HANDMAIDENS OF THE LORD.
Preached in Christ Church, Poughkeepsie
THURSDAY EVENING, JUNE 10, 1870,
ON THE OCCASION OF
THE ANNUAL COMMENCEMENT
COTTAGE HILL SEMINARY
POUGHKEEPSIE, N. Y.
REV. BENJAMIN H. PADDOCK, D. D.,
Rector of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
Text Courtesy of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut
ST. LUKE: I. 38. (part)—“BEHOLD THE HANDMAID OF THE LORD:”
It has been written by the inspired Proverbist, of such as your preacher is to most or all of you, that a stranger may not intermeddle with the heart’s joy. And yet I am permitted tonight, to have the pleasure and the honor of entering into your solemnities and your joys; and in the case of some of you, of identifying myself in some sort with one of the most privileged and momentous hours of your privileged academic lives. I accept the Providential ordering with gratitude; and if you will, my dear young friends of this honored Seminary, we will be strangers no longer. A common object this evening shall give us all a common heart.
I hope I am in no error in my impression, to-night, that I am about to address a company who are deeply conscious, each and every one, that their lives here have been, or are still, lives of rich and blessed privilege. I think I am in no error. They who, this evening, bid farewell to academic life must, I am [3/4] sure, realize that they are about to exchange the happy years of privilege and preparation for the untried years of duty; the favored opportunities of study, discipline and culture for the cares, anxieties and responsibilities of social and home life; in short, sweet, merry girlhood for restrained and half dignified young womanhood. And now, not only to the few who see directly before them, but to the many who see gradually approaching, the sun-setting of their prolonged day of peace and privilege among the hills and dales of this charmed region, I believe the landscape of their academic past becomes sweeter and sweeter, every plain less monotonous and every hill less rugged, every light more golden and every shadow more deep; while, for future promise, glories so abundant are streaming upwards and onwards athwart their sky, that the heaven itself, to those who have reached this culminating hour, must seem almost vocal with harmonies, and written over with holy prophecies. And this soft light I suppose to be the true light; that in which these hills and dales of Christian and educational privilege may fairly claim to be seen. For this scene of your quiet labors is a favored [4/5] one. It cannot be forgotten in an honest estimate of privilege, that in the decade of years now past in the history of this Institution, not one of all the pupils gathered here,—and they have come from every corner of the land, from the forests of Minnesota and the orange groves of Florida, from the rock-bound shores of the Atlantic and the vine-clad coasts of the pacific,—not one has been plucked by death from under the loving care and hospitable roof of this Institution. It will not be overlooked that at this very hour more than half of these favored pupils are avowed followers of the dear Lord, participators in the Sacrament, of the love that was stronger than death. As for educational advantages, I presume it were not easy to over-estimate the fulness, the variety and the symmetry of the intellectual and aesthetic apparatus here in use: while in respect of religious privileges, the friend of more than a score of years hardly needs statistics to persuade himself that the moral and religious culture of the young are more than safe in his hands and heart out of whose noble and consecrated labors for Christ and His Church all this distinguished and most useful Institution has [5/6] grown. So that, in addressing this youthful congregation here before me—and I do not purpose to see any other audience to-night—I shall believe that I am addressing hearers who fully realize that they are among those whom God's Providence has crowned with signal privileges and blessings.
It is this conviction that emboldens me to borrow for my text certain very full and momentous words once uttered to God, through His holy Angel, by a privileged maiden, very like, I hope, some of these, but confessedly the most highly favored and blessed among women. I am not afraid to reverently use the words as descriptive of the only rightful and, I had almost said the instinctive attitude as toward God and His Christ, of all highly favored Christian maidenhood. The conscious and glad dependence on God, the sweet self-surrender, the complete consecration of soul and body to His service are as certainly the natural and rightful homage of a young and gentle heart that danceth for joy amid its blessings; as, on the other hand, coarse independence, mean self-will, and soulless worldliness in such a heart would be unnatural, monstrous and destructive. May I not go farther, [6/7] my dear hearers, than to state the normal and rightful attitude of such privileged hearts as yours? May I not presume that the holy Mary's words are the very words of your mouths and the meditations of your hearts,—are the daily words of your lives already consecrated to God—"Behold the handmaids of the Lord?"
