Chapter IV. Sisterhood Life.
IN order to take a right view of our subject, we need, first of all, to realise that the Life of GOD takes many forms in the soul of man. "GOD fulfils Himself in many ways," according to the needs of the Church and of the world, and according to the capacities of those whom He has chosen. We must try to appreciate the manifold, wealth and magnificence of the Life of the HOLY SPIRIT, as developed and manifested in the Church Catholic, which is the Body of CHRIST.
No single Saint or Society or Institution, in this age, or in any other, comes to the end, so to speak, of the Divine resources. There is no need to go back to any past age, as if any one special type of holiness, to be seen there, must be followed exclusively. No doubt we shall see the same life-giving principle at work in the production of the saintly life, all along the centuries. But there is infinite [48/49] variety in the expression of this life. "All these worketh that one and the selfsame SPIRIT, dividing to every man severally as He will." [I Cor. Xii. 6, 11]
The HOLY SPIRIT has a variety of ways by which He pours into the Church, the Body of CHRIST, spiritual wealth and power, thus imparting to her members the Life of her ascended LORD and King. One principle may be manifested in one part of the world, and another shown forth elsewhere; each separate Diocese and Province of His Church may have something to contribute to the great harmony of praise and thanksgiving that ascends to the Throne of GOD.
So also with divers ministries of service. No one need take the exact view that I myself take. But it is only by each individual--as well as each Parish or Diocese in the whole Church--contributing something to the general fund of experience, that the entire Body is enabled to grow up into "the measure of the stature of the fulness of CHRIST." It is thus that, although working on somewhat different lines, we shall all be really working together, in one Society, for the great Head of the Church.
Now, in my own special Diocese, we are working [49/50] out, pre-eminently, the problem of the corporate life of the Church, the "Collegiate" idea; the expression of the manifold life of the Church, in its social aspect. This principle of associated work, as you will see, is in fact the root and foundation of Sister hood and Community Life.
Our characteristic idea, our special aim is this to do whatever we have to do for GOD, in common, in the power of "the Body," instead of separately. There is no extraordinary or isolated heroic effort; no individual standing out as anything very remarkable; our work is all done in the power of associated life; the Bishop with his Clergy, his Cathedral Chapter, his Synod of Clergy and Laity.
All our institutions are worked on this principle. It is the whole "Body" which puts itself forth; as, for instance, in educational work. The Sisterhood is bound up with the Bishop, through the Cathedral Chapter. It has a special "Charter" of its own. And it is in this its constitutional relation to the Diocese, that our Sisterhood differs, so far as I know, from all others in the Church.
The Body Corporate has to follow "the Pattern shown in the Mount," of associated life and action. We believe that our LORD specially blesses such community action; that He specially helps us to [50/51] correct our imperfections and defects, when we try to work in that way. "Where two or three are gathered together" in His Name, He is specially present; and when "two or three" agree to pray definitely for anything, He has specially engaged to give an answer.
This, then, I may venture to say, is the characteristic and leading idea of our Diocese of Bloemfontein. Other Dioceses--in India, in Central Africa, and elsewhere--have other special ideas to express, or energies to manifest. Our point is that of corporate life.
In proposing this to ourselves, we have set a very high standard before our Sisterhood; and I do not desire to speak as though we had yet been able to realise that standard. We fall short, in many ways. I constantly tell our Sisters and other workers that they must never lower their ideal; and yet, must be patient with their present measure of attainment. They must be patient, though they fall short of their intention. It will be realised more fully, in time; and meanwhile they must "follow after," and hope some day to apprehend that for which they are apprehended in CHRIST JESUS.
You must remember, then, that it does not follow, [51/52] because I have sketched out an ideal, that we as yet embody it; though we are trying to work it out in a real way, which, as we hope, our LORD will accept. We are working according to our day, and according to our strength; but the result is not, absolutely and positively, what it may be in time. This must be clearly understood.
Let us come now to the principles of Sisterhood Life, and of Woman's Work, generally.
When I first went to Bloemfontein, I did not start with the idea of a Sisterhood. I had no pre conceived plan of working with "Sisters," when I was called to the Diocese. I had had a little experience on the subject in England, and I was not at all sure that a Sisterhood would be the thing needed, in South Africa. It was only after I was established there, that I saw there was nothing else to be done, but to make a Sisterhood the centre of our Woman's Work.
We were led to see its necessity, on two grounds.
