More Dead Men Speak on Marriage Part 4: J.R. Miller – The Christian Wife

Antique booksChristian wives: what would you say is the true ideal of a godly wife? We would all refer to Proverbs 31, no doubt…one of my favorite portions of scripture.  In his exposition called The Christian Wife, J.R. Miller describes such a wife. Though he doesn’t reference these scriptures, he seems to be expounding on these very verses in order. Christian wives, what would you say to this?:

“The good wife is a good housekeeper…The mere mention of such things as cooking, baking, sweeping, dusting, mending, ironing—jars upon the poetic rhythm of the lofty themes of conversation. It never enters the brains of these happy lovers—that it will make every difference in the world in their home life—whether the bread is sweet or sour; whether the oatmeal is well cooked or scorched; whether the meals are punctual or tardy. The mere thought that such common matters could affect the tone of their wedded life, seems a desecration.”  –J.R. Miller

Is that a dated statement? Is a neat and comfortable nest not a priority today? How about cooking? Is the career woman who habitually comes home with fast food for her family a good model of a godly woman? You tell me. I want feedback. Miller and other dead men we’ve studied stress the importance of the woman’s work at home. There are warnings for those who neglect their own household for other ventures. Even church activities can overburden us and cause us to neglect our families. Miller expounds on this issue beautifully.

Virtuous granny?

As for me, I think housekeeping is a lost art, one that should be found again. I see a resurgence among young Christian wives, through their blogs on homemaking, and it is highly refreshing and encouraging to me. I pray that we blast away all remnants of American feminism that crept into the church. But let’s get back to J.R. Miller’s The Christian Wife.

According to Miller, the wife of a godly man is a crowned queen:

“…to be the wife of a godly and true man. She is lifted up to be a crowned queen. Her husband’s manly love laid at her feet, exalts her to the throne of his life. Great power is placed in her hands. Sacred destinies are reposed in her keeping. Will she wear her crown beneficently? Will she fill her realm with beauty and with blessing? Or will she fail in her holy trust? Only her married life can be the answer.”

Ah, don’t we all love to be queen? Doesn’t that infer some kind of royalty demanding worship? Certainly not the kind of worship that usurps worship of our Lord! But husbands should adore their godly wives and praise them.

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” — Proverbs 31:28

Now I don’t think God means to brag about wives or overdo praise publicly. I think the praise should be directed at her in private, to encourage her and make her feel appreciated. Remember T.S. Arthur’s short story Loved Too Late (did you read this? if not, do so!) That husband failed to verbally affirm his wife and show affection toward her.

I love manly love laid at her feet. Is this the stuff of fairy tales or what? It sounds wonderful. I’m sure we’ll have to dig into Miller’s writings on husbands to find out exactly what manly love is. I think I have a few clues. Whatever it is, I want it.

What makes for a godly wife…the kind that earns, yes earns, praise of a godly husband?

“The true wife needs to be no mere poet’s dream, no artist’s picture, no ethereal lady too fine for use—but a woman healthful, strong, practical, industrious, with a hand for life’s common duties, yet crowned with that beauty which a high and noble purpose gives to a soul.”

So much is crammed into one fabulous sentence! To summarize briefly the rest of Miller’s attributes of a Christian wife, he mentions the following:

  1. Faithfulness – here Miller paraphrases Proverbs 31:11 – The heart of her husband safely trusts in her.
  2. A good housekeeper – It is amazing how much Miller writes on this subject, almost equating good housekeeping with love! I can relate to this as an Italian-American woman. In my Italian culture, food is love and feasting is celebration. A clean home and delicious meal says ‘love’.  Yet we should not get caught up with that as Martha did. But that’s another blog post…
  3. Generous and warm-hearted. A good wife is not selfish. Miller speaks about the wife’s compassion in her own household, and though she economizes, she does not limit her ministries of mercy to the confines of her four walls.
  4. Keeps up her personal appearance as well as her inner life. I don’t think Miller means that we should look to our culture for that personal appearance. Let’s not aspire to be Kim Kardashian (heaven forbid!). I see too many young Christian wives enamored with current trends in provocative dress. The key is modesty, but that doesn’t have to mean ugly or frumpy. We should do the best we can to make ourselves attractive to our husbands no matter what life and the force of gravity has done to us. However, Miller quickly delves into inner beauty. Keeping up with our spiritual nourishment is more important than nourishing skin with wrinkle cream. Which leaves Miller’s last point:
  5. Character. Miller says…”she can be a good woman in the true sense only by being a Christian woman. Nowhere but in Christ—can she find the wisdom and strength she needs, to meet the solemn responsibilities of wifehood. Only in Christ can she find that rich beauty of soul, that gemming of the character, which shall make her lovely in her husband’s sight, when the bloom of youth is gone, when the brilliance has faded out of her eyes, and the roses have fled from her cheeks. Only Christ can teach her how to live so as to be blessed, and be a blessing in her married life!

    “…that gemming of the character”

Amen to that! Wives, cling to Christ. We are covering the subject of marriage, but I focused on Christian wives in my last two posts. I’m sure the Lord led me in this way for my own benefit. As an older newlywed with a failed marriage in my history, this has been a sobering study. I have been much less than a kind and tender wife during this Christmas season. While I set out to focus on the glorious Incarnation, I got sidetracked with needless details. Christian wives, sit at His feet and learn. I need Jesus Christ every minute, every second of my married life so I can love my husband better.

The Christian Wife is a sample of J.R. Miller’s writings on marriage, but he wrote extensively on all aspects of Christian family life. Solid Ground Books planned a reprint of J.R. Miller’s The Home Beautiful, originally published in 1912. Sadly, there was not enough interest and it has not yet been reprinted. I pray that this blog will spark some interest, enough to get Miller’s priceless wisdom back on bookshelves or Kindles and into our living rooms. Pastor Bill Shishko of Franklin Square, NY OPC said:

“If any 19th century American Christian writer warrants reprinting, it is J. R. Miller! His writing style is delightfully smooth, his insights are spiritual diamonds on every page, and his pastoral applications are delivered with the skill of a well-seasoned physician of souls.”

Thankfully, much of Miller’s writings are available on Grace Gems and the complete original book The Home Beautiful is available for free download here if you click on the link.

The volume begins with The Wedded Life (use link to read on Grace Gems). A sampling of following chapters are entitled with The Husband’s Part, The Wife’s Part, The Parent’s Part, The Home Life, and on. I do hope to have the reprinted volume The Home Beautiful in my hands some day. Just wanted to plug this information and perhaps create a high demand.

Recapping our series so far: We have met the instructive William Gouge, the metaphorical William Secker, the romantic T.S. Arthur and the practical and prolific J.R. Miller. Next, we will meet three interesting characters: another dead man who was a filmmaker, a man who wanted to be dead, and another exemplary wife. I hope you’re curious.

Next post will be merry and light, I promise. I shall temporarily disregard my Christmas frivolities, clear my cluttered mind and write a special Christmas post, hopefully, before December 25.


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