Marriage For The Christian
By Leslie M. Grant
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh." -- Ephesians 5:31
Every natural relationship established by God is a figure off a higher, more blessed spiritual one. And marriage, being the first such human relationship, introduced before sin entered the world, -- a provision of grace for the true blessing, comfort, fellowship and joy of the dependent creature, -- is surely intended to convey to us something that is of the greatest importance, and nearest to the heart of our God. If therefore we are to have proper understanding of the blessedness of marriage itself, and of the attitude and conduct becoming to such a union, then by all means, the higher spiritual relationship, of which it speaks, will furnish most profitable instruction.
Let the reader carefully consider Ephesians 5:22-33. The apostle barely begins his exhortations to wives and husbands, when his thoughts turn spontaneously to the blessed union of Christ and His Church, that is, the collective company of all the redeemed saints of the present age of grace, who are joined by the Spirit of God in eternal unity, -- not only to one another, but to Himself. This is one marriage that death cannot terminate, for it is founded upon His own death, and He is alive forevermore.
But to quote from verse 25: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it." Here is the great, fundamental principle involved in marriage–true, pure, unselfish love, –love that gave everything and demanded nothing. How much more this is than mere sentiment or emotion, things that are often mistaken for love. For love willingly, gladly spends itself for the welfare of the one loved. And this leads us first to speak briefly of the necessity of
USING WISE PRECAUTION.
If in both the man and woman who contemplate marriage, there is not present some real measure of this willingness to give himself or herself in loving self-denial, in diligent care and labour for the blessing of the other, then they may be certain that such a marriage has not the sanction of God. Let them proceed no further.
This love, as we see in the Lord Jesus, involves and undeviating faithfulness and thorough devotedness to the one who is loved. If considering marriage, let the believer be not only fully purposed himself that this should be true off him, but be certain that such evidence is seen in the partner he desires.
It is not possible to have this assurance if a believer desires to marry an unbeliever; for if one will not trust the Lord, how can he himself be trusted? This can never be God's leading, for God's Word has spoken clearly: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor 6:14).
May we also warn the young believer against being to free in his friendships with the opposite sex. Undue familiarity may easily lead to indiscreet behaviour, and to an unbalanced view of things, so that the heart is deceived to such an extent that a marriage is contracted that issues in painful regrets. While these things are perhaps negative, they are deeply important to consider. But we proceed to the most important necessity of
SEEKING GOD'S WILL.
The child of God, for his own protection and blessing, and out of concern or the blessing of others, and above all, in order to honour God, should seek only the will of the Lord and the guidance of His hand in this matter that must vitally affect his entire future life for good or for ill. For if two should agree to live together as man and wife, their coming together is a solemn act, God joining them together as "one flesh,"–an act therefore by which they commit themselves to a path of unswerving faithfulness to the other. The ungodly world about us today flagrantly disregards these serious obligations: countless broken homes bear witness to the treacherous dishonesty of human hearts; and gross sin multiplies its toll of sorrow and misery.
Far better for the Christian to remain unmarried than to marry without the guidance of God. Indeed, if the unmarried state should be the will of the Lord for the reader's life, is it not wise to be submissive to Him? "So then, he that marrieth doeth well; but he that marrieth not doeth better" (1 Cor 7:38 N Trans.). This of course supposes in both cases that the will of the Lord is followed. One may, for the Lord's sake, purpose in his heart not to marry, in order more undistractedly to serve the Lord. It is well for the believer to consider this, and to be calmly acquiescent in whatever may prove to be the will of God. For, while the grace of God may later overcome the sad results of self-will and distressing mistakes, (and it is blessed to see such grace in operation) yet to presume upon this would be gross folly, the results of which will be learned in bitter experience.
Is it however possible for the believer to have full assurance of the leading of God in this matter? Indeed so! Nor is it only possible, but it is the only right and normal thing for the child of God. If the heart is honestly dependent simply upon Him, distrusting its own natural inclinations, but submissive to His precious Word, we shall not miss the definite guidance of His hand. "The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way." Psa. 25:9.
Do we trust ourselves to choose for ourselves? Do we consider that we deserve a good partner? Are we anxious before a certain age to find someone we deem suitable? Are we inclined to make a marriage agreement by asking certain promises of another? None of these things express faith in the Living God and His guidance, and are sure to lead us into paths we shall regret.
GOD'S GRACE IN MARRIAGE
It cannot be insisted too strongly that this is a relationship of grace. No thought of merit on Adam's part is suggested, when God, in His solicitous care, made the woman, "and brought her unto the man" (Gen. 2:22). This was a provision entirely by the goodness of God. Both the man and the woman were in a position to do nothing but thank God that this gracious union was His sovereign work. Adam was not able to choose a wife as he pleased, nor was Eve able to choose her own husband. God had arranged this marriage. How good too that His grace alone brings guilty sinners to His Son, and unites with Him His chosen Bride.
Is this not the pattern of every true marriage? In His sovereign wisdom and providence, does He not, at his own time, and in His own way, bring together two young lives (or older), and where there is true faith in Him, give them both the clear assurance of His own leading, that they may with confidence be joined together "in the Lord"? May the young believer settle for nothing less than this, for otherwise he may find the results tragic in the extreme.
