by Josiah Audette
Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the wife’s head, even as Christ is the head of the Church, and the same is the Saviour of his body. Therefore as the Church is in subjection to Christ, even so let the wives be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it. That he might sanctify it, and cleanse it by the washing of water through the word. That he might make it unto himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that it should be holy and without blame.
SIX MILES & SIX VERSES
On July 28, 1883 outside of Calgary an unsurpassed distance of track for the Canadian Pacific Railway had been finished. All 6 miles. All in a day’s work. This championing was the work of champions, namely, the Ryan brothers, both world class spikers. Big Jack, a gargantuan Swede could pound a spike with just two blows, half the amount of any other spiker. He could also handle the entire 560 pounds of an iron rail track and lift it onto a flat rail car. Pierre Berton records a crew of 130 men in fourteen hours laid the 604 tons of rail on sixteen thousand wooden ties bound by 565 bolts and 63,000 spikes. Eight would unload the wooden ties, four would space them, two would distance them, and two more arranged them precisely in front of the spikers. Twelve men then unloaded the rails, twelve more hauled them to the front, and ten men would then swing the rails onto the ties. Fifteen men would then fasten the bolts, followed by thirty-two spikers and four spike peddlers. Berton records, “The lead and gauge spiker each drove 2,120 spikes, averaging four blows to a spike, which meant that in fourteen hours they each delivered an average of eighty-four hundred blows with a sledge hammer.”
It was 6 mile undertakings like Big Jack’s which led the CPR to “Span the World” with its parallel tracks. The rail line would later be heralded as the iron thread which held the nation together. Parallels are a powerful thing, both for trains of rail and trains of thought. The Apostle Paul laid down a parallel track over 6 verses in Ephesians which would span the entirety of human experience and hold the family, church, and state together. Like a railway track, a grammatical parallel involves two lines. Being in parallel, one naturally and logically, relates to the other. What can be observed of the one can consequential be observed of the other. In this famous parallel we see on the one line Christ’s headship over his bride the church corresponding with the line of a husband’s headship over his wife. This line of a husband’s headship has been claimed back and championed forward by many family oriented Christians today. Like Big Jack, us patriarchal, hierarchical families have laboured hard in building this iron thread of headship for our households and culture. But in the process have we forgotten the other track in this parallel, and are we in danger of derailment?
REALIGNMENT OR DERAILMENT
As heads of our households we can read Ephesians 5 and what is says with regards to our wives’ submission, but miss what it commands for our own. We see ourselves so clearly in the one parallel of Ephesians as the head of our brides, but do we miss that in the other side of the parallel we are the bride? How can we claim our own headship if we do not recognize the other Head from which we derive our position? How can we consistently call wives to submit to their head when we do not submit to our own? Are we patriarchs in the home but feminists at church? We must examine to see if how we have rebuilt Paul’s track in Ephesians 5 is due for realignment lest we are due for derailment.
The first reality to come to terms with is that of headship. If by “headship” you imagine “boss” you are far, far off. Paul does not say that Christ is boss of His church or master of His bride. Such a picture is foreign thinking to the attributes of Christ. Rather, He is called the “Head.” The term “Head” is a covenantal term. In Scripture we see two covenantal heads, Adam and Christ. You are in covenant with either one or the other. By conception, as his posterity, we are in a covenant relation with our earthly father Adam. He is our federal head as we are in league with him. When he sinned in the garden, he did so covenantally. That is, representing all mankind, and representing them accurately. We cannot plead his sin as being misrepresentative of us. So the entirety of the human race sinned in our accurate contract, party, league, and covenant representative head, Adam. Yet there is another and better head, namely Christ. As the sin of the first Adam condemned us, so the obedience of the second Adam redeemed us. Christ is the federal representative of those who are in party, league and covenant with him by sovereign grace. This means that headship in a marriage is covenantal headship. As we were one with Adam, as we are now one with Christ, the wife is one with her husband. This covenantal representation is so real, so accurate, so living, and so organic that Paul analogizes it with the human body. There is a sense in that both the head and the body are so vitally, organically, and essentially connected as one that you cannot tell where the body ends and the head begins. This is why any individualistic notion when it comes to the covenant relation with Adam and Christ is untenable. Equally so in marriage. The two shall become one. One federally. One covenantally. One representationally. One organically. One legally.
