REV. H. HASTINGS WELD
Young man—beware! Beware of those with whom the word “woman” is a term of disrespect; and who apply it as a contemptuous epithet to those of the other sex who are esteemed deficient—but whose deficiency may be a virtue rather than a failing, inasmuch as it is the fear of God, rather than of man. The contempt which certain bold bad men feel, and other time‐serving and timorous men affect, for woman, originates from the circumstance that, removed from popular bad influences, and out of the reach of the manly sophistries of society, she sees things in their true colours, and calls them by their right names. She judges tendencies by their consequences. Less distracted with a variety of events and interests, than man; living for her family, and watching with the quick and constant eye of affection every member of it, her careful observation detects the first retrograde step, and her gentle and jealous tenderness takes alarm at the first indication of danger. Like the sensitive plant, a virtuous woman shrinks at the first suspicion of contamination. Heed then, rather than slight her warnings—invite rather than despise her counsel.
An evidence of the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures is found in their non‐agreement with the evil customs of the world. They do not endorse its opinions and fashions—they furnish no authority or precedent for the pride of man: pride of power, of wealth, of wisdom, or of sex. And the contrast between the Divine revelation of His Will which God has vouchsafed us in the Book of Books, and the tendencies of the natural heart, as developed in human systems of religion established by impostors, or growing up out of the abuses of successive generations,—the difference between the Thought of God, and the wanderings of man, is nowhere more strikingly exhibited than in the positions of woman in the Pagan Theories, and in the Bible. In Pagan nations, as has been tersely remarked, “Women are thrice slaves. Their fathers govern them in childhood, their husbands in youth, and their sons in old age.” The parental despotism vested in the male parent consigns the daughter to a new master of his election, without regard to her choice. Enduring the caprices of the new tyrant with a patience which furnishes the only relief for her sufferings, she resigns herself to tyranny as the fate of woman—looking forward only to the filial duty of the son whom she has borne for her future consolation. Alas, for her hopes! When that son emerges beyond the tutelage of the mother, his first lesson in manhood is to deny her authority and to spurn her counsels. The mother, in bondage at first to her father, and then to her husband, comes yet a third time under tyranny, her master being her son. To the anguish of retrospection she adds in the present the painful experience—
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!—
And her future:—if the system in which she is educated looks to a heaven, what has woman to do with that? Does man who invented a religion make its life beyond the grave reprove him for his abuse of her in this world? It is a doubt whether she is admitted there at all—and if that grace be accorded her, it is to minister to his pleasure in another world, whose slave she has been in this.
In the Bible we find a far different revelation of the moral accountability and position of woman as the help meet for man; and profitable instruction for the stronger sex also in his relative duties to her whom God appointed as a proper aid and companion for him. That she was made as an help establishes man as her head and director; but that an help was necessary shows man’s need of assistance no less than his right of direction. On the one hand is the trusting affection of her who looks for protection; on the other the grateful love of him who is aided by the help which God pronounced meet. Both were created in the likeness of God, both were called Adam, both were blessed by their Creator. Both have appropriate spheres to fill, and duties to perform: and the requirements of God at the hands of both are of equal importance. Neither can neglect them without peril, for both have immortal souls to save. And in the household and family relations each is equally interested. If one fail, the other is burthened and led into temptation. It is said by the Wise Man, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” And what friends are oftener together, or more dependent upon each other, than man and woman? United in this life, their destiny is co‐eternal: and what they sow in this world they will reap in the next; for the Lord of the Harvest is no respecter of persons.
We have spoken above of certain customs as heathen errors. But the errors of false religions, and the perversions of the true, have their origin alike in human nature: and when men in Christian lands wander into evil customs, they assimilate themselves in their character and courses to the idolatrous heathen, and to the followers of false prophets. Thus, in despite of the doctrine and authority of revelation, and in forgetfulness of the fact that God created man and woman, blessing both, the legislation and the customs and usages of Christian States have too much favoured the natural propensity of the strong to lord it over the weak; and the selfish idea that woman is created for the pleasure of her supreme master. But whatever law and conventionalisms may permit us to do wrong, they do not prevent our doing right. Human customs may give us apparent license in following the multitude to do evil—but they do not compel us so to do; and even though a man should be alone in well‐doing, as he has the aid of God and his conscience, he is not unsupported.
