Female Piety—The Young Woman's Guide Through Life to Immortality
John Angell James, (1785—1859)
"Those women who labored with me in the Gospel." Philippians 4:3
The subject of this chapter harmonizes with the scenes which we often witness in the metropolis of our country, I mean the missionary and other religious meetings, which are held annually in that great center of the world's family. The month of May is wisely selected for the time of holding the anniversaries of these organizations of Christian zeal. Then, when the principle of fertility, after the dreariness of another winter, is flowing in a thousand channels, and when all nature in this country is verdant and blossoms with the hopes of another year, it is well for the church of Christ to exhibit those institutions which are, in the moral world, the vernal signs of retiring frosts and approaching summer. It is a glorious sight to behold the trooping multitudes hastening with willing feet and joyful countenances, and beating hearts, to the place of convocation, and blending all the joys of friendly greetings with all the sublimer delights of Christian zeal. We feel called upon there to bless God, not only that we live in a world which he has visited in mercy by the person and work of his incarnate Son, but in an age and country in which so much is done for the spread of the knowledge of this great fact to the ends of the earth. At these meetings all is matter of delight. The crowded platforms, containing the pastors, deacons, and members of our churches, who have connected themselves with the Missionary Society; the presence of missionaries from the fields of holy labor; the eloquent addresses of the speakers; the vast crowd of listening hearers, the thunders of eloquence reverberated in other thunders of applause; all, all, are calculated to make one feel how happy an exchange we have made in giving up the pleasures of sin and the world for those of religion.
But there is one other sight on these occasions which is as delightful as it is common; and that is the number of women, and especially of young women, that are always present—thus reminding us how deep an interest they have in these proceedings, and how large a share they bear in them. And indeed, without going to the metropolis in the month of May, or witnessing the scenes of Exeter Hall, what public meeting for any religious object is ever held in our own, or any other town, of which women do not form by far the larger portion? But I do not adopt the world's vocabulary and talk of the beautiful and elegantly dressed women who are there, I would rather speak of "the holy women," like one apostle, and refer to them as another apostle does, as "those women who labor in the gospel."
Let us attend to what the passage at the head of the chapter says, "Help those women who labored with me in the gospel." Then women may labor in the gospel, for they did so in apostolic times, and received the commendation of the apostle for it. If they did then, they may now; and if they may, they ought. Hard would be woman's lot, bitter her privation, and degraded her condition, if on account of her sex she was excluded from all participation, beyond her own personal religion, in the most sublime enterprise in the universe. She might well deplore her misfortune, if while man was permitted the exercise of religious zeal, she was denied all service at the altar of God. "Even heathenism," she would mournfully exclaim, "honored our sex, as it was represented by the Vestals, to whose vigilance was committed the guardianship of the sacred fire; and also by its priestesses, to whose inspiration was entrusted the responses of the oracles. And does the religion of Jesus exclude us?" No, it does not, and I refer you back to the first two chapters for proof that it does not; and I call your attention in the present one to learn how you may avail yourselves of the honor placed within your reach, and discharge the obligations which you are under to promote the interests of religion in this dark, disordered world.
To be useful in the cause of God! How noble, how vast, how sublime, how godlike an idea! Dwell for a moment upon it. Did you ever weigh the import of that very common, but very delightful word, 'usefulness'? Did you ever ponder in sober seriousness of thought the kindred phrase, "To be useful?" Have you never had your admiration excited by hearing it said of any one, "She is a useful woman?" I cannot let you read another syllable until I have endeavored to fascinate you if possible by the beauty, and to captivate you by the force, of that glorious word, usefulness.
Look at its opposite, uselessness. How low, and dull, and mean a sound; and how despicable the character it represents! A rational, social, and immortal being, useless—doing no good, carrying on no benevolent activity, exerting no beneficial influence—a worthless weed, and not a flower; a pebble, and not a gem, a piece of dead wood floating down the stream, instead of a living fruit tree growing on its bank! Yes, worse than all these, for the weeds, stones, and wood may be converted to some good purpose; but to what purpose can one who does no good be turned, except it be to serve as a warning to others? Let your young hearts, then, beat with a desire to do good. Aspire to the honor of doing good. Contract not, shrivel not, into a despicable selfishness. Cherish a yearning after benevolent activity, and feel as if it were but half-living to live only for yourselves.
In this cause I want you to be even zealous. The apostle says, "It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing." Zeal, as you know, means an earnest, ardent desire, giving rise to a correspondent energy of action, to obtain some favorite object; and when directed to a right object is a noble and elevated state of mind. It is, however, a state of mind that requires great caution in its exercise, especially in the young, and most of all in young women. It is like fire, which may be applied to many useful purposes when under wise direction, but which if not kept in its proper place and under proper restraint may cause a conflagration. Or to change the illustration, it may be only as the healthful vital heat which keeps the body in comfort and in action, or it may become a fever of the soul, to consume its strength and destroy its life. Or, to venture, for the sake of emphasis, even upon a third comparison, many a zealous mind is set on fire by the speed of its own action, and for lack of some regulator to check its speed, and some lubricator to lessen its friction, bursts into a flame and consumes the whole machine, and does mischief to others as well as to itself.