This concept was historically reflected in society with the English Common Law doctrine of Coverture. Coverture was where “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing… and her condition during marriage is called her coverture.” This is an accurate legal picture of what headship entails. Our personal existence is suspended, incorporated, and consolidated into Adam as his earthly prodigy or into Christ as his redeemed bride. We are under their wing, protection, cover, and headship. There is no room for the individualistic notion that we are independent of such protection or cover of wing. As we are all familiar with, in Common Law Coverture a woman could not hold property or assets. Blackstone explains, “For this reason, a man cannot grant any thing to his wife, or enter into covenant with her: for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence; and to covenant with her, would be only to covenant with himself.” What a beautiful picture of headship and the organic union of a covenant. A wife’s personal status is suspended, incorporated and consolidated into her husband. So too the believer’s personal status is suspended, incorporated, and consolidated into the bride of Christ. In marriage, this reality eliminates the blame game as Adam attempted to do after the fall. The moment the husband starts to blame the wife he begins to think of them as two, separate individuals whereas they are one flesh. A husband blaming the wife should be just as impossible an image as a head seeking to bite off its own body. So when we regard this organic union of head and body as one individual holding “bosship” over another it is sheer foolishness because such a view necessitates the notion of two individual, separate persons. Whereas there is only one. We must get clear of all such individualistic thinking with regards to headship and coverture in the marriage covenant.
But when we do hold such an individualistic view as we tend with regards to the marriage relationship it is no wonder we can think in such individualistic terms when it comes to the church relationship. Again, these things are in parallel one to the other. As we have seen, there is no room in covenantal headship and covenantal coverture for individualistic thinking patterns. Christ is not your head if you are not in coverture as and with His bride. How can we uphold a woman’s coverture in the home when we deny our own in the church? What are our wives to think when we refuse to suspend our personal existence and incorporate and consolidate ourselves into the marriage union of the church with Christ? It would be fallacious for a bride to refuse to suspend her status and incorporate herself into the marriage union as the body. How is it any less ludicrous (Or feminist for that matter) when a Christian family refuses being incorporated into the marriage union of Christ, in which they are the body? Christ is the federal head of the Church. The church is the universal body of believers. The universal body of believers is made up of many local bodies of believers. Consequentially, Christ is not your head if you are not incorporated into a local body of believers. You are not part of the church universal if you are not part of the church local. Again, there is no room in this covenant relation for individualistic tendency. There is no room for it in the marriage relationship or the church relationship. The two must be aligned in parallel or derailment is impending.
Having established our personal status being necessarily suspended and incorporated into the marriage union of Christ, in which we are the body, we may proceed to examine our duties in such relation. The first duty is submission. We submit as we recognize ourselves in the body of Christ, just as wives submit when they recognize themselves in Coverture. In Ephesians 5 “submission” is synonymous with “subject”. It could read, “Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, subject yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord.” We are definitionally, subjects of Christ, subjects of the Church. So Church coverture is practically realized when we submit ourselves as subjects to the local body of Christ. In such a sense, the Church is the congregation of Christ’s subjects. Such subjection is in itself both a rejection of our independence and recognition of our covenant incorporation into the body. You cannot recognize the head if you do not first recognize the body. Though we be patriarchs at home, anything less in the church is a sheer declaration of covenantal feminism.
SUBJECTION OF REVERENCE
Puritan William Gauge identifies the proper submission of inferiors to their superiors as being a subjection of reverence. The sufficient means of which is entailed in testifying by speech, gesture, obeisance, action, or ready obeying of their commandment the eminence and superiority in them whom they revere. Wives submit to their husbands when they recognize themselves as inferiors and voluntarily testify the eminence in their superiors in such a manner. Patriarch’s likewise model this submission in parallel when they recognize their households as inferiors and voluntarily testify the eminence in the superior household of God. “Remember them which have the oversight of you, which have declared unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering what hath been the end of their conversation.” Hebrews 13:7. “Obey them that have the oversight of you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give accounts, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17. The suitable manner of this submission of reverence is in meekness. “To necessary subjection, must voluntary subjection be added.” The effectual cause of this submission’s means and manner is to be the filial fear of the Lord. Wives are not to submit to their husband with ultimately their own self-gratification in view, nor their husband’s praise, but in a careful endeavour to please God. Likewise, we subject ourselves to the body of Christ with no view to ourselves or others, but because it pleases our Father and we fear him. A wife or church body’s subjection of reverence to their respective superiors is not conditioned upon anything other than this. We would call a women who refused to subject herself to her coverture a feminist. Though we be patriarchs in the home what are we then if we refuse our Church coverture? We make the bride of Christ a feminist. As William Gouge puts it, “Let this duty of submission be first well learned, and then all other duties will be better performed.”
