Thursday, May 1, 2014

Biblical Womanhood

I just finished a short biography of Sarah Edwards (1710 - 1758), wife to the famous Jonathan Edwards (1703 - 1758), who is regarded as "America's greatest theologian and probably our greatest thinker." Noel Piper, Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, p. 36.

As I read about Sarah Edwards, it struck me that as Christian women today we have too few role models of biblical womanhood. Sarah was exemplary, as a pious, loving mother of 11 who respected her husband and supported his life's work by building a nurturing, God-honoring home in which the great Jonathan Edwards could encounter God and grow of Him.

Fourteen hundred people can be traced back to the Sarah and Jonathan Edwards marriage, and among them are many pastors, political leaders, doctors, authors, lawyers, and influential thinkers*.

13 college presidents
65 professors
100 lawyers and a dean of a law school
30 judges
66 physicians and a dean of a medical school
80 holders of public office, including:

~ 3 US senators

~ mayors of 3 large cities

~ governors of 3 states

~ a vice president of the US (I did some research on this one. The Vice President was Aaron Burr 1756 - 1836, who was not a Christian and is famous for killing Alexander Hamilton in an illegal duel, for which he was acquitted. Aaron Burr lost his mother, father, and grandparents within a year of each other, and was left an orphan as a 2-year-old boy, along with his older sister. His grandparents were Sarah and Jonathan Edwards. While Burr was powerful and did some good in government, as a lawyer, and in the Revolutionary War, he was also immoral and restless and made some powerful enemies, namely Thomas Jefferson, whom he served as vice president after the 1800 election. One only wonders how Burr would have turned out morally had he been raised by his own parents--a minister and the beloved daughter of a minister.)

~ a controller of the US Treasury

Members of the family wrote 135 books, and edited 18 journals and periodicals. They entered the ministry in platoons and sent one hundred missionaries overseas, as well as stocking many mission boards with lay trustees.

*Family statistics from a 1900 A. E. Winship study of two contrasting families, reprinted in Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, Noel Piper, p. 22

Sarah's legacy is a Godly, far-reaching one that helped shape America. She loved the Lord deeply and with passion, loved to be alone with Him, and thrived on being a keeper at home. God sustained her and built her up when needed, when excessive stress and change came along, in the form of her husband being ousted from his church for an unfair reason, after twenty years as a pastor there.

After a year of no salary and living amongst those who ousted her husband, the family moved to serve in another location, with the former parish reconsidering and coming to agreement with Jonathan's stance (I don't know the nature of the conflict, except that it seemed to be doctrinal) shortly after his obtaining another position. Especially after his death at the age of 53, Mr. Edwards became influential in many New England colony churches, and is still influential today.

While many around Sarah and Jonathan lost children to illness, disease, wild animals, etc, Sarah's 11 children all lived until at least adolescence. At the time of Sarah's own death, only one of her children had died (Aaron's Burr's mother). Sarah had a newborn every two years starting at age 20, which for that era was miraculous, considering the high numbers who died in childbirth, due to unsanitary birthing conditions, for one.

There was some jealousy in the parish because of Sarah's good fortune in birthing and raising children. And it's notable--at least to me--that she had no thorn of the flesh (at least not one mentioned by historians). God had a mighty plan for this woman's legacy, and Sarah cooperated easily and with joy.

Most of us don't have the same circumstances she had, so we can't compare ourselves, but we can glean much from her example. God blessed her faithfulness and singlemindedness in caring for her family, and for the many people who came through her door.

When I think of the typical Christian woman I see at church I don't often there goes a woman who is pious, modest in all things, and family-focused. Her beauty comes from within and her love for Her Savior is palpable.

The fault doesn't lie entirely with today's women, who are imitating their own mothers, friends, and culture. I don't judge my fellow women so much as have a bleeding heart for what we're missing. I know the Lord wants more from us as women. Not more work--for most us certainly do plenty of that--but more focus on God and who He is, rather than on us and our desires, and what think we deserve. Not enough examples exist to turn our hearts toward something lovelier, in God's eyes.

Somehow through the years it became about us as individuals, rather than about us as builders of home. We need the likes of Sarah Edwards in our midst to turn our hearts toward God, and toward His vision of "a wise woman who builds her home". (Proverbs 14:1)

I don't think a woman should live as a slave--something we can feel like when the children aren't well trained. But God has designed a woman to be a servant, building up her husband and children spiritually for posterity sake, if she has a family. Ideally, she doesn't seek to make her mark personally, but through her offspring and through her husband. Her legacy is a quiet one, a behind-the-scenes one, wrought through prayer and sacrifice and service.

Do you find many women in your own church who are godly examples of Christian womanhood? What stands out about their lives? Where do you think women have taken a wrong turn, in modern culture, if at all?

Some of the most inspiring and worthwhile reading I do comes from biographies of missionaries and faithful believers from the past. Do you have some inspiring favorites to recommend? Something that really stretched you and gave you a clearer picture of biblical womanhood?

Proverbs 31: 10-31 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.   

Titus 2:3-5 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.   

1 Peter 3: 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,   


Tesha Papik said...

I am intrest in the book was it Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God? or s different biography on Sara Edwards? I agree we all need Godly examples I am thankful for the women in my mother church they set powerful examples for my life!

Christine said...

Yes, it is Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, by Noel Piper. It is a compilation of biographies about women throughout history, some were missionaries, some just very faithful and heroic and godly, like Sarah. It is powerful reading and I have trouble putting it down.

Love to you, Tesha!