Project Canterbury

The Country Parson's Wife
Being Intended as a Continuation of and Companion for Herbert's Country Parson

By Louisa Lane Clarke

London: J. Hatchard and Son, 187, Piccadilly;
Sold Also by Henry Redstone, Guernsey, &c., 1842.

Chapter XIII. In Difficulty

We have followed the parson's wife hitherto in the plain and visible tracks of duty, and have walked with her in the way, marking her steady progress onwards, through trials and temptations which every eye might perceive, and every heart respond to. But even as we could not see the thousand upspringing thoughts and inlets of comfort and sustaining grace which enabled her thus to go on; even as we saw not the spring behind the dial plate giving motion to the hand and impulse to the heart, so neither did we pause to note the little stones on the rough road, and examine the difficulties which sometimes made her halt, and wearied her sadly in her journey. Difficulties are either hindrances in duty, clogging the feet and discouraging the soul, or barriers which strenuous effort must surmount, in patience and by lawful means. These difficulties often arise in her own home circle, beginning with her husband. The parson is a man of God, and sincere in his desires after holiness of life, yet subject to infirmities both of mind and temper, which may be very trying to those he lives with.

In married life the causes of unhappiness do not often spring from positive discord and great faults on either side, particularly amongst good people, who yet are not, as God would have his children be, in perfect harmony and peace. The evil is deep, even to the heart's core: and natural depravity breaks forth in a fretful or suspicious temper, or a harsh and stern control, or the supineness and selfishness of an indolent dispositions which, like jarring notes, spoil the sweet con cord of domestic love, and if answered again by other untuned strings, evil indeed is the lot even of christian people. The habitual indulgence of these tempers is not spoken of now, that is wholly incompatible with a state of grace: but it is the occasional outburst which troubles the parson's wife, and the accompanying discouragement which wearies her. In this case as in all others she lays her complaint before God, and earnestly entreats for the gift of a patient spirit. She keeps a close watch not only on her lips but on her looks. Words are not always needed to irritate the angry, arouse the suspicious, or defy authority, and it is not part of any wife's duty to do either of these, but still less may the parson's wife provoke the minister of God to sin. This therefore she remembers, and by meeting the querulous voice with one of sweetness and kindness, the selfishness with self-denial, the sternness and self-will by gentle forbearance and sub mission, many a difficulty is overcome, which else might have, proved a ruffling stone in the stream of life for ever.

It is her duty to conceal her husband's faults most carefully. The deficiencies caused by indolence or incapability she supplies as imperceptibly as possible; and his temper is restrained, as it were, by an unseen hand. As for the fidgets and the fancies which are peculiar to every character, and are often like mosquito-stings upon the heart, she soothes the very least of them in prayer, and meets the greatest with self-control. Why do such pebbles trip the heaven-bound traveller? Perfect concord and sympathy are not flowers of earth. Why do we suffer all others, to fade beneath our feet, because we find not these? and by. a morbid sensitiveness, an extreme quickness to mark what is amiss in those we love, alienate the very affection for which we pine, and which we should value above all things? The parson's wife in this difficulty bears her husband's faults as her own; and instead of dividing them, they knits them together in the bonds of repentant prayer.

Difficulties with her children there are, especially with those who are grown up and may continue to manifest the natural un sanctified heart, and opposition to divine truth, (for God does sometimes thus try the faith of his people, and of all trials this is, this must be, the greatest to a christian mother. The apparent fruitlessness of all her labour, the unanswered prayers of long, long years, the blighting of hopes which had entwined with her life, daily cast before her in the careless walk, the worldly ways, or unruly conduct of some, dear child. This is a fearful trial of faith, and the fainting soul goes heavily under the cloud. But there are actual difficulties in the road, and how does the pastor's wife encounter them? The child dislikes the restraint of religion, is soon weary in ordinances, and looks eagerly towards the bright but forbidden world. There is danger now lest, by overstrained authority, the tie of duty snap asunder, danger lest a too frequent fault-finding, and setting forward of holy things, place a stumblingblock in the very way she desires to lead them in, but danger also lest, by indulgent weakness, by compromise of principle, a rein be loosened which may never be regained.

