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

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 26

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SHE OPENETH HER MOUTH WITH WISDOM;
AND IN HER TONGUE IS THE LAW OF KINDNESS.

Image-SHE OPENETH HER MOUTH WITH WISDOM

It is pleasing to turn from the contemplation of the active duties of this Jewish matron, to the gentle graces which adorn her character. So many proofs of practical judiciousness are exhibited in this portraiture, that we are not surprised to find that she also opened her mouth with wisdom. It is, however, a most difficult part of self‐government to guard the tongue. The apostle James recognised this, when he said, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." And yet how important a medium of good or ill is conversation! The children in a household gather instruction not only from direct teaching, but from the casual expressions to which they listen. A word spoken in due season, how good is it! and happy are they, who form part of the domestic circle of one whose piety and experience of life enable her to give wise counsels, and to utter sentiments of justice and truth!

The wisdom for which this woman is commended, related not alone to the things of the present world. She was one who feared the Lord. She could tell to her listening household of the wonders of nature, of the deliverances wrought by God's providence to ancient Israel. How he brought them through the Red Sea, and out of the land of bondage, and gave them the promised country. She could point to the infallible laws of nature, and show that the morning sun and the evening star never disappointed him who watched for them in the heavens. She could point to the lily of the field, which bloomed at its appointed season, and to the swallow which knew the time of its coming, and infer from them, that he who gave his written promise would as assuredly fulfil this also. She could discern, in the types and figures of God's law, the shadows of a more glorious future; and the promise of Messiah, the Hope of Israel, who was to bring comfort and holiness to the church of God, was a living fountain of joy in her bosom. Doubtless, too, she could tell of family and individual mercies, for God never implanted his fear in any human heart, but in that heart was awakened a chord of love and gratitude, which excited it to praise. She could remind her children of God's solemn commands, and, speaking of the saints of older times, could bid them to be "not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherited the promises." Hers was the wisdom described in Scripture, as that which cometh from above, which is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (Jam 3:17).

But the wisdom of the Jewish woman related not alone to the things of our better life, it took cognizance also of the affairs of this. While she did not always speak of the things of religion, she spoke always as a religious woman, as one who felt the responsibility of life and duty.

"Methinks we see thee, as in olden times,
Unmoved by pomp or circumstance-in truth,
Inflexible, and with a Spartan zeal
Repressing vice and making folly grave.
Thou didst not deem it woman's part to waste
Life in inglorious sloth-to sport awhile
Amid the flowers, or on the summer wave,
Then flee, like the ephemeron, away;
Building no temple in her children's hearts,
Save to the vanity and pride of life
Which she had worshipped."

The wisdom with which this woman opened her mouth, was most likely that derived from experience of life, from thought and observation, and a knowledge of her own heart. It was something better than mere learning, and did not consist in a simple acquaintance with facts. Facts, with such a woman, would form the basis of intelligent thought; and while her wisdom would not be opposed to cheerful converse and the play of fancy, it would discountenance sin and folly, and all profane jestings or irreligious allusions, and qualify her to give good counsels as a mother in Israel.

"Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have ofttimes no connexion. Knowledge dwells
In heads replete with thoughts of other men;
Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.
Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass,
The mere material with which wisdom builds,
Till smoothed and squared, and fitted to its place,
Does but encumber whom it seems to enrich.
Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much-
Wisdom is humble that he knows no more."

It is a beautiful and appropriate praise of woman, that on her tongue is the law of kindness. When we look on this fallen world, and see what misery has been brought into it by sin; that the storm, and the famine, and poverty, and sickness, bring sufferings which none can avert; and when we see, too, that there exist sorrows deeper still than these, and hear the expressions wrung out from hearts full of anguish, how strange does it seem, that any should add to the afflictions of life by a want of kindness, or aggravate by cruel words the bitterness with which the heart is already breaking! And if the sorrows of life demand sympathy and help from every member of the human family-if it is by bearing one another's burdens that we are to fulfil the law of Christ, surely there is an especial claim on woman for deeds and words of kindness. On her devolve all the tender offices of life. To her care is given the frail and helpless infant, needing from the hour of its birth all that deep and earnest solicitude, and patience, and self‐denial, which God has provided for in the richness and fulness of maternal love. In her charge, too, is placed the simple child, with its questionings of wonder, and its innocent confidence; needing the exercise of love and tenderness, to restrain the sinful propensities of its nature, and to lead into the paths of peace. And where is woman's kindness more often needed, or more often seen, than in the chamber of sickness? It is hers to watch through days and nights by the couch of suffering; to tread so softly as not to disturb the lightest sleep; to anticipate every want; to bear patiently with the irritability of pain; and to minister relief with a tact and unweariedness, to be found no where so securely as in woman's love. It is often woman's lot, too, to point the dying man to that atonement for sin, which the death of the Saviour has provided; and frequently, in dwellings where the foot of the man of God may not have found its way, she may be found bringing the joyful tidings of salvation to the repentant sinner.

