Baxter on the Family: Duties of the Christian Husband

John Starke
November 16, 2009

Much could be said about Richard Baxterʼs, the 17th century puritan, instruction for the Christian family. He is deeply practical and has the actual family in mind when writing. What I mean is that he is not speaking to academics, scholars, or, even other pastors. He is mainly speaking to fathers, mothers, and, also, children. For the Puritans, every home was a small church, with the father as the shepherd. So then, Baxter has two concerns when writing to families: perseverance in the faith and growth in godliness. He begins his directions for the family with the husband.

Directions for Husbands

The husband has the authority in the home. Baxter doesnʼt argue for the husband’s headship in the home, but rather assumes it as biblical. There is a question, however, of first importance that every man should ask of himself: Am I fit for task? The purpose of the question is not necessarily to see whether or not one should start a family (though it may be a good one to ask before you begin), but ultimately to know exactly what to repent of and, then, seek godliness. Out of all the qualities a man needs in leading his family, godliness has pride-of-place. Baxter writes:

And if God shall not govern in your families, who shall? The devil is always the governor where Godʼs governments is refused; the world and the flesh are the instruments of his governments; worldliness and fleshly living are his service. Undoubtedly he is the ruler of the family where these prevail, and where faith and godliness do not take place. And what can you expect from such a master?

According to Baxter, an ungodly man is the chief stranger and enemy to Godʼs design for the Christian family. A godly governed home “is an excellent help to the saving of all the souls that are in it.” Men, fit yourselves for the task!

Why is godliness so important to the task of leading the home? For Baxter, the husband is responsible for the normal teaching and instruction in godliness. Therefore, the husband must hunger and thirst for the knowledge of Godʼs Word. Baxter writes, “Those husbands that despise the word of God and live in willful ignorance do not only despise their own souls, but their families also.”

Because the husband is responsible before God for his family and all this included in it, apathy is not an option. An apathetic husband has authority over his family in name and image only. Husbands, do not be marked by a couch and a remote control. Do not lie to yourselves, thinking that your work is done at 5:30 pm. Too many young husbands, today, spend more time on XBox than instructing their families in godliness. Men, if your children relate you with video games more than service and care, then you should repent.


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