A warm heart requires a cool judgment to prevent these consequences from a misguided zeal. The female mind being so susceptible, is far more liable to incautious action than that of the other sex, and is less disposed to reflection. In man the judgment more generally keeps the heart in check until it is itself enlightened and convinced. In woman the heart is often engaged before the judgment; and hence the danger of female zeal being sometimes wrong in its object, excessive in its degree, and impetuous in its action. Almost all new theories, whether relating to medicine, theology, or any other practical matters, find favor first of all chiefly with women. Too often led more by their feelings than by their reason, they get entangled, like their first mother, by appeals to their passions and affections, and allow their hearts to lead astray their judgment. The Greek philosophers classed zeal under three heads—zeal of envy, the zeal of achievement, and the zeal of piety. Extinguish all feelings of the first, as so many sparks thrown off from a flame kindled by the fire of the bottomless pit. Have very little to do with the second beyond an unenvious imitation of what is good; and let the third be put under the guardianship of a sound judgment, and the guidance of the Holy Scripture.
I will first of all advert to the OBJECTS of your zealous activity. You dwell in a valley of tears, and amid the groans of creation, occasioned by poverty, disease, misfortune, and death, and are not to be insensible to the sights and sounds of affliction by which you are surrounded. The female heart is supposed to be the very dwelling-place of mercy, and an unfeeling woman is a libel upon her sex—formed by nature to weep with those who weep, and to minister to the bodily woes of humanity, she should enter into the design of Providence, and become a ministering angel in the chamber of sickness. You have seen those cloaked and demure women who issue from Catholic convents on errands of mercy to the abodes of sickness and poverty, deeming no office too menial, no service too self-denying, which can alleviate the pains, or promote the comfort, of the sufferer. We would not question the purity of their motives, or the tenderness of the offices which they perform for the children of want and woe; but they look, after all, like a device of the church which employs them, to obtrude itself on public notice and to win converts to itself. We call upon you, without cutting the ties of your connection with society and abjuring the characters of wives and mothers, to be our Sisters of Mercy, and to make it your business and your pleasure to visit the scenes of sickness and the abodes of poverty. Even in youth, acquire the habits, the tenderness, the delicate tact, of a nurse. Loathe that spurious sentimentality which can weep over the imaginary woes of a novel—but turns away, either with a callous or a coward heart, from the real sufferings which abound on every hand.
But I now more particularly refer to zeal for Biblical religion, or for matters connected with it. Religion is every one's business, not only as regards the possession and practice of it as a personal concern, but also as regards its diffusion. Everyone can not only be truly pious, but, by the blessing of God, can do something to make others so. To spread religion in our world is not merely the work and duty of its ministers, but of all Christians without exception, whether young or old, rich or poor, learned or illiterate, male or female. Everyone who understands the nature, feels the influence, and values the privileges, of the gospel of Christ, can do something to bring others into the same happy condition. Where there is no desire and no effort to do this, there can be no real piety. Those who have no concern for the salvation of others have no right to conclude they are in a state of salvation themselves. There is room, and opportunity, and obligation, for all to work in this cause. Even children can do something here, and have done it.
God sometimes employs the humblest instruments for accomplishing great purposes, as I observed when remarking upon the conduct of the little Hebrew maid in Naaman's family. Paganism teaches us something here; for what said Jehovah to the prophet when referring to the heathen practices which the Jews had imitated? "Do you not see what they are doing throughout the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? No wonder I am so angry! Watch how the children gather wood and the fathers build sacrificial fires. See how the women knead dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. And they give drink offerings to their other idol gods!" Jeremiah 7:17-18. What a busy scene—all minds engaged, all hands employed, men, women, and children! Let us be instructed by this example of misguided zeal, and show a zeal for the true God equal to that which the apostate Jews did for false ones. Christianity can find work for women and children as well as Paganism; and how solemn are the obligations to propagate it which it imposes on all who profess it!
As no service can be well performed by those who are not QUALIFIED for it, I will here enumerate the chief prerequisites for a course of female activity in the cause of religion.
Religious zeal should in every case be the offspring of personal piety.Without this there can be no intelligent, well-sustained, or very efficient effort. Something no doubt may be accomplished without it. God may make use of labors which were not directed to his glory. But it is only the truly pious mind that can understand the object of religious zeal, be actuated by right motives, and be likely long to continue the work, or to bring down the blessing of God upon what is done. Your own heart must be right with God or you will know little about the way of making others so. Example must support exhortation, or the latter will have little effect. Much of the effort of the present day is sadly lacking in devout seriousness, spiritual earnestness, and holy solemnity. It is a bustling, prayerless, unsanctified activity. There is, in too many, a frivolity about it that looks as if those who are engaged in it know not, or forget, that they are doing the work of the Lord—all is so light and trifling that it is evident in this case zeal is only another species of amusement. The zeal that is likely to be continuous, to honor God, to do good to our fellow-creatures, is that which is cherished in the closet of devotion, fed by the oil of Scripture, and fanned by the breath of prayer. There is upon the minds of those who manifest it that awe which warns them how they touch a holy thing.
Scriptural knowledgeis essential to well-directed efforts to do good. I now more particularly refer to a knowledge of the object to be accomplished, and of the means of accomplishing it. A young person anxious to do spiritual good should well understand three great principles in religion—the ruin of human nature by sin, its redemption by Christ, and its regeneration by the Spirit—and should consider that all efforts of zeal must be directed to the accomplishment of the two latter. To fit her for this work, she should study well the Word of God, read some of the many treatises on the subject of religion with which the press teems, and make herself acquainted with some of the best tracts and books for putting into the handy of those who become anxious about religion.