I propose to improve the opportunity which the courtesy of your Rector has afforded me, by saying a few plain and homely, but I hope truthful, words in your hearing, concerning handmaidens of the Lord. But before I enter into particulars, it may be necessary to say that this holy estate and ministry are not to be described as a precise following of the blessed Virgin in respect to all intellectual, moral and spiritual gifts and achievements. The life of the most privileged and holiest Jewish maiden in the year before the Christian era, would not afford all the elements that were needed to make the much blessed and privileged maiden of this age, on which the ends of the world are come, a very handmaid of the Lord. There can be no overlooking in the true service of God, the ever varying dispensations both of Providence [7/8] and of Grace: and the style of life which may have been full and symmetrical as well as beautiful in the ages gone by, may lack both fulness and symmetry in the days in which the lines of service are greatly multiplied and the qualities considerably varied. The handmaid of the Lord in any age is she, and only she, who offers the very best which God has given her, and all of it, to His service and glory. And hence I presume I shall not err if I say to those who represent here to-night the benefits and blessedness of female education on Christian principles, that, for such as they at least, there can be no legitimate claim on the holy office of handmaidens of the Lord, unless there be a steady and harmonious development and exercise of their whole endowment and privilege; in other words of their intellectual, moral and religious character. To this three-fold and complete development let us now look, so far as our time may allow its discussion.
The day is far behind us when it was generally concluded from the indisputable difference between the mental constitution of the sexes, that woman had neither capacity for nor need of the higher sorts of mental discipline [8/9] and acquisition. Such schools as this are the Church’s and the world’s standing protest against the old heresy. But the day is not past—nay, is, I hope, far beyond us, when it shall be generally denied that the true power of woman lies rather in the affections than in the intellect. We expect you to give us this as a conceded fact. The general law is not affected by the observed fact that some men are better lovers than some women, and some women better thinkers than some men. God has doubtless given woman in general the more sunny and fruitful zone of the affections as her domain; while man in general has his kingdom in the more frigid region of the intellect. And yet, perhaps, in woman's quick instinct there is a practical equivalent for man's more stalwart, but more sluggish reason; and her delicacy of intellectual apparatus may be a full compensation for her lack of his coarser, but more powerful machinery.
But at any rate, you, my dear hearers, and your preacher will agree that your duty is not to be discharged without persistent and honest intellectual culture. Handmaidens of the Lord are not to serve Him by squandering the mental substance gotten in those [9/10] Halls which should be, for the time, their Heavenly Father's House, in either idle or riotous living. Your acceptance of the Providential ordering that has placed and kept you here has committed you for life, and you cannot hereafter be unintelligent without both sin and shame. You are bound by this your intellectual baptism to lead your lives according to this beginning. You are to grow in thought and wisdom as you grow in age. To do this you must read, mark, learn, and above all inwardly digest. If there be any women in the world intended of God to be merely pretty triflers, mischievous idlers, useless playthings, boudoir ornaments, they are not such as you. Your past is God's intimation of His wishes for your future. Read, therefore, all the days of your life. Read wisely. Know precisely the reason why you choose the one volume only out of the hundred about you, and let the reason be satisfactory to your judgment and conscience. Do not work without method or design, without reference to what you do know and what you do not; and do not touch a worthless volume because that mischievous and irresponsible authority—"everybody"—is reading it. Have [10/11] regard in your books to the wants of your intellect, your imagination, and your heart; and find in your varied volumes exercise for your thoughts, play for your fancy, and nutriment for your affections. But remember, I entreat you, that in this crowded world of literature sin ever lieth at the door: and the essay, the story, or the song that brings the blush to the maiden's cheek and the quickening to her pulse, is poison to the pure in heart, and be-clouds that calm and clear seeing of God which ought to be the inmost life and blessedness of a handmaiden of the Lord.
