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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Robert Fleming, Principal of Newnan Female Seminary, Ga.
From the book, The Baptist Preacher, Volume III, 1844, Henry Keeling, Ed.
“And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there. And she constrained us.” Acts 16: 13-15.
One of the peculiar features of the religion of Jesus Christ is its transforming influence upon the heart. The systems of religion devised by men, have not only found the heart sinful, but they have been incapable of changing it. However prone mankind may be to boast of their wisdom, it remains a forever settled point, that the world by wisdom, knows not God; and how much soever they may boast of the openness of the heart to the reception of truth, still they are met with this silencing fact, that “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart.”
The heart must be opened for the reception of the revealed word, or the kingdom of heaven will be closed against us in the coming day. Yea verily, “Except we be converted and become as little children we cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” Submission to the will of God, and a reverential regard to his commands, are essential attributes of the child of grace, and they afford the strongest proof that we are converted, —that we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, — that our heart is opened.
The Holy Spirit is the instrument by which this transformation is produced. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” It is, therefore, the work of the Spirit,
“To pour fresh life in every part
And new create the whole.”
It is not by baptism that we are made children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven; but, by the Holy Spirit of God we are sealed unto the day of redemption. No other seal than that which God sets upon the heart can make it meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. Where this seal is set upon the heart, it becomes a heart of flesh—a feeling, tender heart,—a heart susceptible of holy impressions. The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”
These general remarks respecting conversion are applicable to all the subjects of it, without distinction of sex; but this discourse invites attention to the consideration:
1. of piety as exhibited in the female character; and
2. of the influence which pious females exert over others.
1. Of piety as exhibited in the female character.
Females, generally, are constitutionally qualified to discharge with more efficiency, the more delicate and tender offices of life, than the other sex. This is apparent from Scripture, and from facts. The feebleness of woman’s physical powers, the delicacy of her mind, the tenderness of her heart, and the ardency of her attachments, all indicate that she is designed by the Creator to be “an help meet for man,”—an auxiliary,—a co-operator with him, in the various duties adapted to her powers.
That the Creator designed the man “to bear the rougher part and mitigate, by nameless gentle offices her toil,” is not debatable. Nor is it intended here to discuss the claims to superiority in the one sex, nor to attempt to show the inferiority of the other. It is the glory of the female character, as well as our pleasure to know, that she is more sympathetic, more easily moved by the tear of suffering humanity, and less inclined to enter with unyielding purpose into the stern and unholy work of cruelty and oppression than our own sex. If then she is naturally more lovely in her general character, what is she when her heart is opened and purified by the soul-softening influence of the Holy Spirit?
Lydia, the female mentioned in our text, whose heart the Lord opened, and whose short history is found in this chapter, was a worshipper of God previously to Paul’s preaching to her the gospel. He found her, on the Sabbath day, withdrawn from the bustle of the city of Philippi, by a river side where prayer was wont to be made. He spoke unto her the word of truth, and the Lord opened her heart and “she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
To open the heart - to convert - is the work of the Lord. To attend unto the things which are spoken is the evidence —the work of the believer. The sacraments, then, do not appear to be essential to salvation; but an observance of them, appears to be essential to an exhibition of Christian faith and obedience.
Lydia was the first convert of whom we have any account in this city. How did the religion of Jesus Christ appear in her character? It wasn’t displayed in mere profession, nor in unmeaning pomp and noise, but in the simple fact that “she attended unto the things” which were spoken by Paul. She became a “doer of the word.” Her love to the Redeemer was made known by her obedience to his word and her love to his servants. It was now altogether congenial with her feelings, and perfectly in her line of things to show them much kindness.
It is remarkable in this instance, as well as in all others where the Lord opens the heart, that he opens the house and the purse of the individual. And although the religion of Christ makes its subjects ardent and sincere in their attachment to God’s people generally and to his ministers especially, yet it does not make them immodest nor vainly ostentatious in the exhibition of their piety.