An intense and longing desire to be usefulmust lie at the bottom of all her efforts. It is not a mere love of activity, a taste for social union and occupation, a desire for power and influence over others, an ambition for distinction, which are the impulsive causes of religious activity; but a tender pity for the immortal souls of our fellow-creatures, and an earnest solicitude for their salvation, coupled with an enlightened and fervent zeal for the glory of God. It is that piety which melted the heart of David when he said, "Rivers of waters run down my eyes because they keep not your law;" which agitated the soul of Paul, when amid the splendors of Athenian architecture and sculpture, he was insensible to all the magnificence that surrounded him, in consequence of the sin with which it was associated, and felt his spirit moved within him at seeing the city "wholly given to idolatry;" and which, indeed, is taught in the first three petitions of our Lord's prayer—"Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."
Understand, my young friends, then, what you have to do; not the work of a low and narrow sectarianism, in proselyting people from one denomination to another, nothing resembling the operations of female Jesuitism, nothing of zeal to establish one denomination upon the ruins of another—no, but the nobler and holier work of saving the souls of your fellow-creatures, especially those of your own sex, from the dominion of sin here, and from "the wrath to come" hereafter. Begin life with an abhorrence of bigotry, and never let your zeal degenerate into the baseness and malignity of that earth-born spirit; let it be a fire kindled by a coal taken by the seraphim from the altar of God—and not a flame lighted by a spark from the bottomless pit. Be it your aim to spread that religion which consists not in forms of government and religious ceremonies—but in faith in Christ, love to God, and love to man. To accomplish this, let there be a real engagement of your heart. Give up your soul to a passion for being useful. Cherish the most expansive benevolence. Feel as if you did not understand, or secure, or enjoy, the end of life—unless you lived to be useful. Consider usefulness the charm of existence, the sugar that sweetens the cup of life. Ever feel as if you heard a voice saying to you, "Do something—do it at once—do it heartily—do good, this good, good to the soul."
A habit of self-denialis essential to the exercise of religious zeal and Christian benevolence. Our Lord said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." This is true of the way of holiness, but it is especially so of that of benevolent activity. Christ could do us no good without his cross—nor can we do others much good without ours. We would not deceive you, and endeavor to lure you into the career of holy activity by representing it as leading through a garden of Eden where all is blooming and beautiful, ease and enjoyment. No such thing. The course of religious zeal is often in a wilderness, over sharp stones and bare rocks, and amid thorns and nettles. You must make sacrifices of time, ease, enjoyment, feeling, perhaps of friendship. You must bear hardships, and encounter many disagreeable things. You must be prepared to give up self-will, your own comfort, and claims to pre-eminence. Can you be zealous of good works on such terms? If so, come on; if not, go back; for the career of mercy is not for such tender feet as yours to tread.
But, my young friends, can you allow yourselves to sink into such delicacy and feebleness of character? Can you be content to degenerate into littleness, and pass through life as a species of nonentity, because you cannot endure noble self-denial? I do not appeal to your love of romance. I would not set your imagination on fire, in order that you may offer up yourselves a burnt offering to benevolence, in the flames of enthusiasm. I do not stimulate you to become heroines of mercy, and to set all the comforts of life at defiance. There are some who love the adventures of a career of active mercy. There may be romance in everything, even in pity. I do not want this—but I do want to see young women practicing a sober self-denial, a judicious disregard of ease and comfort—in order to do good. Unite a masculine hardihood of endurance with a feminine tenderness of feeling and delicacy of manner. Passive fortitude belongs to you.
Patience and enduranceis another qualification for doing good. Those who would accomplish this must not be "weary in well-doing." There are many things to make them so, the neglect of others, opposition, disappointment, ingratitude, perhaps censure. Those who expect to benefit their fellow-creatures with as much ease and as speedily as some do them injury, had better not make the attempt, for they are sure to fail. Scarcely any people in the world have more need of patience than those who set themselves to instruct the ignorance, to relieve the needs, to alleviate the sorrows, and to reform the vices, of their fellow-creatures.
See how this was illustrated in the history of our Lord. Consider how his benevolence was ever resisted by the malignity of those whom he sought to benefit. He lavished upon them his mercy, and it was repaid by their ingratitude. They refused his offers, rejected his invitations, misrepresented his actions, disbelieved his words, and misconstrued his motives. Never was so much goodness met by so much envenomed opposition! Yet behold his patience. A thousandth part of the opposition which he met with, would have exhausted the forbearance of an archangel; and yet "he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself;" gave them his tears when they had refused his miracles; shed for them his blood when they despised his tears; and bade his disciples to make to them the first proclamation of his grace, when they had even scoffed at his death.
Study the history of Christ, my young friends, for the purpose of seeing an example for you to imitate in the career of mercy. Follow him who "went about doing good," in order to teach you with what patience you should go and do likewise. Many who are all ardor at starting, soon grow tired, because they do not find the course easy, and reach the goal, at a bound—or are opposed in the way. It is a despicable as well as pitiable sight, to behold a young person entering into the work of benevolence as confident and eager as if she would surpass all others, and then almost at the first stage, when the novelty is over, and difficulties arise, and the expected flowers do not appear in the path, giving all up, and turning back to indolence, ease, and uselessness. On the contrary, it is a sight on which angels and God himself look down with delight, to see another holding on her way in her humble career of benevolence, amid disappointment and opposition, persevering in her attempts to do good, and finding in the consciousness of her aims and motives, and her knowledge of the excellence of her object, a sufficient inducement to persevere—though at present she reaps little else but discouragement and defeat.
