Female Scripture Biography:
Including an Essay on What Christianity Has Done for Women.
By Francis Augustus Cox, A.M.
"It is a necessary charity to the (female) sex to acquaint them with their own value, to animate them to some higher thoughts of themselves, not to yield their suffrage to those injurious estimates the world hath made of them, and from a supposed incapacity of noble things, to neglect the pursuit of them, from which God and nature have no more precluded the feminine than the masculine part of mankind."
The Ladies' Calling, Pref.
BOSTON: LINCOLN & EDMANDS. 1831.
Notwithstanding the variety of theological publications of a devotional class, which are perpetually issuing from the press, the author concurs in the opinion of those who think they can scarcely be too numerous. It may reasonably be hoped, that in proportion to the multiplication of works of this kind, the almost incalculable diversities of taste will be suited; and that those who may be disinclined to one style of writing, or to a particular series of subjects, may be allured by their predilections to the perusal of others.
Amidst the general plenty, however, there is one department which experiences a degree of scarcity—a department to which these volumes properly belong. Pious families require a supply of religious reading, adapted to occupy the intervals of business, the hours of devotion, and the time which is often and properly appropriated to domestic instruction in the evenings of the Christian Sabbath. To have the minds of the young directed at such seasons, not only to the truths of religion in general, but the more attractive parts of Scripture in particular, seems highly important. By a happy combination of amusement and instruction, piety is divested of her formality, and clothed with fascination: the ear is caught, and the heart gained; while the narrative interests, the best lessons become impressed even upon the gay and the trifling; and he who, when summoned to the social circle, sat down with reluctance, may rise up with regret.
Whoever has been blessed with the advantages of a religious education, and recurs to his own years of juvenile susceptibility, cannot forget the strong impressions he received by these means; and must have had frequent occasion to remark the tenaciousness with which they have lingered in his memory, and sprung up amidst his recollections at every subsequent period. In many cases they have proved the basis, of future eminence in piety, and blended delightfully with the gladdening retrospections of declining life. In those instances, where all the good effects which might be anticipated did not appear, these early lessons have checked the impetuousity of passion, neutralized the force of temptation, and cherished the convictions of an incipient piety.
The writer of the following pages is aware of the just celebrity acquired by some of his predecessors in the same line of composition, and he might have felt wholly deterred from pursuing his design, by an apprehension of having been superseded by the elegant and comprehensive lectures of HUNTER, and the simple, perspicuous, and devotional biography of ROBINSON, had he not remarked that their notices of the women in Scripture formed but a small proportion of their respective works, and that the present performance might be very properly considered as a continuation of their volumes, particularly of those of the latter author.
It will be seen, that some of the same characters which have been given in preceding writers, appear in the "Female Scripture Biography;" but the reader may perhaps be conciliated to this seeming repetition, by being reminded that they were necessarily retouched, in order to complete the series; while the writer satisfies himself with the reflection that, whatever subjects are deduced from Scripture, are not only unexhausted, but will forever remain inexhaustible. The "wells of salvation," from which preceding ages have drawn, still afford to us, and will supply to far-distant generations, the same spiritual, copious, and unfailing refreshment.
The Introductory Essay to the second volume, respecting the influence of Christianity on the condition of the female sex, has been somewhat divested of that literary cast which it might have been expected to assume, the better to accord with the general drift of the work. The reader will, it is confidently anticipated, deem, it no unacceptable addition.
Contents of Vol. I.
Superiority of man in the universe: present degradation of reason: the mere philosopher and the Christian contrasted: God seen in all his works: creation of man: his corporeal and mental constitution: value of the soul: Adam in paradise: alone: supplied with a help meet: Revelation points out the true dignity of the female character: one woman given to the man: the fall: aggravated and complex nature of the sin of Eve: consequences, the loss of Eden: loss of the favour of God: loss of life: ruin of posterity: remarks to obviate some difficulties attaching to this subject in general.
Abraham's departure from Chaldea: his faith: its failure: Sarah and Abraham agree to prevaricate: the admonition which Sarah attracted: Abraham's dismissal from the country of Egypt: beauty and dress: importance of a proper education: parental vanity: source of real attraction: Sarah proposes to Abraham to take Hagar: unhappy consequencies: Hagar's flight and return: visit of three angels: Sarah's laughter at the subject of their commission: her subsequent character: general remarks: birth of Isaac: Ishmael's conduct, and its consequences: Sarah's death.
Retrospective glance at the history: Hagar: the wilderness: angelic manifestation: divine promises: a view of their accomplishment: Hagar's piety: her second banishment and distress: another interposition: Providence illustrated.
Lot's Wife—Chapter IV
Delusions to which the young in particular are exposed: Lot's erroneous choice: sin brings punishment: advantages of Lot's wife: her remarkable deliverance: her guilt: general causes of apostacy traced, fear, love of the world, levity of mind, pride: doom of Lot's wife.
Progress of time: patriarchal mode of living: Abraham's solicitude respecting the settlement of his son: sends a servant to procure him a wife: his arrival in the vicinity of Nahor: his meeting with Rebekah: her behaviour, and then conversation: the good qualities already discoverable in Rebekah, which render her worthy of imitation: her industrious and domesticated habits: unaffected simplicity: modesty: courtesy: humanity.
The Servant of Abraham cordially received into the house of Laban tells his story: proposes to take Rebekah: consent of her family: her readiness to go: the interview with Isaac: Rebekah becomes his wife: their anxieties: birth of Jacob and Esau: Isaac's death-bed, and Rebekah's unwarrantable proceedings: her solicitude respecting her son's future conduct.
Proceedings of the new King of Egypt: birth of Moses: conduct of Miriam: preservation of Moses: escape of Israel: Miram's zeal in celebrating the event: her character formed by early advantages: contrasted with Michael: she engages with Aaron in a plot against Moses: God observes it and punishment of leprosy inflicted upon Miriam: her cure: dies at Kadesh: general remarks on slander: debasing nature of sin: hope of escaping punishment fallacious: danger of opposing Christ: exhortation to imitate the temper of Moses.
Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth—Chapter VII.
History of domestic life most instructive: book of Ruth: sketch of the Family of Elimelech while residing in Moab: reflections arising out of a view of their circumstances: Naomi's resolution to return, and that of her daughters in-law to accompany her: Orpah soon quits her mother and sister: her character, and that of Ruth: requirements of religion: arrival of Naomi and Ruth at Bethlehem: feelings of the former.
Time of the return to Bethlehem: Ruth offers to go and glean: disposition indicated by this proposal: she happens upon the field of Boaz: his kindness: their conversation: additional favours: Ruth's return home: her mother-in-law's wish to connect her in marriage with Boaz: the measures she suggests, and which her daughter adopts with ultimate success: their marriage: birth of a son: concluding remarks.
Historical retrospect: Deborah sitting as a judge and prophetess under a palm-tree: sends to Barak to confront Sisera: accompanies him preparations for battle: victorious result: death of Sisera: reflections.
Capacity of Deborah as a poetess: paraphrase of her remarkable song composed to celebrate the victory over Sisera.
Manoah's Wife—Chapter IX.
State of Israel: appearance of an angel to the wife of Manoah: she communicates the design of his visit to her husband: second manifestation from heaven: result of the interview: reflection of Manoah's wife stated and analyzed: considerations deducible from the narrative: to avoid precipitancy of judgment: to avow our convictions at every suitable opportunity: to feel assured that the providence of God does never really, though it may apparently, contradict his word.
Religion a source of peace: account of Elkanah and his two wives: Peninnah reproaches Hannah: sin of despising others for their infirmities: the family at Shiloh: Elkanah endeavours to console his wife: her conduct and prayer: Eli's unjust imputation: Hannah's defence, and her accuser's retraction: return from Shiloh: birth of Samuel: his weaning.
Samuel is devoted to the service of the sanctuary: uniformity of character exemplified in Hannah: her song paraphrased: five other children born to Hannah: view of her natural kindness and self-denying piety.
Many persons naturally capable of great attainments and elevated stations have lived and died unknown: the dispensations of Providence analogous in this respect to the arrangements of nature: Scripture account of Nabal and Abigail: sources of incongruous marriages: ambition: wish to maintain the respectability of a family: persuasion of friends: early disappointments: Nabal's conduct to David: Abigail's interposition: death of her husband: she becomes David's wife.
The Queen of Sheba—Chapter XII.
