“Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen” (Eph 6.24). I believe that this benediction rightly belongs to many who have criticized my catechism and me. I sincerely wish you all, my beloved brethren, every blessing in Christ.
The major concern is the catechism’s application to abused wives. Scripture testifies abundantly that our glorious God is full of compassion for the weak and oppressed, and that He is righteously zealous against their tormentors (e.g., Exod 22.21-24, among many similar passages). He hates the mistreatment that abused wives and many others suffer today. I adore and worship Him for this.
Many have pressed me to provide biblical support for the catechism; I gladly yield to them. The subject is complex, so please be patient while I address many important issues that have been raised. This post is only an initial response. Because God’s Word is most important and the need for biblical support is urgent, I present this first, before a statement of clarification which is planned for a subsequent post.
I begin by offering biblical support for the catechism as it stands. I remain firm in my conviction with many others that the catechism is faithfully scriptural in its content.
For convenience I reproduce the catechism in its entirety with the text of relevant Scripture citations after each question and answer, along with a little brief explanation. I have quoted several Bible translations with approval; the unmarked ones are from the King James Version.
I speak now particularly to you who are Christians, who believe the Bible is God’s Word, and therefore our authoritative rule of truth and righteousness. As I see it, the fundamental question before us is this:
Does the catechism faithfully convey biblical teaching?
If it does, it must necessarily be vindicated in the judgment of sound Christian believers. Anyone who admits that it faithfully conveys biblical teaching but objects to it anyway cannot be considered sound in the Christian faith.
Unbelievers, by definition, are skeptical of God’s Word, and even hostile to it. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8.7 ESV). Therefore we cannot reasonably expect a universal consensus among readers of this blog which probably includes many unbelievers. A more likely outcome includes some expressions of hostility to biblical truth. The Lord have mercy on us all.
In the interest of brevity, I have suppressed the urge to expound each biblical text as it relates to the points of the catechism. I beg my readers, with me, to pray for our mutual divine illumination. Let each study these verses carefully in their context with reverent meditation upon them. May the Lord give us all more light by His Word.
“A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism with Supporting Biblical Texts”
Q1. What is the main point of my marriage to my husband?
A1. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever, the same point of my existence and all my circumstances.
“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11.36).
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).
“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col 3.17).
“Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Psa 73.25-26).
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, though fallible, famously states the praiseworthy Reformed consensus in these words: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever” (Q/A1). Of course, the term “man” refers to all humanity.
Q2. Can my marriage ever be the source of true happiness to me?
A2. No, at best it can become an occasion of happiness, but all my joy is bound up and will remain forever in knowing God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore my blessedness does not depend on the state of my marriage.
“Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb” (1 Sam 25.3).
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psa 1.1).
“Men of the world, which have their portion in this life” (Psa 17.14).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt 5.3-12).
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1.3-4).
Q3. How can I glorify God and enjoy Him forever in my marriage?
A3. By trusting God implicitly and doing His will in all things because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3.5-6).
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut 6.5).
“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (Psa 119.1-2).
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt 22.37-38).
Q4. What is the most important thing about how I relate to my husband?
A4. That I love him with gracious gospel love, respect him for his position over me, and submit to him as unto the Lord.
“Teach the young women . . . to love their husbands” (Tit 2.4).
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13.8-10).
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5.43-48).
“And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt 10.36).
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5.23).
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph 5.22).
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Col 3.18).
“Teach the young women . . . to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Tit 2.4-5).
“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph 5.33).
Q5. What is gracious, gospel love for my husband?
A5. A supernatural love from Christ that is large, constant, and free, and that does my husband good and not evil all the days of my life.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal 5.22).
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6.10).
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Prov 31.10-12).
Q6. What is respect for my husband?
A6. It is a conscious recognition of his special authority over me as my husband on the basis of God’s Word and the covenant I freely entered when I married him.
See Eph 5.22-23, 33, and Col 3.18, quoted under Q/A4, as relevant also to Q/A6.
