Read A Friday Lesson of Stray Thoughts for Girls, free online book, by Lucy H. M. Soulsby, on

Our course of lessons for this term brings us to-day to Jephthah’s story; to decide on the amount of blame due to the father is not a matter which so nearly concerns us as to learn the lesson of true womanhood taught us by the daughter. Hers was no blind obedience; her reason for sacrificing herself gives us the true position of a woman as a helpmeet, and as a helpmeet in the performance of public duty. “If thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord” her father must do his duty at all costs, and she will help him to do it, even at the cost of her own life. The place of every woman is to make duty possible and imperative for those about her for brother, sister, husband, friend. How many women keep their menkind back from public duty by their fretfulness about the inconveniences entailed on themselves? A clergyman or doctor has to face fatigue or infection, a citizen wishes to vote according to his conscience and against his interest: how often a woman wife, sister, or mother puts expediency before him, persuades him that “‘second best’ will do,” instead of aiming at “one equal temper of heroic hearts.”

Besides the love of her country and the sense of public duty, which shine out in Jephthah’s daughter, notice the plain lesson of simple obedience, “That she subdued her to her Father’s will.”

The ideal of obedience is less thought of now than in the “Ages of Faith,” perhaps, in one way, this is only a right development; but, though obedience is a “young” stage of moral growth, it is a necessary one, mankind went through it, and each man or woman worth the name must go through it even as our Lord Himself did. I recognize the strength, the North-country virtue of “grit” in such independence and sturdiness as that of the Yorkes in “Shirley,” but the willing and reasonable obedience of a strong nature seems to me still higher it is a nobler attitude of mind to feel, “I don’t care whether I get my own way in this or that, or am my own master; I want to be in touch with the larger, higher life around me,” that larger life of moral growth into which only a humble, teachable nature can enter. The larger, stronger nature the big dog yields gladly to its master; the small terrier nature loves to find an opportunity to yap and snarl. There is nothing fine about the unreasoning instinct to resent an order it is rather the sign of a small nature. To take the commonest instances, when you are told to go to bed, or to mend your dress, or to put on a wrap, or to tidy your room, are you in any way a finer nature if you dawdle and argue and resent the order? Nothing is so small as self-sufficiency and self-centredness, whereas humility and obedience are of the Nature of our Lord Himself, and every humble and obedient soul is in communion with His Greatness. Dante’s hierarchy of heaven, “in order serviceable,” in ordered ranks, culminating in God Himself, gives us a feeling of harmonious greatness which is lacking in the scattered units of his “Inferno.” It was only ignoble greatness which preferred to reign in Hell rather than serve in Heaven.

It may be that, in the maturer stages of life, obedience ceases to be a primary virtue. I am not at all clear when that mature stage begins, but all would admit, in theory, that a noble character must have obedience as a foundation. I think it would help you if you could step outside your own momentary irritation at being ordered to do this or that, and see how unlovely it is to argue and stand on your rights and contest points. The essence of good breeding is to give way to others; quite apart from the consideration of the “Fifth Commandment,” a thorough-bred person would shudder at the rude tone of voice, the snappishness, the contentiousness, the contradiction which many girls otherwise “nice” girls allow themselves to show in speaking to their mothers. How many of you feel quite guiltless on this score? I am afraid you would often have to blush if a stranger, to whom you looked up, could hear the way you answer back at home.

You half feel as though it were “fine” not to be ordered about; but the “best” people in the Christian sense of the word, and the “best” people in the worldly sense, inherit the feelings of the ages of chivalry, that, the nobler a man was, the more deference and service he showed to others: “Ich dien” is the motto of chivalry and worldly greatness. “I am among you as he that serveth” was the saying of Him Who, “though He were a Son,” “learnt obedience.” For this next week, when you are tempted to answer back to be independent to resent being ordered remember how much more beautiful, how much more noble, is a humble submissive temper, than the miserably small ambition of being your own master. Do not be so small-minded as to contest and resent authority. You sometimes hear a servant say, “That’s not my place,” or “I won’t be put upon.” You never hear a true lady speak in that temper, and yet, is there any difference in spirit between this tone which you would condemn, and your own way of answering back? You cannot get out of bad habits all at once, but get your ideal right, and you will grow to it. If you are not living in your own family, and feel inclined to resent orders, remember the days of chivalry, when all pages (often princes by birth) spent their youth serving in other people’s houses, and learning the motto of every true knight, “I serve.”

And whether with strangers or at home, remember Him Who was subject unto His parents, Him of Whom Jephthah’s daughter was but a faint type.