A SERIOUS CALL TO A DEVOUT AND HOLY LIFE
by William Law
Showing how the method of educating daughters makes it difficult for them to enter into the spirit of Christian humility. How miserably they are injured and abused by such an education. The spirit of a better education, represented in the character of Eusebia.
THAT turn of mind which is taught and encouraged in the education of daughters, makes it exceeding difficult for them to enter into such a sense and practice of humility, as the spirit of Christianity requireth.
The right education of this sex is of the utmost importance to human life. There is nothing that is more desirable for the common good of all the world. For though women do not carry on the trade and business of the world, yet as they are mothers, and mistresses of families, that have for some time the care of the education of their children of both sorts, they are entrusted with that which is of the greatest consequence to human life. For this reason, good or bad women are likely to do as much good or harm in the world, as good or bad men in the greatest business of life.
For, as the health and strength, or weakness of our bodies, is very much owing to their methods of treating us when we were young; so the soundness or folly of our minds are not less owing to those first tempers and ways of thinking, which we eagerly receive from the love, tenderness, authority, and constant conversation of our mothers.
As we call our first language our mother-tongue, so we may as justly call our first tempers37 our mother-tempers; and perhaps it may be found more easy to forget the language, than to part entirely with those tempers, which we learnt in the nursery.
It is, therefore, much to be lamented, that this sex, on whom so much depends, who have the first forming both of our bodies and our minds, are not only educated in pride, but in the silliest and most contemptible part of it.
They are not indeed suffered to dispute with us the proud prizes of arts and sciences, of learning and eloquence, in which I have much suspicion they would often prove our superiors; but we turn them over to the study of beauty and dress, and the whole world conspires to make them think of nothing else. Fathers and mothers, friends and relations, seem to have no other wish towards the little girl, but that she may have a fair skin, a fine shape, dress well, and dance to admiration.
Now if a fondness for our persons, a desire of beauty, a love of dress, be a part of pride (as surely it is a most contemptible part of it), the first step towards a woman's humility, seems to require a repentance of her education.
For it must be owned that, generally speaking, good parents are never more fond of their daughters, than when they see them too fond of themselves, and dressed in such a manner, as is a great reproach to the gravity and sobriety of the Christian life.
And what makes this matter still more to be lamented is this, that women are not only spoiled by this education, but we spoil that part of the world, which would otherwise furnish most instances of an eminent and exalted piety.
For I believe it may be affirmed, that for the most part there is a finer sense, a clearer mind, a readier apprehension, and gentler dispositions in that sex than in the other.
All which tempers, if they were truly improved by proper studies and sober methods of education, would in all probability carry them to greater heights of piety, than are to be found amongst the generality of men.
For this reason, I speak to this matter with so much openness and plainness, because it is much to be lamented, that persons so naturally qualified to be great examples of piety, should, by an erroneous education, be made poor and gaudy spectacles of the greatest vanity.
The Church has formerly had eminent saints in that sex, and it may reasonably be thought, that it is purely owing to their poor and vain education, that this honour of their sex is for the most part confined to former ages.
The corruption of the world indulges them in great vanity, and mankind seem to consider them in no other view than as so many painted idols, that are to allure and gratify their passions; so that if many women are vain, light, gewgaw creatures, they have this to excuse themselves, that they are not only such as their education has made them, but such as the generality of the world allows them to be.
But then they should consider, that the friends to their vanity are no friends of theirs; they should consider that they are to live for themselves; that they have as great a share in the rational nature as men have; that they have as much reason to pretend to, and as much necessity to aspire after, the highest accomplishments of a Christian and solid virtue, as the gravest and wisest among Christian philosophers.
They should consider that they are abused, and injured, and betrayed from their only perfection, whenever they are taught that anything is an ornament in them, that is not an ornament in the wisest among mankind.
