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

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Marriage

Now follow the special duties of an husband, for he hath not all these privileges for nothing, and those consist in two major points, in governing her wisely (by cohabitation and edification) and in performing all due benevolence. First, for cohabitation. The first duty of the husband is to dwell with his wife, that sith there is a near and dear society between them, and of all other the nearest (for she is to him as the church is to Christ, flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone), therefore he must be willing constantly and kindly to converse with her, to walk with her, to talk with her, and let her have a comfortable familiarity with him, that she may see he delights in her company, and may well know that of all others she is his most loved and welcome companion. And so in the Law it was commanded that the first year wherein anyone is married, he must dwell at home, and rejoice with his wife for that whole year. Whatever affairs of the commonwealth, or wars were abroad, yet he was by God’s Law freed, so that none might command his service from home, but he must dwell with his wife, that she might have experience of his love, and have comfort by him, that by long continuance and society their hearts might be so nearly joined, as nothing might rend them asunder afterwards.

This reproveth those foolish men (indeed not worthy to carry the name of husbands) that can take more delight in any vain, riotous and unthrifty company, and take more pleasure in any lewd exercises, than in the society of the loving and kind wife, that are never so merry as when the wife is absent, and never dumpish and churlish but with her. Such also as dwell with hawks and hounds and drunkards and gamesters, not with their wives: these shall carry the brand and name of fools, so long as they have no more care to prevent so much ill, and to do so much good as (if they had any godly wisdom, or love to their wives) they might. For what do they but throw themselves into danger, and lay their wives open to Satan’s temptations? Yea, and give just occasion to them to think that they love them not. But they will say, We must have our delights and follow our sports. And why you more than the wife? Might not the wife say, I must have my delight also, and part of the recreation as well as part of the trouble is mine? Yet this would not be counted a good excuse for a woman to be ranging abroad all day long, and part of the night, upon no just occasion. But they look that she should accept their company, and be willing to be with them. And why should not they then be as willing to dwell with their wives according to God’s commandment? So that the husband must dwell with his wife, and never depart from her but upon a lawful and good calling and cause, and then also, so as that she may perceive that his heart is still with her, and that he carrieth but a part of himself when he goeth abroad, for still he leaveth his affection at home with his wife.

Secondly, he must dwell with her as a man of knowledge, and edify her, both by his good example, and also by good instructions. For his example: first, he must carry himself so wisely, and so holily, as that she may see in him a pattern and image of grace and wisdom. He must be a glass unto her, by looking into which she may learn to attire herself in all holy discretion and conversation.

Therefore he must neither be froward, testy, nor lumpish, for then he shall be hated; nor light, vain, and foolish, for then he shall be despised. He must not be base and niggardly, for then his base heart will breed a base estimation of him. Neither must he be prodigal and unthrifty. For then he shall so pinch himself with want and necessity, as that he shall not be able to relieve and refresh his family, and so he much depriveth himself of his reverence. For want of this wise and holy carriage, it cometh to pass that many can speak much of the weakness of women, and make large discourses of the impotence of that sex, when indeed it is long of themselves. As if the head should lead the body among briars and thorns, and dash it against every wall, and then complain of the hurt and frailty of it. So many foolish men, when they should frame themselves in such sort as they might draw their wives to godliness and reverence by their example, they (by rude and absurd behavior) draw themselves into contempt, and put undutifulness upon their wives, as it were perforce, and then are ready to complain and exclaim of them, when they should rather cry out of their own folly and sin.

Next, the husband must edify his wife by instruction: for so, I Cor. 14:25, the apostle saith, If women will learn, they must ask their husbands at home. The husband then must be so well furnished with sound knowledge, as that he must be able to teach his wife, and sow the seed of godliness in her conscience. And one special and chief part of wisdom in the husband, by which he must learn to frame his instruction, is to observe those good things which he seeth in his wife, and to cherish them. For nothing is more forcible to encourage a woman in any good thing, than that she perceiveth that her husband doth mark and approve those good things which are in her, as well as the faults, to reprove them. And for want of this encouragement, that men are continually chiding, and never go about to nourish any good thing, it falls out that many women, which by good usage might be brought to godliness, grow to great distemper and passion. And as he must labor to increase the good things that are in her, so also he must seek to amend and cure those things that are faulty, wherein she doth amiss. And for ordinary infirmities, he must pass by them, only praying to God for her. But if her soul be sick of a disease that needeth physic, and must have medicine, a wise governor will choose his fittest time, and consider the nature and disposition of his wife: that if she be of a gentle spirit, he may use gentle means, which will then do most good, but if she be of a more hard nature, stronger means must be used, and she must be dealt withal after a more round manner. But always provided, that it never be done in passion, and before others, but with a quiet and merciful heart, that she may see that he seeketh her salvation, and not disgrace, nor to ease himself upon her, but to convert her soul unto God. But if the husband be violent in company to reprove, of bad he will make her worse, and more alienate her from him, because she seeth that she hath a foolish head, that is not a saviour, but a destroyer.

