Over the course of my ministry, one of the things I have sought to emphasize is the need to embrace “reforming marriage.” Another time in the history of the church when this same emphasis arose was in the great Puritan movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. If we are serious, we should look closely at what they did, because they had much more of an impact than we have had. As it turns out, their legacy is important to us.
We have unfortunately discarded much of that inheritance, but we will not get it back by looking primarily to them. Rather, we must look where they were looking. We should imitate them, not gawk at them. We should fish out of their ponds, which is not exactly the same thing as admiring their fishing trophies.
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7 KJV).
Notice all the interconnections here. Husbands are to dwell, they are to do so according to knowledge, they are to honor their wives, understanding their frame, they are to do so with an eye on the goal of salvation, measured by the fruitfulness of their prayer lives. Being a faithful husband actually requires a full-orbed worldview.
To Be Taught Well
Puritan husbands were well-taught, and so must we be. In the beginning was the Word. We must learn through words, and therefore we must love words. “Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name” (Malachi 3:16).
In order to be well-taught, we must be taught to worship God, we must be taught to understand, and we must be taught to apply.
First, God is to be in all our thoughts. He is to be the foundation of all of them, and he is to be the destination and direction of all of them. We are to be radically and profoundly God-centered. This of course means that we should care deeply about the purity of worship in the church. The foundation of all right worship is the gospel. When that is wrong, everything is wrong. When that is right, the world is put right.
In the second place, we must be taught to understand. Where is God? Of course, God is everywhere. This means that God-centeredness in worship leads directly to a clear vision of the world around us. Nothing is neutral, nothing is irrelevant, and the entire world is charged with meaning. God-centeredness does not displace the world — rather, it illuminates the entire world.
“God-centeredness doesn’t displace the world—rather, it illuminates the entire world.”
And third, we should be taught to apply. Faith without works is dead. The world is God’s, but sin has marred the creation. As we are rebuilt in Christ, a central part of our task is to rebuild what we touch. As the blues song put it, the world is round, but it still is crooked. That crookedness is to be put straight.
In summary, a biblical husband — a Puritan husband — hears the gospel, worships God faithfully, studies the Word, and obeys.
A Full Husbandry
Such obedience leads directly to the doctrine of vocation, which is particularly important in a man’s calling. What does it mean for a Christian husband to work in the world?
First, his work has a point. Theology orients a man in his work. He knows that God has called him to it. This eliminates the erroneous secular/sacred distinction with regard to work. Second, we are liberated to work with a will. Different callings under Christ are never a reproach. Laziness in any calling is. Puritans turned the world upside down with their work ethic. The unbelieving world has rarely seen anything like it, but we trust that the time is coming when they will see it again. Third, godly work was oriented to the home, and not to the monastery. The exaltation of celibacy was a Roman trait. The exaltation of marriage was very much a Puritan trait, and they placed marriage right at the center of their vocational calling.
The result was a full husbandry. Husbands are to serve their households through provision and protection. That provision is both spiritual and physical. The protection is both physical and spiritual — and all of it is covenantal. The results also included erotic devotion. Before the Puritans the notion was widespread that purity and chastity meant avoiding the marriage bed, which then meant that the place where erotic devotion came out was in the adulterous notions of courtly love. We must thank the Puritans for bringing purity, marriage, and romantic dedication all together. That particular fusion was truly remarkable. This development also gave us another important gift, which was the relevance of men. It has been a long time since the world has seen a true, biblical, masculine confidence.
Our Desperate Need
Today we are surrounded by multitudes of wimps and then, just to make things interesting, we have occasional reactionary chest-thumping bluster. May God once again raise up a generation of Puritan men who will be husbands. And when he does, their children will have a father, and they will know what they are supposed to mean whenever they come to pray the Lord’s Prayer — “our Father.” And once again, we will see the goodly work of Elijah, and John the Baptist, and every biblical preacher of real grace and deep goodness. That gospel message will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers.
Which is why we, who are the children, should have our hearts turned to the Puritans, who are our fathers. They have something to teach us, something we desperately need.