Female Piety—The Young Woman's Guide through Life to Immortality
John Angell James, (1785—1859)
The Conspicuous Place Which Woman Occupies in Holy Scripture
"The holy women of the past." 1 Peter 3:5
It will probably be objected against some of the subjects selected for this work, that they are not exclusively appropriate to the class of people to whom they are addressed—that is, Young Women. This, however, so far from being a fault, is an excellence. Most conditions of human life are prospective, and have not only some proximate objects and duties connected with them, but also some ultimate ones to which the others are preparatory; and he who would lead people to the right discharge of the whole range of their obligations, must set before them the future as well as the present, especially when due preparation for after years must not only be made in the present, but must be considered to a considerable extent the object and design of the present. Neither childhood nor youth is an ultimate condition of human existence, but each leads on, looks to, and prepares for—manhood or womanhood. Surely it must be appropriate then to those who are already arrived at adult age, or are fast approaching it, to have the whole view of their future condition laid before them, at least in general outline. How else can they prepare for it?
Those to whom this volume is addressed, are supposed to have arrived at that period of youth, when the judgment is sufficiently matured and reflective, to be capable of studying and appreciating their future relations and duties—and therefore ought to have the subject laid before them. Who can be rightly educated for any future situation, if that is concealed until all its obligations and responsibilities burst suddenly upon them? True, there is in some minds an almost instinctive kind of perception of what is proper to be done in any new conjuncture of circumstances, so that, almost without training, they are prepared for whatever situation is before them. But this is not the case with all. The greater number of mankind must, as far as possible, be trained for their various situations in life. As in the education of a boy, especially when learning a trade or profession—the future tradesman, master, father, and citizen—must be set before him as that for which he must prepare himself; so in the training of young women, the whole of womanhood in its full expansion, ripened excellences, and complete relations, obligations, and responsibilities, must be laid before them.
We know that there is much which can be learned only from experience—yet there is much also that may be learned by observation, reading, and reflection. Mothers, authors and preachers, who take up the subject, should ever bear in recollection, that the girl is to develop into the woman; and in teaching the girl, should ever have their eye fixed ultimately upon the woman, and should with all possible earnestness fix the eye of the girl also upon her future womanhood. Not that she is to be so taken up with the future as to neglect the preset; or to acquire a premature matronly air and gravity, which will repress the ardor and vivacity of youth, and, by anticipated cares and solicitudes, go out to prematurely meet the coming troubles of life. But remember, my young female friends, and the lesson cannot be too deeply impressed upon your minds—that the seeds of woman's life-long virtues and excellences must be sown in the spring-time of existence; and it must be done in part by her own hand, when aided and taught by others to prepare the soil. The flowers of womanly virtues and excellences, which she would wish to grow in her future character, must be previously and carefully selected, and be contemplated and anticipated by her in all their full-blown beauty and their richest fragrance, even while she is yet in youth.
With these remarks as my justification in presenting to the younger of the sex what in fact appertains to the more advanced in years, I now proceed to the subject of the present chapter.
When we consider the importance of woman in the great human family, it would be strange if in a volume given by inspiration of God, for regulating the conduct and promoting the happiness of mankind, she had no place assigned to her commensurate with the influence she is formed to exert. The Bible gives us an account of the origin and construction of society, and is designed, among other and still higher purposes, to direct its movements, and promote its welfare. This it could not do, if it left out woman; or failed to bring her prominently forward; or did not prescribe with much form and detail, her rank, her mission, and her duties. In the coins which were struck in the reigns of our William and Mary, when the wife was ruling queen, the busts of both husband and wife were represented; the king in front, and the queen behind—and if a frontispiece were designed for the history of our race as recorded in the Bible, man and woman should be exhibited in something of a similar manner, with this inscription round the two-fold portrait, "Male and Female created he them."
The subject of this chapter was entered upon in the last—it will be here continued and expanded into wider dimensions. Man of course, is the chief subject of revealed truth. He occupies there, as he does in society, the first place. More is said of him, to him, and by him, than applies to woman. He is the prime actor, but not the sole one, in the great drama of Providence, as it is developed in the pages of inspiration. His 'companion in pilgrimage' is brought forward into notice, and is neither lost in his shadow, nor only occasionally peeps out from behind his more portly form and loftier stature. Her name and history; her virtues and vices; her services and sorrows, occupy a considerable space in the holy Book. She has no right to complain that she is overlooked or forgotten, or that she is thrust into a corner and hidden from observation. There is more than enough said about her to make her contented. She ought to be thankful, and without Divine grace, may even be tempted to be vain. She cannot be deprived of self-respect, or of the respect of others, on account of the manner in which she is treated in the Scriptures. In this respect the Bible stands in bright and beautiful contrast to the Koran.