"O woman! though thy fragile form
Bows like the willow to the storm,
Ill suited in unequal strife
To brave the ruder scenes of life:
Yet, if the power of grace Divine
Find in thy lowly heart a shrine;
Then, in thy very weakness strong,
Thou winn'st thy noiseless course along;
Weaving thine influence with the ties
Of sweet domestic charities,
And softening haughtier spirits down
By happy contact with thine own."

God has provided for woman's duties, by endowing her with the faculties which tend to their performance. He has given the quick sensibility; the lively imagination, which helps her to guess, by a word or glance, at the feelings of others; and in most cases a warm devotion to those whom she loves: and it cannot be denied, that impulses of kindness are generally found in the female sex. It remains for a holier motive than mere human feeling, to make this kindness constant and enduring; and it needs a sense of duty, derived from a consideration of love to God, to enable woman to be kind always, and be kind to all, even her enemies, and especially to let all her words be governed by the law of kindness.

It is often a painful subject of remark, that sometimes the very woman whose kind acts may be depended on is guilty of a serious want of kindness in her conversation; but it must be admitted that many, even of the educated in our own land-nay, many even among Christian women, are lamentably deficient in this respect. This we shall see, if we consider to what the law of kindness in the tongue is opposed. It is opposed to angry words. How many yield to angry passions, and utter, in unguarded moments, words which can never be recalled, and which leave a painful impression on others not to be effaced, while they thus lay up for themselves a store of bitter remembrances! Many reproofs are given in anger, which excite in the person reproved no feeling but that of ill will; whereas, had they spoken wisely and gently, they might have softened the heart. Anger is a temporary madness, discomposing the spirit and rendering it unfit either for earthly duty or heavenly communion. It is, as the proverb declares, "a snare to the soul." A person cannot pray while under its influence. How can we ask for sins to be forgiven, if we are either angry without a cause, or even on lawful causes are carrying anger too far? or who can turn, in the midst of proud and angry words, to the lowly prayer, the confession of sin, the deep humility of heart, with which alone we can approach the footstool of Jehovah? It is not before God's throne that we can indulge in wrath; and as we may at any moment be called to die, so we ought at every moment to be fit for prayer. And wrath and anger are especially sinful and displeasing in a woman, as gentleness is her especial virtue. "A man," says a female writer, "in a furious passion is terrible to his enemies: but a woman in a passion is disgusting to her friends; she loses the respect due to her sex, and she has not masculine strength and courage to enforce any other species of respect."

There is indeed an anger which is not sinful, nor contrary to the law of kindness which should ever govern a woman's tongue. There is a righteous indignation against sin and oppression, which we find enjoined in Scripture by the words, "Be ye angry, and sin not," and which the holy apostles, and even our Saviour himself, so often expressed while on earth. Had not public anger been shown against slavery, our country might still have laboured under its heavy guilt, and our fellow‐creatures under its mighty curse. Against this, as against other national and individual sins, woman's voice was not wanting to express displeasure, nor was woman's hand slow to aid the great philanthropists who sought its extinction. So in private life, warm and indignant words against wrong and guilt, so far from offending God, are often marked by his approbation, as proofs of that deep feeling of right, and that moral courage, for which the holy woman of the text was commended by the pen of inspiration.

The apostle James, whose epistle contains more admonitions against the sins of the tongue than can be found in any other portion of holy writ, has said, "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell" (Jam 3:6). Oh! beautiful on woman's lips is the law of kindness, turning away wrath by a soft answer; bearing with the irritabilities or the infirmities of others, who have had fewer advantages in early training; enforcing truth with gentleness and persuasion, and uttering that love which is described by St. Paul, as that which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things" (1Cr 13:7).

But far more commonly, among women in general, is the law of kindness violated by censoriousness, or by sarcastic remark, than by anger. This sin of the tongue is peculiar to neither sex, but is one which prevails to a great extent in female society. The peculiar faculties of women, as well as their habits, make this an offence against which they ought to be watchful. In them exist a quickness of perception and imagination, and consequently a ready sense of the ludicrous; and these, combined with a facility of speech, a power of detail, and often a great degree of leisure, expose them to the temptation of indulging in that "evil speaking," which God's word has commanded us to put far away from us. The habit of censuring the absent has much in it which ought to be offensive to every generous mind. "Thou shalt not speak evil of the deaf," is one of the commands of the law of Moses, which appeals to every right sentiment; yet the same principle might be carried further, and lead us to avoid speaking ill of the absent.

