The Biblical Illustrator
The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.
The words of king Lemuel
I. The first thing that strikes us here is the mother. “The prophecy which his mother taught him.”
1. A mother’s anxiety. What shall he be? Better not to be, than to turn out a bad man. Seekest thou great things for the little one by thy side? Seek them not; better is it to be good than to be great; to be obscure in holiness rather than to be conspicuous in sin.
2. This is a pious mother. “The son of my vows.” It is a great thing to be the child of a good mother. We do not know the name of this mother--her son’s nature we know. What eminent sons have ascribed all their distinction to their mother; but she is out of sight. He attains to fame; she is still unknown.
II. The mother taught her son things pertaining to character. Men cannot command circumstances or facts, but they can preserve principles. Principles are like the piles on which you build bridges, or on which you construct railways over morasses and swamps. Principles are the piles of life. Unshaken convictions and principles are only found in profound minds. King Lemuel’s mother left, as she might safely do, the technicalities of instruction to others; she looked after character; she laid the foundation strong in goodness. Women teach goodness better than men. There is the right power of woman. When the counsels of good mothers have been disregarded, how often those mothers have been avenged!
III. The prophecies which his mother taught him. The words of Lemuel’s mother are living still. In youth we love and are loved so quickly. Then love is pure--more of the heart and less of the senses, which all true love is. In noble natures, the purer the heart, the more it is purified by the love of God. Youth is the time for the choice between God and good, and Satan and evil. “Be sober,” said this mother. “Do not excite the body, lest the body should rise against the soul and dethrone her.” “My soul,” said John Foster, “shall either be mistress in my body, or shall quit it.” Never were young men in more danger than now.
1. Young men waste time. The wise man must “separate himself.” Ill habits gather by obscure degrees.
2. Young men fail in high principle. You see how everything goes down before things of money value. It is hard to reckon things by another than a money value. All fast living means low thinking, or nothing at all. These are the men who see nothing in religion, because they know nothing about it. Our sanctification must be wrought out where we are, not where we are not. Life is serious and earnest, but let us not despair over its failures, even though they abide with us to the close. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.” Walk with them in their books, in solitude, in meditation, and join their company at last. (E. Paxton Hood.)
The counsels of a noble mother to her son
The identity of this man Lemuel is lost in the mist of ages. A motherly ministry is the tenderest, the strongest, most influential of all the Divine ministers of the world, but when the ministry is the expression of a genuinely religious nature, and specially inspired by heaven, its character is more elevated, and its influence more beneficent and lasting. The counsel of this mother involves two things.
I. An earnest interdict. With what earnestness does she break forth! Her motherly heart seems all aflame! Her vehement intuition is against animal indulgence in its two great forms, debauchery and intemperance; against inordinate gratification of the passions and the appetites. The reign of animalism is a reign that manacles, enfeebles, and damns the soul. Lust blunts the moral sense, pollutes the memory, defiles the imagination, sends a withering influence through all the faculties of the moral man.
II. An earnest injunction. She enjoins social compassion. Some think in the phrase “ready to perish” there is an allusion to the practice of administering a potion of strong mixed wine to criminals, for the purpose of deadening their sensibility to suffering. But there are ordinary cases of suffering and distress where wine might be administered with salutary effect. What this mother inculcates is compassion to the poor. It is the duty and honour of kings to espouse the cause of the distressed. This mother enjoins not only compassion, but also justice. She is a model mother. (David Thomas D.D.)
Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
The sin of cruelty to the brute creation
There is no necessary reference in this verse to the inferior animals. We use it merely for our accommodation. That there is such cruelty requires neither proof nor argument. What persuasions should urge to guard against this cruelty in every form?
1. The affecting consideration that the lower animals have not the power of expressing and complaining of their wrongs.
2. Their subserviency to the comfort and happiness of man.
3. They are the objects of God’s peculiar and providential care.
4. Cruelty to animals is utterly inconsistent with the spirit and law of Christianity. (David Runciman, M.A.)
Job was an excellent pattern to all princes. He was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, and a father to the poor, and no doubt he was a mouth also to the dumb. Such a prince the mother of Lemuel wishes her son to be. She exhorts him to do justice and judgment to all his people, but to regard with peculiar tenderness those unfortunate men that were in danger of losing their estates and lives by reason of accusations brought against them. If they were unable, through ignorance, or awkwardness, or fear, to plead their own cause, she would have him to be their advocate, and to plead everything that truth and equity would allow on their behalf. But charity to the poor, and clemency to the accused, must not interfere with the due administration of justice. It is the business of princes, in the administration of justice, to see that the poor do not suffer. (George Lawson, D.D.)
Who can find a virtuous woman?
The prophecy of Lemuel’s mother
There was never yet a woman who did not wish to have some part in the choice of her son’s wife; and the mother of king Lemuel was no exception to the rule. She knew the kind of woman that would make him happy, and she contrived, by some means, to instil the knowledge into the heart of her son. It is a fact, which should ever be before the minds of mothers, that their sons are naturally disposed to love and revere them. This should make all mothers walk warily, and lead them to the source of every good, so that, having sat at the Master’s feet and learned of Him, they may go back to their children with His Spirit shining through their eyes, and guiding alike their thoughts, emotions, and actions. The question with which this panegyric begins is rather a startling one. “Who can find a virtuous woman?” Were good women scarce then? and are they rare now? Devoted women, unselfish women, domesticated women, are not too easily discovered. Where a woman’s heart is true, and her hands are gentle, where her voice is kind and her eyes far-seeing, where she lives not to herself nor to the world, but to the little circle whose happiness she makes, or to the God who has chosen her lot, there is the virtuous woman of whom the wise man spoke. Nothing so damps the ardour and joy of a man or his children as an incompetent, faulty woman at the head of the household; and nothing can be a greater source of strength than the woman who gives an impulse to all that is good and right, and checks the evil by a significant look or a softly-spoken word. Good women are wanted everywhere. (A Woman’s Sermon to Women.)
