Delivered at the Broadmead Rooms, For the Young Men’s Christian Association, in the year 1862.
Synopsis.—Social intercourse a necessity for human beings. Like other blessings, liable to be perverted.—I. Helps and preparations for rightly using it. (1) Right frame of spirit. (2) A measure of mental cultivation. (3) Suited associates. (4) Suitable arrangements. (5) Aided by being accompanied with the enjoyment of nature.—II. Advantages thus obtained. (1) Increase of our happiness. (2) Mental Improvement. (3) Cultivation of the affections.—3:Perils and snares connected with its perversion. (1) Neglect of secret exercises. (2) Neglect of our proper business, &c. (3) Lead to unholy influence.
“It is not good that man should be alone.” The saying I have just quoted, at once a testimony and a reason, uttered just before the creation of our first mother, has found, in all ages, an echo in the hearts of all her offspring. Even before man had experienced the feebleness consequent upon transgression, the above testimony was true. Social intercourse would have been a necessity for man, even if he had never fallen; how much more necessary, we may infer it to have become in consequence of the manifold infirmities resulting out of our departure from God. Well has the poet represented the feelings of Alexander Selkibk in his lonely residence:—
O solitude where are the charms
Which sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms
Than reign in this horrible place.
I am out of humanity’s reach,
I must finish my journey alone,
Never hear the sweet music of speech,
I start at the sound of my own.
Society, friendship and love,
Divinely bestowed upon man,
O, had I the wings of a dove,
How soon would I taste you again!
Who amongst us does not shrink from the thought of being situated as he was! Who does not feel that the mere imagination of such a condition ought to call forth the liveliest sentiments of gratitude to God, for surrounding us with all the manifold benefits and blessings resulting from intercourse with our fellow-men.
It is well that we should thus be reminded, even in the way of contrast, of the value of that privilege to the consideration of which I desire this evening to direct your minds.
It is good that the young and the old, that men of all classes of society and of every grade of mental attainment, should enjoy social intercourse. Yet even the current phraseology of everyday life tells us how the privilege may become a snare. How often do we hear it said, respecting one who once promised well, “He was clever, had many amiable qualities, great conversational powers, but he got into company and was ruined.” Strange the blessing should so frequently be perverted into a curse! but so it is. Our greatest sorrows often spring from the abuse of our choicest sources of happiness. The convivial party, the ball room, the theatre, furnish the very sort of associates, who, to youth and inexperience, appear most attractive; and thus, that association with our fellow-men which, if rightly used, might have aided in the formation of character and smoothed the asperities of life, often becomes the means of leading those who, in early days, promised to be the joy of their parents’ hearts, into such a course of conduct as terminates in misery and disgrace. While therefore we are alive to the advantages let us be equally alive to the snares connected with companionship? Let us enquire,
I. Into some of the helps and preparations for turning the opportunity of social intercourse to good account.
II. Some of the advantages which we may thus derive from it.
3:Some of the snares, in connection with companionship, to which the young are more especially exposed.
I. (1) If we would desire to succeed in turning to good account the privileges of associating with others, it is requisite that we aim after that preparation which consists in a rightly constituted frame of spirit. The trifling, the thoughtless, the sensual, are often fond of company; but such is their condition, mentally and morally, as to unfit them for either imparting or receiving any real advantage from society. He who would reap, must first give himself to the labour connected with sowing. No man can reasonably expect to derive either gratification or instruction from others, who does not seek their benefit as well as his own. He may be conscious of his own deficiencies—he may regret that his conversational powers are very far inferior to those possessed by some of his companions—bat he is unworthy of enjoying society if he is not at least desirous of rendering himself subservient to the gratification, or benefit, of those with whom he mingles. Let, therefore, every one, who values the opportunity of intercourse with others, see that his motives are such as allow him warrantably to cherish the expectation of deriving some advantage for himself, and at the same time, in some measure, of being helpful in promoting the benefit of those with whom he may mingle.
