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WIVES AND HUSBANDS
In like manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, even if any obey not the word, they may without the word be gained by the behaviour of their wives; beholding your chaste behaviour coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner aforetime the holy women also, who hoped in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands: as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose children ye now are, if ye do well, and are not put in fear by any terror. Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honour unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded.
WHERE shall we begin our interpretation of this influential passage? The starting-place of the exposition has much to do with the character and quality of its issues. Everybody knows the starting-place of a superficial and short-sighted curiosity. It fastens its primary attention upon 103the words “subjection,” “fear,” “obedience.” These are the words which are regarded as the points of emphasis. Around these words the interest gathers and culminates. The rest of the broad passage is secondary, and takes its colour from their determination. I propose to reverse the order. We will begin with the broad significance of the passage, and then reason backwards to the content of the individual words. We will gaze upon the entire face, and then take up the interpretation of single features. If we begin with the words “subjection,” “fear,” “obedience,” with no helpful clue of interpretation, we shall have a perverted and destructive conception of the dignity of womanhood. But if we begin with the broad, general portraiture of the wife and the husband, their mutual relationships will stand revealed as in the clear light of a radiant noon. In the passage for exposition the apostle delineates some of the spiritual characteristics of the ideal husband and the ideal wife. Let us quietly gaze at the portraiture, if perchance some of its beauty may steal into our spirits, and hallow common life with the light and glory of the blessed God.
Where does the apostle begin in his portraiture of the ideal wife? “Chaste behaviour.” [Verse 2] 104The first element in worthy womanhood is the wearing of the white robe. The spirit is perfectly clean. “The King’s daughter is all glorious within.” All her powers consort together like a white-robed angel-band. In every room of her life one can find the fair linen, “clean and white.” In the realm of the imagination her thoughts hover and brood like white doves. In the abode of motive her aspirations are as sweet and pure as the breathings of a little child. In the home of feeling, her affections are as incorruptible as rays of light. If you move among the powers of her speech, on the threshold of her lips you will find no stain, no footprint of “anything that defileth or worketh abomination, or maketh a lie.” In the inner life of the ideal woman, no unclean garment can be found, for everything wears the white robe. The spirit is “chaste.” But chasteness is more than cleanliness. The stone is not only white, it is chiselled into delicacy. Character is not left in the rough; it is refined into thoughtful finish. The substance is not only pure, it is worked into beauty. It is not only true in matter, it is consummated in exquisite manner. If the analogy of purified womanhood is to be found in the whiteness of the snow, its finish is to be found in the graceful curves and forms of the snowdrift. “Chaste 105behaviour” is just the refined purity of all the activities of the inner life.
Refined purity is therefore the primary element in the ideal wife, and it is the first essential in human communion. There can be no vital communion where both the communicants are not clean. “When dirt intrudes, fellowship is destroyed. Corruption is the antagonist of cohesion. “The wicked shall not stand.” Their very uncleanness eats up the consistency and brings the structure to ruin. “When uncleanness breaks out in the family circle, the family cannot “stand.” If envy take up its abode, or jealousy, or any type of carnal desire, the fair and beautiful circle is broken. The great family of the redeemed, “the multitude whom no man can number,” are one in the wearing of the “white robe.” Their consistency and solidarity are found in their purity, and in the absence of all the alienating forces of uncleanness and defilement. It is not otherwise in the relationship of husband and wife. The wearing of the white robe is the primary essential to their communion. “Keep thy garments always white”! Does the ideal appear insuperable? Then let me proclaim another word: “They shall walk with Me in white!” That is not a command; the words enshrine a promise. “Walking with Me, they shall be white.” The 106whiteness is the result of the companionship. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” The sprinkling is not a transitory act; it is a permanent shower. The forces of the cleansing Spirit are sprayed upon our powers just as the antiseptic is sprayed upon the exposed wound to ward off and destroy the subtle forces of contamination and defilement. To be a companion of the Lord is to have the assurance of purity. “The fear of the Lord is clean.”
What is the second element in the portraiture Verse 4 of the ideal wife? “A meek and quiet spirit.” [Verse 4] There is nothing cringing or servile in the disposition. It is infinitely removed from the saddening, paralysing obeisance of the slave. “I am meek,” cries the Master; and can we detect anything fawning or fearful about the Son of Man? In the interpretation of the great word, let us eliminate from our minds every suggestion of servility and servitude. Meekness is just the opposite to self-aggressiveness and violent self-assertion. Meekness is just self-suppression issuing in beneficent service. Meekness does not tread the narrow path of a selfish ambition, tending only to some self-enriching end. Meekness takes broad, inclusive ways to large and unselfish ends. Meekness seeks the enrichment of life through 107the comprehension of the many. Self-assertion may appear to succeed, but it never really wins. It may gain a telescope, but it loses an eye. It may win an estate, but it loses the sense of the landscape. It may gain in goods what it loses in power. “It may gain the whole world, and lose its own soul.” The meek are the only true “heirs.” They gain an ever finer perceptiveness, and life reveals itself in richer perfumes and flavours and essences with every passing day. “The meek shall inherit the earth.”