A spirit of dependence upon God for success, united with a high sense of the importance and necessity of human effort, is essential to religious zeal. This gives a twofold boldness of mind, and firmness of step; and makes us strong, not only as instruments, in ourselves, but also in the Lord and in the power of his might. What courage is derived in the career of benevolence from such a consideration as this—"I know I am seeking a good object by right means, and I will go in the strength of the Lord!" Young women, even in your humble sphere and feeble efforts to do good, a spirit of believing prayer, (which indeed is the spirit in which everything should be done) will bring the God of angels to your help, the Lord Almighty to your aid! Go forth with the consciousness that you are doing right, and with a belief that Omnipotence is by your side. It does not betoken pride nor self-conceit, but only that proper sense of capability which every one should cherish, to say, "I feel I am something, and can do something; I need not be a cipher, for God has not made me one. I have a mind, and heart, and will, and tongue, and with these I may do something for God and my fellow-creatures. Others of my own age and sex, feeble and humble as I am, have done something, and so may I, and by God's help and blessing, I will." You are right; it is all true. This is self-knowledge, and right self-esteem. Cherish these thoughts; act upon them, and you will do something. With such qualifications you may go to the work of religious zeal.
Permit me now to point out to youthe WAYS in which your zeal may be employed appropriately to your sex, age, and circumstances. "As we have opportunity," said the apostle, "let us do good." Opportunities are more precious than rubies, and should never be lost by neglect. There are three things which, if lost, can never be recovered—time, the soul, and an opportunity. And it is of importance for you to ponder this. It becomes us all to remember the advice of the sage to his disciples, "Be mindful of opportunities." Youth is your opportunity for doing good; not indeed if you live, your only one, but it is a very precious one. The remarks made in the last chapter on the subject of the leisure afforded by your present situation for the cultivation of piety, apply with equal force to the opportunities it affords for usefulness. In married life, with a family around you, and all the cares it brings with it, you will have comparatively little opportunity, at least for some of those activities which you can now carry forward.
Among the ways in which female activity could be appropriately carried on, I must begin of course withthe education of children in our Sunday Schools. The instruction of the girls is entrusted to women, and what an honor is thus assigned to them! It is strange how any young woman pretending to religion can satisfy herself that she is doing all she can, or all she ought, for God's glory and the good of her fellow creatures—who is not devoting her youthful energies to this blessed work. And yet it is painful to observe how many of the young women of the more respectable families of our congregations, withhold their services from this useful and valuable sphere of female activity. I am not unaware of some difficulties and objections to this engagement for her daughters, which present themselves to the mind of a careful, judicious, and anxious mother. But surely the proper exercise of maternal influence and authority would, in most cases, be sufficient to counterbalance those contingent evils to which the mixed society of the Sunday-school community might expose young women, I mean in the way of forming acquaintances and unsuitable connections. A well-taught and wisely-trained girl will know, and ought to know, how to avoid general and undesirable familiarity—without being suspected of haughty disdain or proud neglect of those who are not upon her level in the ranks of social life. It does require care, I admit, but care will be sufficient to avoid the evils alluded to. And I freely confess that the frequent and mixed meetings of teachers of both sexes which are held in some schools, are by no means necessary for the good working of the system, and are very undesirable on other accounts; and it is not to be wondered at, that for this reason, many mothers do not allow their daughters to become teachers, and that daughters themselves do not wish to engage in the work. Acquaintances, by no means suitable, have, no doubt, in some cases been formed. It is therefore incumbent upon all who are thus engaged to be anxiously watchful that no part of their conduct give to those who seek it, occasion to speak ill of the effect of Sunday-school teaching upon the character and conduct of the women who devote themselves to it.
District-visiting Societies and benevolent institutions for affording temporal relief and spiritual instruction to the sick poor, conducted by female agency, are become very common both in the Church of England and among Dissenters. It would not be desirable, of course, that these should be chiefly conducted by young women. Matronly age, experience, and weight, are necessary to give propriety and effect to such a labor of love, but surely there is no impropriety in associating even in these good works, a youthful female with an elderly one.
TheBible and Missionary Societies, and other religious institutions, have called into operation a large number of women who are employed in collecting money for those important organizations, and for supplying the poor with copies of the word of God. There can be no objection to this, provided the more youthful portion of the sex so employed be associated with those who are older, and also that very young girls be not employed at all in the work. Nothing can be more repugnant to my sense of propriety, than for young women to be sent out with what are called "collecting cards," to wander over a town knocking at the doors of anybody and everybody for the purpose of begging money, and sometimes even entering counting-houses, and assailing young men with their importunities.
The distribution of religious tractsis another line of female activity in which many may be eminently useful. This is a means of doing good universally characteristic of the age. The press was never so active either for good or for evil as it is now. Its productions are instruments which every hand can wield—even that of a young and even comparatively illiterate female. But the same caution must be here applied also, that nothing be done to break down the barriers of female modesty.
