The Young Lady's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
SOCIAL AND RELATIVE DUTIES
Man is a social being. Whoever, therefore, lives to himself, violates an established law of nature. A numerous train of duties arises out of our social relations, entering more or less into the common concerns of life, according as these relations are more or less remote. The first relation is that of the FAMILY. This was established by the Creator in Paradise; and it has been preserved, in all ages of the world, and in all countries, with more or less distinctness, according to the degree of moral principle which has prevailed. It lies at the foundation of all human society; and just in proportion as the original principles upon which it was constituted are observed, will society be good or bad.
The Scriptures are very particular in describing this relation, as it existed in the patriarchal ages. It has its foundation in the fitness of things; and hence the duties arising out of it are very properly classed as moral duties. Of such consequence does the Lord regard it, that he has given it a place in the decalogue; three of the ten commandments having respect to the family state. From the first institution of this relation, we learn that the father and mother are to constitute the united head of the family. "They two shall be one flesh." Authority is, therefore, vested in them both, to exercise jointly. But, since the fall, mankind having become perverse and self-willed, the nature and fitness of things seem to require that there should be a precedence of authority, in case of a division of the united head. This precedence the Scriptures distinctly indicate. One of the curses pronounced upon the woman, after the fall, was, that her husband should rule over her. This principle was carried out in the families of the patriarchs. The apostle Peter says that the holy women of old adorned themselves with a meek and quiet spirit, and were in subjection to their own husbands; and particularly notices the conduct of Sarah, the mother of the Jewish nation, who obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord. The same principle is repeatedly taught in the New Testament. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." "As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." "Let the wife see that she respects her husband." "Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands."
The apostle Paul, moreover, intimates that this subordination of the woman to the man was originally indicated by the manner in which she was created: "He"—that is, the man—"is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man; neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man." The body of the woman was not created originally of the dust, as the man was, nor was her soul, like his, formed directly after the divine image; but the former was constructed of a portion of the flesh and bone of the man, while the latter was modeled after his soul, so as to bear his image, rather than that of the Creator. This clearly indicates subordination to man as the head. Yet the same apostle, by declaring the relation between man and woman to be similar to that between Christ and the church, has shown that the exercise of arbitrary or tyrannical authority, on the part of the man, was never contemplated, and is, therefore, a usurpation. The basis of the union between the man and the woman, as between Christ and the church, is love; and where Christian principle prevails, there will rarely, if ever, be occasion to exercise authority. But the attempt of some recent reformers to confound all distinction between the respective place, duties, and sphere of action, of man and woman--is a sin against nature, the offspring of an infidel spirit, which disregards the teachings both of nature and of inspiration.
The duty of the younger members of the family to respect the elder, may be inferred—1. From the nature and fitness of things. The elder brothers and sisters are the superiors of the younger, not only in age and experience, but generally in wisdom and knowledge. They are better qualified to take the lead, and therefore entitled to respect and deference. 2. The same may also be inferred from the precedence always given in Scripture to the first-born.
But the great household duty is LOVE. If this is properly discharged, it will set all other matters right. If this is lacking, there will be a lack of everything else. The Scriptures insist much upon the duty of brotherly love. "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Christ, in his Sermon on the Mount, severely rebukes the indulgence of anger, and the lack of kindness and courtesy, among brethren. And the apostle John says, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer." A kind, tender-hearted, affectionate, and peaceful temper should be maintained in all the fellowship of different members of the same family.
But, as mankind began to multiply, it became necessary that the social relations should be extended. A number of families, residing near each other, formed a neighborhood, or community. This gave rise to the new relation of neighbor, from the necessity of fellowship between families. This was again extended to the formation of nations and kingdoms. But all these various relations are subject to the same general laws as those of the family; for they have grown out of them. The same principle which requires subordination to the head of the family, requires, also, deference to the elders of a community, and subordination to the rulers of the nation. And the same principle which requires the exercise of kindness, gentleness, meekness, forbearance, humility and love, between the members of the same family, requires the exercise of similar dispositions between individuals of the same community and nation. The principle is also still farther extended, embracing the whole world as one great family, and requiring the exercise of love, and the practice of benevolence, towards all mankind. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake." "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
But, in consequence of the fall, another most interesting relation has been established. Out of this apostate world God has chosen himself a family. Of this family Christ is the head, and his people are the members. Here are the same relations as in the natural family; but they are different in their nature. They are spiritual, and, of course, of higher obligation. We are required to love Christ more than father or mother. And the Lord Jesus says, with emphasis, "This is my commandment, that you love one another." When grace is in full exercise, the love which Christians bear towards one another is stronger than the natural affection which exists between brothers and sisters of the same family.
