Dead Men Know Best: The Wisdom and Wit of the Puritans (and other dead men) on Marriage. Part 1: William Gouge

Of Domestical Duties (1622) sounds like a boring read. It makes me think of housework. This huge work by seventeenth-century Presbyterian William Gouge has been edited and modernized by Scott Brown and Joel Beeke and separated into three volumes entitled Building a Godly Home. The RHB publication is Gouge’s biblical exposition of family life and relationships in updated understandable language. Move over, Dr. Phil – this is all we need! I have Volume Two: A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage. Oh my, don’t we all want a happy marriage? Especially the second time around, when all odds are against us. These two points are my favorites:

Gouge on Remarriage After Divorce

Gouge mentions desertion and proclaims, “…liberty is given to the party forsaken to marry another.” Aha! Here’s some backup for my argument in a previous post: Can Two Divorced People Remarry? Thank you, Mr. Gouge, for further validation. Since Gouge has given his approval of remarriage after divorce in the particular circumstance of abandonment, I’m confident he’d approve of my second time around. In fact, I can conclude that the following quote applies to me as well:

The Present Pledge of God’s Favor

“This other must be as close clung to as if they have never been joined to a former. The living husband or wife is the present pledge of God’s favor. He is now your own husband, and she is now your own wife, and not the party that is dead.” –William Gouge

I love that! My husband Mike is the present pledge of God’s favor in my life. What an encouraging little phrase. And close clung to as if they have never been joined to a former. Wow. My marriage is a blessing, especially the second time around, because it is the present pledge of God’s favor in my life now. I must memorize this phrase when I feel those negatives discussed in Yours, Mine, And Ours – Not. And that close clinging really inspires me.

Even though the quote refers to widows/widowers remarriage in Chapter 4: Living Together in Love, I’m sure Gouge would consider my deserter ex-husband as ‘dead’. After all, Gouge was a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, who collaborated on The Westminster Confession of Faith, which declares the offending spouse ‘dead’. Gouge explains how we must never look back or think of that dead spouse nor draw comparisons between the dead spouse and the new. Such mind wanderings only cause contention and bring misery. It’s funny how that former spouse creeps up (pun intended) in my mind and causes me to project creepy behavior onto my poor dear new Mike. I have to keep checking myself on this.

European Historic Alley At NightIt doesn’t surprise me that something written in the seventeenth century is so relevant for today. And why not? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. From the days of Eden, male and female had the same issues. While Beeke has turned Gouge’s antiquated expressions to more modern language, the Biblical basis remains. This marriage manual reeks with complementarianism and I love that! There are no feminazi leanings here. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, complementarian means men and women are equal with God, but have different roles. I believe the Bible teaches the complementarian view. Perhaps there will be a future blog post on complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.

Is she the one for me?
I wonder if this bloke will get Father’s approval.

Gouge begins with very pertinent chapters: Seeking Marriage and Getting Married. In Seeking Marriage, Gouge makes a good point about marrying someone around your own age, social status, and most especially equal in piety. The updated Gouge explains:

“Happy is that family where both the husband and wife are mutual members of Christ’s body”

I am reminded of the Bible verse:

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”

– 2 Cor. 6:14

This is the most important requirement in choosing a mate. Being of one mind and one accord, with Christ as the head of household, is mandatory. I don’t think we’re hung up on social status as they were at that time. (Gouge explains that it’s unsuitable for a man of great authority to marry his kitchen maid). I think it more important for two people to be similar in intellect so they can communicate well and enjoy intelligent conversation. That’s just my two cents. But without shared faith in Christ, marriage is doomed. Yes, there are many marriages of other faiths or no faith that survive happily. Of course it’s possible to have agreeable arrangements. But we’re talking about God’s standard here. We’re talking about the marriage dynamic expressed in Scripture; the sacrificial relationship of Christ and the Church displayed in us mere mortals.

Which brings me to Chapter 5: Caring For Each Other’s Souls where Gouge gets into all the spiritual helps spouses provide for each other. We are to help each other grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are to hinder sin in one another. We are to exhort one another to read the word, pray, and sing Psalms together. This is a favorite part of the book. How often we neglect this type of help in our marital relationship. Yet, it’s the most important kind of help we can give each other.

This is followed by Chapter 6 : Guarding Each Other’s Health, Reputation and Property. Of particular note here is Gouge’s wonderful expose on Husbands and Wives Managing Together the Possessions of the Family. The practice of good stewardship is expressed in this chapter. I love the references to Proverbs 31 concerning the wife.