The figures of women which pass across the pages of the Old Testament have so much nobility and so much character that even the slight sketches of them in the Bible have always impressed the imagination, and awakened the art of mankind. There is that in the New Testament woman which, in the past, has lifted womanhood into the worship of the world, and in the present has been the foundation of all that has been given to her, and of all that she has won for herself. In this chapter is the image of the perfect wife, done in poetry. The woman here has the attributes of wisdom, for strength and honour clothe her, and her future is secured by it. Her common speech is full of it, and the wisdom of speech is love. So wise is she that trust is safe in her. Her wisdom wins love for her; her children bless her, and her husband praises her. She is the active manager of business as well as of the household. She has her own prosperity, her own work in life; and her charities, which are many, are her own. This is the Jewish ideal of womanhood, yet the Jew of the Old Testament fails to find any ideal for womanhood beyond wifehood and motherhood. Only portions of this belong to the notions which women have in England of wifehood and home. Each class of society--according to the amount of money it can allot to the household--has its own separate ideal of the function of wives and mothers. In every case loveliness and loving-kindness and wisdom and the making of the beautiful, and the adornment of life should be by women combined with work. There is an inexhaustible capacity in women for this twofold life, and for complete success in it; but the idea of it is not as yet justly conceived, and there is no steady education for it. A thousand prejudices stand in the way of such a conception, and of the individual and free effort that it needs. The working class girls find their work so heavy and so long, that they have not strength of body or leisure of soul to learn what belongs to wifehood and motherhood, There is scarcely any class so neglected, so overworked, so put upon by others, so worn out before they are thirty years old. But there are thousands of women who can never marry and never have a home. If they cannot be mothers, let them have the means to be eager, living, and active women, able to work for one another, and for the world; able to invent new work and new spheres of work, fitted for womanhood’s special aims and powers, and for the advance of the cause of humanity. This earth should be a fitting place and home for humanity. It is not that now, and one of the reasons, and it may be the most important of them all, is the imprisonment of the energy of womanhood, both by men and by themselves, in a narrow individualism. (Stopford A. Brooke, LL.D.)
The model woman
The chief points commended in the description may be impressed if we deal with woman’s love, work, care, charity, speech, and praise.
I. Her love. Shown not in professions and demonstration of affection merely, but in trying to occupy faithfully her place. It is far better to show love than merely to speak it. So God wants to see our love to Him in its signs.
II. Her work. Kinds of work for women differ according to their condition in society; but every woman should have her work. A woman’s work is first the feeding and tending of her household; beyond this she may be able to work so as to earn. Show how much there is that young women can do towards a living in these days. All should try to be independent.
III. Her care. In the ruling of her household; finding for each member work, food, and appropriate clothing. Watching that nothing is either wasted or lost, and everything made the best of.
IV. Her charity. Caring for the poor, and distributing of her abundance to them. How important, as an example to the children, is a generous, charitable mother!
V. Her speech. Always prudent and kindly. Never gossiping, never slandering, never hasty or passionate. Ever firm but gentle. See how often otherwise good characters are spoiled by the unbridled tongue.
VI. Her praise.. It comes from her husband, from her children, and even from her God. “Supreme love to God, which is religion, is that which generates, animates, and adorns all other virtues of character.” (Robert Tuck, B.A.)
The worth and work of woman
By a virtuous woman is meant one who is characterised by a number of positive virtues and excellences, and chiefly by piety, or the fear and love of God. Illustrate this subject by the life of “Carmen Sylva,” Queen of Roumania.
I. The worth of woman. “Far above rubies.” Let a man ask himself what would be the worth to his heart, to his home, to his children, to society, of such a woman as is described here--the ideal woman of God’s Word, the woman that every woman would be if she only feared God, loved His Word, imbibed His Spirit, and moulded her character upon His most blessed teachings.
1. Consider the worth of such a woman as a daughter. This is the first relationship in life woman is called to fulfil. Who can estimate her worth to her parents, or to her brothers and sisters? She is not wilful, headstrong, passionate, selfish; but humble, respectful, dutiful, affectionate. The foundation of true womanly worth is piety, the fear and love of God. Without true religion the character has no basis. Where that is found we may expect all the virtues to flourish into beauty.
2. The worth of such a woman as a wife. Here is an elaborate description of her housewifely care and prudence, and industry, and economy, and the blessed effects of all this on the happiness of her husband’s heart and home, and on his character, reputation, and prosperity. Oh, that young men would look for piety in their wives! Nothing like that to govern their tongues, and to sweeten their tempers, and to make them amiable, pure, and true.
II. The work of woman. Home is her sphere, and her work is to make home happy. Some women think their work is to reform and regenerate the world. So it is, but the proper sphere for their reforming work is not in the publicities of the world, but in the privacies of the home, in their little children’s nurseries, and by the side of the domestic hearth. I hold the worth of unmarried women in high esteem. They are of the greatest value to society, and especially to the Church of God. No single woman need pine in ennui for want of useful occupation. (Richard Glarer.)