I. Respect for the Christian Home; both English and Native.
2. In self-defence, and to guard against Romanism.
The further blessing was realised subsequently, [52/53] of the power and virtue of the wholly dedicated and consecrated life, as a force in the Church itself, and as a way of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom to those that were without.
I. For the sake of Christian Homes.
(a.) I saw that nothing could be done in the country, without reaching the Homes of our people, especially those of the European and English speaking Christians, and making them more after the pattern of a godly, pure, sober Christian Home. Unless the fountains of life are purified, it is impossible to do very much for the country, however earnest, powerful, and energetic the staff of Clergy may be. This is obvious.
(b.) As with the English Homes, so also with those of the Native races in South Africa. We shall never have done with wars and tumults, or make any great progress, unless the type of womanhood be improved and elevated. "The men will he what the women make them," or conceive that they ought to be; The women set the standard of heroism. Our native women think that a man cannot be great, unless he is "a warrior," not only in name, but as one who has seen fighting and "drawn blood." Therefor; the men do all in their power [53/54] to engage in war. It is much easier to make our native men Christians, than to make the women Christians.
The foundations, then, of our Sisterhood Institution are, first of all, a respect for the Christian Home. Sisterhood life is not antagonistic to this idea of the sacredness of Home and married life, though it is often supposed to be so. It is, in fact, for the sake of this idea, that we ask Sisters to help us to establish Christian Homes. "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, incline thine ear: forget also thine own people, and thy father's house." "Instead of thy fathers thou shalt have children." Our object is to reverence and to ennoble the idea of "Home;"--the idea of married life. We ask Sisters to help us in doing this, by training the future wives and mothers of the Colony; by inculcating ideas of true affection and purity and self-restraint.
2. We have to guard our people against the influence of Romanism.
In our Colonies, this influence is likely to be very powerful. As "Religious Houses," in France, e.g., become broken up, there is likely to be a great diffusion of Roman Communities throughout the [54/55] Colonies. When we look forward to the future of the Church there, this is rather a grave and anxious consideration. Roman Catholics seem able to send any number of people, to subscribe any amount of money; to raise large, grand-looking buildings as Convents, offering a certain kind of externally brilliant Continental education, which is attractive to our Colonists, whose own education, in some cases, may not have been very deep.
Therefore, we have to provide education, in order to prevent the daughters of our Church from going off to Romanist establishments, such as those at Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown,--which are very strongly planted,--and coming back to their homes, even if no perverted to Romanism, yet without any knowledge of their own Faith, or filial attachment to their own Mother-Church.
On Sundays, for instance, in these Roman Communities, they would no doubt be "excused from the religious Services of the Institution." But what does that mean? It means, probably, that they would be made to sit at a deal table, with their open Bibles before them, while in the distance they would hear sweet music, and the singing of hymns and responses, and be conscious of the fragrance of incense. All this would have an influence [55/56] on their young minds, and would be likely to make their own religion seem very dull to them. The hold of their own Church over our children's minds would be gradually sapped; and a sort of vague notion would spring up, that, if there is a beautiful religion, exhibiting self-devotion, and a high, up-lifting worship, it will be found in the Roman Church alone.
It is often supposed that Sisterhood Life is more or less "Roman." But it is really, as I have said, to guard against Romanising, as well as for the sake of the Christian Home, that we have sought the aid of Sisters.
Two things must be remembered, as to Woman's Work in the dedicated life. There must be
I. Reverence for Nature.
II. Trustful loyalty to the Revelation of GOD.
Without holding fast these two principles, Community work will be sure to be found defective, somewhere.
I. We must respect Nature; not annihilate it, not destroy it, but incorporate and transfigure all that is truly natural. Our Blessed LORD came "not to destroy, but to fulfil" the law of Nature, the law [56/57] of Creation. This is constantly brought out in the New Testament. "I am come that they might have Life, and that. they might have it more abundantly." He is come to bring more abundant Life" to every part of His dominion.
Now, among the primal Laws of Woman's Nature, we see, in the charter of her creation, that she is called
I. To be a help-meet for Man.
2. To replenish the earth: to fill it full of the riches and wealth of Life.
(I) She is to be a Help-meet for Man.
All Sisterhood work, to be perfect, ought, if possible, to be carried on with its real central power vested in the Bishop: or in the Warden, representing him and working with him. In the Christian organisation, the Bishop represents the Great Head of the Church; he is the earthly Head--although he is the constitutional and not the autocratic Head--of the Divine Society, in that particular Diocese. There fore, the work must be under his personal control and rule; not under the irresponsible rule of any woman.
