Her Job Description

The Duty of Wives

By: John Bunyan, 1628-1688

Author of Pilgrim's Progress
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But passing the master of the family, I shall speak a word or two to those that are under him.

And, first, to the wife: The wife is bound by the law to her husband, so long as her husband liveth (Rom 7:2). Wherefore she also hath her work and place in the family, as well as the rest.

Now there are these things considerable in the carriage of a wife toward her husband, which she ought conscientiously to observe.

First, That she look upon him as her head and lord. 'The head of the woman is the man' (1 Cor 11:3). And so Sarah called Abraham lord (1 Peter 3:6).

Second, She should therefore be subject to him, as is fit in the Lord. The apostle saith, 'That the wife should submit herself to her husband, as to the Lord' (1 Peter 3:1; Col 3:18; Eph 5:22). I told you before, that if the husband doth walk towards his wife as becomes him, he will therein be such an ordinance of God to her, besides the relation of a husband, that shall preach to her the carriage of Christ to his church. And now I say also, that the wife, if she walk with her husband as becomes her, she shall preach the obedience of the church to her husband. 'Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything' (Eph 5:24).

Now for thy performing of this work, thou must first shun these evils.

  1. The evil of a wandering and a gossiping spirit; this is evil in the church, and is evil also in a wife, who is the figure of a church. Christ loveth to have his spouse keep at home; that is, to be with him in the faith and practice of his things, not ranging and meddling with the things of Satan; no more should wives be given to wander and gossip abroad. You know that Pro 7:11 saith, 'She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house.' Wives should be about their own husbands' business at home; as the apostle saith, Let them 'be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands.' And why? Because otherwise 'the word of God will be blasphemed' (Titus 2:5).
  2. Take heed of an idle, talking, or brangling tongue. This also is odious, either in maids or wives, to be like parrots, not bridling their tongue; whereas the wife should know, as I said before, that her husband is her lord, and is over her, as Christ is over the church. Do you think it is seemly for the church to parrot it against her husband? Is she not to be silent before him, and to look to his laws, rather than her own fictions? Why so, saith the apostle, ought the wife to carry it towards her husband? 'Let the woman,' saith Paul, 'learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence' (1 Tim 2:11-12). It is an unseemly thing to see a woman so much as once in all her lifetime to offer to overtop her husband; she ought in everything to be in subjection to him, and to do all she doth, as having her warrant, licence, and authority from him. And indeed here is her glory, even to be under him, as the church is under Christ: Now 'she openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness' (Pro 31:26).
  3. Take heed of affecting immodest apparel, or a wanton gait; this will be evil both abroad and at home; abroad, it will not only give ill example, but also tend to tempt to lust and lasciviousness; and at home it will give an offence to a godly husband, and be cankering to ungodly children, &c. Wherefore, as saith the apostle, Let women's apparel be modest, as becometh women professing godliness, with good works, 'not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array' (1 Tim 2:9-10). And as it is said again, 'Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel: But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands' (1 Peter 3:3-5).

But yet, do not think that by the subjection I have here mentioned, that I do intend women should be their husbands' slaves. Women are their husbands' yoke fellows, their flesh and their bones; and he is not a man that hateth his own flesh, or that is bitter against it (Eph 5:29). Wherefore, let every man 'love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband' (Eph 5:33). The wife is master next her husband, and is to rule all in his absence; yea, in his presence she is to guide the house, to bring up the children, provided she so do it, as the adversary have no occasion to speak reproachfully (1 Tim 5:10-13). 'Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. A gracious woman retaineth honour:' and guideth her affairs with discretion (Pro 31:10; Pro 11:16; Pro 12:4).

Object.

But my husband is an unbeliever; what shall I do?

Answer.

If so, then what I have said before lieth upon thee with an engagement so much the stronger. For,

  1. Thy husband being in this condition, he will be watchful to take thy slips and infirmities, to throw them as dirt in the face of God and thy Saviour.
  2. He will be apt to make the worst of every one of thy words, carriages, and gestures.
  3. And all this doth tend to the possessing his heart with more hardness, prejudice, and opposition to his own salvation; wherefore, as Peter saith, 'ye wives, be in subjection to your husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they may also without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation, coupled with fear' (1 Peter 3:1-2). Thy husband's salvation or damnation lieth much in thy deportment and behaviour before him; wherefore, if there be in thee any fear of God, or love to thy husband, seek, by a carriage full of meekness, modesty, and holiness, and a humble behaviour before him, to win him to the love of his own salvation; and by thus doing, how 'knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?' (1 Cor 7:16).