(2.) In order to do this, something more than a mere desire will be requisite. The man who spends all his leisure time in society, may make an amusing companion but hardly a valuable associate. He who devotes his hand to manual labour, or his mind to the ordinary details of business, and then gives up all his remaining hours to mere amusement, will soon find that his company is acceptable only to a very inferior class of companions. Such a one will be welcomed among those who addict themselves to idle jesting, or to mere political controversy; but the manly, the thoughtful, the well-informed—all who really feel the worth of every hour, and the responsibility connected with the mode of spending it, will seek for other society. In order to do good to others, we must first take heed to do good to ourselves. Even apart from those infinitely more important exercises which relate to our highest interests—(the reverential reading of the Scriptures, and secret intercourse with God)—there are other demands upon our intervals of cessation from business which cannot be neglected with impunity. To say nothing of the calls of active benevolence, some portion of our leisure ought to be secured for general mental improvement. Every man—but specially every young man—ought to seek to increase his stores of useful information, and to cultivate the faculties wherewith God has endowed him. Next to the enjoyment of God and the cultivation of the gracious affections, most of our purest delights spring from the exercise of our mental powers. Just as the goodness of the Creator is seen in the adaptation of external nature to the constitution of man, and even to the requirements of the inferior animals, so is it illustrated by the instinctive delight derived from the legitimate employment of our intellectual faculties. How many who, under the advantages of early training, might have found pure and invigorating satisfaction in the pursuit of mental improvement, have become incapable of devoting their energies to anything more elevated and important than the ordinary avocations of business, or the excitements arising from trivial pleasures or sensual gratifications. “In all labour there is profit,” provided that labour be expended on worthy objects; and he who never cultivated the power of solitary application, and the capacity of enjoying the society of the “mighty minds of old,” however successful he may be in the race for riches, is, after all, but a poor and pitiable man.
II. I do not mean that young men, in general, should aim at making large attainments in learning.
It is not possible, it is not even desirable for the great majority of those who are connected with our Young Men’s Christian Associations that they should be classical scholars, or eminent for scientific attainments. But, by the exercise of ordinary powers of observation, and by means of suitable reading, very much progress may be made in the acquisition of that species of information which will be found serviceable in qualifying one to take part, with credit and enjoyment, in rational conversation. Men of profound scholarship, or of lofty science, will often be wanting in the power of adapting themselves to the measure of mental cultivation possessed by the average of those who mingle in general society; while persons of far inferior attainments, whose conversational powers have been duly cultivated, will be able to impart, to those with whom they may associate, not merely amusement, but lasting benefit. Cordiality of feeling; kindliness of manner; modesty and forbearance; candour and patience, combined with ease and clearness of expression, seem to me to constitute some of the most important requisites for rendering our opportunities of social intercourse subservient to our mutual good. Dogmatism; irritability; dictatorial assumption; rashness; levity; tedious trifling; are some of the most obvious of those evils by which the enjoyment of social converse is most frequently marred. All such obstacles to profitable intercourse originate in the neglecting the culture of the heart. The remedy must therefore be found in attention to the ancient exhortation, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
(3.) In seeking to secure the benefits, legitimately connected with social intercourse, it is requisite that we select associates. To do so requires a measure of self-knowledge and, to some extent, the capacity of judging correctly respecting the characters of others. Experience proves that there may be both happy and beneficial association between those whose mental characteristics are very far from exact correspondence. Still, a measure of conformity in principles, habits, tastes, and studies will be found helpful. It is hardly possible that those, who find their highest gratifications in that which is merely showy and attractive, should be fit companions for those who are devoted to the pursuit of the solid, the genuine, and the true. The man who makes the acquisition of wealth the great object of his existence will be utterly unable to sympathise with the man whose aims are of a far more elevated character. He, whose hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, are all bounded within the narrow limits of his earthly life, will be unable to tolerate or even to understand the principles and the objects by which the course of a Christian is regulated and impelled. He who goes into company, merely to get rid of time and to drive away all serious thought, will hardly fraternise with those who have been awakened to the value of existence and who are earnestly seeking to discharge their mission “as even in the great task-masters eye,” and who aim, although at an infinite distance, to tread in the footsteps of Him who said, “I must work the work of Him that sent me, while it is called to-day; the night cometh when no man can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world “(John 9:4).
(4) Even external arrangements may serve either to promote or to impede the legitimate objects of mutual converse.
The confiding intercourse of intimate friendship is often most freely enjoyed when a few, whose hearts have been closely knit together, meet apart from others. Those who are thus united, can say to each other what they might feel unwilling to express in the presence of ordinary acquaintances.
This remark specially applies to the unfettered converse of those who are like-minded in reference to the great realities of Christian truth. Well has the poet Cowpee described such converse in one of his finest episodes:—
O days of heaven and nights of equal praise,
Serene and peaceful as those heavenly days,
When souls drawn upwards, in communion sweet,
Enjoy the stillness of some close retreat;
Discourse, as if released and safe at home,
Of dangers passed, and wonders yet to come,
And spread the sacred treasures of the breast
Upon the lap of covenanted rest.
