Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“The name of his wife was Abigail; and she was a woman of good understanding and of a beautiful countenance” (1 Samuel 25:3).
The ground in Carmel is white, not with fallen snow, but the wool from the backs of 3,000 sheep being sheared. I hear the grinding of the iron blades, the bleating of the flocks, held between the knees of the shearers, and the rustic laughter of the workmen. Nabal and his wife, Abigail, preside over this homestead.
David, the warrior, sends a delegation to apply for aid at this prosperous time of sheep-shearing. When Nabal peremptorily declines his request, David cries revenge. Yonder over the rocks he comes, with 400 angry men, with one stroke to demolish Nabal, his sheepfolds, and his vineyards. The regiment marches in double quick; the stones of the mountain loosen and roll down at the tramp, tramp, tramp of marching soldiers. “Forward! Forward!”
Abigail, to save her husband and his property, hastens to the foot of the hill. She is armed, not with sword or spear, but with beauty and self-sacrifice. When David sees her kneeling at the base of the craig, he cries, “Halt!”
The caverns echo “Halt!” And Abigail is the conqueress! One woman mightier than 400 men! A hurricane stopped at the sight of a waterlily! Niagara dashed back by a dewdrop! By her prowess and tact she saves her husband and her home, and puts before all ages an illustrious specimen of what a wife can do if she be godly, prudent, self-sacrificing, vigilant, devoted to the interests of her husband, and attractive.
As, Sabbath before last, I took the responsibility of telling husbands how to treat their wife—though some men squirmed a little in their pew, they endured it—I now take the responsibility of telling wives how to treat their husband. I hope your domestic alliance was so happily formed that while married life may have revealed in him some unsuspected frailties, it has also displayed counterbalancing excellencies. I suspect that if I could look into the heart of 100 wives here present and ask, “Where is the kindest and best man you know of?” 99 of 100 would say, “At the other end of this pew” [the children seated between the parents].
I hope, my sister, you have married a man as Christian and as well balanced as that. But even if you were worsted in conjugal bargain, you cannot be worse off than this Abigail in my text. Her husband was cross and ungrateful, an inebriate, for on the very evening after her heroic achievement at the foot of the hill, where she captured a whole regiment with her genial and strategic behavior, she returned home and found her husband so drunk she could not tell him the story, but had to postpone it until the next day.
So, my sister, I do not want you to keep saying to yourself as I proceed, “That is the way to treat a perfect husband,” for you are to remember that no wife was ever worse swindled than this Abigail of my text. At the other end of her table sat a mean, selfish, snarling, contemptible sot; and if she could do so well for a dastard [despicable person], how ought you to do with that princely and splendid man with whom you are walking the path of life?
REMEMBER HE IS TIRED
First, I counsel the wife to remember in what a severe and terrific battle of life her husband is engaged. Whether in professional, commercial, artistic, or mechanical life, your husband from morning to night is in a Solferino, if not a Sedan. It is a wonder that your husband has any nerves, patience, or suavity left. To get a living in this next to the last decade of the 19th century is a struggle. If he comes home and sits down preoccupied, excuse him. If he does not feel like going out that evening for a walk or entertainment, remember he has been out all day.
You say, “He ought to leave at his place of business his annoyances and come home cheery.”
But if a man has been betrayed by a business partner, a customer has cheated him out of a large bill of goods, a protested note has been flung on his desk, someone has called him a liar, and everything has gone wrong from morning till night, he must have great genius and forgetfulness if he does not bring home with him some of the perplexity. When you tell me he ought to leave it all at the store, bank, or shop, you might as well tell a storm on the Atlantic to stay out there and not touch the coast or ripple the harbor.
RESPECT HIS SELF-SACRIFICE
Remember: your husband is not overworking so much for himself as he is overworking for you and the children. It is the effect of his success or defeat on the homestead that causes him the agitation. Most men after age 45, live not for themselves, but for their families. They begin to ask themselves anxiously the question, “If I should give out, what would become of the folk at home? Would my children get their education? Would my wife have to go out in the world to earn bread for herself and our little ones? My eyesight troubles me; what if my eyes should fail? My head gets dizzy; what if I should drop under apoplexy?” The high pressure of business life, mechanical life, and agricultural life is home pressure.
