The Young Lady's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
Some young people indulge a fastidiousness of feeling in relation to the subject of marriage, as though it were indelicate to speak of it. Others make it the principal subject of their thoughts and conversation; and yet seem to think it must never be mentioned but in jest. Both these extremes should be avoided. Marriage is an ordinance of God, and therefore a proper subject of thought and discussion, with reference to personal duty. It is a matter of great importance, having a direct bearing upon the glory of God and the happiness of individuals. It should, therefore, never be approached with levity. But, as it requires no more attention than what is necessary in order to understand present duty, it would be foolish to make it a subject of constant thought, and silly to make it a common topic of conversation. It is a matter which should be weighed deliberately and seriously by every young person. In reference to the main subject, two things should be considered.
I. Marriage is desirable.It was ordained by the Lord at the creation, as suited to the state of man as a social being, and necessary to the design for which he was created. There is a sweetness and comfort in the bosom of one's own family, which can be enjoyed nowhere else. In early life, this is supplied by our youthful companions, who feel in unison with us. But, as a person who remains single advances in life, the friends of his youth form new attachments, in which he is incapable of participating. Their feelings undergo a change, of which he knows nothing. He is gradually left alone. No heart beats in unison with his own. His social feelings wither for lack of an object. As he feels not in unison with those around him, his habits also become peculiar, and perhaps repulsive, so that his company is not desired: hence arises the whimsical attachment of such people to domestic animals, or to other objects which can be enjoyed in solitude. As the dreary winter of age advances, the solitude of this condition becomes still more chilling. Nothing but that sweet resignation to the will of God, which true religion gives in all circumstances, can render such a situation tolerable. But piety does not annihilate the social affections; it only regulates them. It is evident, then, that, by a lawful and proper exercise of these affections, both our happiness and usefulness may be increased.
II. On the other hand, do not consider marriage as absolutely indispensable.Although it is an ordinance of God, yet he has not positively enjoined it upon all. The apostle Paul intimates that there may be, with those who enter into this state, a greater tendency of the heart towards earthly objects, as well as an increase of care: "The unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but she that is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." But much more has been made of this than the apostle intended. It has been greatly abused and perverted by the church of Rome. It must be observed that, in the same chapter, he advises that "every man have his own wife, and every woman have her own husband." Whatever may be our condition in life, if we seek it with earnestness and perseverance, in the way of duty, God will give us grace sufficient for our circumstances. But, though it is no sin to marry, nevertheless, he says, "Such shall have trouble in the flesh." It is undoubtedly true that the enjoyments of marital life have their corresponding difficulties and trials; and, if these are enhanced by an unhappy connection, the situation is insufferable. For this reason, I would have you avoid the conclusion that marriage is indispensable to happiness. Single life is certainly to be preferred, to a marriage with a person who will diminish, instead of increasing, your happiness. Yet I suppose the remark of the apostle, "Such shall have trouble in the flesh," had reference chiefly to the peculiar troubles of those times, when Christians were exposed to persecution, the loss of goods, and even of life itself, for Christ's sake; the trials of which would be much greater in married than in single life.
Bearing in mind the foregoing remarks, you will be prepared calmly to consider whatQUALIFICATIONS are requisite in a companion for life. These I shall divide into two classes—those which are indispensable, and those which are desirable. Of the first class, I see none which can be dispensed with, without so marring the character of a man as to render him an unfit associate for an intelligent Christian lady. But, although the latter are very important, yet, without possessing all of them, a person may be an agreeable companion and a man of real worth.
I. INDISPENSABLE qualifications
1. The first requisite in a companion for life is deep PIETY.I know not how a Christian can form so intimate a connection as this with one who is living in rebellion against God. You profess to love Jesus above every other object, and to forsake all, that you may follow him. How can you, then, unite your interests with one who continually rejects and abuses the object of your soul's delight? I am at a loss to understand how a union can be formed between the carnal and the renewed heart. They are in direct opposition to each other. The one overflows with love to God; the other is at enmity against him. How, then, can there be any congeniality of feeling? Can fire unite with water? "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" A desire to form such a union must be a dark mark against any one's Christian character. The Scriptures are very clear and decided on this point. The intermarrying of the righteous with the wicked was the principal cause of the general corruption of the inhabitants of the old world, which provoked God to destroy them with the flood. Abraham, the father of the faithful, was careful that Isaac; the son of promise, should not take a wife from among the heathen. The same precaution was taken by Isaac and Rebecca, in relation to Jacob. The children of Israel were also expressly forbidden to make marriages with the heathen, lest they should be turned away from the Lord to the worship of idols. And we see a mournful example of the influence of such unholy connections in the case of Solomon. Although he had been so zealous in the service of the Lord as to build him a temple, and had even been inspired to write portions of the Holy Scriptures, yet his strange wives turned away his heart, and persuaded him to worship idols.
