The Special Duties of HUSBANDS
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:22-32.
Observe the sublime and transcendently interesting fact which stands amid the duties of family life, as stated by the apostle, in the language quoted above, like the sun in the center of the planets, illuminating, impelling, and uniting them all. Every part of this most comprehensive and beautiful passage is inimitably striking. The design of the whole, is to magnify Christ's love to the church; in order to this, the moral condition of the church, previous to the transforming work of redeeming grace, is supposed to be that of loathsome impurity; yet, notwithstanding this, Christ exercises the tenderest compassion for her welfare, and is not repelled by excessive defilement. To effect her redemption, he does not merely employ the operations of his power and of his wisdom, but surrendered himself into the hands of divine justice, that as a sacrifice of atonement, he might ransom the object of his love at the price of his blood; thus manifesting an affection stronger than death, and "which many waters could not quench."
The ultimate design of this act of mysterious humiliation, is to render her in some measure worthy of his love, and fit for that indissoluble union with himself, into which, as his illustrious bride, she was about to be received. For this purpose, the efficient influences of the Holy Spirit were to be poured upon her mind, that in the cordial reception of the truth, she might be purified from iniquity, have the germ of every virtue implanted in her heart, and the robe of righteousness spread over her frame; until at length, under the dispensations of his providence, the means of his grace, and the sanctifying agency of his Spirit, the last spot of moral defilement might be effaced, the last wrinkle of spiritual decay removed, and like the "king's daughter, all glorious within—and with her clothing of wrought gold," she might be presented, covered with the beauties of holiness, to the Lord Jesus, in that day, "when he shall come to be admired in his saints, and glorified in all those who believe."
Behold, what manner of love is this!! And it is this most amazing, this unparalleled act of mercy, that is employed by the apostle, as the motive of all Christian conduct. He knew nothing of moral philosophy, if by this expression be meant, the abstract principles of ethics. He left as he found them, the grounds of moral obligations—but he did not enforce virtue by a mere reference to our relations to God as creatures, but by a reference to our relation to Christ as redeemed sinners. He fetched his motives to good works from the cross! He made the power of that to be felt, not only on the conscience as supplying the means of pardon, but upon the heart, as furnishing the most cogent, and at the same time the most intimating argument for sanctification—he not only irradiates the gloom of despondency, or melts the stubborn obstinacy of unbelief, or stays the reckless progress of despair, by inspiring a feeling of hope, no!
But by the death of a crucified Savior, and an exhibition of his most unbounded compassion, he attacks the vice of the depraved heart, and inculcates all the virtues of the renewed mind. The doctrine of the cross is the substance of Christian truth, and the great support of Christian morals—and the apostle's mind and heart were full of it. Does he enforce humility? it is thus—"Let the mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus." Does he enforce an unreserved devotedness to God? it is thus—"You are not your own; for you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body and with your spirit, which are his." Does he enforce brotherly love? it is thus—"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Does he enforce a forgiving temper? it is thus—"Be kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." Does he enforce benevolence to the poor? it is thus—"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty might be made rich." (Phil. 2:5; 1 Cor. 6:20; 1 John 4:10, 11; Eph. 4:32; 2 Cor. 8:9.)
And who but an apostle would have thought of enforcing marital affection by a reference to the love of Christ to his Church? Yet he has done this—and has thus represented redeeming love as a kind of holy atmosphere, surrounding the Christian on all sides, accompanying him everywhere, sustaining the spiritual existence, the very element in which his religion lives, moves, and has its being. And this indeed, is religion—not a name, not a creed, not a form, not an abstract feeling, not an observance of times and places, not a mere mental costume, or holy dress which we put on exclusively for certain seasons and occasions—no! but a moral habit, a mental taste, the spirit of the mind, which will spontaneously appear in our language, feeling, and behavior, by a reference to Jesus Christ, as the ground of hope, and the model for imitation!
In stating the duties especially enjoined on the two parties in the marital union, I shall begin with those of the HUSBAND. He is commanded to LOVE his wife.
As we have already shown, that this is a duty of both parties, the question very naturally arises, "For what reason is it so especially enjoined upon the husband? Why is he so particularly bound to the exercise of affection? Perhaps for the following reasons—
1. Because in the very nature of things he is most in danger of failing in his duty. Placed by the Creator as the "head of the wife," and invested with a certain right to govern his household, he is more in peril of merging the tender sensibilities, in the predominant consciousness of superiority.
2. Because he is actually more deficient in this duty than the other party. This has ever been the case, in Pagan and Mahometan countries. In barbarous nations, especially, the husband's affection has ever been exceedingly weak, and it is probable, that even in the more civilized countries of Greece and Rome, it was not so generally strong and steady, as it has since been made by Christianity. But without even going beyond the limits of Christendom, it may be truly said, that husbands are usually more deficient in love than wives—the latter, in my opinion, excel the former in tenderness, in strength, in constancy of affection.
