Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“There are threescore queens” (Song of Solomon 6:8).
Solomon, by one stroke, sets forth the imperial character of a true Christian woman. She is not a slave, not a hireling, not a subordinate, but a queen; and in my text Solomon sees sixty of these helping to make up the royal pageant of Jesus. Crown, courtly attendants, and imperial wardrobe are not necessary to make a queen; but graces of the heart and life will give coronation to any woman.
Woman’s position is higher in the world than man’s because “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world” (William Ross Wallace). Though she has often been denied the right of suffrage, she always does vote, and always will vote, by her influence. Her chief desire ought to be that she should have grace rightly to rule in the dominion she has already won: the home. My chief anxiety is not that woman have other rights accorded her, but that she, by the grace of God, will rise to the appreciation of the glorious rights she already possesses. I shall enumerate some of those rights this morning.
COMFORTING THE SICK
In the first place, woman has the special and superlative right of blessing and comforting the sick. What land, what street, what house has not felt the smitings of disease? Tens of thousands of sickbeds! What shall we do with them? Shall man, with his rough hand, heavy foot, and impatient bearing, minister? No. He cannot soothe the pain. He cannot quiet the nerves. He knows not where to set the light. His hand is not steady enough to pour the medicine. He is not wakeful enough to be watcher. The Lord God, who sent Dorothea Dix into the Virginia hospitals, Florence Nightingale into the Crimea, and the Maid of Saragossa to appease the wounds of the battlefield, has equipped wife, mother, and daughter for this delicate but tremendous mission.
You have known men who despised woman, but the moment disease fell on them, they did not send for their friend at the bank, their partner in business, or their worldly associate. Their first cry was, “Take me to my wife.”
The dissipated young man at the college scoffs at the idea of being under home influence, but at the first blast of fever he says, “Where is Mother?”
One of the most pathetic passages in all the Bible is the description of the lad who went out to the harvest-field of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8-37), was sun-struck, threw his hands to his temples, and cried, “Oh, my head! my head!”
His dad said, “Carry him to his mother.”
Then the record is, “He sat on her knees till noon, and then died.”
It is an awful thing to be ill away from home in a strange hotel, occasionally men coming in to look at you, holding their hand over their mouth for fear they will catch something. How roughly they turn you in the bed! How loudly they talk! How you long for the ministries of home!
I knew one who went away for several weeks’ business out West. A telegram came at midnight that he was on his deathbed, far away from home. By express train the wife and daughters headed west, but too late. He was not afraid to die, but he was in an agony to live until his family got there. He tried to bribe the doctor to make him live a little while longer. He said, “I am willing to die, but not alone.” But the pulses fluttered, the eyes closed, and the heart stopped. The express trains met in the midnight—wife and daughters going west, the lifeless remains of husband and father coming east. Oh, it was a sad, pitiful, overwhelming spectacle!
When we are sick, we want to be sick at home. When the time comes for us to die, we want to die at home. The room may be humble; the faces that look into ours may be plain; but who cares? Loving hands to bathe the temples, loving voices to speak good cheer, loving lips to read the comforting promises of Jesus.
In the war man cast the cannon, man fashioned the musketry, man cried to the hosts, “Forward, march!” Man hurled the battalions on the sharp edges of the enemy, crying, “Charge! charge!” But woman scraped the lint, woman administered the cordials, woman watched by the dying couch, woman wrote the last message to the home circle, woman wept at the solitary burial, attended by herself and four men with a spade.
We greeted the generals home with brass bands, triumphal arches, and wild huzzas [hurrahs]; but the story is too good to be written anywhere, save in the chronicles of heaven, of Mary Brady, who came down among the sick in the swamps of the Chickahominy. Of Annie Ross in the Cooper Shop Hospital. Of Margaret Breckinridge, who came to men who had lain for weeks with their wounds undressed, some of them frozen to the ground; and when she turned them over, those who had an arm left waved it, and filled the air with their “hurrah!”
Of Jane Currie Hoge, who came from Chicago with blankets, pillows, sheets, and bandages until the men shouted, “Three cheers for the Christian Commission! God bless the women at home!” Then sitting down to take the last message, “Tell my wife not to fret about me, but to meet me in heaven. Tell her to train up the boys whom we have loved so well. Tell her we shall meet again in the good land. Tell her to bear my loss like the Christian wife of a Christian soldier.”
Of Mary E Shelton, into whose face the convalescent soldier looked and said, “Your grapes and cologne cured me.”