I am almost humbled in having been beguiled into any mention of so important a matter as intellectual culture (which nevertheless I dare not leave out), while I could not take time to do the subject anything like justice. I must now hasten to say a few words of that second requisite to the character and office of the holy handmaiden, namely, moral culture. But here too I cannot discuss the catalogue of things honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report, in which every handmaid of the Lord will see attractive virtue and divine praise, and on which she should [11/12] think often. I shall speak only of two or three great, broad, fundamental graces which I have sometimes thought were going a little out of fashion in some quarters now-a-days. Modesty, that natural defence and adornment of your sex; that angelic and only requisite covering till sin crawled into heavenly Eden and made it hellish; that angel guard of pure maidenhood, which, with unseen potency, repels evil spirits and baffles devilish men: modesty, that untaught sweetness, that undescribed charm, that heavenly radiance, so marvellously winning and lovely; that atmosphere about the life-pictures of young womanhood more soft and sweet than Claude's pencil ever shed upon glorified canvas; that aureola about the life-thoughts of a holy virgin more heavenly than Fra Angelico ever threw around the brow of the first of all the Lord's chosen handmaidens: modesty, who can tell its worth, who depict its beauty, who estimate aright its loss? Blessed are such pure in heart, for they shall see God.—Humility, the soul of courtesy and of charity, the crown of all graces, the casket of the choicest hidden treasures, the warrant of God's favor; ah! blessed are the poor in spirit [12/13] for their's is the kingdom of heaven.— Contentment with one's Providential lot, admitting no thought of chafing, jealousy, wounded pride, wicked and often ridiculous and vain ambitions,—this is a moral trait eminently befitting a hand maiden of the Lord. And finally Affection,—what is this but your distinguishing grace, your especial endowment, "the hiding of your power?" Let it then ever be written of your many graces, "the greatest of these is charity." Love God first and foremost: love His Church, which He loved and for which He gave the great purchase price of His most precious blood: then love all the sacred circle which God hath given you, and all who, having passed the three-fold guard of judgment, conscience and counsel, are admitted into the inner temple of your heart and life—love all with a pure and bountiful affection. Be not afraid to unseal the whole fountain of your heart where the object is certainly a lawful and a worthy one. On the one hand take no risks, and on the other use no niggard economy in affection. And especially do I entreat you, let no trials, vexations, slights, acts of injustice, neglects, disappointments, make you cold, [13/14] heartless, misanthropic. The world is cursed with men enough of this sort already: do not let your more generous nature increase humanity's burden. And remember that an unloving woman is no part of God’s creation, is a thing abnormal, is a monster.
1 said a few moments ago that some of these moral graces seemed to be going into disuse in some quarters. It is a dreadful eclipse if it be so. The contrast to the picture I have just drawn is instructive; and unhappily, I myself have seen it. You will see it, and, I pray God, deplore it, as your observation widens. Yes, I have seen one whose age was that of maidenhood, who understood so little of the true dignity and power of her sex as to be like a very "man of the world" in eye, and face, and mien: who knew but little, but talked as if the whole curriculum of learning was familiar to her: whose bravery, and indelicacy, and contempt of public opinion were so conspicuous in her conduct towards the other sex as to awaken in the hearts of all sensible men and women mingled feelings of humiliation, alarm, and disgust: whose conceit and vanity had sprung into such overshadowing and poisonous growths that there [14/15] was neither soil nor air for sweet humility: whose manner was more like that of Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, than that of Mary the handmaid of the Lord: whose beauty was all external, bought at the shops at the advertised prices, a thing of drapery and gold and gems, at which all the world were invited to stare, unchecked, because there was nothing ''all glorious within'' to be the perpetual delight of the inner circle of friends who alone were worthy: whose affections were but a play thing or a tool, not an anchor of her soul, sure and steadfast, and who therefore loved her natural friends too little, and others neither wisely nor yet well: whose discontent knew no good and wise Providence, but chafed its possessor out of all happiness, and self-respect, and esteem of others by bold and silly schemes and toils to ''go up higher" before she was bidden: whose distrusts, and alienations, and jealousies, and hatreds far outnumbered and out-weighed all the womanly affections which her poor heart ever cherished. Oh the beggary! oh the wreck! oh the ruin! Let your prayer and purpose ever be, dear young friends, ''Behold the handmaid of the Lord;" [15/16] and then your life shall be according to His word.
