Pillar Journal

God’s Principles for Marriage

Like most Puritans, Gouge treated the duties of marriage in three sections: mutual duties, the husband’s duties, and the wife’s duties.

The Puritans often spoke of “duties,” and Gouge was no exception. By “duty” he did not mean something done out of mere obligation and without heartfelt joy. We must serve the Lord with gladness (Ps. 100:2). But the word duty does remind us that God’s will is not just a principle for successful living or personal fulfilment; it is God’s command and our responsibility. Like most Puritans, Gouge treated the duties of marriage in three sections: mutual duties, the husband’s duties, and the wife’s duties. The following four principles come from Gouge’s first section on mutual duties.

1. Guard the oneness of your marriage.

The Author of marriage is God, and by His ordinance He makes two people into “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Gouge called this “matrimonial unity,” and said that “they two who are thereby made one, [are] constantly to remain one, and not to make themselves two again.” He quoted 1 Corinthians 7:10–11: “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”1Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:35.

Husbands and wives should stay together, not only in the legal bond in marriage, but actually sharing life as they dwell together (1 Peter 3:7). At times, “weighty and urgent affairs” of church or state require absences, or one’s occupation takes one away on travels for a time. But such separations should be received with sadness, and the couple should quickly return to share the same home and the same bed. The first step to helping each other is being with each other.2Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:56–57.

2. Enjoy the sexual purity of your marriage.

Gouge called this “matrimonial chastity,” for the Puritans regarded as chastity not only single people abstaining from sex, but also married people enjoying sexual intimacy with their spouses (1 Cor. 7:2–4; Heb. 13:4).3Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:37. Adultery was a horrendous crime against the marital covenant, and Gouge condemned it in both men and women.4Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:39–40. To avoid this, Gouge urged spouses to give each other “due benevolence,” which was a euphemism for sexual love. He wrote:

One of the best remedies that can be prescribed to married persons (next to an awful fear of God, and a continual setting of Him before them, wherever they are) is, that husband and wife mutually delight each in the other, and maintain a pure and fervent love between themselves, yielding that due benevolence to one another which is warranted and sanctified by God’s word, and ordained of God for this particular end. This “due benevolence” (as the apostle calls it [1 Cor. 7:3]) is one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage: and necessary for the main and principal ends of it.5Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:44.

This teaching was revolutionary in its day. Marriage and especially sex had fallen under a dark cloud in the early church. Such notables as Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome believed that, even within marriage, intercourse necessarily involved sin.6Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 261. This attitude inevitably led to the glorification of virginity and celibacy. By the fifth century, clerics were prohibited from marrying.7Ryken, Worldly Saints, 40. The archbishop of Canterbury wrote in the seventh century that a husband should never see his wife naked and that sex was forbidden on Sundays, for three days before taking Communion, and for forty days before Easter.8Theodore of Tarsus (602–690), cited in Gordon Mursell, English Spirituality From Earliest Times to 1700 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 43. Tragically, romance became linked to mistresses and adultery, not marriage.9William Haller, The Rise of Puritanism (New York: Harper, 1957), 122.

Puritan preachers taught that the Roman Catholic view was unbiblical, even satanic. They cited Paul, who said that the prohibition of marriage is a doctrine of devils (1 Tim. 4:1–3).10Ryken, Worldly Saints, 42.

The Puritans viewed sexual intimacy within marriage as a gift of God and as an essential, enjoyable part of marriage. Gouge said that husbands and wives should make love “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.”11Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:44. However, the couple’s sexual life should be tempered in measure and timing by proper concern for each other’s piety, weakness, or illness.12Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:46.

The ideal of marriage as romantic companionship was a far greater revolutionary concept in Puritan teaching than is often realized today. Herbert W. Richardson writes that “the rise of romantic marriage and its validation by the Puritans represents a major innovation within the Christian tradition.”13Herbert W. Richardson, Nun, Witch, Playmate: The Americanization of Sex (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 69. And C. S. Lewis says that we largely owe to the Puritans “the conversion of courtly love into romantic monogamous love.”14C. S. Lewis, “Donne and Love Poetry in the Seventeenth Century,” in Seventeenth Century Studies Presented to Sir Herbert Grierson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938), 75.