Such was Lydia’s attachment to these “messengers of the Lord of hosts” that, when she was baptized and her household, she besought them saying, “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.” And she constrained them. Converted persons delight in the society of pious persons. She took pleasure in the company, the conversation, the instructions, and, (more than all) in the prayers of these holy men in her family. The hospitalities of her house were freely tendered to them; yea, she constrained them, to accept of the temporal comforts with which Divine providence had blest her, and that too, during the whole of their stay in Philippi.
Perfectly aware of the ardency of her feelings, and of the strong terms in which they were communicated, she seems to have become fearful lest the Apostles might deem it imprudent to take lodgings at the house of a strange female, of whose character they had had so little knowledge. But she seems to anticipate their objections by prefixing the condition, “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord.” There is always safety where there is faithfulness to the Lord. I will be faithful to you,—my house is open,—it is free,—I am able,—I am willing,—I am anxious to have you with me.
In all ages of the world, and among all nations, public sentiment has had a powerful influence on the actions of mankind; but where it is not regulated by the principles of the Bible, it needs correction. Probably, with us, it needs correction, respecting the liberties and privileges which it allows to females generally, and to religious females particularly.
While the female heart glows with love to God, his cause and his people, there appears to be a disposition (with some minds at least) if not to close, at least not to open the channels through which they may be able to bring into lively and profitable exercise the graces of the Holy Spirit.
And while our sex have claimed superiority of intellectual powers, they have also, apparently, arrogantly said, that woman in point of piety is inferior to man, and should have little to do, and less to say in religion. But we learn from our text a different lesson. We see the influence of the grace of God on the heart of a female at Philippi, where the Gospel had never previously been preached. We see her immediately attending to the command of God, and giving vent to the holy, heaven-wrought feelings of her heart, in constraining the Apostles to make her house their welcome residence during their continuance in the city.
Paul found Lydia, out of the city, by a river side, where it was usual for prayer to be made on the Sabbath. She was among the women who resorted thither. It is probable she was a Jewess who worshipped God according to the requisition of the law. She had not heard of Jesus, or if she had, she had not embraced the Gospel. But now the Lord opened her heart and converted her and her household. She had come from Thyatira to Philippi to trade, but she and her family attended to the worship of God on the Sabbath, according to the knowledge they had of his worship.
It were devoutly to be wished that the men who merchandize our town and cities would follow her example - would attend the worship of God themselves on the Sabbath, and take their families with them. This was what the world terms a business woman. She was now what the Scriptures require all Christians to be - “diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
Idleness and gossiping at any time, but especially on the Sabbath, are incompatible with the religion of the Bible; and whenever women or men, (no matter what may be their wealth,) would excuse themselves from the obligation to pursue some honest and useful employment that might benefit themselves and others, they are wanting in piety, are at war with the designs of heaven, and subject themselves to the reproof of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ. “No man liveth unto himself” should be deeply and indelibly impressed on every human heart. All are to be laborers, and none loiterers, in the vineyard of the Lord. Of them to whom much is given, much will be required.
Christians were there to receive him but he found that the same Lord, who had opened other hearts at other places, was ready to open Lydia’s heart for his reception. The Christian minister ever finds a home in that house where the word of the Lord finds a place in the heart of its possessor. Christianity is the same in all ages of the world,—”good will to men”— “to do good and to communicate.” Eighteen hundred years ago, in the heart of Lydia of Thyatira, it was seen and known by its fruits.
The same spirit is found in the heart of every converted female in this community today; and by their fruits Christians are known now, as they were then. Lydia’s kindness towards the Apostles endeared her to them, and fully convinced them that they were altogether welcome to a liberal participation in the hospitalities of her house. Be not surprised if the minister should most frequently call at the residence of those whose piety is so well authenticated, and whose constraining entreaties are something more than hollow-hearted formality, or sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.
We have said that the pious conduct of this distinguished individual was such as to secure the decided respect and confidence of the Apostles. In proof of this, we find them, as stated in the 40th verse of the chapter, visiting her house, as soon as they were liberated from prison, and comforting the brethren who composed her household, and who had been so recently baptized. The pre-eminence of her piety is very conspicuous in this instance; for though Paul had been seized by an infuriated mob, dragged before the magistrates of the city, scourged, derided, and imprisoned, still she stands fast in the faith, and in her vindication of him as a minister of the Gospel.