In insisting upon this as a principle, I feel [57/58] strongly that we are resting upon a revealed Law of Creation. All our Sisters and other workers are "help-meets" to their Bishop, who represents the special office of Man, as "the image and glory of GOD," in the care and conduct of the Church on earth, under the supreme rule of CHRIST our LORD, as Head. [I Cor. xi. 7. ] A Bishop is said, in old metaphorical language, to be "married" to his Diocese. He must not be a mere ornamental "figure-head" of a Community; a mere "Visitor," in a general, abstract sort of way. He must have real power; though of course, his rule over the Community must be constitutional, not arbitrary; the Clergy acting with him.
(2) There is another side of Woman's calling, corresponding to that in the natural order, of replenishing the earth. "Instead of thy fathers thou shalt have children, whom thou mayest make princes in all lands." [Ps. x 17.] This natural vocation has its counter part in the spiritual sphere,--in the order of the Church of G0D,--through the spiritual offspring brought forth by means of her influence. Not indeed originating, but receiving an idea, she in tangibly and almost insensibly communicates it to others and extends the force of it, through this far [58/59] reaching influence of hers, which is the true power of Woman. So, as it was said of old, "The desolate hath many more children than she which hath a husband." [Gal. iv. 27.]
We feel that, however feebly realised as yet, GOD gives us great ideas,--visions of Truth: but we trust very much to our Sisters and their Associates to develop them; to work them out, and live them out; to diffuse them through the length and breadth of the land, with intelligent co-operation.
Woman's nature is receptive and communicative. She first receives, and then communicates, through her power of influence: not by going about fussily to "do good" to this or that person,--not by preaching and talking, but by living in the Church, quietly and simply, after apprehending intellectually the true idea of her own place and work in the Church, whether in the "dedicated" life, or in any other.
There is a great power of intellectual apprehension in the mind of woman; a great power of receiving an idea, to be spoken out, or lived out, afterwards.
Even if it be true that she does not, as a rule, originate great ideas, yet she is able to receive them and ponder them in her heart; arid then, by her [59/60] great gift of sympathetic feeling and silent influence,--through what is felt, rather than by what is spoken,--she can communicate the force and power of those ideas to many more than the voice of the Teacher and Pastor could personally reach. Thoughts and principles may thus be assimilated, by members of a Community and their Associates; and then, without any mere verbal repetition, germinate and bear fruit in many hearts and lives, outside. Thus the "alabaster box" is, as it were, broken at the feet of the LORD, and the house is filled with the odour of the ointment.
II. There must be truth and humility towards the Revelation of GOD; Now, what does Revelation teach us, about Woman's Nature?
There are two great thoughts,--two mysteries or revealed facts,--of which Woman is made a symbol or representative, in the Bible; and we are not to suppose that anything is stated in Holy Scripture, without a purpose.
I. Woman is taken as the embodiment, the type and symbol, of the Divine attribute of "Wisdom,"--the expression of GOD'S Will.
2. She is the type and symbol of the Church of GOD.
I. Wisdom. In that wonderful eighth chapter of Proverbs, this attribute of GOD is personified. "Wisdom" is portrayed and exhibited under the figure and symbol of a woman, who "crieth in the place of concourse." She has a message to utter; expostulating with the world on account of its folly; seeing the true aim and purpose of human life, and desiring that all should follow it. The influence of Woman is the true corrective of Man's fault, selfishness. Yet, if she do not rise to the height of her great calling, none more faulty than she in this matter. "Corruptio optimi, pessima est." Her special temptation and fault is a liability to foolish ness; to a want of sound judgment, to credulity,--to religious credulity not the least;--which renders her too easily the dupe of falsehood and imposture, which hurries her into premature and ill-considered action, and which may have, and often does have, disastrous consequences. It is not needful that she should be, as the term is, "strong-minded," but she must have common sense: which indeed is one of the best qualifications of a woman for any work in the Church, whether in this country, or in any other.
Man, who is the "glory of GOD," if we may judge by the Divine ideal, is to express and show forth [61/62] Love; brotherly love, fatherly love: Love, the great spring and cause of action, in the spiritual order; without which no plan is devised, no course of action determined on; in one word, the originating faculty, which chalks out the great lines of action, broad and bold and unhesitating. That is Man's especial function.