Far above rubies
The Bible, which is the great reservoir of the rights of man is also the storehouse of the rights of woman. Woman’s Magna Charta is the Word of God. It teaches us to honour woman; it warns every man that if he degrades woman he degrades himself, and that everywhere man rises as he lifts woman up. This text is a woman’s estimate of what woman should be. All the parts that women have contributed to the Bible are poems; this is no exception.
I. The domestic qualities of woman. The question of the text is indeed a warning that the kind of woman about to be described is a model not always attained. It is not every woman whose price is “far above rubies.” In ancient times the women made the garments which their husbands wore. We call the unmarried woman a “spinster”; and the word wife means a “weaver.” It is the woman who keeps the house together. This is the description which a woman gives of a woman’s domestic qualities. She must be wife, she must be lady, she must be housekeeper.
II. The personal qualities of the model woman. It is said that she is strong. As far as her strength is the result of careful and conscientious attention to the laws of health, it deserves to be described as a virtue, and a virtue that ought to be cultivated. If the future race of men is to be strong, the present race of women must first he strong. Then she is industrious. She not only saves the money others have entrusted her with, and uses it well, but she uses her own energy until she sells her own merchandise, and her industry increases her possessions till they become such that the watch-lamp has to be lighted that at night they may be secure. Strong and industrious, she could afford to be generous. But though she is generous, she is provident. She is also elegant, a lover of beauty Ruskin says, “A woman’s first duty is to please, and a woman who does not please has missed her end in life.” She is beautiful in her speech. She should take an interest in everything that interests every man in the house. She is kind, but orderly. She keeps discipline.
III. Look at her reward. “Her husband praiseth her.” “Her children call her blessed.” The sweetest, daintiest, purest blossoms of a woman’s heart will only flourish when she is praised by him she loves best. This is the true reward of the true woman. Her character is the secret of her power and her reward. (W. J. Woods, B.A.)
A virtuous woman
1. The person inquired after. A virtuous woman is a woman of strength. Though the weaker vessel, yet made strong by wisdom and grace and the fear of God. A woman of spirit, who has the command of her own spirit, and knows how to manage other people’s, one that is pious and industrious, and a helpmeet for a man. A woman of resolution.
2. The difficulty of meeting such an one. Good women are very scarce, and many that seem to be so do not prove so.
3. The unspeakable value of such an one, and the value which he that hath such a wife ought to put upon her, showing it by his thankfulness to God, and his kindness and respect to her, whom he must never think he can do too much for. (Matthew Henry.)
Religion for every day--Our wives
To the young womanhood it may be said--Your capability to fulfil the offices of womanhood will be proportioned to your worth of character, and to the use you have made, or are prepared to make, of your opportunities. Earnestness of life is the only passport to satisfaction in life.
I. As a wife, realise your individual responsibility. The husband is the head of the household; but a wife’s position does not imply inferiority. She is her husband’s companion in life and for life, to be regarded by him as his equal. The husband is the bread-winner, the wife is the bread-keeper and distributor. In all the affairs of domestic life the wife should maintain her position and influence. She should insure her authority by proving her ability to do what the office of a wife demands. Never for a moment permit your husband to feel that he may not trust the concerns of home to your care. Act in such a way that instinctively he will know his property, his honour, his happiness, are safe in your hands.
II. Cultivate all womanly excellences. Strengthen and enlarge the best side of life, by developing everything in you that is good. There are certain virtues essential to the ideal wife. Be thoughtful. Be industrious. Be restful. Be loving. A sublime self-forgetfulness lies at the bottom of every noble life, and of every great service wrought for human good. Homely and commonplace as this ideal may seem, it will demand all your resources. What has been urged cannot be attained without time, judgment, care, patience, and the constant aid of Divine grace in adaptation. (George Bainton.)
A noble woman’s picture of true womanhood
I. Mark her conduct as a wife. Here is inviolable faithfulness. The husband trusts her character and her management. Here is practical affection. Genuine wifely love seeks the good of her husband, is constant as nature. Here is elevating influence. Her words have inspired her husband with honourable ambitions, and her diligence and frugality have contributed the means by which to reach his lofty aims. Here is merit acknowledged. There are men who are incapable of appreciating the character or reciprocating the love of a noble wife. Blessed is the man who has found s wife approaching this ideal!
II. Her management as a mistress. Notice her industry. Diligence in useful pursuits should be the grand lesson in all female education.
III. Her blessedness as a mother. In the spirit, the character, and the lives of her children she meets with an ample reward for all her self-denying efforts to make them good and happy. Her children’s lives are a grateful acknowledgment of all her kindness, and in their spirit and conversation she reaps a rich harvest of delight.
IV. Her generosity as a neighbour. Her sympathies are not confined to the domestic sphere. They overflow the boundary of family life--they go forth into the neighbourhood.
V. Her excellence as an individual. She was vigorous in body; elegant in her dress; dignified and cheerful in her bearing; devout and honoured in her religion. Religion was the spirit of her character, the germ from which grew all the fruits of her noble life. (Homilist.)