This was a trying time with her and with him; for there was nothing in the popularity of Paul, nor of his religion, at this time in this city, which could induce sycophantic fawning. It is too commonly the policy of carnal spirits to avoid responsibility, and to endeavor to give importance and influence to themselves, by hanging to the skirts of those whom fame with her silvery, though deceitful trumpet has already proclaimed to be wise, and great, and grand. No such unholy motive could have given rise to the conduct of this woman. Nor could the fear of detracting from her own reputation, by espousing the cause of this despised, persecuted and unpopular minister, deter her (though a stranger in the city herself and equally exposed to danger) from the discharge of her duty towards him.
It is human nature to shrink from receiving instruction from those who, in public estimation, are degraded and unpopular; and it is too often the case that public estimation is made the “sine qua non” [Latin for “without which there”] of merit. But the grace of God so reigned in the heart of the prison; he found a hearty welcome at her house, and his pious instructions still fell like the mellow tones of music upon the ears of the brethren there, and filled their desponding spirits with comfort. In the holy consolations of spirit-born souls, they dream not of worldly policy nor of fleshly prudence. Here is manifested exalted piety. It is not the easiest part of Christian duty to follow Christ when our reputation, our person, our property, and our life are endangered by it.
But instances of piety, of a high order among females are not isolated and few:
MARTHA AND MARY were the intimate personal friends of Christ. Lydia evinced her love to Christ by her love to his Apostles; but these two amiable sisters had the peculiar honor of entertaining Christ himself under their humble roof. They saw his sympathies as a man when he approached the tomb of their deceased brother Lazarus and wept; but they beheld his power, as “the mighty God,” when he cried, “Lazarus come forth.” These sisters and their brother lived in a retired situation, and Jesus often visited them. Retirement is favorable to visits from Jesus. Piety is apt to wither in the sickly atmosphere of the busy, thoughtless world.
MARY MAGDALENE out of whom Jesus cast seven devils, came to Jesus as he sat at meat at Simon’s house, and washed his feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head, anointing them with precious ointment. What a display of ardent love and deep humility of soul! Simon, a Pharisee, finds fault, but Jesus commends her. The religious zeal and pious labors of females in our own day have too often to endure the sulky frowns of some of Simon’s kindred spirits.
DORCAS a disciple, who resided at Joppa, was a woman full of good works and alms deeds which she did. She sickened and died. Peter was at a neighboring city and was sent for. When he came they conducted him into an upper chamber where she was laid, and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which she made while she was with them. She was benevolent, and was lamented in death by all the “saints and widows.” Religion and benevolence are but other names for love to God and man. They are twin sisters, going hand-in-hand, ministering to the wants of the widow and the fatherless.
RUTH the Moabitess daughter-in-law of Naomi, and whose prophetic history furnishes a beautiful specimen of piety in the female heart, may be profitably mentioned here. After the death of her husband and two sons, Naomi was disposed to return from the land of Moab to Bethlehem Judah, the place of her nativity and the land of her kindred. As she was taking leave of her daughters-in-law, she pronounces, in the spirit of true piety, her parting benediction upon them. “The Lord deal kindly with you as ye have dealt with the dead and turn to Moab,” but Ruth said to her Mother-in-law; Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go ; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God ; where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.”
We might here introduce with much propriety the name of DEBORAH, the wife of Lipidoth, a prophetess who judged Israel after the death of Ehud; and who led the army of Israel under Barak to successful combat with the army of Jabin king of Canaan, whose army was commanded by Sisera. “The Lord sold Sisera and his host into the hand of a woman. She not only judged Israel, but she planned the battle for Barak, and went up with him to Kedish, the field of action, and directed the onset. After this signal conquest, she sang a song of praise to God, ascribing all the glory and honor to him. In all this there is an exhibition of elevated piety, as well as a display of superior mental endowment.
