A Wonderful Wife for a Wonderful Life!

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Her mind was made up long before George even had a thought about a wife.

I promised a lighthearted post about a dead filmmaker, a man who wanted to be dead and an exemplary wife. You probably guessed…the dead film director is Frank Capra. The fictional character who wanted to be dead is George Bailey and Mary is George’s exemplary wife.  In a previous post, ‘Yours, Mine and Ours – Not’, I divulged my passion for old movies. My favorite movie of all time is “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Frank Capra certainly doesn’t rank with my previous Puritans and other dead men, but he is dear to my heart (and he was Sicilian Italian American, like me!).  No, he was not a Reformed Presbyterian,  but the film has some good lessons and Christian morals if your eyes and ears are open.

Interesting fact: “In 1945, Frank Capra visited Seneca Falls in the state of New York to look for inspiration for the town of Bedford Falls.[1] The two towns are very similar as they are both mill towns, they both had a grassy median down the main street (Seneca Falls does not anymore), both communities boast Victorian architecture and a large Italian population, and they both have toll bridges very similar to each other. The locations are both close to Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira.”– from Wikipedia.

Another reason to love Frank Capra – he was inspired by my beloved New York!

But let’s get back to my main focus: what is the true ideal of a godly Christian wife? My previous post featured J.R. Miller’s The Christian Wife, so let’s refer back to that here. Let’s examine Mary Bailey and see if we can plug her character into Miller’s attributes of a godly Christian wife.

  • Faithfulness – Mrs. George Bailey certainly was a faithful wife. Her faithfulness went beyond mere commitment. She loved George for a long time. In fact, several years before she walked down the aisle with him she said, “George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die.” Mary was more than committed; she was devoted. So many people stay together because they took a vow. Because they must lie in the bed they made. Because they both agree to peacefully coexist. Commitment is a cold word. I don’t want to be committed. People are committed to institutions. I’d rather be devoted. Mary was devoted.
  • A good housekeeper – Mary Bailey loved that old Granville house even in its decrepit state. She created a honeymoon suite for George when they were unable to travel for that honeymoon. Hens were roasting in the fireplace, posters and curtains were up, candles were glowing. She cleaned that old house up, hung wallpaper, and created a welcoming (albeit drafty) nest for George and her children. We see her bustling about the kitchen on Christmas Eve, preparing a meal while the house was invitingly decorated and ready for company.
  • Generous and warmhearted – Mary’s excellent household management on the meager salary George earned at Bailey Building and Loan was phenomenal. The Baileys had four children who were well-dressed and fed. As for generosity that extended beyond her own roof, remember it was Mary who held up her own honeymoon money when there was a run on the banks. She was willing to help others and sacrifice her dreams of a getaway with George. You can’t get more selfless and generous than that.
  • Keeps up her personal appearance as well as her inner life – Mary always looked attractive when George got home from the office. We never see her in sweatpants. She looked lovely as she accompanied her husband to Bailey Park to present new homeowners with a blessing of bread, wine and salt. As for her inner life, we don’t know about that. But she did direct her children to pray when they saw their daddy looking so troubled.
  • Character – Mary Bailey had strong character and values. She was not materialistic. She wished to live in that old Granville house years before she was actually able to do so. We never hear her complain about her old house, their lack of money and extravagant vacations. Mary is a picture of contentment. She is an encouragement to her husband. It is not made known whether she finds her wisdom and strength in Christ, but I like to think so.

In one of the scenes where George is apparently non-existent, he wants to see his wife. Clarence tells George that without him, Mary became an old maid who works at the library. Let me rewrite the scene. If Mary never met George, I could imagine her curled up in a corner of the library reading the Puritans on marriage – and praying!

christmas-flower-divider-vector_XJ2c_GMary Bailey is a wonderful wife for a wonderful life. Though there is much to love about this movie, It’s a Wonderful Life offers a weak moral at the end – no man is a failure who has friends. I think that’s so lame! No man is a failure if he has JESUS CHRIST. Friends fail us all the time. “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24.  Jesus is that friend that sticks closer than a brother. And He never fails. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” — John 15:13-15

The world is not immeasurably better because George was born, or I was born. It’s not all about the brotherhood of man. Of course, Hollywood doesn’t include Christ in anything. The world is better because Jesus Christ was born, Emmanuel, God with us. I hope He is your Savior, King and Friend. Merry Christmas!

