An Introduction To The Series on Building a Godly Home by William Gouge
By now I ought not to be surprised that an old Reformed churchman is a fountain of godly piety, encouragement, and conviction, but here I am again. William Gouge’s practical handbook on family life is a refreshing stream of water flowing from such a wellspring. Modernized in three volumes under the title Building a Godly Home, the book was originally released in a single volume as Domestical Duties, and it excellently presents the blessings we have in Christ, along with the duties we owe to Him and to one another in our homes. It’s just what you’d like to see from an honored member of the Westminster Assembly: warm, firm, attentive, fatherly, compassionate, biblical, and catholic. It’s a work worthy of rediscovery in all the churches of God.
To that end, I’ll be posting a series of excerpts from Building a Godly Home.
The first is the very opening lines of the book:
It has pleased God to call every one to two vocations. One vocation is general, in which certain common duties are to be performed by all men (as knowledge, faith, obedience, repentance, love, mercy, justice, truth, etc.). The other is particular, in which certain specific duties are required of individual people, according to those distinct places where divine providence has set them in the nation, church, and family.
Therefore God’s ministers ought to be careful in instructing God’s people in both kinds of duties; both those which concern their general calling and those which concern their particular calling. Accordingly Paul, who, like Moses, was faithful in all the house of God (Num. 12:7), after he had sufficiently instructed God’s church in the general duties that belong to all Christians, regardless of sex, state, degree, or condition (Eph. 4:1-5:21), proceeds to lay down certain particular duties, which apply to particular callings and conditions (Eph. 5:22-6:9). Among these particular duties, he notes those which God has established in a family.
With excellent skill he passes from those general duties to the particular ones, laying down a transition between the with these words, “ Submitting your selves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21). The form and manner of setting down this verse, with the participle “submitting,” shows that it depends on that which was said before. Again, the fact that the word itself is the very same which is used in the following verse, shows that this verse contains the sum of that which follows, and connects the general to the particulars. This manner of passing from one point to another, by a perfect transition which looks both to that which is past and to that which is coming, is very elegant and frequently employed by our apostle.
Thereby he teaches us to pay attention to that which follows, while we do not forget that which is past. While we must give diligent attention to that which remains to be said, we must also retain that we have heard, and not let it slip. Otherwise, if (as one nail drives out another) one precept makes another be forgotten, it will be altogether in vain to add line to line, or precept to precept.
Let us not upon pretext of one duty, though it may seem to be the weightier, think to discard another, lest that fearful “woe” which Christ denounced against the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23:23) fall upon our heads. As God is careful to instruct us how to act both towards His own majesty and also towards one another, so in both let us seek His approval. Remember what Christ said to the Pharisees, “These ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone” (Luke 11:42). The same Lord that requires praise to His own majesty instructs us in mutual service one to another. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6).
As was the case throughout, I was struck by how pointedly this speaks to our modern moment, which is to say: pitting duties one against another to avoid the ones we don’t like is a timeless temptation. One of the two broad classes of duties Gouge identifies here often cannibalizes the other. In teachings on the sexes, for instance, it’s not hard to find folks denying that there are manly duties distinct from womanly duties; all are simply to “be like Christ.”
But while all are to be like Christ with regard to our general duties, we must also render our due according to the particular callings to which we are called. Likewise, I see in young men (myself included) a tendency to use particular calls to defend the Faith as a cover to their lack of general, personal holiness. It is a deadly poison. Let us all endeavor to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and not think to discard one duty on the pretext of another.