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A Jane Austen Devotional
By Steffany Woolsey
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeing Generous
"Upon my word," said Mr. Dashwood, "I believe you are perfectly right. My father certainly could mean nothing more by his request to me than what you say. I clearly understand it now, and I will strictly fulfill my engagement by such acts of assistance and kindness to them as you have described. When my mother removes into another house my services shall be readily given to accommodate her as far as I can see. Some little present of furniture too may be acceptable then."
"Certainly," returned Mrs. John Dashwood. "But, however, one thing must be considered. When your father and mother moved to Norland, though the furniture of Stanhill was sold, all the china, plate, and linen was saved, and is now left to your mother. Her house will therefore be almost completely fitted up as soon as she takes it."
"That is a material consideration undoubtedly. A valuable legacy indeed! And yet some of the plate would have been a very pleasant addition to our own stock here."
"Yes; and the set of breakfast china is twice as handsome as what belongs to this house. A great deal too handsome, in my opinion, for any place they can ever afford to live in. But, however, so it is. Your father thought only of them. And I must say this: that you owe no particular gratitude to him, nor attention to his wishes; for we very well know that if he could, he would have left almost everything in the world to them."
This argument was irresistible. It gave to his intentions whatever of decision was wanting before; and he finally resolved, that it would be absolutely unnecessary, if not highly indecorous, to do more for the widow and children of his father, than such kind of neighbourly acts as his own wife pointed out. —Sense and Sensibility
So ends a series of exchanges between Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood to settle on how much—if anything—to give his father's widow and her three daughters. You can see Mrs. Dashwood's mean-spiritedness at battle with Mr. Dashwood's natural goodwill and generosity.
Sadly, uncharitable living is not limited to small-minded persons like Mrs. Dashwood. It is a matter of the heart: any one of us is prone to greed if we cultivate qualities such as self-interest, pride, and selfishness, for "what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person" (Matthew 15:18, emphasis added). The Dashwoods' self-congratulatory tone in the final section clearly reveals defiled hearts.
In the book of Mark, Jesus teaches His disciples what real generosity looks like: "A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And [Jesus] called his disciples to him and said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on'" (12:42–44).
As Christ followers, we are called to imitate the widow who gave no less than "everything she had." When we choose this route, He can begin to develop in us qualities such as generosity, kindness, and compassion. We live like Christ by serving others and giving freely of our time and resources. We look like Him by doing so joyfully and thankfully.
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The generous soul will be made rich. Proverbs 1 1:25 NKJV
Christ's Unconditional Love
"[Our daughters] have none of them much to recommend them," replied [Mr. Bennet]; "they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters."
"Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves."
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least."
"Ah! you do not know what I suffer."
"But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood."
"It will be no use to us if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them."
"Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty I will visit them all."
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develope. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. —Pride and Prejudice
Mrs. Bennet's ill breeding is on display from the onset of Pride and Prejudice. Noisy and foolish, she lacks even basic manners or social skills. Her single, driving life's focus—finding eligible husbands for her five daughters—is so exhaustive that over the course of the book she will succeed in driving away nearly every potential suitor.
Mrs. Bennet's intellectual shortcomings are in stark contrast to her husband's dry humor and quick wit. Twenty-three years prior, Mr. Bennet chose to marry a silly but pretty wife, and it seems clear that he daily regrets his choice. To compensate for his unhappy marriage, he withdraws into his study and takes pleasure in books, teasing his wife, and indulging his sarcastic humor. His favoritism of smart, funny Lizzy only further elevates his superiority toward his wife and deepens the chasm between them.
Comical though it may be, Mr. Bennet's poorly executed role as patriarch runs counter to the Bible's directive to husbands: "Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.... He who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:25, 28, emphasis added).
Jesus didn't wait until we deserved His love to give it to us. Instead, He committed to love us first. This required serious sacrifice—the same kind of sacrifice a husband and wife should commit to each other, even when the other is acting neither lovingly nor attractively.
Christ's example teaches us this: love is not first and foremost about finding our spouses physically, emotionally, or intellectually our equals. It is about the commitment to love ... no matter what.
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I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. Hosea 2:20
Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot's character; vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor could the valet of any new made lord be more delighted with the place he held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion.
His good looks and his rank had one fair claim on his attachment; since to them he must have owed a wife of very superior character to any thing deserved by his own. Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable; whose judgement and conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had never required indulgence afterwards.—She had humoured, or softened, or concealed his failings, and promoted his real respectability for seventeen years; and though not the very happiest being in the world herself, had found enough in her duties, her friends, and her children, to attach her to life, and make it no matter of indifference to her when she was called on to quit them.—Three girls, the two eldest sixteen and fourteen, was an awful legacy for a mother to bequeath, an awful charge rather, to confide to the authority and guidance of a conceited, silly father. —Persuasion
For Sir Walter Elliot, vanity has its tentacles wrapped around both his "person" (appearance) and "situation" (title). Even his seventeen-year marriage to the good Lady Elliot, a woman of "very superior character," who humored his arrogance and concealed his failings, was not enough to dethrone his "conceited, silly" ways.
