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Leading a Family for Christ

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by Richard Baxter


The principal thing requisite to the right governing of families is the fitness of the governors and the governed thereto…But if persons unfit for their relations have joined themselves together in a family, their first duty is to repent of their former sin and rashness and presently to turn to God, [seeking] after that fitness that is necessary to the right discharge of the duties of their several places. In fathers, these three things are of greatest necessity hereunto: 1. authority, 2. skill, 3. holiness and readiness of will.


1. General directions: let fathers maintain their authority in their families. For if once that is lost and you are despised by those you should rule, your word will be of no effect with them. You do but ride without a bridle: your power of governing is gone when your authority is lost. And here you must first understand the nature, use, and extent of your authority: for as your relations are different to your wife [and] your children...so is your authority. Your authority over your wife is but such as is necessary to the order of your family, the safe and prudent management of your affairs, and your comfortable cohabitation. The power of love and complicated interest must do more than magisterial commands. Your authority over your children is much greater; but only such as conjunct with love is needful to their good education and felicity…For the maintaining of this your authority, observe these following sub-directions:


Direction 1: Let your family understand that your authority is of God, Who is the God of order, and that in obedience to Him they are obliged to obey you. “There is no power but of God” (Rom 13:1), and there is none that the intelligent creature can so much reverence as that which is of God. All bonds are easily broken and cast away—by the soul at least, if not by the body—which are not perceived to be Divine. An enlightened conscience will say to ambitious usurpers,

“God I know, and His Son Jesus I know, but who are ye?”


Direction 2: The more of God [that] appeareth upon you in your knowledge, holiness, and unblamableness of life, the greater will your authority be in the eyes of all your [household] that fear God. Sin will make you contemptible and vile; holiness, being the image of God, will make you honorable. In the eyes of the faithful, “a vile person is contemned”; but they honor “them that fear the LORD” (Psa 15:4). “Righteousness exalteth a nation”—and a person—“but sin is a reproach to any people” (Pro 14:34). Those that honor God He will honor, and those that despise Him shall be lightly esteemed (1Sa 2:30). They that give up themselves to vile affections and conversations (Rom 1:25) will seem vile when they have made themselves so. Eli’s sons made themselves vile by their sin (1Sa 3:13). I know men should discern and honor a person placed in authority by God, though they are morally and naturally vile; but this is so hard that it is seldom well done. And God is so severe against proud offenders that He usually punisheth them by making them vile in the eyes of others. At least when they are dead and men dare freely speak of them, their names will rot (Pro 10:7). The instances of the greatest emperors in the world—Persian, Roman, and Turkish—do tell us that if (by whoredom, drunkenness, gluttony, pride, and especially persecution) they will make themselves vile, God will permit them to become the shame and scorn of men by uncovering their nakedness. And shall a wicked father think to maintain his authority over others while he rebelleth against the authority of God?


Direction 3: Show not your natural weakness by passions or imprudent words or deeds. For if they think contemptuously of your person, a little thing will draw them further to despise your words. There is naturally in man so high an esteem of reason that men are hardly persuaded that they should rebel against reason to be governed (for order’s sake) by folly. They are very apt to think that rightest reason should bear rule. Therefore, any silly, weak expressions, any inordinate passions, or any imprudent actions are very apt to make you contemptible in your [household’s] eyes.


Direction 4: Lose not your authority by a neglect of using it. If you suffer children…to have the head but a little while and to have, say, and do what they will, your government will be but a name or image. A moderate course between a lordly rigor and a soft subjection…will best preserve you from your [household’s] contempt.


Direction 5: Lose not your authority by too much familiarity. If you make your children…your playfellows or equals and talk to them and suffer them to talk to you as your companions, they will quickly grow upon you and hold their custom. Though another may govern them, they will scarce ever endure to be governed by you, but will scorn to be subject where they have once been as equal.


2. General directions: labor for prudence and skillfulness in governing. He that undertaketh to be a father undertaketh to be their governor; and it is no small sin or folly to undertake such a place [that] you are utterly unfit for, when it is a matter of so great importance. You could discern this in a case that is not your own, as if a man undertake to be a schoolmaster that cannot read or write; or to be a physician, who knoweth neither diseases nor their remedies; or to be a pilot that cannot tell how to do a pilot’s work; why can you not much more discern it in your own case?


