Motives for the holy government of families

In previous posts, I outlined Richard Baxter’s directives for the holy government (or headship, leadership) of families: authority, skill, and holiness. I took these from Randall J. Pederson’s The Godly Home, in which he presents Baxter’s chapters on marriage and family from his massive Christian Directory. These directives make up the “how” of leading one’s family biblically. In this post, I’ll outline Baxter’s motives for the holy government of families, or the “why.” As with the previous posts, I recommend this book and a fuller reading of Baxter’s pastoral insight that is still powerfully relevant today. You can pick it up from Westminster or skip to the chapters on Christian economics at the free, online CCEL.

As an aside, I think Baxter provides a great challenge to men as heads of their homes, but I also think that he (like many Puritans) tends to over-aspire to ideals (see motive three). Family life is often difficult, because a family is made up of sinners. But Baxter issues a challenge for us to live up to, in full reliance on God’s grace. On to the motives, quoted directly from Baxter:

  1. Consider that the holy government of families is a considerable part of God’s own government of the world, and if God does not govern your families, who shall?
  2. An ungoverned, ungodly family is a powerful means to the damnation of all the members of it. A well-governed family is an excellent help to the saving of all the souls who are in it, and in a godly family there are continual provocations to a holy life, faith, love, obedience, and heavenly-mindedness.
  3. A holy, well-governed family tends not only to the safety of the members but also to the ease and pleasure of their lives. To live where God’s law is the principal rule and where you may be daily taught the mysteries of his kingdom and have the Scriptures opened to you and be led, as by the hand, in the paths of life, where the praises of God are daily celebrated and his name is called upon and where all speak the heavenly language and where God, Christ, and heaven are their daily work and recreation, and the greatest contention is who shall be most humble and godly and obedient to God and their superiors and where there is no reviling scorn at godliness, nor any profane and coarse language – what a sweet and happy life is this! It is the closest thing to heaven on earth.
  4. A holy and well-governed family tends to make a holy posterity and to propagate the fear of God from generation to generation. It is more comfortable to have no children than to beget and breed children for the devil…Whoever trains up children for God must begin early, before things take deep possession of their hearts and custom increases the depravity of their nature.
  5. A holy, well-governed family prepares for a holy and well-governed church. If masters did their parts and sent such polished materials to the churches as they ought to do, the work and life of the pastors of the church would be more easy and delightful.
  6. Well-governed families tend to make a happy state and commonwealth. A good education is the first and greatest work to make good magistrates and subjects because it tends to make good men. Though a good man may be a bad magistrate, yet a bad man cannot be a very good magistrate.
  7. If governors of families faithfully performed their duties, that would be a great supply as to any defects on the pastor’s part and a means to propagate and preserve religion in times of public negligence or persecution.
  8. The duties of your families are such as you may perform with greatest peace and least exception or opposition from others…Your own house is your castle; your family is your charge.
  9. Well-governed families are honorable and exemplary to others. Even the worldly and ungodly bear a certain reverence to them; for holiness and order have some witness that commends them in the consciences of many who never practiced them.
  10. Holy, well-governed families are blessed with the presence and favor of God. They are his churches where he is worshipped, his houses where he dwells. He is engaged, by love and promise, to bless, protect, and prosper them.
In closing, “it is an evident truth that most of the mischiefs that now infest or seize upon mankind throughout the earth are caused by ill-governed families…Family reformation is the easiest and most likely way to a common reformation, or at least to send many souls to heaven and train up multitudes for God if it reaches not to national reformation.”


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