3. Because a lack of love on the part of the man, is likely to be attended with more misery to the other party—for he can go to greater excesses in violence, in cruelty, in depravity. The lack of this tender passion in him is likely to have a still worse effect upon his own character and the peace of the wife, than the lack of it in her; in either case, a destitution of this kind, is a melancholy thing—but in him, it is on several accounts the most to be dreaded.
The apostle lays down two models or rules, for a husband's affection; the one is, the love which Christ has manifested for his church; and the other, the love which a man bears for himself.
In directing your attention to the first, I shall exhibit the properties of Christ's love, and show in what way our affection should be conformed to his.
Christ's love was SINCERE.He did not love in word only, but in deed, and in truth. In him there was no deceitfulness; no epithets of endearment going forth out of untruthful lips; no actions varnished over with a mere covering of love. We must be like him, and endeavor to maintain a principle of true love in the heart, as well as a show of it in the conduct. It is a miserable thing to have to act the part of love, without feeling it. Hypocrisy is base in everything; but next to religion, is most base in affection. Besides, how difficult is it to act the part well, to keep on the mask, and to support the character so as to escape detection! Oh, the misery of that woman's heart, who at length finds out to her cost, that what she had been accustomed to receive and value as the attentions of a lover—are but the tricks of a cunning deceiver.
The love of the Redeemer was ARDENT.Let us, if we would form a correct idea of what should be the state of our hearts towards the woman of our choice, think of that affection which glowed in the bosom of a Savior, when he lived and died for his people. We can possess, it is true, neither the same kind, nor the same degree of love—but surely when we are referred to such an instance, if not altogether as a model, yet as a motive, it does teach us, that no weak affection is due, or should be offered to the wife of our bosom. We are told by the Savior himself, that if he laid down his life for us, it is our duty to lay down ours for the brethren; how much more for the "friend that sticks closer than a brother." And if it be our duty to lay down our life, how much more to employ it while it lasts, in all the offices of an affection—strong, steady, and inventive.
She who for our sake has forsaken the comfortable home, and the watchful care, and the warm embrace of her parents—has a right to expect in our love, that which shall make her "forget her father's house," and cause her to feel that with respect to happiness, she is no loser by the exchange. Happy the woman, and such should every husband strive to make his wife, who can look back without a sigh upon the moment, when she left forever, the guardians, the companions, and the scenes of her childhood.
The love of Christ to his church was SUPREME.He gives to the world his benevolence—but to the church his love! "The Lord your God in the midst of you," said the prophet, "is mighty; he will save you, he will rejoice over you with joy; he will rest in his love—he will rejoice over you with singing." So must the husband love his wife, above all else—he must "rest in his love." He should love her not only above all outside his house—but above all within it. She must take precedence both in his heart and conduct, not only of all strangers, but of all relatives, and also of all his children; he ought to love his children for her sake, rather than her for theirs.
Is this always the case? On the contrary have we not often seen men, who appear to be far more interested in their children than in their wives; and who have paid far less attention to the latter than to grown-up daughters? How especially unseemly is it, for a man to be seen fonder of the society of any other woman, than that of his wife, even where nothing more may be intended than the pleasure of her company. Nor ought he to forsake her, in his leisure hours, for any companions of his own sex, however pleasant might be their demeanor or their conversation.
The love of Christ is UNIFORM.Like himself, it is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Marital affection should have the same character; it should be at all times, and in all places alike; the same at home as abroad; in other peoples houses as in our own. Has not many a wife to sigh and exclaim—"Oh! that I were treated in my own house, with the same tenderness and attention as I receive in company!" With what almost loathing and disgust must such a woman turn from endearments, which under such circumstances she can consider as nothing but hypocrisy! Home is the chief place for fond and minute attention; and she who has not to complain of a lack of it there, will seldom feel the need or the inclination to complain of a lack of it abroad—except it be those silly women, who would degrade their husbands, by exacting not merely what is really kind, but what is actually ridiculous.
The love of the Redeemer was PRACTICAL and LABORIOUS.He provided everything for the welfare and comfort of the church, and at a cost and by exertions of which we can form no idea. It has been already declared that both parties are to assist in the cares of life. A good wife cannot be an idle one. Beautiful is her portraiture as drawn by the wise man. "Who can find a virtuous wife? She is worth more than precious rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She will not hinder him but help him all her life. She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She watches for bargains; her lights burn late into the night. Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber. She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She has no fear of winter for her household because all of them have warm clothes. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions. She carefully watches all that goes on in her household and does not have to bear the consequences of laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: 'There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!' Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised." Proverbs 31
This exquisite picture, combining as it does industry, prudence, dignity, meekness, wisdom and piety, cannot be too frequently or minutely studied, by those who would attain to high degrees of female excellence.
