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And most fitly does the poet represent the joy of our first parents in each other as finding its highest expression in the united adoration of their Maker.
"When at their shady lodge arrived, both stood,
Both turned, and under open sky adored
The God that made both sky, air, earth, and heaven,
Man now enters upon his existence in the social state. However isolated the place of his birth, he is, nevertheless, ushered into the family, and is trained in the society of others. But the family-except in its first formation,-is not constituted upon the principle of elective affinity. It is society, but not chosen society. God setteth the solitary in families; and this organization is designed at once to meet and to develope the social feeling in man. Yet the mere family relation does not do this in perfection. It is too much a necessary thing or a thing of course-there is too little volition in it. Parents know why they love their children and delight in their society; and by and by children come to understand why they love or ought to love their parents, and why home is so much better than any other place on earth, and nothing so delightful as, after a season of separation, to see again father and mother face to face. When, for a season, a family is scattered, letter-writing, however full and frequent, cannot sustain the interest or supply the want of home. However many things may be said with paper and ink, and however pleasant may be the notes of travel in each day's budget, it is reserved for the re-union-the speaking face to face-to complete the joy. Then what was written must be again told with a fresh interest. But not all families are thus happy; and sometimes one and another member of the family circle is constrained to go outside of that circle in quest of the living social sympathy that every human heart instinctively craves. Brothers and sisters grow up loving each other, at first they know not why ;-until the development of character weaves some cord of elective affinity that draws them into a closer, fuller sympathy. Yet, in the course of years, it comes to pass that father and mother, brothers and sisters, and early home are all forsaken for a new love, wholly elective, that alone can meet the inmost yearning of the souland in which all the experiences, the desires, the thoughts, the hopes, the aims, of two sympathizing and congenial minds, guarded from all the world beside, are opened to each other, face to face.
Man is by nature social. A life of continuous solitude does
violence to his individual constitution, and to the constitution of the world in which he lives. God places him in society from the first. But this family organization, with all its resources and adaptations for happiness, does not, in our fallen state, meet all the wants and the capacities of man as a social being. In this alone he cannot find the fulness of joy.
Outside the family are other circles in whose society the nature of man finds in some respects the complement of itself. Yet these societies are often based upon interest, convenience, or some form of selfishness, and are governed by conventional laws. There is little heart-play in them. The speaking face to face is not always the expression or the occasion of joy. This itself is regulated too much by conventional forms or hampered by motives of interest. There are circles of friendship where the heart rules, and where each re-union is welcomed with a gush of joy; circles whose gathering is longed for by their members as a necessity of life, and in whose atmosphere all is sunshine and peace. No correspondence of the absent can impart to these the life of the present, nor can that life be fully communicated to any who do not participate in it face to face. But such circles are rare and limited. Seldom are they of unmixed purity and loveliness; and they change perpetually with the change of circumstances and the flight of years. There is no mere society, whether its bond be literature, congeniality, or friendship-however select, and however guarded, that can meet in its fullest, highest measure the social element of the soul.
But though neither the family nor the ordinary arrangements of society can satisfy this feeling, it is met perfectly in that spiritual society composed of the children of God-the true disciples of Christ, and in the communion which these together enjoy. I speak not here of a mere fellowship in a Christian church, but of the society of true Christians; and of their social communion as the children of God, as distinguished from their private personal walk with God. This communion, I say, alone meets fully man's social nature, and this is necessary also for the completeness of Christian joy. Of course this spiritual communion does not meet those social feelings and sympathies that are specially adapted to the family. It is not a substitute for these. These still have their play. But this communion is added to all other forms of pure and lawful social intercourse, to the family circle, to the circle of business, of politics, of literature, of society, of innocent pleasure, it is added I say to these as the very highest type of social communion,-its only complete and perfect type; and it may even pervade and elevate all the forms of social life so as to become the one pure and perennial source of social joy. This you may see illustrated on this wise. Let there be a family in which is found the utmost purity, kindliness and mutual love possible without the presence of religion ;-where all the charms of home are blended in the happy circle that never
knows a jar. There seems to be between the several members of that family the fulness of joy in their daily intercourse and their every social sympathy.
Suppose now that two members of this family-a brother and a sister, are awakened to a new spiritual life in Christ. Thenceforth they are drawn toward each other by a tie they never felt before, and stronger than any that hitherto has bound them. Each has become more lovely in the other's eyes; each has fathomed more deeply the other's soul, and both have felt the power of that all-encircling love that shall hold them in its fulness through eternity. And this is a tie, and this an experience in which they two are bound apart from all other members of the family. They are not selfish in their separation, they have abated none of their former love for the rest of the household; that love is the rather increased by the desire that these also should share in this new experience; but there has come into the bosom of this family, in the hearts of two of its members a new principle of life, that brings out emotions and sympathies before unknown to themselves; and far above all the delights of the family circle, the love of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, is the joy of these two regenerated soulstheir joy in each other as they speak of their innermost experiences in language that they only can understand.