It is generally said, that women are naturally of little and vain minds; but this I look upon to be as false and unreasonable, as to say that butchers are naturally cruel; for, as their cruelty is not owing to their nature, but to their way of life, which has changed their nature; so whatever littleness and vanity is to be observed in the minds of women, it is like the cruelty of butchers, a temper that is wrought into them by that life which they are taught and accustomed to lead.
At least thus much must be said, that we cannot charge anything upon their nature, till we take care that it is not perverted by their education.
And, on the other hand, if it were true that they were thus naturally vain and light, then how much more blameable is that education, which seems contrived to strengthen and increase this folly and weakness of their minds!
For if it were a virtue in a woman to be proud and vain in herself, we could hardly take better means to raise this passion in her, than those that are now used in her education.
Matilda38 is a fine woman, of good breeding, great sense, and much religion. She has three daughters that are educated by herself. She will not trust them with any one else, or at any school, for fear they should learn anything ill. She stays with the dancing-master all the time he is with them, because she will hear everything that is said to them. She has heard them read the Scriptures so often, that they can repeat great part of it without book: and there is scarce a good book of devotion, but you may find it in their closets.
Had Matilda lived in the first ages of Christianity, when it was practised in the fulness and plainness of its doctrines, she had in all probability been one of its greatest saints. But as she was born in corrupt times, where she wants examples of Christian perfection, and hardly ever saw a piety higher than her own; so she has many defects, and communicates them all to her daughters.
Matilda never was meanly dressed in her life; and nothing pleases her in dress, but that which is very rich and beautiful to the eye.
Her daughters see her great zeal for religion, but then they see an equal earnestness for all sorts of finery. They see she is not negligent of her devotion, but then they see her more careful to preserve her complexion, and to prevent those changes which time and age threaten her with.
They are afraid to meet her, if they have missed the church; but then they are more afraid to see her, if they are not laced as strait as they can possibly be.
She often shows them her own picture, which was taken when their father fell in love with her. She tells them how distracted he was with passion at the first sight of her, and that she had never had so fine a complexion, but for the diligence of her good mother, who took exceeding care of it.
Matilda is so intent upon all the arts of improving their dress, that she has some new fancy almost every day, and leaves no ornament untried, from the richest jewel to the poorest flower. She is so nice and critical in her judgment, so sensible of the smallest error, that the maid is often forced to dress and undress her daughters three or four times in a day, before she can be satisfied with it.
As to the patching, she reserves that to herself, for, she says, if they are not stuck on with judgment, they are rather a prejudice than an advantage to the face.
The children see so plainly the temper of their mother, that they even affect to be more pleased with dress, and to be more fond of every little ornament than they really are, merely to gain her favour.
They saw their eldest sister once brought to tears, and her perverseness severely reprimanded for presuming to say, that she thought it was better to cover the neck, than to go so far naked as the modern dress requires.
She stints them in their meals, and is very scrupulous of what they eat and drink, and tells them how many fine shapes she has seen spoiled in her time, for want of such care. If a pimple rises in their faces, she is in a great fright, and they themselves are as afraid to see her with it, as if they had committed some great sin.
Whenever they begin to look too sanguine and healthful, she calls in the assistance of the doctor; and if physic, or issues, will keep the complexion from inclining to coarse or ruddy, she thinks them well employed.
By this means they are poor, pale, sickly, infirm creatures, vapoured through want of spirits, crying at the smallest accidents, swooning away at anything that frights them, and hardly able to bear the weight of their best clothes.
The eldest daughter lived as long as she could under this discipline, and died in the twentieth year of her age.
When her body was opened it appeared that her ribs had grown into her liver, and that her other entrails were much hurt by being crushed together with her stays, which her mother had ordered to be twitched so strait, that it often brought tears into her eyes whilst the maid was dressing her.
Her youngest daughter has run away with a gamester, a man of great beauty, who in dressing and dancing has no superior.
Matilda says, she should die with grief at this accident, but that her conscience tells her, she has contributed nothing to it herself. She appeals to their closets, to their books of devotion, to testify what care she has taken to establish her children in a life of solid piety and devotion.