Beware, then, we say, of those with whom the name of woman is a term of reproach. The foundation of happiness and success in life is laid in respectful and tender obedience to her who possesses stronger claims upon our gratitude and love than any other human being. Let witlings sneer at our deferential respect—for the wise man classes among the generations of evil‐doers “one that hath not blessed their mother.” And against such—“the eye that despiseth to obey his mother,” Solomon denounces terrible judgments. The pride of assumed superiority of sex was not unobserved of the king who spoke proverbs concerning all things from the least unto the greatest. “A foolish man,” he saith, “despiseth his mother.” To whom but to the mother do we owe the formation of the individual, and therefore of the national character? Who can be so deeply bound up in the destiny, who so patiently watch in love over the character of a child, as she to whom his birth was the throe of anguish, and who received him with joy unspeakable, as a compensation from Heaven for her agony.
“I have gotten,” said Eve, “a man from the Lord.” Such is the language of every woman’s heart. Such is the thanks‐giving—such the hope. In the weary hours of infancy, when pain, our heritage from Adam, oppresses the little one—and man would weary with watching, woman, untired and patient, toils on in the labour of love. She gives her life for the child—for the fountain of its existence is in the mother’s heart. The boy may grow up to forget the woman who bore him—she forgets him never—never while reason holds its seat or life courses in her veins. It is found that when a limb is taken from the human body, the consciousness of that limb is never lost. The sufferer feels still in the absent member, as if it were yet present with him. So when the child is separated from her who gave him birth—removed by circumstances—estranged by folly—nay, debased by crime, the mother never forgets the lost. She never can cease to pray for him, never can live as if he were not.
Iron sharpeneth iron—how doth the countenance of the child testify to the presence of that best friend, the mother! She leads his infant thoughts to God—his Father in Heaven. She teaches him that deep as her love is, there is one whose love is greater; and that as His love is, so is His power. She moulds the tender mind in its first impressions of holiness—to its first horror of vice. Emphatically true is this of pious mothers, though in some sense true of all. Indifferent and careless though some women may be when they think of their own souls, a mother’s love inspires their prayers when they plead for their children. Thoughtless they may be as to the concerns which make for their own everlasting peace; but they are thoughtful, even to the agony of prayer, when their offspring are the subject. Many times does God bless this instinct of parental affection to the benefit of parent and child—especially when parents remember and take home to their hearts the important truth that their actions make a much deeper impression than their words.
Women are the conservators of piety. Men admire in their little children the graces which they acquire of their maternal instructors; and yet, by a strange perversity, it is with an air of patronage, condescension, and tolerance that the father often approves the instructions of his wife. Men are too apt to treat the ordinances of God’s house, the memory of His day, the reading of His book, and the preaching of His word, as subjects which are fitted for the employment of feminine and infant minds. Men graciously bend down to them—provided they have not to engage their attention matters of more importance. More importance! What a painful and absurd infatuation!—Time set against eternity, and the lesser declared to be the more important! The body weighed against the soul,—and the body pronounced to be of the greater consequence! And yet there is a vast deal of this practical infidelity in the world. Whole communities, nay, whole nations are full of it. The whole web of society is discoloured with its stain. The worship of God who made Heaven and Earth is treated as if it were too puerile for men, and must therefore be left to women and children. The delights of God’s house and the consolations of religion are regarded as too insipid for manly tastes, and are therefore abandoned to the women. Let men consider the effect of this. The child is early a reasoner; much earlier than man suspects. He loves his mother—he venerates his father—for does not she teach him so to do? Shall his conduct neutralize her instructions? Shall we put before children the temptation to do wrong—as a vindication of the parent—lest by the contrast of well‐doing in themselves their fathers be reproved?
