THE SOCIAL CIRCLE
The Word Society is used to designate the set of people with whom we are on more intimate terms of acquaintanceship -- whom we call friends -- and those whom we do not know so well, and whom we call acquaintances. The term society may also have other definitions, such as,
"1. A collective body of persons composing a community, or the aggregate of such communities. 2. A body of persons associated for a common object.3. The more favoured class or classes, or the fashionable portion of the community."
The Extent of the social circle of any man or woman is largely dependent upon personal choice. There are persons who are exclusive in their preferences and who seek only the society of those of the same rank, wealth or profession as themselves. Hence the different classes in society at large. The pride of the poor often equals the pride of the rich in this matter.
The Character of a social circle is also dependent upon the convictions and opinions of those who compose it. There is a social conscience which is very lax in one group and will allow almost any departure from the moral law, but in another group it is very strict in its requirements. The social conscience is constantly weakened in one case by persons joining the first group, who are weak in moral principle; and as constantly strengthened by those, joining the second group, who are strong in the things which make for a right life.
The Example of Christ. -- When Christ came upon earth He found that the rich and educated classes had largely withdrawn from all intercourse with those whom they considered beneath them. He also saw that the tone of society was arrogant and that of moral restraint there was none at all or it was exceedingly weak. The situation was such that many men despaired of anything better and were secluding themselves from intercourse with their fellow men. John the Baptist felt that he could not stem the tide of evil in society and retired to the desert to deliver his message. Those who contend for the regeneration of a corrupt society, and who are decidedly in the minority, always are prone to step outside and seek to do their work there, and sometimes it may be the best to do so.
Jesus however entered into the midst of society. He went to feasts (Luke 5:29,30; 7:36; 19:5). He was present at a wedding (John 2: 1-11). He said that the kingdom of God was like unto ten virgins who prepared to attend a wedding (Matthew 25:1-13). So constantly did He enter into social intercourse with men that the Pharisees and the scribes criticised Him severely for it (Luke 15:2) but Jesus justified His course in being "social to save" by the three parables; the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost boy (Luke 15:1-24). He gave a great feast at which about five thousand men were present besides women and children (Matthew 14:15-21). He told what garments a guest should wear at a wedding, what seat he should take and who should be invited (Matthew 22:11-14; Luke 14:7-24). He did not wait for men to come to Him, but He went out to meet them by the seaside, and in the city. He sent His disciples out also that He through them might do as wide a work as possible. There is no trace of the recluse in Jesus. He desired to meet people of all classes and mingle with them. At the last He gathered His disciples about Him, in an upper room, and instituted a memorial supper as the chief ordinance of His church (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:26-30).
Everything that Jesus did in meeting people in a social way had a purpose and that was to level up society and cause it to conform to the principles of the kingdom of God. Wherever He went He led the conversation to the better things of this kingdom. The man who quotes Jesus and His relation to society, as a justification of attendance upon numerous social functions, ought also to carry out the purpose of Jesus in bringing others to a better life; he ought also to lead the conversation to the same topics. If society sways any man from the right purposes of life, and he finds that he cannot breast its temptations he should remain out of it or increase his spiritual strength.
The Christian Society, composed of a body of persons associated for the common object of exploiting Jesus Christ and His principles, at first was almost wholly social. The early Christians met in each others' houses. They partook of meals in common after which they observed the Lord's supper. The basis of organization was the fraternal equality of believers. The barriers between the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned, seemed to drop of themselves. No pressure was brought to bear to force men together in this fraternal organization, but they were united by a common love for Jesus Christ, their Lord, and like Him they were at home in all social circles. No law, no urgency of appeal, no pressure, can to-day abolish class distinctions or the conflict between capital and labour. It is only when men's hearts are filled with love for Christ that they cease to antagonize and begin to care for each other and a true social bond is formed.
"There is no problem of importance to humanity which has not some relation to the Gospel of Christ."
There is a social question and it is a live question. It is closely related to the wrongs and inequalties of life, in wealth, in position, in privileges and in opportunities. There is a social impulse which causes men to get together in smaller and larger groups and through these groups to found institutions which will aid in abolishing the wrongs and in lessening the inequalities. It is in and through social institutions that the larger life of the individual is expressed and he is able to bring about certain results, working in connection with other individuals, which he alone could not bring to pass. In the social organism there is specialization of work, one member performing one function and another another and all working in harmony for a common purpose (1 Corinthians 12:14-27).
There are three great social institutions through which men seek the larger life, the family, the church, and the state. They exist in some form, elementary and crude it may be, wherever man is found.