Perhaps it will be thought I ought not to overlook one line of female usefulness peculiar to the sex, and especially to the youthful portion of it, and that is, furnishing articles of the pencil and needle, theproducts of which when sold shall go to the support of the cause of Christ. There is one way of doing this, about which I confess I have serious doubt; I mean the modern practice of bazaars, or as they are now called, "Fancy Sales." I am aware of all the arguments that are employed in favor of them, such as their gainfulness, and their calling forth contributions from those who would give or could give in no other way. A very beautiful little tract, entitled "The Bazaar," was published two years ago, in which the writer, not without a show of argument, endeavored to prove that these means for the support of religion hardly comport with the sanctity of the object. A certain air of frivolity and worldliness at these sales is thrown over the whole; so that such a scene looks like piety keeping a stall at "Vanity Fair." "Recall," says this writer, "the scene itself—the gay dress, the music and the raffle, flattery and compliment instead of truth. Purchases made from regard to man, and not free-will offerings to God. Mortification and disappointment in place of the approving consciousness of her who 'had done what she could.' Skill exercised in making that which is worthless pass for much. Arts practiced, advantages taken, with the excuse that it is for a religious purpose, that would be thought dishonorable in the common business transactions of the world. Then follows the feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction after excitement; the gaze at the heap of left things to be disposed of, or that will do for other bazaars, with the false estimate of the result of this. There is another fact in the history of such sales; some who shun the ball-room and the concert, and never entered a theater, act there the shop-woman, talk the nonsense befitting the bazaar room, and are as worldly, vain, and foolish, as she who seldom dreams of anything but pleasure, earth, and time."
Now this, I admit, is rather severe, and is perhaps a little exaggerated. Still there is much truth in it, and it may serve as a corrective, if it should not as a dissuasive. To the pure, all things are pure, and there may be those who can enter, pass through, and leave such scenes, without receiving the smallest injury to the devout and happy seriousness of their religious character. At any rate it is coming near "the appearance of evil," and should excite caution and prayer on the part of those who consider the matter as innocent and therefore lawful. Bazaars, however, are not the only way in which the needle is employed by pious women for works of charity. Working parties are very common—one meets periodically in my vestry, at which articles of utility are made and shipped for sale in India, the produce of which, amounting sometimes for one year's labor to eighty pounds, is devoted to the support of orphan schools connected with our missionary stations abroad. At these meetings, piety, friendship, and zeal, all blend their feelings of enjoyment, and furnish happy seasons for those who attend them.
I knew a most accomplished woman, long since in heaven, who was called by grace out of the mirthful world, and who after her conversion felt an irresistible desire to do something for the spiritual welfare of her fellow creatures and the glory of God—but her means were more limited than her aspirations. She thoroughly understood the science of music, and her most exquisite singing had been the delight of mirthful and fashionable circles. Her taste in drawing and painting was equal to her skill in music. After her conversion to God she turned these abilities to the purpose of glorifying God, "who does instruct man to discretion," by setting some of the most admired Italian and German tunes to sacred words, and painting Scripture subjects, and selling the music and pictures in the circle of her friends, often for large sums, especially the paintings, and consecrating all, like the woman who broke her alabaster box of ointment, to the honor of the Savior whom she intensely loved. Perhaps there may range over these pages the eye of some similarly gifted woman, with a heart for Christ and his cause, but with as scanty property to serve him, as the female above alluded to; to her I would say, "Go and do likewise!"
Is there not one way in which young women, unable to do much in producing tasteful works, may be occupied in doing good for God and their fellow-creatures, without in the smallest degree violating the rule of decorum or infringing on the delicacy of female modesty—I meanvisiting the chamber of sickness, or the cottage of poverty, to read to the invalid or the ignorant of their own sex, the Word of God and religious tracts? Surely it is no invasion of either the rights of man or the duties of the minister, for a pious modest female, though young, (of course I do not mean a child,) to go to the bedside of a sufferer, and pour into her ears the words, and into her heart the sacred truths, of that precious volume, which is the best balm for a wounded spirit, and the only consolation for a broken heart. Nor can it be improper for her to take her chair by the side of a poor mother who, while she is plying her needle, or watching the cradle, is ready to hear words whereby she may be saved.
What a field of usefulness, almost unoccupied, is here opened to the ambition and the energies of our pious young women who have leisure for such occupation! How many thousands of women of the laboring classes are there in every large town, who are so occupied by the cares of their families and the demands of their husbands, as never to join the public assemblies for worship, or to hear the joyful sound of the sermon, or the psalm, who would hail as a ministering angel a female coming to their scene of constant monotonous care and labor, and causing their dreary abode to echo with the music that tells of a present salvation even for them, and of a land hereafter where the "wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are forever at rest."
Oh you "devout women, not a few," if you have hearts of pity for the poor; or compassion for the souls that are likely to be lost amid their "being anxious and troubled about many things and their much serving;" or if you have any zeal for the glory of God, do, do, employ your leisure hours in paying these visits of mercy to the houses of poverty, ignorance, sickness, and misery. Here there can be nothing in opposition to female modesty, nothing that can minister to female vanity. The seclusion of the scene prevents all this—no crude or inquisitive gaze follows a young woman there; no language of fulsome compliment or sickly adulation is addressed to her there; she is alone with sorrow, or witnessed only by her conscience and her God. Oh, what compared with a young female so occupied is the most elegant and beautiful woman glittering in the gay scene of fashionable folly—the admiration of many eyes and the envy of more? What is all the adulation poured by the lip of flattery into the ear of beauty, compared with the blessing of her who was ready to perish, so gratefully bestowed on that sister of mercy, who had thus "caused the widow's heart to sing for joy."