David's anxiety for his son: its happy issue: Solomon's prayer and the answer of God: Solomon's riches and fame: the queen of Sheba's visit: her country ascertained: such solicitude for wisdom not common: she proves Solomon with hard questions, her desire of knowledge worthy of imitation: Solomon's conduct: his buildings: the queen's congratulatory address: reflections: her presents to Solomon, and his to the queen of Sheba, Christ's application of the subject.
The Shunammite—Chapter XIII.
Characteristic difference between profane and sacred history: the Shunammite introduced: her hospitality; proposes to her husband to accommodate Elisha with a chamber: the gratitude manifested by the prophet in offering to speak for her to the king: her reply expressive of contentment: various considerations calculated to promote this disposition, advantages of a daily and deep impression of the transitory nature of our possessions, and of keeping another life in view.
Elisha promises a son to the Shunammite: his birth: his sudden death in consequence of being sun smitten: She replies to the prophet her expression of profound submission to the will of God: her subsequent impassioned appeal to Elisha: the child restored to life: the Shunammite's removal into Philistra, and return: her successful application to the king for the restoration of her property.
The feasts of the king of Persia: his queen Vashti sent for her refusal to obey the summons: her divorce: plan to fill up the vacancy: Esther chosen queen: Morder detects a conspiracy declines paying homage to Haman; resentment of the latter, who obtains a decree against the Jews: Mordecai's grief, and repeated applications to Esther: she goes in to the king, is accepted: invites the king and Haman to a banquet: mortification of the latter at Mordecai's continued neglect: orders a gallows to be built for the disrespectful Jew: the honour conferred by the king upon Mordecai for his past zeal in his service: Haman's indignation: is fetched to a second banquet: Esther tells her feelings and accuses Haman: his confusion and useless entreaties: he is hung on his own gallows: Mordecai's advancement: escape of the Jews by the intercession of Esther: feast of Purim.
Female Scripture Biography.
Superiority of Man in the Universe—Present Degradation of Reason—The mere Philosopher and the Christian Contrasted—God seen in all his Works—Creation of Man—His Corporeal and Mental Constitution—Value of the Soul—Adam in Paradise—Alone—Supplied with a Help Meet—Revelation points out the True Dignity of the Female Character—One Woman given to the Man—The Fall—Aggravated and complex Nature of the Sin of Eve—Consequences, the Loss of Eden—Loss of the Favour of God—Loss of Life—Ruin of Posterity—Remarks to obviate some Difficulties attaching to this subject in general.
What a glorious pre-eminence in the creation, has Infinite Wisdom assigned to the human species! As the skilful architect finishes his performance by the most exquisite specimens of workmanship, so "the great Builder of this varied frame," after the formation of matter, proceeded to impart life, to communicate instinct, and to inspire reason. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
The superiority of man to matter, however fair, to life however pleasing, to instinct however perfect, appears in this, that he only is capable of contemplating and admiring the works of God—he only has an eye that opens upon the heavens, and a mind adapted to receive impressions from their diversified glories.
But even reason, in its present state, is so degraded, that the wonders of creative wisdom are, in a considerable degree, overlooked or undervalued. The heavens, with all their stars, and suns, and systems, exhibit few beauties to the great mass of inattentive spectators; and the observance of them, by day and by night, excites no correspondent emotions. All is a blank! Plunged into an abyss of cares and anxieties, chained to the oar of constant, unvarying labour; and solicitous only "to buy and sell, and get gain," to them "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handywork" almost in vain!
Nor can it escape observation, that valuable as the discoveries of philosophy are, the mere discoverer who converts his knowledge to no pious purpose, is the most infatuated of human beings. While he contemplates distances, magnitudes, and number—while he investigates the laws of motion, and the phenomena of nature—while he points the telescope to gaze on fiery comets, to pursue wandering planets in their orbits, to detect hitherto undiscovered globes of matter in the fields of space, merely to gratify curiosity or to acquire fame—the Christian contemplates the scene with another eye, and with far different sentiments. He sees GOD in all. "This," says he, "is his creation—this the work of his fingers—these the productions of his skill"—"by his spirit he hath garnished the heavens"—he hath appointed "the sweet influences of the Pleiades, and looseth the bands of Orion"—he "bringeth forth Mazzaroth in his season, and guides Arcturus with his sons." Yonder sun was formed and fixed by his mighty power—that moon, which walks forth in brightness, and those stars, which glitter on the robe of night, were kindled by his energy, and shine by his command.—"Lift up your eyes on high, and behold WHO hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by names."
The God of nature is the God of truth, the God of revelation, and the God of Israel. If the Christian contemplate the firmament, or look into the Bible, he sees the same Being. His operations are diverse, but it is the same God. If he go, like Isaac, "into the fields to meditate at the eventide," he meets with God in every leaf, in every stream, and in every star; if he enter into his closet to read the Scriptures, still he finds God in every page and in every truth; or if he pray, it is to "his FATHER who seeth in secret." He may change his place, but he can never remove from this lovely presence. "Nevertheless, I am continually with thee." Hence nature shines with new glory in his eyes. God in the sun, conducts him by a delightful association of ideas, and a frequent train of reflection, to "God in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 4004.]
Creation was the work of six days, upon the third of which, the earth was formed, and clothed with vegetative fertility; on the last "the Lord God formed MAN of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." It is for this reason that Eternal Wisdom is represented as "rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and her delights were with the sons of men." The uninhabited part of the earth is surely worthy of divine complacency. It forms a portion of that universe which the Supreme Architect at first pronounced to be "very good." The most retired places of this terrestrial globe, those extensive deserts which were never printed by the human foot, those dens and caves, deep valleys and cloud-encircled mountains, where silence and solitude have reigned from the beginning of time, contain innumerable manifestations of wisdom, power, and goodness. Wisdom might rejoice in a thousand wonders that lie concealed within the bowels of the earth, or in the caverns of the ocean, a world of mineral productions which our utmost research fails to discover; but the habitable part of the earth has ever excited the highest interest, as the residence of his intelligent creature, and the anticipated scene where the mediatorial work of his beloved Son was to be accomplished.
Man has been called "an abridgment of the universe,"  uniting in himself in the extremes of being; in his body connected with the material, in his soul with the spiritual world;—by his corporeal constitution a fit inhabitant of the earth; by his intellectual faculties, a suitable tenant of the skies.
The soul of man constitutes the perfection of his nature, being destined to survive the dissolution of his body, and capable of everlasting progression in knowledge and felicity. And here a vast, an illimitable field of observation presents itself to view; but we must pass by it with only one practical remark. The welfare of this immortal soul ought to become the object of our principal solicitude. Considering the extent of its capacities, the indissoluble nature of its constituent principles, the novel and interesting circumstances under which it will hereafter exist, its total incompetency to provide for itself under those amazing vicissitudes which it is destined to undergo in a change of worlds, and the unalterable perpetuity of its future condition, how inconsiderate and how presumptuous must that individual be who neglects its interests, and acts in constant hostility to the first great law of nature, SELF-PRESERVATION! The protomartyr of the Christian age evinced a wise anxiety when he exclaimed in his dying moments, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He was aware that his body would soon be consigned by the fury of persecution to its native dust; but this excited comparatively little concern. To him it was of no importance whether his grave was with the rich or the poor, whether his burying-place were an obscure or an illustrious spot: he was anxious for the salvation of his soul. Unhappily, mankind in general lavish all their cares upon the body, to embellish or preserve it, to pamper its appetites, or to minister to its artificial necessities: but what an infatuation is it, to provide for that which perishes, and to be careless of that which is immortal—to decorate the walls, and to despise the furniture—to value the casket, and to throw away the jewel!
The situation of Adam in the garden of Eden, shows that his Creator had adopted every proper expedient to promote his felicity. The place selected for his residence was in the highest degree rich and fertile, furnished with every suitable accommodation, and "well watered" by a large river which ran through it, and afterward divided itself into four considerable branches. In being directed to "dress" and to "keep" the garden, the goodness of God appears in providing him with an employment adapted to a state of primitive innocence, and calculated by a proper occupation of his time to promote his happiness. A slothful inactivity is not only incompatible with true enjoyment in our fallen state, but would have been inconsistent with the bliss of original paradise; and even when our nature shall have attained its greatest perfection in a future world, an incessant exertion of our intellectual powers and moral capacities, is represent as essential to the joy of heaven. There "his servants shall serve him."
