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The “Weaker Vessels” are “Prone to Provoke” Their Husbands

Posted on Apr. 25, 2014
William Gouge is fiercely biblical in the use of the words and categories of marriage. Simply:  He uses the Bible words. He is not afraid to admit what the Bible explicitly teaches. He has already declared that a husband operates as "head," and 'lord." And, further, the Bible teaches that a wife is a "weaker vessel."  Gouge writes,
 
“Because wives, through the weakness of their sex (for they are the weaker vessels) are much prone to provoke their husbands. So if love is not ruling in the husband, there is likely to be but little peace between husband and wife. Love covers a multitude of imperfections.” p181
 
Gouge is very bold here. He is implying that a wife's weakness may be in the area of her emotions which may drive her to provoke her husband. Yes, Gouge said what you thought he said: one of the marks of a wife's weakness is that she is "prone" to "provoke" her husband.
 
This is one of the most remarkable aspects of Gouges understanding of headship. He recognizes the differences between men and women (using Biblical terminology), and he recommends a way that a husband is able to navigate those differences. We all know that men and women think and feel very differently. But what is unique about William Gouge is that he identifies this weakness in the context of a man's responsibility to recognize why a woman would be "prone to provoke." She is, after all, the "weaker vessel."
 
But he does not stop there. He recommends a way that a husband ought to respond when he is provoked. He says, in times of provoking, the "weaker vessel" needs one thing - love. 
 
He says, 
 
"Thus this affection of love is a distinct duty in itself, especially belonging to a husband, and also a common condition which must be joined to every other duty of a husband, to season and sweeten them. His look, his speech, his conduct, and all his actions, in which he has to do with his wife, must be seasoned with love. Love must show itself in his commandments, in his reproofs, in his instructions, in his admonitions, in his authority, in his familiarity, when they are alone together, when they are in company before others, in civil affairs, in religious matters, at all times, in all things. As salt must be first and last upon the table, and eaten with every bit of meat, so must love be first in a husband’s heart, and last out of it, and mixed with everything in which he has to do with his wife. p183
 
(Gouge explains the details of what this loving headship looks like from chapter 13-18 of "A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage," William Gouge, Edited by Scott Brown and Joel Beeke,