Abuse and the Puritans: A Puritan Theology, Doctrine for Life — a new book by Beeke & Jones
I just received my new copy of A Puritan Theology, Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, 2012. It is touted on the Westminster Bookstore website as one of the most important books published on this subject. It is really a kind of systematic theology drawn from the writings of the Puritans, and I am glad to have it.
Now, in days gone by I would have grabbed up this book and turned immediately to the sections on the covenants, on sin, theology proper, and so on. Not anymore, as much as I love those topics. These days I turn to the table of contents and see if there is anything on marriage and family. I wasn’t disappointed in this case as there is a section called The Puritans on Walking Godly in the Home.
There is some good stuff in this section, but let me quote a few paragraphs for you here and then open things up for your comments and observations, good or bad. Tell us what you think of what is said. Here we go:
Lead Your Family with Justice and Mercy
In Psalm 101:1, David prefaced his commitment to integrity by saying, ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing.’ David Dickson (c. 1583-1662) observed that David’s determination to ‘sing’ of these matters showed that he saw his first duty as a leader as being ‘to delight himself in all royal virtues.’ Specifically, David was rejoicing in ‘mercy and judgment’ because ‘all the duties of righteous government may be comprehended under these two heads, mercy and judgment; for mercy taketh in the care of the poor, needy, oppressed, or injured, and judgment taketh in the care of equity and righteous dealing among his subjects.’ Thus heads of households must lead their families with both love and righteousness.
Given the stereotype of Puritans, one might assume they were harsh legalists at home. But this is not the case. Following Ephesians 5:25 and 6:4, the Puritans called men to compassion and kindness toward their families. William Gouge wrote, ‘No duty on the husband’s part can be rightly performed except it be seasoned with love…. His look, his speech, his carriage [or conduct], and all his actions, wherein he hath to do with his wife, must be seasoned with love…. As salt must be first and last uon the table, and eaten with every bit of meat, so must love be first in an husband’s heart, and last out of it, and mixed with every thing he hath to do with his wife.’
Gouge likewise warned against ‘too much austerity and severity’ on the part of fathers to their children such as ‘sourness in countenance, threatening and reviling in words, too hard handling, too severe correction, to much restraint of liberty, too small allowance of things needful.’
A father must correct his wife and children, but with gentleness, fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal 6:1-2). Samuel Lee (1625-1691) said, ‘Let seasonable and prudent rebukes be administered, according to the nature and quality of their offenses. Begin gently; use all persuasive motives to draw and allure them, if possible, to the ways of God. Tell them of the rewards of glory, of the sweet society in heaven; endeavor to satisfy their hearts, that God is able to fill their souls with such joys as are not to be found in the creatures.’
At times, rebuke is needed, even rebuke with holy anger if a family member persists in sin. yet even here the Puritans cautioned against ‘passions’ and ‘horrid noise and clamours,’ as Lee said. Rebuke should be administered humbly and respectfully. He wrote, ‘A wife ought not to be rebuked before children and servants, lest her subordinate authority be diminished…. Yea, for smaller offenses in children and servants, if they be not committed openly, rebuke them apart, and in private. But, above all, take heed thou be not found more severe in reproving faults against thyself, than sins against the great God.’ In ruling your family with justice and mercy, Lee counseled fathers to distinguish between weaknesses, sin not committed in blatant defiance, and open, scandalous, and persistent rebellion and to wink at the first, merely frown upon the second, and to reserve sharp and public rebukes for the last.”
Alright then, there is a Puritan theology of family, in part. I think we can all agree that there is positive instruction here that if heeded could do much good in helping a father be a good, Christian father and husband.
But herein also lies the danger.
You will notice that the authors include no mention of how the wife ought to go about rebuking her husband. None. It is my contention that this kind of presentation of allegedly biblical doctrine of marriage and the family is one of the factors that is producing and enabling abuse in our churches and homes. It is what we fail to say that is the problem, and to an extent what we DO say.
Do you notice in these paragraphs that the wife and children are lumped together? Now, perhaps the Puritans didn’t do so, but Beeke and Jones made these selections, edited them together, and made this presentation. And what you have presented here is a father ruling over wife and children, but no mention is made of his accountability, his being corrected when he needs it, and so on.
And when we do this, we fail to teach the doctrine of husbands, wives, marriage, and family biblically. Why in the world do we think that God gave Eve to Adam? As a child? Of course not. As part of himself, as a co-regent in creation. Whatever any of us believe about the role of the husband and the role of the wife, be we complementarian or egalitarian, we must stop presenting the blueprint for marriage, parenting, and family in the way it is presented here. Why? Because this kind of presentation is fodder for the abuser. Let an abuser read this section and guess what? HE WILL LOVE IT! Oh yes, there are the parts about mercy, about love being in everything the husband does, but the fact that we read here of the husband this, and the father that, and how the husband/father is to correct his wife and correct his children, is the real content that sinful flesh is going to latch onto. Here is POWER, and it is sweeeeet.
Ok, enough from me. Now you all dive in. and lets see what all we can learn from this.