Now, though I do not intend to say, that no daughters are brought up in a better way than this, for I hope there are many that are; yet thus much I believe may be said, that the much greater part of them are not brought up so well, or accustomed to so much religion, as in the present instance.
Their minds are turned as much to the care of their beauty and dress, and the indulgence of vain desires, as in the present case, without having such rules of devotion to stand against it. So that if solid piety, humility, and a sober sense of themselves, is much wanted in that sex, it is the plain and natural consequence of a vain and corrupt education.
And if they are often too ready to receive the first fops, beaux, and fine dancers, for their husbands, it is no wonder they should like that in men, which they have been taught to admire in themselves.
And if they are often seen to lose that little religion they were taught in their youth, it is no more to be wondered at than to see a little flower choked and killed amongst rank weeds.
For personal pride and affectation, a delight in beauty and fondness of finery, are tempers that must either kill all religion in the soul, or be themselves killed by it; they can no more thrive together than health and sickness.
Some people that judge hastily will perhaps here say, that I am exercising too great a severity against the sex.
But more reasonable persons will easily observe, that I entirely spare the sex, and only arraign their education; that I not only spare them, but plead their interest, assert their honour, set forth their perfections, commend their natural tempers, and only condemn that education which is so injurious to their interests, so debases their honour, and deprives them of the benefit of their excellent natures and tempers.
Their education, I profess, I cannot spare; but the only reason is, because it is their greatest enemy; because it deprives the world of so many blessings, and the Church of so many saints, as might reasonably be expected from persons so formed by their natural tempers to all goodness and tenderness, and so fitted by the clearness and brightness of their minds to contemplate, love, and admire everything that is holy, virtuous, and Divine.
If it should here be said, that I even charge too high upon their education, and that they are not so much hurt by it as I imagine:
It may be answered, that though I do not pretend to state the exact degree of mischief that is done by it, yet its plain and natural tendency to do harm is sufficient to justify the most absolute condemnation of it.
But if any one would know how generally women are hurt by this education; if he imagines there may be no personal pride or vain fondness of themselves, in those that are patched and dressed out with so much glitter of art and ornament; let him only make the following experiment wherever he pleases.
Let him only acquaint any such woman with his opinion of her: I do not mean that he should tell her to her face, or do it in any rude public manner; but let him contrive the most civil, secret, friendly way that he can think of, only to let her know his opinion, that he thinks she is neither handsome, nor dresses well, nor becomes her finery; and I daresay he will find there are but very few finely dressed women that will like him never the worse for his bare opinion, though known to none but themselves; and that he will not be long without seeing the effects of their resentment.
But if such an experiment would show him that there are but few such women that could bear with his friendship, after they knew he had such an opinion of them, surely it is time to complain of, and accuse that education, which so generally corrupts their hearts.
For, though it is hard to judge of the hearts of people, yet where they declare their resentment and uneasiness at anything, there they pass the judgment upon themselves. If a woman cannot forgive a man who thinks she has no beauty, nor any ornament from her dress, there she infallibly discovers the state of her own heart, and is condemned by her own, and not another's judgment.
For we never are angry at others, but when their opinions of us are contrary to that which we have of ourselves.
A man that makes no pretences to scholarship, is never angry at those that do not take him to be a scholar: so if a woman had no opinion of her own person and dress, she should never be angry at those who are of the same opinion with herself.
So that the general bad effects of this education are too much known to admit of any reasonable doubt.
But how possible it is to bring up daughters in the more excellent way, let the following character declare.
Eusebia is a pious widow, well born, and well bred, and has a good estate for five daughters, whom she brings up as one entrusted by God to fit five virgins for the kingdom of Heaven. Her family has the same regulation as a religious house, and all its orders tend to the support of a constant regular devotion.