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More Dead Men Speak on Marriage Part 4: J.R. Miller – The Christian Wife

Antique booksChristian wives: what would you say is the true ideal of a godly wife? We would all refer to Proverbs 31, no doubt…one of my favorite portions of scripture.  In his exposition called The Christian Wife, J.R. Miller describes such a wife. Though he doesn’t reference these scriptures, he seems to be expounding on these very verses in order. Christian wives, what would you say to this?:

“The good wife is a good housekeeper…The mere mention of such things as cooking, baking, sweeping, dusting, mending, ironing—jars upon the poetic rhythm of the lofty themes of conversation. It never enters the brains of these happy lovers—that it will make every difference in the world in their home life—whether the bread is sweet or sour; whether the oatmeal is well cooked or scorched; whether the meals are punctual or tardy. The mere thought that such common matters could affect the tone of their wedded life, seems a desecration.”  –J.R. Miller

Is that a dated statement? Is a neat and comfortable nest not a priority today? How about cooking? Is the career woman who habitually comes home with fast food for her family a good model of a godly woman? You tell me. I want feedback. Miller and other dead men we’ve studied stress the importance of the woman’s work at home. There are warnings for those who neglect their own household for other ventures. Even church activities can overburden us and cause us to neglect our families. Miller expounds on this issue beautifully.

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Virtuous granny?

As for me, I think housekeeping is a lost art, one that should be found again. I see a resurgence among young Christian wives, through their blogs on homemaking, and it is highly refreshing and encouraging to me. I pray that we blast away all remnants of American feminism that crept into the church. But let’s get back to J.R. Miller’s The Christian Wife.

According to Miller, the wife of a godly man is a crowned queen:

“…to be the wife of a godly and true man. She is lifted up to be a crowned queen. Her husband’s manly love laid at her feet, exalts her to the throne of his life. Great power is placed in her hands. Sacred destinies are reposed in her keeping. Will she wear her crown beneficently? Will she fill her realm with beauty and with blessing? Or will she fail in her holy trust? Only her married life can be the answer.”

Ah, don’t we all love to be queen? Doesn’t that infer some kind of royalty demanding worship? Certainly not the kind of worship that usurps worship of our Lord! But husbands should adore their godly wives and praise them.

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” — Proverbs 31:28

Now I don’t think God means to brag about wives or overdo praise publicly. I think the praise should be directed at her in private, to encourage her and make her feel appreciated. Remember T.S. Arthur’s short story Loved Too Late (did you read this? if not, do so!) That husband failed to verbally affirm his wife and show affection toward her.

I love manly love laid at her feet. Is this the stuff of fairy tales or what? It sounds wonderful. I’m sure we’ll have to dig into Miller’s writings on husbands to find out exactly what manly love is. I think I have a few clues. Whatever it is, I want it.

What makes for a godly wife…the kind that earns, yes earns, praise of a godly husband?

“The true wife needs to be no mere poet’s dream, no artist’s picture, no ethereal lady too fine for use—but a woman healthful, strong, practical, industrious, with a hand for life’s common duties, yet crowned with that beauty which a high and noble purpose gives to a soul.”

