Letter xv. Social and Relative Duties.
"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." MATT.7:12.


We are formed for society; and whoever refuses social intercourse with his fellow-beings, and lives to himself, violates an established law of nature. But the operation of this general principle creates the necessity of particular laws for the regulation of that intercourse. Hence, a numerous train of duties arise out of our social relations. And those duties enter more or less into the common concerns of life, according as these relations are more or less remote. The first relation which the Lord has established among men, is that of the family. This was established 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. 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 this relation, that he has given it a place in the decalogue. Three of the ten commandments have particular reference to the family relation. From the first institution of this relation, we learn that the father and mother are to constitute the united head of the family. "They twain shall be one flesh." Authority is therefore doubtless vested in them both, to exercise jointly. But, since the fall, when mankind became 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 clearly and distinctly point out. 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 notice 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 reverence her husband." "Likewise ye wives be in subjection to your own husbands." There can be no room for doubt, then, on this subject. But, where Christian principle prevails with both parties, there will be rarely, if ever, occasion to exercise this authority.

The fifth commandment teaches the duty of subordination to the head of the family, not only on the part of the children themselves, but of every member of the household. So far as the general interests of the family are concerned, persons residing in it are regarded in the same light as children; subject to all its laws, rules and regulations. Thus the Lord speaks of Abraham: "I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord." The principle is here recognized, that Abraham had a right to command, not only his own children, but all his household. And the same may also be inferred from the language of the fourth commandment. It is addressed to the head of the family, and enjoins upon him to see that no labor is performed on the Sabbath, by any of his household, not even excepting the stranger that is within his gates.

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 brethren and sisters are the superiors of the younger, in age and experience, and generally in wisdom and knowledge. They are better qualified to take the lead, and therefore entitled to respect and deference.2. The same thing 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 wanting, there will be a lack of everything else. The Scriptures insist 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 want of kindness and courtesy among brethren. And the apostle John says, that "whosoever hateth his brother, is a murderer." A kind, tender-hearted, affectionate, and peaceful temper, should be maintained, in all the intercourse 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 intercourse between families. This was again extended, to the formation of nations and kingdoms. But all these various relations are subject to the same great 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, condescension 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." "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

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 ye love one another." I have no doubt that, when grace is in full exercise in the heart, the brotherly love which Christians exercise towards one another is far stronger than the natural affection which exists between brothers and sisters of the same family.

From this general view of the social relations, we may gather the following rules of conduct:

1. Endeavor to 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. In such case you should leave the family; because your relative duties would interfere with your duty to God.[M] Remember, it is in the domestic circle where 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 intercourse, 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. The least transgression is sufficient to condemn the soul forever. "He that offendeth in one point is guilty of all." Especially avoid the indulgence of a selfish disposition. It is both unamiable and unchristian. Be always ready to sacrifice your own feelings, when by so doing you can give pleasure to others. Study the wishes and feelings of others, and prefer them to your own. Manifest a disinterestedness of feeling. 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." "Charity seeketh not her own." Be kind to all; respectful towards superiors, courteous to equals, and condescending to inferiors. Be particularly careful not to trample upon the feelings of servants. Nothing can be more unamiable. If you cultivate these dispositions and principles of action habitually, in the domestic circle, they will become so natural and easy as to flow out spontaneously in every circle in which you move. And this will call forth the love and esteem of all your acquaintance. It will bring honor upon your profession, increase your influence, and thereby enable you to do more for the glory of God.

[Footnote M: This direction would not be proper for a minor, in her father's house, or in the place provided by a guardian. In such cases, it would be duty to remain, and submit to the penalty of disobedience; remembering that it is a blessing to be persecuted for righteousness' sake.]