As to woman in the family, so to woman in the church falls the duty of imparting to the child the first religious instruction. To woman in our Sabbath Schools we find the great burthen of the labour is intrusted. If this is a designed compliment to her capacity, it is as just as the labour it imposes is onerous. But man cannot thus escape his duty, without, in the same measure, forfeiting his reward. If he delegates to woman his share as well as her own in the education of youth in the truths of the Gospel, he forfeits the heavenly pleasure which she derives from an employment which angels might envy. If he disregards this duty as if it were beneath his manhood, he reflects upon the wisdom of Him who took little children in His arms and blessed them, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Luk 18:16.) Woman, brought into closer and more continual connection with the nature and character of infancy, learns to love as well as to guide; to admire as well as to instruct. She finds, in the manifestations of budding intellect, and the curious revelations of first thoughts and first impressions, many wonderful facts which the wisdom of the schools and the philosophy of men learned in books do not know. While man theorizes on externals, and wanders amid abstractions, she learns the inner life of the infant before dissimulation has taught concealment, or habit has destroyed originality.
The Bible differs from all other histories in this, that it gives woman her true place and prominence in its annals. It shows the important part she fills, not only in the history of the household, but in the history of nations. It exhibits traits of her heroism, marks of her wisdom, instances of her affection, and countless other proofs and indications that while her destiny is immortal, her influence is immeasurable. She is intimately connected with the greatest events and circumstances which affect our race—not in temporal things only, but eternal; not in the objects which concern the body merely, but in the history of the soul. If woman was the first to submit to temptation, to her was given, in God’s plan of redemption, the honour of giving birth to the Redeemer. “Blessed art thou among women,” (Luk 1:28) said Gabriel to the Virgin—“Hail! thou art highly favoured.” Nor was the knowledge that such should be the honour of woman delayed till the time of its fulfilment. Long before the coming of Christ were the circumstances of His birth predicted: nay, in the Garden it was promised that the seed of the woman should be victorious over the serpent.
Jesus, we are informed, was obedient unto His parents. Both were included in the filial duty which he owed them. Of the husband of Mary little is said: of the Mother of Jesus we have frequent mention. In his infancy she kept the wonderful things which were done and said, and “pondered them in her heart.” (Luk 2:19.) How characteristic this of the mother!—She was present at the beginning of miracles in Cana of Galilee: she stood by lamenting when the great miracle of the atonement was perfected in the sacrifice upon the Cross. Doubtless she remembered in that hour what was said by Simeon: “A sword shall pierce through thine own heart also.” (Luk 2:35.) Grieving for the death of her son; unconscious of the fact that in this manner he would redeem Israel, broken in her mother’s heart, crushed in her patriotic hopes, she was consoled in her deep affliction by his remembrance of her in his last agonies, when he commended her to the protection of John. Blessed indeed was she among women! But her blessedness was of a nature, in which every one may participate. When it was said by a woman who witnessed the miracles of Jesus, and listened to His teaching, that the mother of Jesus was blessed, He said, “Yea, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luk 11:28.) Mary dwelt upon the lips of her son—and so must we upon the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. Then shall we be blessed, if we hear the Word of God and keep it.
Referring to the sacred record for the light in which we are to regard the influence of woman, we find the faith of Sarah as well as that of Abraham accounted righteousness; and her faults as well as her virtues left us for our warning. In the Bible are no accounts given of perfect men and women. The plain and simple narrative portrays all sides of the human character. Sarah’s jealousy of the Egyptian handmaid and her child, comes down to us, in Christian times, as the illustration of the evils of divided interests in a household. In the history and characteristics of Hagar we have many instructive passages. One sentence in the history of Rebekah teaches us in a brief but impressive, though incidental manner, the sacred character of woman’s mission—the part which Heaven has assigned her as an help‐meet. Isaac, we are told, upon her arrival was “comforted for the death of his mother.” (Gen 24:67.) Now the young bride had not the experience of the aged parent. She had not, we may presume, the wisdom of the wife of Abraham. But she was a woman sought in prayer—wooed and won in the fear of God. The history of her betrothal and marriage is one of the most delightful instances which the sacred records furnish, of trust in God’s direction. Isaac put her at once in the place of honour, as his counsellor and his friend. Thus has Providence ordered it—that as man’s early female friend passes away, her place shall be supplied by another. Rebekah erred. So do all. But her errors were bitterly punished; and the fact that she had power over Isaac to procure the commission of wrong, is presumptive evidence that she participated also in the deeds of his life which were right.