So much is crammed into one fabulous sentence! To summarize briefly the rest of Miller’s attributes of a Christian wife, he mentions the following:

  1. Faithfulness – here Miller paraphrases Proverbs 31:11 – The heart of her husband safely trusts in her.
  2. A good housekeeper – It is amazing how much Miller writes on this subject, almost equating good housekeeping with love! I can relate to this as an Italian-American woman. In my Italian culture, food is love and feasting is celebration. A clean home and delicious meal says ‘love’.  Yet we should not get caught up with that as Martha did. But that’s another blog post…
  3. Generous and warm-hearted. A good wife is not selfish. Miller speaks about the wife’s compassion in her own household, and though she economizes, she does not limit her ministries of mercy to the confines of her four walls.
  4. Keeps up her personal appearance as well as her inner life. I don’t think Miller means that we should look to our culture for that personal appearance. Let’s not aspire to be Kim Kardashian (heaven forbid!). I see too many young Christian wives enamored with current trends in provocative dress. The key is modesty, but that doesn’t have to mean ugly or frumpy. We should do the best we can to make ourselves attractive to our husbands no matter what life and the force of gravity has done to us. However, Miller quickly delves into inner beauty. Keeping up with our spiritual nourishment is more important than nourishing skin with wrinkle cream. Which leaves Miller’s last point:
  5. Character. Miller says…”she can be a good woman in the true sense only by being a Christian woman. Nowhere but in Christ—can she find the wisdom and strength she needs, to meet the solemn responsibilities of wifehood. Only in Christ can she find that rich beauty of soul, that gemming of the character, which shall make her lovely in her husband’s sight, when the bloom of youth is gone, when the brilliance has faded out of her eyes, and the roses have fled from her cheeks. Only Christ can teach her how to live so as to be blessed, and be a blessing in her married life!

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    “…that gemming of the character”

Amen to that! Wives, cling to Christ. We are covering the subject of marriage, but I focused on Christian wives in my last two posts. I’m sure the Lord led me in this way for my own benefit. As an older newlywed with a failed marriage in my history, this has been a sobering study. I have been much less than a kind and tender wife during this Christmas season. While I set out to focus on the glorious Incarnation, I got sidetracked with needless details. Christian wives, sit at His feet and learn. I need Jesus Christ every minute, every second of my married life so I can love my husband better.

The Christian Wife is a sample of J.R. Miller’s writings on marriage, but he wrote extensively on all aspects of Christian family life. Solid Ground Books planned a reprint of J.R. Miller’s The Home Beautiful, originally published in 1912. Sadly, there was not enough interest and it has not yet been reprinted. I pray that this blog will spark some interest, enough to get Miller’s priceless wisdom back on bookshelves or Kindles and into our living rooms. Pastor Bill Shishko of Franklin Square, NY OPC said:

“If any 19th century American Christian writer warrants reprinting, it is J. R. Miller! His writing style is delightfully smooth, his insights are spiritual diamonds on every page, and his pastoral applications are delivered with the skill of a well-seasoned physician of souls.”

Thankfully, much of Miller’s writings are available on Grace Gems and the complete original book The Home Beautiful is available for free download here if you click on the link.

The volume begins with The Wedded Life (use link to read on Grace Gems). A sampling of following chapters are entitled with The Husband’s Part, The Wife’s Part, The Parent’s Part, The Home Life, and on. I do hope to have the reprinted volume The Home Beautiful in my hands some day. Just wanted to plug this information and perhaps create a high demand.

Recapping our series so far: We have met the instructive William Gouge, the metaphorical William Secker, the romantic T.S. Arthur and the practical and prolific J.R. Miller. Next, we will meet three interesting characters: another dead man who was a filmmaker, a man who wanted to be dead, and another exemplary wife. I hope you’re curious.

Next post will be merry and light, I promise. I shall temporarily disregard my Christmas frivolities, clear my cluttered mind and write a special Christmas post, hopefully, before December 25.