2. There are special duties growing out of your relation to the church. Some of these I have considered in former letters. But I have particular reference now to social duties. You are to regard all the members of the church as brothers and sisters. You are to love them just in proportion as they are like Christ. It is the appearance of the image of Jesus, alone, in our Christian brethren, which can call forth the spiritual exercise of brotherly love. I say the appearance of the image of Christ, because we may be deceived as to the existence of that image in the hearts of others, and yet our love may be as sincere and fervent as if the image were genuine. No Christian duty is more insisted on in Scripture than brotherly love. It is 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. Now, how do we manifest our love to our brothers and sisters? We delight in their society. We love to meet them, to talk about each other's interests, and the interests of the family in general. 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. Hence, I argue the duty of social intercourse among Christians. But, it is to be greatly feared that the real object of such intercourse is too frequently overlooked. How often do Christians meet, and talk about "trifles light as air," without once speaking of subjects which, according to their profession, lie nearest their hearts. This ought not so to be. It is a sinful conformity to the spirit of the world. The great object of social intercourse among Christians should be, to promote brotherly love and Christian fellowship. And how can these ends be answered, when their conversation is altogether about the affairs of the world? I do not say that it is wrong to talk about these things. The smallest matters claim a portion of our attention. But it is wrong to make them the principal topics of conversation, to the exclusion of heavenly things. When we do speak of them, it should be with some good end in view; and our conversation should always be seasoned by the application of Christian principle to all subjects.

In addition to the general obligation of social intercourse 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 be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an 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." "Yea, 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 hindrance 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 special duties growing out of your relations to general society. Be ever ready to interchange kind offices with every one who maintains a decent moral deportment; and be kind and compassionate, even to the vicious, so far as you can, without associating with them on terms of equality. By this means you may win the affections of impenitent sinners, and thereby secure their attention to direct efforts for the salvation of their souls. But, you should never suffer your feelings of complacency 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 intercourse with them should be regulated upon this principle. Never go any farther into their society than you can carry your religion 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 run into extremes in everything. Against this you need especially to be on your guard in social intercourse. When visiting is excessive, it dissipates the mind, and unfits it for any laborious employment. When this state of mind becomes habitual, a person is never easy except when in company. The most vigorous 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 of the heart; you will acquire a monkish love of solitude; and your temper will become soured 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 plainly your reasons, and if they are really what they profess to be, they will see the propriety of your conduct, and be satisfied.

5. Never go into company where the spirit and maxims of the world predominate. I know this will cut you off from a large portion of society, yet, I believe it to be a rule founded upon the word of God. If we would not be conformed to the world, we must not follow its maxims nor partake of its spirit. I know it is often said we should go into such society for the purpose of exerting a religious influence. But the practical result is directly the contrary. The spirit which prevails in such company is destructive of all religious 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 intercourse is the informal meting of small circles, of which a sufficient number are pious to give a direction and tone to conversation.

6. When in company, labor to give a profitable direction to conversation. If there are elder persons 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. When an opportunity offers, however, for you to say anything that will add interest to the conversation, do not fail to improve it. But 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 skilful in the matter, you may turn any conversation to good account. This was one of the peculiar beauties of our Saviour'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 religious. But it should be of a kind calculated to improve either the mind or 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 should never be at a loss to speak of them in a becoming manner. When you meet with persons 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 Saviour. 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 them in sin. 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 carelessness. Study wisdom, skilfulness, and discretion, in all things.

7. Set your face against the discussion of the characters of those who are absent. This is a most pernicious practice, quite too prevalent at the present day. I would have you avoid, as much as possible, speaking even of the good qualities of those who are absent, for two reasons: 1. I see no good likely to result from it; therefore it must be an unprofitable method of spending time.2. It leads us to speak also of their faults, so as to give their whole characters; and this is evil speaking. 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; but 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 that speaketh evil of his brother, speaketh 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. Yet, how common is it for professors of religion to speak freely, and without reserve, of the characters of others, and even of their own brethren and sisters in the church. This is a great sin, and it is 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 most 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 winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet." "He that winketh with the eye causeth 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 and speaking with the feet is mean 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 driveth away rain; so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." Bear in mind the words of the apostle James: "If any man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." So you see the habitual indulgence of this sin will cut off the hope of the loudest professors.

8. Avoid speaking of yourself. When any person makes himself and his own affairs the principal topics of conversation, he shows himself to be supremely selfish, and ridiculously vain. It is also 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 religious 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 persons 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 jealous of those around you, be sure you will soon alienate their affections. In your intercourse with others of your own age and sex, be willing always to advance at least half way, and with those whose habits are very retiring, you may even go farther. Many persons 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 that hath 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 most 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 most 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, and foolish jesting, and every impropriety; and that he would enable you to exert a religious influence over those with whom you may meet. Be assured, if you go out without observing this precaution, you will return with a wounded soul.

Your affectionate Brother.

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