Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Richard Baxter on God's Design for Christian Marriage

Yesterday morning I removed one item from my infinitely long "I really need to get around to reading that sometime" list. Prior to that I had only read portions of Richard Baxter's The Mutual Duties of Husbands and Wives Towards Each Other but after recommending it to someone considering marriage, I finally decided to read it in its entirety. It was time well spent.   One of the reasons for my not reading it sooner was that I was foolishly waiting until I was at a point in my own relationship when the convicting force of the piece wouldn't be so great. I say "foolishly" because no matter where we are in the process of sanctification, any teaching that is faithful to the Scriptures will shine penetrating light into the crevices of our souls, burning whatever laurels we're resting on, painting a picture of something more beautiful than what we've settled for, and revealing how great and continual is our need for the mercy and grace of the Savior. The uninterrupted session during which I pondered Baxter's counsel did just that, resulting in prayer of confession and petition for the Spirit's enabling might to more faithfully fulfill my calling as a husband and father.

I remember reading somewhere that as Christians we often err in thinking that the goal of marriage is merely not getting a divorce. Baxter reminds us that God's design for the marital bond is that husband and wife be "mutual helpers to each other's souls."

Baxter divided his instruction into the following sections:

I. The first duty of husbands is to love their wives (and wives their husbands). Here he provides a number of directives for maintaining love beginning with the selection of a spouse.

II. Husbands and wives must live together.

III. Abhor not only adultery itself, but all that leads to unchasteness and the violation of your marriage covenant.

IV. Husband and wife must delight in the love and company, and lives of each other.

V. It is your solemn duty to live in quietness and peace.
I. Directions showing the great necessity of avoiding dissension
II. Directions for avoiding dissensions

VI. One of the most important duties of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband is to carefully, skillfully, and diligently help each other in the knowledge and worship, and obedience of God, that they might be saved and grow in their Christian Life.

Here are some of the passages from the section on avoiding dissension that I took particular note of:
Both husband and wife must mortify their pride and strong self-centered feelings. These are the feelings which cause intolerance and insensitivity. You must pray and labor for a humble, meek, and quiet spirit. A proud heart is troubled and provoked by every word that seems to assault your self-esteem.

Do not forget that you are both diseased persons, full of infirmities; and therefore expect the fruit of those infirmities in each other; and do not act surprised about it, as if you had never known of it before. Decide to be patient with one another; remembering that you took one another as sinful, frail, imperfect persons, and not as angels, or as blameless and perfect.
Remember still that you are one flesh; and therefore be no more offended with the words or failings of each other, than you would be if they were your own. Be angry with your wife for her faults no more than you are angry with yourself for your own. Have such an anger and displeasure against a fault, as will work to heal it; but not such as will cause festering and aggravation of the diseased part. This will turn anger into compassion, and will cause you to administer care for the cure.

Lastly, help each other by an exemplary life. Be yourself, what you desire your husband or wife should be; excel in meekness, and humility, and charity, and dutifulness, and diligence, and self-denial, and patience.
As providence would have it, shortly after reading and meditating on what Baxter had to say, I received an unexpected visit from one half of a marriage in crisis and spent the bulk of the remainder of the day seeking to help both parties.

If you're married or would like someday to be, I encourage you to make time in your schedule to pore over Baxter's biblical counsel. If I could offer and make good on a time-back guarantee, I would. But I can't. So you'll just have to trust me. But if you're dissatisfied after reading it, let me know anyway.

1 comment:

Gina Burgess said...

Tremendous wisdom in this post. Thank you for it.