More Dead Men (Who Know Best) on Marriage: Part 3: T.S. Arthur

While we are making light and merry this Christmas season, I want to focus on a rare kind of man, one who seems to exude romance from his very pen. T.S. Arthur is not a well-known name today but he certainly made his mark among his own contemporaries of the nineteenth century. I imagine he was extremely popular among the ladies, especially when he published his monthly magazine around 1845, Arthur’s Ladies Magazine, full of excellent literature and fashion news. This Dickensian poet penned the loveliest verse for his wife on the occasion of their twelfth wedding anniversary. Read and enjoy it here, as published on Grace Gems where you can also read his biography by ‘one who knows him, 1873’:

White textile wedding backgroundOUR WEDDING-DAY.

Twelve years! it seems but yesterday
Since first I saw your face,
Its girlish beauty softened down
To woman’s lovelier grace;
And yet twelve years have passed away
Since, standing by your side,
I called you, with a thrill of joy,
My own, my loving bride.

Twelve years! not all the time have we
Been sporting ‘mid the flowers;
Twelve years! the lengthened chain is not
Linked all with sunny hours.
Yet though upon our way through life
Some shadows have been thrown,
How much of peace and sweet content
And sunshine have we known!

And now, though time has on my head
A few thin snowflakes cast.
And o’er your face, still young and fair,
His hiding fingers passed.
Though care and toil are still the dower
Life brings us day and night,
Love makes all time’s impressions dim,
Our heaviest burdens light.

In waking dreams I musing sit
And see you by my side,

The_ProposalThe fair young girl who long ago
Became my happy bride.
Your hand on me confiding laid.
Your breath upon my cheek,
Your loving eyes half dropped from mine,
To gentle, trusting, meek.

And can it be! I start to think
Twelve years have passed away,
And six dear children round us cling
On this our wedding-day!
Six happy children; none are lost,
All care I will forget;
I’m thankful most of all for this,
Their mother’s with them yet.

I do not think that many homes
Are happier, love, than ours;
I do not think that others’ paths
Wind more among the flowers;
I do not think the sunlight falls
More brightly on the way
Of many who have lived to see
Twelve times their wedding-day.

Timothy Shay Arthur certainly appreciated his wife. She is gentle, trusting and meek. She brings him contentment even in adversity. I love how he writes her girlish beauty is now softened down to woman’s lovelier grace. In a short essay called Marriage, Arthur states:

In the truest sense of the word, woman was created to be man’s comforter, a joyous helpmate in hours of sunshine, a soother, when the clouds darken and the tempests howl around his head; then, indeed, we perceive the divinely beautiful arrangement which marriage enforces.

Ah, the divinely beautiful arrangement which marriage enforces. Very well said and very true! I like this man. I plan to read more of his work. Much of it consists of short stories with a moral lesson, like Loved Too Late (must reading for husbands!). Arthur tells a tragic tale of an unappreciated wife who did not feel her husband’s love and the anguish that husband felt at her death, knowing he neglected to show his affection. Read it and wise up now, husbands!

I am going to let one other nineteenth-century dead man speak in Part 4 of this series and then I’ll take a bit of a break with a special Christmas post. Coming up next in Dead Men Speak on Marriage: Part 4 is a giant dead man in my book – J.R. Miller. It seems like he wrote more on the family, husbands and wives and children than any other. Being a wife myself, I will focus on what Miller, like Arthur, describes as an exemplary wife. Hope you’ll take a break from holiday festivities and listen to another dead man speak.

Dead Men Know Best: The Wisdom and Wit of the Puritans (and other dead men) on Marriage. Part 2: William Secker

Two gold wedding rings with gold heart.
The wedding rings of covenant marriage in Christ.

Our very alive but dead man of the moment is William Secker, seventeenth century divine. In 1658, he gave the following wedding sermon in London (see link below). It is the deepest, most analytical and poetic scriptural treatise on marriage I’ve ever read. This sermon is full of wonderful analogies and metaphorical language that makes beautiful sense. Here is some background on Secker and this wedding sermon from Wikisource :

“SECKER, WILLIAM (d. 1681?), divine, preached at Tewkesbury and afterwards at All-Hallows, London Wall. He may have been the William Secker who was appointed rector of Leigh, Essex, on 30 Aug. 1667, and died there before November 1681 (Newcourt, Repert. Eccles. ii. 384).

