THE NECESSITY OF THE SOCIAL LIFE

"Woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not 
another to help him up." ECCLESIASTES iv. 10. 

THESE words of the preacher are capable of a low 
or of a very high application. We may read them 
as the words of worldly prudence, the exhortation 
to every man to make to himself friends of the 
mammon of unrighteousness; or they may be the 
utterance of the profoundest religious philosophy, 
the statement of how God Himself has bound our 
lives together and made us rest on one another. Of 
course we give to them their highest meaning. 

And the words begin by assuming the certainty 
that every man will fall sometimes. "Woe to him 
that is alone when he falleth." We look forward 
into our lives, and a wise prudence compels us to 
recognize that there will certainly come times when 
life will flag, times when the buoyancy and courage 
upon which we rely will break, when over some one 
of the many obstacles that lie in our way we shall 
stumble. We need not be gloomy prophets. We 
need not put so blankly and hopelessly before 
ourselves the certainty of these times of faltering 
courage and of weakened principle, that we shall be 
in despair and not try to do anything for the lives 
that are so sure to meet disaster. But, on the other 
hand, it would be foolish in us to expect an even, 
level, unbroken future, a changeless prosperity and 
spiritual progress that never know a fall. Surely 
our darker and despondent days will come, our days 
of broken resolution and of feebler will. 

And when we thus look forward to them, among 
the questions which we ask ourselves ought to be 
these: "What will the best way be to meet those 
days? How shall I best prepare for them? How 
shall I best recover myself? Will it be best for me 
to be alone, or to be in company when the darkness 
comes? Will a close association with my brethren 
help me up, or hold me down with all their extra 
weight, when I have fallen?" 

It opens a wide question and a very deep one, the 
whole question of the social and the solitary life. 
Here are certain dispositions always drawing us to 
one another. Here are certain dissatisfactions al- 
ways drawing us away from one another and making 
us want to live alone. Here is the sense that our 
brethren make safety about us and call out our best 
powers into exercise. Here is another sense that 
our brethren around us make our danger, and that 
our best powers and activities often spring to life 
and do their work when we are separated and set 
all by ourselves. Which shall we follow? The 
practical answer that we mostly give is in a vacillat- 
ing life which divides itself almost at random be 
tween the two dispositions, yielding sometimes to 
one and sometimes to the other, as the feeling 
moves ; and often yielding wrongly, looking often 
to society for that culture which only solitude can 
give, and also often seeking in loneliness that 
strength which a man ought to get out of the com- 
pany of his fellow-men. 

Let us look a little at this question of society and 
solitude. It is not enough to give the easy answer 
that society is good or bad according to whom it is 
composed of; to be with good men is good for us; 
to be with bad men is bad for us. That is true, of 
course. But still the difficulty remains that the so- 
cieties which offer themselves to us are not thus 
blankly good or bad. They are all mingled and 
confused. And even between the best company 
and solitude the question is always an open one. 
How far is it best to fight the battle of one's life 
alone, and how far is it good to identify our battle 
with our brethren s, and get the advantage of their 
strength, even with all the disadvantage that it 
brings? Surely there are few questions which we 
ever meet more pressing or more puzzling than 
these. 

The first suggestion of an answer comes from our 
own experience, from what we may freely appeal to 
as the universal experience of healthy-minded men ; 
which is that whatever there is of good in us has 
been made possible and has been preserved by the 
associations with our fellow-men which have filled 
up our life. However deeply precious may seem 
the things that have come to us when we were 
alone; however we may know that the choicest 
thoughts and truest feelings have been worked out 
in solitude; everybody is certain, as he takes a 
large look back, that, on the whole, if he had been 
left to solitude he never could have come to so 
good life as he has reached in the company of his 
brethren. And the reason why he thinks so is, in 
large part, that he sees that in his darkest times, in 
the falling and fallen periods of his life, he could 
not have arisen from the depths into which he had 
been cast, he would have stayed at his worst, if it 
had not been for the rescue that came to him from 
his fellow-men. Perhaps there are great heights 
where a man may be independent, mountain-tops 
where one may walk in solitude. Perhaps there are 
exalted moments in which one seems to live his 
best, and not to need companions; but what we 
come to thank our fellow-men most for is the way in 
which they have bridged over with their company 
the uncertain places of life, and brought us up again 
when we were demoralized and broken down, that 
we have not been alone when we have fallen, but 
have had another to lift us up. 

