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.  Continue reading

The Power of the Consistory in John Calvin’s Geneva

Here is the latest post in a series I am doing on John Witte and Robert Kingdon’s excellent book Sex, Marriage and Family Life in John Calvin’s Geneva. This post more than others is simply historical, giving a basic outline of what the Consistory was and how it worked. If you want further explanation you can read chapter 7 in Calvin’s Company of Pastors. 

In 1538 John Calvin was exiled from Geneva. For the next few years he lived in Strasbourg where he learned from Martin Bucer and preached. In 1541 the city of Geneva asked him to return. One of the demands he made if they wanted him back was the creation of a institution to oversee the Christian discipline of the population of Geneva. Calvin’s request led to the creation of the Consistory, a church court that oversaw the discipline of the citizens of Geneva. The Consistory became the primary ecclesiastical tool to deal with the sins of the people.

The Consistory was made up of around 2 dozen men, which included pastors, elected officials, and Calvin,the moderator. It met every week on Thursday with sessions that could last for several hours. The Consistory had spiritual authority, but no civil authority. It could and often did recommend that the civil authorities look into a situation. Some situations, such as murder and rape, never came to the Consistory, but went directly to the civil magistrate.  Continue reading

How a Husband Loses His Authority

drunkardAfter William Gouge finishes explaining how a husband should exercise his authority, he lists the different ways a man loses his authority. Gouge here means his functional authority. The husband still has official authority as the head of his home, but people do not listen to him and in extreme cases there can be divorce where the husband loses his primary authority. He lists three different ways husbands can lose authority: undisciplined living, cruelty/tyranny, and refusing to lead the family but allowing them freedom to do as they please.

[Men] who by their irreverence, partying, drunkenness, immorality, failure to take life seriously, wasting money, and other dishonorable conduct, make themselves contemptible, and so lose their authority. Though a wife should not take these occasions to despise her husband, yet it is a just judgment on him to be despised, seeing he makes himself contemptible.

A man who lacks discipline and self-control loses his authority and deserves contempt.

Contrary also to the directions I just gave [how to wisely exercise authority] is the stern, rough, and cruel conduct of husbands, who by violence and tyranny go about to maintain their authority. Force may indeed cause fear, but the fear of slaves, such a fear produces more hatred than love, causes more inward contempt than outward respect.

A husband who leads with tyranny and violence loses the heart of his household. A wife or children may follow, but it is only to prevent themselves harm, not out of love or respect for the husband.

And contrary [to wise governing] is their groveling disposition, who against their own judgment yield to their wife’s inclination in such things as are unlawful; they will lose their authority rather than make their wife unhappy…some husbands allow this by reason of their fearful and foolish disposition, lacking courage and wisdom to maintain the honor of their positions against the pride of their wives. Others upon a subtle, covetous, wicked mind, that by the means of their wives there may be more freedom for receiving bribes. Among these I may reckon those who against their own mind, to satisfy their wife’s mind, allow both their wife and children to follow the latest fashion, to dress themselves in a way inappropriate to their positions, to frequently be with foolish friends, and so on…Husbands may listen to their wives’ suggesting good things, but they may not obey them in evil things.

Husbands lose their authority when they refuse to stand up to their wives or when they believe one path is correct, but instead go with what their wife says. When they flatter their wives and bend to all their wishes they lose authority. They can do this through cowardice or through manipulation (“receiving bribes”).

Often we husbands get irritated when we are not being heard and our authority is not honored. This is good. A husband and father should expect to be heard. But when this happens the first place we should look is our own lives. Are we lazy and undisciplined ? Do we expect our wife and children to work hard, but we are soft? Are we mean and cruel? Do we rule by threats, yelling, and violence? Finally, can we say no to our wives? Can we go against their will and bear their anger when necessary? If not we lose authority. It is hard to respect a man with no backbone.

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 gentleness...to 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.

Calvin on Children’s Obedience to Wicked Fathers

Here is a quote from a sermon John Calvin preached on Acts 7:51. Note that this is a sermon preached before all the people on a Sunday morning.

If fathers want to constrain their children to do evil, the children must bear in mind that they have on Father in heaven, whom they are to obey because, as Paul says, he is the Father of bodies and souls (I Thess. 5:23). Therefore, children must obey their fathers, but according to God’s will. For from the moment fathers encroach upon God’s honor, the children must not in this instance obey them any more than they would the devil.