(Principles of Fellowship—Society in General)
I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [κοινωνία] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [κοινωνία] of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Cor. 10:15-17)
Question.—What are the general notions of society which we find in even the most primitive states of mankind?
Answer.—There are several notions upon which every refinement of manners is built and improved, especially under the influence of grace:
1. There is a certain instinctive tendency in mankind to entertain a common regard to one another. Even the heathens know that malice, envy, malignity, lack of natural affection, and such like crimes, deserve death, Rom. 1:29-32. Paul appeals against such vile distempers to the dictates of conscience and the general sense of mankind, Rom. 2:14, 15. The moral law is for its substance the law of nature, and the sum of its obligations towards men is comprehended in loving our neighbor as ourselves, Matt. 22:39. Although there are many examples of men disregarding these principles, there is no nation under heaven wherein these outrages are countenanced by the sense of the people, without the setting up of a system of jurisprudence to seek the good of all. Their notions may be false, and their manners may be crude, and even brutal; yet, it is no objection to the notion that there is a certain instinctive tendency in them to entertain a common regard for mankind, Matt. 5:47.
2. The sentiments and manners of mankind, which depend upon thousands of circumstances, that form the character and conduct of persons and societies, are widely different through the world, Gen. 10:5. Early impressions of education, the force of custom, the authority of names, and many other causes, distort the mind with prejudice, and become rooted principles of error and misconduct, Jer. 10:3. Almost every man has something peculiar to himself. There is something like, and yet with some difference, in the sentiments and manners of all men, not unlike the varied uniformity in the shape of the body and form of countenance, which show mankind to be one species, and yet individuals are distinguished. A family likeness, and a national character are not mere figments, Gen. 5:3; Tit. 1:12.
3. Amidst this variety, the common regards of mankind are far from being sufficient to unite them in close enough connections for their comfort. This truth was not left to the slow investigation of reason or experience. Adam discerned it previous to the exercise of reason or the least experience of society with his own species, Gen. 2:22-24. This was the first society which ever existed amongst mankind and that it is a pattern for all posterity is proved by our Lord correcting the error of the Jews, on the head of polygamy and divorce, by appealing to this, Matt. 19:8; Mark 10:6-9. There have been those in every age who hold the truth in unrighteousness, Rom. 1:18; but there is no example of any man or woman, who has been content to live on equal terms of undistinguishing friendship with all mankind. The necessity of close and particular connections is universally perceived, felt, confessed, and submitted to, as the only means of making life tolerable, Ps. 68:6; John 15:5.
4. The laws of society must be sacredly observed. In barbarous countries this system is very imperfect, but the purposes to be obtained by it are in proportion general and unimportant to the honor and comfort of mankind, Acts 28:1-6. Among people more civilized, we find systems of legislation more refined and better calculated to obtain high and noble ends, Dan. 6:8. Necessity and inclination all then influence to induce men to this course that they might achieve the end of living peaceable lives, 1 Tim. 2:2.
5. Nature perceives, without the help of instruction, that the private intimacies of social connection are so far from superseding, or even injuring a public spirit, and a generous regard to the welfare of mankind, in the most extensive concerns of human life, that they are the best security for both, Gen. 18:18, 19. Public and private societies are connected and what is to the advantage of the one is to the other, thus, 1 Tim. 3:4. As society becomes more improved, the benefits of it become greater and sweeter in every relation public and private, Ex. 18:17, 18.
6. The regulations of society in private life constitute an essential branch of the general system of jurisprudence in every public society. The least and larger societies are united upon certain conditions and these conditions are the principles of their constitution, Jer. 35:6-8, 14-16. All large societies are formed out of those originally small, and all public societies comprehend many private ones, Ex. 18:21. Therefore, the character, sentiments, and behavior of individuals are reasonable objects of consideration, in the least and most private society and, for the same reason, the regulations of every such society, are an important object of consideration, in the jurisprudence of every country, Judg. 21:25; Jos. 7:16-20.
These premises will be of help when we consider the communion of saints, because they show what nature teaches on the subject of society, and her dictates have their use in many points of religion, 1 Cor. 11:14, 15.