We shall first of all advert to the account which the Bible gives of woman's creation and fall, in the book of Genesis. We would, in passing, remark, that it is to Biblical revelation, and to that alone, that we are indebted for our knowledge of the origin of the human species. Without the Mosaic account of the creation, we would know neither the date nor the source of the family of man. There is no other oracle which can give a response to the question, "Where did we come from?" This furnishes an answer, and satisfies the enquirer—not as some would pretend, with a mere allegorical history, but with true historic fact. I need not recite the details of the scenes of Paradise, but only refer to them. It is at once a beautiful—and melancholy record. We there see woman as she came from the hand of the Creator, with a body combining every charm which could captivate the being for whose companionship she was designed; and a soul possessing every virtue that could adorn her character, and make her an object of reverent affection. Her creation was peculiar, but not unworthy of the Great Being who made her, of herself, or of him from whose own body she was derived. Her origin seemed to dignify both her husband and herself. She was formed of organized and vitalized matter, and not of mere dust—here was her distinction. Who can describe, or who conceive, the thoughts or emotions of this holy pair at their first interview! Our great poet has attempted it in his immortal verse, where he says,
"I beheld her, not far off,
Such as I saw her in my dream, adorned
With what all earth or heaven could bestow
To make her amiable; on she came,
Led by her heavenly Maker, though unseen,
And guided by his voice—
Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye,
In every gesture dignity and love.
I, overjoy'd, could not forbear aloud—
You have fulfill'd
Your words, Creator bounteous and benign,
Giver of all things fair! but fairest this
Of all your gifts! nor enviest. I now see
Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, myself
Before me—Woman is her name; of man
Extracted—for this cause he shall forego
Father and mother, and to his wife adhere;
And they shall be one flesh, one heart, one soul."
Painters and sculptors have joined with poets, to represent to the senses and the imagination the first woman in all her untainted loveliness. It is the Scriptures, be it recollected, that supply to them the enrapturing subject of their art.
Thus far we see woman, man's companion in holiness and bliss, tenanting with him the garden of Eden, enjoying its beauties, and helping to preserve them. With him, joining in the morning hymn and vesper song. Confessing no sin, for they had committed none; and disburdening themselves of no care, for none pressed upon them. All was praise, while their own notes of thanksgiving, blended with the melodies of the grove and the music of the fields, led even the ear of God to listen with delight, and to say, "It is good."
Alas, how soon and how suddenly changed was this scene of Paradisaic bliss! Man was placed in Eden—not as we shall be in heaven, if we are so happy as to reach it, in a state of confirmed happiness—but as we are now upon earth, in a condition of trial. His submission to God must be tested; and this was done in a manner that exactly suited his condition. A garden as a residence became his state of innocence—and the fruit of a particular tree equally well suited his circumstances for the testing of his entire and implicit obedience and subjection. The test was as easy as it was rational and suitable. Traditions of the state of primeval felicity are current among many nations. They are discoverable in Grecian and Roman history and in the pleasing fiction of the poet's golden age.
To induce Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit was the scheme of Satan for his fall. It is difficult to conceive in what other way he could tempt them. And how did he succeed? You know the melancholy sequel. The assault of the tempter was made upon woman. She was the selected victim of his wiles. It is evident, therefore, that he regarded her while in a state of innocence, as more easily to be vanquished than man; and considered her, even then, as the weaker vessel. At the same time, does it not seem as if he had marked her out from the beginning, as the chief instrument for accomplishing his future purposes of mischief towards the family of man? Events have justified the sagacity of his malice—for to her influence how much may be traced of the crimes and calamities which desolate our earth. He saw in the conduct of the first pair, the love which woman inspires and cherishes in the man—and was confident that if he could subdue her, he might leave her to subdue the him.
The apostle in referring to this event, says, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was first in the transgression." From the very creation, woman has shown a feebler power of resistance, a greater pliancy of disposition, than man. How Satan knew this, we are not informed; but that he did know it, is evident from his commencing the assault on Eve instead of Adam. The passage just quoted seems to imply all this. It is not meant that Adam did not sin, and was not deceived by the tempter—but that the woman opposed a feebler resistance to the temptation than the man would have done; and that the temptation as applied to her mind, would have been ineffectual on him. To tempt and seduce him to sin, there needed all the soft persuasions, the entreaties, and example of his wife. Satan understood this, and approached man not with the specious argument of the serpent—but through her irresistible allurements.
Some have supposed that Adam was not at all deceived by the tempter—that he saw at once all his suggestions were lies; but that foreseeing what Eve had done, how she had plunged herself into ruin, he, out of mere love to her, and with his eyes open, determined to share her fate. But the apostle's words do not necessarily convey this—but merely that he was not deceived first, nor directly, by the tempter—but afterwards, and by his wife. Her fall was occasioned by the deception of Satan alone; his by the deception of Satan, aided by the persuasion of the woman.