"When we think of Paradise," observes bishop Horne, "we think of it as the seat of delight. The name EDEN authorizes us so to do. It signifies PLEASURE, and the idea of pleasure is inseparable from that of a garden, where man still seeks after lost happiness, and where, perhaps, a good man finds the nearest resemblance of it which this world affords." "What is requisite," exclaims a great and original genius, "to make a wise and a happy man, but reflection and peace? And both are the natural growth of a garden. A garden to the virtuous is a paradise still extant, a paradise unlost."  The culture of a garden, as it was the first employment of man, so it is that to which the most eminent persons in different ages have retired, from the camp and the cabinet, to pass the interval between a life of action and a removal hence. When old Dioclesian was invited from his retreat, to resume the purple which he had laid down some years before, "Ah," said he, "could you but see those fruits and herbs of mine own raising at Salona, you would never talk to me of empire!" An accomplished statesman of our own country, who spent the latter part of his life in this manner, has so well described the advantages of it, that it would be injustice to communicate his ideas in any words but his own. "No other sort of abode," says he, "seems to contribute so much both to tranquillity of mind and indolence of body. The sweetness of the air, the pleasantness of the smell, the verdure of plants, the clearness and lightness of food, the exercise of working or walking; but above all, the exemption from care and solicitude, seem equally to favour and improve both contemplation and health, the enjoyment of sense and imagination, and thereby the quiet and ease both of body and mind. A garden has been the inclination of kings, and the choice of philosophers; the common favourite of public and private men; the pleasure of the greatest, and the care of the meanest; an employment and a possession for which no man is too high nor too low. If we believe the Scriptures, we must allow that God Almighty esteemed the life of man in a garden the happiest he could give him, or else he would not have placed Adam in that of Eden."  Traditions of this state of primeval felicity are current among all nations; they are discoverable in the Roman and Grecian fables of the gardens of Flora, of Alcinous, and of the Hesperides; and in the pleasing fictions of the poets respecting the golden age.
Thus the Lord God formed the nature of man pure, placed him in a garden of delights, and poured around him rivers of joy. The heavens and the earth, the visible and invisible worlds, animate and inanimate, material and spiritual beings, conspired to replenish his cup of bliss; and, as the perfection of his felicity, God himself condescended to visit his creature.
Human transgression has disturbed the peace of human life; but man, in his primeval state, was exposed to no changes; his cup had no bitterness, his day no cloud, his path no thorn; the past had no regrets, the present no guilt, the future, no terror; the stream of mercy flowed into Paradise with uninterrupted course, and the beam of prosperity shone with unfading brightness and unsetting splendour.
In this exalted condition there was neither corporeal nor mental debility; and the body and soul were not more closely connected in the constitution of their being, than in the harmony of their friendship. There was no opposition between the flesh and the spirit, no internal warfare, no unhappy disagreement; the dictates of a pure mind were unreluctantly obeyed by the faculties of an uncorrupted body; for it appears to have been the established order of Infinite Wisdom in the constitution of the universe, that matter should be in subjection to spirit, body to soul, animals to rational creatures, and man to God; his understanding was clear, his judgment correct, his affections holy, his will free, his reason upright; he desired only what was desirable, he loved only what was lovely; the whole moral machinery was in the most complete order, the fine-toned instrument constructed by omniscient skill, was in perfect tune!
But notwithstanding the diversified means of enjoyment with which Adam was furnished, his paradise was still incomplete; one ingredient was wanting to his cup of joy. Although the place of his residence was, us the greatest of poets describes it,
"A happy rural seat of various view,—"
although diversified with "groves," and "lawns," and "level downs," and "flocks," and "irriguous valleys," and "umbrageous grots and caves of cool recess," and "murmuring waters," and "airs, vernal airs—"
"while universal Pan, Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance, Led on th' eternal spring—"
the favoured lord of this unrivalled dominion was ALONE. The inanimate creation spread before his view its unparalleled beauties, and nature furnished a table to supply all his wants; the animal world acknowledged his superiority, and went to him to receive their names: his Maker condescended to hold communion with this excellent and intellectual creature, admitting him to that sacred intercourse, and imparting some of that divine knowledge which will no doubt constitute the future felicity of emparadised believers: still he had no COMPANION, no one to share his pleasures, no one upon equal terms to whom he could communicate his sentiments. Endowed with a social nature, he had at present no social means; he seemed as if placed in that solitary point, that fair, but desolate region, where he saw thousands of creatures below him and above him, but none upon that pleasing level which conduces to a delightful and profitable familiarity.
This defect, however, scarcely existed before the goodness of his Maker supplied it. "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him." The process by which this merciful intention was accomplished appears truly wonderful: Adam was put into a profound sleep, and the Lord God took out one of his ribs, from which he made a woman, and closed up the flesh. What must have been the emotions of our great progenitor, when, upon awaking from his supernatural slumber, this help meet was presented to him! He had, it seems, an intuitive perception of the kind purpose for which this female companion of his future days was made; or some immediate revelation disclosing both the manner of her formation, and the reason of his being presented with this invaluable gift. In the first transports of gratitude he exclaimed, "This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (or Ishah,) because she was taken out of man." This name was afterwards changed by him to Havah, or EVE; assigning, as a reason, that "she was the mother of all living." This name we have placed at the head of the list of female characters in the present work; and while her brief history is replete with instruction, it possesses an additional interest, from the consideration of her being the first woman. We are conducted back to the infancy of time, to the origin of human being, to the cause of the present degradation of our race, to an impressive exhibition of the evil of sin, and to the dawn of redeeming mercy upon this world of transgressors. In this history we shall perceive reasons both for humiliation and triumph; we shall see human nature in ruins, and provision made for its reparation; we shall witness the effects of infernal agency, the loss of primeval glory, the power of female influence; and, above all, the INFINITE GOODNESS of our Creator.
It very much enhances the dignity of the female character to reflect, that of all created things the woman was selected as the only suitable companion of the first and fairest of men; she was made expressly to contribute to his mental and social pleasures, and not to be the slave of his will; if the mother, she was intended also as the instructor of his children; his assistant, at least, in the "delightful task" of "rearing the tender thought," and "teaching the young idea how to shoot:" she was qualified to counsel and co-operate with him in his daily occupations, to aid in the investigation of those laws which regulated the new-made world, to unite with him in acts of worship, and to enliven, as well as to participate, his devotional hours.
Revelation is the only system that assigns to woman her natural and proper elevation in the scale of being, and inspires a consciousness of her real dignity. The moment that an intelligent being is by any injurious treatment, or by any prevailing error, induced to form a degrading estimate of itself, that moment it begins to approximate a state of meanness which was hitherto only imaginary. Let such an one be conscious of being held in no esteem, or prized solely as the tool of servitude or the food of appetite, and all majesty of character is lost; all aim or wish to rise above the brute, to aspire after a station or character, to the occupation of which a tyrannic impiety has opposed an insurmountable barrier, is gone; and those great principles which confer a superiority upon the human kind, and point to a noble pre-eminence, cease to operate, and expire for want of action. This state of things is unnatural, contrary to the original purpose of creation, and in fact, more dishonorable to the usurper than to the degraded sufferer. In Mahometan and Pagan countries the rights of women have been sacrificed to the caprices of men; and, having plucked this fair flower of creation from its original and highly elevated situation, its beauty has faded, its glory been lost in the sacrilegious hands of its barbarian possessor. Abject slavery or base flattery have existed where woman has been displaced from her proper and original character, and the most mischievous consequences have ensued. 
The first woman is said to have been formed out of man; hence, as a part of himself, it seems the law of creation, that man should cherish the most affectionate sentiments for the woman:—"Therefore," says the inspired history, "shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh."
It is observable, that the woman was neither taken out of the head, nor from the feet, but from the side, and near the heart! If, therefore, on the one hand, she ought not to assume pre-eminence, on the other she is not to be trampled on and despised, but received as an equal and a friend.
As the original arrangements of Infinite Wisdom were the most perfect in their respective kinds, the appropriation of one woman only, as the companion and wife of the first created man, indicates both the will of the Creator respecting marriage, and the circumstances in which it is most likely to produce the greatest sum of domestic felicity. Man is neither to live alone, nor to indulge that depravity of taste, which, by seeking enjoyment in diversity, not only ensures disappointment, but generates discord.
