The Place of Woman in the Gospel


And He took the damsel by the hand.

S. Mark V. 41.

S. Paul's Cathedral, June 19, 1884, at the Anniversary Service of the Girls' Friendly Society.

In selecting this text, I have no intention of saying many words about the actual scene itself. The raising of Jairus' daughter attracts our attention by its vivid narrative and its intense human pathos; while the two foreign words, summing up the interest of the story, and lingering strangely on our ears, impress it effectually on our memory. Nor, again, do I purpose speaking of its direct theological import, whether as an answer to human faith or as a manifestation of Divine power. In this latter aspect, as one of three signal miracles—the anticipations of Christ's own Resurrection—it claims, and it has received, the most earnest study, both in itself and in relation to the other incidents of the same class.

These more obvious aspects of the text are beside my present aim. I wish to-day to treat it from a wholly different point of view. Christ's miracles have always a higher spiritual significance. They are not miracles only, but parables also. Messiah's kingdom would have achieved comparatively little for mankind, if it had brought deliverance to the captive in a literal sense only. A far heavier and more galling bondage would still remain—the bondage under sin. Physical blindness is only the type of moral blindness. Christ's healing power in the one case is the pledge of His healing power in the other. The palsy of the body symbolises the palsy of the soul. If the paralytic is bidden to take up his bed and walk, this is before all things an assurance to us that Christ is able and willing to heal the paralysis of the soul. From this point of view the words of the text are full of meaning for all who are met together to-day. 'He took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked . . . and they were astonished with a great astonishment.'

Need I remind you that this is the earliest miracle of raising the dead recorded in the Gospels? Two others followed. The widow of Nain and the sisters of Bethany received back their dead. But the one was a growing youth, the other a man of mature age. A young girl was Christ's first care. On her was wrought this first stupendous miracle; for her He won this earliest triumph over death and hell. Is not this a significant fact—significant in itself, but especially significant for you? For it proclaims the fundamental principles of the Gospel charter. It announces that the weak and helpless, in years, in sex, in social status, are especially Christ's care. It declares emphatically that in Him is neither male nor female. It is His call to you—you womenworkers—to do a sister's part to these your sisters. Thus Christ's action in this miracle is a foreshadowing of His action in the Church. The Gospel found the woman lowered and depressed—deposed from her proper social position. The man had suffered not less, but more, than the woman by this humiliation. Jew and Gentile had conspired together in an unconscious conspiracy to bring about this result. The Hebrew rabbi and the Greek philosopher had alike gone astray. It is a recorded saying of a famous Jewish doctor, that 'The words of the law were better burned than committed to a woman.' It is the opinion ascribed to the most famous Athenian statesman, that a woman then had achieved her highest glory when her name was least heard among men for virtue or for reproach. A moral resurrection was needed for womanhood. It might seem to the looker-on like a social death, from which there was no awakening. But it was only a suspension of her proper faculties and opportunities—a long sleep, from which revival must come soon or late. It was for Him, and Him alone, Who is the vanquisher of Death, Who has the keys of Hades, to open the doors of her sepulchral prison, to resuscitate her dormant life, and to restore her to her rightful place in society. When all hope was gone, He took her by the hand and bade her arise; and at the sound of His voice and the touch of His hand she arose and walked. And the world was 'astonished with a great astonishment.'

We ourselves are so familiar with the results; the position of woman is so fully recognised among us; it is bearing such abundant and beneficent fruit everyday and everywhere; that we overlook the magnitude of the change itself. Only then, when we turn to the harem and the zenana, do we learn to estimate what the Gospel has achieved, and has still to achieve, in the emancipation of the woman, and her restitution to her lawful place in the social order.

