The Husband’s Neutered Authority

William_GougeWilliam Gouge’s Domestic Duties, reprinted in three volumes by Reformation Heritage Books and published in 1622, is good antidote to much modern thinking on marriage, husbands, and wives, in particularly “conservative” teaching on marriage.  He does not sound like modern complementarians, despite the fact that complementarians claim they are the traditionalists, holding the line against the liberal egalitarians. For example he has a chapter titled, “A Wife’s Active Obedience to Her Husband.” (The chapter titles might not be original, but they do accurately summarize the content of each chapter.) Hard to see something like showing up in modern books, even by conservatives, on marriage. He also has two chapters on the wife not going against her husband’s will. Gouge is balanced and does not allow for the husband to sin as you will read below. But he also holds to the Biblical view of the husband’s authority and wife’s obedience far better than most conservatives do today. Here is an example from the chapter titled, “A Husband’s Patient Correcting of His Wife,” which is from the 2nd volume, Building a Godly Home; A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage. Bold is mine.

The authority and responsibility which God has given to a husband over his wife require that when good and right reason presents itself, he should reprove her. This is a special means to draw her from those sins in which otherwise she might live and lie, yes, and die also; and so live, lie, and die under God’s wrath. To free a wife out of this misery and wretchedness is as great a sign of love, as to pull her out of the water when she is in danger of drowning, or out of the fire when she i sin danger of burning…

Against this is the groveling and fearful mind of many husbands who hate to offend, and (as they think) to provoke their wives; and for this reason choose to let them continue in sin rather than tell them of it. They both dishonor their position and the image of God, which by virtue of their position they carry, and also in effect and in reality hate their wives. This the law implies, where it says, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him” (Lev. 19:17).

If husbands love their wives, they will reprove them.  Weak and fearful husbands who refuse to correct their wives hate them. Gouge then goes to explain how a husband should rebuke his wife. He is discussing the manner of rebuke.

That a husband may clearly show that his reproving his wife is indeed a fruit of love, he must have special care to sweeten it, especially with sweeten reproof with gentleness…the matter of reproof must be just…a trespass [sin]therefore must go before reproof. Where no trespass is, there reproof is unjust…Fairness further requires that the matter for which a husband reproves his wife be important, namely for some fault that is dangerous to her soul, hurtful to their estate [property, house, etc.], contagious by reason of bad example to children and others in the family, but most of all a sin against God which provokes His wrath.

For a reproof to be righteous it must address sin, must be important, and must be done with gentleness. Gouge goes on to warn husbands against three other vices when reproving, naive gullibility, undue suspicion, and hasty reproof.

Gullibility is when belief is given to every groundless report, and as a result blame is laid upon the wife…by this it often comes to pass that they she is wrongfully and unjustly blamed…The same may be said of causeless suspicion..suspicion to the mind is as colored glasses to the eye…suspicion will make a man pervert everything that his wife does, and blame her many times for praiseworthy things….If two these two vices he adds rashness and haste in reproving, and makes every small and insignificant matter which any way he dislikes, matter of reproof, does he not proclaim to all that shall know it that he loves chiding more than the loves his wife?

Gouge says more, which I will post in the future, but that is enough for now. A couple of thoughts on this. Gouge is not arguing that a husband should correct his wife because they are both Christians, though that is part of it. He is saying a husband should correct his wife because he has authority over her. He is the leader, ruler, authority in his house and this includes his wife, though she is not to be treated like a servant or a child. Throughout the book, Gouge’s exhortations are careful, wise, balanced, and Biblical. Yet would anything like this get published today by mainstream complementarians? Of course we have books encouraging husbands to be gentle and kind. But can you imagine a contemporary evangelical book with a chapter specifically on how husbands should correct their wives or how wives should actively seek to obey their husbands? Why is that?

The answer is not simple, but one of the roots is the functional rejection of the husband as having real authority over his wife. Most complementarians neuter the husband’s authority. The husband is the one who breaks a tie should there be a disagreement. That is about it. He does not command his household after him. He certainly does not rebuke his wife. But this approach is weak, unbiblical, and not what our fathers in the faith taught.  A good corrective to this would be a plain reading of the Bible, but perhaps more importantly, since our modern blinders are so thick, a plain reading of our forefathers, such as Gouge, Calvin, and others. Even if a complementarian ends up disagreeing with them, at least they will know they are not standing in the long Christian tradition of teaching on husbands and wives, marriage, and men and women.