Page images
PDF
EPUB

LETTER XII.

Entreat - the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. - 1 Tim. v. 2.

FEMALE SOCIETY, MARRIAGE, ETC.

MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND:— A clergyman will, of course, have much and constant occasion to be in the company of females. They form a most interesting and active part of every church. Many things may be accomplished by their pious agency, which could scarcely be attained in any other way. And happy, indeed, is that minister of the gospel, who, by wisdom, fidelity, prudence, and Christian delicacy, is enabled to conciliate the esteem, and to acquire and maintain the unlimited confidence of his female parishioners, and of other persons of worth of that sex, with whom he may be called in Providence to associate. He who fails of doing this, cannot either be very acceptable or very useful; while he who succeeds in attaining it, not only possesses one of the most valuable pledges of permanent popularity, but also enjoys advantages for doing good of the richest kind. The female part of every congregation have, in general, an influence, which, while it cannot be defined, cannot, at the same time, be resisted. And, for the most part, this influence, I believe, is as just in its ultimate award, as it is sovereign in its sway.

That department of clerical manners and habits, then, which has a respect to females, is at once, one of the most delicate and important that can pass under review. I am aware, too, of the great difficulty of treating this subject, especially in reference to unmarried clergymen, in a profitable manner.

While it is a subject concerning which counsel is more frequently needed than almost any other; it is one, at the same time, in which feeling and caprice are so apt to triumph over reason, that, when counsel is most urgently needed, it is seldom heard, or, at least, seldom properly weighed. What else, indeed, can be expected, when so large a portion of mankind, and especially of the young, and even of the conscientious and pious, seem to think that here, if ever, inclination ought to bear a sovereign sway; and that listening to the dictates of prudence, is a sort of high treason against that refined system of “sentimentalism" which they suppose ought absolutely to govern in such cases. This is being weak and foolish, if the expression may be allowed, upon principle. And hence, I have known, again and again, some of the most sober-minded and excellent people of my acquaintance giving themselves up to matrimonial partialities and connections manifestly unworthy of persons in their senses, and so perfectly deaf to all the suggestions of wisdom, that they deserved the discipline of the rod just as much as children at school.

I do not deny that ardent affection is necessary to matrimonial happiness; and am as ready to grant, as the most sentimental of my youthful acquaintance,

that marriages contracted on the ground of mercenary calculation, or even from the mere dictates of cold prudence, promise little conjugal enjoyment. But does it follow from this concession, that a reflecting man, and especially a man of religious principle, ought to allow himself to fall in love with the first pretty face he sees, without the least reference to his highest obligations, and without the least knowledge of the temper, intellect, principles, habits and manners of the individual? Surely a man ought as sacredly to take care, before marriage, on whom he bestows his affections, as afterwards that he confine them to the object whom he has chosen. There are limits, then, beyond which inclination ought not to be allowed to govern in this matter. So I should decide in the case of any one who meant to act the part of a rational being.

But a minister of the gospel is peculiarly bound to summon to his consideration, on this whole subject, a solemn reference to his official character, duties, and usefulness, as well as to his personal taste. And he who allows himself to make a sacrifice of the former to the latter, is unfaithful to himself, and to his God. Whatever others may do, when he thinks of selecting a partner for life, he should have before him his high office, and all the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom to which he has devoted himself, as well as his own personal gratification. Happy is the man who, in this interesting concern, is favoured with “ that wisdom which cometh down from above," and is enabled perfectly to unite the tenderest impulses of affection with the sternest dictates of duty !

1. In reference to this subject, my first leading

suggestion is, that there are some clergymen who ought never to marry. While I firmly believe, that the doctrine which enjoins celibacy on the clergy generally, is, as the apostle styles it, “a doctrine of devils," and that it has led, and must always lead, to the most enormous evils; I have, at the same time, no doubt, that the minister who deliberately resolves to spend his days as an evangelist, or an evangelical itinerant, ought, if he can be happy in a single state, to continue in that state. I am of the opinion that neither Wesley nor Whitefield, for example, ought ever to have married. They were both, indeed, strangely injudicious in the selection of a partner; but I doubt whether any woman could have been happy with either of them herself, or have made either of them happy, as long as they pursued the course of life to which they were devoted. I think, too, I could name some individuals now living, in our own country, whose usefulness is greatly extended by their declining to entangle themselves with those worldly cares which the conjugal relation seldom fails to induce. I know not that you have in view any such plan of ministerial labour. If you have, and if you can be comfortable in a life of celibacy, I would advise you never to marry. In this case, you may give yourself more entirely to your work; your movements, however incessant, may be untrammelled; much less will suffice for your decent support, than if you had a family; and thus you may afford essential aid to many congregations, from which you would be in a great measure shut out, if you were bound by domestic ties. There ought to be a few such ministers in every church of large extent. Yet no one ought I give

to be constrained, or even persuaded, to choose such a plan of life. Nor should any one adopt it, unless it be the object of his deliberate and devout preference. And even after having adopted it, for a time, he ought to feel himself at full liberty to retract, and assume the conjugal bond, whenever he is fully persuaded that he can serve the church better by taking this course.

2. My next counsel, however, is, that, in general, every settled minister should consider it as his duty, as well as his privilege, to be a married man. this advice, because I am deliberately of the opinion, that the matrimonial connection, when formed in wisdom, and in the fear of God, is by far the happiest union which the society of this world furnishes; and which, when really happy, approaches nearer than any other to the bliss of better society on high. I am so far from thinking that a state of celibacy is a state of greater “perfection" than any other, as some religionists have taught, that I am wholly unable to read the second chapter of Genesis, to say nothing of any other Scripture, without coming to a directly opposite conclusion. But, while all the considerations verifying the early declaration of our Maker, that it is not good for a man to be alone, which apply to other men, apply equally to him; there are additional considerations, which show that a happy matrimonial union is of peculiar importance to a minister. If he be married, his female parishioners will have more confidence in him, and feel more freedom in approaching him. He will himself, also, in this case, be delivered from a great many embarrassments and temptations which would otherwise beset his ministerial intercourse with

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »