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Baxter's Amazing Marriage Advice

I was recently studying a shepherding question related to marriage with our pastoral residents and Pastor Mike from the Morgan Hill campus. One of the texts we consulted for input was Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory (which I briefly reviewed here). As I read through his discussion of the mutual duties of husbands and wives in marriage, I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of his directions: “Direct. IV. Husband and wife must take delight in the love, and company and conversation of each other”
That word, ladies and gentleman, was “…delight…”
Someone owes the Puritans an apology.
Baxter says that one of our duties to our spouse in marriage is make it our ambition to enjoy our spouses affection, friendship, and conversation. That means this advice is not a suggestion.
The aim is that by laboring to find pleasure in our spouse, we would find life-long pleasure in marriage before the Lord.
So, what if I want to do this but it feels impossible or like it won’t be worth it!? Baxter is extremely practical. He starts by discussing the reasons why delighting in each other is so wise:
When husbands and wives strive to take pleasure in each other…
  1. It unites them in duty (they are striving for one another instead of against each other)
  2. It eases the burden of their daily work (the difficulties of your work are easier to endure when you have a happy home life)
  3. It helps them bear one another’s burdens in life (it’s easier to help and be patient with someone you love)
  4. It sustains them in one of the greatest comforts of marriage (namely the joy of having a happy, mutually supportive marriage)
He then turns to some practical steps…
Without quoting the old English exactly, Baxter suggests:
  1. Enjoy the good. Work hard at finding things you enjoy about your spouse and letting those things warm your love for them. Love will suppress wrath in small matters since it is more difficult to be mad at people you love dearly.
  2. Kill the bad. Both husband and wife must work to mortify their pride and passions, which are the cause of your impatience with each other. Both of you must pray and labor for a humble, meek and quiet spirit. A proud heart is easily provoked. When pride is being habitually weakened, it is much easier to live in peace.
  3. Think realistically. Remind yourself often that you are both full of “infirmities” (moral, practical, and spiritual weaknesses), and that you should expect to find weaknesses in one another. Don’t be so surprised (and so ready to react) when you are sinned against, or when your spouse doesn’t live up to your desires for them.
  4. Think compassionately. Remember that you are one flesh, and therefore discipline yourself not to be more offended with the words or failures of each other than you would be if they were your own.
  5. Argue righteously. Agree beforehand that when one of you is angry and in a fleshly frame of mind, the other shall silently and gently bear it. Don’t let your angers flare at the same time. When a fire is kindled, quench it with gentle words and do not throw oil on a burning fire.
  6. Live with the future in mind. You have to live together until death. You will be companions through fortune and misfortunes and have been given to one another by God as the comfort of each others lives. If you remember this, you will recognize how absurd it is to live as a thorn in one another’s side.
  7. Tame your tongue. If you cannot easily calm your anger, at least keep your mouth shut. When you run your mouth in a fit of anger you will often say things you regret. Choose not to speak, rather than blow on a smoking fire.
  8. Remember the Lord. Remind each other often that conflicts between you do not please God, and will not lead to blessing. If you would please your Father in Heaven, you must work to love one another.
  9. Walk in the Light. Be quick to confess your sins against each other, to ask for forgiveness, and to join in prayer to God for pardon.
I pray that your heart will be open to hear these duties as a pathway to blessing. I also pray that this marriage advice from 400 years ago serves as a fountain of blessing to your marriage and home. God bless you.

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