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it.” Outside of covenantal thinking we may regard this passage to mean that Christ loved the Church “lots” and husbands ought do the same. Wilson observes, “What it means is that husbands should love their wives federally, the way Christ loved the Church.” How did Christ love the Church? By giving himself for it. By covering it. By offering to her His “wing, protection, and cover.” A federal love free of all individualism. Indeed headship and coverture are inescapable realities despite any of our individualistic misconceptions. The choice is between being a good federal head or a poor one. The tenant is not that all federal headships are good, but that all federal headships are necessary. As husbands we can model Adam’s blame game headship or Christ’s loving headship. Christ sacrificed for things He didn’t do, so husbands should be willing to do the same for their wives. As federal head the husband takes responsibility for the state of his marriage as Christ presumes responsibility for the state of his. Just as the husband assumes responsibility so therefore the wife can assume the privileges of marriage. That she receives his provident care for her name, soul, goods, and body. This is embodied in the subjection of service common to all Christians, even superiors to inferiors. Gauge defines, “Subjection of service is that whereby one in his place is ready to do what good he can to another.” The manner is also in meekness and motive is the filial fear of God. This subjection of service is to be paralleled in Church leadership to the body. “The Elders which are among you, I beseech which am also an Elder… Feed the flock of God, which dependeth upon you, caring for it not by constraint, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: Not as though ye were Lords over God’s heritage, but that ye may be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive an incorruptible corn of glory.” Again we see that “headship” is not “bosship” “as though ye were Lords over God’s heritage”. Our subjection of service as husbands or church leadership is not conditioned by the subjection of reverence we receive from our wives or church body. It is conditioned by the constant fear of God. “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” If Christ conditioned his submission of service based upon what he received from us there would be no bride, no church.
SANCTIFY & CLEANSE
Subjection of reverence from inferiors engenders subjection of service from superiors and likewise subjection of service from superiors engenders subjection of reverence from inferiors. Although neither party conditions their respective subjection upon what they do or do not receive from the other. Again, such a reaction would be highly individualistic, the hand attempting to decapitate the head or the head trying to snap at the hand. “For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourished and cherisheth it, even as the Lord doth the Church.” The process of this unconditional subjection is purely sanctifying. Consequently, the Church is the dominant place where Christ’s sanctification and cleaning occur. Do not mistake me to mean exclusively within the confines of the building or limitations of the worship service duration. But rather to indicate the intimate, organic, life lived out in the body of believers as the powerhouse of purification. The Church is Christ’s institution for sanctification. We ought therefore to subject ourselves to its coverture. So too marriage parallels this reality. One of the greatest helps of sanctification is the institution of marriage where two sinners are made one flesh. One sinner in headship and the other in coverture. Both within the Church body and marriage union a due measure of pain will come with this sanctification. But when done in the fear of God it will be effectuated without strain.
COMMANDED TO OUR WEAKNESS
Scripture always commands to our weaknesses. When Scripture commands husbands to love their wives, it is because they are by tendency weak in doing so. Likewise, when Scripture commands wives to submit reverence to their husbands it is because they are generally weak in doing so.
COVENENTAL NOT CONDITIONAL
Because husbands tend to be harsh to their wives love is pressed upon them to prevent abusing their authority. Such authority without being tempered by love would become a tyranny. Paul goes out of his way to qualify a covenantal love rules out such harshness. We read in Colossians 3 “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter unto them.” This love is neither harsh or inconsiderate. Peter in chorus with Paul exhorts, “Likewise ye husbands, dwell with them as men of knowledge, giving honour unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, even as they which are heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not interrupted.” The Lord will not hear their prayers because He holds husbands responsible. Husbands carry the principle charge, they shall give an account for that which is amiss, the blame lies upon them. Such is the nature of federal headship and a wife’s coverture. The Lord will not hear our prayers, but if we are in such a state of harshness it is more than likely we are not praying much in the first place. Rather than taking the state of their union to God they pour it on their wives who may have reason to say with the poet.
“Oft did I well, and that hear I never:
Once did I ill, and that hear I ever.”
