Matthew Henry said, “Masters of families, who preside in the other affairs of the house, must go before their households in the things of God. They must be as prophets, priests, and kings in their own families; and as such they must keep up family-doctrine, family-worship, and family-discipline.” The master of a family in Henry’s time was the male head of a household—usually a husband or father. The Reformers and Puritans often spoke of fathers this way. The biblical vision of fatherhood that arises from the pages of Scripture is beautiful, majestic, and holy. It is also foreign to the day in which we live.
As Henry points out, fathers “must go before their households in the things of God.” The biblical picture of a father is of one who leads his family according to the Word of God. He is a representative of God and Christ. This means that he must be a man of prayer, of the Word, and of humble holiness. By faith in Christ, trusting in His grace, empowered by His Spirit, and informed by the Word, a father must keep up “family doctrine.” This means he should be able to teach his family the truths of God’s Word. He must keep up “family worship.” His home must be a place where he leads his loved ones in the worship of the thrice-holy Triune God, in prayer, in the reading of Scripture, and in song. And he must keep up “family discipline.” That is, he must govern his home under Christ, blessing the obedient and chastening the disobedient—all under the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ the Lord. He must learn from Christ, walk with Christ, and model Christ’s truth in his home.
Do we understand fatherhood this way? Along with many other biblical doctrines, the biblical doctrine of fatherhood has fallen on hard times. Our decaying and perverse culture needs a mighty generation of biblical fathers to rise up from the ashes of authoritarianism, abdicationism, selfism, feminism, and same-sex-ism to follow Christ, whatever the cost.
With this in mind, we offer the latest issue of the Free Grace Broadcaster, Fatherhood. William Gurnall briefly introduces us to this subject by describing a father’s roles as a prophet to instruct the family, a king to govern the family, and a priest to lead the family in the worship of God. Arthur W. Pink then helps us understand that fatherhood is a responsibility and a privilege, as a father instructs his children, models the Christian life for them, disciplines them, and prays for them. John Calvin explains a father’s main responsibility. Richard Baxter writes that, in order to properly lead a family for Christ, a father must understand and maintain biblical authority in his home, skill in governing, and holiness of life. We then learn from Nicholas Byfield that a father must be godly. What does this look like? Byfield tells us by giving us a list of signs by which fathers may identify Christ’s work in their hearts. To be a “prophet” in his home, a father must teach the Word of God, says Thomas Doolittle; and to be effectual in that good work, he, as a “priest,” must be a man of prayer. Every father knows that bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a difficult task; for this reason, William Gouge discusses the loving discipline that a father must exercise as “king” in his home. However, Thomas Watson makes abundantly clear that fathers must act prudently toward their children: otherwise, they can provoke them to wrath. Having considered all this, what practical steps can a man take to accomplish it? Richard Baxter gives clear, helpful, biblical counsel to fathers who would reform their families in the name of Jesus Christ. Finally, George Swinnock concludes this subject with an earnest, heartfelt prayer to be the father that Christ has saved him to be.
If you find these articles biblical and useful, then please join us in praying that God the Father will be pleased through the Person and work of His Son and the power of His Holy Spirit to raise up a mighty generation of godly fathers—men who love Christ, study His Word, and are filled with His Spirit. We need men who will love their wives as Christ loves the Church and who will bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Blood-bought, Spirit-filled fathers—our families need them, our churches need them, our communities need them. When our blessed Father in heaven purposed to save His people from their sins; when Christ the Son lived, died, and rose again to save them; and when the Holy Spirit applies His mighty regenerating power to their lives, God was not merely redeeming sinners—He was and is redeeming fatherhood as well. May Matthew Henry’s beautiful and biblical vision of fatherhood become a reality in our day.