, by prudence, prepares to make its report.
When the subject comes fairly before your attention, make it immediately known to your parents. Conceal nothing from them. Abhor the very idea of clandestine connections, as a violation of every duty you owe to God and man. There is nothing heroic in a secret correspondence. The silliest girls and the weakest men can maintain it, and have been most frequently engaged in it. Spurn the individual who would come between you and your natural guardians—your parents. Hearken to the opinion of your parents with all the deference which is due to it. Rare are the cases in which you should act in opposition to their wishes.
Be guided in this affair by the dictates of prudence. Never think of forming a connection until there is a rational prospect of temporal provision. I am not quite sure that the present age is in this respect more prudent than the past. It is all very pretty and pleasing for two young people to sing of love in a cottage, and draw picturesque views of two affectionate hearts struggling together amid the difficulties of life—but these pictures are seldom realized. Marriages which begin in imprudence generally end in wretchedness. Young people who marry without the consent of their parents, when that consent is withheld, not from caprice—but discretion, often find that they are not united like two doves, by a silken thread—but like two of Samson's foxes, with a firebrand between them. I call it little else than wickedness to marry without a rational prospect of temporal support.
Right motives should ever lead to this union. To marry for property only, is most sordid and vile. We are informed that in some parts of the East Indies, it is thought no sin for a woman to sell her virtue at the price of an elephant; and how much more virtuous in reality is she who accepts a man for the sake of his fortune? Where there is no affection at the altar of marriage, there must be perjury of the most awful kind; and he who returns from church with this guilt upon his conscience, has brought with him a curse to his habitation, which is likely to make his prize of little worth. When such people have counted their money and their sorrows together, how willingly with the price of their slavery would they buy again their liberty; and so they could be released from each other, give up all claim to the golden fetter which had chained them together.
Personal attractions alone are not enough to form a ground of union. Few things are more superficial or fleeting than beauty. The fairest flower often fades the soonest. There ought to be personal attachment I admit—but that attachment should be to the mind as well as to the body. Except we discern something lovely that will remain when the color of the cheek has faded, and the fire of the eye is extinguished, and the symmetry of the form has been destroyed—we are engaging our affections to an object which we may live to witness only as a sort of ghost to that beauty which we once loved. There should be temper, and qualities of mind which we think will please us, and satisfy us—when the novelties and charms of personal attractions have faded forever.
In the case of pious young people, neither personal nor mental qualifications, nor both together, should be deemed a sufficient ground of union in the absence of true religion. The directions of Scripture on this head are very explicit. "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness; and what communion has light with darkness? or what part has he who believes with an infidel?" 2 Cor. 6:14, 15. "She is at liberty to marry whom she will—but only in the Lord." 1 Cor. 7:39. This is a declaration of the will of God. It is a clear unequivocal annunciation of his mind on the subject. Viewed as advice, it is wise, for it is given by one who is infallible—but it is more than advice, it is the command of one who has authority to govern, the right to judge, and the power to punish. He who instituted marriage, has thus laid down the law, as to the principles on which it is to be conducted. Pious young people are here commended to unite themselves only with those who appear to be partakers of similar dispositions. An infraction of this law is followed with many evils–
It displeases others—it discourages ministers, grieves the church, and is a stumbling block to the weak. It is a source of inexpressible regret to parents. "At the age of forty, Esau married a young woman named Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite. He also married Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. But Esau's wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. Then Rebekah said to Isaac, "I'm disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living." This is deeply affecting, and it is but the feeling of every truly Christian parent concerning his children when they act as Esau did.
But consider the influence of an unsuitable marriage on yourselves. We all need helps, not hindrances to heaven. Our personal religion requires props to keep it up, not weights to drag it down. In this case, not to be helped is to be hindered. The constant companionship of an ungodly husband, or wife, must be most injurious. The example is always near—it is the example of one we love, and which has on that account the greater power over us. Affection is assimilating—it is easy to imitate, difficult to oppose those we love. Your own religion is put in awful peril daily. But if you should escape unhurt, still what sorrow will such an association produce. What a dreadful, heart-rending idea—to love and live with those from whom you fear you shall be separated forever; to be moving hourly to a point, when you shall be torn from each other for eternity! How sweet the consciousness which lives in the bosom of a pious couple, that if separated tomorrow, they have an eternity to spend together in heaven—but the reverse of these feelings will be yours, if you marry not "in the Lord."
