Puritan Family Advice

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For those "head of the household" types some strong words from Richard Baxter:


by Richard Baxter

He that will expect duty or comfort from his wife, must be faithful in doing the duty of a husband. The failing of yourselves in your own duty, may cause the failing of another to you, or at least in some other way as much afflict you, and will be bitterer to you in the end, than if a hundred failed their duty to you. A good husband will either make a good wife, or easily and profitably endure a bad one. I shall therefore give you directions for your own part of duty, as that which your happiness is most concerned in.

Direct. I. The husband must undertake the principal part of the government of the whole family, even of the wife herself. And therefore, I. He must labor to be fit and able for that government which he undertakes. This ability consists, 1. In holiness and spiritual wisdom, that he may be acquainted with the end to which he is to conduct them, and the rule by which he is to guide them, and the principal works which they are to do. An ungodly, irreligious man is both a stranger and an enemy to the chief part of family government. 2. His ability consists in a due acquaintance with the works of his calling, and the labors in which his servants are to be employed. For he that is utterly unacquainted with their business, will be very unfit to govern them in it: unless he commit that part of their government to his wife, or a steward that is acquainted with it. 3. And he must be acquainted both with the common temper and infirmities of mankind, that he may know how much is to be borne with, and also with the particular temper, and faults, and virtues of those whom he is to govern. 4. And he must have prudence, to direct himself in all his carriage to them; and justice, to deal with everyone as they deserve; and love, to do them all the good he can, for soul and body. II. And being thus able, he must make it his daily work, and especially be sure to govern himself well, that his example may be part of his government of others.

Direct. II. The husband must so unite authority and love, that neither of them be omitted or concealed, but both be exercised and maintained. Love must not be exercised so imprudently as to destroy the exercise of authority; and authority must not be exercised over a wife so magisterially and imperiously, as to destroy the exercise of love. As your love must be a governing love, so your commands must all be loving commands. Lose not your authority; for that will but disable you from doing the office of a husband to your wife, or of a master to your servants. Yet must it be maintained by no means inconsistent with conjugal love; and therefore not by fierceness or cruelty, by threats or stripes (unless by distraction or loss of reason, the cease to be capable of the carriage otherwise due to a wife). There are many cases of equality in which authority is not to be exercised; but there is no case of inequality or unworthiness so great, in which conjugal love is not to be exercised; and therefore nothing must exclude it.

Direct. III. It is the duty of husbands to preserve the authority of their wives, over the children and servants of the family. For they are joint governors with them over all the inferiors. And the infirmities of women are apt many times to expose them to contempt: so that servants and children will be apt to slight them, and disobey them, if the husband interpose not to preserve their honor and authority. Yet this must be done with cautions as these: 1. Justify not any error, vice, or weakness of your wives. They may be concealed or excused as far as may be, but never owned or defended. 2. Urge not obedience to any unlawful of theirs. No one hath authority to contradict the law of God, or disoblige any form of his government. You will but diminish your own authority with persons of any understanding, if you justify any thing that is against God's authority. But if the thing commanded be lawful, though it may have some inconveniences, you must rebuke the disobedience of inferiors, and not suffer them to slight the commands of your wives, nor to set their own reason and wills against them, and say, We will not do it. How can they help you in government, if you suffer them to be disobeyed?

I don't know how much of this I agree with, but I do profoundly agree that if a man is to be the head of the household he must earn the respect due that head and not demand it without having demonstrated that he is worthy of it. Too many houses are led by bullying, brutish, unkind men who view wives and children as little more than objects and obstacles. Either trophies or burdens. I know that isn't true among St. Blog's men, but too much of this strain still comes through from the culture. What I like about Baxter's writing is that he doesn't posit up-front that respect is due a tyrant and a bully. He says in a straightforward way, men should lead the household both in domestic matters and in spiritual matters.

If one is of this opinion (and I don't know where I stand) I consider it essential to remember not just the "privileges of power" but the duties and responsibilities of a loving husband and father. If we are to take upon ourselves the leadership of family it should be with an undersanding of what family is and what that leadership entails.

For those interested, the complete excerpt may be found here.

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Puritan Family Life from Fathers Know Best on April 13, 2004 7:47 AM

Yes, I read widely, perhaps too widely. But the Puritans were spectacular advice givers, and sometimes we might do well to heed them. See here for an example of what I'm talking about.... Read More


As a Roman Catholic husband--and father--I stand with St. Paul--and my beloved wife, in the beautiful Scripture from Ephesians read during our nuptial Mass:

Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ: so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it...So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. (Eph. 22-
25, 28)

Of course, as said elsehwere, but with no less wisdom, "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" and,for the wise husband, his heart.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 13, 2004 7:37 AM.

Some Puritan Quotations That Make My Previous Point was the previous entry in this blog.

Prayer Requests 4/14/04 is the next entry in this blog.

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