“…she  may by her planning and diligence bring much profit to her husband. Therefore, in this, among other respects, the good wife which Solomon describes, is said to do good to her husband all the days of her life, for by her hard work and planning did she preserve and increase his possessions, that the heart of her husband trusted her, and he had no lack of gain.”

cooking-stove_GJyH5LdOIs this not a most important function in the marriage dynamic? Maybe she is loading digital coupons onto her supermarket card, cooking from scratch and ditching the hairdresser. Maybe she’s crocheting and selling on Etsy while the baby naps. She’s careful with her husband’s hard-earned money. She’s also an entrepreneur. She’s wise and savvy. This is not a woman needing fulfillment outside the home. This is not a woman doing her own thing apart from her husband. This is a true helpmeet. She complements her husband. And I don’t mean “you look so handsome today, dear.” A complementary role. Working together for the same end.

The last eleven chapters are directed at individual spouses. Five are for the wife. Six are for the husband. It looks like husbands need a bit more instruction! Clearly, just from reading the titles of these chapters, we see differing roles in husband and wife. Here are the key words to the wife: RESPECT, NOT GOING AGAINST HUSBAND’S WILL (2 chapters on this!), OBEDIENCE, SUBMISSION. Here are some key words to the husband: AFFECTIONATE AUTHORITY, HUMBLE GENTLENESS, PATIENT, KIND, PROVIDING, SINCERE STEADY LOVE. That speaks volumes to me and I haven’t finished reading the book yet. But for now, it’s time to get ready for Thanksgiving. Let’s take time to thank God for the gifts He’s bestowed upon us. Instead of turning on the TV Thanksgiving evening, gather the family around and read dead men. They know best!thanksgiving-day_10065509-031914


Upcoming Blog Series: Dead Men Know Best! The wisdom and wit of the Puritans (and other dead men) on marriage

autumn-leaves-and-two-birds-kissing_GygqJcduSo many books, so little time! Most new “Christian” books don’t entice me. Though I occasionally order a good reformed book from Christian Book Distributors, their thick catalogs full of Arminian authors usually get recycled without a look. Contemporary evangelical marriage help books pale in comparison to their venerable counterparts. While waiting for my prince charming to arrive on the scene, I read dead men. What a treasure of wisdom I found! I thought it would be refreshing to resurrect the Puritan writings (and later authors such as J.R. Miller and J.C. Ryle) on the subject of marriage. I’d like to share them on the blog in the coming weeks. I’ll include the links to the various works and discuss portions I love best.

This Thanksgiving Mike and I will be blessed to have two of our six children and their families at our table with us. The Storybook House will be warm with pumpkin and cinnamon scents and the laughter of two granddaughters playing. Faith, our 10-month-old, does a mean turkey impression. I am thankful.

thanksgiving-day-vector-elements_QyEf7zI am also thankful for dead men. Truly, they are very alive – more alive than dead works of some contemporary authors. I don’t mean to broad brush all contemporaries. There are many excellent writers in the reformed camp published by P&R Publishing, Reformation Trust Publishing and Cruciform Press. But I’m most thankful for such publishers as Reformation Heritage Books where Joel Beeke updates Puritan writings so all can understand. Let me also mention Solid Ground Books, where owner Michael Gaydosh also publishes resurrected gems. Banner of Truth is another excellent discerning publisher – yes, the Truth and nothing but! Forgive me if I left anyone out, but you get the idea. Reformed and only reformed. Dead reformers best.

So as we contemplate our many blessings this Thanksgiving, get ready to enjoy a cornucopia of gospel nourishment from brethren of Thanksgivings past. While I’m busy cooking and baking this holiday season, I will let dead men speak.

The Second Time Around: Yours, Mine and Ours…Yes! (Part Two)

DSCN4276 Now that I’ve discussed some stumbling blocks toward second-time-around marital bliss (the yours and mine), what can we define as ours in this mid-life remarriage after divorce? Last time I focused on the temporal. It’s time to widen our vision up to heaven. Spiritual blessings that flow from a covenant marriage are innumerable. Christ is present in this covenant marriage and He is its head. What’s the purpose of marriage anyway? Is it for ourselves and our happiness? Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5: 22-33). That means sacrifice, serving and selflessness. We must glorify God in marriage through this dynamic of putting the other first.

Who needs Hollywood? I’d rather reap the glorious benefits and joys of marriage as pictured in God’s Word.