But he does not stand alone. Here, as every where in the world, Woman is Man's "help-meet." For the "Wisdom" of which Woman is the representative, what is it but the organising faculty, the executive power; the ability to oversee works and workers, to proportion the task to the hand that is to do it; a power conspicuous in the mistress of a well-ordered household, such as we see in the picture of the "virtuous woman," given to us in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs. Personified as a woman, "Wisdom" is said to be "with the Most High: by her Kings reign, and Princes decree justice." She "finds out knowledge of witty inventions." Even her natural "mother-wit" may be enlisted in the service of the Kingdom of GOD. But she must be ever, and above all, wise with the true Wisdom that comes from the over shadowing of the HOLY SPIRIT, Who proceeds from CHRIST, "the Wisdom of GOD."
 Woman, then, is to exhibit the attribute of "Wisdom;"--good sense and tact, in practical details; working ably on the lines laid down for her, as the true handmaid of the Church; not reasoning out an idea, but working it out, by her own "womanly intuition."
And what is Sisterhood life, but the embodying of the soul's highest intuitions? In no other way can the Sister's life be explained. She has seen the Vision of Celestial Beauty. In Him, she finds her All in All, her life-long Love: her exceeding great reward,--the smile that HE gives, when "she hath done what she could."
Sir Bartle Frere, at our "Conversazione," referred to the Sisters as bringing a sanctified presence, even to the Diamond Fields! As a rule, nobody goes to or stays at such a scene, unless with the hope of finding diamonds, and so becoming rich. "Why then," people will naturally ask themselves, "should the Sisters be there?" And the reply to such a question is this:--that they have placed themselves at the disposal of their Divine Master, and see an end, a purpose of His, which they can realise by going there. Such a reply can hardly fail to give, to even the most debased and careless, a new conception of the [63/64] purpose of life, and a higher ideal of the spirit in which its work ought to be done.
2. Woman is the symbol of the Church of GOD. In the Book of Revelation, the form and likeness of Woman is again seen, as representative of the "great mystery" of the Kingdom. The Church of GOD is called the "Bride" of CHRIST; the idea representing weakness and dependence, joined with strength of devotion and self-surrender. [Rev. xix. 7; xxi. 9; xxii. 17. Eph. V. 32.]
This heavenly reality, the "Sister" is especially called to represent; though, in speaking of this aspect of the life, we must be careful as to our phraseology.
In the Sisterhood life, there is an accentuating of that calling which in truth belongs to the whole Church, to be the "Bride" of CHRIST.
The Sisters are not so "Brides" of Christ as to exclude the rest of the Church, for the whole Church is the "Bride;" but their part is, especially, to put forward this side of the deep Christian verity. As one part of the Church represents the priesthood of the whole Church, another the royalty, another the teaching, and another the home-life, the family,
--which is a shadow upon earth of the TRINITY [64/65] above,--so the Sisterhood life represents, and brings out into sharper relief; in behalf of--with--for--and in the name of--the whole Church, that calling of the whole Church of CHRIST to be "His holy Bride;" to be absolutely His, at His disposal; to feel the deepest attachment and yield the most entire devotion to Him; to live for Him, and for Him only.
One great want in the Church of to-day, is the recognition of vocations; depending on the wealth of GOD the HOLY SPIRIT, Who is "dividing to every man severally as He will:" the recognition of "holy estates" such as the "holy estate" of matrimony, and also the "holy estate" of those who are entirely and specially dedicated to our LORD, as "Sisters."
Our Blessed LORD, as He passes by, calls some with one tone of His Voice, and some with another; one soul has to follow Him in one way, the next in quite a different way;--as when He was on earth. We are, each of us, to answer to the call given to us, readily and simply; without any jealousy, or comparison of it with that given to others; heartily recognising and following our own vocation.
This vocation is pointed out, in the case of all [65/66] whose desire is to serve GOD, first by certain providential leadings, and then by an inner tendency,--at first, it may be, of feeling, rather than of will and purpose,--towards a special line of service.
We are not to say that one vocation is "higher" than another; there is no need whatever of comparisons; but we are to recognise and heartily realise, alike, e.g. the vocation for the "dedicated" life, and the vocation for marriage.
There is the life of the mistress of a Christian household, in her own house; and there is that of the "handmaid of the LORD," in His Church; one who simply belongs to her LORD, for this special work; attached to Him in this special way, as one of His "Body-guard." She is to represent the Church of CHRIST, in the relation of the Church to her LORD as "Bride," professedly and professionally. All the members of His Church belong equally to their LORD. Yet, as some are called professionally to the Priesthood, so also it should be accepted as natural, that some shall, specially and representatively, belong to our LORD in this particular way; having only one thing to do, like Anna in the Temple, to wait upon their LORD.