Though we are now under a different dispensation, yet principles remain the same. The union of a heathen and a Jew was, as to its effect on a pious mind, substantially the same as the union of a believer and an unbeliever; and the former would be no more likely to be drawn away from God by it than the latter. Hence we find the same principle recognized in the New Testament. Paul, speaking of the woman, says, "If her husband is dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will—but only in the Lord." The phrase in the Lord denotes being a true Christian; as will appear from other passages where the same form of expression is used. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." It is plainly implied, then, in this qualifying phrase, that it is unlawful for a Christian to marry one that is unconverted, or out of Christ. The same doctrine may also be inferred from the passage, "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers." Although the apostle had no particular reference here to this subject, yet he lays down a general principle, which applies to all intimate associations with unbelievers. And what connection could be more intimate than this?
I conclude, therefore, that it is contrary both to reason and Scripture for a Christian to marry an impenitent sinner. And, in this respect, look not only for an outward profession, but for evidence of deep and devoted piety. Look for a person who makes religion the chief concern of his life; who is determined to live for God, and not for himself. Make this the test. Worldly-minded professors of religion are worse associates than those who make no profession. They exert a more withering influence upon the soul. And, in considering the evidences of devoted piety, you may well take into the account the question whether he indulges in the use of intoxicating liquors. If he does not practice rigidly the principle of abstinence from all intoxicating drinks, you ought to reject him at once. No lady is safe in the hands of a man, who, at this day, will parley with such an enemy to all that is lovely and of good report. Nor will you have much reason to repose confidence in him, if he is not a hearty friend to the Temperance Reformation.
2. Another indispensable requisite is an AMIABLE DISPOSITION.Whatever good qualities a man may possess, if he is selfish, morose, sour, peevish, fretful, jealous, or passionate—he will make an uncomfortable companion. Grace may do much towards subduing these unholy tempers; yet, if they were fostered in the heart in childhood, and allowed to grow up to maturity before grace began to work, they will often break out in the family circle. However, you will find it exceedingly difficult to judge in this matter. The only direction I can give on this subject is, that, if you discover the exercise of a bad temper in a man, with the opportunity you will have of observation, you may consider it conclusive evidence of a disposition which would render you miserable.
3. The person of your choice must possess a WELL-CULTIVATED MIND.In order to produce a community of feeling, and maintain a growing interest in each other's society, both parties must possess minds well stored with useful knowledge, and capable of continued expansion. We may love a person for his piety alone, but we cannot long enjoy his society, as a constant companion, unless that piety is mingled with intelligence. To secure your esteem, as well as your affections, he must be capable of intelligent conversation on all subjects of general interest. And it is especially necessary in a husband, that he be not your inferior. You cannot entertain suitable feelings of respect and deference towards the man who is to be your head, if he is inferior to yourself in mental capacity and intelligence.
4. His sentiments and feelings, on general subjects, must be CONGENIAL with your own.This is a very important matter. People of great worth, whose views and feelings in relation to the common concerns of life are opposite, may render each other very unhappy. Particularly, if you possess a refined sensibility yourself, you must look for delicacy of feeling in a companion. A very worthy man may render you unhappy by an habitual disregard of your feelings. And there are many people who seem to be utterly insensible to the tender emotions of refined delicacy. A man who would subject you to continual mortification by his coarseness and vulgarity, would be incapable of sympathizing with you in all the varied trials of life. There is no need of your being deceived on this point. If you have much delicacy of feeling yourself, you can easily discover the lack of it in others. If you have not, it will not be necessary in a companion.
5. Another requisite is a GOOD WORK ETHIC.Many people think some worldly assets are indispensably necessary. But a man of energy can, by the blessing of God, make his way through this world, and support a family, in this land of plenty, by his own industry, in some lawful calling. And you may be certain of the blessing of God, if you obey and trust him. A profession or calling, pursued with energy, is, therefore, all the estate you need require. But do not trust yourself with a man who is inefficient in his employment. This would be leaning upon a broken staff.