She, her daughters, and her maids, meet together at all the hours of prayer in the day, and chant psalms and other devotions, and spend the rest of their time in such good works and innocent diversions as render them fit to return to their psalms and prayers.
She loves them as her spiritual children, and they reverence her as their spiritual mother, with an affection far above that of the fondest friends.
She has divided part of her estate amongst them, that every one may be charitable out of her own stock, and each of them takes it in her turn to provide for the poor and sick of the parish.
Eusebia brings them up to all kinds of labour that are proper for women, as sewing, knitting, spinning, and all other parts of housewifery; not for their amusement, but that they may be serviceable to themselves and others, and be saved from those temptations which attend an idle life.
She tells them, she had rather see them reduced to the necessity of maintaining themselves by their own work, than to have riches to excuse themselves from labour. For though, says she, you may be able to assist the poor without your labour, yet by your labour you will be able to assist them more.
If Eusebia has lived as free from sin as it is possible for human nature, it is because she is always watching and guarding against all instances of pride. And if her virtues are stronger and higher than other people's, it is because they are all founded in a deep humility.
My children, says she, when your father died I was much pitied by my friends as having all the care of a family, and the management of an estate fallen upon me.
But my own grief was founded upon another principle; I was grieved to see myself deprived of so faithful a friend, and that such an eminent example of Christian virtues should be taken from the eyes of his children, before they were of an age to love and follow it.
But as to worldly cares, which my friends thought so heavy upon me, they are most of them of our own making, and fall away as soon as we know ourselves.
If a person in a dream is disturbed with strange appearances, his trouble is over as soon as he is awake, and sees that it was the folly of a dream.
Now, when a right knowledge of ourselves enters into our minds, it makes as great change in all our thoughts and apprehensions, as when we awake from the wanderings of a dream.
We acknowledge a man to be mad or melancholy who fancies himself to be a glass, and so is afraid of stirring; or, taking himself to be wax, dare not let the sun shine upon him.
But, my children, there are things in the world which pass for wisdom, politeness, grandeur, happiness, and fine breeding, which show as great ignorance of ourselves, and might as justly pass for thorough madness, as when a man fancies himself to be glass or ice.
A woman that dares not appear in the world without fine clothes, that thinks it a happiness to have a face finely coloured, to have a skin delicately fair, that had rather die than be reduced to poverty and be forced to work for a poor maintenance, is as ignorant of herself, to the full, as he that fancies himself to be glass.
For this reason, all my discourse with you, has been to acquaint you with yourselves, and to accustom you to such books and devotions, as may best instruct you in this greatest of all knowledge.
You would think it hard not to know the family into which you were born, what ancestors you were descended from, and what estate was to come to you. But, my children, you may know all this with exactness, and yet be as ignorant of yourselves, as he that takes himself to be wax.
For though you were all of you born of my body, and bear your father's name, yet you are all of you pure spirits. I do not mean that you have not bodies that want meat and drink, and sleep and clothing, but that all that deserves to be called you, is nothing else but spirit; a being spiritual and rational in its nature, that is as contrary to all fleshly or corporeal beings as life is contrary to death; that is made in the image of God, to live forever, never to cease any more, but to enjoy life, and reason, and knowledge, and happiness in the presence of God, and the society of Angels, and glorious spirits to all eternity.
Everything that you call yours, besides this spirit, is but like your clothing; something that is only to be used for a while, and then to end, and die, and wear away, and to signify no more to you, than the clothing and bodies of other people.
But, my children, you are not only in this manner spirits, but you are fallen spirits, that began your life in a state of corruption and disorder, full of tempers and passions that blind and darken the reason of your mind, and incline you to that which is hurtful.
Your bodies are not only poor and perishing like your clothes, but they are like infected clothes, that fill you with ill diseases and distempers, which oppress the soul with sickly appetites, and vain cravings.
So that all of us are like two beings, that have, as it were, two hearts within us; with the one we see, and taste, and admire reason, purity, and holiness: with the other we incline to pride, and vanity, and sensual delights.
