The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Love Your Family Like a Puritan: Don't Be Chicken-Hearted

To the most wonderful husband & father two girls could ever have--We Love You! Lori and Rachel: Christmas 1991 (inscription in A Quest for Godliness).

Christmas Day, 1991 my wife Lori and our two-year-old daughter Rachel gave me a copy of J.I. Packer's masterpiece, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. I cannot think of any book that I have turned to more in the past 25 years than Packer's classic. In this work Packer compares the English Puritans to the California Redwoods which are "the biggest living things on earth." To Packer the Puritans are giants in godliness. He argues:
As Redwoods attract the eye, because they overtop other trees, so the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans shine before us as a kind of beacon light, overtopping the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill and puppets on a string. Behind the Iron Curtain and in the starving, war-torn lands of Africa the story may well have been different, but in Britain and America, the parts of the world that I know best, affluence seems for he past generation to have been making dwarfs and deadheads of us all. In this situation, the teaching and example of the Puritan giants have much to say to us. (12).

Lori's inscription in my copy of Quest was written from her heart. Like the beloved in Solomon's Song, she viewed (and views me) as the best-of-the best. However, when I read the Puritans (or about the Puritans) I feel very much like a dwarf. I often feel dwarf-like in my role as a husband and father. However, this dwarf wants to grow and I know that the Puritans can help me in my "quest for godliness."

Packer is a prolific writer and it is sometimes difficult to get beyond one of his introductions in the many books that he has written. It is not because of poor writing that working through one of his introductions is so difficult, but because his words sting with conviction. If you don't believe me read his introduction in the Banner of Truth edition of Baxter's The Reformed Pastor.  What follows is a selection about the family from chapter 1 of Quest. Read it and then repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Steadily Love Your Spouse as Your Best Friend
The Puritan ethic of marriage was to look not for a partner whom you do love passionately at this moment, but rather for one whom you can love steadily as your best friend for life, and then to proceed with God's help to do just that.
Train up and Care for Your Children. 
The Puritan ethic of nurture was to train up children in the way they should go, to care for their bodies and souls together, and to educate them for sober, godly, socially useful adult living. The Puritan ethic of home life was based on maintaining order, courtesy, and family worship. Goodwill, patience, consistency, and an encouraging attitude were seen as the essential domestic virtues.
Family Life is a School of Character Developed Through Suffering 
In an age of routine discomforts, rudimentary medicine without pain-killers, frequent bereavements (most families lost at least as many children as they reared), an average life expectancy of just under thirty years, and economic hardship for almost all save merchant princes and landed gentry, family life was was a school for character in every sense, and the fortitude with which the Puritans resisted the all-too-familiar temptation to relieve pressure from the world by brutality at home, and laboured to honor God in their families despite all, merits supreme praise.At home the Puritans showed themselves mature, accepting hardships and disappointments realistically as from God and refusing to be daunted or soured by any of them.
Share the Gospel at Home First 
Also it was at home in the first instance that the Puritan layman practised evangelism and ministry. 'His family he endeavored to make a Church,' wrote Geree,  '. . . labouring that those that were born in it, might be born again until God.'
Don't be a Chicken-hearted Spouse Who Looks for the Exit 
In an era in which family life has become brittle even among Christians, with chicken-hearted spouses taking the easy course of separation rather than working at their relationship, and narcissistic parents spoiling their children materially while neglecting them spiritually, there is once more much to be learned from the Puritans' very different ways.
Charles Spurgeon died with 7,000 (out of 12,000 total) volumes on his shelves that were either by or about the Puritans. Perhaps you would benefit from reading a Puritan volume or two. Packer's Quest will get you excited about reading and benefiting from the Puritans.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministry. He leads Bible conferences, marriage retreats, and various other events. Message him on Facebook to schedule an event.