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FORMATION AND EXCELLENCE
By JOEL HAWES, D.D.
I BEGIN my Address with an extract from a very ancient book, held in high esteem by some, though greatly neglected by others; but which is worthy to be made the text-book for female education throughout the world. The extract is this:
6 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants' ships ; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor ; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth in wisdom ; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the
We have many addresses and treatises on female education, and the excellencies of the female character. Some of them I have read and admired much.
* Proverbs, xxxi. 10 - 31.
But I do not recollect anything of the kind, so worthy of deep study, and general application in forming the female character, as the brief sketch just read in your hearing. It is indeed brief, but very comprehensive. It abounds in principles. Like all the inspired writings, it is remarkably suggestive. We cannot read it, but a great variety of thoughts crowd on the mind, and we wish to pause, at every verse, and reflect upon the topics brought to our notice. The character it presents is drawn with special reference to the usages of the times in which the writer lived; but its main features are of permanent excellence, and equally suitable to persons of every age and station in society. The description which it gives us of a virtuous woman, though not exactly in accordance with the taste and manners of modern times, is, for symmetry, beauty and completeness, unsurpassed, in my estimation, by anything that can be found in the writings, either of ancient or modern date. And I know not how I can better perform the duty assigned me, on this occasion, than by attempting to fill up the picture, - to present you with what good Matthew Henry calls a "looking-glass for ladies, which they are desired to open and dress themselves by; and if they do so," "their adorning will be found to praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
The term virtuous, used in the scripture before us, I take to have a wider signification than is wont to be given to it in common discourse. It denotes both health of body and endowments of mind, and includes, in general, all those intellectual, social, and moral
It is true,
qualifications, which belong to a woman of superior excellence, and finished worth of character.
The interrogation,“ Who can find a virtuous woman?" seems to imply a great scarcity of such characters, especially, in the times of Solomon, when the description we are considering, was penned. And this, we doubt not, was the fact.
the condition of females among the Israelites was far superior to what could be found in any of the surrounding nations. The honorable station assigned to woman at her creation, as a “help-meet for man," and the command in the decalogue, “honor thy mother ;” together with the general estimation in which she is held throughout the Old Testament scriptures, contributed greatly to dignify the female sex, and to make a family, among the Jews, a very different circle from what it was among the Greeks and Romans, or any other nation on earth, not favored with the light of revelation. Still the condition of Jewish females was far from being an enviable one. Their education was very limited; confined, for the most part, to common household affairs; and when it was carried somewhat farther, it rarely extended beyond such accomplishments as were in the fashion of the day. There were exceptions, of course; some of them are honorably mentioned in the scriptures; but there is much evidence, that the general state of female society among the Jews, especially at some periods of their history, was exceedingly depressed ; such as would naturally prompt, and fully justify, the inquiry,
Who can find a virtuous woman? It becomes us
to be grateful to God, my friends, that this inquiry is far less pertinent and applicable now, than it was in ancient times. In nothing is the progress of Christian civilization more remarkable, than in the elevation it has imparted to the female sex. In this view, woman's indebtedness to the Bible is greater than can be estimated. It has changed all her relations, enjoyments, duties, and prospects in life, and all her hopes for eternity. Throughout the world, where the Bible is unknown, woman is ignorant, degraded, substantially enslaved ; a poor, trembling drudge, waiting on the desires of a haughty, domineering master. But wherever the Bible has diffused its light and power, there it has restored woman to her proper place in society; it has redeemed her from an Egyptian bondage of body and mind; and while it has given greater sensibility and delicacy to her affections, it has enlarged her understanding, purified her taste, adorned her manners, dignified her character, and widened, exceedingly, the circle of her influence and enjoyments; it has done all this on so extended a scale, especially in this highly favored portion of our country, that, if the question were asked, who can find a virtuous woman, we could point to thousands of mothers, daughters, sisters, who realize this character in their own persons, in all its amiable and excellent qualities.
The price of a virtuous woman, it is said, is far above rubies. The expression is beautiful, and is as well fitted as any other to give us an idea of the high value of such a character. And yet it may be truly