The Missionary Woman
by William Bacon Stevens
"Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?' They came out of the town and made their way toward him." John 4:28-30
In the interesting conversation which the woman of Samaria had with Christ, He told her . . .
of the emptiness and unsatisfying nature of earthly comfort,
of the exhaustless fullness of his grace,
of the spiritual character of God and the true worship which He required,
of the displacement of the merely sensuous and local in worship, by that which is spiritual and universal,
and then he had crowned this sublime teaching by the equally sublime — but startling declaration to her, of His being the Messiah, the hope alike of the Samaritan and the Jew.
The words of Jesus reached the heart of the woman; her understanding was opened to receive the truth; she drank it in as indeed living water from a living well-spring; and so completely was she possessed with the marvelous declaration of Christ being the Messiah that, forgetful of her errand to the well of Jacob, she "left her water jar, and went her way into the city, and said to the people: Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ?" In answer to her appeal, the sacred narrative says, "Then they came out of the town and made their way toward him."
Here, then, we have the simple sketch of a missionary woman, and the first woman who ever preached Christ to those who were aliens and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel. Anna, the prophetess, had spoken of Him, when a babe, to all who looked for redemption in Israel; but this woman was the first to speak of Him to the Samaritans. She may, therefore, properly be regarded as the first Christian missionary woman. Looking at her in this light, let us use her example as a theme by which to discuss what a woman can do for Christ, what a woman ought to do for Christ, and why she ought to do it!
In endeavoring to understand what a woman CAN do for Christ, we must gauge her ability by her mental powers, her physical constitution, her moral development, and her social position. With regard to her mind, there is no truth of revelation which she is not fully capacitated to grasp and understand as well as man. With regard to her physical constitution, it is eminently adapted for the sphere in which God designed she should move, in the orbit of the family circle — a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister. With regard to her moral powers, she has in even a higher degree than man, the elements which make up a pious character — faith, love, hope, and zeal.
Her nature is more gentle,
her heart more impressible,
her affections more easily molded, and
her mind more open to holy influences.
With regard to her social position, she stands as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a nurse, a friend — at the very well-spring of man's power and greatness; and can exercise her plastic influence in infancy, in childhood, in hours of sweetest love, in the quiet of the family circle, in seasons of distress and sickness, in times and ways which are only open to a woman's love, and which consequently place in her hands, opportunities of influence, higher even than pertain to the sterner power of man.
The ability of women to do great things, being thus established, I proceed, next, to show what a woman OUGHT to do for Christ. She ought, first, to give her heart to Christ. Woman's heart is formed for love. Love is one of the elements of her power — and by its exercise she almost rules the world. In the person and character of Christ, there is presented to her heart, the most lovely and love-inspiring Being in the universe. The heart of woman is attracted by virtue. In Christ is found the highest assemblage of virtues.
Woman loves what is noble, honorable, generous. Jesus blends these qualities in amplest harmony. Woman's homage is drawn out by greatness of mind, breadth and depth of knowledge, profound wisdom, persuasive eloquence, and commanding influence; who then can better claim this homage than Jesus, "in whom dwelt all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Woman's love is excited by deeds of benevolence, by self-sacrifices in the cause of others — and who has larger claims on her love, then, than Jesus, whose benevolence towards mankind led Him to sacrifice Himself on the cross for our salvation! There is nothing that is worthy of attracting woman's love — which is not found in the character of Christ in the very highest degree! And according to the very principles which should regulate the outgoings of her own affection, she ought to love Jesus Christ with a fullness and devotion surpassing that given to any mere human being.
I wonder not that more women than men love Christ; my only wonder is that all women who know of Christ, do not love Him. They will admire the character of some hero of romance; they will yearn for the love of some noble and generous champion of benevolence and goodness; they will delight in the favor of some distinguished military chieftain, some great writer, some eloquent orator, some able jurist — why will they not love and admire and adore Him . . .
in whose character every virtue meets — and no vice is found;
in whose mind all wisdom centers — and no folly exists;
in whose heart all goodness dwells — and no sin abides;
in whose soul there is a benevolence that embraces the world in its love;
in whose life there was a self-sacrifice before which all earthly heroism fades;
in whose works there was a nobleness and grandeur with which not all the military glory of the world can compare;
in whose death there was a blessing born to man, without which the world would have rolled on its allotted years in its pathway of sin — and then been hurled into the blackness of darkness forever!
Every woman who does not love Christ — contradicts the very first principles of her nature. Every woman who does not love Christ — does violence to the dictates of her conscience, her judgment, and her heart. Every woman who does not love Christ — dishonors her own soul by denying entrance into it of the purest, highest, holiest love which is embodied in the Savior of the world.