3. Love your spouse and live in harmony.

This is commanded of husbands in Ephesians 5:25 and of wives in Titus 2:4. Gouge wrote: “A loving mutual affection must pass between husband and wife, or else no duty will be well performed. This is the ground of all the rest.”15Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:47. Each should cherish the other as a special gift from God’s mercy.16Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:48–50. Each should seek to maintain peace with the other so that they may live together in harmony (Heb. 12:14). To your spouse you should be like a haven in a storm-tossed world: “If the haven be calm, and free from storms and tempests, what a refreshing it will be to the mariner that has been tossed in the sea with winds and waves?”17Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:52. But he warned, “Discord between man and wife in a house is as contention between the master and pilot in a ship”—extremely dangerous to both.18Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:54.

Gouge said that your spouse is your “companion.”19Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:188. He wrote: “Neither friend, nor child, nor parent ought so to be loved as a wife. She is termed, ‘the wife of his bosom’ (Deut. 13:6), to show that she ought to be as his heart in his bosom…. [She is] nearer than sister, mother, daughter, friend, or any other whoever.”20Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:181.

4. Build up each other’s souls with prayer.

Spouses must seek the good of each other’s souls.21Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:61. Gouge wrote, “Prayer is a mutual duty which one owes to the other, which Isaac performed for his wife” (Gen. 25:21). He counselled married couples to pray together in private, lifting up requests to God that they would be “one spirit” just as they are one flesh, “that their hearts may be as one, knit together by a true, spiritual, matrimonial love, always delighting one in another, ever helpful to one another, and ready with all willingness and cheerfulness to perform all those duties which they owe to one another.” They should pray for God to sanctify their sexual life, give them children, save their children, provide their family’s financial needs, and fill them with all the gifts and spiritual graces they need.22Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:62.

Gouge went on to give instructions about spouses helping each other to overcome temptation and grow spiritually. They must pray for one another, compliment one another, appreciate one another, and “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” with one another. They must not speak harshly to or provoke each other, but must show kindness to each other and overlook each other’s minor faults. They must cultivate true friendship and take an interest in each other. They must be sympathetic to each other in times of distress, sickness, and weakness. They must promote each other’s reputation, never speaking ill of each other in the presence of others. They must be confidential, not revealing each other’s secrets. Finally, Gouge exhorted them to care for each other’s physical needs, to manage their possessions well, to share their oversight of the household, and to work together to serve others in hospitality and benevolence to the poor.23Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:73–81.

In the areas of the specific duties of husbands and wives, too, Gouge presents us with a number of striking thoughts. I shall be very brief in summarizing them.

Husbands should delight in their wives (Prov. 5:18–19), esteeming them, respecting them, and seeking to please them, even to the point that others consider it “doting.” Husbands should not allow blemishes in their wives to slacken their affection for them, either. Gouge said, “If a man have a wife, not very beautiful or proper, but having some deformity in her body, some imperfection in speech, sight, gesture, or any part of her body,” he ought yet be so affectionate to her, “and delight in her, as if she were the most beautiful and in every way the most perfect woman in the world.”24Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:194.

Then, too, a husband must provide for his wife in sickness and in health. He must particularly assist her when she is pregnant.25Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:241–42. He must bestow favors, kindnesses, and gifts on her. He must never strike her or abuse her verbally or physically. At times, a husband might reprove his wife, but only in tender love and always to steer her away from sin. Reproofs, however, should be rare and administered in private with humility—never when his wife is angry.26Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:215–24. Finally, a husband must accept the functions that his wife performs. He must show his acceptance by his gratitude, by not demanding too much from her, and by giving her freedom to manage the affairs of the home. He must do all this cheerfully and tenderly.27Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:196–236.

In addition to showing submission and reverence to her husband and fulfilling mutual marital duties, a wife has numerous unique responsibilities. She should be content with her husband’s work, social standing, and financial status. Her conversations with him should also show respect, and she should be willing to move to “dwell where her husband will have her dwell.

Then, too, she should manage the affairs of the household effectively (Proverbs 31). As a helpmeet for her husband (Gen. 2:18), she should assist him in a variety of ways, showing wise leadership skills in the home, understanding clearly in what areas she should dialogue with her husband and ask for his consent and in what areas she has liberty to manage on her own. Such management includes helping her husband establish Christ’s kingdom in their home as a little church; being thrifty without being miserly; consistently persevering in completing her duties; and handling herself with sobriety, mildness, courtesy, obeisance, and modesty, as the Bible commands.28Gouge, Building a Godly Home, 2:98–179.

In summary, Gouge presented a remarkably insightful treatment of the beauty and glory of Christian marriage. His vision for matrimony was holistic and practical, yet very much centered around the Lord. Husbands and wives have different roles, but do not live on separate levels. Instead they live together as companions and coworkers for the glory of God, for the good of each other, and for the good of others, especially their children.

Excerpt From
The Beauty & Glory of Christian Living
Joel R. Beeke