As we follow the narrative of patriarchal times, we find the history of woman still brought forward. Imagination could not conceive so natural a pastoral scene as the meeting of Jacob and Rachel:—the active assistance which he rendered to her, the ready hospitality which was extended to him by his kindred—the character of their meeting, so simply and beautifully given in a sentence—“Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept.” (Gen 29:11.) Thus the exile from his father’s house at once paid a tribute to the tender memories of the past, and spoke his deep feeling of the kindness of the new friends he had fallen upon. Then followed the fourteen years of service, which seemed to Jacob but a little while, for the love he bare Rachel.—Passing onward to the deliverance of Israel from captivity, note how important is woman’s part in the measures with which God paved the way for the Exodus. Woman’s nature, ever responsive in mercy to the pleadings of the weak and friendless, took compassion on Moses in his frail cradle:—for “behold the babe wept:” (Exd 2:6)—Miriam was ready with an innocent artifice to provide for her brother the nurture of his first best friend.
All these, and other places where woman is introduced, are essential and integral parts of the sacred history. Woman does not appear in the narrative as the mere adjunct and domestic satellite of man. Nor is her history an episode in his—or her life a sort of parenthesis which may be left out of the record without injuring the relation. She acts with him and upon him—his active partner and joint actor—ever preserving the fact that God created Adam male and female; “male and female,” says the inspired historian, “created he them, and he called their name Adam.” (Gen 5:2.) Deborah arose in the time of the Judges for the deliverance of her people; Deborah, who chose her own title—A Mother in Israel—and with others of her sex showed that the giants in those days were not men only. And while Ruth, guided by the love of Israel’s God, came into the land from Moab that she might be the progenitor of David the king; the maternal piety of Hannah was consecrating the child Samuel. The youth thus vowed by his mother to the Lord anointed the son of Jesse—Jesse from whom sprung the righteous branch, the Desire of the Nations. Time would fail us to dilate upon all, or even to enumerate them:—the Shunamite whose liberal piety sustained the prophet—the Widow whose cruse, blessed of God, is the type of the inexhaustible nature of his benefits—Esther, whose patriotism defeated the malice of Haman: All these, and all women, good and bad, mentioned in Scripture, appear not as accidents, but as an essential part of the history.
And in the New Testament, beside her of whom we have already spoken, Mary the Mother of Jesus, we read of Elisabeth and of Anna—of the pious family at Bethlehem, the sisters whom with their brother Jesus loved—of the Woman of Samaria, who bore witness to His Divine character—of the penitents saved by His loving kindness—of the women who followed Him to the Cross—of Dorcas and Lydia, who laboured in Christian charity for the necessities of the poor—of the devout women, not a few, whose faith is honourably recorded. In the kingdom of Christ woman has a most important place to fill—no less than that for which God made her at the first. In the history of His people we are shown her importance—in the history of His church she is man’s co‐labourer—in the Christian family she holds up the hands of the man, as the hands of the leader of Israel were held up by Aaron and Hur. More constant than man in her devotion to God and in her attachment to religion—she has chosen the good part. Honoured of our Lord in his instructions, for he frequently introduces her in his parables, let her virtues be honoured of men; and let not her Mission be held in disrespect to whom Jesus first declared himself as the Messiah. Let not her constancy be passed without imitation, since Woman was last at the Cross—Woman was first at the Sepulchre.
Death is awful. Its thought comes as a chilling cloud interposed between us and the sun of health and prosperity. It checks the half‐spoken jest on the lips of the speaker; and on the face of the listener the smile fades away, and the cheek blanches, as though the living flesh were turning into stone, and the heart’s pulsations were about to stop in sympathy with him who, we are told, has ceased to breathe. If the thought or the tidings of death be thus painful—if we quail for an instant, in spite of ourselves, when we hear that our fellow mortal has paid the debt from which none are released—how much more awful is it in person to witness the sundering of soul and body! The scene and all its associations are woe and weakness. Perhaps a mother leans in sorrow which refuses to be comforted over the couch of a dying child; and in the hour when with the intensity of a woman’s woe she yields him up, weeps almost with unthankful grief, that the beginning and the end of his life are thus to her, almost the surrender of her own.