Christianity entering into all human relations, has much to say about their construction and specific powers and duties. Its mission is not only to regenerate the heart of the individual but to penetrate and transform society. "Its work is to leaven the whole mass of human interests with a divinely purifying power. It touches every act and every relation of humanity with a life from above, and interpenetrates all that a man can do with a new spirit and a heavenly light. It affects governments, moulds education, rectifies manners, sweetens fellowship, makes the common ways of men better, healthier, happier, as well as holier. Its endeavour is to realize a divine society not hereafter only, but upon earth; to have the kingdom of God come not in the skies alone or in the future merely, but here and among men."
The Family. -- This is the earliest and most primitive social institution. We are all born into some family, however imperfect its form. Upon the family depends in large measure the good or bad training of the children; here they receive their earliest impressions and what they are taught in the family often dominates all other instruction. If the bond between husband and wife is not regarded as binding and sacred the institution of the family becomes corrupt and a menace to the good order of society.
Jesus spoke in no uncertain way about the sacredness of the marriage relation (Matthew 19:3-9; 5:32) and the obedience which children owed to their parents (Matthew 15:4-6).
The Church. -- Man has been called "a religious animal." His desire to worship is instinctive. He seeks the care and protection of a stronger power than himself. Even a man who says he has no religious opinions will often be found, when questioned, to hold most strongly to things which he believes. Individuals, then holding to certain religious beliefs, naturally come together and form groups in which they worship in common. This is the social impulse applied to worship, because man likes to do things in connection with his fellow men.
Christ sought to direct men to the proper object of worship (John 4: 23,24; 14:6-11), the way to pray (Matthew 6:5-15), the way to enter into life with God (John 3:1-21) and the character which was required of those who desired to lead the divine life (Matthew 5:1-16; chapters 5-7). Men who believe in the principles of Jesus Christ associate themselves together in a Christian church.
The Government. -- Everywhere we find men uniting for mutual protection against their enemies, the guarding of property, the settling of disputes between individuals, the administration of justice and the exercise of other powers. This government may take different forms from the one man power in a monarchy to that of the most liberal democracy. The necessity for some form of government seems plain.
Christ recognized the duties which a man owed to the state when He said, in answer to the lawyer's question, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." He saw the corruption in the government of His times as plainly as any one, more plainly in fact, but He was showing the necessity of the functions of government. He submitted to the decree of the state condemning Him to death although He knew it to be unjust, and that the power was not with Pilate (John 19:10,11; Matthew 26:52,53).
What Jesus sought to do was to usher in a new kingdom of righteousness. He taught His disciples to pray for the coming of this kingdom upon earth. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." He was continually speaking of this kingdom (Matthew 13:24-52). He declared that all nations should come to Him finally to be judged (Matthew 25:31,32). One great theme of the prophets of the Old Testament was the righteousness, purity and justice of the new government which God desires to set up amongst men.
Social damage comes to men and great evil is done to individuals when social institutions are not patterned after the plans given by Christ; these are divine institutions when they seek to approach to the divine ideal. Much of the unquiet and restlessness of the masses of men to-day and the great wrongs in the world are due to the tampering with the marriage relation, the substitution of the worship of wealth and worldly power for God, and the seeking of government positions, not to be of service to men under God but to rule over men.
Social health and vigour will come in the family, church and government when men turn again to God and obey and serve Him through the social institutions with supreme love and enthusiasm for His service.
In Socialism. -- There are many schemes presented to-day under the broad term of Socialism which have for their proposed end the betterment of the people, the abolishment of all wrongs and the bringing in of a new order of things; where every man shall do a minimum amount of work and receive a large return for what he does. These plans vary from the mildest of reforms -- and from "the public collective ownership of land and capital and the public collective management of all industries" with the recognition of certain private rights -- to the taking of all land and capital absolutely from private control, the abolishing of the right to hold private property, the giving up of the marriage relation, the suppression of the church and the renunciation of the government.
The trouble with extreme schemes of this sort is that they seek in the end to abolish the individual and private rights, even in marriage. But all social and moral health and wealth is but the aggregate of individual health and wealth. No community and no class of men are better than the men who compose them. If there are evils in the present system they would continue, in a magnified form, in the new. There is here the old political fallacy, made over into a new social fallacy, that by mere putting of the ballot into every man's hands the government would be purified of all its evils. We must begin with the individual to purify him before the state or society can be made much better. It is the levelling down, the bringing the better working man to the rate of work and quality of the poorer, which is sought, rather than the levelling up. The common goods scheme was tried early in the career of the Christian Church and it failed to work because of the element of selfishness which came in (Acts 2: 44,45; 4:34; compare 5:1-11); this has been the cause of the breaking up of numerous social and communistic settlements and communities.