“The Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant” (Mal 2.14), or, “your wife by covenant” (ESV).
“And they said, We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go” (Gen 24.57-58).
“And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3.9-10).
Q7. What does it mean to submit to my husband as unto the Lord?
A7. That I will cheerfully acquiesce to my husband in all things consistent with the revealed will of Christ, but no further, from a sincere desire to please my husband and Christ for my husband’s good and Christ’s glory.
This answer deliberately and forcefully asserts that not her husband, but Christ, is the sovereign Lord of each Christian wife. Her submission to Christ alone must be absolute and unqualified, and she must trust Him implicitly and without reservation in her entire relationship with her sinful husband. In any particulars where submitting and acquiescing to her husband is not “consistent with the revealed will of Christ,” she must (not just may) obey Christ instead and refuse her husband’s unrighteous wishes.
“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Gen 3.17).
Likewise, a wife must not disobey God in order to please her husband.
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26).
Jesus specifically addresses men but this same requirement of absolute loyalty to Jesus applies to a wife also in relationship to her own husband. “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5.29)—always and in everything when we are faced with a choice between the two.
Q8. Will there be cases when I must obey Christ rather than my husband?
A8. Yes, if ever my husband expects me to disobey any of Christ’s commands, but even then I must keep loving and respecting my husband as my husband while Christ always has my greatest love and loyalty.
Many texts already cited support the answer above, but consider Col 3.18 again: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” I completely agree with the comment of the New Bible Commentary (D. A. Carson, et al.) on this verse:
“The wives, as free and responsible agents, are asked voluntarily to submit themselves to their husbands since this is entirely proper (fitting has a Stoic ring to it but the motivation is entirely Christian). In the Lord means within the new fellowship of those who own Christ as Lord. Submission points to the wife’s calling to honour and affirm her husband’s leadership and to help him exercise his role within the family. It is not an absolute surrender of her will, for Christ is her absolute authority, not her husband. Nor is there any suggestion that the wife is naturally or spiritually inferior to her husband” (in loc.).
Q9. What is the primary means by which I can influence my husband toward greater faith and obedience to God?
A9. Setting a good example before my husband, without a word of nagging or disrespectful rebuke.
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet 3.1-6 ESV).
“Some who do not obey the word” refers to husbands who are disobedient to God’s Word, and especially the case of an unbelieving husband. Peter states the case generally, without qualification or exception, but it would be unfair to blame him for that. “They may be won” refers to the hopeful prospect that they may begin to obey God’s Word. “Without a word by the conduct of their wives” contrasts an approach primarily verbal to one which is primarily exemplary. Peter is urging Christian wives to “respectful and pure” conduct for a good spiritual influence upon their unbelieving husbands. This conduct requires a focus on inward, spiritual beauty more than outward, physical beauty. That inner beauty he further describes as “a gentle and quiet spirit,” which is consistent with the evangelistic approach (deeds more than words) Peter has just recommended.
To inspire Christian wives, Peter appeals to the noble examples of other godly women—most notably Sarah, wife of Abraham. Christian wives must aspire to be like them without giving in to sinful fear that would hinder them in their holy calling.
“A wife’s nagging is an endless dripping. . . . Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife. . . . Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife. . . . Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife. . . . An endless dripping on a rainy day and a nagging wife are alike” (Prov 19.13; 21.9, 19; 25.24; 27.15 HCSB).
Q10. Does this absolutely forbid addressing my husband about his responsibility for faith and duty as a man, a husband, and a father?
A10. No, but when it is right to address him about these things, I must speak the truth in love, with evident love and respect for him as my husband.
“But speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4.15).
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father” (1 Tim 5.1 ESV).
“Let . . . the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph 5.33).
These verses obviously apply to a wife’s speech toward her husband.
Q11. How good a husband is my husband to me?
A11. Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.
No matter how wretched our circumstances, we have no reason to find fault with God who orders everything about our lives, including our suffering which He consistently tempers with His mercy.
“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant” (Gen 32.10).
“If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psa 130.3-4).
“Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this” (Ezra 9.13).