There is quite enough said in Holy Scripture [66/67] to make us see that there is a place, in the corporate Christian life, for this special vocation.
These chosen ones form His Court, round His Sacred Person. They bring all that they touch, practically, into connection with Him Who is the Centre of the spiritual order. They are to win the provinces of Home-life, of Art, of Music, and such like, for Him Who is "worthy." They do what others do, whether it be teaching, music, nursing, or anything else, as belonging to Him; as His alone, and only His; in His Name, and for His Sake; simply because HE has need of it, for the general good of His Church., and in order to bear witness to His universal Lordship over all.
We, in South Africa, know practically that, in such a country as ours, we must have the help of women who have this high calling; we must have some, of whom it is understood that they are not open to an engagement of marriage. Ordinarily, every one round about us is either married or going to be married; the country itself cannot provide us with disengaged people, having leisure at their disposal for this necessary work of the Church.
But, apart from this practical necessity, there is a special power in their being known to be [67/68] the property, the possession of the LORD; the "lot" of the LORD, which consecrates the whole people. There is no reflection cast upon the rest of the Body, as if they might not be quite as religious as Sisters. But the "lot" of the LORD are His special possession and property, set apart for His service; the settled order and plan of their lives being arranged, definitely, with a view to His work and His worship; which is indeed the business of all, but for which so many say that they have "no time."
During our Synod at Bloemfontein, several representatives of our busy and occupied laity, including some from the Diamond Fields, were present at the Synod Service held in the Sister hood Chapel. I remember how they seemed to feel the blessedness of realising that, while they themselves had so little time for prayer, this continual worship was being offered on their behalf Such people, while doing their best to make room for prayer in their own busy lives,--for none can be dispensed from it themselves,--are likely to find comfort in the thought that they are represented by the "Sisters;" that the LORD is holding His Court, and His Word is being fulfilled, that "in every place incense shall be [68/69] offered unto Him, and a pure offering," all day long; that the perpetual worship of which the Psalmist speaks is a reality.
Thus, through this portion of her members, living in community, the Church may offer to Him this devotion; she may keep up a regular round of worship and homage; wherein, though there may not always be a conscious warmth and glow of devotion--a special enjoyment of religious Services,--she is foreshadowing on earth, and pre paring for, the life of Heaven itself, where, while "they rest from their labours," they "rest not day nor night" in their song of praise.
But, besides this direct worship of their LORD, the Sisters are continually occupied in Prayer and Intercession, for the whole Church, and for the special needs of individuals. And this is one of the most powerful agencies by which the Church, according to the will of her LORD, leavens the world, and influences the destinies of mankind. Simply to stand round the LORD, and be in His Presence, is in itself a source of power.
And then, there is the actual material Work itself; work to be done for HIM, with hand or heart or mind.
 This work is waiting on every side, for those who will do it. It does not so much matter what the work is; this will vary from time to time, according to the gifts of the individual, and the needs of the Church. The Sisters are, in His Strength, to win every province of social life to Him, by the exercise of all the various gifts and powers which have been entrusted to them.
At Bloemfontein, for instance, our Sisterhood, in one department, is occupied in giving to the daughters of the Colonists an education of the highest class. As much attention is given to this as possible. We aim at affording to the pupils the opportunity of attaining a high standard of excellence, for example, in music, with a view to its, bearing on Church work.
It may be difficult to some, to see what this has to do with "Mission work." But our idea, in High Class education, is this to reach the minds of those who will have the most important homes, as centres of influence, in the future. And surely it is obvious that, if the women who represent the Church are to make the Church's influence felt to the fullest extent, they must be able to give all that this age requires. We want people to feel that they need not go anywhere but to the feet [70/71] of CHRIST, in order to gain all that they really need. Art, Science, Literature, Culture of every sort,--every branch of human attainment--must be sanctified, by being practised in and to HIM.'
"O LORD our LORD, and spoiler of our foes,
There is no light but Thine; with Thee all beauty glows."
Now, if this is to be fully done, we must have, for the doing of it, lives wholly dedicated to the work. And if this Community life is to be really useful to the Church, it must be formally and frankly accepted by the Church. There must be something more than the woman merely dedicating herself, in her own will and heart. The Church must formally recognise her purpose, and provide a test for her. The personal dedication may be as real and true, before GOD, in secret but some formal expression is needed of this dedication.