Friendshipaffords a means of usefulness of which you ought not to be slow in availing yourself. It may be you have formed friendships in the days of your thoughtlessness with some as thoughtless as yourselves. But you have been awakened to solemn and holy reflection. You have through the work of divine grace passed from death unto life; but your friends still remain under the power of the world and far from God. Here then is a most legitimate object of pious zeal, to seek by all affectionate and judicious means their conversion to Christ. What an honor and felicity would it be, should you be the means of saving the soul of your companion! How close and tender would be your friendship from that hour, when the tie of affection was doubled and sanctified by the bond of saving faith! How happy would be your friendship, how sweet your communion! A friendship is made between you which will go with you to heaven; for all friendships formed on the basis of religion will last forever. Take with you then if you can, to that happy world, the friend of your heart, there to renew, perfect, and perpetuate the communion which you have commenced on earth, and realize the idea that the closest and happiest friendship commenced below is but the bud, and scarcely even that, which will blossom with unending freshness through eternity in heaven!
Women's talent for a flowing easy tender style ofcorrespondence is generally acknowledged; and ought they not to employ this as a means for serving God and their fellow-creatures? How many have been thus led to an acquaintance with religion. There is a great moral power in a well-written religious letter. It is known and felt to be an effusion of love from one heart to another. It is read alone, when no one is a witness of the effect. There is not the reproving or monitory presence of the writer. There is no disposition to feel offended and to resent the intrusive advice or warning. Young women, employ your pen and let your affection in this manner breathe from your letters.
I shall now lay downsome RULES for the direction of female activity, which must be very rigidly observed in order to prevent it from doing harm in one way as well as good in another.
The zeal of young women must ever be exercised with the strictest regard to the MODESTYof youth, and especially of youthful women. It must never be forgotten that bashful modesty is the beauty of female character—like the violet, which seems to court seclusion, and indicates its retreat only by its fragrance—bashful modesty in her, adds to her attractions. Anything that would destroy this; that would strip off this delicate veil of modesty, and make her bold and obtrusive; that would thrust her by the impulsive ambition of her own mind upon the public notice, instead of being sought out for usefulness; that would make her clamorous in her complaints of neglect, and imperious in her demands for employment; would inflict an irreparable injury on society by depriving her of that passive power of gentleness by which her influence can be most effectually exerted in society.
I confess that with all my desires for female activity within its proper sphere, and the legitimate exercise of woman's zeal, the extent to which in the active spirit of the age, the female sex is employed, makes me not a little jealous for the delicate beauties and excellences of the female character. Money might flow into the treasury of our societies, and numbers might be added to their friends, spirit might be given to our operations, and the triumphs of the cause might seem to be multiplied—but if any injury were sustained by the female character, all that was otherwise achieved would be accomplished at a dreadful cost and a fearful loss.
Therefore I entreat you, my young friends, to guard against this evil. Cultivate the meekness, gentleness, and bashful modesty which are your brightest ornaments. Make it appear that in what you are doing for God and his cause, you neither seek publicity, nor aim to attract attention, nor to court applause. Avoid all that undue familiarity, flippancy, and trifling with the other sex, which would look as if your object was rather to attract notice from them, than really to do good. I ask for nothing prim, prudish, or repulsive; for no dread of converse with men, or flight from their company, as if there were moral contamination in their presence and pollution in their words. Excessive prudery is no indication of the highest toned purity; nor is an easy, artless frankness of manner, the indication of a bold and forward disposition. Still, be reserved, without pride or coldness—and frank, easy, and ingenuous, without familiarity and obtrusiveness. In this age your danger lies in the latter extreme rather than in the former. Be contented that your influence should flow through society like the blood in the human frame, carrying life and energy with it, but by channels where it is neither heard nor seen.
Female zeal in religious matters must ever be carried forward with due regard to the duties of home.If, as I have stated, home is the sphere of woman's mission, and the first and chief place of her duty, no public objects of any kind must be allowed to interfere with them. This I have already alluded to, but on account of its importance I refer to it again. It is not to the honor of religion, nor to the credit of a wife and mother, for a husband to come home at the dinner hour expecting to see everything ready and in order, and to find all in confusion, and nothing properly arranged, and have his time wasted by waiting for his wife, who has not finished her benevolent rambles, or her morning's attendance at some women's meeting. Nor is it much for his happiness on coming home in the evening, suffering from the fatigue and vexation of the world's rough business, and when needing the soothing influence of a wife's sweet voice, to have to sit hours in sadness and solitude, because she is away at some public service. This is not the way to promote wedded felicity, or to interest his mind on behalf of the objects of his wife's zeal. It will never do to serve the Lord with time taken from domestic order, comfort, and family duty! A neglected husband and family are a sad comment upon some women's religious activity—and it is a comment not infrequently expressed by those who see it in the appearance of the children and the house.
On the opposite extreme, there are many who could do much Christian service without infringing on domestic claims, but who will do nothing—and avail themselves to justify their own selfishness and indolence.