In Christianity. -- When the precepts of Christianity have been accepted and lived up to by any man or company of men, they have never failed to stand all the social tests which have been applied to them. They seek the regeneration of the individual and the purification and usefulness, for him, of all the social institutions. They endeavour to abolish evil desires and practices in the individual and all social, industrial and political wrongs. They give full play to all man's powers in private and in public matters. They have never been proved inadequate to their task, but they have found much refractory material with which to deal.
They level up not down and seek for every man a new moral and physical life; they present before him the very highest ideals of life and service.
It is a fact that it is only where their light shines that the working man has anything like decent wages or hours of labour. In China, India and Africa we find the labourer gets little or nothing for his toil.
It is only in Christian countries that we have anything approaching true social equality, in others no man may rise out of his caste or class. Take the United States and we find that a number of our presidents have come from the poorest families and most of our influential and wealthy men have risen from the ranks of the common people.
It is the lack of Christian principles in individual, industrial and public life which is at the bottom of the present day social unrest.
In Christ, the Social Reformer. -- When He came upon the earth and before His time all labour was performed by slaves without pay and with but a dole of food. The mighty buildings of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Greece and Rome were all built by the unrequited toil of slaves. Such would have continued to be the state of things had not Christ said, "The labourer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7; Matthew 10:10). That a working man should receive wages or any pay for his labour was revolutionary in that time for "Plato, Cicero, Lycurgus held that it was a disgrace to touch the implements of toil." Christ dignified labour by toiling at the bench as a carpenter. If ever labour is to gain any real advantage it must be through taking Christ as a leader (Matthew 11:28).
He taught that the true bond of social equality was a moral and spiritual one (Luke 8:21; Matthew 23:8; Philippians 3:13-15; 4:8).
In the Social Settlement. -- What is a true social settlement? This question is not so easily answered. There are all kinds and sorts of social settlements. Some minister to the health of the community in which they are situated and some do not. The saloon has recently put forth its claim to the doing of social service, but no one ever slandered a saloon keeper by affirming that he had anything in view save a selfish motive. Whatever little social service he may render is more than counterbalanced by the social havoc wrought by his trade. Again there are social settlements where the principal thought and effort seems to be to provide somewhat questionable vaudeville entertainments and frequent public dances; the leaders say they are compelled to adopt these features to hold the people; here comes in again the question of social damage to the community in which they are situated.
The true social settlement, with all its features of mental and physical culture, is one which places Christ at the front of all its work and keeps Him there. It is Christ and Christ alone who can really help the individual and the community and there are numbers of social settlements where Christ is kept at the head of the work.
The church has changed its methods very much during the past few years. Seldom is a church now built which does not have its well appointed kitchen, dining-room and parlours and other social equipments. It is according as a church uses these adjuncts, whether they really help it, or not, to do its work. The church is powerful as a force for social betterment not as it does or does not open its doors to lecturers, plan social entertainments, give dinners and hold festivals -- these may be helps -- but in so far as it sways the inner life of the community. This inner life, influenced in right ways, finds expression in a better individual, home and community standard. This standard makes for the uplifting of the social state outside as well as inside the church. The principle is, not social for the sake of being social, but "social to save." It is quite certain that unless the church sets up its ideals in the community, a worldly community will set up its ideals in the church. The more spiritual a church as a social settlement is the stronger the social bond becomes between rich and poor, the learned and the unlearned.
The Christian Social Brotherhood is not a brotherhood of a class but of all classes and conditions of men. To-day the popular idea of brotherhood is the association of men of a certain trade. There is a strong tendency for social groups to be formed, which are exclusive of all who do not conform to a certain standard in the industrial world and inclusive of all who do. The members are looking for protection and mutual benefit.
Christ said of His brotherhood, "One is your Master, even Christ and all ye are brethren.... One is your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 23:8,9). We find here the great principle laid down that there can be no true brotherhood without a common fatherhood. Christians are brothers because they have a common "Master" and "Father" hence they seek to do good not only to the members of the brotherhood but to all men, because God is the Father of all. It is this thought that is to bring men up out of their selfishness. The employer and employee will strive to do all they can for each other when deep down in their hearts they believe they are brethren in Christ; we shall hear no more then of injustice upon either side.
The church of Jesus Christ holds the only solution to the peaceful and happy settlement of the social unrest.
What can be said of the social circle, what does the word society signify? What is the extent of any social circle, the character? What can be said of the example of Christ in society, the Christian society? What can be said of social institutions; the family, the church, the government? What can be said of social aims; Socialism, Christianity, Christ, the social reformer, the church as a social settlement? What can be said of the Christian social brotherhood?