We might mention the names of many other women, whose holy lives are recorded in the word of God for the benefit of succeeding generations. We might speak of Sarah, the mother of Isaac,—of Hannah, the mother of Samuel,—of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist,—of Mary, the mother of Jesus. But time would not permit us to dwell. It is recorded to the imperishable honor of woman, that she was last at the cross and first at the sepulchre of Christ,—last to witness his dying agony, and first to proclaim his triumphant resurrection. We are to consider:
II. THE INFLUENCE WHICH PIOUS FEMALES EXERT OVER OTHERS.
It is not intended here to speak of the influence which pious females exercise over their own sex alone, but over all classes, of both sexes. The wise, energetic, pious woman occupies a distinguished place in the history of our species, as given in the Holy Scriptures. Woman was created to be “an help meet for man;” and she has proven herself not unworthy the design of her Creator. With a heart and head regulated by correct feelings and principles, she is not improperly styled, “Heaven’s first best gift to man;” or to use the more impressive language of holy writ, “Her price is far above rubies.”
Let us consider:
1. Her influence in the family as a wife.
That she who is “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh” should have a greater influence over us than anyone else is a point settled by the Word of God. “Wherefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and, cleave unto his wife.” Son to his kind father and amiable mother are loose when compared with those which now bind him to the wife of his virtuous choice. It is true; he does not cease to love his father and mother, but he loves his wife more. This is one of the laws of heaven, stamped upon our existence for purposes wise and good. Thus the affections of the son and his wife (as they do not flow back to the parent) are concentrated and thrown forward upon each other and upon their mutual offspring, from age to age, through all coming time.
The husband is destined to feel the influence of his wife either for weal or for woe. The inspired penman has written, “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman.” But it is again written, “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife,” the believing wife. Who can estimate the amount of holy influence which the prayers and godly conversation of a Christian wife may have over her impenitent husband? God has said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” The wife was not created merely to help him make money,—to help him decorate the frail body which is so soon to fall a prey to the greedy worms of the grave.
No more valuable purposes were to be accomplished in bestowing upon man an help meet. She is eminently qualified, by piety, to help him make his calling and his election sure. What pious husband, who is blest with an intelligently pious wife, has not felt the force of this declaration? How pleasant the family altar, where hearts united in fearing the Lord, meet to implore his blessing upon their undying spirits The Almighty himself has fixed, unchangeably, a price upon the virtuous, sensible, pious woman.
We repeat it. “Her price is far above rubies.” The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her. “She will do him good and not evil, all the days of her life.” "She will do him good,” —it will not be an attempt followed by a failure. The man who can lightly esteem such a woman offers insult to the God that made him. And he, who makes piety a secondary consideration in the selection of a wife, makes religion a secondary object in his own soul. Such an individual seems to say, “Give me a wife with a plenty of money and money’s pleasures; and religion and religious pleasures you may give to the winds.”
It sometimes occurs that the wife is religious and the husband an unbeliever. How can she exercise, to the best advantage, an influence over him? She may do this by her pious deportment; but there is nothing in the word of God, nor in the feelings of a kind husband, which forbids her praying in his presence in the family.
But the devotions of the Christian husband are aided by the—the need of spiritual help. How seasonable! How pleasant are the prayers of the wife on such occasions at the family altar! Again, he may be confined to his chamber on a bed of affliction. Who can come around his pillow—who can offer supplication so sincere, so moving, and so availing, as the wife whose holy life has been to him a crown of rejoicing in his healthful days!
2. Her influence as a mother.
Just so certain as God designed woman to be a mother, so certainly did he design she should be instrumental in moulding, properly, the mind and morals of her infant offspring. It is painful for us to know that a few, (though very few,) professedly Christian parents have thought it improper to teach children the Scriptures, from a supposed incapacity, on the part of the child, to understand religious truths. But we would seriously ask, “What are the Scripture examples and precepts on this subject?”
Have we forgotten that when God gave the law to the Israelites, he required of parents that his holy commandments should be observed by them and their children after them? Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up…And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, what mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God commanded you? Then shalt thou say, we were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt.” Deut. 6:7, 20. By this quotation we prove clearly the importance of religiously instructing children, in childhood, that when they shall ask us, in riper years, what these things mean, we may be able to give that explanation which the Holy Spirit may sanctify to their souls’ salvation.