The virtuous woman as a wife
She is a wife. The modern conception of a woman as an independent person, standing alone, engaged in her own business or profession, and complete in her isolated life, is not to be looked for in the Book of Proverbs. It is the creation of accidental circumstances. However necessary it may be in a country where the women are largely in excess of the men, it cannot be regarded as final or satisfactory. In the beginning it was not so, neither will it be so in the end. If men and women are to abide in strength and to develop the many sides of their nature, they must be united. It is not good for man to be alone; nor is it good for woman to be alone. There are some passages in the New Testament which seem to invalidate this truth. The advocates of celibacy appeal to the example of Christ and to the express words of St. Paul. But the New Testament, as our Lord Himself expressly declares, does not abrogate the eternal law which was from the beginning. And if He Himself abstained from marriage, and if St. Paul seems to approve of such an abstention, we must seek for the explanation in certain exceptional and temporary circumstances; for it is precisely to Christ Himself in the first instance, and to His great apostle in the second, that we owe our loftiest and grandest conceptions of marriage. There was no room for a personal marriage in the life of Him who was to be the Bridegroom of His Church; and St. Paul distinctly implies that the pressing troubles and anxieties of his own life, and the constant wearing labours which were required of the Gentile apostle, formed the reason why it was better for him, and for such as he, to remain single. At any rate the virtuous woman of the Proverbs is a wife; and the first thing to observe is the part she plays in relation to her husband. She is his stay and confidence. (R. F. Horton, D.D.)
The excellent woman
In this final chapter of Proverbs we have celebrated in poetic numbers the wife and mother in practical life. Each age has its own ideal. Study this ideal in outline and in detail. Strength, energy, activity, is here the main thought. Foresight, industry, and business capacity are desired. A virtuous woman is a woman with virtue; that is vim, strength. The virtuous woman is virile without being masculine. The virtuous woman, whose price is above rubies, is, like the ideal man, to walk after the law of God in every footstep of life, as well as in every lengthened path of continued duty. Love to God creates a holy ambition. It spurs her on to be what Jehovah intended our first mother to be--a true helpmeet. Full of the detail of daily industry and household management, she is yet far-sighted. Methodical, wise-hearted, kindly in discipline, her household moves like the order of the heavenly bodies. Woman’s strength may be in her tongue, even more than in her arms and hands. This edged tool, growing sharper by constant use, must be consecrated, else it will kill more than cure. The secret and spring of such a character as that of the virtuous woman is the fear of the Lord. This fear--reverence mingled with love--is a well-spring of life. Watered by this stream, all fair flowers of grace, and fruits of character grow. (W. E. Griffis.)
The excellent woman
Three things concerning woman as she is portrayed in the Proverbs.
1. Her power both for good and evil is emphasised. She is recognised as important in the social structure.
2. Her position, as portrayed here, gives us a high estimate of the life of the Jews as a nation. You can always tell a nation’s character from the character of its women.
3. The Jewish woman was a wife and mother. She took the place God made for her, and filled it excellently; and in that for any one in any place lies the highest success in life.
I. The virtue most dealt with here is industry. Look at this model woman, accepting with a cheerful and masterly mind the place God has given her, bound to do her best to satisfy its conditions, and so destined to genuine content. To work is God’s intention for us, and if we have any thought of wishing to live for Him, work will not be to us an episode so disagreeable that we are to escape from it as soon as possible, but rather that for which we are made and that in which we ought to be most at home.
II. The model woman is efficient in the management of her household. The word “virtuous” refers not so much to purity as to adaptation to the place where God has put her. The meaning is, “Who can find a capable woman?” Her capability is shown in her addressing herself in strength to the exigencies of her place. It requires wisdom to do anything well. The ideal woman uses her good sense to advantage in the management of the home. Nothing is more worthy of one’s most acute thought than the inconspicuous duties of the home.
III. This ideal woman is full of enterprise. There is something very homely and natural in this portrait of the thrifty housewife turning an honest penny when occasion offers. This is the overflow of her exuberant interest in the prosperity of her household. Her business enterprise is not a sign of her seeking new interests outside of the home, but on the contrary a sign of her greater devotion to it. Home over everything, everything for the home, is her idea.
IV. The ideal woman is sympathetic. She does not forget the poor. Her vigorous mind does not make her a hard, calculating person of business. She is still a woman, full of sympathy for the unfortunate, ready to help the unsuccessful. Back of the calculating mind lies the warm, throbbing heart, thrilled with the highest emotions.
V. The ideal woman is wise of speech. She is the counsellor of the household, giving good advice and teaching them that kindness which is life’s truest wisdom. The easy running of home affairs makes a great difference in the happiness of every one. Home is where the character of the children is being formed. The widest empire does not offer a more dignified throne for the exercise of high wisdom than the mother’s seat in the home. The results of such a good woman’s life are visible. She has a happy husband. She has appreciative children. She has a good name. May God give to many a girlish heart a new dream--not of fair, but of good women, that shall reproduce itself in a strong, gentle, wise life. (D. J. Burrell.)
A helpful wife
Writing of the greatness of Mr. D. L. Moody, Professor Drummond says: “If you were to ask Mr. Moody--which it would never occur to you to do--what, apart from the inspirations of his personal faith, was the secret of his success, of his happiness and usefulness in life, he would assuredly answer, ‘Mrs. Moody.’”