To ourselves, the large place which the woman occupies in the Gospels and in early Apostolic history seems only natural. To contemporaries it must have appeared in the light of a social revolution. The very opening of the Gospel is charged with divine messages communicated to and through women— Mary, Elizabeth, Anna. Women attend our Lord everywhere during His earthly ministry. Women— the sisters Martha and Mary—are set before us as embodying the two contrasted types of character, the practical and the contemplative. To a woman, and a woman alone, is given the promise of an undying fame beyond the glory of the mightiest earthly princes and conquerors; 'Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.' To a woman were spoken those words of gracious pardon—most tender and most compassionate—the consolation and stay and hope of the penitent to all time; 'Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.' Women are the chief attendants at the Crucifixion, and the chief ministrants at the tomb. A woman is the first witness of the Resurrection. And as it was with Christ's personal ministry, so is it also in the Apostolic Church. In the first gathering of the little band after the Ascension women are found assembled with the Apostles. This is a foreshadowing of the part which they are destined to play in the subsequent narrative. Cast your eye down the salutations in the Epistle to the Romans. There is Phoebe, the deaconess of the Church of Cenchreas, commended as having 'been a succourer of many,' among others, of the Apostle himself. There is Pjriscilla, who, with her husband (the wife is mentioned first), had laid down her neck for his life, to whom not only he gives thanks but all the Churches of the Gentiles. There is Mary, who 'bestowed much labour' upon him and upon others. There are Tryphena and Tryphosa, who 'labour in the Lord.' There is Persis, to whom the same testimony is borne. There is the mother of Rufus, who had been not less a mother to himself than to her own son. There is JuHa; there is the sister of Nereus. A long catalogue this to appear in the salutations of a single letter. Turn again from the Church of which he knew least, when he wrote, to the Church of which he knew most. Witness his relations to his beloved Philippian Church. Here he addresses himself first to the women who resort to the place of prayer. Among individual women with whom he comes in contact at Philippi we read of Lydia, his earliest hostess in this city; of the damsel, from whom he cast out the spirit of divination; of Euodia and Syntyche, who laboured with

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him in the Gospel. Indeed we know more of the women at Philippi than we know of the men.

But it was not only these desultory unrecognised services, however frequent and however great, that women rendered to the spread of the Gospel in its earliest days. The Apostolic Church had its organized ministries of women—its order of deaconesses and its order of widows. Women had their definite place in the ecclesiastical system of those primitive times.

And in our own age and country again the awakened activity of the Church is once more demanding the recognition of female ministries. The Church feels herself maimed of one of her hands, so long as she fails to employ, to organize, to consecrate to the service of Christ, the love, the sympathy, the tact, the self-devotion of woman. Hence the revival of the female diaconate; hence the multiplication of sisterhoods. But these, though the most definite, are not the most extensive developments of this revival. Everywhere institutions are springing up, manifold in form and purpose, for the organization of woman's work. There has been, and there is still, a shameful waste of this latent power, boundless in its capacities if duly fostered and developed. The famous heroines indeed of womanhood will necessarily be few. It is rarely a woman's part to save a State or to guide a Church. A Deborah and a Huldah, a Joan of Arc and a Catherine of Siena, will appear only at long intervals on the stage of history. Here and there God raises up an exceptional heroine to do an exceptional work, which a woman alone could do so effectually for her age and country. But generally it is in a quieter, less obtrusive, more homely, more womanly way, that she is called to exert a power, certainly not less real or less beneficent, though it may be less striking, than the power of men. She is a mother in her own little Israel— her own household, her own kindred, her own parish, her own neighbourhood; a guide, a helper, a friend, yes, a priestess and a prophetess, to the young, the sick, the frail and erring, the poor and needy—needy whether of spiritual or of bodily aid. This vast, unutilised, undeveloped power of womanhood, it is the province of the Church, acting by the spirit and in the name of Christ, to take by the hand and raise from its torpor, which seemed a death but was only a sleep. And now, as then, its revived life and its beneficent work will amaze the looker-on; 'They were astonished with a great astonishment.'

Among the more recent developments of woman's work in the Church of Christ your Girls' Friendly Society has taken a foremost place. I would say in all sincerity that I read your last report with profound joy and thankfulness. I was impressed not less by the completeness of your ideal, than by the variety and expansion of your efforts. I do not say this to commend you. This is not the time or the place for commendation. 'Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give the praise.' You will not be content, if you are true to your ideal, with holding out the hand of loving sympathy in her own home and neighbourhood to a humbler sister needing a sister's care and guidance; your love will follow her about, that she may never be lost sight of. It is a trite complaint that the old relations between master and servant have vanished, or almost vanished, out of sight. The bond is no longer one of reciprocal loyalty, but of common convenience; hence it is liable to severance at any moment. In the feverish, restless, ever-fluctuating conditions of modern life, it was impossible that this relation alone should remain unchanged, while all else was changing. The domestic servant or the shop girl has no longer a fixed home; she is a wanderer on the earth. Here the catholicity of the Church should step in to counteract the evil. It is your part to realise this catholicity. When a girl once enrolls herself in your numbers, she is yours everywhere, whithersoever she may go. A friendly eye will rest upon her, and a friendly hand will be held out to her, wheresoever she may be. She will find everywhere a home, because she will find everywhere friends. You cannot set this ideal before yourselves too definitely, or strive to realise it too fully.