The parson's wife bears up against all this by the unfailing prop of continual prayer. An evil spirit may possess her child, casting it often into the fires of passion or waters of depravity, and she brings it to Him who never turned pitiless from sorrow, never refused to hear the cry of affliction; "Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," mighty to save, ready to redeem. She looks steadily upward as it were to read God's will, she looks carefully downward and around her at every step lest she lose the narrow track, and is watchful over herself, gentle in reproof, very firm in denial of wrong, long-suffering and forgiving in all offences against herself, but jealous for the honour of her God, and for the dignity of her situation, and therefore intolerant of all sin, the least as the greatest. The parson's house is a holy place, and no wickedness must be. worked therein.

Her particular behaviour must so vary with different characters that she has no particular rules of daily action, except that in her own conduct she showeth the beauty of holiness by uprightness, cheerfulness, a willingness to enter into all her children's innocent pleasures, and, with the unwearying sympathies of a mother, to share every disappointment and sorrow. These are her best weapons in God's service, they bind the hearts of her, children to. her, and the strong, magic of a mother's love will forge a shield against Satan's sharpest arrows, and break the charm of many a spell which a sinful world may breathe on the young unwary soul. It may be that for many years these prayers and tears may seem to be in vain, and almost daily occurrences vex, the anxious spirit; the trial is very great, but she keeps a check over every, murmuring thought, and every impatient word. She knows how her heavenly Father has borne with her own waywardness, and backsliding, and folly; the remembrance keeps her humble and forbearing towards her wilful child. No bitter taunts nor hard reproaches fall from her lips under provocation, no constant discontent darkens her brow, silence testifies her displeasure, and kindly smiles welcome the first sign of penitence. In all this she clings hopefully to the promises of her God: "His arm is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear." His word standeth sure; and the cross which she bears in the very strength of omnipotence, with the patience and meekness which she daily receives from on high, shall it not be a crown of glory on her brow in that day when not one of her jewels shall be found wanting before the Lord?

Poverty is not a hindrance, far from it. It is a valley where the Christian walks most safely, and oftentimes most pleasantly; for it is less gloomy in its depths than it appears when received from afar. But it is a difficulty, and especially when many little ones rise up around the parson and his wife, each perhaps claiming what they can scarce give to all. To some, the evil would be insupportable; to the parson's wife it is a light burden, because her faith rests it upon the arm of God, and'. her steps are not hindered, but: she rather treads more closely in the track of Him who "for our sakes became poor," "not knowing where to lay his head," that in all things he might meet the experience and trials of his people.

The difficulties of poverty are either in discontent or an over-carefulness; the first, how many a christian brow it darkly over shadows: the second, how many a christian heart it beguiles from peace and quietness! The parson's wife, whose hopes are beyond all time, and. whose portion is. a kingdom which faileth not, cares too little about, the great things and good things of a perishing world to "fret" at this "little loss." What is it that her body is fatigued with more labour than she would have had if riches had been given, and that her children are nourished with coarser food; that she cannot enter into society which formerly she enjoyed and deemed herself fitted for, that her wardrobe is scanty, that her pleasures are curtailed? Are these things the disturbers of her inward peace or outward joy? O no! she rather counts the treasures which remain, and in the faith which strengthens her, the, hope which sustains her, the love which comforts her, she turns thankfully towards the blessings on the right hand and on the left. A friend to whom she is the dearest thing on earth, whose life she can cheer, whose path she can brighten with the light of her countenance. Children, like vessels of mercy, filled with continual joy, receiving of her affection, to return it sevenfold. The absence of many temptations which surround the rich, of many perils to their souls which hers is spared by the lowliness of her station, while all blessings of earth, sea, and sky, are freely and perpetually hers. Wanting the adornments of luxury, she is rich in the jewelry of heaven; wanting the titles and honours of the world, she is higher than its highest peers; and in the calm consciousness of that dignity there is no false shame striving to deny her circumstances, no false struggling to keep up appearances. For her daily wants she believes, Jehovah Jireh, "the Lord will provide," and for her daily bread, she knows it will be given. The parson's wife is a happy woman even in poverty, and knows not the plague of a discontented spirit.