1. Render to all the members of the FAMILY in which you reside just that degree of deference and respect which belongs to them.Conscientiously regard the rules and regulations introduced by the head of the family, unless they are contrary to the word of God. It is in the domestic circle that your character is to be formed. It is here that your disposition is to be tried, and your piety cultivated. Endeavor, then, to maintain, in your family fellowship, the same dignity and propriety of deportment which you wish to sustain in society. Never descend to anything at the fireside which you would despise in a more extended circle. Bring the most minute actions of your daily life to the test of Christian principle. Remember that, in the sight of God, there are no little sins.
Especially avoid the indulgence of a selfish disposition. Be always ready to sacrifice your own feelings, when, by so doing, you can give pleasure to others. Study their wishes and feelings, and prefer them to your own. Strive to be helpful to others, even at the expense of personal feeling and interest. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others." "Love seeks not her own." Be kind to all; respectful towards superiors, courteous to equals, and kind to inferiors. If you cultivate the dispositions and principles which I have here recommended, habitually, in the domestic circle, they will become natural and easy in every other; and this will endear you to all your acquaintances. It will bring honor upon your profession, increase your influence, and thereby enable you to do more for the glory of God.
2. There are special duties growing out of your relation to the CHURCH.Some of these I have considered in former chapters. But I have particular reference now to social duties. You are to regard all the members of the church as brethren and sisters. You are to love them in proportion as they are like Christ. It is the appearance of his image in them which excites our love. "He that loves him that begat, loves him also that is begotten of him." Brotherly love is much insisted on in the Scriptures, being repeatedly enjoined by our Lord and his apostles. It is so essential a part of the Christian character, that it is mentioned by the beloved disciple as one of the principal evidences of the new birth. And how do we manifest our love to our brothers and sisters? We delight in their society. We love to meet them, and to converse with them of the things which concern ourselves and the family of which we are members. So, if you love your brethren and sisters in the church, you will delight in their society; you will love to meet with them; to interchange kind offices; to talk of the difficulties, trials, hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows, of the way to the heavenly Canaan; and to speak of the interests of the great spiritual family to which you belong. This is the spirit alluded to by the prophet Malachi, when he says, "Then those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another; and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought on his name." Would that this "book of remembrance" were always kept in view when Christians speak to one another! How would it chasten their hearts, exclude injurious and unprofitable conversation, and lead them upward, to hold fellowship with heavenly things, as they commune with one another!
In addition to the general obligation of social fellowship among Christians, there are some particular duties which they owe to one another. They are to exercise mutual forbearance and tenderness towards each other's faults; and, at the same time, to watch over and admonish one another. Whenever you see a brother or a sister out of the way, it is your duty, with meekness, tenderly and kindly to administer reproof. "If a man is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness." "With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love." In all cases, where one is to be selected for the performance of a particular duty which may seem to confer honor, prefer others to yourself. "In honor, preferring one another." "In lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves." "Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility." "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." Yet do not carry this principle so far as to refuse to act where duty calls. A disposition to be backward in such matters is often a serious hinderance to benevolent effort. Be always ready to engage in any enterprise for doing good; but prefer the office which requires the most labor with the least honor. Christians ought also to take delight in assisting each other, and to feel personally interested in each other's welfare. In short, the feeling that pervades the church should be preeminently a family feeling.
3. There are also some duties growing out of your relations to GENERAL SOCIETY.Be ever ready to interchange kind offices with everyone who maintains a decent moral deportment; and be kind and compassionate, even to the wicked, so far as you can, without associating with them on terms of equality. By this means, you may win the affections of the impenitent, and thereby secure their attention to direct efforts for the salvation of their souls. But you should never allow your feelings of delight and good-will towards those who are destitute of piety, to lead you to conform to the spirit of the world which influences their conduct. Your social fellowship with them should be regulated upon this principle—Never go any farther into their society than you can carry your Christianity with you. "Be not conformed to this world."