A most beautiful type of Christ and the Church is presented in Isaac and Rebecca (Gen. 24). Isaac calmly waited at home while Abraham's servant, sent by Abraham and guided by God, went to find a bride for him. How lovely an illustration of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father to world, to seek a bride for the Lord Jesus. No legal arrangements are made: no promises are extracted: no money is paid; but gifts are given. Rebecca is simply asked, "Wilt thou go with this man?" and in unhesitating confidence she replies, "I will go." Nor was Isaac disappointed. "He took Rebecca and she became his wife; and he loved her." (Gen. 224:67). Nor do we read of his ever making the sad mistake, as did many Old Testament believers, of taking more than one wife. He had allowed God to choose, and was satisfied: if we insist on choosing for ourselves, we are in the end bound to be dissatisfied.
In such a relationship of grace, vows are utterly foreign and contrary to its very character. God asked no vows of either Adam or Eve, nor do we see this in Isaac and Rebecca, but rather the confidence of trusting one another. If God has Himself brought a couple together, and they have unshaken confidence that this is so, can they not trust one another without the addition of a vow? Under the covenant of law (which is a contrast to grace) vows were introduced, but not in reference to marriage. Under grace even such legal vows have no place: how much less then is there place for vows in that which speaks of the blessed relationship of pure, free grace existing between Christ and His Bride! Sadly, in formal Christianity, by which even godly believers have been affected, such vows, flavoured with a religious tone, administered by a minister of religion, have become increasingly popular. Instead of the happy couple simply and solely thanking God for His Divine grace and ordering in the union, the vain element of confidence in the flesh is introduced by the intrusion of human vows. How it spoils the sweet simplicity of Divine grace which would shine more brightly than all else in such a union. Would this not remind one of Jacob's unseemly vow, after God had unconditionally promised him His gracious blessing? (Gen 28:13-22).
THE TRUE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE CEREMONY.
Here however, it is needful that we differentiate in things that are greatly distinct, but which have been too often confused. In the marriage of Adam or that of Isaac we read of no official ceremony. Nor does Scripture anywhere indicate that God at any time required or suggested such a ceremony: it is rather He Himself Who joins together, and not by means of a ceremony of any kind.
Nevertheless, civilization being what it is, and man
untrustworthy, when nations were formed on earth, it became an absolute
necessity that, to maintain proper government, a due public recognition should
confirm the marriage of any couple. Certainly the believer must fully recognize
the requirements of government, and "be subject unto the higher
Since the government then requires a ceremony, the Christian gladly conforms to this ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake. But to go further than this, in a ceremony that adds a religious element, including vows as before God, is not Scriptural, and confuses the principle of subjection to secular authorities with that of God's sovereign operation in uniting two lives in marriage.
The ceremony, therefore, since it is not to satisfy God, but the government, can only rightly be observed "in behalf of the government," and must be conducted by one whom the government empowers to do so. Let it be clearly seen that this is rightly an appointment of the government; not an appointment of God.
How perfectly right then that the believer should have any proper government official to perform this ceremony, and thus recognize the rightful claims of government. Sometimes Christians have urged that only a saved person out to perform this ceremony for them; but this view springs from a lack of understanding as to the ceremony being simply a government requirement. There is no more reason to insist on having a saved official to do this that to insist that only a saved person should issue the marriage license.
At least the government representative will make his pronouncement rightly on behalf of the state or province. On the other hand, a clergyman may pronounce a couple man and wife "on behalf of the church," which is thoroughly wrong, for neither the true church of God nor the churches of men have any authority of any kind in reference to marriage. And yet more gravely serious is the expressions sometimes used, "I pronounce you man and wife in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." No man has ever been given authority from God to speak in this way. When God joins, He does so without the help of any man; and this intrusion of one professing to represent God in the actual joining of a couple in marriage is akin to the error of a king's menial servant, who assumes to speak officially in the king's name, without the slightest authority, and to bring into effect something that only the king personally can rightly do.
In certain countries only a government official is allowed to perform the ceremony. Elsewhere, while ministers of religion are authorized for this, by government, yet a couple may have this done at the registrar's office, or have a judge or justice of the peace present where the ceremony is desired; in which way the truth of Scripture is not compromised. If, for whatever reason, a minister is chosen to perform the ceremony, it is suggested that the believing couple request that no religious vows be added, and that a pronouncement be made in no other name but that of the government. Yet, let us have godly caution in remembering that these things are not written as laying down laws, but for the help of the honestly concerned consciences.
FELLOWSHIP IN SHARING THE JOYS OF MARRIAGE
While Scripture is silent entirely as to the marriage ceremony, (this being the affair of the government in the particular locality), yet we read of the marriage of Cana in Gallilee, at which our Lord was present (John 2:1-11), and of other marriage celebrations, including the marriage supper of Matthew 22 and that great future occasion of "the marriage supper of the Lamb," concerning which a multitude of voices join spontaneously in unison: "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready." (Rev. 19:7-9).
