Woman's Work in Missions



I should greatly feel the honor of addressing this assembly of Christian •women, if I were not so deeply impressed with the responsibility. I have been awed as I have gone into the engine-room of an ocean steamer, and have looked at the lever which could unlock its sources of strength and set the great vessel moving on its way. That lever I should have hardly dared to touch. So I feel, as I stend before this Woman's Missionary Society. It is a solemn thing to influence, in any degree, the movement of these forces for good. I do not flatter myself that I can add to the wisdom of your counsels. I shall be content, if I can give to these earnest workers before me some new stimulus and hope. And this I can best do by speaking to you first of the great things which Christ has done for woman, and then of the great things which woman may do for Christ.

Think for a moment what woman was in ancient society, and what she is now in heathen lands, and you will see how much she owes to Christ. There was the general polygamy of the nations of the East, which made woman only the toy and slave of man, and which, while it degraded her intellect and depraved her heart, made true conjugal affection and family peace impossible. Among the Greeks, though there was but one wife, the wife was still in a state of perpetual subjection. In Athens, she was allowed no true education or instruction; was .permitted only scant intercourse with her nearest relations, and even with her own husband,—lived indeed in a separate part of the house from him, and was dependent for her principal society upon her slaves. The husband found his advisers and confidants among educated courtesans, and these held an actually higher place in social esteem than the lawful wife. The wife was treated all her life long as a minor,— the widowed mother, instead of being the guardian of her own children, herself fell to the guardianship of her eldest son. And, to crown the whole, the husband might put away his wife at will, and at any time take another younger, and fairer, and richer. In Rome, the stricter form of marriage put the wife completely at the mercy of the husband, giving him, as despot of the family, even the power of life and death. But this form of marriage had one advantage — it could not be easily dissolved. The commoner form was dissoluble upon the slightest pretexts. Cains Sulpicins Gallus divorced his wife because she had gone into the street without a vail. Cicero repudiated his first wife, in order to take a wealthier; and put away this second, because she was not sufficiently sorry for his daughter's death. Woman came to be so despised that the Censor Metellus, 170 years before

* An Address before the Annual Convention of the American Women's Baptist Missionary Society, delivered in the First Baptist Church, Rochester, April i8,1883.

Christ, had gone so far as to say in public: "Could we but exist as citizens without wives, we should all be glad to get rid of such a burden." And yet these things existed in Athens and Rome, at the very height of their civilization.

See what woman's condition is even now, in heathen lands, and you get some idea of what Christ has done for woman where the light of the gospel has come. It is the life of eighteen centuries ago brought down to this generation,— not one of its sorrows alleviated, not one of its outrages on womanhood outgrown. Still woman is the drudge and burden-bearer of man, or she is the mere instrument of his passion and the means of his greater degradation. Take the nations of the far East among whom our missions are established. The wife never sits by the side of her husband at the family meal,— she must stand by in silence to wait upon her betters. Only after her husband, and her sons too, have eaten, is she permitted to sit down to the remnants of the feast. She never walks by his side. She must follow after him, as if she were his menial servant and dependent. Instead of sharing in his plans and thoughts, stimulating his labors, and feeling that a part of his trinmphs are her own, she must be content to know, only as a slave knows, of his purposes and his success. The blessed relation of confidence and equality which makes husband and wife in Christian lands mutual helpers of each other in everything noble and pure; the hallowed joy of a Christian home in which the wife reigns, with her husband, like a queen upon an equal throne; the respect and reverence of the members of a Christian family, as they do little acts of duty to the mother of the household,— all this the heathen woman knows nothing of. Nothing is before her in life but the silly idle routine of a favorite, closely watched and guarded, or the unrewarded round of hopeless drudgery, varied only by the frequent cruelty of an arbitrary master. With no resources of education to furnish food for thought, and with no religious knowledge but the dreadful phantoms of -*n idolatrous worship, life is only a weary mockery and show, from which death itself, if it were not for heart-freezing fears of the future, would be a glad relief.