4. Although it be your duty to visit, yet, in this matter, be careful to be governed by religious principle.There is in the human mind a tendency to extremes in everything. Against this you need especially to be on your guard in social fellowship. When visiting is excessive, it dissipates the mind, and unfits it for any vigorous effort. When this state of mind becomes habitual, a person is never easy except when in company. The most gifted mind may thus be rendered comparatively inert and powerless. But, on the other hand, by shutting yourself out from society, you will dry up the social feelings, acquire a monkish love of solitude, and become soured in your temper towards your fellow-beings. You must, therefore, give to visiting its proper place in the routine of Christian duty. That place is just the one which it can occupy without encroaching upon more important duties. It should be the Christian's recreation. Seasons of relaxation from the more laborious duties of life are undoubtedly necessary; and I know of nothing which can better answer this end than the intelligent and pious conversation of Christian friends. Your friends have claims upon your time and attention; but these claims can never extend so far as to encroach upon more important duties, or to impair your ability to do good to yourself and others. As soon as you discover a secret uneasiness when out of company, or whenever you find that the demands of the social circle have led you to neglect other duties, it is time to diminish the number of your visits. But do not, on such occasions, violate Christian sincerity, by inventing excuses to satisfy your friends. Tell them frankly your reasons. If they are true and valuable friends, they will see the propriety of your conduct, and be satisfied. But, if they seek your friendship for their own selfish ends, they will be offended; in which case, you will lose nothing.
5. Never go into any company where the spirit and maxims of the world predominate.This may cut you off from a large portion of society; but it is a rule founded on the word of God. If we would not be conformed to the world, we must not follow its maxims, nor partake of its spirit. It may be said that we should go into such society for the purpose of exerting a Christian influence. But the practical result is directly the contrary. The spirit which prevails in such company is destructive of all pious feeling: it freezes up the warm affections of the Christian's heart. The consequence is, he is ashamed to acknowledge his Master, and avow his principles, where the prevailing current is against him. He therefore moves along with it, to the injury of his own soul, and the wounding of his Master's cause. His worldly companions see no difference between his conduct and their own, and conclude, either that all is right with themselves, or that he is a hypocrite.
Large parties, as a general rule, are unfriendly to the health both of body and soul. The most profitable kind of social fellowship is the informal meeting of small circles, of which a sufficient number are pious people, to give a direction and tone to conversation. Nevertheless, we should not carry this rule so far as to exclude ourselves wholly from the society of our unconverted friends; but let them see, by the chastened tone of our conversation, our kindness, courtesy, and conscientiousness, that piety has improved our character.
6. When in company, labor to give a profitable direction to conversation.If there are elder people present, who introduce general discourse, of a profitable character, let your words be few: it is generally better, in such cases, to learn in silence. But when an opportunity offers for you to say anything that will add interest to the conversation, do not fail to improve it. Yet let your ideas be well conceived, and your words well chosen. "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." The interest of conversation does not depend so much upon the multitude of words, as upon the matter they contain, and their appropriateness to the subject. But, when no other person introduces profitable conversation, take it upon yourself. If you will study to be skillful in the matter, you may turn any conversation to good account.
This was one of the peculiar beauties of our Savior's discourse. Whatever subject was introduced, he invariably drew from it some important lesson. If you are on the alert, you may always give a proper turn to conversation, in this way. I do not say that conversation should always be exclusively pious; but it should be of a kind calculated to improve the mind or the heart, and it should at all times partake of the savor of piety. "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt." No proper opportunity, however, should be lost, of making a direct religious impression. If the solemn realities of divine things were always present to our minds, as they ought to be--we would never be at a loss to speak of them in a befitting manner. When you meet with people who are living without hope, lose no proper occasion to warn them of their danger, and show them the sinfulness of their lives, and the guilt of rejecting the Savior. But this should be done as privately as possible. Speaking to them abruptly, in the presence of company, often has a tendency to provoke opposition, and harden their hearts. However, this caution is not always necessary. If there is much tenderness of conscience, admonition will be well received, even in the presence of others. Great care should be taken, on both sides, that you neither injure them by your imprudence, nor neglect your duty to their souls through excessive carefulness. Study wisdom, skilfulness, and discretion, in all things. "He who wins souls is wise."