The business of providing for the family, however, belongs chiefly to the husband. It is yours my brethren to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of carefulness, and to drink if necessary, the waters of affliction, that you may earn by the sweat of your brow, a comfortable support for the family circle. This is probably what the apostle meant, when he enjoined us to give honor to the wife as to the weaker vessel—the honor of providing for her, which she in consequence of the weakness of her frame, and the frequent infirmities which the maternal relation brings upon her, is not so well able to procure for herself.
In most barbarous countries, and in some half civilized ones, the burden of manual labor falls upon the woman, while her tyrant husband lives in indolence, feeding upon the industry of the hapless being whom he calls a wife—but treats as a slave. And are there no such idle tyrants in our age and country, who so as they can live in indolence, and gratify their appetites, care not how they oppress their wives?—Wretches who do little or nothing for the support of the family? How utterly lost to every noble and generous sentiment must that man be, whose heart cannot be moved by the entreaties or tears of his own wife, and who can hear in vain her pleadings for his child at her bosom, and his child by her side, and who by such appeals cannot be induced to give up his daily visits to the tavern, or his habits of sauntering idleness, to attend to his neglected business, and hold off the approaching tide of poverty and ruin. Such a creature is worse than a brute, he is a monster—and it seems a pity that there is no law and no prison-ship to bear him away to a land where if he will not work, so neither could he eat!
In general, it is for the benefit of a family, that a married woman should devote her time and attention almost exclusively to the ways of her household—her place is in the center of family cares. What is gained by her in the shop, is oftentimes lost in the house, for lack of the judicious superintendence of a mother! Comfort and order, as well as money, are family wealth—can these be rationally expected in the absence of female superintendence in the home? The children always need a mother's eye and hand, and should always have them. Let the husband, then, have the care of providing; the wife, that of distributing to the necessities of the family; for this is the rule both of reason and the Word of God.
And as Christ labored for his church, not only during his abode upon earth, but made provision for its welfare when he departed from our world, in like manner should the husband take care of his wife. I never could understand the propriety of that custom, which is but too common, of men's providing by their wills so much better for the children than they do for the mother. Does this look like a supreme love? Every man who raises a woman to the rank of his wife, should take care, however inferior she might have been in circumstances before their marriage, to leave her in the situation into which he brought her—for it is indeed most cruel, to leave her to be deprived at once, not only of her dearest earthly friend—but of her usual means of comfortable existence.
A practical affection to a wife extends, however, to everything; it should manifest itself in the most delicate attention to her comfort, and her feelings; in consulting her tastes; in concealing her failings; in never doing anything to degrade her, but everything to exalt her before her children and others; in acknowledging her excellencies, and commending her efforts to please him; in meeting, and even in anticipating all her reasonable requests; in short, in doing all that ingenuity can invent for her substantial happiness and general comfort.
Christ's love to his church, was DURABLE and UNCHANGEABLE."Having loved his own he loved them to the end," without abatement or alteration. So ought men to love their wives, not only at the beginning; but to the end of their union; when the charms of beauty have fled before the withering influence of disease; when the vigorous and sprightly frame has lost its elasticity, and the step has become slow and faltering—when the wrinkles of old age have followed to the bloom of youth, and the whole person seems rather the monument, than the resemblance of what it once was. Has she not gained in mind what she has lost in exterior fascinations? Have not her mental graces flourished amid the ruins of personal charms? If the 'rose' and the 'lily' have faded on the cheek, have not the 'fruits of righteousness' grown in the soul? If those blossoms have departed, on which the eye of youthful passion gazed with so much ardor, has it not been to give way to the ripe fruit of Christian excellence? The woman is not what she once was—but the wife, the mother, the Christian—are better than they were.
For an example of marital love in all its power and excellence, point me not to the bride and bridegroom displaying during the first month of their union, all the watchfulness and tenderness of affection, but let me look upon the husband and wife of fifty, whose love has been tried by the lapse and the changes of a quarter of a century, and who through this period and by these vicissitudes, have grown in attachment and esteem; and whose affection, if not glowing with all the fervid heat of a midsummer's day, is still like the sunshine of an October noon—warm and beautiful, as reflected amid autumnal tints!