The advocates for celibacy and for plurality, equally betray an ignorance of Scripture and of human nature, and can find few supporters, except amongst the infidel or the barbarian classes of mankind. "They that will not connect their interests, lest they should be unhappy by their partner's fault, dream away their time without friendship, without fondness, and are driven to rid themselves of the day, for which they have no use, by childish amusement or vicious delights. They act as beings under the constant sense of some known inferiority, that fills their minds with rancor and their tongues with censure; they are peevish at home, and malevolent abroad; and, as the outlaws of human nature, make it their business and their pleasure to disturb that society which debars them from its privileges. To live without feeling or exciting sympathy, to be fortunate without adding to the felicity of others, or afflicted without tasting the balm of pity, is a state more gloomy than solitude: it is not retreat, but exclusion from mankind. Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures." 
The original law is enforced in the New Testament by an infallible commentator: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." Thus Jesus Christ sanctions marriage by his authority, virtually interdicts polygamy, and absolutely prohibits divorce.
As the bestowal of one woman upon one man, at the creation of the human species, was sufficiently indicative of the divine will, so the near equality of the two sexes is a strong presumptive argument in favour of this division of society: if a different proportion were better calculated to replenish the world with population, the circumstances of Adam seemed particularly to require such an arrangement; or if it were calculated to promote human happiness, the Divine Being, who created Eve for the very purpose of enhancing the bliss of our first parent, would have superadded this to his paradisaical possessions. The reverse, however, was obviously the case. Polygamy violates the constitution of nature, and produces contests, jealousies, distracted affections, a voluptuousness which dissolves the vigour of the intellectual and corporeal faculties, neglect of children, with other lamentable evils, for which it furnishes no compensation. "Whether," says Dr. Paley, "simultaneous polygamy was permitted by the law of Moses, seems doubtful; but whether permitted or not, it was certainly practised by the Jewish patriarchs, both before that law and under it. The permission, if there were any, might be like that of divorce, 'for the hardness of their heart,' in condescension to their established indulgencies, rather than from the general rectitude or propriety of the thing itself. The state of manners in Judea had probably undergone a reformation in this respect before the time of Christ, for in the New Testament we meet with no trace or mention of any such practice being tolerated." 
Though man was created in the state we have been representing, encircled with the divine favour, rich in all the requisites of happiness, and the tenant of a glorious palace, a melancholy alteration soon occurred. Seduced by infernal temptation, he forsook his God and forfeited his paradise; and from the narrative of his fall in the book of Genesis, which immediately succeeds the account of his felicity, we learn that the WOMAN was the first transgressor. Assuming the form of a serpent, Satan presented himself to Eve, and entered into familiar conversation with her. To his artful inquiry respecting the divine interdiction of one of the trees of the garden, she at first gave a very proper answer. Satan insinuated that the terms which God had prescribed, were severe, if not capricious: but she replied in a manner indicative of her perfect acquiescence in the commandment, her untainted purity of mind, and such a sense of the beneficence of God, as prevented even a momentary doubt of his wisdom or goodness, in the denial of "one tree in the midst of the garden."
The tempter, in making a second attack, became more positive. In contradiction to the divine assurance, he affirmed, with unhesitating effrontery, that they should not die, even though they tasted the fruit of the interdicted tree; but on the contrary, that they should be "as gods, knowing good and evil." By the very same representations do the ministers of satanic malice in every age seduce mankind, suggesting that the commands of Heaven are extremely rigid, and flattering them that sin may be committed with impunity.
The fatal moment was come—she looked at the tree!—Ah! thou mother of all living! hadst thou looked at the command, and turned away from the attractive plant and the beguiling serpent, all would have been well—thine innocence had been uncorrupted, thy posterity uncondemned! But unhallowed curiosity prompted the fatal experiment—she wished to be wise—
"Her rash hand in evil hour, Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate. Earth felt the wound; and Nature from her seat, Sighing through all her works, gave signs of wo, That all was lost!"
It does not appear that any ill consequences resulted immediately from the criminal rashness of this sinner, so that she was encouraged to go to her husband, who, seduced by a fairer tempter, and one endeared to him by the tenderest ties, complied with her request to share the violated tree. Motives of curiosity and pride excited her to sin, and so far as appears from the history, blind affection influenced him. Alas! she who was given him as a "help meet," is changed into his seducer, and from his comfort is become his snare! That influence which she naturally possessed over her husband, ought to have been exerted to prevent his compliance with any sinful intimation, in case of an unexpected solicitation, instead of which it was used to induce him to plunge into guilt and ruin. "We have a right to presume," observes Saurin, "that as no crime was ever connected with more melancholy results, so none was ever more atrocious than hers. The more we examine its nature, the more base it appears, and the more easy is it to exculpate religion from those reproaches which this statement has so often occasioned. Whatever tends to extenuate the guilt of other sins, is an aggravation of this.
"Sometimes a confusion of the passions obscures all the powers of the soul; a man who sins in this manner, is frequently less deserving of abhorrence than of pity; he acts from a sort of compulsion, and protests against the crime, even at the moment he is committing it. Eve possessed a dominion over those passions to which we are become enslaved; she could easily calm their turbulence, and they had no other influence over her, than what was on her own part voluntary.
"Sometimes necessity inspires the design of acquiring by unlawful methods, a supply which nature has rendered requisite, and which cannot be legitimately obtained. But, what could be wanting to satisfy the insatiable cravings of this woman? What could she need as an addition to her happiness? She might be said to be 'crowned with glory and honour;' she had dominion over the works of the Creator; all things were put under her feet; all sheep and oxen; yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. Even her love of variety could not yet be satiated, and this garden offered a thousand exquisite fruits which she had never tasted.
"Sometimes doubt blends itself with disobedience. There are but few sins totally unaccompanied with unbelief; some clouds always obscure our faith; some veils of concealment overspread the existence of the Creator. Among the previous pangs which sin occasions, when we deliberate respecting the commission of it, there always exist certain vague ideas in the mind, such as these—perhaps no superior being concerns himself about it; or, perhaps no one has forbidden it;—but Eve could not possibly doubt of the existence or the will of the Creator. She had herself heard this language from his mouth, 'In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die.'
"Sometimes our abuse of a favour proceeds from false ideas of its origin. Though every sinner be ungrateful, yet every sinner is not a monster of ingratitude. The first cause of our felicity is sometimes mingled with the second, which is serviceable in procuring it. Our industry frequently seems to share with Providence the glory of our condition, and the nature of a blessing sometimes leads us to forget the acknowledgments due to our benefactor; but Eve enjoyed no good which did not in some respect proceed immediately from the bounty of God, and which ought not to have induced her to glorify him.
"Sometimes a pure motive produces an impure action, and the love of virtue itself sometimes occasions our removal from it; but in the present case the action is aggravated by the motive. Pride, vain-glory, perhaps the desire of robbing God of his pre-eminence, his omniscience, or his jurisdiction over the creature, his most sacred and incommunicable distinctions, were the dispositions that actuated this woman.
"Can any imaginable pretext serve to palliate so atrocious a crime, or excuse the woman who first committed it, and the man who joined in the rebellion? Would they indeed have been less criminal, if a seraph of glory had proposed to them the impious deed? Was not the faculty of reason which they had received from God, sufficient to make them understand what revelation has taught us, that if an angel from heaven were to proclaim any thing contrary to what God has commanded, it ought to inspire us with no other sentiments than those of anathema and execration?" 
The general consequences of human transgression were:
1. The loss of Eden, and the subjection of our first parents to a mode of life both humiliating and painful. Ease was exchanged for toil, honour for degradation, peace for distraction and wo.
It is always painful to quit a favourite spot. The heart lingers long behind, and employs the pencil of memory to paint the absent scene. Adam and Eve must have experienced inexpressible emotions when driven from their primeval residence, where all the elements, all the seasons, and all beings had contributed to their enjoyment. Never, never, could they forget those landscapes on which the eye paused with rapture; never, never, could they cease to remember its rich productions, its often-frequented vales, and hills, and rivers, and woods; never, never, could they obliterate from their memory the bright sunshine of heavenly love that beamed upon them there—for by transgression they suffered.