Men did their work with shot, shell, carbine, and howitzer; women did their work with socks, slippers, bandages, warm food, Scripture texts, gentle strokings of the hot temples, and stories of that land where they never have any pain.
Men knelt down by the wounded and said, “On which side did you fight?”
Women knelt down by the wounded and said, “Where are you hurt? What nice thing can I make for you to eat? What makes you cry?”
Tonight, while we men are sound asleep in our beds, there will be a light in yonder loft; there will be groaning down that dark alley; there will be cries of distress in that cellar. Men will sleep, and women will watch.
CARING FOR THE POOR
Again, woman has a superlative right to care for the poor. There are hundreds and thousands of them in all our cities. There is a kind of work that men cannot do for the poor. Here comes a group of little barefoot children to the door of the Dorcas Society. They need to be clothed and provided for. Which of these directors of banks would know how many yards it would take to make that little girl a dress? Which of these masculine hands could fit a hat to that little girl’s head? Which of the wise men would know how to tie on that new pair of shoes?
Man sometimes gives his charity in a rough way, and it falls like the fruit in the East, which comes down so heavily it breaks the skull of the picker. But woman glides so softly into the house of destitution, learns the sorrows of the place, and so quietly puts the donation on the table, that all the family come out on the front steps as she departs, expecting that from under her shawl will emerge two wings to carry her back from where she seems to have come.
O Christian young woman, if you would make yourself happy and win the blessing of Christ, go out among the destitute! A loaf of bread or a bundle of socks may make a homely load to carry; but the angels of God will come out to watch, and the Lord Almighty will give His messenger hosts a charge, saying, “Look after that woman; canopy her with your wings and shelter her from all harm.”
And while you are seated in the house of destitution and suffering, the little ones around the room will whisper, “Who is she? Ain’t she beautiful?”
Can you tell me why a Christian woman, going down among the haunts of iniquity on a Christian errand, never meets with any indignity?
I stood in the chapel of Helen Chalmers, the daughter of the celebrated Dr Chalmers, in the most abandoned part of Edinburgh. As I looked around on the fearful surroundings of that place, I said to her, “Do you come here nights to hold a service?”
“Oh yes,” she said, “I take my lantern and I go through all these haunts of sin, the darkest and the worst. I ask all the men and women to come to the chapel. Then I sing for them, I pray for them, and I talk to them.”
I said, “Can it be possible that you never meet with an insult while performing this Christian errand?”
“Never,” she said, “never.”
That young woman who has her father by her side walking down the street, and an armed police at each corner, is not so well defended as that Christian woman who goes forth on gospel work into the haunts of iniquity, carrying Bible and bread.
Someone said, “I dislike very much to see that Christian woman teaching those bad boys in the mission school. I am afraid to have her instruct them.”
“So,” said another man, “I am afraid too.”
Said the first, “I am afraid they will use vile language before they leave the place.”
“Ah!” said the other man, “I am not afraid of that. What I am afraid of is that if any of those boys should use a bad word in that presence, the other boys would tear him to pieces and kill him on the spot.”
Backed up by barrels in which there is no flour, by stoves in which there is no fire, and by wardrobes in which there is no clothing, a woman is irresistible; passing on her errand, God says to her, “You go into that bank, or store, or shop, and get the money.”
She goes in and gets it. The man is hard-fisted, but she gets it. She could not help getting it. It is decreed from eternity she should get it. No need of your turning your back and pretending you don’t hear; you do hear. No need of your saying you are begged to death. No need of your wasting your time. You might as well submit first as last. You had better right away take down your checkbook, mark the number of the check, fill up the blank, sign your name, and hand it to her. No need of wasting time. Those poor children on the back street have been hungry long enough. That sick man must have some farina. That consumptive must have something to ease his cough.
I meet this delegate of a relief society coming out of the store of such a hard-fisted man, and I say, “Did you get the money?”
“Of course,” she says, “I got the money; that’s what I went for. The Lord told me to go in and get it, and He never sends me on a fool’s errand.”
RELIEVING THE SUFFERING
Again I have to tell you that it is woman’s specific right to comfort under the stress of dire disaster. She is called the weaker vessel, but all profane as well as sacred history attests that, when the crisis comes, she is better prepared than man to meet the emergency. How often you have seen a woman who seemed to be a disciple of frivolity and indolence, who, under one stroke of calamity, changed to a heroine.