Having considered the Scriptural account of woman's condition at the creation, and the means by which, through her, the human race was brought into its present state of sin and misery—we may next notice the very explicit and frequent mention which is made in the Scriptures of her numerous relations in social life, with the descriptions it gives of the various characters of women. It certainly tends deeply to impress us with the importance of woman, and to raise her in her own and in our estimation, to see how constantly she is brought before us on the sacred page, in every part which she fills in life, as if the duties connected with each were of vast consequence to society. Not one is omitted; all are recognized and dwelt upon. Woman is ever before us in one or other of her many relations to the community.
Not only is there much said about the son—but also about the DAUGHTER. This relationship is not only included in the generic term of 'children', but it is also set out by itself. How commonly is it mentioned in connection with female children—"the sons and the daughters" are spoken of. A beautiful instance of which we have in the words of the psalmist, "that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; and our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace." Or, as "corner-pillars, wrought like those of a palace," that is in their fittest and best proportions, combining strength, beauty, and symmetry—both of body and of soul—than which, no comparison can be more elegant and delicate. In the exquisite poetry of the Hebrews, how commonly is this relationship employed as the metaphor of countries, states, and cities! Jerusalem comes before us as "the daughter of Zion," sometimes jubilant in her prosperity, at others, as in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, covered with sackcloth and bathed in tears.
The word SISTER occurs almost in every portion of the Word of God, like a floweret, lowly and lovely amid others of larger growth and more imposing form and color. How sweet and gentle a spirit is sometimes seen in a sister's form amid her brothers' more robust ones; and what a softening influence does the spell of her fascinating tenderness throw over their cruder natures. We are thus reminded by Scripture, that the younger female branches of the family are to be thought of as having their separate claims upon parental regard and brotherly affections. How many families are laid open in the Bible to our view, of which the sisters, as well as the brothers, are brought prominently into notice.
How much may it be supposed would be said about the WIFE—and how much is said about that close and endearing relation. To form the character, and direct the conduct of the wife, is worth all the pains that have been bestowed by innumerable writers; and we might have been very sure, even before we had read a page of Scripture, that much would be there found concerning this relationship. The book of Proverbs, that admirable directory for domestic and social life, is quite a manual for wives, as well as for every other member of the family circle. Unusual pains seem taken for the right formation of her character. How frequently and how impressively does Solomon refer to woman, as sustaining this close and tender relation. In what exalted and glowing terms does he speak of it, when it comprehends the graces and the excellences which it should always possess, "Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing." "A prudent wife is from the Lord."
Who has ever read, or can read, without admiration, the beautiful description of a virtuous woman, in the closing chapter of the Proverbs? Can we wonder that he who had this elevated idea of the value of such a companion, should again and again exhort a husband to live joyfully with the wife of his youth, and forsaking all others, cleave to her alone? In this he did but copy the beautiful and poetic picture of wedded happiness which had been furnished to him by his father David, if indeed he was the author of the Psalm, "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine, flourishing within your home. And look at all those children! There they sit around your table as vigorous and healthy as young olive trees." "The vine," says Bishop Horne, "a lowly plant raised with tender care, becoming by its luxuriance, its beauty, its fragrance, and its clusters—the ornament and glory of the house to which it is joined, and by which it is supported, forms the finest imaginable emblem of a fair, virtuous, and faithful wife. The olive trees planted by the inhabitants of eastern countries, around their banqueting places in their gardens, to cheer the eye by their verdure and to refresh the body by their cooling shade, do no less aptly and significantly set forth the pleasure which parents feel at the sight of a numerous and flourishing offspring."
On the other hand, Solomon directs all the powers of his bitter eloquence and irony, against the degraded woman, whose deadly work none has ever renounced with more holy indignation. How does he brand the crime of the harlot in the second and fifth chapters of the book of Proverbs; and with what awful correctness describe the conduct of the adulteress in the seventh. Nor does he stop here, but descends to the characters of women, who, though less guilty than those to whom we have just alluded, are still deserving of severe reprobation, "The foolish woman who plucks her house down with her hands." "The quarrelsome woman, whose society is more intolerable than dwelling in a corner of the house-top, or in the wilderness." "The woman who makes ashamed, who is a rottenness in the bones of her husband." "The odious woman, whose marriage is one of the four things for which the earth is disturbed, and which it cannot bear." "The beautiful woman without discretion, whose beauty is like a jewel of gold in a swine's snout." "The contentious wife—as annoying as the constant dripping on a rainy day."
This same Solomon, at the period when he had reached a penitent and reformed old age, and when all the events of his life had passed in review before him, is compelled to confess, that he had sought in vain for a woman after his own heart—"I discovered that a seductive woman is more bitter than death. Her passion is a trap, and her soft hands will bind you. Those who please God will escape from her, but sinners will be caught in her snare."