All this in civilized and semi-civilized lands. But, as you get further from Christianity, the condition of woman becomes more desperate. There are savage tribes like the Koussa Kaffirs, where there is absolutely no feeling of love in marriage. In Australia, women are treated with the utmost brutality, beaten and speared in the limbs on the most trivial provocation, so that few women can be found free from frightful scars upon the head, or the marks of spear-wounds upon the body. In Tahiti, infanticide prevailed to such an extent before the gospel was preached there, that the missionaries considered that not less than two-thirds of the children were murdered by their parents. Mr. Ellis says: "I do not recollect having met with a female in the islands during the whole period of my residence there, who had been a mother while idolatry prevailed, who had not imbrued her hands in the blood of her offspring." Among the Fijians, the mothers themselves were killed as soon as they began to feel the approach of old age, having only their choice of being strangled or buried alive. Mr. Hunt tells us that a young man among them came to him and invited him to attend his mother's funeral, which was just going to take place. He accepted the invitation and joined the procession, but, surprised to see no corpse, he made inquiries, when the young man pointed out his mother, who was walking along with them, alive and well. On Mr. Hunt's expressing his astonishment, the young Fijian replied that she was old, that his brother and himself had thought she had lived long enough, that they had made her death-feast aud were now going to bury her. Mr. Hunt did all he could to prevent so diabolical an act, but the only reply he received was that she was their mother and they her children, and that they ought to put her to death. A little further on they came to a grave, already dug ; the mother sat down, and all her children and grandchildren took leave of her; a rope made of twisted tapa was then passed twice around her neck by her sons, who took hold of it and strangled her; after which she was put in her grave and buried, with the usual ceremonies.

If this picture of what women can become without the gospel were only the picture of a present reality, it would not be so frightful, but let us remember that it is self perpetuating. As the mothers are, so are their children. Degraded and savage mothers reproduce themselves in their offspring,— the benighted and besotted mind of the mother is the spring of blindness and cruelty and misery without end, not only to her female but to her male descendants. And when we consider how many such mothers there are, how incalculably great seems the evil of woman's present condition and the consequences of corruption and death that flow therefrom! "Remember," says Mr. Bainbridge, "that 200,000,000 women are living in the only Buddhist hope beyond this world, of perhaps being born again a man instead of a toad or a snake; that 90,000,000 women more are in the most abject slavery, body and soul, to their Hindu lords; and that still 80,000,000 more are in Moslem harems, unloved, uncared for, but as slaves of passion, and certainly expecting to be supplanted in the dismal remnant of their conjugal affections by ' the black-eyed houris' promised to the faithful in Mahomet's paradise."

And yet, to use the language of a noble Christian woman, "according to present appearances, these seething masses are to go on from generation to generation, constantly repeating and deepening their degradation. More than four hundred millions of women still in heathen darkness! It is difficult to comprehend so large a number, but let one of these young ladies stand at this church door and spend the working hours of each day in counting this vast multitude as they pass by her at the rate of one every second, sixty every minute, thirty-six hundred every hour, and her hair would be gray and the light of youth gone from her eye before the last of these benighted, sin-stricken sisters of hers would have filed past. Thirty thousand women, capable of purity and love and education and lofty thought and all of the Christian experience that brings us into such tender relation to Christ and enables us to call a holy God, Father — thirty thousand of these women every day are dropping into a grave only a little darker than the life they leave. In life, they are shut out from all that makes life desirable to you, Christian mother or wife or daughter." In death, they are buried in a heathen's grave, while the immortal part, consciously guilty and full of fears, enters in terror upon a hopeless eternity.