Nor is censoriousness chargeable only on those who strive to exaggerate the reports of evil which they may have heard, or who put on them the worst possible construction. To a sin like this surely Christian women cannot be addicted; but many, alas! are not exempt from the habit of dwelling, in conversation, on the actual faults and follies of others. Few seem to think it is a sin, yet it is decidedly opposed to the law of kindness that should regulate the tongue. It is a practice, too, which increases by indulgence.

It may begin by an expression of displeasure against vice, but soon advances to a watchfulness for offences in others. If we are to make a man an offender for a word; if we are to watch narrowly for his faults, it is generally easy enough to find some cause of censure. In many things we offend all; and few indeed are they who can be found always exempt from the blame of censoriousness. But when we are speaking of the faults of our neighbour, we are sinning against love. And how many are the reputations which have been injured by the repetition of casual remarks! Well might the Hebrew sage declare, that "life and death are in the power of the tongue;" for unkind remarks, and unjust suspicions, have sometimes subjected the sensitive to griefs more distressing than even death itself.

"Oh! never, never let us fling
The barb of woe to wound another;
Oh! never let us haste to bring
The cup of sorrow to a brother."

And who are they who are foremost to detect the faults of others, and to judge them severely? Certainly not those who have watched most diligently over their own hearts. They who have striven and longed most for conformity to the law of God, and to the example of the Saviour, know best, how many graces need diligent cultivation, how many sins need to be subdued. They know, too, that often when they have believed that some sin had been conquered, it has, in an unguarded hour, again given them sorrow, and again they have had to pray for help, and to strive against it. And ever has it been seen, that the best and holiest are the most pitiful; and that they who have the law of kindness on the tongue are the very women who are most likely also to open the mouth with wisdom, and to live in the consistent practice of every feminine duty.

And the sarcastic reply, too, how frequently does it wound! If others sin, we are not to let that sin pass unnoticed. "Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and not suffer sin upon him." But in what way is reproof to be administered? We are told to rebuke with all long‐suffering and gentleness. Sin is a deep evil: it is not to be spoken of lightly, nor to be the subject of a bitter jest. It is to engage our earnest expostulation. The apostle spoke, even weeping, of those who were enemies to the cross of Christ; and with a conviction of our sinful nature, and our dependence on the grace of God for safety, we are to reprove others. Sarcasm should never be on the lip of a Christian woman, for she, indeed, should ever be found with the law of kindness on her tongue. If bitterness is in the word of reproof, the reprover is not sinless; and her rebuke does not originate from the love of God, and the hatred of sin, but from the indulgence of a sinful nature. Pride must not be met by pride: pride in others is never cured by being mortified and insulted, but is rather increased into hatred and revenge. Wherefore, putting away all wrath and malice, and evil speaking, "be kindly affectioned one to another" (Rom 12:10).

The law of kindness is often broken, also, by haughty words spoken to inferiors, when, forgetful that the dependant is one of God's large family, he is addressed as a stranger and an alien. The haughty look and the proud heart are an abomination unto the Lord. Pride ever proceeds, too, from an ignorance of ourselves, as Wordsworth has said:-

"He who feels contempt for any living thing
Has faculties within his soul which he has never used;
And thought with him is in its infancy."

Who has not marked the mild and blessed influence of her on whose tongue is the law of kindness? It is to such a woman that the little child comes for direction. It is to such that the sufferer tells his tale of sorrow, in full certainty of that ready sympathy, which can do so much to lessen it; and whether the tale be that of bodily pain, or of the deeper woe of mental emotion; whether it be of the convinced spirit struggling with a sense of sin, and with only a vague idea of the possibility of pardon, or perhaps with no idea at all; or whether it be some temporary cause of depression, some worldly loss, or some unexpected unkindness, yet all may be soothed by the gentle accents of compassion and tenderness. How many quarrels are averted by the mediation and counsel of such a woman! how many beginnings of strife stopped in their progress by a word of gentle remonstrance! and how many little domestic troubles prevented or met by her kindly warning or encouragement! And let no woman say that she cannot acquire a sweet temper; that she cannot always have on her lips the law of kindness. She may be naturally irritable, and, worse still, her natural irritability may never have been checked by the restraining power of early education; but there is a deeper and fuller restraining influence than even that-namely, the principle of love to God; and the cultivation of this love in the heart will lead to a prayer for holiness of heart and lip, which never goes up to Heaven unanswered, and to a constant and earnest striving with a besetting sin, which God's Holy Spirit will aid and bless.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

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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