This brings us to the very delicate--and, in some ways, extremely difficult--question of "Vows." As I have said, a woman may be truly "dedicated," throughout her whole life, without a formal vow. But what is really meant, when we speak of "vows," is the formal expression,--the offering up to GOD, in some special way, of this inner purpose of her life; [71/72] and its acceptance, in the Name of CHRIST by the Church. It is not necessary that the postulant should take a solemn oath never to marry. But in the Service used at a Sister's "Profession," some such question as this must be asked, and some such engagement made,--after a probation, say, of about two and a half years:--"Are you prepared to remain unmarried, in order that you may be among those who attend on the Lord without distraction?"
It seems to me that, in some form or other, we must put a question, the answer to which will satisfy the congregation of the faithful, as to the freedom, the deliberation, and the clear and unmistakeable nature, of the resolve. My own experience, certainly--and I venture to think, the experience of the Church--makes it evident that there are some women who will never find rest in anything short of this. They want it, for their own protection; as their own expression of a deliberate purpose; and as expressing and satisfying a need in Woman's nature.
For this deliberate resolve, they need both a sacramental embodiment--the outward expression, as well as the inward reality,--and also the formal acceptance and sanction of the Church; and [72/73] therefore, in the name of the Church, this question is asked.
Some well-considered safe-guard--as, for example, a careful probation--is a necessity, before such a grave and important promise should be made to the Bishop: and it should be clearly understood that power remains in him to release from it, if urgent necessity should so require. There should be a recognition, as things are at present, of the Bishop's dispensing power.
Even if such an engagement be not of the very essence of the "dedicated" life, and a s of presenting it to the LORD, it will be found that the nature of at least some women will demand such a formal sanction. There is the danger that if it were not provided for them in our Church, they would be tempted to go elsewhere, and--doing evil that good may come--endeavour to obtain it by an indefensible and most blameable act of schism. I am persuaded that, if sought by them, it ought to be granted; after due probation, and under proper protection, rule, and authority.
Then comes the further question: How is this "dedicated" life--granting that there is to be such a life, for some--to be manifested? In individual life, i.e. as a Deaconess? Or in associated life, i.e. by belonging to a Community?
 Now, there is great power in associated life. It manifests order; it provides continuity. For instance, look at the life of "Sister Dora." It was a grand and beautiful life; yet, here was its weak ness,--it did not multiply itself. There was no continuity in it. It ceased with the individual existence, and its results were not gathered up by any who came after her. This is the weakness of every form of work which is not bound up in a society and fellowship.
There is a need also of associated life, for the repression of self-will. It is easy enough to get any number of people to begin a new work of their own. The difficulty lies in really surrendering their own individual wills, for the general good of the work. In family life, this is corrected; people are not able to do just as they please; they are con trolled. And so, with regard to those who are called to work for GOD outside of the family, it is better, for the perfecting of character, and for the protection of the work, that such persons should be associated. There is a good deal of giving and taking, in this associated life; there are the various angularities of workers coming from different places, which call for mutual consideration and concession and this tends to make them pliable, and to prevent [74/75] any from seeking this life, merely for spiritual consolation and spiritual luxuries.
We must remember, however, that though Sisterhood life is for obedience, it is not bondage. It is for Life, not for Death!
It is not to be a narrow, one-sided life. Far from becoming "one-sided," the Sisters, being thrown now with one set of workers, and now with another,--occupied, now in this form of work, and now in that,--ought, on the contrary, to become many-sided; filled out, completed and developed, in their intellectual and spiritual being. They have not a narrow and petty life, but a large and full one.
Again: since the idea is not that of the "regiment," but of the Community, as a family, the annihilation of the affections is not a necessary duty. The Sisters do not cease to love mother, and sisters, and home. We do not bring in "the power of an expulsive affection," to crush all other affections; but, making GOD the first great Love, all else falls naturally into its place. They do 'lot care for their home people less; perhaps they love them all the more. They are not to become hard and callous, mere machines, soldiers in a regiment, with no will or individuality of their own. It [75/76] would be the greatest possible mistake to suppose that Sisterhood life is a life of bondage,--mere machinery!
Still, there must be obedience; a real obedience; not to the caprice and arbitrary will of an individual, but to the constitutional administrator of the Rule. At the same time, there must be readiness to obey an order, even though its reason may be unexplained; not for the purpose of glorifying "obedience," but because a good reason is to be taken on trust, though it may not be clear to the person to whom the order is given. There must be a reality about this matter of obedience, or the Institution would soon become insubordinate and unworkable; and it is of great importance that a spirit of trustfulness should be promoted, as in the rule of a family; the direct opposite to a suspicious and carping spirit of criticism.