Object.

But my husband is not only an unbeliever, but one very froward, peevish, and testy, yea, so froward, &c., that I know not how to speak to him, or behave myself before him.

Answer.

Indeed there are some wives in great slavery by reason of their ungodly husbands; and as such should be pitied, and prayed for; so they should be so much the more watchful and circumspect in all their ways.

  1. Therefore be thou very faithful to him in all the things of this life.
  2. Bear with patience his unruly and unconverted behaviour; thou art alive, he is dead; thou art principled with grace, he with sin. Now, then, seeing grace is stronger than sin, and virtue than vice; be not overcome with his vileness, but overcome that with thy virtues (Rom 12:21). It is a shame for those that are gracious to be as lavishing in their words, &c., as those that are graceless: They that are 'slow to wrath are of great understanding; but they that are hasty of spirit, exalteth folly' (Pro 14:29).
  3. Thy wisdom, therefore, if at any time thou hast a desire to speak to thy husband for his conviction, concerning anything, either good or evil, it is to observe convenient times and seasons: There is 'a time to keep silence, and a time to speak' (Ecc 3:7). Now for the right timing thy intentions,

(1.) Consider his disposition; and take him when he is farthest off of those filthy passions that are thy afflictions. Abigail would not speak a word to her churlish husband till his wine was gone from him, and he in a sober temper (1 Sam 25:36-37). The want of this observation is the cause why so much is spoken, and so little effected.

(2.) Take him at those times when he hath his heart taken with thee, and when he showeth tokens of love and delight in thee. Thus did Esther with the king her husband, and prevailed (Esther 5:3-6; Esther 7:1-2).

(3.) Observe when convictions seize his conscience, and then follow them with sound and grave sayings of the Scriptures. Somewhat like to this dealt Manoah's wife with her husband (Judges 13:22-23). Yet then,

  • (a) Let thy words be few.
  • (b) And none of them savouring of a lording it over him; but speak thou still as to thy head and lord, by way of entreaty and beseeching.
  • (c) And that in such a spirit of sympathy, and bowels of affection after his good, that the manner of thy speech and behaviour in speaking may be to him an argument that thou speakest in love, as being sensible of his misery, and inflamed in thy soul with desire after his conversion.
  • (d) And follow thy words and behaviour with prayers to God for his soul.
  • (e) Still keeping thyself in a holy, chaste, and modest behaviour before him.

Object.

But my husband is a sot, a fool, and one that hath not wit enough to follow his outward employment in the world.

Answer.

  1. Though all this be true, yet thou must know he is thy head, thy lord, and thy husband.
  2. Therefore thou must take heed of desiring to usurp authority over him. He was not made for thee; that is, for thee to have dominion over him, but to be thy husband, and to rule over thee (1 Tim 2:12; 1 Cor 11:3-8 ).
  3. Wherefore, though in truth thou mayest have more discretion than he, yet thou oughtest to know that thou, with all that is thine, is to be used as under thy husband; even 'every thing' (Eph 5:24). Take heed therefore, that what thou dost goes not in thy name, but his; not to thy exaltation, but his; carrying all things so, by thy dexterity and prudence, that not one of thy husband's weaknesses be discovered to others by thee: 'A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed, is as rottenness in his bones.' For then, as the wise man sayeth, 'she will do him good and not evil, all the days of her life' (Pro 12:4; Pro 31:12).
  4. Therefore act, and do still, as being under the power and authority of thy husband.

Now touching thy carriage to thy children and servants. Thou art a parent, and a mistress, and so thou oughtest to demean thyself. And besides, seeing the believing woman is a figure of the church, she ought, as the church, to nourish and instruct her children, and servants, as the church, that she may answer in that particular also; and truly, the wife being always at home, she hath great advantage that way; wherefore do it, and the Lord prosper your proceeding.

Original author: John Bunyan.