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


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