But herein, for safe-guard and power, the Diocesan principle is essential. The Sisterhood must be one with the Bishop, who has constitutional--not arbitrary--control; and by this means those scandals of the early Sisterhoods will be avoided, which really arose from "Papal exemptions" from local and Diocesan control and discipline. The Sisterhoods were not part of the Church in the midst of [76/77] which they grew up; they did not feel the air of the Church around them, controlling and ventilating their life. The Popes dispensed them from the authority of the Bishop of the Diocese, and of the ecclesiastical powers immediately over them and this was the secret of the degradation into which they fell.
In order, however, that this Episcopal authority should be constitutional and not arbitrary, the Bishop, with his Cathedral Chapter, should give the Sisterhood a Charter.
Under such a system, each of the after "Profession," herself becomes part of the governing body,--the "Chapter." The early Communities really represented, in the face of the great Roman autocratical authority, the principle of constitutional government. They were ruled each by its own Chapter; their affairs being administered by the whole body, assembled in conclave. No rule could be added or changed, no work undertaken, without the consent of the "Chapter." All had a real share in the government; they were not mere machines, moved by others, but intelligent workers with a volition of their own. Obedience may be very real and true, while at the same time the Sisters may have a share in the government [77/78] of their own Society; which will help to develop their minds, and to maintain in them a sense of responsibility.
In like manner, community of property may secure liberty for the service of the Church and of humanity, so as to be "without carefulness," though not without responsibility.
All this life must go on, as was said at the beginning, in the power of the Body of CHRIST; in relation to the Church.
This Sisterhood life, then, is our centre. Around it, or with it, are our Deaconesses and Associates. In our Diocese of Bloemfontein, there is this high--I will not say, necessarily the highest--form of life, standing out in distinction to the life of the married; and between these two lives, there are all kinds of ministries.
As in a family there is unity of life, and yet each may have her own special interest and pursuit, so also must it be in the Home of the Church of GOD. There is room for Deaconesses; and room also for "Associates,"--those who work only for a time; who desire to do some work for GOD before the end of their lives, but cannot give themselves up to it entirely. For all these different forms [78/79] of service, there is perfect liberty;--a liberty which may result, in some cases, in marriage. We claim and maintain, for those who desire it, a true loyal liberty.
The life and business of the "Deaconess" is perhaps more parochial. The Deaconesses are assistants of the Clergyman of the Parish. They are not related one to the other as "Sisters" are, unless they practically become Sisters in form and order, associated in Sisterhood life, without the name. They are more independent, and fulfil their ministry in the Church rather more through parochial agencies. With any change in the Parish, their work may cease. The Sisters have a Charter of their own, which continues; their primary end is the life, not the work.
And now, with regard to the inner life of the Sisterhood. Herein, of course, as in the life of the whole Church, the Holy Eucharist is the centre. The Sisters must continually present themselves before the LORD. "Behold the handmaid of the LORD!" "My soul doth magnify the LORD." In the Eucharist, the Sister must bring all her life and her duties up to Him from Whom all goes forth, and for Whom all works are done. This is the highest power that she can exercise; the source of [79/80] all her strength. This is the centre of the ordered life of devotion, from which flow out activities and energies for the life of service.
Then, there are her Rules, her recurring hours of Office and of Silence; and there is the practice of Meditation, which is a science to be learnt care fully and practised regularly: yet all this must be done in the liberty of the Spirit.
The great difficulty among us at present is to find sufficient time, in the midst of pressing work, for Meditation and quiet. Our great desire is to have a reserve supply of workers, so as to enable the needful work to be done, and yet leave the life quiet and calm; and I trust, please GOD, we may attain to this.
Meanwhile, by Intercession, their ministrations and sympathies expand and reach to every part of the Church; realising the law of the Kingdom "Not by might, nor by power, but by My SPIRIT, saith the LORD of Hosts."
I quote, e.g. from their Office at Terce,--"the third hour," 9 a.m.,--with its Antiphon "From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, My Name shall be great among the Gentiles," &c.; and with its Prayer, "that an abundant supply of labourers may be sent," into the different parts of [81/82] the earth. "Let them not run unless they are sent, not; when sent, falter in their course," &c.