6. The person of your choice must be NEARLY OF YOUR OWN AGE.Should he be younger than yourself, you will be tempted to look upon him as an inferior; and old age will overtake you first. But I would suppose the idea of marrying a man advanced in years would be sufficiently revolting to the feelings of a young female to deter her from it. Yet such things often happen. But I consider it as contravening the order of nature, and therefore improper. In such case, you will be called upon rather to perform the office of a daughter and nurse, than a wife.
II. DESIRABLE qualifications
1. It is desirable that the man with whom you form a connection for life should possess a SOUND BODY.A man of vigorous constitution will be more capable of struggling with the difficulties and trials of this world, than one who is weak in body. Yet such an erroneous system has been pursued in the education of the generation just now coming upon the stage of action, that the health of very few sedentary people remains unimpaired. It would, therefore, be cruel selfishness to refuse to form a connection of this kind, on this ground alone, provided the individual has no settled disease upon him. A person of feeble constitution requires the comfort and assistance of a companion, more than one in vigorous health. But it certainly would not be your duty to throw yourself away upon one already under the influence of an incurable disease.
2. REFINEMENT OF MANNERS is a very desirable quality in a companion for life.This renders a person's society more agreeable and pleasant, and may be the means of increasing his usefulness. Yet it will not answer to make it a test of character; for it is often the case that men of the brightest talents, and of extensive education—who are in every other respect amiable and worthy—have neglected the cultivation of their manners; while there are very many, destitute alike of talent and education, who seem to be adept in the art of politeness. However, this may be cultivated, by a person of good sense, who appreciates its importance.
3. A SOUND JUDGMENT is also very necessary to enable a man to direct the common affairs of life.But this, also, may be cultivated by experience, and therefore cannot be called indispensable.
4. PRUDENCE is very desirable.The rashest youth, however, will learn prudence by experience. After a few falls, he will look forward before he steps, that he may foresee and shun the evil that is before him; but, if you choose such a one, take care that you do not fall with him, and both of you break your necks together.
5. It is a matter of great importance that the person with whom you form a connection for life, should belong to the same denomination of Christians with yourself.The separation of a family, in their attendance upon public worship, is productive of great inconvenience and perplexity; and there is serious danger of its giving rise to unpleasant feelings, and becoming an occasion of discord. I think it should be a very serious objection against any man, that he belongs to a different communion from yourself.
In addition to these, your own good sense and taste will suggest many other desirable qualities in a companion for life.
Upon receiving the addresses of a man, your first object should be to ascertain whether he possesses those prominent traits of character which you consider indispensable. If he lacks any one of these, you have no further inquiry to make. Inform him openly and sincerely of your decision; but spare his feelings, as far as you can consistently with Christian sincerity. He is entitled to your gratitude for the preference he has manifested for yourself. Therefore, treat him courteously and tenderly; yet let him understand that your decision is conclusive and final. If he possesses the feelings of a gentleman, this course will secure for you his esteem and friendship.
But, if you are satisfied with respect to these prominent traits of character, next look for those qualities which you consider desirable, though not indispensable. If you discover few or none of these, it will be a serious objection against him. But you need not expect to find them all combined in any one person. If you seek for a perfect character, you will be disappointed. In this, as well as in every other relation of life, you will need to exercise forbearance. The best of men are compassed about with imperfection and infirmity. Besides, as you are not perfect yourself, you have no right to look for perfection in a companion.
While deciding these points, keep your 'feelings' under control. Allow them to have no influence upon your judgment. A Christian should never be governed by impulse. Many people have, no doubt, destroyed their happiness for life, by allowing their feelings to get the better of their judgment. Seek wisdom from above. The Lord directs all our ways, and we cannot expect to be prospered in anything wherein we neglect to acknowledge him and seek his direction. But, when you have satisfied yourself in relation to these things, and the person whose addresses you are receiving has distinctly avowed his intentions, you may remove the restraint from your feelings; which, as well as your judgment, have a deep concern in the affair.
A happy and prosperous union must have for its basis a mutual sentiment of affection, of a peculiar kind. If you are satisfied that this sentiment exists on his part, you are to inquire whether you can exercise it towards him. For, with many people of worth, whom we may esteem, there is often lacking a certain undefinable combination of qualities, not improperly termed the soul of character; which alone seems to call out the exercise of that peculiar sentiment of which we are speaking. But I seriously charge you never to form a connection which is not based upon this principle. Such depraved creatures as we are, need the aid of the warmest affection to enable us to exercise that mutual forbearance, so indispensable to the peace and happiness of the domestic circle. That the marital relation should be cemented by a principle of a peculiar kind, will moreover appear from the superiority of the soul over the body.