An industrious wife
Mrs. Henry Clay, the wife of the celebrated American statesman, during her husband’s long and frequent absences from home at the seat of government, used to take the reins into her own hands at the farm. She made a practical study of agriculture, oversaw the overseer, and became an oracle among the farmers of the neighbourhood. Preparatory to Mr. Clay’s departure from home, she invariably received from him a handsome cheque, which she as regularly restored to him upon his return, with the laconic remark that she found no use for it! (J. B. F. Tinling.)
A good wife
A good story is told of the famous plaid, without which Blackie was rarely seen. One day, at Dr. Donald Macleod’s house, he said, “When I was a poor man, and my wife and I had our difficulties, she one day drew my attention to the threadbare character of my coat, and asked me to order a new one. I told her I could not afford it just then, when she went, like a noble woman, and put her own plaid shawl on my shoulders, and I have worn a plaid ever since in memory of her loving deed!” (Memoir of J. Stuart Blackie.)
And worketh willingly with her hands.
As a young friend was standing with us noticing the pedestrians on the sidewalk, a very stylish young lady passed us. “What beautiful hands Miss--has!” exclaimed our friend. “What makes them beautiful?” “Why, they are small, white, soft, and exquisitely shaped.” “Is that all that constitutes the beauty of the hand? Is not something more to be included in your catalogue of beauty?” “What more would you have?” “Are they charitable hands? Have they ever fed the poor? Have they ever carried the necessities of life to the widow and the orphan? Has their soft touch ever smoothed the irritation of sickness and the agonies of pain? Axe they useful hands? Have they been taught that the world is not a playground, or a theatre of display, or a mere lounging-place? Do those delicate hands ever labour? Are they ever employed about the domestic duties of life? Are they modest hands? Will they perform their charities or their duties without vanity? Or do they pander to the pride of their owner by their delicacy and beauty? Are they humble hands? Will their owner extend them to grasp the hand of that old schoolfellow who now must earn her living by her labour? Are they holy hands? Are they ever clasped in prayer or elevated in praise?” (Christian Treasury.)
She layeth her hands to the spindle.--
There is a trite but apposite moral in the anecdote told of James I on having a girl presented to him who was represented as an English prodigy because she was deeply learned. The person who introduced her boasted of her proficiency in ancient languages. “I can assure your Majesty,” said he, “that she can both speak and write Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.” “These are rare attainments for a damsel,” said James; “but pray tell me, can she spin?”
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry.--
Whenever (said Dr. Johnson), whenever chance brings within my observation a knot of young ladies busy at their needles, I consider myself as in the school of virtue; and though I have no extraordinary skill in plain work or embroidery, I look upon their operations with as much satisfaction as their governess, because I regard them as providing a security against the most dangerous insnarers of the soul, by enabling them to exclude idleness from their solitary moments, and, with idleness, her attendant train of passions, fancies, chimeras, fears, sorrows, and desires.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.--
The nobility of womanhood
1. Tact is evidently the characteristic of one who “openeth her mouth with wisdom.” She is not one whose garrulity proves the truth of the proverb, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin,” for she has sufficient sense of the seriousness of life to avoid utterances which are idle and thoughtless. Her words are the dictates of that wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord. Nor does she merely speak wise words, but, with true wisdom, she recognises that “there is a time to speak and a time to be silent,” so that her reproofs and encouragements live long in grateful memories.
2. But authority is quite as important as tact, and this is characteristic of one who has a “law” in her lips. Suppleness in management is of little value unless there be strength behind it. God never meant that women should be always yielding to other people’s opinions, or that they should be swayed hither and thither by every passing breeze of emotion. As much as men they need firmness, the royal power of rule, for in the home, in the sick-room, and in the class they have a veritable kingdom in which to exercise authority for God.
3. It must not be forgotten, however, that the authority here spoken of is the law of kindness. Such, in the highest sense, is the authority of Christ over His people. The noblest rule requires, not the display of force, nor the terrors of foolish threats, nor the countermining of a suspicious nature, but the law of kindness, which is obeyed because it evidently springs from love and is enforced by love. Gentlest influences are by no means the feeblest. The spring crocus can be crushed by a stone, but, unlike it, the crocus can push its way up through the stiff, hard soil, until it basks in the sunshine. The light of the sun does not make noise enough to disturb an insect’s sleep, but it can waken a whole world to duty. Those who have been able to win or to retain the affection and trust of others exercise a power which angels might desire. (A. Rowland, LL.B.)
A soothing voice
Yes, we agree with that old poet who said that a low, soft voice was an excellent thing in woman. Indeed, we feel inclined to go much further than he has on the subject, and call it one of her crowning charms. How often the spell of beauty is rudely broken by coarse, loud talking! How often you are irresistibly drawn to a plain, unassuming woman whose soft, silvery tone renders her positively attractive. In the social circle how pleasant it is to hear a woman talk in that low key which always characterises the true lady. In the sanctuary of home, how such a voice soothes the fretful child and cheers the weary husband! (C. Lamb.)
Her children arise up, and call her blessed.
The children’s praise
This is part of the just debt owing to the virtuous woman. It is enough to make virtuous people happy that they are blessed of God. Yet this is thrown in as the reward of virtue, that among men also ordinarily it hath its praise. The praise that attends the virtuous woman comes from her own children.
1. It is a great comfort to those who are good themselves to see their children rising up. Here rising up means, stir up themselves to pursue the same course as their good mother.
2. The children of the virtuous woman call her blessed. It is her honour that she shall be praised by them that are best acquainted with her and most indebted to her.