The Office at mid-day has an intercession for the children under education, with this Antiphon: "Take this child, and nurse it for Me, and I will give thee thy wages;" and this Prayer: "Bless, O LORD, we beseech Thee, the children of various ages and degrees whom Thou hast given us to train for Thee. Inspire us, in our work of education, with wisdom, and patience, and love: and upon the children committed to us bestow, we pray Thee a reverent spirit, an obedient mind, and a loving heart; that, following Thy holy Example, Who didst vouchsafe to be, for us, a little Child, they may grow daily in favour with GOD and man," &c. These are instances of the carrying out of the principle, that everything should be brought to our LORD, before the Sisters go out, in energy and power, to spend their influence in that department of work which is committed to their trust. Other Offices would show the same thing.
This work has been more than theoretically tried. It may have been done very imperfectly;--and no one knows its weaknesses better than I do;--yet these are the principles that we have really set [81/82] before us, and, moreover, have practically carried out, in a "day of small things." And, on the whole, we have found them answer. We have tested them, really and practically, in all kinds of work. We have Hospitals, and large Schools for various classes and races, in various places; and thus our work realises the condition of bringing forth the "things new and old" of the Kingdom of Heaven. No life brings a person into contact with more varied forms of human existence than that of a Sister, in a Colony, and in the Mission-field; and by this diversity of experience, the Sisters learn wide sympathies.
Our principles have been tested, not only by the work, and by the life, but also in death; as in the case of one of our Sisters, who came to us quite untrained.
Her whole life as a "Sister" was spent with us and now He has satisfied the desire of her heart, to meet her LORD. In her last illness, her thoughts were only of being with her LORD, His for ever. There was great liberty of spirit about, her. She went away from all her spiritual, privileges at Bloemfontein, to the Diamond Fields; and learnt there, in the wilderness, what it is to lean on the Arm of "the Beloved." She was quite ready to go; [82/83] and yet she loved the Home--its order and fellowship and worship--intensely, as a true daughter. She longed to be with her Sisters there, while yet she had that spirit of liberty which could realise that it might be good for her to be thrown entirely upon JESUS CHRIST Himself.
She is now one of our "living stones" in Paradise. It is a beautiful saying, that "no Community can be really founded, until one of its members has gone to be a living stone in Paradise." Our principles have therefore not only been tested in life, but have gone through the test of death. It is said, that one must never speak quite confidently of a person, till his death; but these principles helped to carry her through "the valley of the shadow of death," and have been found to bear the test with others also, who have been brought very near to that valley, or have passed beyond it, to the other side.
It is very clear that forces have been put in motion, in these days, which are working upon people's minds with tremendous power. We are creating a great deal of steam in our world; a reserve of force, which will need some healthy outlet. If this be not provided, the result will be a "Nemesis" which [83/84] will shake and startle society. Hence it becomes a necessary duty, for the protection of society, to recognise the manifold vocations in Woman's life and work.
We hear a good deal of "Woman's Rights." We must not forget her grandest, tenderest right, which is, as we have said, to represent the Church of the Living GOD; whether it be as the head of the household, the wife, or as the handmaid of the LORD, the Sister;--to make known the Wisdom of GOD, as Man is to represent the Majesty of GOD, His tender Love and Helpfulness. It is under the figure of "Virgins" that our LORD represents the wise and foolish souls,--Wisdom and Folly;--the foolish Virgins being those who miss, through care less ease, the true end of life;--the wise, those who see it and grasp it; who listen to and obey the Voice of their LORD, as He calls them to follow Him, in whatever way, by whatever path.
There is a great opening now, in South Africa, for this special sphere of Woman's work. GOD has been passing over that land, as you know, with His strong wind, rending the mountains. There has been the earthquake; the upheaving of forces, social, political, and national. The fire, almost of [84/85] despair, has entered our hearts; burning, drying, withering them up even, though from Him they came; the LORD has not been in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire; but He will surely be in the "still small voice" of the HOLY SPIRIT's ministry and work. In that "still small voice," we may yet look for His Power to be manifested among us, His glory revealed. Then, the nations of the land may veil their faces, and come and worship GOD, and confess that "GOD is in us of a truth."
And even if it go not to the hearts of the p yet in our own hearts it will develop that longing expression of the Church's desire, the voice of the SPIRIT and of the Bride: "Come, LORD JESUS!" So shall we be ready, when a Voice that all must hear shall cry aloud: "BEHOLD, THE BRIDEGROOM COMETH; GO YE OUT TO MEET HIM!"