For less intimate intercourse, it may be desirable that one should sometimes mingle in more general society. Few things, however, appear to me more inexpedient than for a large number of persons to assemble together with the view of each one conversing with that one of the party who may happen to sit next to him. If the object be rational enjoyment, surely the preferable arrangement would be for the conversation to be so carried on, that all might take part either in addressing the rest of the company, or in listening to that which may be spoken for the benefit of all present. If the number be too large to allow of such an arrangement, then the largeness of the number tends to defeat the great object of mutual benefit. I may be located beside some one who, either from shyness or from want of practice, cannot converse freely in so numerous a company; and I may catch, every now and then, a stray sentence, spoken at another part of the room, sufficient to excite, but not to gratify, my curiosity and thirst for information. If, on the other hand, I am happily situated, as respects my next neighbour, our conversation would be far happier and freer, if we were to meet by ourselves, instead of our being compelled to talk in the presence of others who take no part in the subject of our conversation. In such a company there will generally be found two or three persons who are capable of carrying on a conversation interesting, not only to themselves, but to those around them. What a matter of regret that the advantage of hearing the remarks of such should be limited to the one or two who may happen to be located next to them. To say nothing of living celebrities, let me suppose, what might have happened some forty years ago (in the city of Bristol), that any of us had been invited to meet, at a large party, with Robert Hall, or John Foster, how deeply should we have regretted to have been permitted only to spend an evening in the same room with them, while we were denied the privilege of listening to their animated and instructive discourse! Or, supposing any of us had been in Glasgow, about the period just referred to, when Thomas Chalmers and Edward Irving were labouring together in the Gospel, how greatly should we have been disappointed, had we returned from spending an evening in their presence, without having had opportunity of coming into contact with their minds, or of being invigorated by their manly and generous sentiments! Thomas Chalmers was then in the full maturity of his strength. Over Edward Irving the shadow of those hallucinations, which afterwards darkened and dwarfed his noble intellect, had not then fallen. Rarely indeed have two men, so sound in faith, and so consistent in practice, and so largely endowed both in mind and heart, laboured so unitedly in the work of God. The reputation of Irving has sadly suffered through the aberrations of his closing years. In those sad delusions was verified the keen perception of Sir Walter Scott, who, referring to the great preacher, describes him as having the impress of talent on his brow, and the glance of madness in his eye. But to have spent an hour in social converse with him, such as he was in the beginning of his ministerial course, would have been indeed a privilege. I should have looked back upon such an opportunity with something of the same grateful feeling with which I now recall, in advanced life, the interviews I enjoyed, in my early days, with his still more illustrious fellow-labourer.
If the object aimed at, in coming together, be real enjoyment of one another’s society, I am satisfied that very large parties will generally be found a failure. Such assemblies answer perfectly well in those cases in which people meet together to indulge in eating and drinking—to display the elegance of their dress—to waste the precious hours in fashionable folly—or simply to rid themselves of that unoccupied time which lies, like an unsaleable commodity, heavy upon their hands. He who has a mind capable of tasting the delights of well-spent hours, who can enjoy, in his retirement, hallowed intercourse with the holiest and the noblest of those imperishable minds who have left their best thoughts and sentiments embalmed in their literary remains, will shrink from wasting his evenings in that talk of the lips which tendeth only to penury. It is rightly regarded as murder to take away the life of another; it is suicide to destroy our own; surely they who systematically and deliberately allow their lives to pass away in vanity and folly, cannot be held guiltless of criminal neglect—a neglect alike injurious to others as well as to themselves. The poet Southey may have carried his devotion to retired reading much too far. He probably failed in doing that amount of good which a freer mingling in society might have furnished him with the opportunity of effecting; but his too exclusive occupation with his books was a far less evil than that of wasting time in unprofitable company. Hear his experience on this mater:—
My days among the dead are past;
Around me I behold,
Where’er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old;
My never-failing friends are they
With whom I converse day by day.
With them I take delight in weal,
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedewed
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.
My thoughts are with the dead—with those
I love in long past years;
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears,
And from their lessons seek to find
Instruction with a humble mind.
My hopes are with the dead; anon
My place with them shall be;
And I with them shall travel on
Through all futurity,
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.