As soon as a woman loves Christ, and has gone to Him as her soul's Savior — then it is her duty to tell others of Christ; and imitating the zeal of the woman of Samaria say, "Come, see Him. Come, hear Him. Come, love Him. Is not this the Christ whom you need?"
But you may ask, how can she do this, when the apostle, and the voice of the whole Christian church, forbid her preaching or teaching in the great congregation? I answer, let her tell others of Christ, and let her do work for Christ — in her several spheres and relations of life.
Is she a WIFE, and has she an unbelieving husband? Let her, by her holy life, her winning gentleness, her persuasive love — seek to confirm the assertion of the apostle, that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife."
Is she a MOTHER? Let her "learn to show piety at home," that her daily walk and conversation may be a daily sermon distilling its truth as the dew upon the hearts of her household, as they behold in her the beauty of holiness. It is in a mother's power, to mold the mental and moral future of her offspring in a great measure, and the saying is as true as it is terse, "Those who rock the cradle — rule the world!"
It was a touching little anecdote which was told me, during the preparation of this sermon, by one of my parishioners, and illustrates the truth which I have just stated most forcibly; that on asking her little grandson, who had just finished reading the "Pilgrim's Progress," which he liked best, Christian or Christiana? he replied, after a moment's thought, "I like Christiana best; for when Christian set out — he went alone; but when Christiana set out — she took her children with her."
A holy home influence will, by God's added blessing — make a holy household, and this is peculiarly a woman's work; for . . .
in her keeping is the infant, yet budding mind;
in her control are the opening affections of the heart;
in her guardianship are the springing sensibilities of the soul.
Placed at these head-springs of spiritual and intellectual power, she exerts an influence no man can wield; for she molds whole generations before the schoolmaster teaches the first elements of education.
Is she a SISTER? What a powerful influence can a loving, gentle sister exercise over even rough and wayward brothers!
She can restrain — when curbing is necessary;
she can direct — when guidance is required;
she can encourage — when a cheering word is needed;
she can nurture — when there is a virtue to cherish, as no man can do.
There is a moral magnetism about a godly sister, which acts positively — in calling out good qualities; and negatively — in repelling vices in a brother's bosom. The drawing or repelling influence is ever felt, and few men have become thoroughly bad, who have had pious sisters.
Is she a DAUGHTER? The blendings of filial love with youthful piety — are eminently beautiful to a parent's eye, and produce effects in a parent's heart which no moving eloquence of man can beget! And it can be her privilege, as it is her duty, to win them to Christ.
Nor do a woman's duties stop at the circumference of the family circle. She is a member of society. Society, be it high or low — is what woman makes it. Men do not control society — but are controlled by it; they come into it from their trades, their counting-houses, their offices, their professional duties — and yield themselves to the influences which are already at work within that circle, set in motion by women. The tone of society — is always what the moral tone of woman is. Let that be refined, sound, and pious — and society becomes pure and pious.
She is shut out from the pulpit — because Paul says, "Let your women keep silence in the churches." She is shut out from the caucus and polls — because modesty, purity, and every feminine virtue forbids her going there. She is shut out from the glory to be gathered in slaying men on the field of battle — because a woman's hands were not made to be imbrued in blood. She is shut out from the courtroom and the senate — because her mind is not made to deal with the questions, or contend with the parties which meet in those arenas.
But there is still open to her a large outlying territory where she can work to equal if not greater advantage than man, and where her labors have already counted for good in a most wonderful manner.
In the Sunday-school field, woman finds an appropriate sphere. She is particularly fitted by God for instructing and molding youthful mind and affections, and hence she makes the best teacher of children, especially in Bible truths and in moral culture. No woman has ever fully entered into this work who has not been able to say, in spirit if not in words,
"Delightful work! Young souls to win
And turn the rising race,
From the deceitful paths of sin,
To seek the Savior's face!"
Again, take up the list of benevolent institutions in which woman can labor with propriety and effect, and see what a wide scope is here given to her active and useful powers:
in homes for the orphan,
in refuges for children,
in institutions for the relief of poverty and distress, as also
in reformatory, disciplinary, and crime-preventive societies.
In all these associations, woman finds a befitting and noble sphere of Christian labor, where the eye of a God of love bends its kind look upon her deeds, and the bounty of a God of mercy, rewards her toil.
Look again at another and almost unoccupied field where Christian female influence is needed — but lacking. I mean Hospitals and Infirmaries. In the rebound which Protestantism made from Romanism in the fifteenth century, the Reform Churches swung far away from the whole system of monasteries and nunneries and religious orders; and, in condemning them, aimed not so much at reforming the abuses, as breaking up the system itself. But while the principles of many of the religious orders of the church of Rome are — contrary to God's Word, injurious to the church, and baneful to the individual; some of them were good, and, if properly regulated, might, and ought, to be again engrafted into the working machinery of Protestant benevolence.