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8.7).
“If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse” (Job 9.20).
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lam 3.22).
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3.10).
“But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath” (Psa 78.38).
“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42.5-6).
“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6.5).
“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5.8).
“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17.10).
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim 1.15).
“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3.8).
“Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5.5).
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.8-9).
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess 5.18).
“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5.20).
Q12. How good a wife am I to my husband?
A12. Much worse than I ought to be, and therefore I will confess my sins to God every day, asking forgiveness, and to my husband as needed, and continue in prayer for grace to grow into the excellent wife that God wants me to be, and that would be such a blessing to my husband.
Our righteous Savior Christ is perfectly holy, and even the best Christian wife still has much remaining sin. Without forgetting His abundant grace to every true Christian, we must never forget our great and ongoing need for much progress in sanctification.
All the blessings that come to Christian believers are not God’s justice repaying us for our own personal merit, but rather God’s grace poured out upon us, despite our sins, on account of the merits of Jesus Christ for us. We stand in perpetual need of God’s free grace, and in Christ, we have His promise of this grace unto eternal life and blessedness.
On account of my sin, I deserve the wrath of God that Jesus suffered on the cross in my place. Anything better than that is God’s mercy and grace to me in Christ. My best service to the Lord is stained with sin, far short of Christ’s worth and example, though He accepts my service graciously. Every Christian should confess these things. Every Christian wife (and husband) should take this truth to heart. That is what I intended in Q/A11-12.
“Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments” (Psa 119.4-6).
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Prov 31.10).
“Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered: “Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—while I was still searching but not finding—I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all. This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes” (Eccl 7.27-29 NIV).
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5.48).
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21.36).
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom 7.18-19).
“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7.21-23).
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (Jas 3.2 ESV).
“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3.17-18).
Without denying the reality of the grace of Jesus Christ that forgives our sins and renews our souls, the greatest believers in all ages have readily confessed, sometimes in extravagant terms, their own personal depravity and fearful demerit on account of their sins. The biblical texts cited offer justification for this. Another striking example is found from Jonathan Edwards, who wrote, with his soaring powers of expression, the following words in his journal. It is noteworthy and instructive that he wrote these words while serving as an eminently godly pastor during the Great Awakening:
My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination; like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. Very often, for these many years, these expressions are in my mind, and in my mouth, ‘Infinite upon infinite—Infinite upon infinite!’ When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss, infinitely deeper than hell. And it appears to me, that were it not for free grace, exalted and raised up to the infinite height of all the fulness and glory of the great Jehovah, and the arm of his power and grace stretched forth in all the majesty of his power, and in all the glory of his sovereignty, I should appear sunk down in my sins below hell itself; far beyond the sight of every thing, but the eye of sovereign grace, that can pierce even down to such a depth. And yet, it seems to me that my conviction of sin is exceedingly small and faint; it is enough to amaze me, that I have no more sense of my sin. I know certainly, that I have very little sense of my sinfulness. When I have had turns of weeping and crying for my sins, I thought I knew at the time, that my repentance was nothing to my sin (from “Remainder of Personal Narrative,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1).
This humble Christian spirit is required to sympathize with Q/A 11-12 of this catechism, especially when we are suffering great injustice inflicted by wicked people.
Q13. How can I possibly love my husband so well, since he falls so short of the ideal husband, and I am such a sinful person?
A13. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even this, for I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. Also, I know that God has given me His Spirit and all-sufficient grace to help me to do all He requires of me.
“You don’t submit to your husband because he is worthy but because Christ is worthy” (quoted).
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil 4.13).
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2.20).
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5.24-25).
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4.10-13).
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12.9).
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ be pleased to grant more love, joy, peace, and unity among His true children by His Holy Spirit and the truth of His Word. Amen.D. Scott Meadows, Pastor Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) Exeter, New Hampshire USA http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com .
 As first posted, this catechism had “his” here, which I have now corrected to “my” following Prov 31.12. Obviously, after she dies, she cannot do him good in the sense intended here.