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to be the persons, than those who have just been mentioned by name?
It will be remembered through time, nor will it be forgotten in eternity, that when the people were casting their gifts into the treasury at Jerusalem, for the purpose of defraying some religious expense; though many that were rich, cast in much, they were all outdone in their charity by a poor widow, who trusting to the providence of God for the supply of her future wants, cast in all that she had, two mites being all her living.
We have only to read the apostolic writings to see that as women ministered to their Lord, so they continued to be helpers to his faithful and needy servants; who acting under his commission spent a laborious life in preaching the gospel.
Women have in every age, and probably, in every place, where there has been a church, composed a great majority of the professors of religion; and it is no more than an acknowledgment due to the sex to say, that with the exception of a very few, whom infidelity has rendered more insensible than the sea monsters of which Jeremiah gives us an account, they have, in proportion to their means, done the most that has been done, for the welfare of their fellow creatures, in body, and soul.
Women are now, very extensively forming into societies, and uniting their efforts, to feed the hungry; clothe the naked; reform the vicious; and employ the indolent; as well as to contribute to the education of those, who desirous of the work of the ministry, without help, would find it an unattainable object; to put bibles into the hands of the destitute; and to aid the missionary cause, that the gospel may be preached in places where, from poverty, disunion, or some other preventive, the people are not supplied with public teachers of religion.
As I know not to give flattering titles, I beseech the fair part of the creation to be upon their guard, lest they should be exalted above measure, by the commendations, voluntary or extorted which are bestowed upon them in consequence of this affair; but ever to keep their thoughts fixed upon those words in St. John's letter to the Elect Lady and
her children, Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. As it is often true of men, so it may be sometimes true of women, that they do things, good in themselves, from a spirit of ostentation, which ought to be done from a better motive. To counteract the deceiver, who wishes to have it thought that those are good works, which have no connexion with good intentions, would it not be advisable to form a resolution, and abide by it, that in all instances, what is gratuitously bestowed, shall be the fruit of manual labor, or levied by a tax upon the superfluities of life. When Ornan, the Jebusite, generously offered to give to David the place of his threshing floor to build an altar on unto the Lord, together with the oxen for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; David, with no less magnanimity, refused the present, and said, Nay but I will verily buy it for the full price, for I will not take that which is thine for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.
So much time has been taken up in pointing out the ways in which women may labor in the gospel, or be instrumental of doing good, that the subject will be brought to a close, by suggesting a few things respecting the duty and importance of helping them in the business.
We are not disposed to afford help in any way, if we are not disposed to approve of the object, and to countenance those who undertake to accomplish it. Much of sarcasm and sneer, is spoken and written, to bring into disrepute and to frustrate those female associations which are formed at this day, with a view of furthering the interest, and building up the kingdom of that Redeemer, who condescended to be born of a woman. But the object of their associations is a noble one; the same that engages and engrosses the attention of the angels; those ministering spirits who are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.
What is the clearing of the earth of its encumbring forests; and the adorning of it with the works of art and ingenuity, compared with the subduing of savage nature, and the building up of a kingdom of righteousness in the human heart, where nothing before had appeared but a luxuriant growth of folly and iniquity? However important it may be, understanding the language in a literal sense, that the crooked should be made straight, and the rough places plain, it is vastly more important, to have this brought about in a spiritual manner; so that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and that all flesh shall see it together!
If it should be thought, that women are out of their sphere in attending to this busines, it would be well for those by whom such an opinion is entertained to recollect, that when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene; and that it was from the women who had visited the sepulchre, that the apostles received the first information of his resurrection. Another particular, worthy of being remembered is this, that upon that memorable day of pentecost, of which we have an account, when some of the spectators foolishly and wickedly spent their breath in mocking, Peter lifted up his voice, and informed them that what they witnessed was not the effect of drunkenness, as they pretended to suppose, but a fulfilment of a prophecy of Joel, which he cited to them. And it shall come to pass in the last days saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters, shall prophecy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants, and on my handmaidens, I will pour out in those days of my spirit, and they shall prophecy.
Though upon the day of pentecost this prophecy began to be fulfiled, much time may be taken up even from the present period, for the full accomplishment of it, since the Spirit is to be poured out upon all flesh. It is easy to gather from this passage, that though women have ordinarily done more than their proportion, they may be expected, in the last days, either with miraculous gifts, or in consequence of some unusual excitement, to come forward, in a manner consistent with the modesty of their sex, as advocates for the cause of Christ,
Instead of employing the tongue to counteract the benevolent operations of women, it is incumbent upon the other sex to speak favorably, of their promptitude and zeal;
and to beseech the God of all grace, to guide them by his counsel, and to crown with success, whatever they undertake for the honor of his name. The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much; and this sentiment, thus generally expressed by the apostle, is as true in this particular case as in any other. Those who have the prayers of their brethren have their help.
But, perhaps the apostle in beseeching him, whom he calls true yoke fellow, to help those women who had labored with him in the gospel, had reference among other things, to some pecuniary aid which their circumstances might require. What particular purpose they had to accomplish, to which their means were inadequate, we are unable to say. It seems that their exertions so far exceeded those of ordinary cases, as to render it suitable for the apostle to give them publicity in his letter.
Though I should not doubt, in general, the ability of women to procure the sum which is agreed upon in their several societies to be requisite; it is no less the duty of their husbands, parents, or other friends, to see to it that they be supplied, without inconvenience, or hardship to themselves.
Should men, in any instance, suppose contributions of this kind like casting bread upon the waters, let them chide their own unbelief and remember, that even in such a case there is encouragement; for in a spiritual, and in a natural sense, they might expect to find it after many days. If we have any thing to spare, we are not afraid to trust a man who can secure to us the discharge of his obligation; and upon this principle we may safely proceed to lay out something in the business of religion, for he that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord.
Without undertaking to devise ways and means, and to dictate the course to be pursued, permit me to suggest, that should there be any females, too poor to become members of a society composed of their sex, who have yet a disposition to unite in this business with their sisters, a small fund, sufficient for this purpose, might be raised, without bringing damage upon any one.
In compliance with a request of my female friends in this place, who are formed into a society, this discourse is delivered, and the sabbath was chosen for the time, because most convenient for myself; and because upon the sabbath the audience is usually larger than at other times.
If a greater latitude of interpretation has been given to the text than might be expected by the generality of readers, it is hoped that it has not been considered as containing any thing which is not sound doctrine; nor wrested from that meaning which may be fairly put upon its phraseology.
What is bestowed in charity derives its importance to those who bestow it, from the object which they aim at; for should they bestow all their goods to feed the poor,
and even display a martyr's zeal in the cause which they espouse; and still be destitute of that love to God which is the fulfilling of the law, and the ground work of all real love to mankind, they would be nothing more than whited sepulchres.
I hope that we shall all realize the importance of having our hearts right with God; and that those to whom this discourse has some special reference, will be able to say, with the confidence of Nehemiah, The God of heaven he will prosper us.
When Philippi was a part of satan's kingdom, there were a few women who met by the river's side for prayer; and though their disadvantages in attending to this business were of every kind, we have reason to think that the great change afterward effected among the people, may be traced back to their prayers as the means in providence to bring it about. Let the example of Philippi be followed in this place, for here the benefit is much needed. In the words of Ogilvie let me conclude.
Ye fair, by nature formed to move,
Let age take up the tuneful lay,
And ask an angel's lyre.