I proposed for your consideration but one other element in the character of the handmaiden of the Lord; and that of course was the religious element. I am relieved from argument here; for not one of you, dear friends of the elder and more mature class nay, not one of these your juniors—would claim any part in this office and ministry of the Lord's handmaidens, without having the religion of that dear Lord in the heart. And that religion you must have by the very requirements of your nature. Woman is a religious being. A man away from God is far enough astray; a woman, godless, is a violence to reason and nature. There is so much in your dependent natures that calls for something to lean upon, to cling to, to rise by; even as the choice vine looks towards, embraces, and climbs up by the sturdy elm, and then rejoices night and day in its more than repayment of the debt by adorning all the tree's uncouth strength with exquisite drapery, and showering over its odorless boughs the sweet perfumes of its flowers, and arraying upon its barren branches the delicious [16/17] clusters of its fruit. And the only ultimate, universal stay and strength is God. All subordinate helps and supports for your dependent nature, even the most precious and blessed of all, are but types of the strong Christ and the gentle, clinging love of His spouse the Church.
And, besides, how is the handmaiden of the Lord to fulfill her duty in her home if she be not full of the light and life of her dear Lord. It is woman's work to make all the place redolent with the perfume of her sweet virtues, to light up all the household nooks with the sunlight of her smile, to fill all the house with the music of her gentle, thoughtful, patient, unselfish, loving and cheering utterances. She cannot do it without the indwelling Christ. How, again, is she to do the holy handmaiden's part as towards society, if she be not full of the spirit of Christ? How be a rebuke to the follies, the extravagances, the tyrannies, the immoralities of fashionable life? and how make, among such surroundings, virtue beautiful, modesty attractive, self-restraint commendable, temperance praise-worthy, prudence honorable, and moderation respectable? How is she to meet life's trials, [17/18] how blunt the point of the sword that may pierce through her own soul also, without the dear Lord's abiding presence and power? It is not my business to tell you that a true woman's life is too quiet, too lonely, too full of suffering to be lived away from Christ the Consoler. I know not how to frame my speech to tell these dear hand maidens of the Lord how much woman needs the richest and fullest helps and comforts of religion. Catch the hint from him who has said of you,
“Great feelings hath she of her own,
Which lesser souls may never know,
God giveth them to her alone.”
and do not undertake the pilgrimage of life without the felt love and the sure support of the Friend of the handmaidens Mary and Martha. I am no prophet, and I cast no horoscope of your future, least of all a sad one; but I dare not suppose your life is to be all sunshine. I suppose that the many of your sex here to-night to whom I have not preached, would assure me that probably that poet is the true prophet, who said
“Woman’s lot is on you: silent tears to weep,
And patient smiles to wear, through sufferings' hour;
And sumless riches, from affections deep,
To pour on broken reeds, a wasted shower
And to make idols, and to find them clay,
And to bewail worship: Therefore pray.
* * * * * * * *
Meekly to bear with wrong, to cheer decay:
And, oh, to love through all things: Therefore pray.”
Yes, my dear hearers, pray and labor. Be Christ's altogether, with all the strength of your nature, all the life and buoyancy of your spirits all the measureless love of your souls. Be it unto you in every respect according to Christ's word. Make His religion a reality to yourselves and then a charm, an attraction, a power to all around you. Understand it well; for it were a shame that a Christian maiden's intelligence should comprehend only history and language, arts and sciences, and not the knowledge of Christ and His Church. And knowing it well, hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints. Be full of love and mercy to the souls and bodies of those in need. Draw sinners to Christ both by word and good example. Instruct the young in the ways of truth and peace, for God has made your sex their natural teachers. Spend and be spent willingly for the welfare of the Church of God. Be angels of mercy to the poor, the sick, the friendless, the erring, the fallen, the seemingly lost. In one word, be altogether the handmaids of the Lord, living, loving, [19/20] laboring for the dear Savior all the days of your life. And may He fulfil all the rich Pentecostal prophecies upon you, pouring out His Holy Spirit upon His handmaidens, now; and hereafter, at his second coming and His Kingdom, may He set you at His right hand in everlasting beauty and glory, and call you His own forever and forever.