Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Richard Baxter - A Puritan's Thoughts on Marriage Preparation

Who were the Puritans? This is a question entire books seek to answer, but the short version is that they were a group of English Protestants who wanted to return to a biblical faith, and opposed the Church of England. They later took on more political leanings, but originally, it was about returning to a evangelical faith.

Why do we care what these people of the past have to say? They live outside of our cultural context. How can they have anything relevant to say? J.I. Packer has a good answer.

In the book Worldly Saints, by Leland Ryken, Packer, who has written his own excellent volume about the Puritans, (A Quest for Godliness) introduces the book, saying why we need the Puritans:
The answer, in one word, is maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don't. A much-traveled leader, a Native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism -  man centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent, and sentimental as it blatantly is - to be three thousand miles wide and half an inch deep. We are spiritual dwarfs. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them, clear-headed, passion and warm-hearted compassion combined. 
Some examples of Puritans are John Owen, Richard Sibbes, Jeremiah Burroughs, William Gurnall, and the man I'll be highlighting, Richard Baxter.

Baxter lived from 1615-1691, and spent time as a pastor in the parish of Kidderminster. He also spent some time as an army chaplain during the English civil war. When the Act of Uniformity of 1662 closed down his parish, he was left with time on his hands. He turned to writing.

One of his works, A Christian Directory, is a summary of practical theology to teach Christians how to live out their faith. It is in four parts: Christian Ethics, Christian Economics, Christian Ecclesiastics, and Christian Politics.

I will be looking at the book The Godly Home (Edited by Randall J. Pederson, Crossway, 2010), which examines the second section of Baxter's book, Christian Economics. This volume deals with the Christian family. Baxter never had any children, but he was married, and though his advice may sound outdated to the skeptic, it is solid, theological, common sense advice.

In the chapter, "Directions About Marriage," Baxter encourages the reader to think long and hard about whether he wants to be married. The Puritans were family-oriented people, and valued marriage and children both, but were not insensible to the reality that not marrying was a godly choice as well. Baxter takes great pains to point out the pros and cons of being married.

However, for the one who does commit to the idea of marriage,  Baxter provides directions:
Do not think that you are entering into a state of mere delight, lest it prove a fool's paradise to you. See that you are furnished with marriage strength and patience for the duties and sufferings of a married state before you venture on. First, be well provided against temptations to a worldly mind and life; for here you are like to be most violently and dangerously assaulted. Second, see that you are well provided with marital affections, for they are necessary both to the duties and sufferings of marital life. You should not enter upon the state without the necessary preparations. Third, see that you are well provided with marriage prudence and understanding, that you may be able to instruct and edify your families and may live with them as men of knowledge (I Pet. 3:7) and may manage all your business with discretion (Ps. 112:1-5). Fourth, see that you are provided with resolve and constancy, that you do not vex yourself and your family by repenting too late. Do not say, "Had I but known," or non putaram, "I never thought of that." Levity and mutability are not fit preparations for a state that only death can change. Let the love and resolutions that brought you into that state continue with you to the last.
"Levity and mutability are not fit preparations for a state that only death can change." That advice certainly wouldn't make the pages of a bridal magazine.  Baxter does something that many often don't do: evaluate realistically what marriage will be like.

How often do couples marry thinking that "all you need is love?" How many courting couples think that passion and infatuation are enough to get them through? How many young couples can't imagine how tempers can flare, and how disagreements can escalate? I think some young couples may think more about having their lavish wedding (which lasts only a few hours compared to the marriage) than they are about the realities.

The purpose for marriage for the Puritans was for companionship, love, and children. But it was also for the glory of God, as the purposes of our marriages ought to be as well. Marriage is a serious thing. Their example is a good one to follow in a day when divorce rates within the church aren't much different than the rates outside of it. The Purtians are often reputed to be dour and with a hard view of marriage. It is quite the contrary. They promoted healthy, loving, solid, life long-marriages.

If you are interested in reading about the Puritans, in addition to reading their own words, do check out the two volumes I mentioned earlier. I found them both excellent introductions. Joel Beeke's book Meet the Puritans also comes highly recommended.

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