Sometime ago a large London firm decided that if any of their clerks married on a salary less than £150—that is, $750 a year—he should be discharged, the supposition being that the temptation might be too great for misappropriation. The large majority of families in America live by utmost dint of economy. To be honest and yet meet one’s family expenses is the appalling question that turns the life of tens of thousands of men into martyrdom. Let the wife of the overborne and exhausted husband remember this. Do not nag him about work, and say you might as well have no husband when the fact is he is dying by inches to maintain the home.
I charge the wife: keep yourself as attractive after marriage as you were before marriage. The reason so often a man ceases to love his wife is that the wife ceases to be lovable. In many cases what elaboration of toilet [grooming] before marriage, and what recklessness of appearance after! The most disgusting thing on earth is a slatternly [untidy] woman—I mean a woman who never combs her hair until she goes out, or looks a fright until somebody calls.
That a man married to one of these creatures stays at home as little as possible is no wonder. It is a wonder that such a man does not go on a whaling voyage of three years, and in a leaky ship. Costly wardrobe is not required; but, O woman, if you are not willing, by all that ingenuity of refinement can effect, to make yourself attractive to your husband, you ought not to complain if he seek in other society those pleasant surroundings you deny him!
DO NOT COMPLAIN
Again, I charge you: never talk to others about the frailties of your husband as Abigail did (1 Samuel 25:25). Some people have a way, in banter, of elaborately describing to others the shortcomings or unhappy eccentricities of a husband or wife. Ah, the world will find out soon enough all the defects of your companion! No need of your advertising them! Better imitate those women who, having made mistake in affiance, have a veil to hide imperfections and alleviate conduct.
We must admit that there are rare cases where a wife cannot live longer with her husband, and his cruelties and outrages are the precursor of divorce or separation. But until that day comes, keep the awful secret to yourself—keep it from every being in the universe except the God to whom you do well to tell your trouble.
Trouble only a few years at most, and then you can go up on the other side of the grave, and say, “O Lord, I kept the marital secret! You know how well I kept it, and I thank You that the release has come at last. Give me some place where I can sit down and rest awhile from the horrors of an embruted earthly alliance, before I begin the full raptures of heaven.”
And orders will be sent to the angels: “Take this Abigail right up to the softest seat in the best room of the palace, and let twenty of the brightest angels wait on her for the next thousand years.”
Further, I charge you: let there be no outside interference with the conjugal relation. Neither neighbor nor confidential friend, nor brother, nor sister, nor father, nor mother, have a right to come in here. The married gossip will come around, and by the hour tell you how she manages her husband. You tell her plainly that if she will attend to the affairs of her household, you will attend to yours.
What damage some people do with their tongues! Nature indicates that the tongue is a dangerous thing, by the fact that it is shut in, first by a barricade of teeth, and then by the door of the lips. One insidious talker can keep a whole neighborhood stirred up. The Apostle Peter excoriated [censured] these busybodies in other people’s matters (1 Peter 4:15), and Paul gives them a sharp dig (2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13). The good housewife will be on the lookout for gossips, never return their calls, and treat them with coldest frigidity.
For this reason, better keep house as soon as possible [as opposed to living with relatives]. Some people are opposed to [apartments], but I thank God for what are called flats in these cities. They put a separate home within the means of nearly all the population.
In your married relations you do not need any advice. If you and your husband have not skill enough to get along well alone, with all the advice you can import you will get along worse. What you want for your craft on this voyage is plenty of sea-room.
BE A COMPANION
I charge you, also: make yourself the intelligent companion of your husband. What with these floods of newspapers and books there is no excuse for the wife’s ignorance about past or present. If you have no more than a half-hour every day to yourself, fill your mind with useful knowledge. Let the merchant’s wife read up on mercantilism; the mechanic’s wife on machinery; the professional man’s wife on legal, medical, theological, or political thought.
It is stupid for a man, after having been with keen minds all day, to find his wife without information or opinions on anything. If the wife knows nothing about what is going on in the world, after the tea-hour has passed, and the husband has read the newspaper, he will have an engagement and must “go and see a man.” In nine cases out of ten when a man does not stay at home in the evening, unless positive duty calls him away, it is because there is nothing to stay for, though, no doubt, he would rather talk with his wife than anyone else if she were conversant on the subject.
ADORN THE HOME
I charge you, my sister: in every way make your home attractive. I have not enough of practical knowledge about interior decorating to know what makes the difference, but in one home is opulence, wealth of bric-a-brac, musical instruments, paintings, and upholstery, and yet there is in it a chill like Nova Zembla. In another home, with one-twentieth the financial outlay, is a small supply of art, a cheap piano, and yet, as you enter it, a glow of welcome and satisfied and happy domesticity. The holy art of making the most comfort and brightness out of the means afforded, every wife should study.
