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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Anne Pratt :: The Excellent Woman of Proverbs 31

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 27

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When we consider the great influence which family training has on the world at large, we cannot wonder that He who divided mankind into families, should so commend the woman who looked well to the ways of those who compose the circle which she superintends. The constant recognition of family duties, the emphatic injunctions that women should be keepers at home, and love their husbands and love their children, all lead us to the remembrance that God is not only the God of each individual, but that he is indeed the God of all families. It was the praise given of the patriarch, by Jehovah, "I know Abraham, that he will command his household after him." Moses reminded the ancient Hebrew, that the statutes of God were not for himself only, but that "they were for his son's son, all the days of his life;" and added to his command, the assurance "that it may be well with thee, and with thy children after thee." The Great Founder of human families knew that it could be well only with the people in general, in proportion as household duty and religion were taught and practised. From the house-the quiet hearth-the peaceful vine‐arbour-were to go forth those who should form the future nation. And still the senator and the philosopher, the philanthropist and the missionary, go from the house of youth full of the sentiments which they have learned there, and with their habits formed on the model of home.

There is something so endearing in the ties which weave around the early home, that every human heart feels their power. The gentle words of a mother's love, the counsels of a father's wisdom, how do they return with freshness and vividness upon the spirit, long after the lips which uttered them have mingled with the dust; and are awakened with all their power, by some little incident, some casual word-the sight of a handwriting-the scent of a flower. The Rev. James Hamilton records the narrative of one who unexpectedly joined with a family in the solemn service of family prayer; one who had wandered from God and truth, yet was recalled to religion and duty by this circumstance. And was it the word of God, as uttered in that prayer, which subdued the proud spirit of infidelity? No! he heard it not: his heart was filled with the remembrances of home. He thought of the peaceful hearth on which his own father once knelt, and commended to God his surrounding family. All the guilt which he had incurred by his forgetfulness of the prayers and lessons of home rushed upon his spirit, and from that hour he sought the God of his fathers.

And who has never felt a deep emotion, at the thought of the home of his youth? The child at school yearns for his home; the sailor on the deep is full of thoughts of that one happy spot of earth; and when the angry waves threaten his bark, his heart swells with the remembrance of home. The prodigal who wilfully left that home is often led back to the paths of virtue and religion, as some of its teachings are brought to his mind. And the exile, and the weary wanderer-is not home to them so dear, as that they cannot name it but with a trembling breath? and as the moon smiles out on the scene of their exile, does not the recollection that she smiles too on their home, bow down even the strong man, and bring tears into the eyes of those who are little used to weep? And the wanderer on this world's wilderness, who has found that earth has no home for him, can any sweeter description be given to him, or one which speaks more touchingly to his heart of a future world, than this, "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Hbr 4:9)-a home never to change-a mansion that passeth not away?

When God gives to a mother's care a helpless child, what a solemn charge does the mother receive! A being born for eternity, a creature destined to everlasting happiness or misery, is committed to her, and its future character and destiny in great measure dependent on her instruction and example-its eternal condition often determined by the hours spent in the home of its parents. And God has given great encouragement to the mother who looks well to the ways of her household; for when he says, "Train up a child in the way he should go," he adds the promise, "and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Pro 22:6). This promise has often been fulfilled in the holy and useful lives of those whose home has proved a nursery for God. And though the child of a pious mother may stray in youth from the ways of wisdom, yet often he returns to the path of truth before he is old. And when we see the child of religious parents wandering on in error and vice, and at last dying impenitent, shall we conclude that the promise of God has failed? Alas! it is not every pious mother who looks well to the ways of her household. The love of the creature sometimes overpowers for a time the love of the Creator; and, as in the case of the sons of Eli, the child is too often left to his uncontrolled passions, and the mother, in helpless sorrow, looks on the growth of vices which it was her duty to check, and drinks at last, with bitter anguish, the cup which her own mismanagement and indulgence had filled. She can value and keep God's word herself, but has not courage to command her children, or to make them obey.

