By Ryan Patrick Hoselton
John Gill, the illustrious 18th century Baptist pastor and theologian, suggests that while love should be mutual between spouses, the Scriptures exhort husbands to it more frequently because they “are most wanting in the performance of it” (IV.1). His point may be debatable, but even so, his tutelage in how to love one’s wife more is worth hearing.
Basing his thoughts on Ephesians 5, Gill concisely lists four reasons why a husband should improve his love for his wife. 1) She is his own flesh. Neglecting one’s own body is unnatural and strange—it will not benefit a man in any way. 2) A man receives enormous profit from a wife. She offers support and companionship in his affairs, rejoices and weeps with him, and therefore a man should be grateful. 3) The wife is the glory of her husband. She is his crown and her conduct, devotion, and chastity makes him respectable among others. 4) Most importantly, a man should imitate Christ’s love for his church in how he loves his own wife. His love for her is a testimony to the beauty of the gospel.
With the reasons established, Gill turns to the manner in which husbands should love their wives (also neatly organized in four points). 1) He should provide for her temporal good, “signified by nourishing and cherishing her” (IV.1). The husband loves his wife through his provision of food, shelter, clothes, etc., suitable to his circumstances and abilities. If he neglects this duty, he is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5.3). 2) He should protect his wife “from all abuses and injuries: as she is the weaker vessel,” and if necessary, “risk his life in her defence” (IV.1).
While the first two ways to love one’s wife seem natural to most men, the next two may require more attentiveness and strategy. 3) Gill urges men to do “every thing that may contribute to her pleasure, peace, comfort, and happiness” (IV.1). When Paul tells the Corinthians, “he who is married must care how he may please his wife,” he is not blaming men for it but rather commending them (1 Cor. 7.33). A husband makes his wife feel comfortable when he hides her failings and covers her weaknesses in love. 4) He must lead his wife in her spiritual welfare. A man loves his wife “by joining with her in all religious exercises, in family worship, in reading, in prayer, in praise, in Christian conference and conversation” (IV.1). The husband is responsible for teaching his wife and answering her questions without misleading or belittling her.
Gill’s instructions will not transform you into the chimerical Hollywood chick-flick ladies man with quick wit, contagious humor, and an Adonis body. But this notion of romance, if attained, will eventually sag in correlation with our aging bodies. If, however, a man patterns his love after Christ rather than culture, he will have an enduring and gratifying marriage.
Gill, John. A Body of Practical Divinity; or A System of Practical Truths. 1839. Reprint, Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1984.
Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are expecting their first child in August.