For what is it that keeps a man down when he 
has fallen out of goodness and self-respect? When 
the spring of his life is broken and the fresh hope- 
fulness of the manly struggle to be high and pure 
and good is blurred and lost, when he has sinned 
and the burden of his sin is lying on him, what is it 
that keeps him down? What hinders him from 
springing back again into the strength and purity 
which he has lost? Mainly these things: first, his 
self-indulgence, the dreadful indolence and force of 
habit that takes possession of him ; secondly, his 
loss of reputation, the feeling that nobody expects 
or thinks anything of him any longer ; thirdly, his 
conceit and affectation, which take his sin and dis- 
grace and trick it out in some disguise of virtue or 
brilliancy, and set him to boasting of it. Picture 
any fallen man, a man who used to be brave and 
good and sober and honest. Now he has gone. 
You never see him in the paths of reputable people. 
Men look to him no more for examples of upright 
living. What has caused all this? He came to 
some bad place. He sinned. He fell into disgrace. 
And the powers that have held him down, that have 
stereotyped and perpetuated his disaster, have been 
these: He has grown self-indulgent in his sin, with 
no enterprise or energy to rise up and cast it off; 
he has ceased to care what men think about him ; 
and, having lost everything else to be proud of, he 
has grown proud of his disgrace, making believe to 
himself that it is honorable. 

Now all those are powers, as you will recognize, 
which fasten themselves upon a man in solitude. 
There he becomes self-indulgent, morose, and af- 
fected. But now suppose that that man, when he 
fell, had had a friend, one who really had been close 
to him. What would that friend have done for 
him? or, rather, what would a body of such friends 
have done for him, surrounding him on every side, 
enclosing, enshrining his tottering life? They would 
have shamed and encouraged him out of self-indul- 
gence. They would have let him see that they did 
care for him, and so kept him from being reckless 
about reputation. They would have held up before 
him the truth and righteousness from which he had 
departed, and made him know that his wickedness 
was base and not glorious. Hope, pride, and hon- 
esty, these are what they would have given him. 
These are what your friendships have given you 
many a time, and kept your falls from being fatal 
and final, and held you to recovery. 

This is the reason of it. Now, that which is 
reasonable and capable of philosophic explanation 
in the middle orders, in the mass of beings, appears 
always as an instinct which it is hard to explain, both 
in the lower beings, who seem to be below the range 
of its influence, and in the highest beings, who seem 
to be above its need. Man gets a clear and account- 
able help out of the companionship of his fellow- 
men in his darkened and weakened times; and it is 
good to see how this impulse of companionship 
plays freely from the bottom to the very top of all 
life. The animals crowd close together when the 
thunder roars, as if in company there would be 
safety. And when Jesus Christ was going to his 
agony in Gethsemane, He took with Him Peter and 
James and John. It is the social impulse running 
through all life, and making each try to appropriate 
for his own the strength of all. 

I want to urge on all of you, the young and old, 
but specially the young, the good, nay, the neces- 
sity, of social life. Do not yield to the passion for 
solitude. Knit your life to your brothers lives. 
Cultivate every true relation to your fellow-men. 
If, when things are going wrong with you either by 
misfortune or by sin, the desire springs up to live 
alone, to get away from men, beware how you in- 
dulge it. You will certainly grow self-indulgent 
and reckless and affected. That is where the in- 
dolent, cynical, headlong, and fantastic men are 
made. Not more than one man in a thousand, per- 
haps not so many, can live in solitude and yet be 
vigorous, self-respecting, simple. It needs a man 
of such wonderfully exceptional resource and truth- 
fulness to be shut up to himself ! 