But some may say, this obligation belonged to the Jewish dispensation, and is not binding upon us in the gospel day. We reply—what has Paul said to Timothy, his son in the gospel? He exhorted him to continue in the things which he had LEARNED and been assured of, “knowing of whom thou has learned them, and that from a CHILD thou hast known the holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” II Tim. 3: 14, 15
Timothy’s mother was a Jewess, and his father a Greek. (Acts 16:1) His grandmother, Lois, was a believer; and his mother Eunice had taught him the Scriptures from a child. All we know of his father is that he was a Greek —not a word is said of him as a believer: But the female ancestry of Timothy is mentioned by Paul, with pleasing recollections. He rejoiced that Timothy had been blest with a pious mother and grandmother. What an inestimable blessing! Some of us have mothers dead and in glory. The many times they kneeled with us to pray with us to pray for the blessing of God upon our infant souls are fresh upon the tablet of our memory. To some of us it is the most pleasing recollection of our life to know that our infantile years were nurtured in the bosom of maternal piety.
Mothers, you have religious duties to discharge towards your children, which you cannot neglect without the frowns of God coming upon you. Follow them by your prayers, your tears and a holy life. Teach them to pray, —teach them to read the holy Bible,—teach them to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy;—teach them to attend the Church and be sober,—teach them to live peaceably with others,—teach them to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly before God all their days,—let your fire-side circle be itself A SABBATH SCHOOL AND A BIBLE—CLASS.
Say to them, as did the Psalmist, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me and I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” How delightful to behold a father and mother united, heart and hand, in training up the objects of their mutual love in the way they should go. How pleasant it is to spend a Sabbath-eve with such a family! All is order, peace and happiness. The father, mother, sons, daughters and servants are all cheerful under the influence of a well-regulated religious discipline. Oh how delightful is that dwelling place where all the members of the household meet, To sing the praises of Almighty grace and bow with reverence at the mercy-seat!”
How unlike this, is that family where there is no uniformity, no fixedness of purpose, in these matters! Religious duties in such a family are a task, and the public services of the Church a burden to them.
Are you a widowed mother? Your husband has been accustomed to gather his family together to invoke heaven’s blessing upon them. He is dead. How silent! How solitary and desolate the house, under any circumstances, compared with what it was! Evening comes, and the hour of prayer comes, but no song of praise is heard,—no sound of prayer falls upon the ear of the sorrowing orphans. Lonesomeness and gloom reign throughout the desolate mansion. The children, unused to such a state, seem to sigh for the accustomed prayer. Mother of these helpless sorrowers - shall they sigh in vain?
In the providence of God they are thrown alone upon your arm for temporal and eternal aid. O will you not arise and look to the God of the widow and the fatherless for help? “Who will pray for me now?” said a child to its father, “since mother is dead?” The father had lived without prayer, and the child had never heard him pray; but the question made such an impression upon his heart that he rested not until he found peace with God in prayer. “Mother, who will pray for us now father is dead?” is a question which, we fear, might be asked by the children of too many bereaved pious females. But how can you, Christian mothers, neglect this duty towards your children? God has promised to bless you and them.
“…will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever; for the good of them and their children after them. Jer. 32: 39.
We have a model of female excellence given in the 31st chapter of Proverbs, which it would be unpardonable to pass unnoticed in this discourse. “She opens her mouth in wisdom and her lips are the law of kindness.” “She eats not the bread of idleness—her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praiseth her.”
Truly blessed are the children of such a mother; and blest is the husband of such a wife; for when he shall leave her by death, he shall feel that his God is the God of the orphan children and their widowed mother. Let every female who would fill her station to the glory of God, and who would learn the true science of being happy, amiable and useful, imitate the example of this wife, mother and mistress.
3. Her influence as mistress in the family.
She should pray with her household, especially in the absence of her husband. Prayers should not be suspended in the absence of the praying husband. She should read the Scriptures, pray with them, and talk to them daily on the subject of religion. All her demeanor should disclose to them retire with her family to the 4 place where prayer is wont to be made,”—to the Church,—to the prayer meeting. Can we not readily perceive the hand of God in the conversion of Lydia’s household through her instrumentality? May we not look back from young Timothy to his mother Eunice, and still back to his grandmother Lois and find the remote instrumentality of his conversion to the Christian faith? Cannot some of us go back to the days of unpolluted childhood, when we were taught to lisp at a mother’s knee, “Our father who art in heaven,” and there date the first whisperings of that still small voice which brought us to the fold of God?
