Richard Baxter’s helpful chapters on marriage and family have been collected into The Godly Home, edited by Randall J. Pederson (2010). In a previous post, I laid out Baxter’s five directions on authority in order to maintain a holy government (spiritual leadership) of one’s family. The second aspect of how to govern one’s family holily is through “prudence and skillfulness” (p. 101).
Baxter’s purpose here is to encourage the family head to “labor” to be good at leading: “It is no small sin or folly to undertake such a place as you are utterly unfit for when it is a matter of so great importance.” In other words, such an important task of governing a family necessitates that the leader pursue excellence in his work. “If a man undertakes to be a schoolmaster who cannot read or write or to be a physician who knows neither diseases nor their remedies or to be a ship’s pilot who cannot tell how to do a pilot’s work,” then why does it also not follow that a man should labor at his work of being a spiritual leader. In this section, Baxter emphasizes the need to be skillful by being knowledgeable in relation to God and His Word, to one’s wife and children, and to one’s own sanctification. Like his section on authority, Baxter gives five directives and much biblical support for how to be prudent and skillful, presented here in outline form, but quoted directly:
- Be studied in the Word of God. Parents must be able to “teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6-7, 11:18-19). It is necessary that we understand God’s laws to which all laws and precepts must give place and serve.
- Understand the different tempers of your inferiors [again, not in value or importance], and deal with them as they are and as they can bear and not with all alike. Prudence must fit your dealings to their dispositions.
- Recognize the difference between their faults, and accordingly suit your reprehensions. If you do not prudently diversify your rebukes according to their faults, you will harden them and miss your ends.
- Be a good husband to your wife and a good father to your children, and let love have dominion in your governing, that your inferiors may easily find that it is in their interest to obey you. The most effectual way to procure obedience or any good is to make men perceive that it is for their own good.
- If you would be skillful in governing others, learn first 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 fears not God himself?