"This is my conclusion," says the Teacher. "I came to this result after looking into the matter from every possible angle. I found one upright man among a thousand—but not one upright woman among them all." Let not this passage, however, be mistaken, as if it meant that it was Solomon's opinion that the number of good women is inferior to the number of good men. Observation and general testimony assure us that this is not the truth. We are to consider where he made his enquiry for female virtue, and under what circumstances it was made. He who had crowded his court with wives and concubines, could little expect to find female excellence in such a situation. Instead of concentrating his affections on one woman as his wife, the partner of his joys and sorrows, and seeking his happiness in drinking with her the sweet cup of wedded bliss, he had gathered round him in his harem, for pride and sensuality, a multitude of women, amid whose jealousies and contentions he could no more find happiness, than he could find virtue amid their illicit pleasures. From such a scene virtue would retire abashed and weeping. If, therefore, in this passage, he satirized the female sex, he did it on unjust, unwise, and unmanly grounds.
"But," says Dr. Wardlaw, "I am far from thinking that he here speaks the language of a disappointed and waspish satirist. He rather utters the feeling of an abased and self-dissatisfied penitent, of one who had felt it to be 'an evil and a bitter thing' to depart as he had done from God; who remembered 'the wormwood and the gall;' who perceived and lamented the folly and the wickedness of all those 'inventions,' by which himself and others had sought to find out happiness apart from the favor and the ways of God."
If we speak of woman as a MOTHER, how often does that endearing relationship come before us in holy Scripture; both literally and metaphorically; in the Old Testament and in the New; in the way of example and of precept. The maternal relationship is the theme of constant reference, both for the sake of illustrating other subjects, and for enforcing its own claims as those of the female head of the household. Had this character been omitted, or only introduced occasionally, and then invested with no more than a second-rate importance, the Bible would have been lacking in one of its sweetest harmonies with the feelings of nature, and one of its strongest appeals to the sympathies of humanity—and we would have doubted if it had come from him who created woman and gave her as a helper for man.
The paternal character and relation are maintained in their primary rank, authority, and dignity—no invasion is made upon the prerogative, or usurpation of the rights of the father; he is not called to yield his place of rule, his supremacy of condition, to the mother; and yet how is all her proper rank and station and influence maintained. There she is exhibited as being in the family circle, if not the circumference which includes all, yet in one sense as the center in which husband and children all meet. How resonant are the Scriptures with that sweet and tender name, how redolent with the fragrance of that odoriferous word, how rich with the ornament of that beautiful term, mother. There, is sustained the poet's declaration—"A mother is a mother still—The holiest thing alive."
If the mother's importance be not known, her claims not conceded, her influence not felt, her duties not rightly discharged, it is not the fault of the Bible, which is the friend of society by exalting the maternal relationship. Nor is the mistress of the family overlooked or forgotten nor her duties left out of consideration.
The WIDOW, that name of desolation, that sorrowful epithet, that type of woe, meets us at every turn. She passes before us in her mourning garments and in her tears, leading in her hand her fatherless children, and saying to us, "Pity me, pity me, O my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!" More is said about, and for, and to, this bereaved one, than any other class of women—a circumstance which exhibits with uncommon force and beauty the compassion of God. But there is a discrimination on this subject which shows the wisdom as well as tenderness of God. Young widows are admonished, while aged and helpless ones are comforted.
Nor is the female SERVANT left out. A place for her is found among the various other and higher ranks and conditions of her sex. Her humble lot is recognized amid the provisions and commands of the Law, and was announced and defended by the thunders of Mount Sinai. We find it protected by precept and illustrated by example, as if woman in the lowest grade of society should not be overlooked in the Bible, that blessed and glorious charter of rights and privileges. There the little maid lifts up her head among the queens and princesses of Scripture history!
But the most impressive and important point of view in which the subject can be placed, and the most convincing proof of the effect produced by the Scriptures with regard to woman, is the very great number and variety of female examples which they contain. It is one of the surpassing excellences of the Bible, that it is replete with narrative, history, and biography, and thus, apart from its sacred character and its momentous importance, is one of the most interesting books in the world. It is full, not only of precept, but of living acting patterns of the virtues which it inculcates—and of the vices which it prohibits. It is a complete picture gallery, in which we see portraits of every size, from the miniature to the full-length painting; and in every degree of representation, from the mere outline to the most finished production of the artist's brush.
Among these it would have been strange if female characters had been lacking. And they are not missing. There, amid kings, priests, warriors, and prophets, are to be seen the portraits of "the holy women of the old time, who trusted in God," as well as of those who disgraced themselves and dishonored their sex. In the great drama of life, as it passes before us in the Bible, no trivial or inconsiderable part is assigned to female characters. Woman's place among the dramatic personages is not that of some airy vision which lights upon our path, and after surprising and dazzling us for a moment, immediately vanishes and is seen no more—but of one of the veritable actors in almost every place and every scene.