2. The loss of their God. The divine favour can alone constitute the real felicity of a creature; this, in its full manifestation, is heaven—in its total absence, is hell. No place, however loaded with blessings, can constitute a desirable abode, unless God be there. The fairest Eden without this manifestation must be a melancholy dungeon to an intelligent and immortal being. It is this which was forfeited by original sin, and which occasioned "a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
It would be inconsistent with the nature of God not to manifest displeasure against iniquity, however high and dignified the being who commits it. An angel must lose his crown, if he dare to disobey that Being who is "glorious in holiness."
3. Mankind incurred by sin the loss of life.—"And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shall not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." This denunciation included an exposure not only to temporal, but to eternal death, as might be shown from the nature and demerit of sin, the means which were afterwards employed to destroy its effects in the work of Christ, the repeated declarations of Scripture, and the peculiar energy of the original expression; it is literally, "Dying, thou shalt die." The weight of the condemnation rested on the sinner's head, and in order to maintain the glory of his character, "the blessed God" rendered his punishment as extraordinary as his former mercies, and proportionate to his enormous guilt.—"Thou wilt by no means clear the guilty."—"These shall go away into everlasting punishment."
4. The sin of Adam and Eve involved the ruin of their posterity. As the first man and woman, they stood in a peculiar relation to all who should hereafter be born, the representatives of unnumbered millions, whose future condition essentially depended on their character and circumstances. Had they continued innocent, it cannot be doubted their children would have been placed in a far happier condition. They would have inherited purity and a blessing for the Father's sake, instead of being "shapen in iniquity." As the streams become polluted when the fountain is poisoned, or as the branches die when the root is destroyed, so the race of men are become degraded, accursed, and condemned by their parent's sin. They inherit a nature depraved by original transgression, and disposed to every wicked indulgence. Instead of becoming more assimilated to God, as man had flattered himself he should be by partaking of the forbidden fruit, he became from that moment assimilated to the devil. Every dishonorable and hurtful passion took immediate possession of the breast, and to this hour reigns in the carnal man with unrivalled influence. Whatever misery results from the gratification of these passions, is solely attributable to the principle; for man, who is criminal by nature, is still more so by inclination and practice. The world is thrown into a state of anarchy. The unbridled dominion of the passions disturbs the peace of the individual and the harmony of society. Sin makes a man at variance with himself, with his neighbour, and with the whole constitution of things. He is restless as the ocean, impelled by every contrary wind, and tossed about by every sportive billow. The desire of happiness exists; but he is ignorant of the true means of it, and is perpetually pursuing it by a method which only plunges him into greater misery. To this cause must be attributed all the mental distresses and all the bodily afflictions of the individual—all the disturbances which prevent domestic enjoyment, the bickerings and jealousies of families with their various alliances—all the animosities which agitate social life—all the intestine broils, ambitious emulations, endless contentions, and opposing interests that distract a state—all the melancholy wars that convulse nations and desolate empires, the record of which has stained the page of history in all ages—with every particular, form, and mode of evil, discoverable in the world.
But sin extends its ravages beyond the present state. It has not only strewed the whole path of life with tormenting thorns, but enkindled "everlasting burnings." It has not only introduced disorder into the world, disease into the body, and distress into the condition of men, but exposed them to the agonies of death and of hell. It is sin which banishes every hope and excludes every ray of comfort from the realms of infernal despair. Justly, then, is it characterized by the apostle, as "exceeding sinful."
There were two respects in which the woman became more deeply affected by the curse than the man; she not only participated, as a fallen creature, in the diversified calamities which, from the moment of transgression, were entailed upon humanity, but suffered as a female in the conjugal and maternal relationships which she was destined hereafter to sustain. Her husband was to "rule over her," and in sorrow "she was to bring forth children." The yoke of subjection, indeed, in the one case, and the pangs of childbirth in the other, are alleviated by the benign influences of Christianity, whose supplies are intended to heal the wounds inflicted by the poisonous serpent; but they nevertheless attach, in greater or less degrees, to the human constitution.
The reason of this marked difference in the dispensation of an avenging Providence to the two principal parties concerned, was obviously this; the woman was first in the transgression, and after listening to the deceptive counsel of her adversary, tempted when she ought to have warned her husband. It appears consonant to every principle of equity, that the atrociousness of her guilt should be characterized by appropriate expressions of displeasure; and that, in the future condition of mankind, all beings should recognize, not only the general purity of the divine administration, but its reference to the peculiarities of individual delinquency. Whatever mystery may at present involve the proceedings of Infinite Wisdom, and however incapacitated we may be to discover in every given case, or even in the majority of instances, the distinct traces of a justice that holds the even balance, and adjusts with nicety the proportions of sin and punishment, of this we may feel perfectly assured, that "every one" will eventually "receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
It should be a matter of serious consideration to women to employ the influence which they possess, as the gift of nature, to wise, holy, and useful purposes. Let the young female especially see to it, that her attractions are not dedicated to the service of sin, but to that of virtue and of Christ. Let her neither be tempted, nor tempt others, but close her ear against the voice of enticement, and make a covenant with her tongue, that it neither utter folly, nor propagate slander. Let the daughters of Eve imitate their mother in her state of unfallen rectitude, when she shone in all the purity of innocence, and in all the summer of her charms; but let them avoid that course which tarnished her glory, debased her nature, and withered her paradise. It is indisputable that society is materially affected by the character of women; and in very important respects the moral state, as well as the social comfort of the world, is at their disposal. Let them beware of the delusions to which they are exposed, and make virtuous use of the influence which is undoubtedly given them. Let them aim to be guides to piety, not seducers to sin; and, instead of presenting to others the forbidden fruit, refuse to taste, or even to look at it: so shall they regain the dignity they have lost, be admitted to partake of the untainted spring of happiness, and enjoy at once a peaceful conscience and an approving God.
The narrative which has here been briefly introduced, stands in immediate connection with a subject which abounds in considerable difficulties, and has produced, unhappily, many acrimonious controversies. These it would be improper to detail; but as our design is chiefly practical, if some of those objections which occur to almost every mind, can, by a few words, be in any degree obviated, it will be worthy at least of a short digression.
1. It has been alleged that the first man might have been created immutable by a necessity of nature, the consequence of which would have been his own perfect and unchanging happiness, and that of all mankind. The imagination seizes the transporting thought, and in a moment converts every spot of this barren wilderness into "the garden of Eden." Does it, however, become us to prescribe rules to Omniscience? Was the Deity obliged to impose a miraculous constraint upon the human will, and compel his creature to choose whatever is best with invariable determination and promptitude? If a parent were to caution his child against a danger, into which he afterward plunged himself by his inadvertence or perverseness, would the child be justified in censuring the parent, because, in addition to advice, he did not employ bonds and cords? Adam might have been created immutable by a necessity of nature. True—but Adam would then have been another being, and not a man. It might with similar propriety be asked, why men were not created equal to angels, or beasts to men? This sentiment implies, that it was not proper to create such a being as man at all, an intimation sufficiently presumptuous. Adam possessed all the perfections essential to his nature, and conducive to his felicity, and all the motives to obedience, which a reasonable creature could demand. If he fell, it was violating and not concurring with the principles of his nature. And who was culpable for this violation? It is true he was tempted,—but then he was forewarned. He was tempted—so was the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, who effectually resisted the temptation.
2. Some have supposed that the punishment was disproportioned to the offence. A more attentive consideration of the subject, however, will demonstrate the contrary. The compliance with the seductions of the tempter, of which our first parents were guilty, betrayed many lamentable symptoms of degeneracy. Pride, ambition, discontent, unbelief, presumption, ingratitude, and an undervaluation of the divine favour, are all plainly discernible through the thin veil of an extenuating apology, with which they vainly attempted to conceal their baseness.—"The woman, whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." And the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." Endowed as they were with knowledge, it was a sin against the greatest light; surrounded as they were with motives, it was a sin against the greatest means; warned as they were of danger and promised eternal blessedness, it was a sin against the greatest reason; and placed as they were at the head of a numerous posterity, and in a sense the depositories and trustees of their happiness, it was a sin against the greatest public good.
Besides, it was the first sin, and consequently justice demanded such an expression of the divine displeasure as would tend to deter future transgressors, and evince the purity of God to all holy intelligences. When justice seized upon the delinquents, and brought them to the equitable tribunal of Heaven, the whole intelligent universe may be considered as attentive spectators of the scene. Every eye was fixed—every ear open—every tongue silent—every harp suspended. The great Judge with whom "a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years," saw, as it were, the unborn generations of men all present, and tremblingly awaiting the verdict. This was the solemn hour when the perfections of Deity were to be most sublimely illustrated, and ten thousand worlds were to learn in one eventful moment the character of their Creator, "Therefore the Lord God sent him from the garden of Eden."
