1 Peter 3:1-7
Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word…
Let our thoughts be guided by this twofold proposition: —
1. For the unfolding of woman's character, and the balancing of her spirit, Christianity supplies the only sufficient impulse and guide.
2. Christianity exhibits no more perfect illustration or achievement than in the completed proportions of her spiritual life. The first epoch of trial in woman's life begins when the period of education ceases. It is a period of dependence, in the first place, with most women — dependence on parents — but still not the less irksome for that, if the woman, with a consciousness of strength, sees the parent worn and anxious with excess of labour; or if, with willingness for effort which her position or social prejudice forbids, she sees her every want met only by reluctant and grudged supplies. It is a period of uncertainty; for it looks straight out upon all those contingencies that determine her future lot — a lot for which she is not so much to lead or choose as to wait and weigh the perils of being chosen, or to learn the calm fortitude that conquers neglect with dignity. It is a period of highly wrought sensibility. The emotions have swelled, from the babbling brook that kept its quiet way within the banks of youth, into the rushing river of impetuous passion. It is a period of comparative irresponsibleness; and who shall say that irresponsibleness is a blessing, when we know so well how occupation dispels morbid introspections, and how daily strain upon the muscles fortifies timid and tremulous nerves? It is not true, I think, of any other condition of human discipline, more than this one, that nothing short of a personal acquaintance with Christian trust can satisfy its wants. Two other and different resources, indeed, the young woman has: and we need not wander far to search for proofs how often She tries their value. They are her womanly pride, and the excitements of society. What will Christianity do? It concentrates the aimless and restless purposes of woman on the one grand object of a personal acceptance with God. It takes off the load, which no human spirit can bear and be cheerful, by its promise of forgiveness for what is lacking, and by its encouraging assurance that when once the life is consecrated to God no single act or thought of good can fail of fruit in the spiritual harvests of eternity. It offers her what the mind of youth more than anything else craves — a friendship at once unchangeable and trustworthy as the heavens; and so it opens the gates of the city of God straight into her closet of prayer, and, when the world looks most inhospitable, shows her friendly angels ascending with her supplications, and descending with counsel and compassion, between her Bethel and her Father. It not only quickens her to a new fidelity in all the homely ministrations of the house where she lives, towards brothers and sisters, parents and servants; it opens to her the lowly door of poverty; it draws her, by cords stronger than steel, to the unclad orphan and the bedside of sick wretchedness; it stimulates her invention, it exhausts her economy, it plies her fingers, it inspires her intercessions for the instruction of poor children's ignorance, and the redemption of their despair. Another task still Christianity solemnly charges upon woman in her youth. It bids her by every separate obligation of her discipleship be true to immaculate virtue in her intercourse with companions, and in the bestowment of her favour. Would to God that some angel from His own right hand would reveal to her the power she controls for the redemption of those horrible vices that defile and intoxicate the land! for then she might take up her benignant ministry as an apostle of holiness, persuading the tempted by her unbending principle, as well as bearing her own profession incorruptibly. It is time to advance to a later stage of the Christian woman's experience. If her moral power is so decisive at the time when life has devolved upon her the fewest responsibilities, and neither age nor station has vested in her any adventitious authority, it is only more commanding yet when she has taken up the complicated relations of marriage, and assumed the spiritual governance of that lesser church, that sacred seminary — the family. The chief enemies to her Christian simplicity — and thus to the symmetry of her own character, as well as the integrity of her influence — are social ambition, an appetite for admiration, the passion for indiscriminate excitement, and, in other constitutions, a dull servitude to the routine of mechanical tasks.
1. By social ambition I mean the vulgar appetite for those external distinctions which are even more dangerous to woman than to man, because of the inherent natural aristocracy of her nature. A wife or mother who suffers it to be her supreme exertion to rise in the public consideration has already parted with that artless sincerity which is the chief grace of her womanhood.
2. Appetite for admiration. Could some searching census register the number of those who are kept aloof from the love of God by this foolish vanity alone, should we dare to look into the swelling catalogue? Could some magic reflection be added to mirrors, so that, while they show back the adjustment of garments, they should also reveal the emptiness of soul, what dismal disclosures would startle the sleeping conscience!
3. Passion for indiscriminate excitement. What hold has religion taken of that mind which never rests in its insatiable craving for some public spectacle — is never satisfied except when it is preparing for some scene of social display, or exulting over its conquests? There is no noble type of womanhood that does not wear serenity upon its forehead.
4. On the other hand, in constitutions of an opposite inclination, female life is apt to degenerate, if not inspired by religion, into a tame routine of narrow domestic cares, dwarfing the spirit to its own contracted limitations. The very nature of woman requires animation for its health. Religion, with its infinite mysteries, its deep and stirring experience, its boundless duties, offers that needed stimulus — offers it to the obscurest and the lowliest. The Christian wife and mother is a Christian in the spirit by which she orders her household and nurtures her offspring. Too many mothers make their first request for their sons that of the mother of Zebedee's children — that they may sit on thrones of wealth and power. What wonder if those sons are worldlings, are hypocrites, are criminals? Too many train up their daughters with no loftier aim than to be beautiful brides, or the centres of meretricious observation at summer watering places, or to value a husband by his income, or not to be over nice in their judgment of men, because they are not expected to be virtuous like women. Infamous effrontery towards God! And thus I have come, finally, to what may be briefly established — that Christianity exhibits no more perfect achievement than in the completed character of a spiritual womanhood; for, passing on one stage later yet, we find the united result of a life's discipline and a heavenly faith in the Christian woman's old age. Providence has not withheld that confirmation of the power and beauty of religion from our eyes. We feel new confidence and truth, new love for goodness, new zeal for duty, new trust in God, new gratitude to Christ, when we look on her ripened holiness; and, as her strength faints before the power of decay, behold the crown of immortality descending almost visibly upon her head! I cannot so well finish this account of a Christian woman as by repeating the following touching, simple memorial of his wife written by one of the statesmen of England — Sir James Mackintosh — in a private letter to a friend: "She was a woman," he writes, "who, by the tender management of my weaknesses, gradually corrected the most pernicious of them. She became prudent from affection; and, though of the most generous nature, she was taught frugality and economy by her love for me. During the most critical period of my life she preserved order in my affairs, from the care of which she relieved me. She gently reclaimed me from dissipation, she propped my weak and irresolute nature, she urged my indolence to all the exertions that have been useful or creditable to me, and she was perpetually at hand to admonish my heedlessness and improvidence. To her I owe whatever I am — to her whatever I shall be. In her solicitude for my interest, she never for a moment forgot my character. Her feelings were warm and impetuous; but she was placable, tender, and constant. Such was she whom I have lost; and I have lost her when a knowledge of her worth had refined my youthful love into friendship, before age had deprived it of much of its original ardour. I seek relief, and I find it in the consolatory opinion that a benevolent Wisdom inflicts the chastisement as well as bestows the enjoyment of human life; that superintending goodness will one day enliven the darkness which surrounds our nature, and hangs over our prospects; that this dreary and wretched life is not the whole of man; that a being capable of such proficiency in science and virtue is not like the beasts that perish; that there is a dwelling place prepared for the spirits of the just; that the ways of God will yet be vindicated to man."
Parallel VersesKJV: Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;