The sacred volume opens, as we have already seen, with Eve in Paradise—all beauty, innocence and smiles—as its lovely frontispiece. And then shows us that same Eve, impelled by the vanity which she has bequeathed as a mournful legacy to her daughters, reaching forth her hand, at the instigation of the tempter, to pluck that fruit which was the test of her obedience—and the seed of all our woe—and thus exhibiting to us the sad association of beauty with sin.
In tracing woman's history, as it is set forth on the page of Scripture, from Paradise as the starting point, we will look first at the darker side of the narrative. How soon do we see Adah and Zillah, consenting to be the joint wives of Lamech, and thus giving, for anything we can tell, the first example of that bane of domestic happiness—polygamy!
Then come the "daughters of men," the women in the line of Cain, who made no profession of religion, but lived in atheism, seducing and corrupting the "sons of God," the male line of Seth and the professors of godliness—and thus by their unsuitable and incongruous marriages and the universal corruption that followed—creating the necessity for the waters of the deluge to wash away the moral filth of the old world.
Hagar comes next, troubling the faith, charity and peace of Abraham; persecuting the child of promise; and at the same time punishing by her waywardness, the weakness of the patriarch, whose concubine she was.
Then that family of Lot, the poor, earthly-minded wife and mother, who was so wedded to Sodom as to cast the lingering, longing look behind, which transformed her into a pillar of salt; and the disgusting conduct of her incestuous daughters, who showed too well how they had been corrupted by the place of their abode—and how careful all parents should be to remove their children from the polluting influence of evil examples.
What a revolting pattern of an adulterous woman, and of a cruel slanderer to hide her shame—is Potiphar's wife!
Then there was the ensnaring and successful temptation offered by the daughters of Moab to the children of Israel in the wilderness.
How mighty and how fatal were the powers of harlotry in Delilah to subdue the strength and extort the secrets of Sampson! And what a forcible picture of man's weakness before woman's vicious wiles, have they furnished to all coming ages!
Who does not think of Bathsheba consenting to David's wicked proposals, and thus causing him for awhile to cease to be David, the man after God's heart?
And then come the immoral women who threw even the mighty intellect of Solomon into the awful eclipse of idolatry!
And Jezebel, that Zidonian idolatress, who instigated her husband to the murder of Naboth, and exasperated the mind of Ahab to a more intense degree of wickedness than he would otherwise have attained lo!
And Athaliah, that turbulent and idolatrous queen mother, who counseled her son to do wickedly, and was put to death by command of Jehoiada, the priest!
I have forborne, of course, to dwell on these examples and descriptions of female immorality recorded in the Scriptures. It has been a matter of surprise, perhaps almost of regret, to some, that such instances of depravity should have been left on record. But shall we dispute either the wisdom, goodness, or purity of God in these histories? Are not important ends to be answered by them in the moral government of God—and in the religious history of man? A profligate woman is at once the most odious, mischievous, and hateful member of the community! Is it not every way proper, and even desirable, that such a character should be held up to detestation and scorn, as a warning to her sex—and that God should thus set a brand upon her with his own hand, and bear his indignant testimony against her vices? The examples of this kind are all for our warning, to show in instances from actual life the excessive odiousness of female depravity. This is done in a manner the least likely to do harm, and the most likely to do good. The descriptions of female turpitude in the word of God contain nothing to inflame the imagination, or to stimulate the passions; nothing to make vice seductive, by a half concealment of its odiousness; nothing to beat down the guards of virtue, by associating sin with an amiable or interesting character, or screening it by sophistical and insidious excuses or defenses. Vice is left in all its naked and revolting deformity, all its nauseating loathsomeness, to inspire disgust, and cause even ordinary virtue to recoil from the ugly and filthy object.
How different the case with many works of fiction, both prosaic and poetic, in which, though there may be a less particularity of sinful detail, there is immeasurably more to corrupt the moral principles, to pollute the heart, and to lead astray the youthful mind from the paths of virtue! What female reader of the word of God can rise from contemplating even the worst characters, and perusing the most vivid descriptions of the sins of her sex, without a stronger love of purity, and a more deeply rooted hatred of iniquity? This is the answer we would give to infidels, who sometimes affect to be prudish, and complain of the descriptions and examples of female criminality which are contained in the sacred volume. The use which every virtuous woman will make of them, is to be inspired with a greater abhorrence of transgression, and a more holy and intense desire to be kept from the most distant approach to it.
Coming forward to the New Testament, we meet with Herodias, exhibiting the malignant and revengeful passions of a shameless woman, against the servant of God, who had dared to reprove her paramour, and impelling Herod, against the protest of his judgment, heart, and conscience, to put John the Baptist to death, and so involve them both in murder. And here also we read of the Jewish women that encouraged and stimulated to violence the mob that persecuted Paul and Barnabas—and "That woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, and taught and seduced God's servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols."
