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mance on this subject; but here have we a portrait, executed by no mortal hand, and though it be not often held up in the christian pulpit, we do well to study it, for correct ideas concerning it, take a deeper and stronger hold of the very roots of society than the superficial may imagine.
The description before us makes little of personal beauty, but everything of that higher beauty which adorns the soul. "Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but she that feareth the Lord shall be praised." Nevertheless the language of Scripture on this subject is not cynical. God has made us with a principle of taste, and everything which gratifies it confers pleasure. It is misanthropy and not religion which scowls at the beautiful. quick eye has the latter to admire all which God has finished in his wisdom.
But in contrast with goodness, which is the beauty of the soul, how vain, how worthless is every personal attraction, belonging not all to our choice or character, and so placed outside the domain of virtue. The fairest form which God has made, the richest bloom which beauty ever spread over the human face, one sharp attack of disease may spoil it; an accident may blight it; age surely will cause it to fade; the worm will revel on it, and corruption destroy it; but the beauty of the soul which is nurtured by religion is removed beyond the reach of accident or decay, is increased and not lessened by the flight of years, and attains its fullest bloom and immortality only when the body has returned to ashes. The substance of this whole chapter is epitomized in the New Testament:
"Whose adorning let it not be that which is outward-plaiting of hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price;" a beauty which God himself admires.
That which is good essentially is good relatively, and the portraiture which is here given of a good woman is taken from her domestic relations; her great and proper sphere of home. The greediest ambition which ever coveted honor, power and distinction, might be satisfied with that just measure of influence which is exerted within this vast domain-for the world will always be as are its homes; and the presidency of this domestic retreat where characters are formed, is committed by God to the virtuous woman. Emulous of no celebrity, covetous of no distinction, shrinking even from political publicity, as flowers fold themselves from the intense blaze of the sun, the good wife and mother contents herself with those household duties by which, in fact, generations are moulded, and the destinies of the great world are fixed. This is the most obvious feature of the inspired description upon which we are now entering. There is no truthfulness in it at all, if home be not the theatre of the virtuous woman.
Two things accordingly are implied in it on her part. That she should not despise it, and that she should not shrink from it.
The desire to be something we are not, and to get something we have not, is the great sinning of our nature, and the most adroit and perilous temptation to which a woman can ever be subject, especially if she be endowed with extraordinary talents, is presented in the idea that she was intended for something better and greater than domestic cares; that it is neither justice nor dignity to fritter away her life in giving heed to a thousand small and nameless avocations which menials might do as well; against which falsity the only antidote is a correct view of that honored kingdom which Providence has ordained for her, and the magnitude of those duties which Scripture has specified and enjoined.
While she must not undervalue her sphere, neither let her shrink from it. Let no gift of fortune, no love of ease, no desire of indulgence be an absolution from those duties which are her own personal and unalienable responsibility. Let her never be tempted to believe that she has no special obligation as to the interior concerns of her household; that these may be neglected or delegated to others without criminality in herself; and should cares multiply, and weariness and perplexity afflict her, instead of fleeing from them, let her faithfully meet them, remembering that these furnish as real an occasion for resolution, energy and heroism as any probation can display.
It may be somewhat difficult to apply the prism to the brilliant rainbow which the hand of inspiration has here arched, so as to separate in a distinct analysis the several virtues which together form one perfect character. Yet some of these appear to have received a special prominence and coloring for the very reason, we believe, that they are apt to be undervalued or overlooked. Yet are they of immense importance in their direct and indirect consequences.
The most comprehensive of these is a general prudence and discretion. This forms the very woof and warp of the character here described. This is a generic quality, displaying itself in a great variety of particulars. She manages her domestic concerns with such consummate care and prudence that the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her. Something more is here intended than confidence in her affection and vir tue. The entrance of the least suspicion in these respects, is enough to poison the transcendent delights of domestic life, and the first look or word which gives occasion to jealousy and distrust converts the paradise of home into the misery of hell. A relic truly of the paradise which is lost is the perfect trust which a man reposes in her who presides over his home. A help and a blessing is it for him to know that whoever else may disappoint or deceive him, there is one who is true and faithful in whom he may always trust; however others may misunderstand
and judge him, there is one so completely identified with his life, that in her he may confide as in his own conscious self.
But it is with a very common-place exhibition of this general virtue that our domestic description of a good woman is chiefly occupied, and the importance of it in a religious point of view will be obvious very soon. Regarding her household duties as the proper sphere of her fidelity, she conducts them with prudence, economy, discretion, consulting the true interest, and advantage, and honor of her husband. With no interest separate from his, she directs the domestic department of their joint life with such wisdom and discretion that he is happily satisfied and content. He confides to her hands the means of expenditure, knowing that she will show neither meanness nor extravagance.