Secker’s sermon on ‘A Wedding Ring fit for the Finger, or the Salve of Divinity on the Sore of Humanity, laid open at a Wedding in St. Edmunds’ (?Edmonton), London, 1658, 12mo, was very popular, and was often reprinted (cf. edits. at Glasgow, 1850, 12mo; New York, 1854, 16mo). It was translated into Welsh, ‘Y Fodrwy Briodas,’ Brecon, 1775 (two editions), and as ‘Y Cristion rhagorol,’ Bala, 1880, 8vo. Secker also dedicated to Sir Edward and Lady Frances Barkham of Tottenham, who had befriended him, a volume of sermons entitled ‘The Nonsuch Professor’ (London, 1660, 8vo). This was republished (Leeds, 1803, 12mo; London, 1891), and was edited, with ‘The Wedding Ring,’ by Matthew Wilks, London, 1867, 12mo; it was several times reprinted in America.”

Note that it was reprinted in America several times. We should reprint it again. I doubt anyone in America would care to sit through such a lengthy sermon at a wedding today. How unfortunate. Thankfully, it can be found online at Grace Gems, with the link provided in the title below. It prints out to fourteen luscious pages. Married couples: print a copy and keep it under your pillow.

The Wedding Ring

“The Salve of Divinity – on the Sore of Humanity”

Here are some of my favorite parts of this message:

The subtitle: “The Salve of Divinity on the Sore of Humanity”.  What is a salve? Wikipedia says it’s a medical ointment used to soothe the surface of the body. Free Merriam Webster dictionary says it’s a a remedial or soothing influence or agency. Dictionary.com says it’s a a medicinal ointment for healing or relieving wounds and sores. The wedding ring, or marriage itself is the salve provided by God for the sore of man’s solitary condition. Secker starts with Genesis 2:18 – It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. God provides the cure – marriage. If only every man and woman thought marriage was a remedy, a blessing, a gift of God. Nowadays we hear how men feel trapped in marriage and women feel stifled. Marriage was intended to be a healing balm and both spouses a help for one another, as we saw previously in William Gouge’s work.

This dead man speaks much wisdom in the following quotes:

“Human misery is to divine mercy, as a black foil to a sparkling diamond, or as a sable cloud to the sunbeams.”Blue Diamond

“Marriage is like water, to quench the sparks of lust’s fire.”

“Husband and wife should be as two milk cows – which were coupled together to carry the ark of God. Or as the two Cheribim, which looked upon one another, and both upon the mercy-seat.”

“The wife is often to the husband, as the ivy is to the oak – which draws away his vital sap from him.”

“Husband and wife should be like two candles burning together, which make the house more lightsome; or like two fragrant flowers bound up in one bouquet, which augments its redolence; or like two well-tuned instruments, which sounding together, make the more melodious music.”

“How many women are there, who are not laboring bees – but idle drones! They take up a room in the hive – but bring no honey to it! They are moths to their husband’s estates, spending when they should be sparing! As the man’s part is to provide industriously, so the woman’s part is to preserve discreetly!”

The last portion of this sermon is instruction to men on how to choose a wife. Here are some great quotes from this section (my comments in italics):

Wedding still life with brid's jewellery“Choose such a one that will be subject to your dominion. Take heed of yoking yourselves with untamed heifers.”    How would that first sentence sit with feminism? Hmmm. And untamed heifers cracked me up.

“Marriage is just like a sea voyage; he who enters into this ship must look to meet with storms and tempests!” Yes, indeed.

“Choose such a one as may be serviceable to your salvation. A man may think he has a saint – when he has a devil! Take heed of a harlot who is false to your bed; and of a hypocrite who is false to your God.”

Great wisdom. Another dead man has spoken. Take heed and listen!