The nature of sin in itself should also be considered. It is no trifling affair. From the habit of observing only its outward effects, we overlook its rancorous principle. The propensity to extenuate sin arises from ignorance of its vileness. We judge of every thing by comparison, and self-flattery always renders the comparison favorable to ourselves. But small and large are terms which, though we have chosen to adopt them, do not properly belong to the subject. The divine mind contemplates sin in its principle; and the least transgression, being a resistance of his command, an insult to his authority, an opposition to his truth, a violation, of general order, a perversion and misuse of the noblest faculties, whatever may be the force of the attack or the nature of the temptation, is infinitely offensive to the blessed God. It is an admission of that principle which, could it possibly prevail, would produce eternal discord, universal rebellion, and boundless misery.
3. If, however, we be accounted sinners in Adam, may it not be inferred that our guilt is incalculably inferior to his, and that in all our actions resulting from this inherent depravity, we are more pitiable than culpable? By no means.—It is sufficient to remark, that though our original guilt be less than his, not having been personally the perpetrators of the first crime, our actual guilt is equal, if not greater. For it is obvious we sin with all the experience of the past to forewarn us; we sin, though we witness the deplorable effects of his fall, and hear the denunciations of vengeance in the Scriptures.
Though it be true that sin originates in a depravity of heart, which is the fatal inheritance of the whole human race, will any one pretend that such a sentiment justifies its excesses? The perpetration of iniquity in the course of our daily practice, must not be confounded with the original tendency. These excesses are in no sense chargeable upon the principle as its necessary and unavoidable result, because thousands escape "the pollutions that are in the world." Nor are we less obliged to love God in consequence of the fall, though unhappily we are become more incapable and indisposed to it. You ask, why passions were implanted in human nature? The reply is, to extend the means of our happiness, by rendering us more capable of glorifying and enjoying God. If they have acquired a sinful bias, the obligation to devote them to their original purpose is by no means diminished: But their great Author, to whom we are responsible for every faculty, requires that we should oppose their perverse propensities, earnestly repent of the irregularities produced by their seducing influence, and solicit the aid of his grace to conquer them.
When the apostle of the Gentiles was reasoning before an unjust judge of "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," it is said, "Felix trembled, and answered. Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee." Unhappy man! Hadst thou but obeyed Paul instead of dismissing him, hadst thou but yielded to thy kindling convictions, confessed thy sins, and sought salvation through the blood of that Jesus whom Paul preached, the church of Christ would have hailed thee as "a brand plucked out of the burning."
Every one is conscious that, however corrupt his nature, he is under no irresistible impulse, no constraining necessity. If he commit sin it is voluntarily. Sin is his choice and his pleasure. He does not sin because he is necessitated to do it, but because he loves it: and however willing the carnal mind may be to avail itself of sophistical reasonings to quiet conscience, every one must, in the hour of dispassionate reflection, feel himself implicated in the charge, "all have sinned."
Listen to the case of a wretched prodigal.—Crime had reduced him to rags. He had a home—but through perverseness he banished himself from all its comforts. He had a father—but he undervalued his affection, in a moment of folly demanded his patrimony, and adventured abroad friendless and alone. A few years brought him to the very gates of death. O thoughtless sinner, "Thou art the man!" Thou hast forsaken God, the Father of mercies! Thou art "perishing in ignorance and unbelief!" But this moral lunatic came to himself, and resolved to return to his father; "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." What a son! what a father! what a meeting! what sighs of penitence! what tears of fondness! what looks of tenderness! what words of peace! How were resentment and grief drowned in a sea of love!
God of all comfort, who art thyself this kind, forgiving, bountiful Father, grant of thine infinite mercy that every reader may prove himself this humble, sincere, and grateful penitent!
Abraham's Departure from Chaldea—His Faith—Its Failure—Sarah and Abraham agree to prevaricate—The Admiration which Sarah attracted—Abraham's Dismissal from the country of Egypt—Beauty and Dress—Importance of a proper Education—Parental Vanity—Source of real Attraction—Sarah proposes to Abraham to take Hagar—Unhappy Consequences—Hagar's Flight and Return—Visit of three Angels—Sarah's laughter at the subject of their commission—Her subsequent Character—General Remarks—Birth of Isaac—Ishmael's Conduct and its Consequences—Sarah's Death.
[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 1920-1921.]
At a very advanced period of life, and in obedience to a divine injunction, Abraham went out from his country and his father's house, "not knowing whither he went." By this cheerful, prompt, and pious submission to the mysterious will of Heaven, he has acquired a high distinction in the sacred records, and presents a noble example for the imitation of all future ages. Here was no debate between a sense of duty and an inclination to sin—no disposition to question the wisdom or the goodness of the command—no effort to devise expedients for the purpose of procuring delay—and no unholy apprehensions respecting the possible or probable consequences of such a proceeding.
In this removal from Chaldea, the illustrious exile took with him his wife, his nephew, "and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran." Upon their arrival in Canaan, the divine declaration respecting his future possession of the country was renewed, and he erected an altar to the Lord in the plain of Moreh. The same act of devotion was performed at the next stage of his journey, on a mountain to the east of Bethel; for no change of place could obliterate his sense of religious obligation.
This land of promise was soon afflicted with a grievous famine, in consequence of which, he was necessitated to provide for the subsistence of his family by removing into Egypt. This was a new trial to his faith; for by what possible means could a land at present so impoverished, become a place of plentiful subsistence to his posterity, when multiplied as the sands upon the sea-shore? Driven even from this promised inheritance, he did not, however, manifest a spirit of discontent or unbelief, but hastened to seek a temporary asylum, convinced that he to whose guidance he had committed himself and his beloved family, could, by the outstretched arm of his power, not only overcome every obstacle which to human ignorance might seem insurmountable; but by his concurrent wisdom render difficulties themselves subservient to the accomplishment of his purposes.
Alas! on his entering Egypt he is seized with apprehension. The faith which had hitherto been so conspicuous is mingled with distrust, and he engages his beloved SARAH, who is now introduced to our notice, in an act of most unwarrantable duplicity. The whole of this transaction is detailed with that perfect impartiality which characterizes the histories of the Scriptures, and which furnishes one very decisive evidence of their inspiration.
Sarah is represented as very beautiful. Her husband was aware that this circumstance would attract the notice of the Egyptians, not only because of the contrast her person would exhibit to the swarthy complexions of their women, but on account of their licentious character. He dreaded their illicit attachment, and the probable consequence that they might assassinate him in order to obtain his wife. This idea of Egyptian morals was no doubt correct, but how deplorable! They would not commit adultery; but for the sake of gratifying a guilty passion, were ready to perpetrate the abominable sin of murder! And thus, under the strange pretence of reverence for the matrimonial law, they would have violated at once the dictates of humanity, the principles of reason, and the constitutions of heaven. So common is it for transgressors to "strain at a knat and swallow a camel;" and so uniform the course of guilt, which never walks alone, but draws with it a train of complicated iniquities!
The preliminaries being settled, Abraham and his family entered Egypt. She was to say, when any inquiries were made, that she was his sister, hoping by this artifice to escape danger. This, it must be observed, was not a direct falsehood: it was such only by implication. It was true that, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, Sarah was the sister of Abraham; but their intention in circulating this statement was, to conceal the whole truth of her being his wife. Notwithstanding the ingenuity which some learned men have displayed in attempting to vindicate this conduct, we must without hesitation pronounce it base, mean, and prevaricating. The purpose was to deceive, and it was the more censurable for being so deliberately premeditated and so perseveringly practised. There are cases in which persons have been overtaken in a fault, impelled by some momentary passion, excited by some brilliant temptation, or betrayed by some unexpected coincidence of circumstances, and of which they have deeply and almost immediately repented—a situation which cannot but excite our pity, as well as our disapprobation; but this was a transaction which it is impossible either to extenuate or justify. Let it be improved as a motive for self-examination, and a beacon to warn us from similar misconduct. "O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in thee. Let INTEGRITY and UPRIGHTNESS preserve me, for I wait on thee."