When two human beings unite their destinies, there must be a union of soul, or else such union is but partial. And the union of soul must be the foundation of the outward union, and of course precede it. The same may likewise be inferred from the existence of such a principle in the human bosom. When Adam first saw Eve, he declared the nature of this union, and added, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife;" implying that the affection between the parties to this connection should be superior to all other human attachments. The frown of God must, then, rest upon a union founded upon any other principle; for by it the order of nature is contravened, and therefore the blessings of peace and happiness cannot be expected to attend it.
But love is not a principle which is brought into existence as it were by magic. It must always be exercised in view of an object. Do not, therefore, hastily decide that you cannot love a man who possesses the prominent traits of character necessary to render you happy. You ought, however, to be fully satisfied that such a sentiment, of a permanent character, does really exist in your own bosom, before you consent to a union.
In your ordinary fellowship with gentlemen, much caution should be observed. Always maintain a dignity of character, and never condescend to trifle. But, in your conversation upon general subjects, you may exercise the same sociability and freedom which you would with ladies; not seeming to be sensible of any difference of gender. Indignantly repel any improper liberties; but never decline attentions which are considered as belonging to the rules of common politeness, unless there should be something in the character of the individual which would justify you in wishing wholly to avoid his society. Some men are so disagreeable in their attentions, and so obtrusive of their company, that they become a great annoyance to ladies. I think you would be justifiable in refusing ordinary attentions from such men, until they learn better manners.
Pay the strictest regard to propriety and delicacy, in all your conduct; yet do not maintain such a cold reserve and chilling distance, as to produce the impression, in the mind of everyone you meet, that you dislike his society. No gentleman of refined and delicate feelings will intrude his company upon ladies, when he thinks it is not desired; and you may create this impression, by carrying your reserve to an extreme. But the contrary extreme, of an excessive fondness for the society of gentlemen, is still more to be avoided. By cultivating an acute sense of propriety in all things, with a discrimination of judgment, you will be able generally to direct your conduct aright in these matters.
Never indulge feelings of partiality for any man until he has distinctly avowed his own sentiments, and you have deliberately determined the several points already mentioned. If you do, you may subject yourself to much needless disquietude, and perhaps the most unpleasant disappointments. And the wounded feeling thus produced may have an injurious effect upon your subsequent character and happiness.
1. Do not allow this subject to occupy a very prominent place in your thoughts.To be constantly ruminating upon it, can hardly fail of exerting an injurious influence upon your mind, feelings, and deportment; and you will be almost certain to betray yourself, in the society of gentlemen, and, perhaps, become the subject of merriment, as one who is anxious for a husband.
2. Do not make this a matter of common conversation.There is, perhaps, nothing which has a stronger tendency to deteriorate the social fellowship of young people, than the disposition to give the subject of matrimonial alliances so prominent a place in their conversation, and to make it a matter of jesting and mirth. There are other subjects enough, in the wide fields of science, literature, and religion, to occupy the social hour, both profitably and pleasantly. A dignified reserve, on this subject, will protect you from rudeness, which you will be very likely to encounter, if you indulge in jesting and raillery in regard to it.
3. Do not speak of your own private affairs of this kind,so as to have them become the subject of conversation among the circle of your acquaintances. It certainly does not add to the esteem of a young lady, among sensible people, for her to be heard talking about her beaux. Especially is this caution necessary in the case of a matrimonial engagement. Remember the old adage—"There's many a slip—Between the cup and the lip;" and consider how your feelings would be mortified, if, after making such an engagement generally known among your acquaintances, anything should occur to break it off. In such case, you will have wounded feeling enough to struggle with, without the additional pain of having the affair become a neighborhood talk.
4. Do not make an engagement a long time before you expect it to be consummated.Such engagements are surrounded with perils. A few years may make such changes in the characters and feelings of young people as to destroy the fitness and congeniality of the parties; while, if the union had been consummated, they would have assimilated to each other.
In short, let me entreat you to cultivate the most delicate sense of propriety, in regard to everything having the most distant relation to this matter; and let all your feelings, conversation, and conduct, be regulated upon the most elevated principles of purity, refinement, and piety. But do not carry your delicacy and reserve to the extreme of prudery—which is an unlovely trait of character, and which adds nothing to the strength of virtue.
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