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TEXT: Joshua 24:15

SUBJECT: Puritans #4: Family

Today, with the Lord's blessing, we'll take up our monthly study of Puritan life. The Puritans, you remember, were mostly English and American Christians, living from about 1550 to 1700. They weren't perfect, but they served God well and with a thoroughness very few modern believers can match. We mustn't hero worship them, of course, but we ought to learn from them. Speaking of godly men, Paul says,

"Note those who so walk as you

have us for a pattern".

The book we're using for the series is called Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were. The author is Leland Ryken, a professor of English at Wheaton College. If you like to read, I cannot recommend the book too highly. The chapters are short; the quotes are excellent; and you don't have to read it from cover to cover if you don't want to.

Thus far, we've looked at the Puritan view of work, sex, and money. Now we move on to Family Life.


Before he gets into the dos and don'ts of family life, Ryken takes a look at the big picture. What is a family for? Now, the Bible clearly says the family is a God-given institution-and not something cave men stumbled into over millions of years. If God created and blessed the family, it must have a purpose.

What is it?

Cynics say family is for making people miserable. Now, there's a lot of misery at home, but it's not the existence of family that creates it, but the abuse thereof.

Romantics make family into a sort of salvation. A husband or wife or kids will solve all your problems, answer all your critics, meet all your needs, and pretty much create a heaven on earth. When this doesn't happen, people wonder why it fell short.

The Puritans denied both and other views we're familiar with. Their take doesn't fit into the accepted categories: it wasn't liberal or conservative or traditional or reactionary. The best word for it is Christian. The purpose of marriage-they said-was not to make you happy or to have legitimate children or to build society or to prepare for retirement (though these were often byproducts of it). No, to their way of thinking, what the family is for is the glory of God. Benjamin Wadsworth wrote,

"Every Christian should do all he can to promote

the glory of God.and the well ordering of matters

in particular families, tends to promote [it]".

Most Americans are not interested in theory. What difference does it make what the family is for as long as it's happy or peaceful or productive? But the Puritans knew better: The goal of family life will determine its priorities and practices.

For example, if the family's aim is to glorify God, will the husband and father work eighteen hours a day? Or, will the wife nag her husband into being the spiritual leader? Or will the parents neglect their kids? Or abuse them?

Keep this in mind and your family life will be dramatically better. The destination determines the road you take to get there. The purpose of the family is to glorify God. Very few couples start there. And it shows.


According to the Puritans, a well ordered home is run by the man of the family. Husband and father imply authority. Not just brute strength, but a God-given right to govern wife and children. And not just a right to do it, but a responsibility.

William Perkins wrote,

"The husband is he that hath authority over the wife,

the two being one flesh, but he is also the head

over his wife".

On this point, the Puritans believe exactly what the Bible teaches. The husband is in charge of the home-not because society says so or tradition or religion. It is God who says so,

"The husband is the head of the wife".

If the husband has authority over his wife, it must mean he can do pretty much whatever he pleases and she has no say at all-right? Wrong.

John Robinson says the husband must rule with

"Love and wisdom. His love must be like Christ's

for His Church: holy for quality and great

for quantity".

Benjamin Wadsworth emphasizes the tenderness of the husband's rule,

"A good husband will make his government of

her as easy and gentle as possible, and strive

more to be loved than feared".

Samuel Willard even goes farther, saying the husband ought to rule his wife with such love and wisdom that,

"His wife may take delight in it, and not account

it as slavery, but a liberty and privilege".

Brothers, do we so rule our wives as to make them thankful for it? If you've turned your wife into a drone in the name of godliness, repent of your sin and taking the Lord's name in vain. Remember this: The better you rule your wife, the freer she will be.

You know what a liberated woman is? One who's husband leads her in love and wisdom.

If "the husband is the head of the wife", then some would say the wife has no say around the house-except for "aye, aye, sir!"

The Puritans knew better than this. They understood that ruling your wife includes explaining things to her (not just issuing orders) listening to her, deferring to her when she knows more than you do, and accepting her criticism. Here are the quotes,

"A man must support his cause from the Scriptures

and lay before her sufficient conviction of her duty"

(Samuel Willard).