From all this, Christian women, Christ by his blessed gospel has delivered you. He delivered you from it, first, by honoring and consecrating woman's nature when he was born of a woman. He might have come into the world in other ways than this, descending like some bright-winged angel, or lightfooted Apollo, to the earth. But no, he saw the suffering, down-trodden, crushed and broken-hearted sex, whose crown of glory had fallen, and the whiteness of whose robes was draggling in the mire, and it entered his heart so to distinguish this sorrowful and sinning womanhood, that it might be lifted up again from its degradation, and gain a dignity and glory that should more than counterbalance all the misery and shame of its former fall. And so from the flesh of Mary the Virgin he took his own human flesh, in the eyes of all the world sanctifying and ennobling that motherhood which had been before accounted only woman's mark of inferiority and weakness. Thus motherhood has been made sacred, and woman has come to be honored for the sake of it. In the Tribune of the Pitti Palace at Florence I saw the statue of the Venus de' Medici, the best representation in sculpture of the classic type of beauty. It had come down from pagan antiquity — the undraped form of a woman — the statue of an unchaste goddess, fashioned, it may be, as many such statues were, after the living form of some noted harlot in the days of Pericles. It did not seem to bo an accident that directly above the statue, and near it on the wall, there hung that loveliest of all of Raphael's creations, the Madonna della Seggiola, that picture of the Virgin and the infant Savior, upon which no spectator looks without new reverence for woman and new conceptions of the way in which that mighty mission of bearing upon her bosom the Son of God has consecrated and exalted her. The two works of art are separated by an infinite moral distance, though so close together, and they show what woman is without Christ, and with him. The most beautiful statue of woman that pagan antiquity can furnish us is the undraped statue of a harlot. The picture of the mother of Jesus, clothed and in her right mind, and clinging with motherly devotion to the wondrous child she holds in her blessed arms, shows us, in its matchless dignity and purity and sweetness, what woman is, now that the incarnation of Christ has given to her once more her lost sceptre and glory. Henceforth none may enslave her or despise her, since the Son of God has bestowed on her such honor. Just in the proportion that civilization retrogrades, as in France, to the pagan skepticism and sensualism, just in that proportion is woman remanded to her old position in classic times, and is treated only as an animal and a servant. Just in proportion as civilization is pervaded with Christian ideas, does wifehood and motherhood become the object of men's reverence and devotion.

Christ has delivered woman from degradation, again, by dying for her and by thus showing the value of her soul, and her religious equality with man. Heathen religious had declared that woman had no soul. The Rabbins had so far perverted the teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures as to discourage, if not absolutely to forbid, the religious instruction of women. But, in opposition to all this, Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, and Mary, the sister of Lazarus, as she sat at his feet in the house; declared, of her who put the two mites into the treasury, that she had cast in more than they all; accepted the ministrations of women in his journeyings; made them the first publishers of his gospel after his resurrection. Thus he made known the fact that his death was suffered for all the human race, not for men only but for women also, and that salvation was offered not to persons of one sex only, but to every creature. How great a change this made in the condition of woman, to be treated as a rational and immortal being, whose soul was of enough value to be worth the sacrifice of the Son of God, we may try to imagine but can hardly fully comprehend. I know that there was a Teutonic reverence for woman — the relic, as I believe, of her original God-given rights and dignity — and that this helped on the influence of Christianity when it sought to restore her to her place. But I also know that the German tribes, in contact with the debased civilization of Rome, would have lost that reverence, if the religion of Christ had not furnished it with a new motive and ground. That motive and ground were found in the death of Christ. That the Lord of glory should die for her and should give to her his infiuite Spirit, that she should be admitted on an equal footing to all the privileges of his church, and commissioned as a fellow-helper in the propagation of his gospel, was a spectacle almost as striking as the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile,—indeed was an earlier declaration of the same principle, that henceforth nothing should be called common or unclean. And so the women of Christian lands, whether they honor this Savior in their hearts or not, whether they openly profess his name or refuse to acknowledge him, can never rid themselves of their obligation to him. All that they have of social privilege and respect, standing as they do, side by side with their brothers or husbands instead of waiting behind them, the unpitied victims of scorn and abuse, all this they owe to the death of Jesus for them. That death put honor and dignity upon all human souls,— that death decided the religious equality of the sexes,— that death lifted woman up to the place from which she first was taken, nearest to man's side and closest to his heart.