4. Her influence in the Church among her female friends.
There is power in a holy life, which disarms infidelity itself. And if infidelity is more abhorrent in one class than another, it surely is in that of females. One writer asserts that “a female infidel is a monster in human form.” But the pious female in going into the circle of the sisterhood will not encounter such monsters. There she will meet with kindred spirits. There by a holy life, she will kindle a holy fire which will consume envy, hatred, malice, and all the kindred train of evil. She may converse freely on the subject of religion—may unite in prayer with and for them, and thus shed around her an influence which will animate, strengthen and encourage those of her own sex, and diffuse a heavenly radiance over the whole brotherhood. But consider,
5. Her influence among the brethren.
By an intelligent and well regulated zeal, she may give life and energy to the services of God’s house. The minister himself, while he has indubitable evidence that her heart is lifted up in prayer for him, feels her influence as he breaks to the people the bread of life. When he rises in the sacred desk to enter upon the duties of his high calling, and casts his eye over the assembly, and beholds even one whose prayers he knows are ascending to heaven for a blessing on his labors, he thanks God and takes courage,—is strong in the Lord and the power of his might, and feels that he is not working single-handed in the vineyard of his Divine Master.
Paul acknowledges the help of some of the devout sisterhood of the Philippian Church. “I entreat thee also, true yoke-fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel.” What those labors were, we are not informed. It must have been in prayer, and deeds of charity and benevolence, that they labored with him; for he did not permit women to preach.
The Sabbath school opens a delightful field of labor for pious females. In this they may co-operate with the brethren, and be efficient laborers with the minister in teaching transgressors the way of the Lord. Who can estimate the amount of good this modern enterprise has already accomplished? It has thrown light and life into the abodes of darkness and death,—has waked up the slumbering energies of the Christian world,—is driving before it the clouds of ignorance and superstition, by pouring into the youthful mind the wholesome, simple truths of God’s Book.
Every Church should be a Sabbath school, and all the brethren and sisters should, to the utmost of their ability and opportunity, foster and sustain the glorious enterprise. Baptists, as they have ever claimed the Bible as their only “rule of faith and practice,” and have acknowledged no other book of doctrine and discipline, should be foremost in the labors of this blessed institution.
6. Her influence on the world.
Humanity depraved is so poor a thing, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to say what it will not do. Some of our own sex have such a poor, not to say contemptible, opinion of female intellectuality, as to intimate that all the weaker vessels are to be found only among the other sex. It would be a blessing to the world if it were so; but so it is not.
Weakness has not fallen upon the daughters of Eve alone. That disposition, which leads any of our sex to smile with self-complacency at the claims set up in behalf of female worth, may be adduced as proof; and may, very properly, be referred back for its paternity to a more barbarous and less enlightened age, than the one in which it is our happy privilege to live.
It is certain that the illiberal abuse poured upon the female sex is founded in ignorance and folly. The truly sensible and well informed entertain far better, and far more just sentiments, in relation to female utility and importance in the scale of being; and are ever disposed to ascribe to female capacity and worth, more than female modesty and wisdom are disposed to assume or even receive. No good man has ever wished to see the female character undervalued or degraded; and perhaps very few good women have ever violently coveted stations and employments which belong peculiarly to men. The rivalship and competition of the sexes are altogether ridiculous and absurd. Each has its distinct dignity and influence, and mutual concession is the truest wisdom in the one and the other.
Let us not conclude, then, that a pious lady is going beyond the appropriate sphere of her action, when she carries with her into the world the religion of Christ—that religion which throws a charm around her by giving softness, gentleness and ease, to her manners; and which makes her firm, without stubbornness; serious, without sadness; lively, without levity; and lovely, without dissimulation: that religion, emphatically, which enables her, in all her associations with the world, “To tread low-thoughted vice beneath the foot, And soar above this lithe scene of things.”