But, before I go away from this view of a husband's especial duty, I must just advert to another rule of his love which is laid down for him by the apostle. "So ought men to love their wives, as their own bodies—he who loves his wife loves himself." A man's children are parts of himself; his wife is himself—"for the two shall be one flesh." This is his duty and the measure of it too; which is so plain, that, if he understands how he treats himself, there needs nothing be added concerning his demeanor towards her; for "what mighty care does he take of his body, and uses it with a delicate tenderness, and cares for it in all contingencies, and watches to keep it from all evils, and studies to make for it fair provisions, and is very often led by its inclinations and desires, and does never contradict its appetites but when they are evil, and then also not without some trouble and sorrow." So let a man love his wife as his own body.
Can it be necessary to apply the force of MOTIVES to produce an appropriate attention to such a duty? If so, I appeal to your sense of honor. Husbands, call to recollection the wakeful diligence, and the tender attentions by which you won the affection and the confidence of the woman, who forsook her father and her mother, and the home of her childhood, to find a resting place for her heart in your love—will you falsify the vows you pledged, and disappoint the hopes you raised? Is it accounted a disgraceful stigma on a man's reputation, to forfeit the pledges of a lover? oh! how much more dishonorable to forget those of a husband! That man has disgraced himself who furnishes just occasion to the partner of his days, to draw, with a sigh, a contrast between the affectionate attention she received as a lover and as a wife.
I urge affection to a wife by the recollection of that solemn moment, when in the presence of heaven and earth, before God's minister, and in God's house, you bound yourself by all the deeply solemn formalities of an oath, to throw open, and keep open your heart, as the fountain of her earthly happiness, and to devote your whole life to the promotion of her welfare.
I appeal to your regard to justice. You have sworn away yourself to her, and are no longer your own. You have no right to that individual, and separate, and independent kind of life, which would lead you to seek your happiness, in opposition to, or neglect of hers. "The two have become one flesh."
Humanity puts in its claim on behalf of your wife. Husbands! It is in your power to do more for your wife's happiness or misery, than any other being in the universe, but God himself. An unkind husband is a tormentor of the first class. His victim can never elude his grasp, nor go beyond the reach of his cruelty, until she is kindly released by the king of terrors, who, in this instance, becomes to her an angel of light, and conducts her to the grave as to a shelter from her oppressor. For such a woman there is no rest on earth—the destroyer of her peace has her ever in his power, for she is always in his presence, or in the fear of it; the circumstances of every place, and every day, furnish him with the occasions of cruel neglect or unkindness, and it might be fairly questioned, whether there is to be found on earth a case of greater misery, except it be that of a wretch tortured by remorse and despair, than a woman whose heart daily withers under the cold looks, the chilling words, and repulsive actions of a husband who loves her not. Such a man is a murderer, though in this world he escapes the murderer's doom; and by a refinement of cruelty, he employs years in conducting his victim to her end, by the slow process of a lingering death!
If nothing else can prevail personal interest should, for no man can hate his wife, without hating himself, for "she is his own flesh." Love, like mercy, is a double blessing; and hatred, like cruelty, is a double torment. We cannot love a worthy object without rejoicing in the reflex beams of our own affection. Next to the supreme love we cherish towards God, and which it is impossible to exercise and not hold communion in the joys of heaven, marital love is the most beatifying passion; and to transvenom this into unkindness is to open, at the very center of our soul, a source of poison, which, before it exudes to torture others, torments ourselves!
I cannot here avoid inserting the exquisite and touching appeal, which Mr. Jay puts into the lips of married women to their husbands.—"Honor us; deal kindly with us. From many of the opportunities, and means by which you procure favorable notice, we are excluded. Doomed to the shadows, few of the high places of the earth are open to us. Alternately we are adored and oppressed. From our slaves you become our tyrants. You feel our beauty, and avail yourselves of our weakness. You complain of our inferiority, but none of your behavior bids us rise. Sensibility has given us a thousand feelings, which nature has kindly denied you. Always under restraints, we have little liberty of choice. Providence seems to have been more attentive to enable us to confer happiness, than to enjoy it. Every condition has for us fresh mortifications; every relationship new sorrows. We enter social bonds; it is a system of perpetual sacrifice. We cannot give life to others without hazarding our own. We have sufferings which you do not share, cannot share. If spared, years and decays invade our charms, and much of the ardor produced by attraction departs with it. We may die. The grave covers us, and we are soon forgotten; soon are the days of your mourning ended; soon is our loss repaired; dismissed even from your speech, our name is to be heard no more—a successor may dislike it. Though the duties which we have discharged invariably, be the most important and necessary, they do not shine; they are too common to be striking—they procure no fame; the wife, the mother fills no historic page. Our privations, our confinements, our wearisome days, our interrupted, our sleepless nights, the hours we have hung in anxious watchings over your sick and dying offspring . . ."—But we forbear.
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