Perhaps a group of children are distracted in the thought that they are, by Heaven’s inevitable decree, to lose her who in her blind love would never have consented to leave them or to forsake them. Or, those who have been declared in God’s holy ordinance to be no more twain but one flesh, are compelled to yield to the putting asunder by Him who joined them together. Or, what is perhaps more deeply painful than all, it may be that the prayer “Let me die among my kindred,” (Gen 46:40) is not granted to the departing soul. The dying chamber has a darker gloom in the thought that there are absent hearts which are yet to be wrung with the sad intelligence: that there are kindred looking forward to a happy meeting—dear kindred it may be—who have yet to learn that in this world they can meet no more: who when they return to greet with the smile of affection the dear friend or relative, will be led to the place where the grassy mound will silently—but oh how potently—speak to their fainting hearts the last intelligence of the departed!
If to hear of these things and to think of them be full of awe—if to witness the living anguish of friends and the dying throes of the sufferer be dreadful—what words can paint the state of the soul whose departure is the centre of so fearful an interest! No man has come back from the grave to tell us of its secrets. None has informed us what is the true character of the leave‐taking of soul and body. None has returned to reveal the unseen world to us. But we have Moses and the Prophets: and better than all, we have the Gospel of the Son of God, to console us under the reflection that the hour must come when our friends will whisper “He is dying”—that the day must be when we cannot hear them say “He is dead!” And the Gospel must prepare us for what is appointed to all men after death—“The Judgment.”
Woman is Heaven’s minister to the bedside of the dying. The attendance of the women at the cross, and their offices at the sepulchre, reconsecrated the sex to the duties of consolation and respect which they had from the beginning; for in the day when God made her an help meet, he designed her for the hour when man’s strength is but “labour and sorrow.” (Psa 90:10.) From the day that Eve wept over Abel to the present has she been thus employed: and the sweet singer of Israel could find no higher phrase to declare in elegiac earnestness his love for Jonathan than that it exceeded the love of woman. Hers is the gentle hand that smoothes the dying pillow: hers the kind voice which seems in the fever‐dream a whispering from Heaven. Oh may she ever remember that a post so important has not been for any light purpose committed to her: and that the opportunities thus placed in her path are to be improved in guiding the wandering thoughts to the Redeemer—its giving by words fitly spoken to the weak and dying, a spirit of reliance on Him who is Mighty and Eternal.
In what a startling form did the king of Terrors present himself to our first parents! The blood of Abel, while it cried to Heaven for vengeance, told to Adam and Eve, and also to the murderer Cain, the truth of their mortality now they felt the force of the sentence, “Thou shalt surely die.” (Gen 2:17.) Suddenly, and with a greater shock than the sentence of expulsion from the garden, the awful fact of death benumbed their senses. It was unexampled, unexpected, unheralded by anything which had occurred in their experience, or any reasoning which they could draw from facts around them. The beasts perished—but the Creator had made man lord over them. The delicate tissues which minister to life, and give motion and elasticity to the finely rounded limbs: the head erect, and majestic countenance which indicate dominion over the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea, and the beasts of the earth—the wonderful apparatus which inhabits and surrounds
The dome of thought the palace of the soul—
hearing—sight—thought—speech—strength—fleetness: Where in all these could man learn that this being, thus fearfully and wonderfully made, must cease? Where could he be taught that this body, in life the delight of heart and eye, must become a mass so loathsome as to be buried out of sight—so hideous that even affection, as in the sister of Lazarus, would oppose its disinterment? Who but He who has brought Life and Immortality to light through the Gospel could teach us that this body cannot be quickened except it die—that this corruption must put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality? (1Cr 15:3.)