It may seem as if this were not the counsel that 
men need. "Rather urge solitude," you say. 
"People are social over-much. They grow thin 
and superficial. Send them apart to think, and let 
them dwell alone that their own selves may be de- 
veloped. There is too much society." But so often 
we have seen the man in his misfortune shut himself 
away, and lose the fibre and recovery of life, that 
there does seem need to urge the preserving and 
recuperative power of a true social life. 

A true social life ! remember that that does not 
mean what often passes for society. The ordinary 
contacts of men in business, whose knowledge of 
and care for one another is limited to their mere 
business interests, who never talk anything but 
business ; and the frivolous meetings of what we call 
fashionable life ; these are not true companionship. 
Out of their very midst a man or woman falls, and 
they have no power of help. The dumb company 
of brute with brute in a pasture or a barnyard, their 
stolid huddling to each other's sides, means more of 
real association than much that we call social life. 

But the true society, in which man really meets with 
man, and mind with mind, and heart with heart, and 
character with character that is another thing, a 
thing you cannot do without. As you shun the 
false, so seek the true. Draw really near your fel- 
lows, and do not live alone. 

Let me refer in a few words to some of the con- 
ditions in which the tendency to solitude is apt to 
assert itself most strongly, and ask you to observe 
how bad it is. It often becomes strong in periods 
of doubt. When truth appears unsettled to a man, 
and he is all adrift, how apt he is to let his life float 
away into some solitary creek, and there to moor 
it and let it toss on the waves till it decays. He 
draws off from the crowd of busy and believing 
men, and spends his days in moody uselessness, 
brooding upon himself. Would we were not so 
familiar with the sad consequences ! First, a dull 
and hopeless indolence, which tells itself over and 
over that it is not worth while to seek for truth ; 
then a definite disregard whether men think that it 
is good to believe or not ; and then an affected ec- 
centricity which wears its skepticism like a plume. 
Now set that same doubter in the midst of men and 
keep him there. I do not say, let him take their 
faith for his, but let him see that faith, and faith 
alone, is doing work and making men brave and 
happy everywhere; and he must lose at least the 
wretchedest part of unbelief, and come to know 
that truth is good, and to be sure that men can find 
it, and to set himself with new courage to the 
generous and glorious search. 

And so, when a man undertakes to think. Is it 
not true that all solitary thinking has a tendency to 
grow hopeless and defiant and fantastic? The best 
and truest Christian thoughts, the sweetest, the 
healthiest, the best balanced, have come not from the 
hermits or the monks, but from the heart of Chris 
tian society and work ; where men and women living 
Christian lives held up the thinker in his feebler 
moods, and made him earnest, simple, practical. 
No man by nature thinks so truly and so surely that 
you could send him off alone, and let him come 
back after years, and not be sure that his thoughts 
would have grown self-indulgent, conceited, and 
distorted. 

Or, take the great emotional epochs of one's life. 
In times of strong emotion there comes the strong 
impulse to break away from and have no more to do 
with a world whose ordinary doings seem to be so 
far below the high condition to which we have been 
brought. It may be hard for you to recollect it 
now, but you have seen such times. In great and 
overwhelming joy it comes. What can this dull 
earth, living its placid life of averages, know about 
this leaping delight which has transfigured every- 
thing for you? How coldly it answers to your 
ecstasies ! These people take your hand and say to 
you, "I am glad for you"; but what has their 
sober, indifferent gladness to respond to these full 
veins and eager hopes of yours? 

Or, here comes sorrow, and the impulse then is 
stronger still. This ache about the heart, this sense 
of want which does not relieve itself in any effort to 
restore that dear thing which must be forever want- 
ing, this desolation which is as personal and all your 
own as was the love which made it possible, why 
should this stay here in the crowd, where the kindest 
hands touch it only to make it ache a little more? 
Why should it listen to a sympathy which only 
brushes and wounds its surface? Why should not 
such a sorrow creep away and hide where none can 
gaze upon it, nor try to comfort it ; where it can live 
on its own luxury of woe? 