Still a woman may look well to the ways of her household, and yet have time to devote to the cause of religion and humanity; and some do so, who by method, diligence, and efficiency, set their house in order. The description of the virtuous woman comprehends both of these—"She looks well to the ways of her household. The heart of her husband does safely trust her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. Her children rise up and call her blessed. She gives food to her household, and her portion to her maidens. She eats not the bread of idleness." Here is domestic order, management, economy, in perfection. Yet with all this is associated, "She stretches out her hands to the poor yes, she reaches forth her hands to the needy; and in her tongue is the law of kindness." There the good housewife is supposed to find time for works of mercy abroad as well as of industry at home. When the comfort of a husband is never neglected, and he has no reason to complain, and does not complain, of the lack of his wife's friendship; and the supervision of the children, as to their general well-being, and their education and home-training are properly attended to; and the whole course of domestic order is maintained with regularity and precision—it is to a Christian woman's honor that her method of efficiency and order in the regulation of her household affairs is such as to leave her ample time for usefulness—without infringing on her duties as a wife, a mother, or a manager of the household. Except in the case of a large family, a lack of all Christian service is no credit to any female. She cannot be educating her family as she ought to do, if she is not, by her example as well as by her precept, training them to habits of benevolence.
The two extremes then are to be avoided by a married woman, of allowing, on the one hand, the duties of home so entirely to engross her heart, as to feel no interest in anything that is going on in the world for the alleviation of its sorrows or the reformation of its vices, and to cherish no desire to promote the great objects of Christian zeal—and, on the other hand, of allowing Christian service to occupy her attention so far as to neglect the claims of her husband, children, and servants. The chief danger in this age lies in giving too much attention to public duties, especially in the metropolis, the seat and center of all our great societies, and the place of their annual convocation. It is not much to the credit of a mother, nor for the advantage of her daughters, to be fond of taking them to many of these public gatherings. The month of May affords a strong temptation to this, and it should be most assiduously guarded against. It is not only lawful, but proper and desirable, that our wives and daughters should be present at such meetings. Who would debar them from all these assemblies, or shut them out from all these feasts of holy charity, or exclude them from all these scenes in which they take as deep an interest, and to which they have contributed equally with ourselves? Their sex is more benefited by them even than the other. Let woman's heart there bleed over the woes of humanity, and especially of her down-trodden sisters in the lands of darkness; let woman's hand be there stretched out to lift them up from their degradation, and woman's eye there sparkle with a brighter luster as it rejoices over the records of our missions, and the triumphs of Christianity. But let not this rise into such a passion as shall spoil her for partaking of interest in home duties.
In order to this, let younger women in these days of general benevolence guard against acquiring in youth that taste for public activity which, though it will not prevent them from entering into domestic life, will to a very considerable extent disqualify them for its duties. A love of activity is good; a passion for it is an evil. There is such a thing as well-regulated, temperate, religious zeal—and there is also such a thing as a species of religious excessiveness. When a young person loves home and home duties, but is ever willing and ready on suitable occasions, and for a proper object, to leave them for works of religious and common benevolence, she has a right disposition. But when home and home duties are irksome, and she is ever longing for the excitement of public services, her taste has been corrupted, her character damaged, and her prospects for future life have become somewhat beclouded. If she has abandoned the intention or wish ever to become a wife, and has determined to be a sister of charity, it may be all very well to desire to give herself wholly to works of benevolent activity—but if not, let her beware how she acquires tendencies, and forms habits, which would equally unfit and indispose her for the duties of wedded life.
Young women while at home should be generally regulated by the wishes of their parents, and especially by their mothers. They are not, and should neither wish nor attempt to be, independent of parental control. A good and wise daughter will ever look up with affectionate deference to a good and wise mother, and will not therefore enter on any career of religious activity without consulting her. It may be that the wishes of the child and the opinions of the parent, on this point, are sometimes in opposition to each other, and it requires little argument to prove which in this case ought to give way.
Perhaps, some zealous, ardent, young female will put such a question as this—"I feel it my duty to God to attempt to spread religion, and to do good to my fellow-creatures, especially in the way of saving their souls; but my parents, not being themselves Christians, oppose it, and will not allow me either to engage in Sunday-school instruction, to collect for missionary or Bible societies, to distribute tracts, or to read the Scriptures to the poor. Is it my duty to follow out my own convictions, or yield up my wishes to my parents?" It would be very proper for you, in a respectful and deferential manner, to state your wishes, and use every argument to obtain their compliance—but if this should prove ineffectual, you must then submit and bear the privation without resentful sullenness. To be moody, ill-tempered, and petulant under the refusal, would too plainly indicate that you have much yet to do in your own heart, to foster religion there, before you seek to communicate it to others. You are under no such obligation to exercise your religious zeal in any particular way—as you are to seek your own salvation. It is manifestly your duty to do good, and you can do it, even under such restrictions as those I am now supposing; for you can set a holy example, and you can pray for the spiritual welfare of others, and correspond with absent friends, and perhaps influence by conversation your companions—and thus are not, and cannot be, shut out from all methods of doing good. And as for those from which you are debarred by parental authority, God will take the desire for the deed, and reward the intention, as he would have done the action, had you been permitted to perform it.
Consider also that as your parents do not enter into your views of religion, they will regard your conduct, if you persist, in no other light than that of a refractory spirit, and will thus receive a prejudice against religion on account of your conduct—whereas a meek and good-natured yielding to their wishes, and sacrificing an object which they perceive to have been near your heart, will dispose them to think favorably of the religious principle which could produce such a spirit of unresisting and uncomplaining self-denial.
In order to be useful, it is necessary to cultivate habits of order, punctuality, and the right employment of TIME.There is no doing good without the proper use of time. Two things cannot be done at once. Benevolent service requires time. And how much time is wasted, which the miseries and needs of society require! "Redeem the time!"—is a warning that should ever be sounding in our ears. We need it for the improvement of our own souls—and we need it for the good of others. We can do much with a proper use of time—and nothing without it. There is scarcely anything to which the injunction of our Lord more strictly applies than to time—"Gather up the fragments that nothing be lost." Order redeems time, so does punctuality—therefore order and punctuality are ways of supplying the time necessary for the exercise of deeds of mercy.