The question arises — shall this vantage-ground be occupied by the Church of Rome alone? or shall Protestants be afraid to call out and subsidize this latent power, because the Church of Rome has surrounded these institutions with error, superstition, and ecclesiastical tyranny! It is a matter of rejoicing, that the Protestant communities are waking up to a sense of their deficiencies on this matter, and to the importance of establishing some kind of sisterhoods or institutions where pious Protestant women can devote their time, talents, and energies — to the noble work of following in the footsteps of Jesus, who, when on earth, "went about healing all that were sick," and proving himself the Great Physician of the soul — by being the Great Physician of the body. In England, and on the Continent, there are many of the Protestant institutions which, freed from all the objectionable features of the Romish Church, retaining all that is valuable with the added elements of a pure faith and sound worship — are doing great good, and quietly working their way into favor with all branches of the Reformed Church.
Our blessed Lord made the healing of the sick — the medium through which he often cured the soul; and he told his disciples, as they went up and down Judea, "Heal the sick." The apostles did this to such an extent that not only were handkerchiefs taken from their bodies carried to the sick and laid on them — but even the sick were brought out into the streets, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might heal them.
The early Church felt it to be one of her special duties to provide for the sick and the needy. Hence hospitals arose at once, the outgrowth and the exponent of Christianity; and if the hospital is emphatically characteristic of the beneficent spirit of Christianity, why should not the nursing of the sick in hospitals and elsewhere in the abode of the poor and the wretched, be also an emphatic mark of Christian character? Especially when our Lord, putting Himself in the position of one in prison, one naked, one hungry, one sick — said to those who questioned, "When did we see You sick, or, in prison — and come unto You?" replied, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren — you have done it unto me."
And I hope that the time is not far distant, when much of the now not only unoccupied — but absolutely wasted, talent of our pious women will be organized into efficient instrumentalities for serving Christ, after the pattern of Christ, and in the spirit of Christ, and for the glory of Christ.
And yet once more let me beg you to look at the mission field, and mark there, what woman can do for Christ. As a wife to cheer and comfort her toiling missionary husband; as a mother training up in a pagan land a model Christian family; as a teacher fitted to instruct old and young; as a pious female exhibiting to the eyes of the heathen, who have ever degraded women, a type of lofty womanhood, made such by the elevating power of the religion of Christ; and as a nurse to the sick, a counselor to the afflicted, and an example to native females seeking entrance to the fold of Christ — the pious woman finds in the missionary work one of the noblest fields of mental, physical, and moral labor — one worthy her noblest powers, one absorbing her deepest affection, one that makes her a co-worker with God, and makes her rank with those women which Paul says labored with him in the Gospel.
Some of the most successful missionaries have been women, and their faith, labors, example, prayers, wisdom, have been productive of blessings to the heathen, which no arithmetic can compute. I regard the true-hearted missionary woman — she who, under the constraining love of Christ, leaves home, friends, country — and devotes her life to painful and self-denying labors among the heathen, that she may teach them the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ — I regard such a woman as the noblest of her gender.
Poets who burn the incense of praise, in the censers of verse to the titled and the beautiful — may offer no perfume to her. Painters who catch the glowing radiance of the beauty that dazzles royal courts — may sketch no likeness of her. Sculptors who make the cold marble almost breathe with the glowing charms of regal loveliness — may never deign to model her form. Biographers who write the mirthful life of the courtiers — may not honor her with a single memorial. The world that seeks for glitter, for pomp, for sensation — may pass her by uncared for.
But the Holy Spirit cares for her and adorns her with the ornaments of his beautifying grace! Christ cares for her and gives her the title to an inheritance in Heaven! God cares for her, and has a mansion prepared for her in glory! And when the votaries of fashion and of pleasure, the peeresses, the princesses, the queens of earth, shall be stripped of their courtly robes and crowns, and be driven, as most of them will be, away from the presence of the Lord — then will these missionary women receive, in the presence of the assembled universe, the plaudit, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
The works of a Dorcas at Joppa, of a Phoebe at Cenchrea, of a Lydia at Thyatira, of the beloved Persis at Rome in the apostles' times; and the deeds of a Paula in Palestine, of an Hellena at Constantinople, of a Fabiola at Rome, in the primitive church; and the wonderful labors in our own day of a Mrs. Fry in ameliorating the prison systems of England; of a Mrs. Chisholm in softening the rigors of penal emigration; of a Mrs. Hill, in rousing up the female mind of Greece; of Ann Judson as showing the endurance and heroism of a missionary's wife; of a Catharine Marsh who has taught us what a holy mind and will can do with "English hearts and hands," and a Florence Nightingale who has introduced the most wholesome reforms into the whole department of military and civil hospitals, and made known to us what women can and ought to do as nurses, for the sick and the afflicted — all have illustrated what woman can do for Christ, and shown the almost supernatural strength which is lodged in her soul, that only needs some great stimulus to develop it into healthful exercise. These evince . . .
the power and actings of a woman's faith,
the zeal and energy of a woman's works;
the depth and glow of a woman's love!