In other words, "Because I said so" may be good enough for children and servants, it's not good enough for your wife. You should not only tell her what to do, but explain things to her from the Bible. I know that's not easy if she's quarrelsome. But easy or not, it's the right thing to do.

In his diary, Samuel Sewall said he turned the family finances over to his wife because,

"She has a better faculty than I

at managing affairs".

On the same point, John Milton adds,

"Particular exceptions may have place, if she exceed

her husband in prudence and dexterity, and he

contentedly yield, for then a superior law comes

in, that the wiser should rule the less wise,

whether male or female".

To their way of thinking, micromanagement is mismanagement. If your wife knows money better than you do, let her manage it-and do what she says with a good attitude.

But what about criticism? Does a wife have the right to correct her husband? To tell him he's wrong?

Let's define our terms: If by "correct" you mean scold him or despise him or nag him to death, then, no, she doesn't. But if the correction is offered in humility and love, then she has every right to do it.

"Women may and must privately exhort

others.they may also privately admonish

men.she is not so subject but she may

admonish and advise her husband if

she is sure the things she speaks against

are sinful or hurtful".

One more thing: Why does the man have to be in charge? Why can't everything be done with the consent of both husband and wife? In my family, most things are done that way. Maybe 99% of things. But once in a while, the most agreeable couple disagree.

And somebody has to make the call. Now there are only three options: Either the husband has to do it or the wife has to or they take turns. Taking turns is ridiculous, because it would cancel everything. Schooling is important. But what my wife and I disagreed on it. The first decision is mine: We're sending them to Christian school. The next decision is hers: We're homeschooling them. Then it's my turn again: Christian school, then hers.on and on it goes. And no decision is made.

A word to wives who think it's unfair: Would you want to be married to a man who didn't have the guts to make a decision? Who deferred to you on everything? You might love the man or pity him, but you'd never respect him.

It is logically necessary for someone to have the final say. And when the husband doesn't have it three bad things must follow: the man feels rotten about himself, the wife holds him in contempt, and the Lord is dishonored.


The next area the book deals with is the Puritan view of parents and children.

Their big idea can be summed up in one word: stewardship. Our children are not ours, but God's. What we parents are required to do, therefore, is to bring them up for Him.

"The children born in our families are born

unto God. God leased them out to us".

(Deodat Lawson)

This means we're responsible to God for what we do with our kids. They're not ours, but His. Therefore, they're to be brought up the way He says, and not the way we think best.

What do parents owe their children? The Puritans insisted on three things:

We must provide for their physical needs.

"If others suffer need, yet the children will surely

be taken care of, for as long as there is anything

to be had".

We must provide for their future. According to New England laws, every father was required to see that his children were instructed,

"In some honest, lawful calling, labor,

or employment, either in farming or

in some other trade profitable for

themselves and the commonwealth".

In other words, you had to teach them how to work for a living. This includes the basics of taking orders, cooperating with people, starting on time, being there, even when you're not feeling perfect, and so on.

And also vocational training or a professional education. Teaching them to work was every parent's duty. Benjamin Wadsworth stressed the importance-even if they didn't need to the money,

"If parents train their children to be serviceable

in their generation, they do better for them than

if they should bring them up to be idle, and

yet leave them great estates".

In other words, it's better to leave your kids nothing, but teach them to work than to let them be idle and leave them a fortune!

The puritans would have agreed with the Jewish proverb,

"The man who does not teach his son to work

teaches him to be a thief".

Insofar as we can do it, we must provide for their eternity. Cotton Mather,

"Before all, and above all, is the knowledge of the

Christian religion that parents are to teach their

Children. The knowledge of other things, be

it ever so desirable for them, our children

May arrive in eternal happiness without it.

But the knowledge of the godly doctrine of Jesus

Christ is a million times more necessary for them".


There's one more subject to explore and that's the discipline of children. I intended to talk about it today, but I think it deserves a fuller treatment than time allows.

We'll put that off until next week, the Lord willing.

But for now, let's remember:

    1. What your family is for-the glory of God.
    2. How your family is to be governed-by the husband and father who rules in love and wisdom.
    3. What you owe your children-a decent life, a promising future, and in as much as lies within you, eternal life.

May God bless our families and make them what they ought to be. For Christ's sake. Amen.

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