In such instances as these, female pride, wherever it exists, may find some check to its exercise, and some motive to humility. To those females who are prone to think of their sex more highly than they ought, we present these examples of woman's frailty, which the pen of inspiration has drawn upon the page of Scripture. While to those of the other sex, if there are any, who are apt to glory over fallen women, we would, after reminding them that some of these instances are the result of their own seductions, present the brighter side of the picture. We would also call upon women to contemplate for their own encouragement the beautiful specimens of female excellence, with which, like so many stars of various magnitudes, the skies of Scripture is studded.
There is Sarah, who, notwithstanding her many failings, was unquestionably a good and even a great woman. In her case, as in many others, her beauty became a snare to others, if not dangerous to her own virtue, and placed the life of her husband in peril. Still she is presented by the apostle Peter as one of the holy women of old, who were patterns of domestic virtue and piety. For her defects, which consisted of a weakness of faith, leading to some strange domestic arrangements that brought their own punishment, were surrounded with the brightness of many excellences, in which, if they were not entirely lost, they were at any rate diminished. She was a pattern of conjugal fidelity, sweet simplicity, and a just matronly jealousy towards the stranger who had been brought for awhile so unwisely into her place. Her faith in God's promise was strong, though shaken for a moment by the improbabilities of the promised blessing.
Rebekah's earlier and latter life presents to us a somewhat painful contrast. None can read the beautiful account of the mission of Abraham's servant to her father without admiration of the good qualities of the damsel who is the heroine of the story, her industrious habits, her unaffected and artless simplicity, her genuine yet not silly modesty, her graceful courtesy, her humane consideration of the comfort of the brute creation. What a bright pattern is here for the imitation of young people. But oh! her unbelieving, injudicious, and sinful contrivances to bring about the bestowment of the Divine blessing upon the heir of promise, by the wicked imposition which she practiced upon her aged and blind husband! Mothers, read it, and learn to guard against sinful contrivances to get good for your children. Rebekah, however, was a good, though a mistaken woman.
In Miriam, the watchful sentinel beside the waters of the Nile, of the ark which contained the infant Moses, we see first the dutiful daughter and anxious sister; and, in after life, the coadjutor of her illustrious brother, leading the chorus of women by her timbrel and her voice, in his triumphal song, on the borders of the Red Sea—afterwards, in conjunction with Aaron, she became his opponent through envy—but we may hope was restored to her better and earlier mind, through the chastisement she received from the Lord. How much mischief may ENVY do to spoil the best of characters, and to poison the happiness of families!
In Deborah, we contemplate the religious heroine, and the inspired poetess, raised up by the special Providence of God, for the deliverance of his people; an instance of exalted piety in an age of depressed religion, and still deeper national distress.
Should it be asked by any one, what we are to say of Jael, celebrated by the poetess Deborah, in her lofty strain of praise, I scarcely know what answer to give. Nothing less than a Divine mandate, which she may have received in some unknown and unrecorded manner, could have justified the deed. Apart from this, even the stratagems of war would not clear the heroine from the charge of treachery of the blackest kind. True, Sisera was an enemy; but he had trusted himself to her protection, and she slew him while sleeping under her guardianship. I leave the matter therefore as I find it, without either justifying or condemning it, for I know not all the facts of the case.
What a pattern of filial obedience, piety, and patriotism, have we in Jephtha's daughter, over whose affecting story hangs so deep a mystery. Whether, according to the opinions of some, she was actually offered up in sacrifice; or according to others, was only consecrated by perpetual virginity to God, her beautiful character shines out with equal brightness, in all that is amiable, dutiful, and submissive.
But now turn to that touching and melancholy group of widows in the land of Moab, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah. What pen but that which has done it, and done it with such inimitable simplicity, could do justice to this sweet and touching story? Rarely in the history of families does such a scene of affliction as this occur—a widowed mother, and the widows of her two sons! A sad proof how precarious are all the scenes of dear domestic bliss we fondly call our own. How tender, how dignified, and how thoughtful, is the conduct of Naomi! What nobleness of resolution, what daughter-like attachment, and what piety, do we see in Ruth! If in her after-conduct there was that which would not suit the meridian of our age and country, there was nothing contrary to the strictest purity of intention, or modesty of conduct, if we take into account the circumstances of her time, and the provisions of the Jewish law under which she lived. The whole narrative presents a beautiful episode in Jewish history, and an attractive specimen of the simplicity of early manners.
Can we fail to sympathize with Hannah in her sorrows, her insults, and her joys, or to admire her zeal for the Lord, in devoting her child of promise to his service? What a pattern for parents willingly to give up their sons for ministers and missionaries!
Abigail furnishes us with a striking example of the singular prudence of a woman who was unhappily associated with a drunkard and a churl, and of her diligence and tact in averting from her family the evils impending over it from her husband's vices.