O my dear friends, I know how natural are both 
desires ; but indeed it is not good to yield to either 
of them. Your joy and sorrow will be strong and 
healthy only as you keep them among your brethren. 
Do not try to carry them away. It is no superficial 
impulse which sometimes drives the very happy or 
the very sorrowful into the presence and the com- 
pany of men. There, their happiness and sorrow 
are held in place, held firm and upright, so that the 
new life which grows about them grows straight and 
true. Both into the Mountain of Transfiguration 
and into the Garden of Agony Christ took with him 
Peter and James and John; and surely He took 
them not for their sake alone but also for His own. 

So everywhere dread and escape a lonely life. 
Even the frivolous companionships of men have a 
humanity about them which is preservative, and are 
better than solitude. The worst, certainly the most 
persistent and ineradicable, of vices, are those which 
men conceive and execute alone. It is the social 
life that holds the soul in its true place. I know 
you will not think that I have pleaded in behalf of 
social life just as it is, in behalf of what you call 
Society, with all its follies and its falsenesses, but 
in behalf of something far deeper and far higher. 

And now we want, if we can, to separate these 
two the ideal and the real society and see if we 
can tell at all how the man who must live with his 
fellow-men may find the way of living with them 
that shall be most unmixed with harm. If, then, 
we try to estimate the tendencies of social life, I 
think that the one which would strike us all most 
generally would be its disposition to produce uni- 
formity, to keep at once the bad from sinking as 
low, and the good from rising to as lofty a height, 
as would be the case if their lives were wholly by 
themselves and wholly free. Social life is some- 
thing like a sheet of ice upon the surface of a pond. 
It holds up the stones which are frozen in it so that 
they shall not sink, and it holds down the light, am- 
bitious particles so that they shall not start up and 
soar away into the clouds. As we look round upon 
the actual life of society, can we not all see both of 
these powers at work? We shall see some men of 
whom we feel sure that, if the restraints and decen- 
cies of social life were broken up, they would drop 
like lead. They are held out of wickedness by the 
standards and habits of the times and places where 
they live. And then there are other men who, you 
fear, are held back from any great and venturesome 
enterprise, from any exceptional characteristic vir- 
tue, by these same restraints. If they were living 
alone, you feel certain that they would break out 
into lofty thoughts and blaze into original and 
splendid works, which are impossible here in this 
average of life. 

Very often this equalizing, levelling power of 
social life vexes and burdens us. It gives an unreal 
look to people's virtues. Who knows whether 
they are essentially, intrinsically good? Who knows 
whether they be not stones which, if the ice were 
melted, would fall and sink? And it leaves us al- 
ways in doubt how much we may be losing in the 
remarkable men or actions which society is stifling. 
We have this same feeling about ourselves. We are 
not doing our worst ; and though our best may not 
be much we are not doing even that. We are living 
a level decency, a tame monotony and uniformity. 
Society seems to be pressed flat and thin between 
two great hands ; one pressing up from beneath and 
keeping the failures of society from falling very low ; 
the other pressing down from above, and keeping the 
saints and heroes of society from rising very high. 

Do you recognize the description? And what 
shall save us from the evil influence without losing 
for us the good? What shall set us free to be our 
best, and yet preserve the power which keeps us 
from being our worst? Not a moody retirement, a 
selfish isolation, but a higher consecration ; not 
solitude, but some companionship higher and larger 
than our companionship with fellow-man, and yet 
including it, not inconsistent with it. And that 
must be a consecration to and a companionship with 
God. Sometimes, unless our lives have been ex- 
ceptionally unhappy, we have seen a man or woman 
who seemed to us to almost realize an ideal of living; 
some one who lived in the world and yet was not its 
slave, who seemed to get out of society all the good 
it had to give, and leave its harm behind. While 
other men said, " This is all worthless and rotten," 
and went off to crunch the crust of their own soli- 
tude, he staid where they had fled and ate the food 
which they called poison and throve upon it. It 
seemed as if for him the upward pressure on society 
was kept, so that it was a constant safeguard to him ; 
and the downward pressure was removed, so that he 
could always freely go forth and be his best. 