And now, in conclusion, let me say a few words upon the question — WHY a woman should consecrate herself to Christ? And the simple answer is — because Christ has done everything for her. He honored woman by condescending when He took upon Himself our nature to be born of a woman. It is through Christ alone, that woman has been elevated. Where the gospel of Jesus does not prevail — woman is degraded and dishonored. There is no country on the face of the earth, where woman is not debased — except where the religion of Christ prevails. And just in proportion as that religion is pure and active — is the female gender elevated and refined.
Did you but know the sad condition of woman in Pagan lands, and how fearfully the enmity of the serpent has been manifested against the daughters of Eve; and could you contrast . . .
their darkness — with your light,
their debasement — with your refinement,
their pollution — with your purity,
their servitude — with your freedom,
their superstition — with your living faith,
their dwarfed and stinted minds — with your growth and development
— you would feel that you were indeed raised to Heaven in point of privilege. Yet for every step in this ascending series of blessings — you are solely indebted to Christ! And could Christ's influence and teachings and Church be now blotted out — not a half of a century would pass before the shadows of a coming night of barbarism and degradation, would fall upon the female gender, deepening in blackness until her glory, which now shines like a sun full-orbed in the social firmament, diffusing light and love and joy — would be totally eclipsed, and a darkness that might be felt, would brood like midnight over the world!
But Christ has done more for woman than merely given her this high social position. In all the religions of the world outside of Judea, though elysiums and heavens of bliss were offered to men — none were offered
to woman, except as to an inferior being. If she entered Elysium — it was merely to serve man. If the Koran gave her admission to Heaven — it was only to be the slave of man's lust. There was for her no hope of the future in any of the systems of man's devising. To the entire mind of female heathendom, the future life was an abyss across which no ray of light gleamed, and she lived almost a brute's life and died a brute's death, scarcely knowing that she had a soul, ignorant of the life beyond the grave.
But Christ brought life and immortality to light for the whole race. To a woman, was first confided the secret of the Savior's incarnation. At a woman's suggestion, was wrought the first miracle which Jesus exhibited. To a woman, it was first announced that Christ was the Messiah. To a woman, was first made the sublime declaration, "I am the Resurrection and the Life". To a woman, Christ first appeared after His resurrection. And in all this, He foreshadowed the new position which woman was to hold in the Christian system.
Her faith was to be the same as man's;
her hope based on the same atoning blood that his was;
her love drawn out by the same Being whom man loved;
the Church which was to enfold man, was to enfold her also;
the places of assembly where man was to worship, were to be shared by woman;
the truth which was preached to man, was to be taught to her;
the promises which were held out to the one, were equally given to the other;
the Savior in His preciousness was no dearer to man, than to woman;
for her, as well as for man, Christ had conquered death and Hell;
the door which He opened into Heaven admitted her with man;
and the mansions which He went before to prepare, were to be occupied by woman, not as a panderer to man's impurity, not as a slave to his lust, not as an ornamental companion to his house and his feast in paradise — but as a fellow-heir and a fellow-laborer and a fellow-believer in Christ; fitted for the same intellectual pursuits, sharer of the same spiritual glory!
This, then, is the reason why you should love and labor for Christ. He has redeemed you, sanctified you, saved you, enlightened you, elevated you, honored you, and given you equal rights with man to an inheritance in Heaven! There is not a blessing of the gospel which is not yours! There is not a hope of glory which is not yours. As woman's heart is formed for faith — she ought to exercise it toward Him who alone is the Author and Finisher. As woman's heart is formed for hope — it ought to anchor itself on Him who is within the veil, even Jesus Christ.
Emulate the conduct of this humble Samaritan peasant. Listen to Christ when He speaks to you in His Word. Be taught of Christ the great truth which will make you wise unto salvation; and when you have received Christ into your own heart — then go forth, as she did, within the circle of your influence, and tell the name and fame of Jesus! Wake up an interest in Him all around you! Be the missionary woman in your house, your church, your community, your country. And rest not, until, having brought others to Jesus, you can have the satisfaction of hearing them say, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world!"