(5.) It is desirable, if circumstances permit, to combine the enjoyment of suitable companionship with exercise in the open air. Perhaps no city in the empire possesses such advantages, in this respect, as our own. Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, even Edinburgh itself, the fair capital of Scotland, and one of the most elegant cities in the world, must, in regard to the attractiveness of the surrounding neighbourhood, yield to Bristol.
Confidential intercourse between intimate friends may be greatly aided by the beauty and the grandeur of our rocks, and downs, and woods, and vallies. How poor, indeed, are the gratifications that attend our city feasts, or our crowded ball rooms, or our fashionable assemblies, in comparison of those delights which spring from thoughtful contemplation of such scenes as may be visited by us alone or in company, and enjoyed at any time, without cost, or labour. Well has the poet questioned those who find no attractiveness in nature’s loveliness, or who prefer to such attractions the coarse gratifications of sensual indulgence:—
“Canst thou forego the pure etherial soul
In each fine sense so exquisitely seen,
On the dull couch of luxury to roll,
Stung with disease and stupified with spleen;
Fain to implore the aid of flattery’s screen,
Even from thyself thy loathsome heart to hide,
(The mansion there no more of joy serene,)
Where fear, distrust, malevolence, abide,
And impotent desire, and disappointed pride?
“O how canst thou renounce the boundless store
Of charms which nature to her votary yields!
The warbling woodland, the resounding shore,
The pomp of groves and garniture of fields;
All that the genial ray of morning gilds,
And all that echoes to the song of even,
All that the mountain’s sheltering bosom shields,
And all the dread magnificence of heaven—
O how canst thou renounce, and hope to be forgiven?”
II. I come now, in the second place, to refer more directly to the advantages resulting from intercourse with our fellows.
(1) Social intercourse, legitimately enjoyed, tends very greatly to increase the amount of human happiness. It furnishes one of the best and most available sources of recreation. It affords relief after severe mental labour, and smooths the asperities of every-day toil. In seeking the enjoyment of association with suitable companions, we obey a natural instinct, sanctioned by a higher law. This instinct manifests itself in very early childhood. In boyhood and youth it seems to grow stronger by indulgence, and few of mature age, or even in advanced life, can be happy without occasional opportunities of mingling in congenial society. There are some instincts, I confess, which cannot be indulged without sin, while in other cases, what appears as an instinctive tendency is an acquired one; but the social instinct has no resemblance, in its nature, to that which prompts the slave of sinful passions to seek the maddening draught, and so to degrade himself below the inferior creation. It rather resembles the craving for food, when we are hungry; or that tendency which induces us to shrink from pain or death. The love of society is found in the purest and holiest specimens of humanity, and is sanctioned by the verdict of conscience, and more than sanctioned by the sure testimonies of Scripture. If we regard the authority of the Bible, we must believe that the infinitely happy God delights in the happiness of His creatures. He may be represented, by our great adversary, or by our guilty consciousness, as one who governs us by a system of mere restraints. In early youth there are many things that appear to us full of attractiveness, which we are told that God has forbidden. This fact often generates the notion that the Being who rules over all, delights in thwarting the inclinations of His creatures, and in withholding those things which would minister to their enjoyment. This is a most dangerous misapprehension. He who has, for us and our salvation, given up His own Son, “giveth us all things richly to enjoy.” No wise and loving parent ever so longed after the well-being of his children as our God and Father longs after the truest happiness of those that trust in Him. He has not revealed Himself as one who delights merely in restraining, prohibiting, and judging. He
“Forbids us nought but that licentious joy
Whose fruit, though fair, allures but to destroy.”
It were almost blasphemy to assert that His word enforces one needless restriction. It is most irrational to imagine that He can be pleased with self-imposed austerities, or with a sullen refusal to accept of the blessing of His hand. The royal prophet did not close his eyes from beholding the sublimity and grandeur of the starry firmament, but lifted up his admiring gaze towards heaven, and poured forth his sentiments of awe and adoration in a hymn of joyous thanksgiving. The Blessed Teacher, while He trod this earth as our Incarnate God, did not refuse to contemplate the grass of the meadows—the corn of the fields, or the lilies of the valley. We glorify God by seeking legitimate enjoyment. We answer one end of our existence by being happy. No source of delight, or satisfaction, of which reason, and conscience, and Scripture approve, ought to be slighted or refused. A right-minded father finds delight in seeing his children happy in each other’s society; and the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort regards with divine complacency the course of those who find that “the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are paths of peace.”
