Richard Baxter on “Holy Government of Families.”

Posted: June 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

I am currently reading “The Godly Home” by Richard Baxter.  So far it has been a challenging read in more ways than one.  Reading Baxter will always challenge you intellectually as you try to follow his writing style.  Reading works from the 17th century will always prove to be laborious.  It is also challenging because it is so convicting.  As Baxter writes he cuts you to the heart, calls you to repent of your shortcomings, and points you towards greater levels of faithfulness.  Read any of his writings and have your mind challenged and your sin rebuked.

In chapter three of “The Godly Home,” Baxter sets out to give “Directions for the Holy Government of Families.”  What he means by government is simply leadership.  In this particular work he refers to the leaders of the home (fathers) as “governors.”  In this chapter he wants to offer some practical advice to father’s.  His goal is to help them lead their families in a way that honors the Lord.  I found his advice to be worth noting.

He first gives a “general direction” to the reader.  “Let governors maintain their authority in their families…your power of governing is gone when your authority is lost” (99).  Nothing of a profound nature here.  However, the truth is worth being reminded of.  You lose the power to govern, or lead, your family well if your authority is compromised.  Baxter then moves into a number of “directions” concerning retaining the needed authority to “govern” your home.

Direction 1:  “Let your family understand that your authority is from God, who is the God of order, and that in obedience to Him they are obliged to obey you” (100).–the authority that husbands/fathers have to lead their family does not come from them or from the culture.  It is divinely bestowed. 

Direction 2:  “The more God appears to be with you, in your knowledge, holiness, and blameless life, the greater will your authority be in the eyes of your inferiors (subordinates) who fear God” (100).–how hard it is to lead your family to honor the Lord while you play the hypocrite.  Baxter continues, “Shall a wicked master of a family think to maintain his authority over others while he rebels against the authority of God” (100). 

Direction 3:  “Do not show your natural weakness by passions or imprudent words or deeds” (100).–Baxter explains what he means like this, “They are likely to think that reason should bear rule; therefore, any silly or weak expressions or inordinate passions or imprudent actions are likely to make you contemptible in the eyes of inferiors (subordinates)” (101). 

Direction 4:  “Do not lose authority by not using it” (101).–if you never exercise the authority that God has given you then it will go away on its own.  The family you seek to lead will become accustomed to you not leading and thus forget who has the authority.

Direction 5:  “Do not lose your authority by too much familiarity” (101).–I thought this to be a great point.  If my family always sees me as the equal and never as their head, then “they will scarcely endure to be governed” by me.  All this to say, your family should be reminded from time to time of who leads the home.

I found these “directions” to be helpful to me as I seek to lead my family well.  Although the phraseology that Baxter employs would not necessarily be how we speak today, the principles hold true.  We must remember that God has given fathers a great responsibility in leading their homes.  We should thus lead, and do so wisely.

  1. Jon Canler says:


    Great post from what looks like a great book from a great author. As soon as I began to read your entry, I was drawn to the Great Comission as written by Matthew. Jesus tells us that ALL authority has been given to him whereby he has the authority to command unbelievers to repent and the authority to command believers to obey him. He has authority and all-power.

    When Baxter writes that we lose authority when we become too familiar, I began to think of the whole Jesus-Is-My-Homeboy and God is love ideologies today. Both ideologies demean the holiness and the justness of God. The result is that Jesus becomes my friend on an equal playing field with me rather than my Romans 10:9 Lord or he becomes so personal to us that we think he could never judge us (See Jonathon Leeman’s The Church and the Suprising Offense of God’s Love). In either case, the ultimate result of making God TOO familiar is that his authoratative lordship diminishes, just like Baxter says. While the Bible is written to show the lordship of Christ, let preachers and teachers be not those who undermine the authority of our holy lord through making him more familiar than the Bible.

    The Dude (literally) Upstairs

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