Sisera was offed by a tent nail to the temples, hammered by a housewife, Jael (Judges 4:21). Abimelech was slain by a stone that a woman threw from the tower of Thebes (Judges 9:53; 2 Samuel 11:21). At the siege of Argus, Pyrrhus was killed by the tile of a roof thrown by a woman. Simon de Montfort (1160-1218), 5th Earl of Leicester, was destroyed by a rock discharged at him by a woman from the walls of Toulouse. But without any weapon save that of her cold, cheerless household arrangement, any wife may slay all the attractions of a home circle.
A wife and mother in prosperous circumstances and greatly admired was giving her chief time to social life. The husband spent his evenings away. The son, fifteen years of age, assumed the same habit, and there was a prospect that the other children, as they aged, would take the same turn.
One day the wife aroused to the consideration that she had better save her husband and her boy. She introduced interesting and stirring games and studied up interesting things to tell her children.
One morning the son said, “Father, you ought to have been home last night. We had a grand time. Such jolly games and such interesting stories!”
This went on from night to night; and after a while the husband stayed in to see what was going on. He finally was attracted, and added something of his own to the evening entertainment. The result was that the wife and mother saved her husband, her boy, and herself. Was not that an enterprise worth the attention of the greatest woman that ever lived since Abigail at the foot of the rock arrested the 400 armed warriors?
APPRECIATE YOUR TRUE SPHERE
Do not, my sister, be dizzied and disturbed by the talk of those who think the home circle too insignificant for a woman’s career, and who want to get you out on platforms and in conspicuous enterprises. There are women who have a special outside mission, and do not dare to interpret me as derisive of their important mission. But my opinion is that the woman who can reinforce her husband in the work of life and rear her children for positions of usefulness is doing more for God, the human race, and her own happiness than if she spoke on every great platform and headed a hundred great enterprises.
My mother never made a missionary speech in her life, and at a missionary meeting I doubt that she would have had enough courage to vote aye or no; but she reared her son John, who has, for about forty years, been preaching the gospel and translating sacred literature in Amoy, China. Was not that a better thing to do?
Compare such an one with one of these die-away [languid], attitudinizing, frivolous, married coquettes [flirts] of the modern drawing room, her heaven an opera box on the night of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, the Ten Commandments an inconvenience, taking arsenic to improve the complexion, and her appearance a confused result of belladonna, bleached hair, antimony and mineral acids, until one is compelled to discuss her character, and wonder whether the line between a decent and indecent life is, like the equator, an imaginary line.
What the world needs now is about 50,000 old-fashioned mothers, women who realize that the highest, grandest, mightiest institution on earth is the home. It is not necessary that they should have the same old-time manners of the country farmhouse, or wear the old-fashioned cap, spectacles, and apron that her glorified ancestry wore; but I mean the spirit that began with Hannah (1 Samuel 1:9-18; 2:1-11), Lois (2 Timothy 1:5), and Abigail (1 Samuel 25) of biblical days, and was demonstrated on the homestead where some of us were reared—though the old house long ago was pulled down and its occupants scattered, never to meet until in the higher home that awaits the families of the righteous.
While there are more good and faithful wives and mothers now than there ever were, society has got a wrong twist on this subject, and there are influences abroad that would make women believe their chief sphere is outside, rather than inside, the home.
Hence, in many households, children are looked on not as a blessing but as a nuisance. It is card case versus child’s primer, carriage versus cradle, social popularity versus domestic felicity. Hence infanticide and antenatal murder [abortion] so common that all the physicians, allopathic, hydropathic, homeopathic, and eclectic are crying out in horror. It is time that the pulpits joined with the medical profession in echoing and re-echoing the thunder of Mount Sinai: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). And the Book of Revelation: “All murderers shall have their place in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8).
The man or the woman who takes life one minute old will as certainly go straight to hell as the man or woman who destroys life forty years old. And the wildest, loudest shriek of Judgement Day will be given at the overthrow of those who moved in the high and respected circles of earthly society, yet decreed by their own act, as far as they could privately effect it, the extermination of the advancing generations, abetted in the horrid crime by a lot of infernal quacks with which modern medicine is infested.