(2.) Another advantage derived from social converse relates to its effect in the improvement of our mental faculties. By means of suitable association we are helped in the discovery of our ignorance, and in attaining clearer apprehensions of that which we thought we knew. In intelligent circles, questions will continually arise which illustrate the importance of re-examining our stores of knowledge. We shall thus be led to enquire more fully into those matters about which we have been constrained to acknowledge our want of accurate information. We may have read some instructive work, and, when asked to give some brief view of its contents, we find ourselves able to give only a very vague and general account of the impression it has left upon our mind. We have been studying some period of our national history, but find ourselves unable to reproduce, with clearness and coherency, those exhibitions of character, or those narrations of leading events, which that period embraces. We thus are led to no unprofitable acquaintance with the superficial character of our attainments, and are stirred up, by the discovery of our failure, to bestow, in future, more care and painstaking upon our efforts in the pursuit of mental improvement. The reading of many books may be often but little more than an indolent gratification. First of all, let the Book of God be habitually read and studied. Let its lessons be received in a spirit of reverence and prayer. Let its principles be apprehended and inwrought into the very frame of our spirits, so that all other books may be read in the light of its authoritative and heavenly teaching. Then let each man select those subjects of investigation to which his mental tastes—his intellectual capacities, and his position in society seem naturally to lead him; and thus he will, be fitted to impart help to others and disposed to receive and enjoy the advantages of association with those who are like-minded with himself. Such association will help us against one-sidedness and partiality in our judgments,—will assist in confirming us, when we are in the right, and in leading us to discover our mistakes, when we have, from imperfect information, formed erroneous judgments, either respecting the history of the past or the condition of the present. Self-knowledge, fairness, courage, candour —all are aided by mingling in desirable society. Every faculty of the mind is improved by exercise, and there are some faculties that can hardly he exercised in solitary study. If associated with those whose tastes are similar to our own, we shall return, from intercourse with our friends, encouraged to pursue, with fresh zest and interest, the path of self-cultivation.
(3.) But the improvement of our mental faculties is not the only, or even the chief advantage legitimately resulting from intercourse with others. The cultivation of the affections is even more important than the improvement of the mind. Our real happiness—our true capacity for doing good to others—our ability to answer the end of our existence—all depend mainly upon the state of our hearts. Christianity addresses itself to every faculty wherewith God has endowed humanity. It appeals to our conscience, our reason, our will; but it pre-eminently demands the homage of our hearts.
Were a man of loftiest mental powers and of boundless wealth to devote his genius and his riches in seeking to promote the progress of the gospel, if his heart were not first right with God, the offering of such service would he in vain. God exhibits Himself in the gospel as preeminently a God of love; and He graciously condescends to ask that we should yield unto Him the tribute of our love in return. He, after all, is the most advanced Christian whose heart is most fully pervaded with love to the Saviour and to all who bear that Saviour’s image. The study even of theology—the most exact and careful reading of Holy Scripture—may be unaccompanied with real love to Him of whom the Scriptures testify; and the learned biblical critic may be destitute of that simple test of discipleship, “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” Surely then it is infinitely important that we should watch against all mere speculative or intellectual religion. While we aim after intelligence, we ought still more earnestly and prayerfully to aim after the grace of holy love. Wisely conducted intercourse with our fellow-Christians will help us in this high attainment. It may often serve to stir up into manifested life the affections that are getting languid, and to fan into glowing warmth the fire that has been nearly extinguished. Even intercourse by letter helps to keep up old feelings of regard between friends who have long been severed by distance, and judicious and well chosen seasons of social fellowship may, by God’s blessing, greatly aid us in obeying the gracious injunction of the apostle, “Little children, love one another.”
If we would retain the affection of our friends, it will be most needful that we guard against anything, however trivial, which may become an occasion of disruption. Well has one of our most attractive poets warned us, in words of combined truth and melody, to watch against such an evil in reference even to the closest of all earthly unions.—
“Alas! how light a cause may move
Dissension between hearts that love;
Hearts that the world in vain has tried,
And sorrow but more closely tied;
Who stood the storm when waves were rough,
Yet in a sunny hour fall off,
Like ships that have gone down at sea.
When heaven was all tranquility.
