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By James Boardman (J. B.) Hawthorne1 | Download PDF

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” I Cor. 14:34-38.

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. — I Tim2:11-14.

In the providence of God I have been placed in the position of spiritual adviser and teacher to this congregation of Christian men and women. I am called by the spirit of God and the suffrages of this people to expound to them the teachings of the sacred Scriptures. My commission requires me to instruct, to exhort, to comfort, and rebuke. This is what God demands, and what yon have a right to expect of me. Occupying this responsible and sacred position, I claim your respectful and devout attention this morning, while I attempt to set before you the teachings of the divine Word upon a subject of vital importance to the order, peace, and welfare of the churches of Jesus Christ.

The question which you have requested me to discuss is, “Do the Scriptures Forbid Women to Speak in Mixed Assemblies?” By mixed assemblies is meant public gatherings composed of men and women.

I feel that I owe to this congregation and community an explanation of my conduct in reference to this important matter. No man is more indebted to Christian women than I. No man in the gospel ministry has been more helped by them. They have understood me better than men, They have never misinterpreted my motives. They have always appreciated the difficulties and embarrassments connected with my work, and have given me their profoundest sympathy in every conflict with error and ungodliness. When the whisky rings and their hirelings sought to destroy me, the Christian women of this land stood by me with dauntless devotion.

Remembering these things, my sympathies have been with the women whenever they have met the opposition of men in any of their undertakings. I have almost assumed that in any conflict between men and women, the women were right.

If through God’s infinite mercy I am ever permitted to see the face of the apostle Paul, I shall feel that I owe him an humble apology for having many times tried to believe, that in some unaccountable way he had made a prodigious mistake, and inflicted upon woman a cruel injustice in forbidding her to speak in the church. My sympathies, my prejudices, and three-fourths of my reading and thinking have been on the woman’s side of this question. But the conflict is over. After a long and painful struggle I have made an unconditional surrender to conscience, and Paul, and the Holy Ghost.

While my convictions of truth compel me to oppose the good women who differ with me on this subject, such is my regard and affection for them that I am utterly incapable of doing them intentional injustice or of wilfully wounding their feelings. I trust that enough of the old spirit of chivalry lingers in my heart to enable me to accord to them all that integrity of purpose which I claim for myself.

What do the Scriptures teach upon this subject? The discussion must be limited to this single question. Your feelings, the opinions of men, and the spirit of the nineteenth century cannot be admitted into this controversy. It is a subject upon which God has spoken, and we cannot array human opinion or human feeling against his truth without aligning ourselves with Robert Ingersoll and his followers.

A distinguished Methodist minister said to me a few days ago: “The Baptists have less government than any denomination of Christians in the world, and yet they are more united than any other Christian people.” After thanking him for the compliment, I told him that the secret of this unity was that no Baptist, on any question, would ever appeal from the Bible. When he finds a “thus saith the Lord” he will stand like Athenasius against the world.

On the question now before us we find in this “Book by inspiration given” a thus saith the Lord. “Let the women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak.” By these words Baptists have stood through all the centuries of their existence, and by them they will continue to stand “till time’s last thunder shakes the world.”

It gratifies me to be able to say that Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans, are in the main just as loyal to this command as Baptists.

I will state briefly some of the objections which are urged against the most obvious meaning of Paul’s command.