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Family Duties: A Christian Directory - Part II


Family and Home Management



The Duties of the Family in All Its Relationships

See Counsel of Chalcedon issue 2012.2 for Introduction and Chapters 1-3.


Richard Baxter (1615‑1691)




Richard Baxter

Chapters 4-5



General Directions for the Holy Government of Families


The principle requirement for the proper government of families is the competence of the one who governs. If men have married and become the head of a home and find that they are not prepared to govern, their first duty is to seek the fitness which is necessary for them to discharge their responsibility. Three things are necessary for this: Authority, Skill, and Holiness and Readiness of Will.


I. AUTHORITY - As head of the family, a husband and father ought to maintain his position of headship in the family. Once it is lost and he is despised by those under him, his word will be of no effect to them. The man who loses his leadership role rides but without a bridle! His power of governing is gone, and his authority is lost.


The following are principles for fathers to maintain authority in the home:


    1. Let your family understand that your headship is from God who is the God of order and that, in obedience to Him, they are obliged to honor and obey you. Bonds are easily broken and ignored if they are not perceived to be rooted in divine authority (see Ephesians 5:23; 6:4).


    2. The more evidence of the presence and grace of God in your life and the more knowledge, holiness, and blamelessness of life, the greater your headship will be. Sin in your life will make you contemptible and vile to others. Holiness, on the other hand, being the very character of God, will make you honorable to them (see Psalm 15:4; Proverbs 14:34; 1 Samuel 2:30; Romans 1:26; 1 Samuel 3:13; Proverbs 10:7).


    3. Do not show sinful weakness by losing self‑control or by imprudent words or actions. If your family thinks contemptuously of you they will despise your words and authority. There is a natural inclination in men to be governed reasonably so that they rebel against foolishness. Any silly, weak expressions, any inordinate passions, or any imprudent actions are very apt to make you contemptible in the eyes of those under your authority.


    4. Do not lose your authority by the neglect of using it. If you allow children and servants to have their own way even for just a little while, to have and to say their own will, your government will be but in name only. A moderate balance between authority and courtesy will best preserve you from the contempt of those who are under your authority.


    5. Do not lose your authority by being too familiar with those over whom you have authority. If you make your children and servants your playmates or equals, and you allow them to speak to you too familiarly, then they will not allow you who have become their equal to govern them.


II. SKILL - Strive for prudence and skillfulness in leading and governing your home. You wouldn’t respect a man who undertook to teach but could not read or write, a doctor who did not know how to prescribe proper medicine and cures, a pilot who could not do a pilot’s job. Then wouldn’t it be foolish for you to undertake to be the head of a home if you did not have the skill or knowledge it requires?


  • You must be well studied in the Word of God (Deuteronomy 17:18-19; 6:7; 11:18‑19). All government of men is subservient to the government of God. Man’s government exists to promote obedience to God’s laws. It is necessary, therefore, that we understand the laws that all other laws and precepts must submit to and serve.


  • Understand the different natures of the people for whom you are responsible, and deal with them as they are and as they can bear. Do not deal with everyone alike. Some people are more intelligent and some more dull. Some are of tender dispositions and some of hardened, impudent dispositions. Some will be best handled with love and gentleness and some need sharpness and severity. Prudence must fit your dealings with their different dispositions.


  • You must distinguish between degrees of faults and sins and reprimand people accordingly. Faults that arise from willful disobedience and rebellion require severe rebuke. However, faults that arise from disability or frailty of the flesh, not willfulness, must be dealt with by gentleness and compassion. If you do not prudently adjust your rebukes according to people’s faults you will harden them against you and not accomplish your own purpose or goal.


  • Be a good husband to your wife, a good father to your children, a good master to your servants and let love have dominion in your government and discipline so that it is in their own interest to obey you. Self-interest and self-concern are the natural rulers of the world, and the most effective way to procure obedience or any good from others is to make them see that it is for their own good to obey. When you cause them to love you, they may see that it is for their own benefit to submit to and obey you.


  • Learn first to govern yourself. Can you expect to ever have anyone else more under your will and government than yourself? Is a man fit to rule his family in the fear of God and require a holy life of others if he is unholy and does not fear God himself? Is he fit to keep others from passions, drunkenness, gluttony, or sensuality who cannot keep himself from them?


III. HOLINESS AND READINESS OF WILL - Fathers, you must be holy if you would be a holy governor of your family. Men’s actions follow the inclination of their dispositions; they will do as they are. An enemy of God will not govern a family for God. It is also easier to call others to mortification and holiness of life than to bring yourself to it. You cannot govern others unless you govern yourself, and you cannot command others to do what you do not do yourself.


  • Be sure that your own soul is entirely subjected unto God and that you more accurately obey His laws than you expect any one under your authority to obey your commands. If you dare to disobey God why should those under you fear disobeying you? Are you greater and better than God Himself?


  • Be sure that you lay up your treasures in heaven and make the enjoyment of God in glory to be the ultimate commanding end both of the affairs and government of your family and of all things else with which you are entrusted. Devote yourselves and all to God and do all for him. Act as passengers to another world whose business on earth it is but to provide for heaven and promote their everlasting interest.


  • Maintain God’s authority in your family more carefully than your own. Your own authority is but for His. Be more jealous for God’s honor than your own. Consider sin against God more intolerable than sin against yourself.