Once more only, — Jesus has delivered woman by living for her, as well as dying for her. I refer particularly to his exaltation of the passive virtues, in his precept and example. Before his coming, men honored the active virtues, and called them manly. Courage, energy, strength, ambition,— these were glorified. But the passive virtues — patience, meekness, tenderness, humility — these were thought unmanly, and men scorned them, as mere weakness. But these were the virtues of a full half of human kind,— in scorning these they scorned woman, God's last and best creation. And so man lost immeasurably in his own character, and treated woman with hideous injustice, and yet called it just. Now have you ever thought how much Christ did for woman by combining her virtues with man's, and by giving to the world, in his own character, the perfect image of them both? Thus Christ became the perfect representative of humanity,—all virtues and graces, whether mauly or womanly, meet and blend in him. Before the minds of men there is the picture of the living Jesus as he walked in Palestine, with his patient biding of his time, his tender sympathy for all distress, his shrinking from the public eye, his meek sufferance under injuries sore and unprovoked, his matchless forgiveness to those who deserved his wrath. And so in his precepts. He did not exalt and dignify the self-asserting and combative qualities,— the world had made idols of them, and would idolize them without his help,—but he uttered his blessing mainly upon those virtues which had been so forgotten that they had almost ceased to be virtues — the passive virtues, which seem most natural and find their highest development in woman. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the hungering and thirsting after righteousness, the pure in heart, the persecuted." Even skeptics have noticed with wonder the utter unlikeness of all this to the standards of society in Jesus' time. "Have you observed," says Renan, in a letter to Strauss, "how there is absent from the beatitudes all mention or praise of what we call the warlike virtues?" Ah, it was a deeper wisdom than Renan or Strauss can comprehend — wisdom that would add, to all virtues recognized before, a whole class which the world had hitherto despised. To the masculine qualities of a noble soul were added by Christ those which up to that day had been considered distinctively feminine, so that henceforth the two must go together. And so, all that was beautiful in chivalry was the result of Jesus' teaching, and the meekness and patience which chivalry never showed are coming to be recognized as elements of the truest character. All this has turned to the advantage of woman. Exalting men's esteem of that which is so commonly feminine has exalted woman herself. That which once was thought her weakness and shame has, through Christ's precept and example, come to be considered her real glory, till now a Christian civilization accords to her a place and an influence, different in kind from man's, yet equal to man's own, and man himself delights to own her gentle and persuasive sway.

Thus we have followed woman from the depths of her ancient sorrow and shame to the blessed heights which she now occupies, and have seen that she owes all this advancement to Christ. Oh, how infinite is her debt to him! How shall she ever repay it? There is a way in which she may at least testify her gratitude — by using these new-found powers and this widening influence for the extension to others of the blessings which she herself is permitted to enjoy. Oh, Christian women! the history of this Society is witness that you cannot look down from this height of privilege upon the dark masses of your oppressed and benighted sisters in heathen lands, without feeling that you are debtors to them all, to carry or to send to them this same priceless gospel. In these late years, God has been moving by his spirit upon the hearts of Christian women in America, as he never has moved upon them before, showing them that they have a work of their own to do, and peculiar gifts and qualifications for the doing of it. Woman's work for woman in heathon lands — this has become a watchword and an inspiration to thousands in other denominations as well ns ours. Presbyterians and Methodists, indeed, have gone before us, and, by their zeal and success in organizing the women of their churches for this special work, have demonstrated how great a power resides in the Christian women of every denomination, which is yet unused, but which by combination may be made to tell with wonderful effect in raising from their misery the millions of women on the other side of the world.