And yet if death were any but the terrible thing it is, we should in our perversity, and in the cares and pleasures of this world, continually forget it. If men quietly passed out of sight to be seen no more—if no sundered ties, no riven hearts recalled to us the hour of their mortal pause—if no unwilling wrestling showed us the tenacity of life, and no dying groans marked the transit from this world to another, we should all live as if sin had not entered into the world, and death by sin. We should forget, in our eager pursuit of the bubbles of time, that no health—no youth—no apparent necessity for our continuance—no ties we have formed—no duties we have left unfulfilled—no convenient season for which we may be waiting—nothing on earth can delay the hour in which it is decreed that we must die. God’s dealings are not all unintelligible, even in this life. They teach us in all cases, if we will read them aright, His almighty power. Our birth and death, both mysteries, are our monitors that He can create, and He destroy. They teach us also His mercy: and it is that we may not, to our peril, forget that death must come, that He, who as a Father loveth his children, has surrounded it with events so awfully impressive.
We are bowed by sickness to submission to His will. We joyfully receive in our weakness the aid of the gentle spirits, whom in our health we proudly talk of protecting: as if one creature could stand between another and the decrees of Providence. We are ready to embrace the strength from on high which she who is habitually dependent invokes for us. Through a mother’s heart death first touched the human soul. Eve wept over Abel when death had entered the world, foreshadowing the decease of the father of mankind; for “in Adam all die:” (1Cr 14:22.) Mary stood weeping by the cross when her son was offered up, the just for the unjust; but no mortal joy has been like hers, when in the resurrection Christ justified the faith of those who trust in Him: “In Christ shall all be made alive.” (1Cr 14:22.)
Fitting is it that woman, thus allied to the penalty and to its relief, should be the minister in sickness. In our day, the tidings of the Messiah, first distinctly revealed at the Well of Samaria; the great doctrine of the resurrection, without which Christians were of all men most miserable, taught at the tomb of Lazarus, and proclaimed in the earthquake which rent the Saviour’s tomb,—these and the other wonderful revelations of the Gospel are in the hands and hearts of those who visit the sick, the widow and the fatherless in their affliction. What revelation the holy women of old had of these great truths to console them in their bereavements we cannot say. But as Abel obtained witness through faith that he was righteous: As Enoch had the testimony that he pleased God, and was therefore translated: And as in neither of these cases the “recompense of reward” (Rth 2:12) could have been received in this life—as indeed the Apostle declares that the elders who through faith obtained a good report looked for an heavenly country: (Hbr 11:16.) Therefore we must conclude that even before the flood, the righteous were consoled by the promise of a better life to come. Enoch as a prophet, we are told predicted the coming of the Lord with ten thousand of his saints—the Lord, the promised seed who should bruise the serpent’s head. And the last event in his life on earth was a direct prophecy—a revelation from Heaven: “He was not, for God took him.” (Gen 5:24.) And in this the faithful saw the evidence that beside this earthly existence there is another. The terrible mystery of death, which beginning with Abel had removed generation after generation, was made less a terror, in that He who sentenced man to die, thus indicated by taking to himself the righteous Enoch, that in the fulness of time He should come, whose mission it is to destroy death the last enemy.
From the beginning God has appealed to us through the tender influences of the domestic feelings. There was woe in the dwelling of Adam and Eve, when their righteous son fell the victim of a brother’s anger; death after death among the children of men repeated the lesson and the warning. There was joy when Enoch was translated, among his sons and daughters. To them was vouchsafed a new revelation. The household ties, the sundering of which by death was man’s monitor, were made, by Enoch’s translation, his comforters. The children of Enoch were consoled in his loss, in the knowledge that he had ascended to his Father and his God. Throughout the history of the dealings of Heaven with the world—through the teachings of the Prophets and Apostles, and through the Gospel of the Son of God, is the family recognized as the type of God’s government. Man, in the distraction and cares of life abroad, resigns to woman the delightful custody of the family altar. His is the duty as head to lead—hers the province as conservator to protect. Thus was it from the beginning; thus it will be to the end; and ours in the fuller light of these latter days, is the duty to improve the blessings which God has vouchsafed to us; and to cherish the blessed influences which he who taught us to pray OUR FATHER, has consecrated and approved to his service.