A something light as air, a look,
A word unkind or wrongly taken,
Ah! love that tempests never shook,
A breath, a torch like this hath shaken;
And ruder words will soon rush in
To spread the breach which words begin,
And voices lose the tone that shed
A tenderness o’er all they said,
And eyes forget the gentle ray
They wore in courtship’s sunny day,
And hearts, that lately mingled, seem
Like broken clouds, or like the stream
That smiling left the mountain’s brow
As though its waters never could sever,
But ere it reached the plain below
Bursts into floods that part for ever.”
Of all the advantages resulting from social intercourse. I regard as one of the most valuable its influence upon the cultivation of the affections. In the descriptions given of the condition of the early church, as it existed in the period immediately succeeding the resurrection of our Lord, we find some of the most instructive and interesting illustrations of the language employed by the Psalmist—
How good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity.
You are all familiar with the beautiful description in one of your own hymns:
“Happy the souls that first believed,
To Jesus and each other cleaved:
Joined by the unction from above
In mystic fellowship of love.
“Meek, simple followers of the Lamb,
They loved and spake and thought the same:
They joyfully conspired to raise
Their ceaseless sacrifice of praise.
“With grace abundantly endued,
A pure, believing multitude,
They all were of one heart and soul,
And only love improved the whole.”
This manifested union among Christians themselves must have wrought very effectually upon the convictions of those by whom they were surrounded. The cordial glow of holy love which knit together those who were one in Jesus, made their countenances radiant with inward and spiritual delight, which the men of the world had never experienced, and which earth had never before witnessed. Men, for the most part, are not actuated simply by the apprehensions of the mind or the decisions of the judgment, but mainly through the power of heartfelt sympathies. How effectual for good is the influence of the affections even in the low sphere of earthly life! What is it that keeps society together? What is it which imparts energy and hope and satisfaction to the toiling millions of our race? What is it that brightens the gloom of winter and adds a richer radiance to the summer’s glow? The power of those affections wherewith God hath endowed humanity. The mysterious law of wedded love, whence spring
“Relations dear, and all the charities
Of father, son, and brother.”
In connexion with that memorable catastrophe, whereby, about some twelve months ago, so many of our hardworking fellow-countrymen were deprived of life, how strikingly were exhibited the combined influences of religious principle and maternal affection. After days of terrible suspense were succeeded by the effects consequent upon the heavy tidings that all hope of deliverance was at an end; while the whole neighbourhood was become vocal with the sounds of lamentation, mourning, and woe; while the hearts of thousands, living at a distance from the scene of the calamity, were deeply affected by the fate of the departed and the sorrowful condition of the bereaved; while all Christian men bowed with submission before another mysterious exertion of divine sovereignty, and found their consolation in the word of promise that “all things work together for good to His chosen,”—it pleased God to bring to light certain most consoling facts respecting the spiritual condition of those whom no effort of man had been able to rescue from their fatal imprisonment in the bowels of the earth. How gladly did every believing, heart welcome the information respecting the mode in which the victims of the calamity prepared to meet their inevitable fate. The brief memoranda that tell of their having unitedly called upon God in the season of their sore distress, and exhorted one another to trust in that Saviour who for them had overcome the terrors of the grave, is indescribably precious. “We seem to hear their earnest supplications in the hour of their extremity. We listen to their words of mutual exhortation, uttered under the vivid realization of their approaching death. We see them, as all hope of deliverance grew fainter and fainter, and at length died away, calmly, in the strength of a living faith, yielding up their spirits like the first martyrs to Him in whom they had believed. As husbands and fathers commended to God their beloved wives, and helpless children, whom they were never to embrace on earth again, we behold the members of the several families gather themselves together and lie down in each other’s arms to die.
Blessed be God that those whose lot was to pass through such a fiery trial had, ere the hour of trial came, found a refuge in the Saviour! They were not permitted to die alone. They had the presence of each other, as well as the presence of the Master, to cheer them, as they passed through the gloomy valley. That dark and deadly prison-house was to those Christian miners the ante-chamber of the palace of the King; and now we trust that they are experiencing the reality of that saying that “to depart and to be with Christ is far better.”