Every one of you knows that the great obstacle to the success of general preaching, in many heathen countries, is the seclusion of the female portion of the community. Women, especially of the better classes, are not permitted to appear in public,— the preacher does not see them in his congregations, and he is not admitted to their homes. And yet, while the women are unreached, there is a mighty barrier in the missionary's way. Let the men of a community be impressed by the preaching of the gospel, yet the influence of the wives upon them and upon their children is mightier than that of the missionary. The heathen mother makes a heathen household, whatever the husband and father may be. Many intelligent Mohammedans are beginning to see that their women should have some education and refinement, for the sake of their sons. Archbishop Hughes said once: "Let me have the children of the country under my instruction, until their seventh year, and I will defy you to get them away from me thereafter." So let heathen mothers carry their little children to the feet of the great idol, to bow and offer flowers before it, and the influence of that early training will be almost impossible to overcome. If we would evangelize a land, we must make the mothers, as well as the fathers, Christian,— only when Christianity takes root in the family is it safe, and sure of perpetual growth. Now who can reach these heathen mothers? Men? No, not men, but women. Women must carry to them the gospel — not in the formal way of preaching, but by visiting them in their homes, ministering to them in their sickness, comforting them in their afflictions, and then pointing the way to him who is the greater Comforter and Savior. The blessing which has attended the Zenana work — the work of female missionaries in the private apartments of heathen women — shows that women have qualifications and advantages for certain sorts of evangelizing effort, such as men have not, and never can expect to have. By the teaching of children who otherwise would be brought up in all the demoralizing ideas and customs of paganism, by readings of the Scriptures to knots of girls and women assembled together, by self-sacrificing ministrations to their own sex in time of sickness aud need, women can be an unspeakable blessing to their degraded sisters, and can open new doors through which may enter into great nations the healing and saving influences of the gospel of Christ.

Much of this work must be done, if done at all, by unmarried female missionaries. The wives of missionaries already on the field have their peculiar family cares, and their duties lie mostly in their own homes. Our general society, the Missionary Union, to which this is auxiliary, already provides for these women with their husbands. The other work of sending out and supporting unmarried women who can give their whole time to labors among those of their own sex — this work demanded a new agency, and the agency has been found in the Woman's Missionary Society. All honor to those who first conceived the plan and to those who have so nobly executed it! The 30 missionaries and 48 Bible women whom you are now supporting; the 86 schools you have aided, with their 3,294 pupils; your 400 mission bands with their 8,000 members; your 1,000 mission circles with their 2,500 contributors; and the $54,000 you have collected for the work in a 'single year, in addition to the funds raised by the Society of the West,— this is a record that provokes our praise and gratitude. Here is a great work done abroad. But it is also plain that there has been a great work done at home. Not all Christian women can go abroad. But all Christian women may pray and give that others may go. They may combine and organize, so that their interest in women abroad may be not only increased, but also utilized and made the means of definite and positive good. It is not every Christian woman who gives at all to the cause of missions. The wives and daughters of Christian men too often hide themselves behind their husbands or fathers, and think it enough that they should give in their stead. It is of inestimable importance that these reserves should be called out, and that they should have a part in the battle. I count it a vast gain, when I see set on foot a plan which aims at nothing less than bringing the million and a half of Baptist women in this land to feel their individual responsibility for the conversion of their heathen sisters across the sea, and to give even the least weekly or yearly sum to bring about the great result.

I believe that, in this Women's Missionary movement, the rock has been smitten, and a spring has begun to flow that will go on forever. Can any one think that when God once stirs the great woman's heart of our churches, that heart will ever cease to beat in sympathy with the wants and woes of her suffering sisters, or to yearn for the salvation of these millions who are too far gone in their degradation and sin to make any struggle for deliverance? No, my sisters, this work is of God, begun never more to cease till the last heathen woman is lifted from her misery, and rejoices in the saving grace of Christ. How mighty the field that is before you,— how vast the responsibility laid upon your hands! But, mighty as is the field, and vast as is the responsibility, Christ's call comes to you to go forward, and he himself goes with you. He has called you only because it is his purpose to make you the means of converting the women of the world to him, only because it is his purpose to give you the ultimate salvation of these millions as the reward of your labor and the answer of your prayers. Let no work to which Providence opens the way seem too great for you. Let no blessing to the myriads of your lost sisters for which his Spirit prompts you to pray, seem too vast to plead for in his name. Take upon your hearts the burden of this great world's guilt and trouble, as that Syro-Phoenician woman took upon herself the burden of her daughter's disease and pain,— identify yourselves with it, and bearing it to Christ as if it were your own personal sorrow, say to him as that woman did: "Lord, help me!" Who knows but he may say to you as he said to her: "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee, even as thou wilt!" 27