This internal war we always feel within us more or less: and if you would know the one thing necessary to all the world, it is this; to preserve and perfect all that is rational, holy, and Divine in our nature, and to mortify, remove, and destroy all that vanity, pride, and sensuality, which springs from the corruption of our state.
Could you think, my children, when you look at the world, and see what customs, and fashions, and pleasures, and troubles, and projects, and tempers, employ the hearts and time of mankind, that things were thus, as I have told you?
But do not you be affected at these things; the world is in a great dream, and but few people are awake in it.
We fancy that we fall into darkness when we die; but, alas, we are most of us in the dark till then; and the eyes of our souls only then begin to see, when our bodily eyes are closing.
You see then your state, my children; you are to honour, improve, and perfect the spirit that is within you; you are to prepare it for the kingdom of Heaven, to nourish it with the love of God and of virtue, to adorn it with good works, and to make it as holy and heavenly as you can. You are to preserve it from the errors and vanities of the world; to save it from the corruptions of the body, from those false delights and sensual tempers which the body tempts it with.
You are to nourish your spirits with pious readings and holy meditations, with watchings, fastings, and prayers, that you may taste, and relish, and desire that eternal state, which is to begin when this life ends.
As to your bodies, you are to consider them as poor, perishing things, that are sickly and corrupt at present, and will soon drop into common dust. You are to watch over them as enemies that are always trying to tempt and betray you, and so never follow their advice and counsel; you are to consider them as the place and habitation of your souls, and so keep them pure, and clean, and decent; you are to consider them as the servants and instruments of action, and so give them food, and rest, and raiment, that they may be strong and healthful to do the duties of a charitable, useful, pious life.
Whilst you live thus, you live like yourselves; and whenever you have less regard to your souls, or more regard to your bodies, than this comes to; whenever you are more intent upon adorning your persons, than upon the perfecting of your souls, you are much more beside yourselves than he that had rather have a laced coat than a healthful body.
For this reason, my children, I have taught you nothing that was dangerous for you to learn; I have kept you from everything that might betray you into weakness, and folly; or make you think anything fine, but a fine mind; anything happy, but the favour of God; or anything desirable, but to do all the good you possibly can.
Instead of the vain, immodest entertainment of plays and operas, I have taught you to delight in visiting the sick and poor. What music, and dancing, and diversions are to many in the world, that prayers and devotions, and psalms, are to you. Your hands have not been employed in plaiting the hair, and adorning your persons; but in making clothes for the naked. You have not wasted your fortunes upon yourselves, but have added your labour to them, to do more good to other people.
Instead of forced shapes, patched faces, genteel airs, and affected motions, I have taught you to conceal your bodies with modest garments, and let the world have nothing to view of you, but the plainness, the sincerity, and humility of all your behaviour.
You know, my children, the high perfection and the great rewards of virginity; you know how it frees from worldly cares and troubles, and furnishes means and opportunities of higher advancements in a Divine life; therefore, love, and esteem, and honour virginity: bless God for all that glorious company of holy virgins, that from the beginning of Christianity have, in the several ages of the Church, renounced the cares and pleasures of matrimony, to be perpetual examples of solitude, contemplation, and prayer.
But as every one has his proper gift from God, as I look upon you all to be so many great blessings of a married state; so I leave it to your choice, either to do as I have done, or to aspire after higher degrees of perfection in a virgin state of life.
I desire nothing, I press nothing upon you, but to make the most of human life, and to aspire after perfection; whatever state of life you choose.
Never, therefore, consider yourselves as persons that are to be seen, admired, and courted by men; but as poor sinners, that are to save yourselves from the vanities and follies of a miserable world, by humility, devotion, and self-denial. Learn to live for your own sakes and the service of God; and let nothing in the world be of any value with you, but that which you can turn into a service to God, and a means of your future happiness.