Prevarication of every kind partakes of the very essence of lying, being not only subversive of social happiness, by preventing all confidential intercourse amongst mankind, but diametrically opposed to the commands of God. Every species of wilful deceit, as the use of ambiguities in language for the purpose of misleading; the adoption of expressions which we know to be understood by another in a different sense from what we really mean; mental reservations; a studied suppression of part of the truth, as in the present example, is unworthy the character of any person who professes to be an honest man, much more of one who sustains the dignified character of a Christian. "Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour."
In theory, it seems an easy thing to adhere to truth; but it is too frequently found difficult in practice. When motives of interest are balanced against motives of duty, it is well if the former do not sometimes preponderate. Are we always careful to state facts exactly as they exist; to avoid all false colouring; to swear even to our own hurt? If so, we need not fear investigation, because nothing can be detected but an honourable, undissembled mind.
When Adam disobeyed the divine commandment, and in consequence forfeited the bliss of primeval paradise, he was seduced by his fair partner, who had already listened to the wily suggestions of the serpent; but Abraham, so far from being tempted by his wife, appears to have been the sole contriver of this disingenuous artifice, and employed all his influence to induce her to transgress. In following him from his original residence into Canaan, and subsequently to Egypt, she obeyed the dictates of affection and of religion; but when she suffered herself to be persuaded into a deceitful action, she sacrificed the purity of her conscience. It became her, however painful the conflict, to resist the temptation; and, when the claims of heaven were opposed to those of affection or human authority, to obey God rather than man. It appears that we are not only in danger of being misled by those who are our avowed enemies, or by the pernicious example of the multitude who do evil, but the nearest and dearest relatives may become snares to our feet; and even those, in whose piety and wisdom we should naturally confide, may, under the influence of temporary delusion, incite us to do wrong. Our affections must not be implicitly trusted. There is a point where submission to man becomes treason against heaven. It were better to incur the displeasure even of the dearest friend and tenderest relative, than of Him who possesses supreme authority over conscience.
At the same time, let a woman, who thus ventures to disobey her husband, do it with that caution which results solely from a conviction of paramount duty, and from a well founded assurance that she is not mistaken. It is no trifling occasion that will justify opposition to the will of him whom she is commanded to obey; and if it be done in a proper spirit, it will be done with a degree of reluctance, and under an overwhelming sense of necessity. Let the spirit of meekness be prevalent. Nothing in the manner, in which unwelcome opposition is maintained, must indicate a proud resistance, or an air of triumph. It must not be litigious, petulant, unconciliating; but the importance of those principles which occasion the difference, must be apparent in the temper of mind they produce. Thus, it will be possible to maintain the rights of conscience, and not to violate the claims of duty: the integrity of the heart will be indicated, not by words only, but by actions.—It is natural to feel indignant against a conduct which we suspect to proceed from improper motives, and a hostile spirit; but we extenuate even the mistakes of those who differ most widely from ourselves, provided we have sufficient evidence that their scruples result from conscientious feelings. While, therefore, in our differences from others, we are careful not to be actuated by mere frivolous pretences, we must be equally solicitous not to be deterred from showing a firm consistence of conduct, lest we should incur the charge of an affected singularity.
The fact was such as Abraham had anticipated. Sarah was the object of universal admiration. She attracted the attention even of Pharaoh's courtiers, who, with the view of pleasing their master, recommended her to the king. Supposing she had been the stranger's sister, she was taken into his house. Alas! what availed all this timid policy! The very means which had been devised for the preservation of Sarah from Egyptian licentiousness, nearly exposed her to all its dreaded consequences; and Abraham was duped by his own craftiness. His wife was endangered, his artifice detected, and the household of Pharaoh visited with divine chastisements on her account. And, in addition to the pain which both he and his beloved partner must have felt, from the consciousness of having acted wrong, they were dismissed from the country. "And Pharaoh called Abraham, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? So I might have taken her to me to wife: now, therefore, behold thy wife, take her and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had."
The beauty of Sarah was obviously the occasion of her committing, in concert with her husband, the sin of equivocation, and of the misfortunes which attended their Egyptian journey. If she had not been distinguished for a fair exterior, she would have escaped the admiration of these strangers, and the difficulties which she and Abraham afterwards encountered. Solomon pronounces beauty to be vain; and the history of the world will show, that, in innumerable instances, as well as that of Sarah, it has betrayed its fair possessor into many snares. Experience, however, in this respect, does not seem to teach wisdom; for the wish to acquire the attraction which beauty confers, seems to be no less prevalent in the present age, than it was at the earliest period of the world. How many hours of the day, and how many days of the wasted year, do some females devote to the improvement of their persons! Impossible as it has ever been, and ever will be found, to make one hair black or white, to add one cubit to the stature, to bend one untractable feature into the admired curve to which common consent attributes grace and loveliness; the impossible transformation is nevertheless attempted. The treasures of opulence are exhausted; the more valuable possession of health is often sacrificed at the shrine of vanity: and while the noble distinctions of cultivated intellect and solid piety are neglected, the ostentatious decoration of exterior polish is sought with useless and guilty avidity.
The most effectual means of correcting this error, is in early life to commence the important business of moral discipline by a solid education. If a greater degree of attention be paid to showy, than to substantial acquirements; if young ladies be systematically prepared to shine and attract, instead of being assiduously formed to be useful in the stations to which Providence has assigned them; it may be expected that they should become solicitous of courting admiration, rather than of winning esteem. They will necessarily be unfitted for domestic management, and disqualified for the sober realities of life. If the matrimonial connexion be founded upon no better pretensions, and no superior reasons for attachment, it is incapable of securing solid happiness. It is, in fact, at the mercy of every breeze. The wind of adversity may blow upon the fair flower, wither its exterior charms, and leave nothing but prickles and thorns. A consciousness of insignificance on the one hand, and a perception of it on the other, will produce disappointment, and generate dissatisfaction; and it will be found, too late perhaps, that the mind, instead of the face, ought to have been principally regarded.
There is a species of parental vanity against which we would loudly appeal. Some persons are extremely anxious that their daughters should possess all the attractions of beauty; and from their earliest infancy, a concern for appearances is instilled into them, as of the first importance. If young persons, so unhappily circumstanced, should receive a wrong bias, we cannot feel surprised; and it will require a long course of salutary discipline, combined with the inculcation of religious principles, effectually to teach them that to see, and to be seen, are not the great purposes of human existence; that they must live for nobler ends, and secure the approbation of the wise and good by other accomplishments than a taste for the arrangement of a ribbon, or the harmony of a tune. Unless they should be unfortunate enough to meet with none but flippant and vacant admirers, to whose flattering nothings they are induced to listen, they will find, that persons of real worth are not to be attracted by tinsel decorations, nor a butterfly exterior, but that
"Man has a relish more refined;"
and will rather breathe the following sentiments, as the appropriate language of a noble enthusiasm, connected with rationality and religion;
"Souls are for social bliss designed— Give me a blessing fit to match my mind; A kindred soul to double and to share my joys."
That which constitutes the source of attraction to well regulated minds, does not depend upon the disposition of the features, nor the colour of the skin. It is possible to every kind of exterior form. "This beauty," it has been well observed, "does not always consist in smiles, but varies as expressions of meekness and kindness vary with their objects: it is extremely forcible in the silent complaint of patient sufferance, the tender solicitude of friendship, and the glow of filial obedience; and in tears, whether of joy, of pity, or of grief, it is almost irresistible.
"This is the charm which captivates without the aid of nature, and without which her utmost bounty is ineffectual. But it cannot be assumed as a mask to conceal insensibility or malevolence: it must be the effect of corresponding sentiments, or it will impress upon the countenance a new and more disgusting deformity—AFFECTATION. Looks, which do not correspond with the heart, cannot be assumed without labour, nor continued without pain: the motive to relinquish them must, therefore, soon preponderate, and the aspect and apparel of the visit will be laid by together: the smiles and the languishments of art will vanish, and the fierceness of rage, or the gloom of discontent, will either obscure or destroy all the elegance of symmetry and complexion.
"The artificial aspect is, indeed, as wretched a substitute for the expression of sentiment, as the smear of paint for the blushes of health: it is not only equally transient, and equally liable to detection; but, as paint leaves the countenance yet more withered and ghastly, the passions burst out with more violence after restraint, the features become more distorted, and excite more determined aversion.