Do you ask how your work may be made truly effective? I answer you by the words of the text, 'He took the damsel by the hand.' There must be the intensity of human sympathy, and there must be the indwelling of Divine power. The lesson of the miracle which I took as my starting-point involves both these.

I. The current of human sympathy must flow deep and strong and clear. Is not this the typical meaning of Christ's action in the text? The touch of His warm hand restores the circulation and revives the life in those pale, motionless, deathlike limbs. We want sympathy here; sympathy first and sympathy last; sympathy reflecting, however faintly, Christ's boundless compassion and love. The cold, mechanic formalism of the relieving officer will not suffice. The haughty assertion of superiority, the condescending patronage of the fine lady, will be worse than nothing. You must be a sister to your sisters, treading in the footsteps of your Brother Christ. Is not this also the meaning of those words, which He utters to the girl lying helpless before Him? He speaks to her not in the Greek, the conventional language of outward life, but in the Syriac, the dear, familiar dialect of home, 'Talitha cumil It is the voice of sympathy, and it pierces her ear, notwithstanding her deathlike slumber. He speaks to her, as He speaks to us all, with the voice of a direct, personal love. This is always the language of Christ's words, of Christ's Gospel, 'How hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born?' Such is Christ's speech, and such must be yours.

2. But, over and above all this, animating, inspiring, sanctifying your human sympathy, there must be the consciousness of a Divine presence, the sense of a Divine energy, in your work. You will apply yourselves to it in a strength not your own. The power of the ever-living Christ will thrill through you. Is not this the interpretation of the symbolic action, 'He took the damsel by the hand?' He Himself, and not another. 'Not I, but Christ in me,' will be the inspiring motive of your work, as it was of S. Paul's. His hand must guide your hand; nay, His hand must replace your hand, if the touch shall raise the damsel and restore her to a better, happier life.

And restore her it will. This intense human sympathy, inspired by this consciousness of a divine indwelling, never has failed, and never can fail, to work miracles of resurrection and of healing. In her weakness, in her helplessness, in her temptations, in all her struggles and perplexities—her bodily wants and her spiritual trials — it will be comfort, and strength, and hope to her. It will throb her with the pulsations of an awakened life.

But I have spoken hitherto as if these helpless girls whom you befriend were the sole counterparts of Jairus' daughter. I have regarded them as the only patients whom Christ's awakening hand raises from their deathlike slumber. Is this an adequate representation of the case? Are there not others even more indebted than they to this beneficent movement? Are we not taught on the highest authority that 'it is more blessed to give than to receive?' But, if so, we have a truer antitype of this damsel whom Christ raised in the befriending Associates than in the befriended girls. Yes, Christ has taken them by the hand, has revived them, has awakened them from the heavy, deathlike slumber of a selfish, self-contained being. Christ has shown them the beauty and the power of sympathy, and it has been the throbbing of a new life in them. Assuredly it is not only the daughters of high ancestral lineage and of Norman blood, not only the Clara Vere de Veres, who are 'sickening with a vague disease,' and who need Christ's healing hand. Is there not in the homes of the professional man, of the merchant, of the shopkeeper, many a daughter and many a sister, on whose hands time hangs heavily, whose life is wasting away, fretted with feverish excitement or sunk in selfindulgent apathy, weary of self and weary of others? How shall they wake up from this barren, monotonous, deathlike existence? Sympathy, active sympathy for others—this, and this alone, can restore them. Mothers, train your daughters early to think for others, to care for others, to minister to others. Be assured it will be the most valuable part of their education. This heaven-born charity is the sovereign antidote to all the ills of womanhood. Is it some secret sorrow gnawing at your heart—some outraged feeling, or some harrowing bereavement, or some cruel disappointment? Merge and absorb it in active solicitude for others. Is it some fierce temptation which assails you, and each fresh struggle seems to leave you weaker than before? There will be no place for it, if you devote yourself to the needs of others. All sin is selfishness in some form or other. Forget self. This is the best safeguard against temptation. I appeal confidently to all those who have tried it to say whether this medicine has not healed them, where all others have failed. And why? It is Christ's own love constraining them. It is Christ's own touch thrilling through their veins. Hence their moral resurrection. 'He took her by the hand; and straightway she arose and walked.'