Consider often how powerfully you are called to a virtuous life, and what great and glorious things God has done for you, to make you in love with everything that can promote His glory.
Think upon the vanity and shortness of human life, and let death and eternity be often in your minds; for these thoughts will strengthen and exalt your minds, make you wise and judicious, and truly sensible of the littleness of all human things.
Think of the happiness of Prophets and Apostles, saints and martyrs, who are now rejoicing in the presence of God, and see themselves possessors of eternal glory. And then think how desirable a thing it is to watch, and pray, and do good, as they did, that when you die you may have your lot amongst them.
Whether married, therefore, or unmarried, consider yourselves as mothers and sisters, as friends and relations, to all that want your assistance; and never allow yourselves to be idle, whilst others are in want of anything that your hands can make for them.
This useful, charitable, humble employment of yourselves, is what I recommend to you with great earnestness, as being a substantial part of a wise and pious life. And besides the good you will thereby do to other people, every virtue of your own heart will be very much improved by it.
For next to reading, meditation, and prayer, there is nothing that so secures our hearts from foolish passions, nothing that preserves so holy and wise a frame of mind, as some useful, humble employment of ourselves.
Never, therefore, consider your labour as an amusement that is to get rid of your time, and so may be as trifling as you please; but consider it as something that is to be serviceable to yourselves and others, that is to serve some sober ends of life, to save and redeem your time, and make it turn to your account when the works of all people shall be tried by fire.
When you were little, I left you to little amusements, to please yourselves in any things that were free from harm; but as you are now grown up to a knowledge of God and yourselves; as your minds are now acquainted with the worth and value of virtue, and exalted with the great doctrines of religion, you are now to do nothing as children, but despise everything that is poor, or vain, or impertinent; you are now to make the labours of your hands suitable to the piety of your hearts, and employ themselves for the same ends, and with the same spirit, as you watch and pray.
For if there is any good to be done by your labour, if you can possibly employ yourselves usefully to other people; how silly is it, how contrary to the wisdom of religion, to make that a mere amusement, which might as easily be made an exercise of the greatest charity!
What would you think of the wisdom of him that should employ his time in distilling of waters, and making liquors which nobody could use, merely to amuse himself with the variety of their colour and clearness, when with less labour and expense he might satisfy the wants of those who have nothing to drink?
Yet he would be as wisely employed as those that are amusing themselves with such tedious works as they neither need, nor hardly know how to use when they are finished; when with less labour and expense they might be doing as much good as he that is clothing the naked, or visiting the sick.
Be glad therefore to know the wants of the poorest people, and let your hands be employed in making such mean and ordinary things for them, as their necessities require. By thus making your labour a gift and service to the poor, your ordinary work will be changed into a holy service, and made as acceptable to God as your devotions.
And as charity is the greatest of all virtues, as it always was the chief temper of the greatest saints; so nothing can make your own charity more amiable in the sight of God, than this method of adding your labour to it.
The humility also of this employment will be as beneficial to you as the charity of it. It will keep you from all vain and proud thoughts of your own state and distinction in life, and from treating the poor as creatures of a different species. By accustoming yourselves to this labour and service for the poor, as the representatives of Jesus Christ, you will soon find your heart softened into the greatest meekness and lowliness towards them. You will reverence their state and condition, think it an honour to serve them, and never be so pleased with yourself as when you are most humbly employed in their service.
This will make you true disciples of your meek Lord and Master, who came into the world not to be ministered unto, but to minister; and though He was Lord of all, and amongst the creatures of His own making, yet was amongst them as one that serveth.
Christianity has then had its most glorious effects upon your hearts, when it has thus changed your spirit, removed all the pride of life from you, and made you delight in humbling yourselves beneath the lowest of all your fellow-creatures.
Live, therefore, my children, as you have begun your lives, in humble labour for the good of others; and let ceremonious visits and vain acquaintances have as little of your time as you possibly can. Contract no foolish friendships, or vain fondnesses for particular persons; but love them most that most turn your love towards God, and your compassion towards all the world.