Direction 1: To get the skill of holy governing, it is needful that you be well studied in the Word of God. Therefore, God commandeth kings themselves that they read in the Law all the days of their lives (Deu 17:18-19) and that it depart not out of their mouths, but that they meditate in it day and night (Jos 1:8). And all fathers must be able to teach it [to] their children and talk of it both at home and abroad, lying down and rising up (Deu 6:6-7; 11:8-9). All government of men is but subservient to the government of God to promote obedience to His laws…


Direction 2: Understand well the different tempers of your [household] and deal with them as they are and as they can bear, not with all alike. Some are more intelligent and some more dull. Some are of tender and some of hardened dispositions. Some will be best wrought upon by love and gentleness, and some have need of sharpness and severity. Prudence must fit your dealings to their dispositions.


Direction 3: You must put much difference between their different faults and accordingly suit your reprehensions. Those that have [the] most willfulness must be most severely rebuked, [along with] those that are faulty in matters of greatest weight. Some faults are so much through mere disability and unavoidable frailty of the flesh that there is but little of the will appearing in them. These must be more gently handled as deserving more compassion than reproof. Some are habitual vices, and the whole nature is more desperately depraved than in others. These must have more than a particular correction. They must be held to such a course of life as may be most effectual to destroy and change those habits. And some there are upright at the heart, and in the main and most momentous things are guilty but of some actual faults; and of these, some [are] more seldom and some more frequent. If you do not prudently diversify your rebukes according to their faults, you will but harden them and miss of your ends. For there is a family justice that must not be overthrown unless you will overthrow your families, [just] as there is a more public justice necessary to the public good.


Direction 4: Be a good husband to your wife, a good father to your children, and let love have dominion in all your government that your [household] may easily find that it is [in] their interest to obey you. For interest and self-love are the natural rulers of the world. And it is the most effectual way to procure obedience or any good, to make men perceive that it is for their own good and to engage self-love for you that they may see that the benefit is like to be their own. If you do them no good, but are sour, uncourteous, and close-handed to them, few will be ruled by you.


Direction 5: If you would be skilful in governing others, learn first exactly to command yourselves. Can you ever expect to have others more at your will and government than yourselves? Is he fit to rule his family in the fear of God and a holy life, who is unholy and feareth not God himself? Or is he fit to keep them from passion, drunkenness, gluttony, lust, or any way of sensuality that cannot keep himself from it? Will not [your household] despise such reproofs that are by yourselves contradicted in your lives? You know this [is] true of wicked preachers: is it not as true of other governors?


3. General directions: You must be holy persons if you would be holy governors of your families. Men’s actions follow the bent of their dispositions. They will do as they are. An enemy of God will not govern a family for God, nor [will] an enemy of holiness (nor a stranger to it) set up a holy order in his house and in a holy manner manage his affairs. I know it is cheaper and easier to the flesh to call others to mortification and holiness of life than to bring ourselves to it, but when it is not a bare command or wish that is necessary, but a course of holy and industrious government, unholy persons—though some of them may go far—have not the ends and principles that such a work requireth.


Direction 1: To this end, be sure that your own souls be entirely subjected to God and that you more accurately obey His laws than you expect any [household member to] obey your commands. If you dare disobey God, why should they fear disobeying you? Can you more severely revenge disobedience or more bountifully reward obedience than God can? Are you greater and better than God Himself is?


Direction 2. Be sure that you lay up your treasure in heaven and make the enjoyment of God in glory to be the ultimate commanding end, both of the affairs and government of your family and all things else with which you are entrusted. Devote yourselves and all to God, and do all for Him…If thus you are separated unto God, you are sanctified; then you will separate all that you have to His use and service…


Direction 3: Maintain God’s authority in your family more carefully than your own. Your own is but for His. More sharply rebuke or correct them that wrong and dishonor God than those that wrong and dishonor you. Remember Eli’s sad example: make not a small matter of any of the sins, especially the great sins, of your children…God’s honor must be greatest in your family, and His service must have the preeminence of yours. Sin against Him must be the most intolerable offence.


Direction 4: Let spiritual love to your family be predominant, let your care be greatest for the saving of their souls, and [let] your compassion [be] greatest in their spiritual miseries. Be first careful to provide them a portion in heaven and to save them from whatsoever would deprive them of it. Never prefer the transitory pelf[36] of earth before their everlasting riches. Never be so cumbered about many things as to forget that one thing is necessary, but choose for yourselves and them the better part (Luk 10:42).

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