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Duties of Husband and Wife: Part I by John Dod and Robert Cleaver

By April 9, 2011Marriage

Excerpted from John Dod and Robert Cleaver’s A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandements, a standard English Puritan treatment of the ten commandments, first published in 1603 and not reprinted since 1635.

So much for their duties that be further off from equality in the family, as parents and children, masters and servants. Now those that are more equal are husband and wife, whose duties are either common to both, or more particular to either of them.

The common duties. First, they must love one another with a pure heart, fervently. This duty both husband and wife must perform mutually one to another, which that they may the better strive for, let us consider of some excellent commodities that will proceed from this love. First, this benefit will certainly ensue: if there be fervent, and dear, and matrimonial love betwixt themselves, it will preserve and guard them from all unchaste actions and strange lusts, as appeareth, Prov. 5:19-20. Rejoice with the wife of thy youth, delight in her love continually. For why shouldest thou delight in a strange woman, or embrace the bosom of a stranger? As if he had said: if thou do not love they wife, thou wilt look after harlots, or at least art in danger so to do, but if thou love thy wife truly, thou art strengthened against lusts and temptations to adultery.

And so it may be said of the wife concerning her husband. For it is not the having of a husband that makes a wife chaste, and keepeth her from filthiness, but the loving of her husband is it that will keep her. And likewise it is not the having of a wife that maketh a man honest and preserveth him from adultery, but it is the loving of his wife that will do it. For many married men and women live filthily and impurely; but if they did love one another, they were safe from this fault. This then is one benefit; it is a most sure defence of one’s chastity, to love each other.

Another benefit that constant love will bring is that they shall be very patient. Abundance of love brings abundance of patience, for love hopes all things, and suffers all things, and love is not provoked. But where there is little love, there is little bearing, and little hoping, and there they be quickly provoked. Upon every light and small defect or fault, they grow to brawls and chasing. And then, whoever was troubled with such a husband, or such a wife? Nay, they might rather say, who ever had such an unloving and unkind heart as I? For if there were that love that should be, and in that measure that it ought, they would bear with patience, and with meekness such infirmities, and would not be so quickly provoked to bitterness. As the mother that dearly loves her little child, though it cry all night, and break her sleep, and disquiet her very much; yet she will not throw it out of doors, nor lay it at the further end of the house, but she useth it kindly, and will do what she can to still it when it cries. And in the morning they will be as good friends as ever before, and she feedeth it and tendeth it never a whit the less for all the night’s trouble. One that were not acquainted with the love of a mother would wonder at it. Did it not disquiet her all night, and can she be so merry with it now? Yea, she can, for she loveth it, and hath forgotten all the night’s griefs in the morning. And so indeed, could the husband and wife love one another with a pure and Christian love, they would bear much, and endure much, and not suffer their affections to be diminished. For love is alway a breastplate against distemper, discord and bitterness.

A third profit that springs from love is that it edifies, and seeks not his own things: therefore if they love one another, they will in all things seek the good of one another. And then, if the husband see a fault in his wife, he will admonish her of it meekly and gently, and labor to bring her to amendment. And if she see any fault on his part, she will with all reverence and humility tell him of it. But on the contrary, where there is not love, they will regard their own ease more than the salvation of another. Then if the husband see his wife in any fault, he thinketh, Indeed it is a sin, but if I should tell her of it, she will be in a passion and chafe. And so the wife: I confess this sin is dangerous to my husband’s soul, but if I should speak of it, he is so froward, that he would be bitter and furious against me presently. But now here is a great want of love in either party. For, what though your wife will be in a passion? He that loveth his wife had rather she should be in a passion against him for a little time, than God be angry with her forever. And the wife that loveth her husband would more willingly suffer her husband’s displeasure for a while, for well doing, than that he should suffer God’s wrath, for ill doing. But for want of this Christian and sincere love, they suffer grievous sins to grow and break out one in another, which by wise and godly admonition might have been stayed and cured.

A fourth fruit of love is that it armeth us against jealousy and unjust suspicions. For all ill jealousy and causeless suspicion ariseth of one of these two grounds: either that one is or hath been wicked himself, and having been faulty and naught, he is ready to judge others by himself, and to measure all with his own measure, or else from a doting affection, that he maketh his wife a god, and would have her to do the like to him, and this is not true love. So when the wife doteth foolishly upon her husband, and maketh an idol of him, then is she quickly ready to be jealous, whereas true and sound love would work the contrary effect in her. So for matters of goods, he that trusteth in them will trust nobody with them, neither wife, neither servants, neither children, nor any, but is always suspicious, not because they would not deal faithfully, but because he maketh that his god, and therefore is immoderately afraid to lose it. But where there is a pure and a fervent love, that will cut off all needless misdeemings, and cause us to believe and hope all good of others. This is the first duty that is common to husband and wife.