Such on a great scale is the joy of Christian communion to those who as the followers of Christ are separated from the rest of mankind. They have no selfish exclusiveness, no want of interest in the family at large ;-rather, a deeper, livelier interest in its welfare than any other of its members;-they have no morbid distaste for such innocent pleasures as they have shared in common with the whole family; but they find in each other in their communion as Christians, a joy that far transcends all other joys, and in which those not spiritually renewed cannot sympathize or share.
This spiritual society is entered from choice. No one is born into it, or made a member of it by mere outward arrangements. It is the society of believers. It is founded upon character; upon moral affinities; they who compose it are alike in their principles, desires, and aims, in their one grand object for the present life, and in their hope for the future. They are subjects of the same experience, have known the same deliverance as a prelude to the same joy. And in this is one of the strongest and most peculiar bonds of their sympathy; for, other circumstances being equal, they who have known a common trial or have escaped a common danger, are ever drawn to each other more strongly than those who have known only the even tenor of joy.
Moreover, by their experience and their principles they are a separate society, and as such, are the more strongly welded together by the heat of the blows of opposition from without. They are united also in and through one common head, and by the
love they bear to Him are strengthened and enlivened in their mutual love; and they are looking onward to one blessed and eternal home in all the fulness of joy. How could it be then, but that these persons should be held together by the strongest ties, and should find in communion with each other the fullest satisfaction of their social wants.
I say in communion with each other. Imagine but two Christians upon the earth, and these separated by its diameter. Each lives in the enjoyment of communion with God, but each is solitary. He knows not of one sympathizing heart in all the world. By and by these two isolated Christians come to the knowledge of each other's existence; and by correspondence each learns the views and feelings of the other. What a thrill of joy is given by this discovery-and how does each letter with its fresh expressions of sympathy and its developments of character draw them together in bonds of love. And yet how imperfect is their communion,-how incomplete their joy. How does each long to know the person that addresses him as a brother, to grasp his hand, to look him in the eye, to hear his voice, and in return to tell him all the heart. Now bring together these two isolated brethren; let them see each other in the flesh as they have known each other through mechanical instruments. How do their hearts bound, how do their eyes overflow with joy as they speak face to face; nay, even if through emotion or want of language they cannot speak at all, what a blessed heart-union do they now feel.
The venerable apostle John had great joy in the elect lady and her children to whom he addressed this brief epistle: he knew them well; perhaps had seen them recently; he could write them now, but he felt that to speak to them face to face was necessary to his full enjoyment in them as the disciples of Christ. With what joy have I looked in the face those missionaries in distant lands whose names and labors I long had known; how sweet was that near fellowship in a strange land; but now that I have come again to you and speak face to face my joy once more is full.
This view of the necessity of Christian communion to the perfection of religious joy teaches us that a monkish seclusion from the world is contrary to the whole genius of the Gospel.
One of the earliest and most fatal perversions of Christianity was the notion borrowed from the asceticism and seclusiveness of certain old heathen priesthoods, that piety is to be best cultivated in a state of entire seclusion from mankind, amid the solitude and the privations of the hermit's cell. The extent of this perversion in the early ages of the church seems almost incredible to us in an age when there is hardly a nook or corner of the world left for solitude. But all along the brook Kedron from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, all along the valley of the Nile from the capital of Egypt to the confines of Nubia, in the fastnesses
of the mountains that skirt the Jordan and those also that lift their naked grandeur in the peninsular of Sinai and the deserts of Arabia, you will find cells hewn in the rock or formed from natural caverns that were once the resort of the saints and fathers of the Christian church. Many of these anchorites became such in the first instance by reason of persecution; but by degrees a monkish seclusion was advocated and extolled as the highest type of piety, and thus grew up a system which to this day is the incubus and the curse of all the nominal churches of the East. When Christianity retired to the cell she lost her hold upon society, because a thing exterior to society instead of a vital force within it; and thus arose, instead of a simple faith in Christ, a reverence for saints, and instead of the example and influence of living teachers of the Gospel, the spiritual domination of a privileged class esteemed the favorites of heaven;-thus arose by degrees the debasing superstition, the frivolous ceremonialism and the spiritual despotism that crippled and well nigh destroyed the church of Christ.
The same tendency is seen in certain branches or schools in the church at this day, and in the writings of those Quietists and Pietists who emulate St. Jerome and St. Antony. But no view of Christianity is more important than that which regards it as a social system, adapted to man as God has constituted and conditioned him in this world, a member of the family, of society, and of the state. While the Gospel deals with men not organically but individually and personally, and would first of all bring each individual soul into fit relations with its maker, it yet comes to men not as isolated but as social beings,-who by their very constitution need a social as well as a private religious life to develope all their nature, and to perfect their joy. Piety can be cultivated and maintained only by personal communion with God; but the condition most favorable to its development is not a seclusion from the world that does violence to man's social nature.
"We need not bid, for cloister'd cell,
Our neighbor and our work farewell,
This view of Christian communion suggests the wisdom and the desirableness of those ordinances and arrangements that are designed to facilitate that communion.
"Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together." No one can maintain an earnest piety who wilfully and habitually neglects the social worship of God.
In a case of the necessary privation of social worship, as often at sea, or to a person shut up in prison, there may be the most