You who know it most thoroughly will bear me 
witness that there are not many such men or women 
in our social life. But there are some ; and what is 
their secret? How does it come that they move 
free and erect where we go slavishly crouching? Is 
it not simply this : that over and above, surround- 
ing and including all their life with fellow-men, there 
is a life with God? That consecration overrules 
every devotion to society. All social relations 
come as His helps and ordinances; and so, just as 
the business man, doing his business for a purpose 
beyond his business, gets from his business its rich 
cultures, and goes unpoisoned by its lower influ- 
ences ; so the man or woman of society, living a life 
with God above and round the life with fellow-men, 
finds in this last a steady support and help, and yet 
never a restraint to bind the soul from any most 
ambitious and characteristic flight to which God 
beckons it. 

This is the secret. This was what made the social 
life of Jesus Christ the absolutely perfect type of a 
man s living with his fellow-men. He came as close 
to them as possible; but always He was closer to 
His Father. He loved them, but He loved God 
more, and them in God. He loved the places where 
they gathered, but when He sat among them in the 
very centre of their densest crowds, through the 
people who pressed around Him there came like an 
unseen ether the subtler spiritual presence of God. 
It was not that He sat there touching them but not 
thinking about them, present in body but absent in 
the spirit. He was close to them ; closer than man 
ever came to men. But through them came to Him 
the farther and deeper companionship of God. And 
so the result was that, while they helped His life, 
they never hampered it; while from them and His 
work for them He drew the stimulus that kept Him 
from discouragement, He constantly outwent them. 
All was free, upon the upper side, for Him to pass 
out into the company of God. 

I think that this should be the picture of all social 
life. I have said that you ought not to live alone. 
Indeed you ought not. You ought to live with your 
brethren, as close to them, as clearly in the midst, as 
you can get. But to live with them rightly, you 
must have the secret which Christ had, the secret of a 
companionship with God surrounding and pervading 
all your companying with your brethren. Unless 
you have that, you will be bound by the society 
that saves you ; and while your social life preserves 
you from flagrant wickedness, it will also imprison 
you from active and enterprising goodness. 

And here comes in a word upon the other side, a 
word to those who make as well as to those who re- 
ceive the influences of social life. It is the object 
of true social life to keep men from sin, and to help 
them to their best development. It is a question 
for you all to ask how far social life, as it exists 
among us, is doing both these things. That it is 
doing the first to some good extent, I freely grant. 
It is setting the weak wills and unstable passions of 
many young people into the stability of its fixed 
standards, and saving them from flagrant vice by its 
prescriptive decencies. Is it doing the other thing 
as well? Is it helping every character to its own 
best development? Is it so free upon the upper side 
that any man or woman fired by some new impulse 
to do a work for God that is new, fresh, sincere, and 
personal may do it with the cordial encouragement 
of a society that delights to see any man lead the 
way to some goodness better than its own? As 
society stamps some vices as disgraceful, has it no 
tendency to stamp some virtues as quixotic? As 
one young person after another comes into it, is he 
met at its door by the spirit of the society which he 
is entering, saying to him: "You must not do foul 
and dishonest things here, for they are disgraceful ; 
but you may be just as good, as pure, as truthful, 
as Christlike as you will, and we will like you all the 
better." Is it not rather a spirit saying something 
like this: "You must not lie or steal or be wantonly 
foul here, for it is vulgar ; but, just as much, you must 
not be overgood, nor say too much of Christ, nor 
think too much of God, nor strike any new or origi 
nal note of manliness and truth, for it is troublesome. 

Here are our iron plates, indicating the greatest 
virtue and the greatest vice allowable. Lay yourself 
here between them, and the softer you are the 
sooner we will press you into shape." It becomes 
those who have influence and leadership in our 
society, to ask which of these is the greeting with 
which the newcomer is welcomed to the coveted 
and crowded halls. 