I. The character of those parents to whom honour is due from their children.
1. Those that are truly wise deserve praise.
2. Those that are truly kind.
3. Those that are industrious and careful.
4. Those that are charitable.
5. Those that are virtuous; that is, sober and temperate, just and righteous in their conversation, exemplary in integrity and uprightness.
6. Those that are pious and religious towards God.
II. The duty of children in discharging their debt to their parents.
1. Maintain a grateful remembrance, and, on occasion, make honourable mention of our godly parents.
2. Give thanks to God for them.
3. We ought to be very sensible of our loss when such parents are removed from us. (Philip Henry, M.A.)
The blessing of the pious mother
The family is the profoundest and most sacred of all our social relationships. It is a type of spiritual relationships, and a means of realising them. In this delineation of the excellent woman the influence of the mother is more especially recognised. The distinctive honour of the pious mother is that she receives the benediction of her own children. They do her honour, speak of her with reverence and love and blessing. What must a mother be in order to inherit such benediction of her children? Notice her prudent regulation of the affairs of her household; her kindness, gentleness, and benignity; her piety. The religiousness that influences a child is the religiousness of common life, the religiousness that is the life that imbues all things with its feeling and sanctifies all things with its presence. Urge upon young women the present cultivation of such a character as will make them wise and holy mothers. (Henry Allon, D.D.)
Gratitude for a good mother
Mrs. Susannah Wesley was a model mother. The wife of a country curate, she brought up her large family so well that all Christendom has cause to bless her name. At her death her children gathered around her bed and sang a hymn of praise in gratitude to God for such a mother. She is called the “Mother of Methodism,” so much did her famous sons John and Charles Wesley owe to her influence and training. General Garfield said that his was a model mother. When young and headstrong he obtained work on a canal boat against her wishes. One dark night, when alone on the boat, he fell overboard. It was in a lock, where the water was deepest. He could not swim, and was sinking when his hand touched a rope hanging over the side, apparently by accident. He climbed on deck and found that the rope was only held by the slightest twist round a block. He felt it was God’s hand which had saved him, and resolved to start for home at once. He found his mother and described his miraculous escape. “What hour was it?” she asked. He told her, and she said, “At that very moment I was praying for you, my son, that God would protect and bless you.” And in after-life Garfield used to say, “I owe everything to my mother.”
Her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Gratitude for a good wife
The Earl of Beaconsfield said, “Every step in my life to honour and success I owe to my good and faithful wife.” President Lincoln, on receiving a presentation, said, “I will hand this to the lady who, by her counsel and help, has made it possible in anywise for me to serve my country.” A working man at a great meeting said recently, “My wife was a good woman before her conversion, but now she is worth her weight in diamonds.” When Jonathan Edwards was discharged from his appointment he came home in despair. But his wife smiled bravely and said, “My dear, you have often longed for leisure to write your book, and now it has come. I have lighted a fire in your room, and set the table with pens and paper.” He was so cheered that he set to work at once, and wrote the book that made him famous. (S. M. Evans.)
A wife praised by her husband
The late Robert Moffat had a wife of rare excellence. For more than fifty years she shared his toils in South Africa. The Secretary of the London Missionary Society says, “After their return from Africa, while talking over their labours at the Mission House, Mrs. Moffat said, ‘Robert affirms that I do not hinder him in his work.’ ‘No, indeed,’ replied Dr. Moffat, ‘but I can affirm that she has often sent me out to missionary work for months together, and in my absence has managed the station better than I could have done myself.’ Her husband’s first exclamation on finding her gone was, ‘For forty-three years I have had her to pray for me.’”
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
The world has dealt severely with woman. It has always been too fashionable to distort her character, and with cruel cowardice cast on her the entire blame for all the ills humanity endures. Long ago it was declared that “if the world were only free from women, men would not be without the converse of the gods.” Even Chrysostom pronounced woman to be “a necessary evil, a national temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic peril, a deadly fascination, and a painted ill.” There is still an Italian proverb to the effect, “If a woman were as little as she is good, a pea’s pod would make her a gown and a hood.” Similarly the Germans say, “There are only two good women in the world--one of them is dead, and the other is not found.” So Englishmen sometimes say, “If there is any mischief you may rest sure that a woman has to do with it.” It cannot be denied that the devil employed woman to accomplish the ruin of the race; that by her he disturbed Abraham’s home and heart, cast innocent Joseph into prison, robbed Samson of his strength, brought life-long trouble upon David, seduced Solomon into idolatry, caused John the Baptist to be beheaded, and drove Paul and Barnabas from Antioch. But let us go over to the other side, and deal fairly with woman. Whilst we hear the harsh voices of men shamefully reviling our Saviour we cannot discover an instance of a woman insulting or injuring the God man. Whilst men--even the favoured disciples--forsook Christ and fled, women responded readily to the loving appeals of Jesus, clung constantly to His person, ministered self-denyingly to His needs, and watched patiently and persistently at His cross. Remember that “many daughters have done virtuously.” It is not a few who stand before us for our admiration and gratitude. It is a glorious galaxy of pure-minded, consecrated women to whom the Church and the world are, and ever will be, indebted. And, further, recollect that they became what they were, and accomplished what they did, by personal effort. They strove to excel. They reasoned thus: “The thing is right, reasonable, desirable; circumstances demand that it should be done; therefore, with all my heart I will do it or fail in the effort.” Hence the words of the wise man. “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” The words seem to picture before us a racecourse with women runners--the goal, perfect virtue; the course, three-score years and ten; the umpire, God; the spectators, men and angels. We see the maiden entering the lists before she reaches her teens. Young, innocent, inexperienced, and trustful, she begins the race; we watch her pressing on through youth, adolescence, and old age. Now surpassing some who started with her, then being surpassed by some who began long after her; now level, abreast of scores of equals, then outdistancing her compeers. To-day passing one barrier of temptation, and to-morrow scoring another victory. Not stopping for some fading allurements as Atalanta did, but adding one excellency to another until it is said of her: “Many daughters have run well, but thou hast outrun them all; many daughters have done virtuously, but thou..excellest them all.” Young women, I ask you each to enter on this holy competition. Let me say, then, that you should cultivate affection for, and obedience to, your parents. We have known cases in which daughters have been callously absorbed in thoughts of themselves whilst all sympathy for the anxious and ageing mother has been wanting--where the young woman has deemed it beneath her to help a hard-toiling parent. I beseech you to remember that next to God you cannot love too deeply and lastingly those who have so sympathetically watched over and waited upon you. Never suffer either parents or friends to have cause for pronouncing you idle or indifferent to home claims. Be as careful what books you read as you are with what persons you associate. Above all, acquaint yourself with the Scriptures. And do not be ashamed to have it known that you pray. It is a lofty honour to commune with the Infinite Father. (J. H. Hitchens, D.D.)