7. Never speak detractingly of absent people.Never allow yourself to say anything to the disadvantage of any person, unless your duty to others may require it. This, however, will rarely happen; though it may sometimes be your duty to caution others against being ensnared by one whose character you know to be bad. The Scriptures condemn backbiting and evil-speaking, in the most pointed terms. "Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He who speaks evil of his brother, speaks evil of the law." "Speak evil of no man." "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, be put away from you." "Debates, envyings, wrath, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults." "Whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful." Here we see how the Lord regards this sin; for he has classed it with the exercise of the most abominable passions of the human heart. It is a great sin, and productive of much evil in the church and in society. It creates heart-burnings, jealousies, and strife, and furnishes employment for tale-bearers—that most despicable set of mischief-makers.
But this sin is often committed without saying anything directly against another. A sly insinuation is often productive of more mischief than direct evil-speaking: it leaves a vague but strong impression upon the mind of the hearer, against the character of the person spoken of, and often creates a prejudice which is never removed. This is unjust and unfair, because it leaves the character of the injured person resting under suspicion, without his having an opportunity to remove it. This is probably what the apostle means by whisperers. Solomon, also, speaking of the naughty person and wicked man, says, "He winks with his eyes, he speaks with his feet." "He who winks with the eye causes shame." How often do we see this winking, and speaking by gestures and knowing looks, when the characters of others are under discussion! Open and unreserved evil-speaking is unchristian; but this winking, this speaking with the feet, is base and dishonorable.
Whenever you perceive a disposition to make invidious remarks about others, refuse to join in the conversation, and manifest your decided disapprobation. "The north wind drives away rain; so does an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." Bear in mind the words of the apostle James: "If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain." Thus the habitual indulgence of this sin will cut off the hope of the loudest professors.
8. Avoid speaking of yourself.Vanity and selfishness lead people to make themselves and their own affairs the principal topics of conversation. This is treating others with great disrespect—as though one's self were of more consequence than the whole company. Endeavor to keep yourself as much as possible out of view, and to direct the thoughts and conversation of the company away from personal affairs to intellectual, moral, and pious subjects. But, when any of your friends make known their difficulties to you, manifest an interest in their affairs, sympathize with them, and render them all the assistance in your power.
9. Never indulge a suspicious disposition.Many people destroy their own peace, and gain the ill-will of others, by the exercise of this unhappy temper. You have no right to think others dislike you until they have manifested their dislike. Accustom yourself to repose confidence in your associates. It is better to be sometimes deceived, than never to trust. And, if you are always suspicious of those around you, be sure you will soon alienate their affections. In your fellowship with others of your own age and gender, be willing always to advance at least half way; and with those whose habits are very retiring, you may even go farther. Many people of sterling worth have so low an opinion of themselves as to doubt whether even their own equals wish to form an acquaintance. "A man who has friends--must show himself friendly." Always put the best construction upon the conduct of others. Do not attach more meaning to their language and conduct than they properly express. If at any time you really believe yourself slighted, take no notice of it. Yet be careful never to intrude yourself into society where you have good reason to believe your company is not desired.
10. Be cautious in the formation of intimate friendships.Christians should always regard one another as friends. Yet peculiar circumstances, together with congeniality of sentiment and feeling, may give rise to a personal attachment much stronger than the common bond which unites all Christians. Of this we have a beautiful example in the case of David and Jonathan. This appears to be a perfect pattern of Christian friendship. They both, doubtless, loved other pious people; but there was existing between them a peculiar personal attachment. Their souls were "knit together." Friendships of this kind should not be numerous, and the objects of them should be well chosen. Long acquaintance is necessary, that you may be able to repose unlimited confidence in the friend to whom you unbosom your whole heart. Form no such friendships hastily. Think what would have been the consequence if David had been deceived in this friend. He would certainly have lost his life.
11. Before going into company, visit your closet.Pray that the Lord would so direct your steps that you may do all things for his glory; that he would enable you to spend the time profitably to yourself and others; that he would keep you from evil-speaking, levity, foolish jesting, and every other impropriety; and that he would enable you to honor him, and exert a good influence upon others. Endeavor to go out in a serious, devout, and tender frame of mind; and then you may expect the Lord will go with you. But, if you go with a careless, undevout spirit--you will return with a wounded soul.
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