Nor is it only while the child forms one of his parents' household, that there is a danger of failing in the duty of training him rightly. Many a pious parent fulfils to the children under his roof the command given to God's ancient people when Moses said: "These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deu 6:7), But ambition, and the love of the world, which seemed to have been stifled in the parent's heart for himself, are sometimes awakened for his child. He may have seemed to learn the lesson of being content with lowly things, but is tempted to seek great things for his children. How often do we see this when a child is sent forth from his own home! Some school, eminent for the learning and accomplishments of its instructor, is preferred to that in which piety forms the basis of education. Some eligible appointment presents itself. Some means of increasing riches-some opportunity of forming connexions, which may be of use in advancing his progress in the world, is offered, and the child, trained in his parents' household to the duties of religion and virtue, is sent into the world at an age when his character is unformed, into scenes of great danger. And then come the bitter consequences. The youth forgets the counsels of wisdom; he stifles the voice of conscience; and the pleasures of the world allure him. Perhaps he loses his morality, or even if his outward conduct remains the same, yet spiritual religion gradually loses its influence; and the very mother, who in early life looked diligently to his ways, has perhaps joined her efforts in sending him thus unshielded into the world.

The looking well to the ways of her household, includes also the care of domestic servants: and the maidens to whom the Jewish matron gave their portion of food and work were doubtless guarded from evil by her watchful prudence. Some mistresses appear to think that little responsibility attaches to them with regard to servants, and that so long as they provide them with home, and food, and wages, they perform all the duty required. But the ways of every member of a household should be looked to, by her whom Providence has placed at the head of a family. The habits of life, the moral and religious character of each, should be regarded by the mistress; and if an ignorant servant becomes a member of a household, she should be instructed. It is plainly the duty of all to lead a useful life, and it is in the immediate circle that we are to commence our labours. The mistress of a family, while remembering that her own advantages of training may have been superior to those placed under her care, should strive that every servant who enters her dwelling should be benefited during her residence there. Especially she should employ the means of restraint with which she is endowed by her authority, to prevent any irregularity of conduct, and the practice of any wrong habits. She should see to the ways of her household, by taking care that every one composing it should attend the means of religion. Time and opportunity should be given for serving God. Her authority should keep them from scenes of vice and dissipation, and from evil company; and in forming her domestic plans, it is hers to regulate both their comfort and their duty, on the broad principle of Christian benevolence: "Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye also unto them."

It is desirable for the comfort of a family, and for its permanent welfare, that the servants should be rightly directed and kindly treated. Such conduct meets its immediate reward. Children are necessarily influenced by them, and in that respect the character of servants is most important to every household. In every family in which they are kept, their performance of duty is requisite for order and comfort, and this must be determined by their moral character. Their willing service, and even their thoughtful tenderness, are required in the hour of sickness; and their sympathy and help are sometimes wanted in the day of sorrow. During that awful season of tragic suffering comprised in the French revolution, many valuable lives were saved by the attachment of confidential servants; and that period, remarkable for the exhibition of some of the deepest crimes, and some of the sweetest virtues of human nature, presents a record of devoted men and maidens, who counted not even their own lives dear unto them, so that they might rescue from danger some mistress whose former kindness had cheered them, or some helpless child whom they once had carried in their arms. The history of the church of God, too, could present details of holy and useful servants, from the time when Phoebe was a servant at Cenchrea, and Onesimus was dear to the apostle Paul, to the recent days when the Dairyman's Daughter performed her humble duties with exalted faith and fervent piety, till her spirit sought its heavenly home, and her frame was laid in its lowly grave.

A woman so well taught in wisdom's ways as the matron of the text, would know well that idleness leads certainly to vice and sorrow. Idleness and fulness of bread were the vices mentioned as exciting God's wrath against the sinful Sodom, and were doubtless the chief means of fostering all its depravity. It is, indeed, the source of a thousand ills, and so certain a cause of discomfort, that happier is he who earns his bread by the sweat of his brow, than he who spends his life in indolence. Cheerfulness is almost the necessary result of moderate employment, just as ennui and languor are the consequences of a life without pursuit. "Idleness," says old Burton, somewhat quaintly, "is the badge of gentry; the bane of body and mind; the nurse of naughtiness; the step‐mother of discipline; the chief author of all mischief; one of the seven deadly sins; the cushion on which the devil chiefly reposes; and a great cause, not only of melancholy, but of many other diseases: for the mind is naturally active, and if it be not occupied about some honest business, it rushes into mischief, or sinks into melancholy."

