“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (I Samuel 15:22)
The foundation of all perfect deportment is found in obedience. All the universe is under obedience. The stars move in their respective places, the sun and moon in their orbits, and the earth upon its yearly course around the sun, all acting according to one common law that guides them all. The seasons come and go, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, day and night, all according to laws that are never broken. And if by chance one of these laws should be broken, all the great universe would become chaos. All that God has made he has placed under law, and all moves on in harmony and splendor. Mankind also was placed under law, but not in the absolute sense that governs the universe. He was made like God in that he could know good and evil and choose for himself. If he should choose that which is right he should bring to himself blessings and peace, but if he chose the evil he should bring down upon his own head the results of that choice. From this law of reward no man may in the end find an escape. Of all that God made, man alone dared to be disobedient. He who could have brought most glory to God has from the beginning dishonored Him.
There are two kinds of obedience. In the first a weaker person is overcome by a stronger and compelled to obey by superior force. His will is not in the obedience, but rather against it. He will cease to be obedient when opportunity permits. This is the obedience that criminals give to laws, slaves to their masters, and which many children give to their parents and teachers. It is the soil in which rebellion grows, and it is always dangerous. Its end is always unrestraint, turmoil, and anarchy.
True obedience begins in the heart. The person obeying gives sanction to the law, acknowledging that it is right, and obeys because he believes it to be his duty to do so. He needs no law, officer, nor master to compel him, for he is master of his own soul and demands of himself that which is right. Such a man is great indeed who is able to make himself obedient to God and right. When the lesson of self-government is learned, one of life’s greatest victories is won.
The girl who comes to perfect womanhood must learn to be obedient. Her whole life must be governed, not by whim or pleasure, but by right and duty. Her first lessons of obedience are learned at home. She becomes aware that all things are not for her personal convenience and pleasure, but that she must do her part in service, restraint, and sacrifice, that home may be orderly and happy. Her parents give her many and various commands. Some of them seem hard and unnecessary. They interfere with her desires and plans, and the temptation to disregard them as far as possible is great. She feels hampered and bound and unable to carry out her designs. But she who is building good character takes heed to the commands given her, whether good or bad, and receives the admonitions and reproofs which come her way, governing herself by them, because it is right that she do so.
This lesson of obedience in spite of the rebellion in the heart is not learned all at once. But every girl does not have the same hard battle with it. Here is one point where she who is blest with a humble and submissive nature has the advantage. She can do quite naturally what her willful and rebellious sister will have to struggle hard to accomplish. Many girls are like my little friend Betty. Betty was willful by nature, and obedience came hard. She had been exceptionally willful in a certain matter, and her father had reproved her sharply, cutting off privileges that Betty valued very much. She felt angry and rebellious against her father for the penalty that he had exacted, and unburdened her heart to her mother in angry little bursts. Her mother answered, “We will not discuss Father now. You are angry and cannot think clearly. But you will confess that it is not impossible for you to obey to the letter all that he has required. What your rebellious nature needs, my daughter, is to be compelled to obey, and you are the one to do it. The commandment has been given you, and if you want to be victor obey it exactly, for your own soul’s good. It is the easiest way out of your difficulty, and the best thing for your development.”
Betty had the good sense to see this, and though her heart did yet rebel, she said, “I shall do that.” And she found the hardest part of her punishment was over when she had brought down her stubborn spirit.
Obedience is never outgrown. It is not merely a requirement of childhood, but is just as necessary in later years. After a girl leaves the care of her parents and teachers she remains yet the servant of duty. In fact, the more she is thrown upon her own responsibility the more loudly duty speaks to her, becoming either a tyrant exacting obedience from an unwilling heart, or a good friend and guide leading on to right, just as the girl takes it.
There were long stretches in Betty’s childhood and youth in which the girl did practically as she desired to do. She followed the dictates of her own free will. It is true that to do this she had to keep within the bounds of law and order; but she found that no bondage. Now, however, since duty beckons her she is pressed on every side. There is scarcely any time she can call her own. She must do her duty or lose her own self-respect. She has duty to herself, to her family, to her friends, to the church, to her community, and to her God. If she has not learned obedience and rebels at service she will find her life hard indeed; but if she wills to do her duty and obeys from choice the commands of her stern mistress, then she will be happy in just doing her duty.
There is rare pleasure in obedience. The answer of a good conscience brings into the heart a peace and satisfaction that nothing can destroy. The girl who can fold her hands at night with the knowledge that throughout the day she has been obedient to God and right, finds in life a gladness and quietness that nothing else can bring.
If you would be happy through life and make a success of the years which will be given to you, learn now in your girlhood to obey, to bring yourself under control, where reason rules, not mere whim or fancy. And the responsibility of this discipline dare not be left to parents and teachers. The girl who really learns obedience must take herself in hand and be a conqueror. Others can compel your servile obedience, but only you can bring to your heart true, God-fearing obedience. Only true obedience uplifts and enlightens and makes life noble. Be your own mistress, bringing yourself into obedience.