But, above all, avoid the conversation of fine-bred fops and beaux, and hate nothing more than the idle discourse, the flattery and compliments of that sort of men; for they are the shame of their own sex, and ought to be the abhorrence of ours.
When you go abroad, let humility, modesty, and a decent carriage, be all the state that you take upon you; and let tenderness, compassion, and good nature, be all the fine breeding that you show in any place.
If evil-speaking, scandal, or back-biting, be the conversation where you happen to be, keep your heart and your tongue to yourself: be as much grieved as if you were amongst cursing and swearing, and retire as soon as you can.
Though you intend to marry, yet let the time never come, till you find a man that has those perfections which you have been labouring after yourselves; who is likely to be a friend to all your virtues, and with whom it is better to live, than to want the benefit of his example.
Love poverty, and reverence poor people; as for many reasons, so particularly for this, because our Blessed Saviour was one of the number, and because you may make them all so many friends and advocates with God for you.
Visit and converse with them frequently; you will often find simplicity, innocence, patience, fortitude, and great piety amongst them; and where they are not so, your good example may amend them.
Rejoice at every opportunity of doing an humble action, and exercising the meekness of your minds, whether it be, as the Scripture expresses it, in washing the saints' feet, that is, in waiting upon, and serving those that are below you; or in bearing with the haughtiness and ill-manners of those that are your equals, or above you. For there is nothing better than humility; it is the fruitful soil of all virtues; and everything that is kind and good naturally grows from it.
Therefore, my children, pray for, and practise humility, and reject everything in dress, or carriage, or conversation, that has any appearance of pride.
Strive to do everything that is praiseworthy, but do nothing in order to be praised; nor think of any reward for all your labours of love and virtues, till Christ cometh with all His Holy Angels.
And above all, my children, have a care of vain and proud thoughts of your own virtues. For as soon as ever people live different from the common way of the world, and despise its vanities, the devil represents to their minds the height of their own perfections; and is content they should excel in good works, provided that he can but make them proud of them.
Therefore watch over your virtues with a jealous eye, and reject every vain thought, as you would reject the most wicked imagination; and think what a loss it would be to you to have the fruit of all your good works devoured by the vanity of your own minds.
Never, therefore, allow yourselves to despise those who do not follow your rules of life: but force your hearts to love them, and pray to God for them; and let humility be always whispering it into your ears, that you yourselves would fall from those rules to-morrow, if God should leave you to your own strength and wisdom.
When, therefore, you have spent days and weeks well, do not suffer your hearts to contemplate anything as your own, but give all the glory to the goodness of God, who has carried you through such rules of holy living, as you were not able to observe by your own strength; and take care to begin the next day, not as proficients in virtue, that can do great matters, but as poor beginners, that want the daily assistance of God to save you from the grossest sins.
Your dear father was an humble, watchful, pious, wise man. Whilst his sickness would suffer him to talk with me, his discourse was chiefly about your education. He knew the benefits of humility, he saw the ruins which pride made in our sex; and therefore he conjured me, with the tenderest expressions, to renounce the fashionable ways of educating daughters in pride and softness, in the care of their beauty, and dress; and to bring you all up in the plainest, simplest instances of an humble, holy, and industrious life.
He taught me an admirable rule of humility, which he practised all the days of his life, which was this: to let no morning pass without thinking upon some frailty and infirmity of our own, that may put us to confusion, make us blush inwardly, and entertain a mean opinion of ourselves.
Think, therefore, my children, that the soul of your good father, who is now with God, speaks to you through my mouth; and let the double desire of your father, who is gone, and of me, who am with you, prevail upon you to love God, to study your own perfection, to practise humility, and with innocent labour and charity to do all the good that you can to all your fellow-creatures, till God calls you to another life.
Thus did the pious widow educate her daughters.