  • Let spiritual love to your family be predominant. Let your care be greatest for the saving of their souls, not for material possessions that are transitory. Let your compassion be greatest in their spiritual miseries (see Luke 10:42).


  • Let your family neither be kept in idleness and flesh‑pleasing, nor yet overwhelmed with such a multitude of business that it dominates and distracts their minds, diverting and unfitting them for holy things. When God lays on you necessary excessive labors, it must be patiently and cheerfully undergone. But when you draw them unnecessarily on yourselves for the love of riches, you become your own tempter and tormentor and the tempter and tormentor of others (see 1 Timothy 6:10).


  • As much as possible schedule your affairs so that there will be order in conducting all your business so that everything may have its time and that confusion and chaos may not displace godliness. I know that some callings do not permit a regular schedule, but others may if prudence and diligence are used.




Special Motives to Persuade Men How to Govern their Families


“If it were well understood what benefits come by the holy governing of families, and what trouble comes from its neglect, there would be few people that walk the streets among us . . . that would neglect a duty of such value and importance. Since we as a people and nation lie overwhelmed with the calamitous fruits of this neglect, I think it important to try to awaken sluggish souls to do this undone work.”


    1. Consider that the proper and godly government of families is a fundamental and important part of God’s own government of the world, and that the opposite of godly government is the devil’s government. The devil is always the governor where God’s government is rejected. The world and the flesh are the instruments of the devil’s government. Worldliness and fleshly living are the devil’s service. Undoubtedly he is the ruler of the family where these prevail, and where faith and godliness do not take place. And what can you expect from such a master?


    2. Consider, also, that an ungoverned, ungodly family is a powerful means to the damnation of all the members of it. This is the common boat that carries souls to hell. He that is in the devil’s boat is most likely to go as the boatman pleases and with everyone else on board. A well-governed family, however, is an excellent help to saving the souls of all that are in it.


    3. A holy, well‑governed family tends not only to the safety of all the members in it, but also to the ease and pleasure of their lives. To live where God’s law is the principle rule, where you may be daily taught the mysteries of His kingdom, where you may have the Scriptures opened to you and be led by the hand in the paths of life, and where the praises of God are daily celebrated, is a sweet and happy life.


    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 up children for the devil. He that will train up children for God must begin soon, before sinful objects take deep possession of their hearts and habits.


    5. A holy, well‑governed family is a preparation for a holy and well‑governed church. If masters of families do their part and send such polished materials to the churches, as they ought to, the work and life of the pastors of the church will be unspeakably more easy and delightful. But if churches are pigsties of unclean beasts, if they are made up of ignorant and ungodly persons that desire nothing but the things of the flesh, and worship what they know not, we may thank ill-governed families for this. Thus pastors are discouraged, the churches defiled, religion disgraced, and infidels hardened through the impious disorder and negligence of families!


    6. Well‑governed families tend to make a happy state and commonwealth. Godly training is the first and greatest work to make good magistrates and good citizens because it tends to make good men. When an ungodly family has once confirmed children in wickedness, they will act wickedly in every state of life. But oh, what a blessing to the world children are when they come to places of government and submission prepared by a holy training. And how happy is that land that is ruled by such superiors and consists of such subjects as have first learned to be subject to God and to their parents!


    7. When the governors of families faithfully perform their duties, they provide a great means to overcome and make up for any lack or defects in the pastor. In addition, they provide a great means to propagate and preserve religion in times of public neglect and persecution. Thus holy families may keep up biblical religion, keep up the lifestyle and comfort of believers, and supply the lack of public preaching in those places where persecutors prohibit and restrain it, or where unable or unfaithful pastors neglect it.


    8. Your own house is your castle; your family is your charge. You may perform worship and instruction in your families with the greatest peace and least opposition from other sources since it is performed in your own home and under your control. You may teach them there as often and as diligently as you like.


    9. Well‑governed families are honorable and exemplary unto others. A worldly, ungodly, disordered family is a den of snakes, a place of hissing, railing, folly, and confusion; it is like a wilderness overgrown with briers and weeds. A holy family, however, is a garden of God, it is beautiful with His graces, ordered by His government, and fruitful by the showers of his heavenly blessing. No doubt the beauty of such holy and well-governed families has convinced many, drawn them to a great approval of religion, and occasioned them to imitate them.


    10. Well‑governed families are blessed with the special presence and favor of God. God is engaged both by love and promise to bless, protect, and prosper them (Psalm 1:3; Psalm 128). It is safe to sail in that ship which is bound for heaven and where Christ is the pilot. But when you reject His government, despising His presence, interests, and commands, you also refuse His company, despise His favor, and forfeit His blessing.


    11. It is an evident truth that most of the mischief that infests mankind throughout the earth is caused by the disorders and ill government of families. Disorderly families are the schools and shops of Satan from which precede the beastly ignorance, lust, and sensuality, the devilish pride, malignity, and cruelty against the holy ways of God which have so unmannered the children of Adam. These are the nests in which the serpent hatches the eggs of covetousness, envy, strife, revenge, tyranny, disobedience, wars, and bloodshed. Do you wonder that even in reformed churches there can be so many unreformed sinners, of beastly lives, that hate the serious practice of the religion that they themselves profess?


Family reformation is the easiest and the most likely way to national reformation. If it does not extend to national reformation, however, at least it may be used to send many souls to heaven and to train up multitudes for God.