As we are in the midst of “Getting the Picture Right,” Im thinking of a quotation from William Gouge in “Building a Godly Home, A Holy Vision of a Happy Marriage,” on how husbands love their wives by bearing with their weaknesses,
To this point we have covered the husband’s avoiding of offence; now I will speak a word concerning his bearing with offence.
It is a general duty, common to all, to “bear ye one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), in which even a wife is to bear her husband’s burdens, because he, as everyone else, is subject to slip and fall and so needs to be supported. Yet after a more special and particular manner does this duty belong to a husband, and that in two respects.
1. Of the two, he is more obligated than his wife, because in relation to his wife he is the stronger, for she is the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). But the strong are most obligated to “bear the infirmities of the weak” (Rom. 15:1).
2. He is obligated to bear patiently with his wife more than with any other, because of that close relationship which is between them. He that cannot bear with his wife, his flesh, can bear with nobody. The reason given by the apostle to move a man to dwell with his wife according to knowledge, and to give honor to her, implied in this phrase, “as unto the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), shows that this is a particular duty belonging to a husband, in which he may both show his knowledge and wisdom, and also honor his wife. For why is he reminded of her weakness, but to show he should bear with her patiently?
As that phrase implies the duty, so also it implies a good reason to enforce it. For precious things which we highly value, the weaker they are, the more tenderly, and carefully are they handled, as china dishes, and crystal glasses, and of all parts of the body, the eye is most tenderly handled. Now what things, what persons are more dear and precious than a wife? Yet for all that she is a weak vessel: therefore she is much to be born with patiently.
For a husband’s better direction here, difference must be made between weaknesses. Some are natural imperfections, others are actual transgressions. Natural imperfections are inward (as slowness in mind, dullness in understanding, shortness of memory, quickness in strong emotions, etc.) or outward (as lameness, blindness, deafness, or any other defect and deformity of body). These infirmities should cause pity, compassion, sympathy, and even greater tenderness and respect, but no offence. Note Abraham’s example in this case; his wife was barren, yet he did not despise her for it, nor did he accuse her with any such thing.
Actual transgressions are violations of God’s law, and such are meant here which most directly tends to his own disturbance and disadvantage, as argumentativeness, insisting on her own way, being picky, stubbornness, etc. In bearing these must a husband especially show his wisdom in various ways.
1. By using the best and gentlest means he can to cure them, as meek admonition, seasonable advice, gentle appeal, and compassionate affection. Elkanah, supposing that his wife did wrong in her strong emotions, thus dealt with her and supported her (1 Sam. 1:8).
2. By removing the stone over which she stumbles, by taking away the cause (so far as conveniently he can) which makes her to do wrong. Thus Abram, by God’s advice, put Hagar and her son out of the house because they were an offence to Sarah (Gen. 21:14).
3. By turning his eyes away (if the matter be not great, but may be tolerated) and taking no notice of the offence, but rather passing by it, as if he perceived it not. Solomon says, that it is a man’s glory to pass over a transgression (Prov. A Husband’s Kind Conduct toward His Wife 19:11), and he exhorts a man not to give his heart to all the words that men speak (Eccl. 7:21).
4. By forgiving and forgetting it if notice is taken of it. Jacob took notice of Rachel’s wrath, and stubborn demand, for he rebuked her for it, yet he willingly yielded to that which afterwards she asked him to (Gen. 30), it appears that he forgave the offence, if not forgot it.
The best test of a man’s affection to his wife, and of his wisdom in ordering the same, is in this point of bearing with offences. Not to be offended with a wife that gives no offence is not praiseworthy; pagan men may go so far. Notice what Christ says of this case, “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?” (Matt. 5:46; cf. Luke 6:32–33). Gently to bear with and wisely to pass over offences when they are given, not to be provoked when there is cause of provocation given, is a true Christian virtue, a virtue fitting husbands better than any other kind of men.
Husbands’ Quickness to Anger
Contrary is quickness to anger, and irritability, when husbands are moved with the least provocation, like tinder catching fire at the least spark that falls upon it. Many are like gunpowder, which not only takes fire, but also breaks out into a violent flame upon the least touch of fire. As gunpowder is dangerous to be kept in a house, so are such husbands to be joined so nearly to wives as marriage joins them. If it be said, that as gunpowder does no hurt if fire come not at it, so they are good and kind, if they be not provoked and displeased, I answer, that we have a proverb that says, “The devil is good while he is pleased,” yet it is not safe to have the devil too near. It is as impossible (considering man’s weakness) that he should live and keep company with any, and not give offence, as for flint stones to beat and dash against one another repeatedly, and no spark of fire to come from them. How then may it be thought possible for a wife, who is so continually keeping company with her husband, and the weaker vessel, to live without giving him offence? It is no very kind speech, which husbands use, especially if they be told of their unkindness, “Let my wife deserve favor, and she shall have it.” How little favor would such husbands have from Christ their Husband, if he should have that attitude toward them?
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