Over-carefulness is her greatest snare thriftiness sometimes degenerates into avarice or covetousness; activity not seldom becomes a constant fidgeting and looking out for miseries; forethought is often linked to anticipations and forebodings of evil, until the book of God's providence becomes illegible through the blinding tears of mistrust. The parson's wife rises early, and late takes rest, in providing for the necessities of her family, but she forgets not in so doing, with all the zeal and earnestness of a mother, to sit oftentimes with Mary at the feet of Jesus, and learn that lesson of simple dependence upon God, "Take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

If the way is very dark before her, and trouble seems to close in on every side, earthly means to fail as demands for them increase, she flies to her refuge in Christ Jesus, the God-man, omnipotent to help, with all sympathy to feel, before Him to lay the whole burden of her fears and sorrows, and to Him committing every care, quieting her spirit by prayer, strengthening her soul by promises, arid patiently waiting upon her God as she walks on in duty, watching over and checking that natural selfishness which would fain relieve itself in fretfulness and complaining, and talking to others of sorrows and little annoyances, which only saddens their hearts without benefiting any one, and often destroys much happiness and alienates much affection.

Difficulties meet the parson's wife abroad as well as at home: not the least of these are from her associates and neighbours. In every society there are proud spirits, envious spirits, contentious spirits, which rise up whenever she attempts to do good. Are benevolent institutions to be established? they strive for the mastery. Are religious societies supported by her endeavours? they oppose, and question, and doubt, and secede. In the cottage they visit and stir up insubordination in the hail they afflict by unkindness, arid coldness, and opposition. They are as barriers in her path, on every side, which a return of contention, or pride, or angry bitterness, would rivet there for ever; but which before the patient, prayerful spirit of the parson's wife, who gently bends yet firmly stands, and never answers but with words of peace, open or fall, it may he slowly and imperceptibly, but they do fall at last, and the bar to her progress becomes a lever in her hand to remove mountains of moral difficulties. Possibly a far greater hindrance to the parson's wife is popularity, and the delicate snare of superiority either in intellect or holiness; the deference of some, the adulation of others, the respect and admiration which she wins by her walk and conversation; these are far more trying to her soul than contempt or scorn might be, for in one she has the companionship of the "despised Galilean," and the fellow sufferer who was "forsaken by Demas," withstood by Demetrius," contended with even by his nearest friend. Whilst in the praise of man she stands alone, unless by the grace of God her spirit is kept low, her eye clear in its inward watching against sin, and the constant prayer arises from her heart for the special grace of humility.

Difficulty meets the parson's wife abroad in the bienséances of society. The line of demarcation between undue austerity and the first compromise of principle is so very, very narrow. The fear of unnecessarily offending even the worldly-minded, and the danger of confirming by polite assent any known evil habit or custom, is one of her perplexities. Education refines the mind, but it does not renew the heart; and philosophy walks abroad with its high-toned excellence and specious garb, Scripture on its lips and liberty on its brow, bewildering the unstable and luring the unwary from the simplicity of gospel truth and the strictness of christian practices. To hold fast the thread of life in this web of subtlety is no easy matter. The parson's wife, even if not supported by her husband, still passes quietly on, silent when in doubt, fearless when assured, careful and prayerful in this as in all other cases, not venturing beyond the boundary of woman's sphere to argue with the caviller and provoke contention, but at the same time ever "ready to give to every man that asketh of her a reason of the hope that is in her," but with meekness and fear.

These are a few of the most common difficulties which the parson's wife may meet with. We see how she wrestles with them, and bears with them, and the same spirit carries her on throughout many which are unnoticed. The nettles and briars on the world's highway may cross her path, and the one will sting her, and the others rend the garments of her peace; but with these are ten thousand loveliest flowers, and pleasant herbs, and shadowy trees on the right hand and on the left, to cheer and gladden her. For she can never be without the tribute of grateful love, of deep respect, and kindliness, and friendship, and the daily delights of open-handed charity. Her soul has an ever-springing fount of joy and hope of glory. She lives as it were on the threshold of heaven, and exclaims at all times in gladness of spirit, "Truly the lines are fallen to me in pleasant places." "For a day in thy Courts: is better than a thousand, I had rather be a door keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." "My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my life, and my portion for ever?'

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