The second followeth, and that is faithfulness, that both bend their wits and all their endeavors to the help each of other, and to the common good of the family. The husband must not follow his private pleasure and delight, nor the wife her own ease and pride. But though by nature they could be content to seek themselves, yet they must strive both to build up the house by diligence in their calling, and wise and frugal disposing of the blessings of God bestowed upon them, and also to be helpful to the whole family, because they stand in the place of Christ to those that are committed unto them, both for their souls and bodies. First then, the husband and wife must be faithful in their bodies one to another, else they break the covenant of God. For marriage is not a covenant of man, but a covenant of God, wherein the parties bind themselves to him, and they be in recognizance in heaven, to keep themselves pure and chaste one to another. Then for other matters there must be one purse, and one heart and hand, for the good of the family, and each of other. But now, if the wife be wasteful and idle, then she (like a foolish woman) pulleth down her house. And if the husband be an unthrift, and consume and spend that idly and vainly (to serve his lusts, or pride, or any other sin) that might help his wife and family to live plentifully and cheerfully, this lavishing is a great unfaithfulness, and hereby he bringeth many inconveniences upon himself and upon all that depend upon him. So much for general duties belonging both to husband and wife. The particular follow.

And first, the wife must fear her husband, as is commanded in Eph. 5:33. Let the wife see that she fear her husband. And I Pet. 3:2, the apostle requires a conversation with fear. So, if ever the wife will be comfortable, and profitable to her husband, and do any good in the family, she must have a care of her heart, and look that she carry an inward fear to her husband. For the husband is the wife’s head, even as Christ is the head of the church. And even as the church must fear Christ Jesus, so must the wives also fear their husbands. And this inward fear must be shewed by an outward meekness and lowliness in her speeches and carriage to her husband. As in the place above named out of Peter, he saith they must be attired with a meek and quiet spirit. She must not be passionate and froward to him or any of the family, specially in his sight, but she should have such a regard of his presence, as that she should govern her tongue and countenance so, that it may not be offensive or troublesome unto him. And for her speech, neither when they be kind and loving together, must she grow into such gross terms, nor if any jar or offence come, rush into tart and sour words, to ease herself upon her husband, whom she should fear. Thus must she imitate Sarah and good women, as Peter saith, and in so doing she shall prove herself to be a daughter of Sarah, a true Christian. But contrarily, if she behave herself rudely and unmannerly in her husband’s sight, to grieve him and offend him, she faileth in the first and main duty of a good wife, and so far shall surely come short of all the rest of the duties that God requireth of her. For if there be not fear and reverence in the inferior, there can be no sound nor constant honor yielded to the superior.

The second duty of the wife is constant obedience and subjection. Now in what things and after what manner this obedience is to be performed, the Holy Ghost doth declare. For in general, there is no woman almost so rude, but she will yield that she must obey her husband. But in the particular, and in the manner of it, there is the failing. Therefore the apostle (to put all out of doubt) hath set down both the matter and the manner, in Eph. 5:24. As the church is in subjection to Christ, so let the wife be to her husband in all things. For the things wherein she must obey, he saith in all things, meaning in all lawful things. For the commandment of the husband is as it were the stamp of God set upon the things commanded, and if she rebel against his commandment, she rebels against God. The wife then must persuade herself that her husband’s charge is God’s charge, and when he speaks, God speaks by him, and that which was a thing indifferent before the husband required it, is now become a bounden duty unto her, after the husband hath once enjoined it. And therefore she must resolve to obey him in all things.

Then for the manner, he saith, As the church obeyeth Christ. Now we know that the church obeyeth Christ willingly and cheerfully, with a free heart. And though the things that Christ commandeth be oftentimes contrary to our nature, and no whit at all delightful to the flesh, yet the true church will more set by his Word than by her own pleasure, and have a greater regard to please him than to serve the desires of the flesh. Therefore the wife must obey her husband in all things cheerfully and willingly, without gainsaying. These be the duties of a worthy woman, of a daughter of Abraham, and a Christian wife, which so far as she is careful to perform, so far she may look that her husband should do the duty of a good husband unto her, and if he do not, yet God will reward her liberally. For such a woman is much set by of God, and that not with an inward love that nobody can see, but with such a working love as shall show itself by good effect in plentiful blessings on her soul and body, if she can frame (for conscience sake to God) to yield a willing and free obedience to her husband in lawful things, and that with a meek and lowly carriage of herself, proceeding from an holy fear and reverence of him, being to her in God’s stead.

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