There is an expression in this passage before us which is very suggestive: "The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil." So much of prudence doth she display in her domestic economy, that he is under no temptation to do a hard or dishonorable thing. There is lurking in many a mind a false notion about economy and extravagance which I verily believe has done more to embitter domestic peace, and ultimately destroy character, than any other; it is an unnatural association between economy and meanness, and between extravagance and generosity. Many a man has been ruined for time and for eternity by this falsity gliding insensibly into his domestic arrangements. Let there be in his home an ambition for display, a covetousness for articles of luxury, an emulation in the career of fashion, a passion which grows the more it is indulged; let there be a purpose to gratify this craving without due regard to ability and propriety, and the certain result you would expect would be an expenditure exceeding his means, an unnatural stimulation in his habits of business; unwise and hazardous speculations; at length projects dishonest and fraudulent, followed by suspicion, exposure, bankruptcy, ruin and despair. So many cases of this description have there been-so many wrecks of fortune, of hope, and of character, the true origin of which was in ambition and extravagance at home, that it is not to be wondered at that the word of God insists so much on this virtue of discretion and prudence in domestic economy. While some have been instigated to deeds of folly and of crime by that domestic extravagance which is here rebuked, how often has the character of a man been saved, and fortunes repaired by that discretion which presides over his household. Harrassed in business, perplexed in his affairs, just ready to abandon all to a general ruin, he comes home to her in whom his heart safely trusts, and instead of reproach and sullen grief over fading hopes, a cheerful discretion is there for his counsellor; a prudent economy is prompt in its suggestions; measures of relief are joyfully commenced under his own roof, and he recovers his heart and his foot-hold by the noble heroism, perhaps, sacri
fices of her who doeth him good and not evil all the days of his life. Show me a man beginning life with none of this religious prudence in his home, but in its stead, neglect, imprudence, and extravagance, and you see a man with the saddest prospects of disappointment, dishonesty, irreligion, crime and destruction.
It is obvious, on the very face of this passage, and every traveller in the Eastern hemisphere has observed the same, that among oriental nations it is common for women to take a more direct and immediate part in the management of business than our occidental customs allow. She is here represented as buying and selling, as concerned in merchandize and in vineyards, and, in general, as being more actively engaged in her husband's affairs, than any thing which is known to us. Nothing is so hopeless of change as national customs. While in the East we might judge the error was in one extreme, we are quite disposed to believe that we of the West misjudge in the opposite direction. If a virtuous woman is so discreet in her domestic domain, why may not her discretion be of immense value in affairs now seldom or never submitted to her judgment? We have often thought that it would be more for one's prosperity and permanent good in every regard, if, when stimulated by the excitement of trade, venturing in the exhilirations of brilliant speculations, into the regions of peril, he would oftener avail himself of the calmer judgment of her in whom his heart trusteth. There is an instinct which is sometimes safer than the reason, and the tranquillity of domestic retirement is more favorable for that quick intuition which is wiser than argument, and better than demonstration. Many a man would have been saved from deplorable shipwreck, if he had but once consulted the discretion of his wife, before entering upon an illusive project, or plunging into a ruinous speculation.
There is another part of this description which is very important, an infusion of which into our national habits would occasion no evil, but much of good. Running through all this portrait there is a glow and gleesomeness such as are imparted to physical exercise and activity. The good woman is described as clothed with strength, and working willingly with her hands. There has, from some cause, sprung up a notion, and it is not necessary that we should trace the pedigree of the error-which associates work with vulgarity, and feminine delicacy and refinement with physical debility and inactivity. It is literally a heathen sentiment, and every motive of religion should be active for its extirpation. Health and happiness are inseparably related; nor is there one of the human race exempt from the law of Divine Providence, which makes some manner of occupation and exercise essential to the health alike of body and mind. A heresy is it, fatal to the temper, and so to domestic peace; fatal to the highest happiness (and there is no part of the world where it more abounds than among ourselves), that the very pink and perfection of womanly delicacy is reached just when it shades off
into incipient consumption: when the forces of the body are sublimated away almost into ethereal essences; and removed just as far as possible from the necessities of vulgar exertion. Our very language is tainted with this poisonous sentiment. The word "homely," derived etymologically from the best of all words, home, and signifying simply what is "domestic," has, by insensible degrees, glided into the sense of "inelegant," "coarse," and "rude," as if homely occupations were to be discarded by such as are emulous of elegance and refinement.
Modes and methods of occupations vary with time and circumstances. But it is to be observed that this description of a good woman was given by the mother of a king, and that at a time when civilization culminated at the Jewish Court. So that if there were any absolved from this Providential law of physical activity, we might have expected to find them among those wearing soft raiment in the cedar palaces of Oriental Kings.
We say again, not a word does the Scripture utter against that which is becoming and beautiful in taste, for the very person here described maketh herself coverings of tapestry, and her clothing is silk and purple; a toilet which in material and arrangement is befitting her rank and station, yet this is the very one who, rising up while it is yet night, personally superintends the inmates and affairs of her household: strengthening her arms with cheerful work; and with all allowances as to modes of employment which changes of life require us to make, it is more than we can believe that inspiration should honor the counsel given by the mother of Solomon, "She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff," and that in these modern times there should be such a complete reversal of all laws as to justify the application to any class of the words of our Saviour, "They toil not, neither do they spin, yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." The life of a flower or a bird cannot be a true model for an immortal being to imitate; nor can any one who has a just conception of what or how much is needful to perfect the comfort, adornment and attraction of a christian home, ever imagine that there can be any lacking of occupation, or that any one, even in the most affluent condition, who looketh well to the ways of her household, according to the spirit of this passage, will be compelled to eat the bread of idleness.
While there is a radiance given to this whole portraiture by the healthfulness and cheerfulness which proceed from active and useful occupation, the true charm of the character is an inward disposition. "She stretcheth out her hand to the poor, yea, she stretcheth out her hands to the needy." "She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness," and the crowning glory of all is, she feareth the Lord.
She is charitable in feeling, prudent in discourse, kind in speech, and all these are the fruits of that religious sentiment