Christianity exercises its elevating power over the whole man; and very frequently the outward condition of those who yield themselves to its influence serves to render that power the more distinctly marked. Neither limited education, nor incessant toil, nor pinching poverty will hinder the humanizing influences of Gospel truth, nor exclude genuine disciples of the Saviour from some of the very highest advantages connected with social enjoyments. Prize, therefore, opportunities of intercourse with your fellows, as aiding in the cultivation of those gracious emotions on which our happiness so much depends. Even before the sanctifying power of divine grace has exercised its healing efficacy upon the heart, the cultivation of the affections may instrumentally aid in preserving from the grosser forms of sin. What is it which restrains that young man—just entering upon the busy engagements of active life—from those gross indulgences into which his sensual appetites would naturally lead him? His heart is yet unchanged. He has no taste for spiritual joys. His conscience is not yet regulated by the fear of God. He is far distant, it may be, from the home of his childhood. The parental eye no longer watches over him. But his home-affections still survive. He listens, it may be, to the seductive reasonings of those who have become already hardened in vice. He feels the promptings of impure desire. He fain would drink of pleasure’s intoxicating draught. He longs to gratify his youthful passions. But the recollections of childhood—the home-links that yet keep their hold upon his heart—oppose a barrier in the way. The image of a wise and loving father rises before the eye of his mind, and the warning words of a tender mother, yearning over him for good, seem to fall upon his ear. He recalls past scenes of innocent enjoyment, and recoils from the hardening pollution of sensual indulgence, till, it may he, the strength of a divine agency imparts the power of a safer and more vigorous resistance.
This leads me
3:Briefly to notice some of the perils and snares connected with social intercourse.
(1.) Association with others may become a snare by inducing us to neglect more pressing engagements.
(a.) He who lives always in the company of his fellow-men, must neglect the most important means of acquaintance with God and with himself. No reflecting man can be happy without seasons of quiet and retirement; and no Christian can maintain the spiritual life in vigorous activity, who habitually neglects opportunities for secret exercises. Even religious ordinances and Christian fellowship fail to counterbalance the want of solitary devotion. Some portion of our available time must be given to careful reading of the Scriptures—to self-enquiry—to waiting upon Him who seeth in secret—to thoughtful reflection on the past, and calm anticipation of the future. Many things MAY be done; some things MUST be done. Things secondary must be required to give place to those which are of primary and essential moment. On this part of the subject I do not enlarge. The above hints may suffice by way of “putting you in remembrance.”
(b.) But there are other snares connected with the enjoyment of society. The taste for companionship may lead us to neglect our business, or the duties which we owe to our own families. There is danger lest the attractions of congenial company should lead the young to regard with deficient interest the services due to those who employ them; but, perhaps, a still greater danger, lest those more advanced in life should be induced to prefer the pleasures of convivial companionship to the less exciting enjoyments of home. He who finds na solid satisfaction, no soothing solace in the society of the domestic circle, is indeed deserving either of our blame, or our compassion. We are all familiar with the sentiments expressed in Scott’s well-known lines:
Lives there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said,
This is my own—my native land!
Whose heart has ne’er within him burned
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
So, in like manner, we may ask where can a husband and a father find associations more attractive than those which are connected with the endearing ties of the domestic circle? He who habitually prefers any other home to his own, is indeed deeply to be pitied. Happy the man the sunshine of whose heart is habitually brightened by the gladdening influences of his own fireside. The legitimate delights of home constitute, instrumentally, an invaluable protection against the snares of companionship. Irradiated by the smiles of affection, and sanctified by the voice of prayer, the cottage of the peasant becomes the palace of the heavenly King.
Let me remind you of the picture which the genius of Scotland’s most distinguished poet has left us of such a cottage home:
The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face,
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
The sire turns o’er, with patriarchal grace,
The big ha’-Bible, ance his father’s pride;
His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin an’ bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care;
And “Let us worship God! “he says with solemn air.
They chant their artless notes in simple guise;
They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:
Perhaps “Dundee’s” wild warbling measures rise,
Or plaintive “Martyrs,” worthy of the name;
Or noble “Elgin” beets the heav’nward flame,
The sweetest far of Scotia’s holy lays:
Compar’d with these, Italian trills are tame;
The tickl’d ears no heart-felt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they with our Creator’s praise.
The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high;
Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amalek’s ungracious progeny;
Or how the royal Bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire;
Or Job’s pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah’s wild, seraphic fire;
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.
Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heav’n the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay His head:
How His first followers and servants sped;
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land:
How he, who lone in Patmos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand;
And heard great Bab’lon’s doom pronounced by Heav’n’s command.
Then kneeling down, to Heaven’s Eternal King,
The saint, the father, and the husband prays:
Hope “springs exulting on triumphant wing,”
That thus they all shall meet in future days:
There ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear,
Together hymning their Creator’s praise,
In such society, yet still more dear:
While circling time moves round in an eternal sphere.
