A Husband Must Maintain His Authority

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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

A Husband’s Love for His Wife in All Things


Can love and authority be combined? For many today the answer is no. Authority is about power and control, not love. Love is about giving people the freedom to do what they want and be who they want to be. But in Scripture authority and love are not enemies. William Gouge, in the first chapter of his book where he addresses husbands, does a wonderful job of weaving together love and authority.  In this post I want to look at his description of a husband’s love for his wife. He begins the chapter by explaining that because the husband has authority he is more accountable.

As a wife is to know her duty, so the husband much more his…The higher his position the more knowledge he ought to have in how to walk worthy of it. Neglect of duty in him is more dishonorable to God, because by virtue of his position he is “the image and glory of God” (I Cor. 11:7), and more destructive not only to his wife, but also to the whole family because of that power and authority he has.

A basic principle of Scripture is that authority brings greater responsibility and therefore greater judgment should it be misused. But the assumption here is that there is such a thing as authority. Without authority there cannot be greater responsibility. Gouge then moves to the principle command to husbands, that of love.

The head of the rest [of his duties], love, is plainly set down and alone mentioned in this [Ephesians 5:25] and many other places in Scripture, whereby it is evident that all other duties are included under it…in this place love  is expressed four times beside that it is implied under many other terms and phrases. Whoever therefore takes a wife, must…love her. Many good reasons for this may be given:

  1. Because no duty on the husband’s part can be rightly performed except it be seasoned by love. The apostle exhorts all Christians to do all things in love (I Cor. 16:14, much more ought husbands. Though in position they are above their wives, love may not be forgotten.
  2. Because of all persons on earth a wife is the most proper object of love. Neither friend, nor child, nor parent ought to be so loved as his wife. She is termed, “the wife of thy bosom” (Deut 13:6), to show that she ought to be as his heart in his bosom.
  3. Because his high position and power of authority may soon puff him up, and make him abuse his wife and trample her under his feet, if an entire love of her is not planted in his heart. To keep him from abusing his authority, love is so much pressed upon him.
  4. Because wives through weakness of their sex (for they are the weaker vessels) are much more prone to provoke their husbands. So as if love is not ruling the husband there is likely to be but little peace between husband and wife. Love covers a multitude of imperfections.
  5. Because as Christ by showing first His love stirs up the church to love Him, so a husband by loving his wife should stir up her to love in return.

Here are a few other quotes from this section on a husband loving his wife.

Their position is a position of authority, which without love will soon turn into tyranny. Their responsibility is especially and above all, to seek the good of their wives. Because wives are the most important and greatest responsibility of husbands, so their most vigorous and greatest care must be for them.

This affection of love is a distinct duty in itself, especially belonging to the husband, and also a common condition which must be joined to every other duty of a husband, to season and sweeten them. His look, his speech, his conduct, and all his actions, in which he has to do with his wife, must be seasoned with love. Love must show itself in his commandments, in his reproofs, in his instructions, in his admonitions, in his authority, in his familiarity, when they are alone together, when they are in company before others, in civil affairs, in religious matters, at all times, in all things.

Neither is it sufficient for a husband to not hate his wife for even the lack of love, though it be only the absence of good is a great vice and contrary also to the duty of love.

For how can he who does not love his wife (whom God has given to him as a token of His favor, and as a help meet for him, to be in his bosom and ever in his sight, even to be no longer two, but one flesh), love God whom he has not seen (I John 4:20)? If any many says he loves God and hates his wife, he is a liar.

In short a man must love his wife.  Without love for his wife all deeds will rot. Without love his kisses are hypocrisy. What does Gouge mean by love? A good window into his meaning is the title of this chapter, “A Husband’s Affectionate Authority over His Wife.” I am not sure if the chapter titles are original, but it hits the bulls-eye.  Love is affection for your wife that is like yeast, which works its way through the entire relationship.  Every interaction and deed is flavored with love. Gouge compares it to salt, which makes all things taste good.

But can love coexist with power and authority? You will notice that Gouge frequently refers to the husband’s authority throughout the post.  To our modern ears this will sound strange. Authority and tyranny are virtual synonyms that are opposed by love and freedom. However, in our next post Gouge will not only say love and authority go together, but he will argue that to love his wife a husband must exercise his authority. His love does not result in him stepping back and letting his household go. Rather the fruit of love is the wise exercise of his authority.

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.