Besides, how many interruptions to marital felicity will you experience. Dissimilarity of taste, even in lesser matters, sometimes proves a great bar to happiness. Between those who are so nearly related, and so constantly together, there should be as great a likeness of disposition as possible. But to be unlike in the most momentous of all concerns, in an affair of perpetual recurrence! Is this the way to be happy? Will the strongest affection surmount this obstacle? or ought the experiment to be made?
And then, think on the influence it will have on all your domestic arrangements, on your CHILDREN, should you have any. You will be left alone, and perhaps counteracted in the great business of family religion. Your plans may be thwarted, your instructions neglected, and your influence opposed. Your offspring, partaking of the evil nature common to their species, are much more likely to follow the worldly example, than the spiritual one.
The Scripture is replete with instances of the evil resulting from the neglect of religious marriages. This was the sin which filled the old world with wickedness, and prepared it for the deluge. Some of Lot's daughters married in Sodom, and perished in its overthrow. Ishmael and Esau married ungodly people, and were both rejected and turned persecutors. The first captivity of the Jews, after their settlement in the Holy Land, is ascribed to this cause. (Judges 3). What did David suffer from this evil? The case of Solomon is a warning to all ages. This was the sin that Ezra and Nehemiah so grievously lamented, so sharply reproved.
But I need not go to Scripture for instances of this nature—they stand thick all around us. What misery, what irregularities, what wickedness, have I seen, or known to exist in some families, where the parents were divided on the subject of true religion.
Young people often attempt to persuade themselves on very insufficient grounds, that the objects of their regard are pious. They evade the law of God by considering them as "hopeful". But are they decided Christians? In some cases they wish them to enter into church fellowship, as a kind of proof that they are godly. At other times they believe that, although their friends be not quite decided in their religious character, yet, by being united with them, they will become so. But are we to do evil, that good may come? Is marriage to be considered one of the means of grace? It is much more probable that such a connection will do injury to the pious party, than good to the unconverted one. I have seen the experiment often tried—but scarcely ever succeed, of marrying an unregenerate person with the hope of converting him. Dr. Doddridge says, he never knew only one instance in which this end was gained.
I do not mean to say that true religion, though indispensable, is the only prerequisite in the individual to whom you should unite yourselves. Temper, age, rank, mind, ability to preside over domestic cares, should all be taken into the account. Many, when expostulated with on their being about to form an unsuitable marriage, have replied, "O he is a very good man, and what more would you have?" Many things—a good disposition, industrious habits, a probability of supporting a family, a suitableness of age and station, a congeniality of general taste. To marry a person without piety, is sinful—to marry for piety alone, is foolish!
Again I entreat you to recollect that the marriage union is for life; and, if it be badly formed, is an evil from which there is no refuge but the grave—no cure but in death! An unsuitable marriage, as soon as it is found to be so, throws a gloom, not merely over some particular periods of your time, and portions of your history—but over the whole—it raises a dark and wide-spreading cloud, which extends over the whole horizon of a man's prospect, and behind which he sees the sun of his prosperity go down forever while it is yet noon. It is a subject on which the most delicate reserve, the most prudent caution, and the most fervent prayer, are indispensably necessary. It is not, as it is too frequently thought and treated, a mere sportive topic to enliven discourse with, or an enchanted ground for the imagination to rove in, or an object for a sentimental mind to court and dally with—it is a serious business, inasmuch as the happiness of many is concerned in it; their happiness not for a part of their lives—but for the whole of it; not for time only—but for eternity. And, therefore, although I would not surround the marriage altar with scarecrows, nor invest it with shadows as deep as those of the sepulcher, which men are more afraid than eager to approach; so neither would I adorn it with the garlands of folly until I have rendered it as frivolous as the ball-room, where men and women are paired for the dance with no regard to congeniality of mind, with no reference to future happiness, and no object but amusement.
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