A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
A woman worthy of praise
This text recognises the fact that a woman seeks admiration. She loves to be praised. What is so natural and universal cannot be wrong. Generally speaking, a woman who has lost the desire of praise is a lost woman. Her self-respect has gone, and she has parted with her strongest motive to strive after personal excellence. A. woman wins her way and strengthens her influence by the admiration she commands and the affection she inspires. Praise is more necessary to the right growth and happy development of human character than is commonly supposed. We do each other a moral wrong by withholding it when deserved. The desire to be commended may be thought an unworthy and selfish motive. It is unworthy when the heart is satisfied with the praise of foolish people. Very important it is whose praise we seek. All dishonest gains are bad. To claim commendation when we are conscious of not deserving it, or even to accept it without protest, is mean and destructive of personal integrity. To seek the honour that cometh from God, to deserve well of the good, can only spring from sympathy with goodness. The text glances at means of winning admiration which you must not rely on. “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” The praise these will bring you is not worth coveting. Beauty of form and feature is almost always a snare when it is not an index to beauty of soul. A woman should not place her worth in these outward advantages. She is to aim at a higher beauty, to seek to be beautiful in the eyes of Him “who seeth not as man seeth.” Three things should guide you in dress--truth, order, and harmony. You violate the rule of truth if you ever dress so as to be mistaken for what you are not. You should never purchase what will have an ill look when it is shabby. If you do you violate the law of order. You offend against the law of harmony if what you have on excites remark. A woman is dressed harmoniously when her dress seems part of herself. As the world is, marriage is the goal of a woman’s existence. Marriage makes or mars a woman. Girls whose chief talk is about young men merit severe reprobation. On this matter good advice may be summed up under three heads: Think little. Talk less. Do nothing. It will be time enough for you to think what your chances are and whom you will marry when the question comes before you in a practical form. This advice is based upon sound reasons and justified by manifold experiences. Piety is the bond of feminine virtues, the crown of womanly graces. A cold theology of intellectual ideas will never satisfy you. The religion that will command your devotion and obedience must offer a living person to your faith and loyal affection. The gospel offers you the Lord Jesus. Translate the description of fidelity, kindness, industry, and prudence given in this chapter into the language of to-day. Picture to yourselves this model of womanly excellence set in the duties and circumstances of your own lives, and then aim to be like her, for such will be the woman that feareth the Lord, and whom He will deem worthy of praise. (E. W. Shalders, B.A.)
Woman’s praises and virtues
I. Her virtues (Proverbs 31:11-27). Her conjugal fidelity; her kindness and constancy of affection; her housewifery and diligence; her thrift and management; her industry and assiduity; her charity and liberality; her providence and forecast; her magnificence in furniture and apparel; her reputation in public; her traffic and trade abroad; her discretion and obligingness in discourse; her care of home and good government of her family.
II. Her praise. At home; in public; through the whole country where she lives. Prove virtue to be the only praiseworthy thing. Favour and beauty are frail, and subject to decay in their nature and in the opinions of men. They are things that may be counterfeited and put on. They prove too frequently occasions of evil and incentives to sensuality. The good woman prizes favour and beauty under three conditions. Not so as ambitiously to seek them or fondly to vaunt them. Not so as to rely on them as solid goods. Not so as to misemploy them, but to guide them with virtue and discretion. Praise is sure to come to the woman that “feareth the Lord.” The woman has equal rights with man. A virtuous woman may mean a stout, valiant woman; or a busy, industrious woman; or a woman of wealth and riches; or a discreet woman. In its principle, this “fear” is a reverential fear. In its operations, like the warp, it runs through the whole web of all her duties. Such a woman shall be praised. (Adam Littleton, D.D.)
Beauty and goodness
I. The approbation to be desired. The love of approbation is at once a virtuous and a powerful motive. It includes the approbation of God and of good men. Some, however, cherish the love of approbation too much, and will sacrifice principle in order to obtain it. It is a dangerous thing to have the approval of every one; it is apt to make us careless, proud, or indifferent.