What an instance of respect, gratitude, and affection for the ministers of religion, of female influence, rightly exerted over the mind of her husband in the cause of religion, and of submission to the will of God, is the Shunamite! Who can read that touching account of the death of her only son, and her own collected, composed, and energetic conduct on the occasion, without deep feeling and high admiration? We find in her no overwhelming or distracting grief preventing her from adopting the best, the only means for obtaining relief, but a faith which sustained her courage, and directed all her actions. Multitudes in every age and country, where the story has gone, have been instructed by her language, and stimulated by her example; and amid their deepest sorrows, have echoed her few noble monosyllables in reply to the question, "Is it well with you? With your husband? With your child? And she answered and said, It is well."
And then what a pattern of fidelity, and piety, and kindness, do we find for female servants in the very next chapter, in the simple and beautiful story of the little Hebrew captive girl, who was nurse-maid in Naaman's family! All, and especially those who occupy a similar situation, may learn, by what weak and humble instruments God may accomplish his purposes, and work out the schemes of his Providence. To how many a charity sermon in these remote days has that incident furnished a text; and thus the little Jewish slave not only brought healing to her master, and a knowledge of the true God into Syria, but became a pattern to myriads of children in our own country!
Nor less to be admired are the generosity and faith of the widow of Sarepta, whose barrel of meal and cruse of oil stand out in such relief, among the brightest pictures of Old Testament history. In what a coruscation of glory does the name of Esther blaze forth upon us, for conjugal fidelity, piety uncorrupted by prosperity, and queenly influence consecrated to the cause of true religion!
Now open the page of the New Testament. Is Christianity destitute of female worthies, women of holy renown? It would be very strange if it were. Strange, indeed, if His religion, who, though he was the Son of God, was born of woman, did not raise up many who should shine forth in all the mild and heavenly radiance of female piety.
Though, as I have said in the last chapter, we ascribe no divine honors and offer no idolatrous homage to the Virgin Mary, nor set her forth in the beauties of painting and sculpture; nor call her, with a singular mixture of absurdity and blasphemy "the Mother of God." We revere her as blessed and exalted among women, to give birth to the humanity of Christ, the Savior of the world; and ascribe to her every holy and general excellence as a woman, a wife, a mother, and a godly believer. (In an age when Popery is lifting up its head in triumph, and with hope, no fair opportunity should be lost to expose its pretensions and refute its errors. There is no part of this dreadful system more contrary to Scripture, or more insulting to God, than its Mariolatry, or worship of the Virgin Mary. She is titled, "Mother of God" "Queen of Seraphim, Saints, and Prophets" "Advocate of Sinners" "Refuge of Sinners" "Gate of Heaven" "Queen of Heaven." And as the same titles are ascribed to her, or nearly so, as are ascribed to Christ; so is the same worship paid to her as to the Savior. Churches are built to her honor; her shrines are crowded with devotees, enriched with their gifts, and adorned with their votive offerings. Prayers are offered to her, her praises are chanted in hymns, thanksgivings are addressed to her, and blessings are asked from her, as one who has power to bestow them. Seven annual festivals celebrate her greatness, and keep alive the devotion of her worshipers. So that Papists almost shut out the worship due to the Father and the Savior by their idolatry of her. Now where, we ask, is one single example, command, or even hint, for all this, in the Word of God? Is it any wonder the Scriptures are kept from the people, when the most common understanding could see that nothing of all this is to be found in that sacred volume? The Acts of the Apostles make mention of her name but once, and that without any mark of eulogy; and in the Epistles she is not mentioned at all. Yes, how contrary is all this to the declaration that there is only one Mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus Christ. "This doctrine of the worship due to the Virgin," says Wylie, in his admirable work on the Papacy, "has been exhibited in symbol, and that in so grotesque a way that for a moment we forget its blasphemy. In the dream of St. Bernard, which forms the subject of an altar-piece at Milan, two ladders were seen reaching from earth to heaven. At the top of one of the ladders stood Christ, and at the top of the other stood Mary. Of those who attempted to enter heaven by the ladder of Christ, not one succeeded, all fell back. Of those who ascended by the ladder of Mary, not one failed. The Virgin prompt to support, stretched out her hand; and thus aided, the aspirants ascended with ease.")
We cherish also a high veneration for Elizabeth her cousin, the wife of Zacharias, and the mother of John the Baptist. In the piety of old Anna, we see a bright pattern for aged widows in her posture, believing and waiting for the consolation of Israel, and an example for an aged saint, ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ—the zeal, so worthy to be imitated by every reclaimed sinner, of the woman of Samaria, after she had believed in Christ, for his honor, and the conversion of her countrymen—the melting penitence of the woman who had been a sinner, whose history teaches us that the most abandoned people may be reclaimed, and find mercy, and that penitence, gratitude, and love, should be in proportion to the guilt contracted and forgiven—the invincible faith of the Syrophenician woman, which received such admiration from Christ, and will teach the latest generations of mankind the power of importunate, persevering, and believing prayer—the generosity of the poor widow who cast in two mites, the whole of her substance, into the treasury of the temple—the beautiful account of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, and the delineation in it, of the characters of the careful and troubled housewife, and the anxious inquirer after salvation—the pouring out of the box of spikenard by one that loved Christ so much as to give her costliest offerings to his person—the grateful, devoted attention and ministrations of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to Christ. What an array of female excellence is here!