And what woman would wish so to pass her life that at death she should not be missed? Of how many might it be said that the world and the home could well spare them; but who can tell the worth of a life spent in useful occupation? It is not till the seat is vacant on which the busy matron sat; it is not till the implements of industry lie by unused, till the animating voice is silent, and the busy hand is still, that we fully perceive how much was done hourly, and quietly, and surely in the well‐regulated home. From many such a hearth, when the mother has been taken, the comfort of home is gone too; and ill‐managed children, once so tenderly cared for, show their orphan condition to every passer by. There is a solemn responsibility attaching to life-a responsibility only to be met by active exertion; and a woe is denounced against the idle. A woman who looked well to the ways of her household, would not only herself avoid eating the bread of idleness, but she would see that each one had a suitable engagement; and every one who is the mother of a family not compelled to work, should strive to interest her children in some one employment which they should cultivate with pleasure, and which should call forth their latent energies. Much may be done for the young, by consulting their tastes, and encouraging them in some pursuit; and the skill to select this does not require in the mother so much talent, as the exertion of that tact which is so common to women, and which, like many other faculties, is rendered stronger by a woman's affection.

One of the first aims of education should be to promote activity of mind; and the acquisition of a taste for simple and unexpensive pleasures is, in itself, so valuable a source of enjoyment, that it is to be regretted, that this is also not made a more usual part of education. On this account, may be recommended the study of the various departments of natural history and science. It may seem to matter little indeed, that a woman should be a botanist, or an entomologist; though all would allow that these pursuits might afford much pleasure: but the activity of mind, and the power of application and observation, which such a study will awaken, is of incalculable worth. Plutarch said that a woman who studied geometry would not be fond of dancing; and we may add, that a woman who feels interested in studies of this nature, will neither be frivolous nor idle.

But it is only to the few that the choice of the pursuits of life is left. The many are called to work in this anxious, toiling world, and thousands are sighing for that leisure which others waste so carelessly. But has active and regular employment no advantages? Does not the heart fill with pleasure when the eye marks the fruit of exertion? and does not the hour of occasional recreation bring with it far more of enjoyment, and is it not fuller of life, than is the day of indolence to the unemployed? Above all, is not the busy man or woman living the life which God has ordained? His own word has said, "If any will not work, neither shall he eat." The ancient Hebrews had all their occupations. The rich and the poor were alike taught in the knowledge of some business, by which they might labour with hand or head; nor did rank or station exempt any from useful toil. And the result of this industry was a thoughtful and provident people; a nation standing out from oriental nations generally, as marked by an energy and force of character, much of which has descended to the modern Jew, under all the varied circumstances of place and time.

In the consideration of the Christian graces, one cannot help remarking that they are all active. Piety is not to consist in quiet contemplation, but in active duty. If we read in the Scripture of love, then there is the labour of love; and every kind heart knows the truth of the proverb, that love can make labour light. If we read of faith, it is of an active faith-a work of faith-a faith which overcometh the world. If of hope, then is it a hope powerful enough to expel sin, since he who hath this hope purifieth himself, even as God is pure. Holy principle must lead to holy practice; and the woman who, while professing to serve God, neglects the duty of caring for her household, dishonours her Christian profession, and brings disgrace upon God's cause. Even the Great Creator of the universe himself is represented as active. Our Saviour remarked, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Our blessed Lord lived a life of unwearied labour in the cause of man. The angels, too, are represented as employed, not only in tuning their harps of gold and singing the songs of the celestial city, but as winging their way to this world on ministries of love; and who shall say how much they who shall be heirs of salvation are indebted to their guardian care?

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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