When, on the Last Day, the crier of the Court will with resounding “Oyez!” “Oyez!” [Silence!] declare the “Oyer and Terminer” [Hear and determine (criminal case)] of the Universe opened, and the Judge, with gavel of thunderbolt, will smite the nations into silence, and the trial of all the fratricides [murder of sibling], parricides [murder of kinsman], matricides [murder of mother], patricides [murder of father], uxoricides [murder of wife], regicides [murder of king], and infanticides [murder of infant] of the earth will proceed, none of my hearers or readers can say that they knew not what they were doing.
Mighty God, arrest the evil that is overshadowing this century and this country!
MAKE YOUR HOME YOUR MISSION FIELD
I charge you, my sister, that you take your husband along with you to heaven. Of course, this implies that you yourself are a Christian. I take it for granted. It cannot be possible that after what Christianity has done for woman, and after taking the infinitely responsible position you have assumed as the head of the household, that you should be in a position antagonistic to Christ.
It was not a slip of the tongue when I spoke of you as being the head of the household. We men rather pride ourselves on being the head of the household, but it is only a pleasant delusion.
To whom do the children go when they have trouble? when there is a sore finger to be bound up? when a baby tooth needs to be removed to make way for one that is crowding it out? For whom do children cry out in the night when they get frightened at a bad dream? To whom does the husband go when he has a business trouble too great or too delicate for outside ears?
We, the men, are head of the household in name, but you, O wives, are the head of the household in fact; and it is your business to take your husband with you into the kingdom of God and to see that house prepared for heaven.
Of course, God’s almighty grace alone can convert him, but you are to be the instrument. Some wives keep their husbands out of heaven, and others garner them for it. If your faith, O wife, is simply the joke of the household, if you would rather go to the theater than to the prayer meeting, if you can beat all the neighborhood in progressive euchre [card game], if your husband never sees you kneel at the bedside in prayer before retiring, if the only thing that reminds the family of your church relations is that on Communion day you get home late to dinner, you will not be able to take your husband to heaven, for the simple reason that you will not get there yourself.
But supposing that your faith is genuine, that the husband realizes that there is in your soul a divine principle, and that, though you may be naturally quicker tempered than he is and have many imperfections that distress you more than they can anyone else, still you are destined for the skies when the brief scenes of this life are over. How will you take him with you? There are two oars to that boat—prayer and example.
“But,” you say, “he belongs to a worldly club.” Or, “He does not believe a word of the Bible.” Or, “He is an inebriate and very loose in his habits.”
What you tell me shows that you don’t understand that while you are at one end of a prayer, Omnipotent God is at the other end, and it is simply a question whether Almightiness is strong enough and keeps His word. I have no doubt there will be great conventions in heaven, called for celebrative purposes; and when in some celestial assembly the saints will be sharing what brought them to God, I believe that ten thousand times ten thousand will say, “My wife.”
I put beside each other two testimonies of men concerning their wives, and let you see the contrast.
An aged man was asked the reason of his salvation. With tearful emotion he said, “My wife was brought to God some years before myself. I persecuted and abused her because of her faith. She, however, returned nothing but kindness, constantly maintaining an anxiety to promote my comfort and happiness; and it was her amiable conduct when suffering ill-treatment from me that first sent the arrows of conviction to my soul.”
The other testimony was from a dying man: “Harriet, I am a lost man. You opposed our family worship and my secret prayer. You drew me away into temptation and to neglect every Christian duty. I believe my fate is sealed. Harriet, you are the cause of my everlasting ruin.”
How many married couples there are in heaven—Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Lapidoth and Deborah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and many whom we have known as good as the most of them!
As once you stood in the village or city church or in your father’s house, perhaps under a wedding bell of flowers, today stand up, husband and wife, beneath the cross of a pardoning Redeemer, while I proclaim the banns of eternal togetherness in heaven [as part of the blood-washed saints, the redeemed]. Join your right hands. I pronounce you one forever. The circle is an emblem of eternity, and that is the shape of the wedding ring.
“Wife, submit yourself to your own husband, as unto the Lord”
(Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18).
“Be subject to your own husband, that if he obey not the Word, he also may, without the Word, be won by the conversation of the wife” (1 Peter 3:1).
“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife …. What know you, O wife, whether you will save your husband?” (1 Corinthians 7:14, 16).
“Let the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
*Adapted from “Duties of Wives to Husbands,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], The Wedding Ring: A Series of Discourses for Husbands and Wives and Those Contemplating Matrimony (New York: Louis Klopsch, 1896). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.