A Husband Must Maintain His Authority

Family 1

In my last post from William Gouge I quoted him on how a husband’s love for his wife is the foundation for all his duties. We are not surprised to find this emphasis in Gouge. Modern evangelical husbands are frequently exhorted to love their wives, which of course is good and right. However, Gouge’s next section might come as a bit of a surprise. If you remember the title of this chapter is, “A Husband’s Affectionate Authority over His Wife.” The affection part we get. The authority over part we have a harder time with. But for Gouge love is expressed through a husband’s authority. A husband cannot properly love his wife if he is not maintaining and exercising authority.

All the branches which grow out of this root of love as they cover the husband’s duties, may be drawn to two heads

  1. A wise maintaining of his authority.
  2. A right managing of the same.

That these two are branches of a husband’s love, is evident by the place in which God has set him, which is a place of authority; for the best good that any can do, are those which are done in his own proper  position, and by virtue of it.  If then a husband relinquishes his authority, he takes away his ability to do that good, and show those fruits of love which he otherwise might. If he abuses his authority, he turns the edge and point of his sword in the wrong direction. Instead of holding it over his wife for her protection, he stabs her body to her destruction, and so show by it more hatred than love.

We all get Gouge’s last two sentences. We frequently hear about how husbands are not to use their authority to abuse their wives. This was a problem in Gouge’s day as well and he rebukes it soundly throughout the book. 

But the first part we do not understand even if we give lip service to it. Husbands maintain their own authority??? Not hardly. They are to sit by, meekly watching, praying and hoping that someone will recognize who is in charge.  For Gouge the husband must exercise his rule if he is to love his wife and family.  He goes on to say

That a husband ought wisely to maintain his authority is implied under this apostolic precept, “Husbands dwell with your wives according to knowledge” (I Peter 3:7), that is, as those who are well able to maintain the honor of that position in which God has set you, not as dolts and fools without understanding. The same is implied under the titles of honor which the Scriptures attribute to husbands, as lord, master, head, guide, image and glory of God, etc.

Gouge goes on to say that a husband must maintain his own authority for the good of all. “The wife and whole family would feel the damage of the husband’s loss of his authority.” How should a husband maintain his authority?

If you walk before them in a manner worthy of your place and calling, and worthy of that honor and respect which is owed to it, showing forth the fruits of love, faith, and other similar graces, surely they will respect you…even thus may husbands best maintain their authority by being an example in love, seriousness, piety, honesty, etc.

In upcoming posts I will dig into how Gouge encourages husbands to exercise their authority. For now here are a couple of points worth mentioning from these quotes.

First, as I said before a husband will demonstrate love by exercising authority. A husband who refuses to rule his house is a husband who does not love those who live there. For moderns this is hard to understand and that is one reason why so many husbands lead so poorly, wives submit so poorly, and so many homes are wrecked.

Second,  a husband’s job is not only to exercise his authority, but to keep it. God has given him rule over his house for the good of his wife and children. If he loves those who live there he will refuse to relinquish his authority or rule.

Third, the primary way a husband maintains his authority is through righteous living. In a previous post Gouge gave three ways a husband can lose his authority; lack of personal discipline, tyranny/violence, and cowardice, which keeps him from saying no to his wife and children. Gouge does not say this directly, but it would seem that the opposite of those would be the way a husband maintains his authority. If he is self-disciplined, gentle and kind even in rebuke, and willing to say no when necessary then his will normally maintain his authority. The main thing to note is that a husband does not maintain authority by constantly saying, “Listen to me. I am in charge.”  That does not mean he never reminds his wife or children that he is the authority. But this is rare. He does not pull out his badge often.

Finally, I will post more on what Gouge says to wives in a few weeks, but if a wife cares about her well being, the well being of her home, and those in her community she will work to maintain her husband’s authority and obey him.