All these are OURS

  • Companionship, friendship and intimacy. In Friends And Lovers, Joel Beeke writes: “true marital friendship is the personal bond of shared life in Christ”. Lonely days, lonely nights no more! Companionship is ours. Friendship and intimacy, when nourished, will deepen as the years go by.
  • A shared life now. We are creating new history together, our history, with each passing day. I have to remind myself that it’s never good to look back. Lot’s wife couldn’t let go of her past life in that other place and look what happened to her. Luke 9:62 says “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Matthew Henry’s commentary explains: if thou hast a design to follow me and to reap the advantages of those that do so, yet if thou lookest back to a worldly life again and hankerest after that, if thou lookest back as Lot’s wife did to Sodom, which seems to be alluded to here, thou art not fit for the kingdom of God.” Wow. I must ponder this when I get sulky during the holidays. No looking back. No what-ifs. Here and now.
  • Help. We must help each other grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We should help hinder sin in one another and seek to mortify sins. We don’t go it alone. I love what God’s Word says in Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12:
    Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

    11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

    I especially love verse 11 – it’s wonderful to have my husband beside me, warming me on cold drafty nights in our old house. Of course, these verses refer to the spiritual helps: of lifting one another up after falling into sin. This kind of help is ours in marriage. Mike and I are particularly mindful of God’s grace in giving us both a second chance for repenting of sinful behaviors that led to the destruction of our previous marriages. Marriage is a wonderful vehicle for the Lord to refine us as gold. It’s easy to see the faults of that other person while we have that huge plank in our own eye (Matt. 7:3-5). Yes, the Westminster Confession of Faith declares one spouse ‘the innocent party’ in Biblical divorce scenarios, but truly there is never an innocent party. How could there be, when we are all sinners? I am thankful for this second time around, this second chance in pursuing holiness and living for Christ. William Gouge explains this dynamic of Christian marriage in Building A Godly Home: A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage. This is an excellent resource for any marriage – short, long, first or second. I highly recommend it:

  • Children and Grandchildren.
    Grandchildren – ours!

    I’m including children (who were on the NOT list as well) because we must make them ours by loving them all and setting a good example for them in our marriage. Gradually we may succeed at having my three and his three over for dinner, who knows? We currently have 6 grandchildren. Five are mine, one is his — never mind — they’re all ours! They have no knowledge of the horrors of our divorces. These little ones don’t think twice about considering both of us theirs. Lord willing, we’ll have more grandchildren to call ours. What a blessing that will be.

  • Christ! We have Christ; we belong to him and He is ours. In our previous marriages, we were unequally yoked. It’s wonderful to have shared faith in Christ. On Christ the solid Rock this marriage stands. Christ is our treasure. John Piper refers to Christ as the ‘all-satisfying Treasure of Life’. He is our all in all. We should never expect to get all our satisfaction from a spouse. We’re two sinners disappointing one another, but a marriage in Christ remedies that. When we both look to our Treasure, we find our every desire satisfied. John Piper explains beautifully: “…Christ as the Treasure that all our cravings have pointed to. All our acquisitiveness has pointed to this. All our lust has pointed to this. All our addictions have pointed to this. All our loneliness has pointed to this. All our longings for marriage and friendship and success and leisure and fun and significance and influence have pointed to Christ our Treasure. We were made to treasure Christ.”
  • A shared inheritance. Who gets the house, our home? Never mind who gets the stuff when we die. That can be worked out and agreed upon. What’s more important is what we will inherit – a  heavenly home.

    Leaving this earthly home one day, very blessed by my stay.

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will”  – Ephesians 1:11

We are joint heirs in Christ:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.                                                                                                                                                                    – Romans 8:16-18

Imagery of marriage is plentiful in the Bible. That must mean marriage is highly esteemed by God, a precious and most intimate relationship. He wants an intimate relationship with His Bride, the Church. Without dissecting all the theology I’m incapable of expounding, let me just say that our earthly marriages should be a display of God’s love for us. The Old Testament book of Hosea is the ultimate picture of unconditional love. Hosea and Gomer: now there’s a relationship to mimic – not Gomer’s whorish wanderings, but Hosea’s unconditional love, which is a picture of God’s love toward us. Hosea 2:19 says “I will marry thee unto me forever: yea, I will marry thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in mercy, and in compassion.” Isaiah 62:4 compares the Church to a forsaken wife: “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.“. That verse spoke volumes to me, even in a temporal sense. Reading this years ago, I felt the Lord telling me that my alone years were coming to an end. And they did.

The second time around is sweeter because of Christ. It is lovelier because of Christ. If we keep a proper marriage covenant perspective and keep our eyes focused on our Heavenly Husband, this earthly marriage will render rich blessings. Together as husband and wife, we will “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.