The spirit of this education speaks so plainly for itself, that I hope I need say nothing in its justification. If we could see it in life, as well as read of it in books, the world would soon find the happy effects of it.
A daughter thus educated, would be a blessing to any family that she came into; a fit companion for a wise man, and make him happy in the government of his family, and the education of his children.
And she that either was not inclined, or could not dispose of herself well in marriage, would know how to live to great and excellent ends in a state of virginity.
A very ordinary knowledge of the spirit of Christianity seems to be enough to convince us, that no education can be of true advantage to young women, but that which trains them up in humble industry, in great plainness of life, in exact modesty of dress, manners, and carriage, and in strict devotion. For what should a Christian woman be, but a plain, unaffected, modest, humble creature, averse to everything in her dress and carriage that can draw the eyes of beholders, or gratify the passions of lewd and amorous persons?
How great a stranger must he be to the Gospel who does not know, that it requires this to be the spirit of a pious woman!
Our blessed Saviour saith, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart." [Matt. v. 28]
Need an education, which turns women's minds to the arts and ornaments of dress and beauty, be more strongly condemned, than by these words? For surely, if the eye is so easily and dangerously betrayed, every art and ornament is sufficiently condemned, that naturally tends to betray it.
And how can a woman of piety more justly abhor and avoid anything, than that which makes her person more a snare and temptation to other people? If lust and wanton eyes are the death of the soul, can any women think themselves innocent, who with naked breasts, patched faces, and every ornament of dress, invite the eye to offend?
And as there is no pretence for innocence in such a behaviour, so neither can they tell how to set any bounds to their guilt. For as they can never know how much or how often they have occasioned sin in other people, so they can never know how much guilt will be placed to their own account.
This, one would think, should sufficiently deter every pious woman from everything that might render her the occasion of loose passions in other people.
St. Paul, speaking of a thing entirely innocent, reasons after this manner: "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to those that are weak . . . And through thy knowledge thy weak brother perish, for whom Christ died. But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." [1 Cor. viii. 11-13]
Now if this is the spirit of Christianity; if it requires us to abstain from things thus lawful, innocent, and useful, when there is any danger of betraying our weak brethren into any error thereby: surely it cannot be reckoned too nice or needless a point of conscience for women to avoid such things as are neither innocent nor useful, but naturally tend to corrupt their own hearts, and raise ill passions in other people.
Surely every woman of Christian piety ought to say, in the spirit of the Apostle, If patching and paint, or any vain adorning of my person, be a natural means of making weak, unwary eyes to offend, I will renounce all these arts as long as I live, lest I should make my fellow-creatures to offend.
I shall now leave this subject of humility, having said enough, as I hope, to recommend the necessity of making it the constant, chief subject of your devotion, at this hour of prayer.
I have considered the nature and necessity of humility, and its great importance to a religious life. I have shown you how many difficulties are formed against it from our natural tempers, the spirit of the world, and the common education of both sexes.
These considerations will, I hope, instruct you how to form your prayers for it to the best advantage, and teach you the necessity of letting no day pass, without a serious, earnest application to God, for the whole spirit of humility: fervently beseeching Him to fill every part of your soul with it, to make it the ruling, constant habit of your mind, that you may not only feel it, but feel all your other tempers arising from it; that you may have no thoughts, no desires, no designs, but such as are the true fruits of a humble, meek, and lowly heart.
That you may always appear poor, and little, and mean in your own eyes, and fully content that others should have the same opinion of you.
That the whole course of your life, your expense, your house, your dress, your manner of eating, drinking, conversing, and doing everything, may be so many continual proofs of the true, unfeigned humility of your heart.
That you may look for nothing, claim nothing, resent nothing; that you may go through all the actions and accidents of life, calmly and quietly, as in the presence of God, looking wholly unto Him, acting wholly for Him: neither seeking vain applause, nor resenting neglect or affronts, but doing and receiving everything in the meek and lowly spirit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Anglican Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.