If God therefore has in rich grace and by His tender leading, arranged a marriage of two of His redeemed saints, how becoming and right it is that others should rejoice with them, and have opportunity to express their thankfulness and heartfelt fellowship in gathering on so glad an occasion. The supper itself is an expression of communion or fellowship. Whether the ceremony is performed at the same time in the presence of all guests, or just previously at the registrar's office or elsewhere, in the presence of only two witnesses, is of no real significance. But this is a precious occasion upon which the saints of God may, if confident of the Lord's ordering this union, share in the joy of the happy couple.
Moreover, rather than the occasion becoming merely one of social enjoyment, let the Lord Himself be greatly honoured and thanked for His wondrous grace. To have a brother present who may read and minister the Word of God acceptably will help elevate this happy scene to a level of sacred sweetness, above mere earthly pleasure, and will restrain that which is mere fleshly exuberance. If relatives and friends are present who have not been saved, how opportune a time too for announcing the glad news of the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What added cause of rejoicing to the wedded couple if their marriage should be the occasion of the salvation of some precious soul!
The relationship established brings with it the joys and privileges peculiar to it, "They two shall be one flesh,"–joined in a unity such as no other relationship could possibly exhibit. It is theirs now to share in common the experiences and exercises of live, and what will also be welcome to the honourable heart, the responsibilities that have been willingly assumed by acceptance of one another. In all the experiences of life henceforth, let us firmly purpose to act consistently with this noble and blessed relationship. Let us not however expect in this a perfect state, for if so we shall be rightly disappointed. Indeed, it will be rather a further field of training in view of the perfect state, and it will be well if we gird ourselves to learn well by experiences of joy and sorrow, quietness and turmoil, rest and labour, distress and relief, pain and pleasure.
Ephesians 5 has told us, "Husbands, love your wives." Colossians 3:19 ads: "and be not bitter against them." Love ought only to increase as the years pass, not because of the worthiness of the object, but because of communion with God. The tenderness of proper care, forbearance, understanding, concern for the purest blessing of the wife, should characterize the husband consistently. Let each Christian husband challenge himself whether this is so, and if not, make no excuse, but obey the Word of God.
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). This is the Divine order. The husband is the head of the wife, and while she is free to make suggestions for consideration of her husband, yet in matters of importance he is to make the final decisions. He is wise if he leaves to her the many minor decisions of homemaking, and to act with due consideration of her preferences also. But it is her very glory to know how to submit with gentle grace and cheerfulness, even if her wishes are not followed.
The husband, however, is not told to require her submission, but to love her. She is not told to require her husband's love, but to submit to him. Let each deeply take to heart the particular instruction to himself personally, and the result will be a godly, lovely unity in spite of minor differences of opinion. Indeed, a faithful love and consideration of the wife on the part of the husband is a more effective means than anything else, of encouraging her subjection of heart. And her quiet, cheerful submission to her husband is the truest means of encouraging his love for her.
These instructions too are thoroughly applicable to the believer whose partner is not saved. Obedience to God in this may be the very means of salvation to the other. "Likewise ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands: that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word, be won by the conversation of the wives" (1 Pet. 3:1). "For what knowest thou O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" (1 Cor. 7:16)
Wonderful indeed is the grace of God in its sufficiency for the needs which have been occasioned by mistakes, by ignorance, by even self-will. For in how great a multitude of marriages these things are evident. The believer is therefore not to despair, if he sees that in which he has been astray from Scripture in any of these various matters; but rather to turn freshly in faith and confession to the Lord, to lean utterly upon His grace, to seek His Divine intervention; and He may bring greatest blessing even out of ruins. If our God can say "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself: but in Me is thine help" (Hosea 13:9), then certainly the same help is present for the individual believer. In fact, that grace alone is sufficient for sustaining and preserving His saints through all the experiences of married life, just as it is essential and sufficient for restoring where there has been failure. Blessed thus to feed upon the fruits of grace all our journey through.
MARRIAGE POINTS ON TO BETTER THINGS
The marriage bond is dissolved fully by death, the death of either partner. "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (1 Cor 7:39). And "in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (Matt. 22:30).
The type must surely give place completely to the anti-type; for then how much more wondrous a marriage will take place, "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9), involving a union of eternal joy, with never a marring circumstance to cast the slightest shadow upon this scene of perfect love, or brightest light, of vibrant, wholesome life. If marriage pictures this, then even the sweetest joys and blessings of marriage here ought only to quicken our hearts' longing for the blessed Day of our Lord's glory.
Soon deepest joy our inmost souls shall fill,
Soon Thine own joy be more exceeding still,
Soom we shall see Thee, --Thine enraptured bride, --
Soon, to Thy great delight, be near Thy side.
Above all else, in the home of the believing couple, let the Person of the Lord Jesus be the pre-eminent Object of each heart, and the blessed hope of His coming a real and vital incentive to every godly virtue. Thus will such a marriage more rightly picture that of Christ and the Church, –faintly perhaps, but really; and declare to the world that this means more to us than the temporary earthly picture and its blessings, sweet as these may be.
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace–
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hands
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel's land.