In the summer of 2020, a website pulled the veil back on what many church officers in Reformed denominations were saying about women (and also other minorities, but I’m focusing on women in this post). Its administrators were officers in the OPC. They were particularly consumed with the release of Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and how dangerous it is for the church.
One of their favorite Puritans to recommend was William Gouge. So naturally, they look to him for a possible argument against women going to college, as the image captured above shows.
Two years later, we can still wonder how the views of these church officers have been challenged. Yesterday, a soon to be released book was brought to my attention that an OPC church officer who is also a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary cowrote with his wife. It’s titled Gospel-Shaped Marriage. This is part of the description on Amazon:
Drawing from Scripture and the writings of Puritan minister William Gouge, their advice also prepares churches, friends, and others to support married couples in their lives.
I took a peek at the “Look inside” to find this in the Introduction:
“The third and unique aspect of this book is the path that it charts, for here we follow an old insight from a book written four hundred years ago. The book, by a pastor named William Gouge, is quaintly titled Domestical Duties. Not everything in it is helpful, but some things are, and in these few pages we pass on the best of what we learned and are trying to put into practice.” (14)
Not everything in it is helpful?
With all the abuse being revealed in Christ’s church, it blows my mind that anyone would direct our men and women to the teachings in this book by Gouge.
Sure, there are some good things in there, particularly when he is talking about Christ. But one cannot read Gouge without coming away with the teaching that woman is enslaved to man. She, by nature, must be ruled by him. In Gouge’s words from his Domestical Duties:
“The reason of this order I take to be the inferiority of the wife to her husband.”(10)
According to Gouge, the problem is we are always trying to usurp authority as part of our inferior nature. What a burden this puts on the man!
“Surely because for the most part inferiours are most unwilling to undergo the duties of their place. Who is not more ready to rule, than the subject?”(10)
These domestical duties break down differently for the man and the woman. The men are “more fit” for the “weighty affairs of the family” and the wife for “less, but very needful matters” (125).
Not only is the husband superior over the wife. Gouge spends pages upon pages on the ways that the wife must inwardly and outwardly acknowledge it:
“3. Of an husband’s superiority over a wife, to be acknowledged by the wife. (See Treatise 4, Sections 6, and 7.)
The subjection which is required of a wife to her husband implieth two things.
1. That she acknowledge her husband to be her superiour.
2. That she respect him as her superiour.
That acknowledgement of the husband’s superiority is twofold,
1. General of any husband.
2. Particular of her own husband.” (129)
You know, because nature:
“2. Nature hath placed an eminency in the male over the female: so as where they are linked together in one yoke, it is given by nature that he should govern, she obey. This did the heathen by light of nature observe.
3. The titles and names, whereby an husband is set forth, do imply a superiority and authority in him, as Lord (1 Peter 3:6), Master (Esther), Guide (Prov 2:17), Head (1 Cor 2:3), image and glory of God (1 Cor 11:7)” (129-130).
“The point then being so clear, wives ought in conscience to acknowledge as much: namely that an husband hath superiority and authority over a wife. The acknowledgement hereof is a main and principal duty, and a ground of all other duties. Till a wife be fully instructed therein and truly persuaded thereof, no duty can be performed by her as it ought: for subjection hath relation to superiority and authority. The very notation of the word implieth as much. How then can subjection be yielded, if husbands be not acknowledged superiours? It may be forced, as one King conquered in battle by another, may be compelled to yield homage to the conqueror, but yet because he still thinketh with himself, that he is no whit inferiour, he will hardly be brought willingly to yield a subject’s duty to him, but rather expect a time when he may free himself and take revenge of the conqueror” (130).
And yet, Gouge gives women more dignity than some of his contemporaries. He does teach against wife spanking as discipline. Women, we are just so close but so far away from equality. He refers to that notion as “a fond conceit that husband and wife are equal.” In this, he speaks about how some argue that the man may be the head, but the woman is the heart. And he says because of this, wives begin thinking of “themselves every way as good as their husbands, and no way inferiour to them” (130).
He calls this “a very weak argument.”
“… 3. Even in those things wherein there is a common equity, there is not an equality: for the husband hath ever even in all things a superiority: as if there be any difference even in the forenamed instances, the husband must have the stronger” (130).
In his needing to belabor the wife’s acknowledgment of her own husband’s superiority, we get the money quote:
… But for a wife who knoweth and acknowledgeth the general, that an husband is above his wife, to imagine that she herself is not inferiour to her husband, ariseth from monstrous self-conceit, and intolerable arrogancy, as if she herself were above her own sex, and more than a woman.(131)
And there it is. More than a woman. Translation: more than an inferior being. Monstrous thought.
I mean, if equals even on occasion give the courtesy of submitting to one another, “how much less ought wives, who are their husbands’ inferiours?” (134).
One way of showing male superiority is for a woman to just zip it:
“For this end in his presence her words must be few, reverend and meek. First few:
…and so will her very silence testify a reverend respect. …for a wife to be sparing in speech, to expect a fit time and just occasion of speech, to be willing to hearken to the word of knowledge coming out of her husband’s mouth. This argueth reverence. Elihu (Job 32:6) manifested the reverend respect, which as a younger he bare to his elders, by forbearing to speak while they had any thing to say. How much more ought wives in regard both of their sex and of their place?
Also, since women by nature are so inferior, it is up to her man to rebuke her if she is to learn anything. Gouge writes pages on this, but I think you’ll get the idea here:
“47. Of a wife’s meek taking a reproof. (See Treatise 4, Sections 34 and 35.)
The husband having authority over his wife, by virtue thereof he hath power, yea it is his duty as there is needful cause to rebuke her: By just consequence therefore it followeth, that it is her duty to yield obedience thereunto.”(153)
Woman is stuffed down, down, down.
Many, many pages are spent on all the things which a wife must get consent from her husband before doing. There is much more to share, but I hope you see the problem here. It’s more than a few “unhelpful” parts. This is the foundation of his teaching.
It is not gospel-shaped. No. This abhorrent teaching of a woman’s nature, “that man is more eminent in place, and also more excellent in dignity” is Aristotelian to the core. It is a counter-text to the picture of woman in Scripture, who points us to heavenly Zion, the great assembly, and the mother of the living. God created men and women both as icons, or representative symbols, of himself, showcasing a great love story—the story of the outgoing, overflowing love of the triune God.
We can’t even imagine this kind of love with this superior/inferior anthropology of man and woman. I doubt this new book on marriage will include these and the many other offensive parts. But why in the world chart a path to follow the insight of Gouge? Why? I know this isn’t some OPC conspiracy, but the irony is thick that my book was considered the dangerous one. I’m just a laywoman, no more. And this is a pastor and professor in the denomination. It’s just all so revealing.
We are created to share covenantally in the Father’s love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Our very bodies tell the story of a gift given in eternity—a gift of a bride to the Son. Rather than Gouge’s Aristotelian framework, imagine man and woman revealing the deep mystery of an eternal trinitarian covenant that is prefigured in creation. Christ doesn’t stuff his bride down.
In the words of Elizabeth Packard (two hundred years after Gouge):
“Women cannot be made to sink permanently.” (Quoted by Kate Moore in, The Woman They Could Not Silence, 347).
And so we see her standing in the glory of our Savior at the end of Scripture, the bride “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2). And she speaks: “Both the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ Let anyone who hears, say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life as a gift” (Rev. 22:17).
She rises. She is all whom Christ loves. All who love Christ. And he elevates her.