Passing on to the Acts of the Apostles, what delightful mention is made of Dorcas, full of good works and alms-deeds which she did, as evinced by her coats and garments for the poor, and the tears which were produced by her death, and which embalmed her memory—and of Lydia, who resorted to the place of prayer at Philippi, whose heart the Lord had opened to attend to the things spoken by Paul, and who afforded the rites of hospitality to the apostle and his companion—and of the chief women, not a few, at Thessalonica, who believed in the apostle's doctrine concerning Christ. Nor are the epistles barren of female names deserving ever to be held in remembrance for their piety, zeal, and good works. There we find Phoebe, the deaconess and bearer to Rome of the epistle to the church in that city; and Euodia, and Syntyche; Lois and Eunice, the mother and grandmother of Timothy, renowned for the sincere faith which dwelt in them; and those women also that labored with Paul in the gospel. And what shall we say more of Priscilla, Paul's helper in Christ, and the instructress of the eloquent Apollos; and Mary, "who bestowed much labor upon him," and Tryphena, and Tryphosa, and Julia, "who labored in the Lord?"
No, my female friends, you see, we repeat, the Scriptures of truth have not passed over your sex in silence, nor thrust it into a corner, nor thrown it into the shade. On the contrary, the sacred page is rich and luminous with bright and beautiful examples of female excellence. You stand there side by side with man in the practice of piety, and are exhibited as not a whit behind him in all that appertains to the grandeur of humanity!
In the Bible, we have now proved that woman is seen in every gradation of rank, from the queen upon the throne, to the menial grinding at the mill—in every variety of condition, the maid, the wife, the mother, and the mistress; in every circumstance of grief and joy, the happy bride, the mourning widow—in every phase of moral character, the faithful spouse and the shameless adulteress—in every scene of active duty, whether in the family, the church, or the world—in every changeful aspect of fortune, rolling in affluence or pining in poverty—there she is seen enlivening the sacred page with her narrative, adorning it with her beauty—sometimes darkening it with her crimes, at others brightening it with her virtues—now calling us to weep with her in her sorrows, then to rejoice with her in her joys. In short, woman is everywhere to be found wrought into the details of God's Scriptures—a beacon to warn us—or a lamp to guide us.
And all the notices being written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are to be considered as his testimony to the excellence and importance of your sex, and the influence it is intended and destined to exert upon the welfare of mankind. Had the Bible, I will not say been against you, but had it passed you over in silence, or only referred to you incidentally, or looked at you with sidelong glances, you would have sunk in general estimation; and man's neglect of you would have been defended or excused by that of God himself. But now no one can plead the example of the Bible for any attempt to neglect, despise, or oppress you. While it protects woman from the insults, the injuries, and the oppression of the other sex, it saves her with no less care and benefit from the sad effects which would arise from the assumption of prerogatives which do not belong to her, and from those excesses of ambition to which her own vanity might otherwise prompt her. It guards her dignity from being trampled down by others, and equally prevents her from lowering it herself, by pretensions which would only make her ridiculous. It describes with accuracy the circle within which it is the will of Providence she should move; presents to her the mission which she is sent into the world to fulfill; furnishes her the rules by which she is to act; proposes to her the rewards which she may legitimately seek and surely expect, if she be faithful to herself—and offers her the assistance necessary for the fulfillment of her high and holy vocation. What this is will be the subject of our next chapter.
In the meanwhile, let me exhort you not only to study the Scriptures, to learn the way of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, but to study them, in order to form your own character as women, by their precepts and their examples. Many and precious are the volumes that have been written for your benefit by your own sex. Female pens have been most happily and usefully employed in delineating female excellence, in writings which you would do well to read. But after all, there is no guide for the formation of female character, morally or spiritually considered, like the inspired one. A woman unacquainted with the Bible, and ignorant of its contents, as affecting her own conduct, character, and history, has yet to know the finest patterns of female loveliness. The Bible is the best mirror by which most accurately to know what you are, and to become what you should be; before which you may adjust all the moral clothings of the soul, and from which you may go forth adorned with all the beauties of holiness, clothed with the garment of purity, and decorated with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. (The author is indebted for some things in this chapter and the next to an incomparably beautiful little work by Adolphe Monod, formerly professor of Theology at Montauban, but now Minister of the French Reformed Church in Paris.)
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