Furthermore, love according to knowledge is both inward, with regards to his opinion of her, and outward, with regards to his affection toward her. Again, love from the head to the body is a covenantal love, not a conditional love. As Gauge observes, “No duty on the husband’s part can rightly be performed except it be seasoned with love.” So Paul in the first place commends and commands a husband’s love just as Christ first manifested his love. Husband’s initiate as Christ initiated. Nothing will engender and quicken the spirit of a wife to think her reverence be not in vain than this. Notwithstanding, heads are not to do so with a primary view to their self gratification, but to their body’s ultimate glorification. This is the Gospel in marriage. This is also why any failure in undertaking marriage is a failure in understanding the Gospel. Our covenant union is modelled after the union in the Gospel. The same parallel can be seen in the church where love is exhorted to prevent the abuse of church authority. A love too that is covenantal and not conditional. Just as the Lord will not hear our prayers if there is discord in the home, so He will not hear our prayers when their is discord amongst the brethren. Mark 11. It is motivated by the Gospel in the glory of Christ being fully realized in us. It is mannered according to the Gospel in meekness. It’s means is the Gospel in the covenant love of Christ. Both the undertaking of the institutions of church and marriage stand and fall on our understanding of the Gospel.
The wife is called to be a help-meet to their husbands, not a help-meet to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit requires no aid in convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Whereas God is the holy comforter who reproves us, wives can be unholy confronters who reproach us. Hence Paul commands wives to their weakness of disrespect. They tend to desire a reception of unconditional love while they owe their respect conditionally. This is pseudo-submission. Submitting to their husbands in areas they deem subjection fit to their husbands. But it can hardly be called submission when no subjection is ever involved. Just as a husbands love is to be in inward opinion and outward affection so the submission of a wife is to be harmoniously both inward and outward. If there be no inward respect in the first place any outward reverence which proceeds is very unfounded. Her inward reverence consists in the respect she has for her husband. Her outward reverence consists in her gesture and speech towards him. I find an inverse reality that the bigger the patriarch’s beard, the less submission in the Church. Likewise, the bigger a woman’s head covering, the less submission in the home. Along with this pseudo-submission comes a hurtfulness when unconditional respect and a disposition of benevolence is called upon from them. Wilson also notes, “While men tend to harsh bitterness, women tend to hurt bitterness. In the emotional realm, women bruise easily. Some have concluded from this, falsely, that women have a right to any offence… [But] It is as much a sin to be offended as it is to offend.” Again there is a parallel here for the church body. The bride of Christ tends to the same weaknesses as our earthy brides. We expect unconditional service from the church but condition our respect to it. We are easily offended. We do not respect it. We do not subject ourselves to it. But the failure of the bride and bride of Christ to submit spawns from a failure to understand the Gospel rightly. Brides are to subject themselves because of God’s ordained creation order. Submission starts with this declaration and recognition of this creative order. The the saintliness or sinfulness of a husband do not deprive him of the order God has placed him in as superior. “Though an husband in regard of evil qualities may carry the image of the devil, yet in regards his place and office he beareth the Image of God.” William Gauge. Likewise, the state of her husband as saint or sinner does not move her from her position as inferior by God’s creation order. “Likewise let the wives be subject to their husbands, that even they which obey not the word, may without the word be won by the conversation of their wives. While they behold your pure conversation which is with fear… For even after this manner in time past did the holy women, which trusted in God, tire themselves, and were subject to their husbands.”What is the motive of such tiresome subjection? The Gospel. If you lack motive, you lack the Gospel. Again, marriage is the primary institution for sanctification. If you have an easy marriage, praise God, he has given it for your best sanctification. Have you a difficult marriage? Praise God, he has given it for your best sanctification. He has given it to purify your conversation. He has given it that he may perfect the fear of God in you to surpass any other regard you may have. Similarly, the Church is the primary institution of sanctification. We are necessarily subjects of it in God’s creation order. If you have been placed in a easy church, praise God, as it is best for your sanctification. If you have been placed in a difficult church, praise God, as it too is best for your sanctification. “Finally, be ye all of one mind: one suffer with another: love as brethren: be pitiful, be courteous.” “Notwithstanding blessed are ye, if ye suffer for righteousness; sake. Yea, fear not their fear, neither be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” Submission for the subjects of Christ to the local body is not optional. Any notion of such is feministic. We must purge all individualistic ideals and feministic tendencies from our respect for the local church.
So have we rebuilt the track of these six verses in perfect parallel to each other or is there some realignment needed? Is the track in direct following of the Gospel or does it bend to our self-gratification and conditions? Wives do we recognize ourselves as inferiors to our husbands? Households do we recognize ourselves as inferiors to the Household of God? Husbands do we initiate and model Christ’s covenantal love, his federal coverture? Church leaders, is your authority tempered by this love? Husbands and wives are you so intimately and organically one as head and body? Brethren is Christ your head? Is the Church your body? Do we all this in view of living out the Gospel or living out our selfish desires? Let us not be patriarchs to the home but feminists to the church.