MY DEAR SISTER,
Some young persons 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; yet they seem to think it must never be mentioned but in jest. But 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. But it is a matter of great importance, having a direct hearing 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. Whoever, therefore, wilfully neglects it, contravenes the order of nature, and must consequently expect a diminution of those enjoyments which arise from the social state. 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 want 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 persons to domestic animals, or to other objects which can be enjoyed in solitude. As the dreary winter of age advances, the solitude of his condition becomes still more chilling. Nothing but that sweet resignation to the will of God which religion gives, under all circumstances, can render such a situation tolerable. But religion 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 greatly increased.
II. On the other hand, do not consider marriage as absolutely essential to happiness. Although it is an ordinance of God, yet he has not absolutely enjoined it upon all. You may, therefore, be in the way of duty while neglecting it. And the apostle Paul hints that there may be, with those who enter into this state, a greater tendency of the heart towards earthly objects. There is also an increase of care. "The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but she that is married, careth 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." And, 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 the day. But he says, though it is no sin to marry, nevertheless, "such shall have trouble in the flesh." It is undoubtedly true, that the enjoyments of conjugal 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 connection with a person who will diminish, instead of increasing, your happiness. However, the remark of the apostle, "such shall have trouble in the flesh," doubtless had reference chiefly to the peculiar troubles of the 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.
Having these two principles fixed in your mind, you will be prepared calmly to consider what qualifications are requisite in a companion for life. These I shall divide into two classes: 1. Those which are indispensable.2. 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.
1. The first requisite in a companion for life is 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, then, could you unite your interest with one who continually rejects and abuses the object of your soul's delight? Indeed, 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? 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 -- although he 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. Although 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. The apostle Paul, speaking of the woman, says, "If her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, 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 an unbeliever. The same doctrine is also taught by the same apostle in another place. "Be not ye, therefore, unequally yoked with unbelievers." In this passage the apostle 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-toned and devoted piety. The are many professors of religion who show very few signs of spiritual life. And there are doubtless many that make loud professions of religious experience, who know nothing of the power of godliness. 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.
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 suffered 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 any unhallowed passions 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 an ignorant person for his piety; 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.
4. His sentiments and feelings on general subjects must be CONGENIAL with your own. This is a very important matter. Persons 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 persons 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 want of it in others. If you have not, it will not be necessary in a companion.
5. Another requisite is ENERGY OF CHARACTER. Most people think some worldly prospects 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 all his undertakings. 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. I should 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.
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 persons remains unimpaired. It would, therefore, be cruel selfishness to refuse to form a connection of this kind, on this ground alone, provided they have no settled disease upon them. 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 a person 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 adepts in the art of politeness. However, this may be cultivated. A person of good sense, who appreciates its importance, may soon acquire a courteous and pleasing address, by mingling with refined society.
3. A SOUND JUDGMENT is also very necessary, to enable a man to direct the common affairs of life. However, this may also 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. Yet, I dare not say that I would prefer single life to a connection of this kind.
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 lack any one of these, you have no further inquiry to make. Inform him openly and ingenuously 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 possess only 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 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, it would seem like a species of injustice to require perfection in a companion.
While deciding these points, keep your feelings entirely under control. Suffer them to have no influence upon your judgment. A Christian should never be governed by impulse. Many persons have, no doubt, destroyed their happiness for life, by suffering their feelings to get the better of their judgment. Make the matter a subject of daily prayer. 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 persons of great worth, whom we highly esteem, there is often wanting 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; and that, for the following reasons:
1. 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.
2. That the marriage covenant should be cemented by a principle of a peculiar kind, will 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.
3. We may infer the same thing from the existence of such a principle in the human breast. That it does exist, may be abundantly proved, both by Scripture and experience. 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.
However, 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. However, 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 intercourse with gentlemen, much caution should be observed. Always maintain a dignity of character, and never condescend to trifle. In your conversation, however, 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 sex. 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 the latter justifiable in refusing the attentions of such men, till 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 every one 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 the rules of propriety to the extreme of reserve. But the contrary extreme, of manifesting 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 nice 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.
I shall close this letter with a few brief remarks, of a general nature.
1. Do not suffer 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 subject of common conversation. There is, perhaps, nothing which has a stronger tendency to deteriorate the social intercourse 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; and 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
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 peril. A few years may make such changes in the characters and feelings of young persons 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 religion; 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.
Your affectionate Brother.