Then homeward all take off their sev’ral way;
The youngling cottagers retire to rest:
The parent-pair their secret homage pay,
And proffer up to Heav’n the warm request,
That He, who stills the raven’s clam’rous nest,
And decks the lily fair in flow’ry pride,
Would, in the way His wisdom sees the best,
For them and for their little ones provide;
But chiefly, in their hearts with grace divine preside.
(2.) The dangers to which I have just been referring, naturally lead to other snares still more perilous. lie who disregards his own spiritual interests, or neglects his worldly occupation, or becomes incapable of enjoying the quiet delights of domestic life, will be exposed to all the evils resulting from the companionship of those who have cast off the restraints of religious and moral principle. There is a natural connexion between the neglect of duty and the indulgence in positive sin. The idle must have excitement. They seek it in the gratification of their sensual appetites. The convivial party— the theatre—the dancing saloons—serve to drive away the painful exercise of reflection and to quiet the whisperings of conscience; while the infidel club furnishes an opportunity for enabling those who compose it to strengthen each other in their course of sinful indulgence.
Guard, my young friends, as you value your present peace and eternal well-being, guard against the very beginnings of such a course. If you would be kept from a career of reckless indulgence, set a guard upon your words and specially watch against impurity of thought and feeling. [But I am addressing the members of a Christian Association. I may, therefore, be permitted to hope that such warnings are hardly needed. Forgive me if I seem to have even for a moment forgotten the class for which more especially these Lectures are intended.] Take the following general directions respecting the perils to which even the privileges of social intercourse may expose you. Seek first, in all such matters, to have your consciences enlightened by the teachings of Scripture, and then avoid all such association and converse as your own consciences condemn. While you yield becoming deference to the judgments and opinions of those whom you have reason to regard as wiser and more experienced than yourselves, at the same time see that you have Scriptural warrant for that which you allow and for that which you condemn. It is not well that any thing should be permitted to come between the conscience and God. In regard to social relaxations there must be, within certain limits, room left for diversity of sentiment. It would be unreasonable to expect that, after many hours of close attention to business or to study, the jaded mind of the young should always be equal to enter upon conversation of the most serious or thoughtful description, On the other hand, trifling talk, irritating controversy, evil-speaking, tend to defeat the great objects for which the blessings of association have been bestowed. If, after an evening spent in society, we find that our mental powers have been refreshed and invigorated, and our affections softened and enlarged, surely the hours have not been spent in vain.
No mode of social relaxation ought to be forbidden upon which an enlightened mind can ask the blessing of God before entering upon it, and give heartfelt thanks to the Author of all our blessings in reflecting upon its enjoyment afterwards. In all such questions the truth lies between laxity on the one hand, and unreasoning rigidity on the other. That kind of relaxation which, without operating injuriously upon our highest interests, subserves our physical and mental health, or aids in refreshing us for the duties of our outward position, is not merely allowable, but altogether legitimate. The New Testament is not so much a Book of Rules, as a Storehouse of Principles. The Scriptures forbid every species of amusement that would have a tendency to injure our health—to unfit us for our daily duties—to darken our participations of the good and the true—to weaken our faith in God, or to harden our hearts against our fellow-men. Its instructions warn us against the fellowship of those whose influence would act injuriously upon our estimate of the evil of sin, or would render us less delicately alive to every high, and honorable, and generous emotion.
I will no longer detain you. I have laid before you the result of my observations and reflections on the subject of Social Intercourse, in a manner accordant rather with my circumstances and ability, than with my expectations and desires. I am sensible how little attractive such a style of address must be to those who look chiefly for something that may furnish them with an evening’s amusement. But I selected the subject, not because it was an easy one, or likely to prove particularly attractive, but because it seemed to me adapted to persons of every class, and to involve matters of practical moment to those whom I found myself called upon to address. It has been prepared not without help having been supplicated from the Father of lights, and I have striven to write it as in His fear. To Him, you, my hearers, and I who have addressed you, will soon have to give in our account. While, therefore, we thankfully embrace opportunities of enjoying congenial society, let us never forget to cultivate seasons of thoughtful self-enquiry and elevating contemplation.
“For wisdom’s self
Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,
Where, with her best nurse, contemplation,
She plumes her feathers and lets grow her wings,
That, in the various bustle of resort,
We’re all too ruffled, and sometimes impaired.
He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i’ the centre, and enjoy bright day;
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts,
“Benighted walks under the mid-day sun:
Himself is his own dungeon.”