And for want of this diligent care in choosing time and place, and observing the nature of the party, it cometh to pass that rebukes, which in themselves are good and ought to be performed, do more hurt than good, because he observeth not where he doth it, but reproves her before company, to which he should not disclose his own and her shame, and them also most unseasonably and untimely. For when she is out of temper, and passion hath already overcome her, then he falleth to administer his physic, as it were upon a full stomach, whereas he should patiently have waited for a fit time, and not be so foolish, as when she is gone, and anger hath overcome her, then to look that she should upon a word’s warning, return and come again into her right mind, and upon the sudden reform all that is amiss. But what? Shall one let his wife go away so, and take her course? No, he must at that instant speak to God for her, when she is not fit to be spoken to. And after, when she is come again to herself, and all is quiet, then with a loving heart and good countenance (and yet with plain and evident proofs and reproofs out of God’s Word), he must show her fault, that godly sorrow may bring her to repentance and amendment. And by these measures he may govern well.

Another duty of the husband consists in giving her all honor and due benevolence, which stands in two things. First, in giving and allowing her all maintenance and meet helps, both for necessity, and also for honest and Christian recreation and delight, so far as his estate and hers require, and their abilities do afford. And he must do this willingly, liberally and freely, not tarrying till it be begged or gotten from him by importunate entreaty, as if one should wring it out of Nabal’s hand, like as if it were water out of a flint stone. For this giveth cause of great suspicion of want of love, for love is alway bountiful. And besides, it lesseneth the benefit by the one half, when it must be wrested (as it were by main strength) from him. Therefore he must consider, and before he be asked, provide what he seeth necessary for her, and what may be (after a Christian sort) delightful unto her, and prevent her with the gift. Even as a father that loves his child will not tarry till the child come and beg apparel, or meat, but he doth cast beforehand how to help him, and unrequested gives him things that be needful, much more then must he do thus to his wife, which is the one part of himself, and nearer, and should be also dearer unto him than any other.

A second work wherein this due benevolence must show itself is in giving her due employment; he must mark and observe the gifts of wisdom and government, or whatever else God hath graced her with, that he may set them on work and employ them. And hereby he shall show his love unto her, and the confidence he puts in her. For it is said of a good wife in the Proverbs, chap. 32, that the heart of her husband trusts in her. And this is a means also to keep her from discouragement and idleness: and besides, it will turn to the great good and profit of the family.

Which reproves the practice of many foolish husbands, that be busy-bodies, and will have all come through their own hands, and then indeed nothing goeth well through any hand, because of this disordered confusion. As if the pilot would both hold the stern, and hoist up the sail, and be upon the hatches, and labor at the pump, and do all himself, it must needs go ill with the ship. Even so in the family, when the husband taketh all upon himself, it is the next way to overthrow all. Therefore those gifts that God hath given the wife, the husband must see them put to the best use, and then she shall be a fellow helper to him, and bring a blessing upon the family by her labor.

And so much for the duties of the husband and wife, which I do not so speak of as though it were in the power or nature of any man or woman to perform them; nay, by nature we be all inclined to the contrary. The wife is naturally disobedient and stubborn, prone to condemn and despise her husband; and he is ready either to be out of her company without cause, or, being with her, to be light and foolish, or else sour and churlish, and to do her hurt by his example, and make her worse rather than better. And both of them naturally are destitute of all true and spiritual love one to another. But God showeth these duties in his Word, to the end that we, seeing our sins and our weakness, might bewail our wants before God, and beseech him that requires these things at our hands to work these graces in our hearts, and as he hath given us these good commandments, so to give us good hearts to keep the commandments. But if any be so blind and so unacquainted with the wickedness of his own heart, as that he dreams of some strength in himself to do these duties, it is certain he never performed any of them in truth, nor shall ever, till he do lament his wants with unfeigned grief before God, and desire him to make him obedient, as well as to give him a charge of obedience.