In the circles of her own sex especially, an intelligently pious woman may be eminently successful in assisting and encouraging those who are serious and inclined to unite with the Church. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” —no matter if a woman should speak it. It may be sanctified to the spiritual peace of the enquiring soul, and it may dispose the halting convert to halt no more. The woman at the well of Samaria, when she heard the Son of God, ran off in all the raptures of a heaven-born spirit, leaving her water pot and telling the people of her delightful interview—” Is not this the Christ?” Many of the inhabitants of the village believed on him, because of the words which she spoke.”
What a blessed privilege! to speak of Jesus and be owned as an instrument in the salvation of others I Woman may, and should speak of the goodness of God, It is no mark of piety in a woman, (or man either) to be dumb, on the subject of religion. For a lay to be able to speak with a kind of enthusiastic fluency in relation to her flower-garden and to be lifeless and speechless when the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valley” is the theme, is a reproach to her Christian character. For the toilet-table of her apartment, or the center-table of her parlor, to be loaded with the books of fiction, or the pamphlets of fashion, and be destitute of the Bible and of religious periodicals, is a reproach,—a shameful reproach,—to her, head and her heart.
“Religion never was designed to make our comforts less.” Genuine piety does not make its subject gloomy, harsh, or impolite in the society of others. It dignifies, ennobles and elevates the character, and gives to the feelings a tenderness and sweetness which ever render its possessor more lovely to all. How easily, then, may the pious lady approach unconverted females, and, with the tenderness and kindness characteristic of her sex added to the sincerity and warmth of pious feeling, urge upon them the importance of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
That spiritual peace depends much on spiritual deportment and practice, is confirmed by the word of God and the experience of all his saints. Women and men who live lives of practical godliness enjoy most of the life and power of religion in their souls. “It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.” It is good—for man or woman. But an eminently pious and zealous woman often appears to the eye of the sluggardly, frozen-hearted professor, like an enthusiast. Hence it not infrequently happens that some of our own delinquent sex are disposed to cry, “enthusiasm,”— ”wild fire,”— ”fanaticism”—”monomania,” and the like, when pious females are found ahead of them in holy living—when religion is the theme of their conversation, and the work of the Lord, the business of their lives.
This is doubtless one of the Devil’s weapons, put by him into the hands of such professors for their own unholy defence. Disposed, as too many of our own sex are, to undervalue the powers of the female mind, they feel perfectly justified in turning away with a sneer of contempt, believing that public sentiment (their only rule for determining right and wrong) will screen them from public odium. Indeed, it is to be regretted that it sometimes does. Though it may seem severe, yet we cannot forbear stating it as our decided opinion, that many of the male members of the Churches are not what pious females ought to be—fall far behind that attainment which religious females ought to be expected to make.
Though women are generally more pious and warm-hearted in the service of God than men; yet it is not to be doubted that the standard-of female piety is too low amongst us. It is probable that at this place, however, it is not below that of corny others. But if the standard of female piety is too low, to what cause is it attributable? May we not fear that the cause may be found at our door? We are not what we should be.
Our standard is not occupying that high ground it should, and woman, (ever ready to shrink to the back-ground) has to occupy at a fearful distance from her true position. Who among you, brethren, pray daily in your families? Who among you daily read the Word of the Lord and bow before him at the family altar? No wonder then that our sisters so rarely do this, when it is so much neglected by those whose more immediate duty it is. While you have been remiss, and by your example encouraged others to be so, it is probable your pious wife, in her lonely hours of meditation, has said with a deep sigh from her heart a hundred times over, “If I were in my husband’s place I would try to pray in the family.”
Husband of that godly wife, will you not try to pray? Wife of that delinquent husband, will you not help him? You would most willingly lay your hand to any of his worldly interests to assist him, and surely you would not withhold in helping him to lay up treasure in heaven. Provide the candle, at night, and lay the books before him, and ask him once.
Probably this will be enough. It will, if he loves you, and his children, and his God, as he should. -What a delightful sight—a father, and his beloved wife and tender offspring, all on their knees, before the Lord their Maker, pleading for the bread of life! And who was instrumental in bringing him to the family altar?
You, THE WIFE OF HIS HOLY VOW. AMEN.