"Beauty, therefore, depends principally upon the mind, and consequently may be influenced by education. It has been remarked, that the predominent passion may generally be discovered in the countenance; because the muscles by which it is expressed, being almost perpetually contracted, lose their tone, and never totally relax; so that the expression remains when the passion is suspended: thus, an angry, a disdainful, a subtle, and a suspicious temper, is displayed in characters that are almost universally understood. It is equally true of the pleasing and the softer passions, that they leave their signatures upon the countenance when they cease to act. The prevalence of these passions, therefore, produces a mechanical effect upon the aspect, and gives a turn and cast to the features, which make a more favourable and forcible impression upon the mind of others, than any charm produced by mere external causes.
"Neither does the beauty which depends upon temper and sentiment, equally endanger the possessor: it is, to use an eastern metaphor, 'like the towers of a city—not only an ornament, but a defence:' if it excite desire, it at once controls and refines it; it represses with awe, it softens with delicacy, and it wins to imitation. The love of reason and of virtue is mingled with the love of beauty; because this beauty is little more than the emanation of intellectual excellence, which is not an object of corporeal appetite. As it excites a purer passion, it also more forcibly engages to fidelity: every man finds himself more powerfully restrained from giving pain to goodness than to beauty; and every look of a countenance in which they are blended, in which beauty is the expression of goodness, is a silent reproach to the first irregular wish; and the purpose immediately appears to be disingenuous and cruel, by which the tender hope of ineffable affection would be disappointed, the placid confidence of unsuspecting simplicity abused, and the peace even of virtue endangered, by the most sordid infidelity, and the breach of the strongest obligations.
"But the hope of the hypocrite must perish.—When the factitious beauty has laid by her smiles; when the lustre of her eyes, and the bloom of her cheeks, have lost their influence with their novelty; what remains, but a tyrant divested of power, who will never be seen without a mixture of indignation and disdain? The only desire which this object could gratify, will be transferred to another, not only without reluctance, but with triumph.
"Let it, therefore, be remembered, that none can be disciples of the GRACES, but in the school of VIRTUE; and that those who wish to be LOVELY, must learn early to be GOOD."
In the next transaction, Sarah appears in a still more unfavourable light than in the former part of her history. In whatever degree the circumstances in which she was placed may seem to extenuate the guilt of her conduct in Egypt, they can no longer be pleaded on her behalf. She is not now overawed by the authority of her husband, or seduced by an affection, which would, at all hazards, endeavour to save his valuable life; but becomes the voluntary tempter to a violation of divine institutions, by which she not only manifested her unbelief, but sacrifices to unworthy motives her domestic peace.
Notwithstanding the divine assurance, that the posterity of Abraham should become a great nation, and possess the land of Canaan, Sarah begins to think that there is no probability of her becoming a mother. Ten years had elapsed, and no child was born. Reflecting on her advanced period of life, and incapable of an implicit reliance upon the power of God, she requested Abraham to take Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, in order that she might obtain children by her. It is scarcely possible to imagine a proposal more calculated to subvert the comfort of her family, or more illustrative of an unbelieving spirit. She could not rely upon the slow but certain operations of a superintending Providence to fulfil those promises which had been given; although a humble faith would have cherished confidence in his word. He who has filled the volume of inspiration with "exceeding great and precious promises," will assuredly accomplish them, notwithstanding every apparent impediment. Omnipotence marches forward with a steady, undeviating step, to its predestined purpose; and that infinite wisdom which originally planned the future, can never be frustrated or confused by any contingencies or vicissitudes; for no possible event can occur which was not fully anticipated at the moment when the promise was given.
Sarah was not only under the influence of distrust, but of inordinate desire. She was impatient for one of those prime domestic comforts which it was seen fit at present to deny her; and because the time which had elapsed, exceeded her calculations of probability, she took upon herself to devise a plan to hasten the accomplishment of her wishes. Let us beware of an undue eagerness after the possession of any temporal enjoyment. It will not only produce distrust, but, probably, precipitate us into irregular means of gratifying our wishes. "Inordinate desires commonly produce irregular endeavours. If our wishes be not kept in submission to God's providence, our pursuits will scarcely be kept under the restraints of his precepts."
It is truly surprising, that the father of the faithful should listen to this insinuating request. Possibly he thought that, as Sarah was not distinctly mentioned in the promise, Hagar might become the parent of the promised seed; and by this specious pretence, being anxious for a son, he was induced to comply. We are easily persuaded, when our own inclinations already concur with a proposal; and even good men are very liable to misinterpret the intimations of Providence, whenever they consult their own feelings rather than the word of God.
It is remarked, that "Abraham hearkened to the voice of SARAH." This was his error. There was another voice he should have heard. If he had any doubts upon his mind, or any suspicion that his present wife was not the predestined mother of the numerous posterity that were to people Canaan, he should at least have betook himself to prayer. In a day of such remarkable revelations, and in an affair of so much consequence, he might reasonably have expected an express direction from heaven; and he who had been already so privileged, ought to have unbosomed his thoughts and explained his desires to the Lord. Let such as sustain the closest connexion, beware of becoming snares instead of helps to each other! Previous to a compliance with any important request that may lead to considerable consequences, Let us, from whatever quarter it proceed, or however justifiable it may appear, promptly avail ourselves of that gracious throne, which is always accessible to the humble petitioner. We are liable to so many misconceptions, exposed to the influence of so many prejudices, and subject to the attacks of such a variety of temptations, that our only security is in the exercise of a devotional spirit, our only help is in the Lord our God. If any man lack wisdom, let him repair to the fountain of intelligence, and solicit those supplies from heaven which are not only freely dispensed, but fully adequate to our diversified necessities.
The consequence of this unsanctioned proceeding, was precisely what might have been expected. Elated with the honour of her situation, Sarah is despised by her Egyptian handmaid. She treats her with contempt and impertinence, as if she were the peculiar favourite of Heaven, and hoping no doubt, that the ample promises of God were to be fulfilled by her means. Knowing what human nature is, we cannot wonder at this disposition, culpable as it was. Nothing is more common than for persons, when raised above the meanness of their birth, and the inferiority of their former circumstances, to be guilty of assuming airs of importance, and to forget their most obvious duties: and we would caution servants especially against such unwarrantable conduct. If divine favours should be conferred upon them; if by the grace of God they should be made partakers of that spiritual dignity which genuine religion confers, and be thus placed upon a level with their masters or mistresses in the Christian church, let them remember that they are not exempted from a civil subserviency. They are by no means elevated above their natural situation as servants, because they become Christians; but all the peculiar claims of domestic duty remain. An aspiring, or a haughty spirit, is unbecoming their newly acquired character, and shows that they have very imperfectly learned of him who was "meek and lowly of heart." Every person is respectable in his station, exactly in proportion as it is properly occupied; and real religion, instead of disqualifying for subordinate situations, is adapted to produce contentment, and to dictate an exemplary and uniform correctness of conduct in whatever condition we may be placed by Providence. "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters, according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ: not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." "Let as many servants as are under the yoke, count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit."
If Hagar behaved with impertinence and vanity, Sarah manifested a very censurable degree of resentment. Irritated by her handmaid's arrogance, she appealed to Abraham, protesting that she could not endure such insolence, and charging him with a secret connivance, if not an encouragement of her provoking behaviour. Thus we perceive a specimen of what will generally prove the case in family dissensions—both were in the wrong. Hagar was aspiring and rude; Sarah passionate and severe. If the former should have recollected her obligations, the latter ought not to have forgotten her own foolishness in raising her above her natural level, and placing her in circumstances of powerful temptation. The one should have known her place; the other have kept her temper. Let the modern mistress and servant take a lesson from this unhappy difference. How many intestine commotions might be prevented, if inferiors would not overstep the proper limits of their sphere; and if superiors in station would be conciliating in spirit; "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water; therefore leave off contention before it be meddled with."
Abraham wisely avoided all interference in this affair; and though his beloved Sarah had appealed to him in very intemperate terms, he gave a soft answer. "Behold thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee." He refrained from all self-vindication, to which he seemed called by the violent appeal of his wife; but if he thought proper either to defend himself, or to remonstrate with her, he chose another occasion. When the passions are inflamed, the judgment is seldom sufficiently unbiassed to listen to reason or to consult propriety. It has been questioned, however, whether in this instance he was not too submissive. The Egyptian maid seemed entitled to protection; and, instead of yielding to the rage of Sarah, he should have interposed his meditation, and if necessary, his authority, to restore peace.