II. The false means which are sometimes relied on to secure this end. “Favour” means a graceful manner, demeanour, and deportment. “Beauty” refers to the countenance. We may thank God for beauty of person and elegance of manner as for any other of the blessings of this life. Used rightly, beauty may be a virtue, but perverted it becomes a source of great and awful evil.
III. The certain and only road to approbation. The woman who wishes to be praised must cultivate religious principle. Women are apt to attach undue importance to the external and to neglect the spiritual. Beauty without goodness passes away like a vapour, and leaves no trace behind; or if it succeeds in being remembered, it is only that it may be despised and abhorred. (Clement Dukes, M.A.)
As virtues of the true matron there are named, above all, the fear of God as the sum of all duties to God; then chastity, fidelity, love to her husband without any murmuring; diligence and energy in all domestic avocations; frugality, moderation and gentleness in the treatment of servants; care in the training of children; and beneficence to the poor. (Melancthon.)
I. Favour is deceitful. Men’s favour, the world’s favour, how fickle it ever is, how soon it changes, and what a short time it exists! How many souls have been ruined by the world’s favours! Flattery has produced pride, and has blinded the eyes and led the steps along the downward way.
II. Beauty is vain. We need not disparage beauty in itself. Beauty of form and feature is of God. But how short-lived mere beauty of face is! Sicknesses lessen it, increasing age denies it, afflictions spoil it.
III. What shall give us power and influence for good? Fearing the Lord. This makes the highest and grandest type of woman. (Uriah Davies, M.A.)
That love which is cemented by youth and beauty, when these moulder and decay, as soon they do, fades too. But if husbands and wives are each reconciled unto God in Christ, and so heirs of life and one with God, then are they truly one in God each with the other, and that is the surest and sweetest union that can be. (Archbp. Leighton.)
Woman retaining honour
“A gracious woman retaineth honour.” That is, a woman distinguished for her modesty, meekness, and prudence, and other virtues, will engage affection and respect when other accomplishments fade and decline. (B. E. Nicholls, M.A.)
Woman: her dues and her debts
There is among men no general agreement as to what exactly woman is, or means, and what precisely she is for, and rather less agreement among her own sex. Woman has been a great while in finding her place, and slow in even suspecting that any place of power and dignity is her due. Woman has been cautiously conceded to have powers of thought, or to be susceptible to a degree of discipline, but those susceptibilities have been regarded suspiciously and handled evasively. In higher social classes woman is considered rather in the light of a delicacy; as no true constituent of the bone and sinew of society; more an ornament than a utility, like the pictures we hang on our walls, or the statuary we range in our alcoves--a kind of live art. A womanly woman is feminine by nature, more feminine by grace, and will be consummately feminine by translation. What it lies in the nature of a thing to become is a providential indication of what God wants it to become by improvement and development. An uneducated woman is as much a mistake as an uneducated man is a mistake. By education is meant, first of all, womanliness, built out of alternate layers of intelligence sharpened by discipline and integrity, chastened by the manifold graces of God. A young woman, as much as a young man, belongs to her times. The beauty of a home and the strength of a home is that it is the product of affectionate co-operation and conspiracy between the prime partners to the contract. Society has not yet made any improvement on the marriage idea as it is laid down in the second chapter of God’s book--that the wife is to be her husband’s helpmeet. The hope of civilisation is the home, and the hope of the home is the mother. Characterless mothers and enervated homes are to be dreaded more than outward assaults of immorality or insinuations of a gross philosophy; for it is the enervation of the home that gives to gross philosophy and bad morality the opportunity to take hold and do its corroding and poisonous work. Civilisation would be kept as grand as the home is kept, and the keystone of home is the mother. (C. H. Parkhurst, D.D.)
The virtuous woman
1. Her industry and activity.
2. Her benevolence and kindness.
3. Her prudence or discretion.
4. Her devotion to God.
The importance of true religion as the crowning grace of womanhood cannot be over-estimated. (Frederick Greeves, D.D.)
Writing in her diary soon after the birth of her babe, Margaret Fuller put these words, “I am the mother of an immortal being. God be merciful to me a sinner!” A true woman cannot feel other than seriously the import of such an experience. Somebody has said, “She who rocks the cradle rules the world!” The world is what those constituting it make it. “Like mother, like child.” How great and sacred are a mother’s responsibilities! Her teaching and example are the most forceful agents in the formation of her child’s life. Virtue is transmitted as well as evil. The good we do lives after us as potentially as the bad. The strong things in a mother’s life pass on to the child as well as the weak. Let no mother say that her sphere is obscure or secondary. A noble ambition can fill no wider scope. Certain things are essential if you are wisely to fulfil your responsibilities of motherhood.
1. Endeavour to be what you would have your child become; in character, in morals, in religion.
2. Look well to yourself. Live what you teach.
3. Win the respect of your child.
4. Never let your child get beyond you in intellectual sympathy. Hearts may keep pace where heads cannot. Learn to sympathise with religious perplexities, and learn how best they may be eased and remedied.
5. Let your child be always certain of your love. Be faithful to your woman’s instinct. Deal patiently and lovingly with your child. Keep the home life bright for him. Learn to respect his rights. Allow him room for the free play of the varied powers God has given him. Are you not assured of grace sufficient for all your mother-needs? (George Bainton.)
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Institutes of the Christian Religion