Oh, what a great mistake those businessmen make who never tell their business troubles to their wife! There comes a great loss to the store, or a companion in business plays them a sad trick, and they carry the burden alone. He is asked in the household, again and again, “What is the matter?” but he believes it a sort of Christian duty to keep all that trouble to himself.
O sir, your first duty is to tell your wife! She perhaps might not have disentangled your finances or extended your credit, but she would have helped you to bear misfortune. You have no right to carry on one shoulder that which is intended for two.
There are businessmen here who know what I mean. There came a crisis in your affairs. You struggled bravely and long; but after a while there came a day when you saw the finish line. You called in your partners, the most prominent men in your employ, and you said, “We have got to stop.”
You left the store suddenly. You could hardly make up your mind to pass through the street and over on the ferry. You felt everybody would be looking at you, blaming you, and denouncing you.
You hastened home. You told your wife all about the affair. What did she say? Did she play the butterfly? Did she talk about the silks, the ribbons, and the fashions? No. She was equal to the emergency. She quailed not under the stroke. She helped you begin to plan right away. She offered to go out of the comfortable house into a smaller one, and wear the old cloak another winter. She understood your affairs without blaming you.
You looked on what you thought was a thin, weak woman’s arm holding you up; but while you looked at that arm, there came into the feeble muscles of it the strength of the eternal God. No chiding. No fretting. No telling you about the beautiful house of her father, from which you brought her ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. You said, “Well, this is the happiest day of my life. I am glad I have got from under my burden. My wife doesn’t care—I don’t care.”
At the moment you were utterly exhausted. God sent a Deborah (Judges 4:4-24) to meet the host of the Amalekites, and scatter them like chaff over the plain. There are sometimes women who sit reading sentimental novels, and who wish that they had some grand field in which to display their Christian powers. Oh, what grand and glorious things they could do if they only had an opportunity!
My sister, you need not wait for any such time. A crisis will come in your affairs. There will be a Thermopylæ in your own household, where God will tell you to stand. There are scores and hundreds of households in this city today where as much bravery and courage are demanded of women as was exhibited by Grace Darling, Marie Antoinette, or Joan of Arc.
BUILDING UP THE KINGDOM
Again, I remark, it is woman’s right to bring us to the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a woman to be a Christian than for a man.
“Why?” you say. “She is weaker.”
No. Her heart is more responsive to the pleadings of divine love. That she can more easily become a Christian I prove by the fact that three-fourths of all church members are women. So God appoints them to be the chief agency for bringing this world back to God. The greatest sermons are not preached on celebrated platforms; they are preached with an audience of two or three, and in private home life. Consistent, consecrated Christian service is an unanswerable demonstration of divine truth.
One night a group of rough men were assembled at a tavern. Midnight came and went. About one or two o’clock in the morning a man boasted that it did not make any difference what time he went home, his wife cheerfully opened the door, and provided a meal if he was hungry.
So the men laid a wager. They said, “Now, we’ll go along with you. We’ll bet that when you go home and make such a demand, she will resist.”
So they went along, at two or three o’clock in the morning, and knocked at the door. The door opened, and the man said to his wife, “Get us a supper.”
She said, “What shall I get?”
He selected the food, which was cheerfully provided. About three or four o’clock in the morning they sat down at the table—the most cheerful one in all that presence the Christian wife—when the husband, the ruffian, the villain who had demanded all this, broke into tears, and said, “I can’t stand this. Oh, what a wretch I am!” He dismissed the group, knelt down with his Christian wife, and asked her to pray for the salvation of his immortal soul; and before the morning dawned, they were united in the faith and hope of the gospel.
A patient, loving, Christian demeanor in the presence of transgression, in the presence of hardness, in the presence of obduracy and crime, is an argument from the throne of the Lord Almighty, and blessed is that woman who can wield such an argument!
One night a sailor came slipping down the ratline, as though something had happened. The sailors cried, “What’s the matter?”
He said, “My mother’s prayers haunt me like a ghost.”
Home influences, consecrated Christian home influences, are the mightiest of all influences on the soul. There are men here today who have maintained their integrity, not because they were any better naturally than other people, but because someone back home had been praying for them. They got a good start. They were launched on the world with the benediction of a Christian mother. They may track Siberian snows, they may plunge into African jungles, they may fly to the earth’s end, they cannot go so far and so fast but Mother’s (and Father’s) prayers will keep up with them.
