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True bliss, if man may reach it, is composed
Cowper. Of all the tasks enjoined by duty or imposed by friendship, few, Melissa, are more difficult to perform, or, when performed, more likely to prove unsuccessful, than that of giving advice.
Advice, which the sincerest friends are sometimes compelled by the purest motives of benevolence to communicate unasked, is seldom gratefully acknowledged, or even received with the decent ceremony of respect. The very attempt is frequently considered as an impeachment of the understanding and the heart of him to whom it is offered : and though he may not be so vain as to believe himself beyond the reach of instruction, yet he feels so much of his own importance, as to think the interposition officious; that attention to the common rules of decorum should at least have imposed silence; and that his monitor
would have acted more in character, had his judgment been withheld until it was requested.
In delivering an opinion when it is sought with solicitude, there is certainly less risk of displeasure: for who can be displeased with the completion of his wishes ? In this case, however, he that counsels must not always expect his decisions to be received as oracular and implicitly followed ; because the man that finds himself bewildered in contemplating an object of pursuit, generally endeavours to extricate himself without the assistance of others, and rarely discontinues the attempt till he has removed, or thinks he has removed, every impediment that obstructed his progress and damped his hope.
He no longer finds objections to combat, nor difficulties to surmount. He therefore ceases to hesitate; he determines at once the course he shall steer, and afterwards entreats direction-not with his mind in perfect equilibrium-not so much with a view to increase knowledge to make either scale preponderate that he may decide with the balance, as to know whether the sentiments of others concur with
Are we then, it may be asked, to withhold the salutary aid of advice, because it is sometimes ungratefully contemned, sometimes received with indifference, and at others entirely neglected ? Are there none willing to hear the voice of instruction, and ready to follow the dictates of friendship ?None who believe that wisdom is profitable to direct, and that in the multitude of counsellors there is safety? Yes; there is still a generation that are not wise in their own eyes, and among this number * ?m happy to think Melissa is included; I therefore
cheerfully comply with her request, suggesting at the same time, that, as all human decisions are subject to error, an appeal should always be made to the testimony of Him whose commandments are faithfulness, and whose ways are truth. Let these be your delight, and your counsellors ; for He hath ordained that every work shall be brought into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
You ask, Melissa, whether, in forming a matrimonial connexion, it be absolutely your duty to give your hand to the man whom you have reason to consider as a true Christian ; or whether, without incurring the Divine displeasure, it may not be given to one who is nominally 'such, provided his character and his conduct, in other respects, be fair and respectable ?
In reply to this interesting inquiry, I might say, with a sensible writer, “ That a woman who receives for her husband a person of whose moral and religious character she knows no more than that it is outwardly decent, stakes her welfare upon a very hazardous experiment. She who marries a man not entitled even to that humble praise, in hope of reclaiming him, stakes it on an experiment in which there is scarcely a chance of her success.'
I feel, however, no hesitancy in declaring that I think it your indispensable duty, as a Christian, to give your hand and your heart to the man whom you have reason to view as a follower of Jesus; and that I think a contrary practice, let the character or the conduct of the man, in other respects, be ever so unblemished, not only inimical to conjugal felicity, but absolutely sinful in itself.
• In forming a connexion of such vast importance as that of marriage, the characters, Believer and Unbeliever, are extremely discordant; the association appears at once improper and unnatural; there can be no agreement; the very terms imply opposition ; and surely little happiness can be reasonably expected where the very attempt to gain it involves a competition of interests.
The precept graciously given to the disciples of Jesus respecting marriage, has been perhaps but seldom properly considered; nay, in many instances, a contrary conduct warrants a suspicion that it has never been consulted. But it was not so with Christians in apostolic times. Their souls were lively and spiritual, replete with affection and gratitude. They felt too strong an attachment to their Divine Master, to think of making a league with his enemies. They knew that the Lord had set apart him that is godly for himself; that they were gathered from among the heathen to give thanks to his holy name, and to triumph in his praise. Their language was like that of Paul in another case, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."
Of the propriety of believers being united to each other in the bonds of marriage, the church at Corinth seems to have been thoroughly convinced ; nay, this conviction went further; for it operated so strongly on the minds of those who had been recently converted from heathenism to the Christian faith, as to make it a question whether the change they had happily experienced did not dissolve the marriage intracted when both parties were, as to Christianity,