This book is the latest in the ‘Deepen your Christian life’ series, which aims to make Puritan wisdom on various subjects accessible to a contemporary audience.
Modern readers may wonder how relevant Puritan ideas are to the success of marriage in the twenty-first century. However, the authors state that their aim is to ‘set forth the above ideal for Christian marriage, not because it was “the Puritan view”, but rather because the Puritans convincingly showed the biblical view’ (p.234). In an age when marriage is under attack, our only hope is to return to what God has to say on the subject. The Puritans have already done a lot of the spade-work for us.
Extensive research went into this book. Quotations, excerpts and arguments from 29 Puritan writers are utilised. The bibliography on ‘Marriage and family’ is extensive. It reads rather like a Puritan treatise itself, beginning with ‘The institution and honour of marriage’, and proceeding logically and methodically by way of such subjects as ‘The purposes and benefits’ and ‘Mutual duties’ to ‘Concluding counsel’.
The Puritans held marriage in high regard. They emphasised conformity to God’s expectations, regardless of a spouse’s shortcomings. A healthy marriage relationship is only possible where the individual’s relationship with Christ is healthy. Hard work is certainly required, but there is also emphasis on its benefits. Two sinners can learn to live together in a way that brings honour to God and happiness to themselves.
The Puritans were also aware that a marriage based solely on duty and lacking love, tenderness and consideration was not God-glorifying. Some of the advice given is timeless: husbands, don’t over-interfere in your wife’s domain; know what annoys her and choose your moment for difficult subjects; and buy her a gift now and again! Wives, tell your husband all the good points you like about him; be content with what he provides; and never criticise him to others.
The book is thorough, touching all aspects of marriage. However, as most of the Puritans quoted lived in the seventeenth century, there are certain twenty-first century questions on which they are inevitably silent.
We can safely predict how they would have reacted to the redefinition of marriage itself. How they might apply biblical principles to other situations — for example, marriages where the husband is not the ‘provider’ and the wife the ‘sustainer’; or situations where a couple do not expect parents to have input into the choice of a marriage partner — might be less clear.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted. It requires concentration and perseverance. Nonetheless, it would be of great benefit to any couple: those starting out in marriage and those who have been married a long time.
There are study questions at the end of each chapter. The book does not promise a perfect and problem-free marriage. The Puritans were all too aware of our sinful nature to guarantee that. We are, however, pointed in the direction of where we can look to make marriage as good as it can be: to the Bible, to prayer and obedience.