Redeem time from useless reading, and other selfish entertainments—and also from that excessive addictedness to the worldly accomplishments of music, arts, and fancy craft-works, which are so characteristic of the present day. That some portion of time may be given to these things is admitted. I am not for parting with the exquisite polish which skill in these matters imparts to female elegance. I love to see the decorations of female mind and manners. Of this I may have to speak again in a future chapter, and therefore shall merely now enquire—when the cries of misery are entering into her ears, and the groans of creation are arising all around her; when countless millions abroad are living and dying without the light of the gospel and the hope of salvation; when at our own doors will be found so many passing in ignorance and wickedness to their eternal destinies—is it humane for a Christian woman to spend so much precious time each day over her knitting, crotchet, or embroidery work? As she sits plying those needles, and bringing out, it may be, the tasteful design hour after hour—does she never hear the cry of human woe, "Come over and help us!" Does it never occur to her, how many souls have gone into eternity unprepared to meet their God, since she took her chair and commenced her daily entertainment?
Or, even leaving out of view the employment of her time for deeds of mercy to others; is it not an afflicting sight to behold so much time thrown away on these elegant trifles, which might be employed in cultivating one's own mind and heart, by reading useful Christian literature? You cannot, systematically, do good either to yourself or others, without redeeming time for the purpose!
Perhaps the following very striking antithetic description of time will interest and instruct many of the readers of this chapter—"TIME is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future has not yet come, and the present becomes the past, even while we attempt to define it, and like the flash of the lightning, at once exists and expires. Time is the measure of all things, but is itself immeasurable, and the grand discloser of all things, but is itself undisclosed. Like space, it is incomprehensible, because it has no limit, and it would be still more incomprehensible, if it had. Time is more obscure in its source than the Nile, and in its termination than the Niger—and advances like the slowest tide, but retreats like the swiftest torrent. Time give wings of lightning to pleasure, but 'feet of lead' to pain. Time lends 'expectation' a curb, but 'enjoyment' a spur. Time robs beauty of her charms. Time builds a monument to merit, but denies it a house. Time is the transient and deceitful flatterer of falsehood, but the tried and final friend of truth. Time is the most subtle yet the most insatiable of predators, and by appearing to take nothing, is permitted to take all—nor can it be satisfied, until it has stolen the world from us, and us from the world. Time constantly flies, yet overcomes all things by flight, and although it is the present ally, it will be the future conqueror of death. Time—the cradle of hope but the grave of ambition—is the stern corrector of fools, but the salutary counselor of the wise, bringing all they dread to the one, and all they desire to the other; but like Cassandra, it warns us with a voice that even the sagest discredit too long, and the silliest believe too late. Wisdom walks before it, opportunity with it, and repentance behind it—he who has made time his friend, will have little to fear from his enemies, but he who has made it his enemy, will have little to hope from his friends."
Permit me now to remind you thatall your efforts of religious zeal should be carried on in a spirit of FAITH and PRAYER. Christian zeal should not be merely the love of activity, much less an ambitious fondness for publicity and display, that moves you; but the overpowering feelings of love to God and love to man. Zeal must not be a substitute for religion, but the impulse and the constraining power of it. Instead of weakening your own piety, zeal must strengthen it. Emanating from your own holy mind, zeal must, like the newly kindled flame, react upon and increase the fervor of its source. You must be watchful over your spirit, and take care that your humility and spirituality be not impaired by a spirit of vanity. You should look well to your motives, and subject your heart to a most rigid self-scrutiny. In the retirement of the closet you should cultivate that spirit of dependence which expresses itself in prayer—and is cherished by prayer. The more you do for the spiritual welfare of others, the more you must do for your own. You should take alarm if you find that the excitements of zeal produce indisposedness for the more retired and quiet exercises of devotion. A renewed consecration to your work should often taken place—preceded by a renewed consecration of yourselves to God.
To encourage you in your career of holy activity, I may call you, in CONCLUSION, to consider the nature of your work, and the consequences that will follow even your humble endeavors to carry it on. It is salvation, the gift of God to man, which Jesus Christ came to our world to produce, and the Scriptures are written to describe and impart. It is saving religion, the balm of man's wounded heart, the renovator of his corrupt nature, the means of his happiness, his preparation for immortal glory—it is saving religion, the source of individual comfort, domestic peace, social order, national prosperity, and the whole world's restoration—it is saving religion, which shall cover our earth with the glories of millennial bliss, and raise up countless millions of our race from the ruins of the fall to the heavens of the eternal God—it is saving religion, which shall be the glory and the bliss of the redeemed church throughout eternity—it is saving religion, the cause for which prophets testified, apostles labored, martyrs bled, ministers toil at home, and missionaries abroad; it is this that you are promoting by all your efforts of religious zeal!
In this cause you shall not labor in vain, nor without your reward, for "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;" and your humble labors, though as drops in that mighty ocean, shall help to swell and impel the mighty mass; and after this, shall come the world where you shall be gathered unto those holy women whose lives were briefly recorded in a past chapter, and to all those chaste virgins and holy matrons, who have wrought to weave by their labors, the crown of glory which shall ever flourish on the head of our Emmanuel!
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