All that I have said about life in general has its 
peculiar application to the Christian life. There, 
too, there is a solitary and a social way of living; 
and there, too, the social life is necessary for the 
fullest health and steadiness. A man becomes a 
Christian. The Bible calls that, as you know, his 
being "born again." His life begins the life with 
Christ, the life in God. How shall he live that life 
alone, as if there were no soul but his attempting it ; 
drawing its strength and its supply only out of its 
own personal relations with its great Supplier? 
Sometimes such solitude is forced upon the Chris 
tian. Sometimes the world of fellow-believers seems 
to fall away and leave him travelling alone a road 
that seems to stretch itself on and on as if no feet 
had ever trod that path before him. But the Chris 
tian life was not meant to live in such a solitude for- 
ever, nor is it suited to it. It is a social life. All its 
movements suggest and prophesy a brotherhood. 
That Brotherhood of Believers is the Christian 
Church. 

Now, the Christian Church is to the single disciple 
what all society is to the solitary man, only upon a 
higher plane. We have said that society keeps men 
from indolent self-indulgence, from defiant reckless- 
ness, and from affectation ; and that, the more I 
watch it, seems to me just what the Church does for 
the Christian. You are a servant of Christ. I may 
believe it, though you never said it, though your faith 
never took any of those great sacramental utterances 
which would send it in to swell the chorus of all the 
Christian faith in all the ages. You say, "Why 
should I take any place in the visible Church? 
W T hat have I to do with Baptism, Confirmation, 
Communion?" It ought to make you solemn when 
you remember how earnestly, how impressively, 
how lovingly, in the very last precious moments of 
His precious life, your Lord commanded nay, 
begged you to do what you have never done. It 
ought to stir your conscience when you see this 
world, which needs your Christian influence, robbed 
of it by your silence. But I put all that aside. I 
speak to you only of yourself. If this unuttered 
faith of yours is always growing sluggish, losing its 
manly courage, making excuses for itself; if it is 
self-asserting, scornful of the judgments and holy 
standards of the world s long Christian experience; 
if it loves eccentricity and affects singularity; be 
sure here is what you need, to set that feeble, flut 
tering, fantastic faith of yours into the Body of the 
Faith which is historic, old as the Lord s own words, 
and yet forever new as the experience of the last 
young believer, to put your solitude into the safety 
of a society, to enshrine your Christianity in the 
Church. 

The Church, like all true society, is strength, but 
it is not restraint. If she becomes restraint, she 
loses her true character. The ideal Church is one 
that shall hold her children strongly on the lower 
side, and set them free as heaven on the upper side ; 
keep them that they do not fall into sin, but hold 
her doors wide open, nay, cast her roof away that 
they may rise to any unexpected goodness or truth 
to which their Lord, for whom she holds them, may 
summon them. For the strength and safety of the 
faith you have, for the hope and promise of the 
higher faith that you might have, the higher life that 
you might live, I stand, as it were, at the door of 
that Church, and in the name of your Master and 
mine, I invite you to enter in. 

We look around, and all the world is full of fel- 
lowship. Solitude is everywhere unnatural and bad. 
All things seek their companionships. The atoms 
gravitate to masses everywhere. And so men seek 
each other. The impulse is so superficial often ; but 
it might be so profound ! Let us not trifle with so 
vast and universal a desire as this which brings us 
into constant fellowship. Not for mere pastime or 
amusement, not by vague instinct, but by reason- 
able purpose, let us have to do with each other's life. 
Living in society, yet always keeping clear our own 
personality within all, and the higher companionship 
of God around all ; helping and being helped ; steady- 
ing ourselves on others, and helping up others as 
they fall, while all together we are going on to Christ ; 
if that should come, all the old questions between 
society and the Church would be settled forever. 
Such a society as that would be the Christian Church. 
We could not be too deeply in the very centre of a 
society like that. Its light would be the present 
glory, its music the present voice, of God ; and al- 
ready in this city of the earth we should be living in 
the New Jerusalem.