Tyrants and Kicking Posts



Correct doctrine does not inoculate against sin. Just because the right things are taught sin does not magically disappear. It is easy to believe that if we just teach a biblically grounded view of courtship then all we have to do is set those two young ones lose, following our courtship rules, and all will be well. Or if we have the right liturgy then the parishioners automatically become more righteous. Or if we teach our daughters modesty then all will be well and so on. The trouble with this perspective is that the problem with sin is rarely knowledge. Sin lives within us. Whatever system we have (and some are better than others) we bring our sin into it. Many pastors and parents function as if teaching the right doctrine automatically sanctifies. But it doesn’t. And this why a pastor must preach to his people, not just the right doctrine, but also that right doctrine must translate to right living.

In our church we teach headship and submission. It is a biblical concept. It is one of the key issues of our day, along with numerous other male/female, husband/wife issues. But teaching headship and submission is not a vaccine against headship submission sins. In fact, someone can believe in headship and submission and have a terrible, unbiblical marriage. Here are two specific sins that crop up when a church teaches headship.

There will be men who are drawn to this teaching because they are tyrants. They use headship as a shield for accountability. They love headship because they think it means they get to do whatever they want. My wife is my servant and I am the master. These men are often over-controlling, easily offended, lack real accountability, think their children are too good for anyone else, etc. They keep their wife really close because who knows what will happen if she drifts. They speak in terms of protection, but what they really want is control. They speak of their sins in generic terms instead of specifics. They are good at cultural critique, but not good at self-critique. Continue reading

Parenting in the Present

arrowsWe all enjoy certain stages and aspects of parenting more than others.  Some parents love the baby years. Therefore as their kids get older they keep looking back with fondness to when they were cute, cuddly, and contained. Other parents are not so fond of diapers and constant noises that are indecipherable. They look forward to the years when their kids will be able to drive, do big chores, and talk in complete sentences.

Therefore one of the temptations in parenting is to be constantly looking back or forward. Maybe your child is very young and requires constant attention. You spend your days waiting until they can do chores and read. Or maybe you have an awkward, acne-faced teenager who tends to be independent. You look back to the days when he was on your hip and always around. But as parents our goal is to focus on the present. What do my children need from me right? What delight and joys can I find right now? Remember God has you at this phase of parenting.  You can’t go back and you can’t speed up time. The Lord wants you right where you are. When you live in the present with your children a couple of good things happen.

First, we meet our child’s current needs, whether those are physical, emotional, or spiritual. One problem with constantly look back or forward is that the child in front of us is often ignored. We are a waiting on the fifteen year old to show up and ignoring the ten year old in front of us. Instead of meeting the child’s needs we get irritated. Parenting the child in front of you will give you greater sensitivity to their needs.

Second, it is easier to be grateful. All stages of parenting are hard, but the one you are  in is the only one that feels hard. The game you won five years ago or the game you think you will win in five years is always seen in  more a rosy light than the game you are trying to win right now. Often our longing for the past we had or the future we want is a not so subtle complaint about the present God has given. When we accept the present stage we are in as God’s gift to us, no matter how difficult, then we learn to be thankful.  How would you feel if your employer was always looking for a better version of you? “Well you know one day you will be the type of employee I really want?” Or if your husband was always looking back to the early years of marriage? “Well maybe honey one day you will be the wife you were when we first got married.” Too often our children feel that way. We are not harsh or mean normally. But our actions and attitudes say to our children I wish you were different. Until we learn to focus on the present we will not love our children as we ought. We must learn to be grateful for our children as they are, not as they were or as they will be.

Finally, a focus on the present creates dependence on the Lord. It is impossible to depend upon the Lord for the past. And, while there is a sense in which we do, it is also difficult to depend  on the Lord of the future. But in the present, when we are dealing with the child right in front of our eyes, we learn to lean on the Lord. How do we deal with a sullen teenager? Not how will we, though that isn’t a terrible question. But how do we deal with a sullen sixteen year old.  When we parent in the present it is easier and more natural to pray, look to the Word, and rely upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. In my experience a constant longing for the future leads only to anxiety and complaining.

Parents be all there in your parenting. There are stages you will like better than others. That is natural. But, if your kids are older, don’t spend your time looking back to how it was. If your kids are young don’t sit there longing for the day when they will finally be able to talk in a way you understand and there won’t be poop on everything. Be grateful, even (especially?) when it is hard. Perhaps most importantly make sure the children you have right now are your delight. Don’t let them grow up always sensing that they come up short.

Modern Marriage: I Love Me & Commit to Myself


As America continues her descent into madness, satire becomes a more and more difficult task. Take this article, which explains why women (yes they are all women) are marrying themselves.

Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world.

People are marrying themselves. People are having wedding ceremonies where they make vows to love themselves, be compassionate to themselves, and never leave themselves. Here is one example: Continue reading