In speaking to the folly of vanity, there is perhaps no greater authority than King Solomon. Born into royalty and appointed to the throne at age twelve, Solomon had a bright future. He was beloved by his subjects and granted unlimited wisdom and riches by God! But over the course of a long life, Solomon was not strong enough to withstand the temptations that come with great luxury. He had more than seven hundred wives, and eventually they turned his heart away from the one true God and led him into idolatry.
The book of Ecclesiastes contains many of Solomon's ruminations on the emptiness of a life derailed by vain pleasures: "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind" (1:14 NKJV). Even the wisest king of Israel lived to regret how he squandered God's blessings.
Solomon's advice can help us avoid the same fate: we will not find the meaning of life in knowledge, money, pleasure, work, or popularity. True satisfaction comes from the pursuit of godly wisdom, appreciating it as His gift, and using what we learn for His glory.
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The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Proverbs 4:7
Sir Thomas [Bertram] was fully resolved to be the real and consistent patron of [his niece, Fanny Price], and Mrs. Norris had not the least intention of being at any expense whatever in her maintenance. As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends.
Having married on a narrower income than she had been used to look forward to, she had, from the first, fancied a very strict line of economy necessary; and what was begun as a matter of prudence, soon grew into a matter of choice, as an object of that needful solicitude which there were no children to supply. Had there been a family to provide for, Mrs. Norris might never have saved her money; but having no care of that kind, there was nothing to impede her frugality, or lessen the comfort of making a yearly addition to an income which they had never lived up to. Under this infatuating principle, counteracted by no real affection for her sister, it was impossible for her to aim at more than the credit of projecting and arranging so expensive a charity; though perhaps she might so little know herself as to walk home to the Parsonage, after this conversation, in the happy belief of being the most liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world. —Mansfield Park
Mrs. Norris has just talked her brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Bertram, into inviting his niece Fanny to live at Mansfield Park. Mrs. Norris has given the impression that she will bear partial responsibility for her niece's upbringing, but in reality, she has no intention of ever doing so and will always have a ready excuse for evading such a burden. She cares only to project the image of charity, not actually to follow through with it.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus addresses the importance of blessing others with our talents, not just using them for show: "The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money" (Matthew 25:16–18 NIV). Jesus' parable further reveals that the two servants who returned the most were deemed "faithful" by their master, but the one who hid his bag was berated for lack of faithfulness.
Notice the master's focus: faithfulness. This parable isn't instructing believers to increase wealth for the kingdom—our God already owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Rather, it demonstrates the importance of using our time, energy, and resources to bless others. The choice between using what we've been given and hoarding it for ourselves indicates how much we truly love our Master.
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"For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." Matthew 2 5:29 NIV
"I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston," said Mr. Knightly, "of this great intimacy between Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it a bad thing."
"A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing?—why so?"
"I think they will neither of them do the other any good."
"You surprise me! Emma must do Harriet good: and by supplying her with a new object of interest, Harriet may be said to do Emma good. I have been seeing their intimacy with the greatest pleasure. How very differently we feel!" ...
"[Emma] will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate, I may safely affirm that Harriet Smith will do nothing.... Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest of her family. At ten years old, she had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled her sister at seventeen.... I think [Harriet Smith] the worst sort of companion that Emma could possibly have. She knows nothing herself, and looks upon Emma as knowing every thing. She is a flatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, because undersigned. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Emma imagine she has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority? And as for Harriet, I will venture to say that she cannot gain by the acquaintance. Hartfield will only put her out of conceit with all the other places she belongs to. She will grow just refined enough to be uncomfortable with those among whom birth and circumstance have placed her home. I am much mistaken if Emma's doctrines give any strength of mind, or tend at all to make a girl adapt herself rationally to the varieties of her situation in life.—They only give her a little polish." —Emma
This repartee—which takes place between the insightful Mr. Knightly and Emma's beloved former governess, Mrs. Weston—exposes serious flaws in Harriet and Emma's seemingly innocent friendship.
To be certain, Emma is generous with her resources. She is also—as Mrs. Weston rushes to point out—clever, pretty, earnest, kind, and well-intentioned. All are good qualities to possess. But are they enough?
In Emma, we see young Miss Woodhouse use her vast resources to "help" the disadvantaged, like Harriet. But through Mr. Knightley's eyes, we recognize that this does not render Emma's motive pure—nor does Harriet's innocent flattery, admiration, and high regard for Emma absolve her of blame.
In other words, the two do nothing to build each other's character. Such a shaky premise nearly guarantees calamity! The Bible warns against the company of fools: "A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself" (Proverbs 18:2 KJV).
We must choose our friends carefully. Any friendship not centered around Christ, and particularly those built on mutual foolishness, is a pathway to ruin.
Like Mr. Knightley, make a bold assessment of your friendships. Then strive to point one another to Christ, not each other—and see where He leads.
Excerpted from A Jane Austen Devotional by Steffany Woolsey Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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