So high are the standards that everyone else has for the wife of a minister that her own standards must necessarily be exceedingly lofty, and her exemplification of them exceedingly consistent, if she is to escape being a disappointment both to her husband and the people among whom and for whom he labors.
The home of a minister is designed to be a school of every Christian virtue, the exemplification of every Christian standard, a replica of the church itself, a small diocese which is to serve as a model for every home about it, a pattern of peace, good order, and devotion. The minister and his wife are expected to make it all that it should be.
The wife of a minister is expected to be an example of all Christian and housewifely virtues, an understanding helper in all her husband's activities, a counselor of superior intelligence, and a model in dress, in conduct, in speech, and in every Christian standard.
The family of a minister should be a school of religion, a copy and model for all the members, governed wisely and efficiently by the minister as a first qualification of fitness for his work of leadership in the church. "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" I Tim. 3:5.
The choicest gift God can give a man in the ministry is a competent, intelligent, discreet, careful, and Christian wife. Her price is above rubies. She is literally invaluable.
The meanest trick the devil can play on a man in the ministry is to get him married to a careless, incompetent, indiscreet, and worldly wife. Thereby he brings certain ruin to that man's efficiency and progress, and neutralizes his every effort for God.
Divine Guidance Needed
And the biggest mistake any minister or would-be minister ever makes is to take unto himself a woman who is not of God's choosing for him. If any man ever needs divine guidance in anything at all, the man of God needs it when he chooses a helpmeet. A mistake here is fatal for life.
An unsanctified wife is the greatest curse that a minister can have.—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 139.
I saw the wives of the ministers. Some of them are no help to their husbands, yet they profess the third angel's message. They think more of studying their own wishes and pleasure than the will of God, or how they can hold up the hands of their husbands by their faithful prayers and careful walk. I saw that some of them take so willful and selfish a course that Satan makes them his instruments and works through them to destroy the influence and usefulness of their husbands.—Ibid., p. 137.
Satan has had much to do with controlling the labors of the ministers through the influence of selfish, ease-loving companions.—Ibid., p. 451.
Since such possibilities are involved in this matter of a mate for life, how supremely important it is that a minister should make no mistake in his choice. Certainly he should most closely adhere to the Scriptural rule for all Christians, "only in the Lord." But in addition to this there are motives of a less selfish character which should have a decided bearing upon his determination.
The tone of his ministry will be shaped and molded by his choice of a wife. He will not be the man he was. He will be under the constraint of new inclinations and principles of action. Every flock he shepherds will be influenced by the choice he makes. His people either will be benefited or will suffer loss. Consequently they will be deeply interested in this matter, and rightly so. This is not to be considered intrusion into affairs that do not concern them. This does concern them.
A pulpit committee, when conferring with a prospective pastor, asked about his wife. This nettled the somewhat sensitive preacher, and he asked, "You are not thinking of calling my wife, are you?" Whereupon a wise old farmer said, "No, we ain't goin' to call her, but if we call you, she's a-goin' to come." Exactly. And on his wife's demeanor, her example, and her influence, the success or failure of any man's pastorate is going to depend.
There is no way of measuring the influence which a wife's spirit has on the spirit of a minister, or the degree of influence she exerts upon all his work. If she fails to measure up to the full standards fixed for a minister's wife, by that very degree she will impede his work, unsettle his efforts, and unsanctify his spirit. If there is such a thing as a good work in the world, it is the work of the ministry. The affairs of this employment are the greatest in the world. When these are carried forward in the right way, God's purposes are being realized. But such are the incalculable consequences of his wife's character to the minister, that, if she is a hindrance to him in carrying on God's work, she will hang as a dead weight on all that he endeavors to do.
Richard Baxter was asked, "Ought a clergyman to marry?" His answer was, "Yes; but let him think, and think, and think again before he does it." Sound advice. But let there be added to it that he should also pray, and pray, and pray again before he does it. In this, above all else, he needs divine assistance and guidance.
A Yokefellow in His Work
There is a difference between a Christian and a ministerial choice of a wife. A Christian wants a helpmeet for himself. But a minister wants this and more. He wants besides a yokefellow in his work. That is, he wants for his people as well as for himself. And when a woman unites herself to a Christian minister, she has bound herself not only to him, but also to his work. and to his cross. She must expect to share not only his joys and satisfactions, but also in the double measure of hardness, misrepresentation, and reproach which is usually the portion of the faithful servant of God.
The place which a minister's wife should occupy and the work she should do are set before us in these words:
I saw that the wives of the ministers should help their husbands in their labors and be exact and careful what influence they exert, for they are watched, and more is expected of them than of others. Their dress should be an example. Their lives and conversation should be an example, savoring of life rather than of death. I saw that they should take a humble, meek, yet exalted stand, not having their conversation upon things that do not tend to direct the mind heavenward. The great inquiry should be: "How can I save my own soul, and be the means of saving others?" I saw that no half-hearted work in this matter is accepted of God. He wants the whole heart and interest, or He will have none. Their influence tells, decidedly, unmistakably, in favor of the truth or against it. They gather with Jesus, or scatter abroad.—Ibid., p. 139.
The character of the failure which the wife of the minister makes when she does not live up to her high possibilities, is thus stated:
The minister's wife who is not devoted to God is no help to her husband. While he dwells upon the necessity of bearing the cross and urges the importance of self-denial, the daily example of his wife often contradicts his preaching and destroys its force. In this way she becomes a great hindrance and often leads her husband away from his duty and from God. She does not realize what a sin she is committing. Instead of seeking to be useful, seeking with true love for souls to help such as need help, she shrinks from the task and prefers a useless life. She is not constrained by the power of Christ's love and by unselfish, holy principles. She does not choose to do the will of God, to be a coworker with her husband, with angels, and with God.—Ibid., p. 450.
The Way She Dresses
What a minister's wife does, and how she dresses, will be considered far plainer interpretations of his teachings on such points than any words he says. If his words take high ground in Christian principles, and his wife does not live up to his high principles, it will be his wife's example rather than his admonitions that his people will follow. For it will be most naturally concluded that what she does is what he meant by his teaching, for certainly what she does must have his approval, or otherwise she would not do it.
Especially in this matter of simplicity and plainness in dress is the minister's wife to set an example and be an example.
Especially should the wives of our ministers be careful not to depart from the plain teachings of the Bible on the point of dress. Many look upon these injunctions as too old-fashioned to be worthy of notice; but He who gave them to His disciples understood the dangers from the love of dress in our time and sent to us the note of warning. Will we heed the warning and be wise?—Ibid., vol. 4, p. 630.
Our ministers and their wives should be an example in plainness of dress; they should dress neatly, comfortably, wearing good material, but avoiding anything like extravagance and trimmings, even if not expensive; for these things tell to our disadvantage.—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 180.
Taken from The Divine An of Preaching, by the late Carlyle B. Haynes.