I stand before women this morning who have the eternal salvation of their husband in their right hand. On your wedding day you took an oath before men and angels that you would be faithful and kind “till death do you part,” and I believe you are going to keep that oath. But after that parting at the grave, will it be an eternal separation? Is there any such thing as an immortal marriage, making the flowers on the sepulcher brighter than the garlands of the marriage bouquet? Yes. I stand here as a priest of the most high God to proclaim the banns of an immortal union [the Church] for all those who join hands in the grace of Christ.
O woman, is your husband, your father, your son away from God? The Lord demands their redemption at your hands. It is your part to pray, to exhort, and to be an example. I say now, this morning, as Paul said to the Corinthian woman, “How do you know, wife, but what you can save your husband?” (1 Corinthians 7:16).
A man was dying, and he said to his wife, “Rebecca, you wouldn’t let me have family prayers. You laughed about all that, and you got me away into worldliness. Now I am going to die, my fate is sealed, and you are the cause of my ruin.” O woman, how do you know but what you can destroy your husband?
Are there not some here who have kindly influences at home—are there not some here who have wandered far away from God, who can remember the Christian influences in their early home? Do not despise those influences, my brother. If you die without Christ, what will you do with your mother’s prayers, with your wife’s importunities, with your sister’s entreaties? What will you do with the letters they used to write to you, with the memory of those days when they attended you so kindly in times of sickness?
Oh, if there be but one strand holding you from floating off on that dark sea, I would like, this morning, to take hold of that strand and pull you to the beach. For the sake of your wife’s God, for the sake of your mother’s God, for the sake of your daughter’s God, for the sake of your sister’s God, come this day and be saved.
Last, I wish to say that one of the specific rights of women is, through the grace of Christ, finally, to reach heaven.
Oh, what a multitude of women there are in heaven! Mary, Christ’s mother, in heaven. Elizabeth Fry in heaven. Charlotte Elizabeth in heaven. Monica, the mother of Augustine, in heaven. The Countess of Huntingdon, Selina Hastings—who sold her splendid jewels to build chapels—in heaven. A great many others, who have never been heard of on earth, or known but little, have gone into the rest and peace of heaven.
What a rest! What a change from the small room, with no fire and one window, the glass broken out, and the aching side and worn-out eyes, to the house of many mansions! No more stitching until twelve o’clock at night, no more thrusting of the thumb by the employer through the work to show it was not done right. Plenty of bread at last. Heaven for aching heads. Heaven for broken hearts. Heaven for anguish-bitten frames. No more sitting up until midnight for the coming of staggering steps. No more rough blow across the temple. No more sharp, keen, bitter curse.
Some of you will have no rest in this world. It will be toil, struggle, and suffering all the way up. You will have to stand at your door fighting back the wolf with your own hand. But God has a crown for you: an incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25), a crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4).
I want you to realize, this morning, that He is now making it; and when you weep a tear, He sets another gem in that crown. When you have a pang of body or soul, He puts another gem in that crown. After a while, in all the tiara there will be no room for another splendor, and God will say to His angel, “The crown is done. Let her up that she may wear it.”
As the Lord of Righteousness puts the crown on your brow, one will say to another, “Who is this arrayed in white? Where does she come from?”
Another will answer, “She has come up out of great tribulation, and has washed her robe and made it white in the blood of the Lamb” (cf Revelation 7:13, 14).
Then God will spread a banquet; He will invite all the principalities of heaven and all the saints of the ages; and the tables will blush with the best clusters from the vineyards of God and with the twelve manner of fruit from the Tree of Life (cf Revelation 22:1, 2). Water from the fountains of the rock will flash from the golden tankards. The skilled of heaven will make music with their harps (cf 14:2, 3; 15:2, 3). Christ will say, “She suffered with Me on earth, now we are going to reign together” (cf 2 Timothy 2:12).
The banqueters, no longer able to hold their peace, will break forth with congratulation, “Hail! hail!” And there will be handwritings on the wall—not such as struck the Persian noblemen with horror, but fire-tipped fingers writing in blazing capitals of light, love, and victory: “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might. be to our God forever and ever” (Revelation 7:12). “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Your ways, O King of saints” (15:3). “Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready …. Blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (19:6-9).
“And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither will there be any more pain” (21:4). “There will be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there … and they will see His face, and His name will be in their forehead. And there will be no night there, and no candle, not even the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign with Him forever and ever” (22:3-5). Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
“Earth has nothing more tender than a woman’s heart when it is the abode of piety.” ~Martin Luther
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
*Adapted from “Woman Enthroned,” 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.