“A meek and quiet spirit.” A quiet spirit! The opposite to that which we describe as “loud.” The “loud” woman is the ostentatious woman, moving about in broad sensations. “He shall not cry”; there was nothing loud about Him, quite an absence of the scream: “neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets”; there shall be nothing about Him of the artifice of self-advertisement. The Master was never “loud,” and so He was a most winsome and welcome companion. The “loud” woman is never companionable. The difference between a “loud” woman and a woman of “quiet spirit” is the difference between fireworks and sunshine, between a quiet, genial glow and a crackling bonfire. The apostle contrasts the “quiet spirit” with the love of sensational 108attire and loud adornments, the disposition to arrest attention by vulgar dazzle and display. The disposition is a fatal foe to real communion. After all, we cannot bask in the glare of fireworks; we rejoice in the quiet sunlight. Home is made of quiet materials, and one of the elements in the constitution of beautiful wedded fellowship is “a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
What is the third element in the portraiture of the ideal wife? “Not put in fear by any terror” How shall I describe the disposition? Let me call it the grace of repose. “Not put in fear by any terror.” [Verse 6] They are not the victims of “sudden, wild alarms.” They are not easily aroused into the fearfulness which is so often the parent of thoughtlessness. They have reposefulness of spirit. Now, if I may be allowed to say it, I think this fearfulness is more characteristic of women than of men. There are larger enemies inside the gates of men’s gardens; but in the garden of woman’s life, I think that the heat of fearfulness and the slugs of worry and fretfulness will be found to be more abounding. Fearfulness is destructive of the deeper delights of human fellowship. Restfulness is essential to deep and fruitful communion.109
What are the lineaments of the ideal husband? “Dwell with your wives according to knowledge.” [Verse 7] How shall we describe the characteristic? Let us call it the atmosphere of reasonableness. “According to knowledge.” We may grasp its content by proclaiming its opposite: “Dwell with your wives according to ignorance. Just walk in blindness. Don’t look beyond your own desires. Let your vision be entirely introspective and microscopic. Never exercise your eyes in clear and comprehensive outlook. Dwell in ignorance!” No, says the apostle, “dwell according to knowledge.” Keep your eyes open. Let reason be alert and active. Let all your behaviour be governed by a sweet reasonableness. Don’t let appetite determine a doing. Don’t let thy personal wish have the first and last word. Exalt thy reason! Give sovereignty to thy reason! Be thoughtful and unceasingly considerate. It is the absence of this prevailing spirit of reasonableness which has marred and murdered many a bright and fair-promising communion. “He is not really bad at heart, but he doesn’t think!” That is the fatal defect. He does not think! He dwells according to ignorance; his reason is asleep, and the beautiful, delicate tie of wedded fellowship is smitten, wounded, and eventually destroyed.
“Giving honour unto the woman, as unto the 110 weaker vessel.” [Verse 7] Giving honour, paying homage, bowing down in the spirit in the posture of serious and religious regard. To the atmosphere of reasonableness we are to add the temper of reverence. Now, see the wealthy suggestiveness of this. Reverence implies at least two things—perception and homage. “We must first see a thing before we can pay it regard. We must first behold a dignity before we can pay homage to it. Homage implies perception: perception implies eyes. How are the seeing eyes obtained? Let us lay this down as an axiom: it is only the lofty in character that can discern the spiritual dignities in life. Men of little nature cannot apprehend spiritual magnitudes. John Ruskin has told his countrymen that they are incapable of depicting and portraying the sublime, because they cannot see it! You know his explanation. He says there is in the Englishman’s character an element of burlesque which has shortened and dimmed his sight, and rendered him in capable of discerning the superlative glories of far-off spiritual heights. Whatever may be the quality of the inference, the basal principle is true. Perception implies elevation, and we cannot see the enduring dignities of life unless we ourselves are dignified. To truly revere a woman, a man himself must be good. He must dwell on high. He must abide in the heavenly 111places in Christ. He must bathe his eyes in heaven, and he will acquire a power of perception which will discern in his wife, and in all womankind, spiritual dignities which will preserve his soul in the abiding posture of lowly and reverent regard. The husband will see in his wife a “joint-heir of the grace of life,” [Verse 7] and in that perception every relationship is hallowed and enriched. The master who sees in his servant a “joint-heir of the grace of life,” and the servant who perceives in his master a similarly enthroned dignity, will create between themselves a relationship which will be the channel of “the river of the water of life.” “Give honour unto the woman,” and to preserve that sense of reverent perceptiveness, a man must dwell in “the secret place of the most High.”
“What is the last lineament in this ideal portraiture? How else must the husband live? “That your payers be not hindered.” [Verse 7] His conduct has to be the helpmeet of his prayers. There has to be no discord between the one and the other. The spirit of his supplications is to be found in his behaviour. When he has been into the garden of the Lord in lonely communion, the fragrance of the flowers has to cling to his garments when he moves about in the common life of the home. Here is a man, living 112out his own prayers, taking the spirit of his communion into ordinary conduct, so demeaning himself that his highest aspirations may receive fulfilment. “Whatever he prays for he seeks to be, finding a pertinent duty in every supplication. “Who would not covet such a companionship? The character of the ideal husband is just a beautiful commingling of reasonableness and reverence, manifesting itself in conduct which is in harmony with the range and aspirations of his prayers.
Here, then, are the spiritual portraitures of the wife and the husband: on the one hand, the robe of purity, the ornament of modesty, the grace of repose; on the other hand, an atmosphere of reasonableness, the temper of reverence, and the conformity of conduct and prayer. What, now, in the light of such relationships, can be the content of such terms as “subjection,” “obedience,” “fear”? The partners are a wife, clothed in purity, walking in modesty, with a reposefulness of spirit which reflects the very glory of God; and a husband, walking with his wife according to knowledge, bowing before her in reverence, and pervading all his behaviour with the temper of his secret communion with the Lord. There is no room for lordship, there is no room for servility. The subjection of the 113one is paralleled by the reverence of the other. I say there is no lordship, only eager helpfulness; there is no subjection, only the delightful ministry of fervent affection. The relationship is a mutual ministry of honour, each willing to be lost in the good and happiness of the other. Wherefore, “subject yourselves one to the other in the fear of Christ,” that in the communion of sanctified affection you may help one another into the light and joy and blessedness of the Christian.114
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