by Dr. David Allen
The following is the third in a series of articles on family life, taken from sermons preached by Dr. Allen while ministering at Free Grace Baptist Church, Belvedere in 1987.
What is marriage? In considering marriage before courtship, many people might think that I am putting the cart before the horse, but it is my contention that no couple should ever contemplate dating and courtship before first of all prayerfully considering what marriage is. There is nothing more depressing in the church of Jesus Christ than to see young people entering into casual relationships with no intention of marriage. This is something which the world does. People think, "Surely there can be no harm in such casual relationships. After all, it's just part of growing up." However the Christian young person is not to be conformed to the world. Every relationship with a member of the opposite sex must be approached in a serious and God-honouring way. There can be no playing around with the feelings and emotions of one for whom Christ has died. Therefore we must consider the whole question of marriage before we can consider whom a Christian may marry. We need to remind ourselves of the four foundational principles already covered: The word of God is our sure foundation; the fear of God is our constant motivation; the will of God is our sole aim; and the love of God is our abiding inspiration. We who are already married must bring our marriages to Scripture and let Scripture search us.
Marriage and the worldWhat, then, are we to understand by marriage? Firstly, how does the world view marriage? The common view of marriage is predominantly physical. Often marriage is not seriously considered. It is entered upon almost by instinct and impulse. It is something that is primarily built upon physical attraction and physical gratification, merely the legalisation of an erotic and sensual feeling of something which the world calls `love'. Marriage then is the stamp of respectability, something that is based upon physical attraction and animal lust. In the introduction to the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer we are warned about "taking in hand unadvisedly, lightly, and wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites."
There is also the view of marriage that is held by the anthropologist and social evolutionist. This view holds that when man came swinging out of the trees, he behaved as an animal. He was promiscuous, he had many mates but as man evolved he did so both physically and socially. Polygamy and promiscuity were leading to confusion, and so eventually civilisation arrived at the conclusion that monogamy would be best for society. Anyone with their eyes open today can see the fallacy of such defective thinking. As we view our Sodom and Gomorrah society we see the whole argument falling down.
We live in a society which is turning its back upon marriage and is accepting fornication and promiscuity as perfectly normal. If our view of marriage is that it is purely for human convenience, then it can conveniently be set aside. That is why there are so many divorces taking place today. If we hold an incorrect view of marriage, particularly one where the wife refuses all forms of submission to her husband or one where the husband treats his wife as no more than a chattel or a slave, then it will inevitably lead to bitterness and resentment. Comedians turn this bitterness into humour. Somehow marriage is considered to be the most hilarious subject that there is. Such sick humour is based upon an unbiblical view of marriage. We do need to thank God that there are marriages that are based upon more than mere physical attraction and animal magnetism. There are marriages in the world that are not viewed as a mere human convenience that can readily be set aside, where there is a truly loving and caring relationship between one man and his wife for life. It is still possible to find such marriages in the world, but they are becoming more unusual. The staggering thing is this; not that one in three marriages ends in divorce, but that there are so few divorces!
Marriage under attackMarriage is under attack from almost every quarter. This militant anti-Christian view of marriage has infiltrated every sphere and stratum of our society. It is attacked by comedians, soap operas, and by modern militant feminism which seeks to rid itself of every maternal and wifely instinct. Marriage is under attack by those who consider it to be an antiquated piece of Victoriana which can now be dispensed with by our more enlightened and liberated age. It doesn't seem very long ago that the world once considered that when a man and woman lived together outside of marriage, they were living in sin. But so successful has been the attack on marriage as a sacred and abiding institution that such is no longer the case. Concubinage, the defiled bed, cohabitation are becoming the norm. Martin Luther stated in 1521, "There is no estate to which Satan is more opposed than to marriage." If ever the Christian is to combat this humanistic, atheistic and sinful attack then it is essential that Christians themselves have sound and God-glorifying marriages which are built upon a solid biblical foundation.
How, then, is the Christian to view marriage? Marriage, according to Ephesians 5, is to be a mirror which reflects the love of Christ for the church and the love which the church has for Christ. Marriage is to reflect that glorious relationship. It is an astonishing thought that every Christian marriage is to portray the love of Christ for the Church. This is a great mystery. Can our children say to the unconverted that Christ's love for the church is something like their mother's and father's love for each other? The Christian marriage is to radiate the amazing and sacrificial love of Christ. Divine love is to permeate the Christian home, and this is why none should enter marriage lightly and inadvisedly, but thoughtfully and wisely, considering the purposes for which marriage was instituted. This then is the biblical ideal set before us.
In the beginning: The purpose of marriageWhat then of the biblical basis, purpose and mystery of marriage? We start with Genesis 2:18-25. God himself instituted marriage; it was not something that gradually evolved. God himself ordained marriage and solemnized the first marriage. Married life is deeply rooted in the work of creation. The staggering thing is that as we read through Genesis and see the mighty hand of God in creation, the words, "it was good" are repeated again and again. However, when we get to Gen. 2:18 we find something that was not good. "It is not good for the man to be alone." God saw that it was not good for Adam to be on his own; he needed a helper to complement and complete him. The animals had mates, but Adam was alone. It was God who created Eve and brought her to the man. It was God, as the Lord Jesus points out in Matthew 19:4, who ordained the physical relationship which was to be consummated only within the marriage covenant.
CompanionshipAdam was incomplete without Eve. Adam was made in the image of God, perfect and upright, yet he was incomplete. As Adam stood alone in the creation of God there was a growing consciousness that there was something lacking. Solitude is not good for man. We are social creatures and stand in need of human companionship. There is nothing unwholesome in desiring to be married. It is woven into the very fabric of our being, from creation. Man needs the woman's help, support and companionship, and Adam needed all these things before the fall.
Man shall leave in order to cleave. God clearly lays down that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that the marriage partners are to leave the closest of family ties, that of parent and child, in order that a man might cleave unto his wife, and enter into the closest possible intimacy with her. The word cleave means to `join fast together', to glue or cement. There is no stronger word that will adequately convey that which is to take place in marriage. They shall be one flesh. There are times, perhaps because of age or infirmity, when the parents of the husband or the wife must share the marital home, but as a general principle it is laid down that the man must leave his parents. There is to be no intrusion or parental interference into the intimacy of this new and vital relationship between husband and wife. The husband is the head of this new relationship and must ensure that neither his parents nor his wife's parents interfere with this relationship. From every conceivable angle it was God who established marriage as a divine and permanent institution, and for that reason the apostle declares that "marriage is honourable in all and the bed undefiled." So the biblical basis for marriage is rooted in creation.
Replenishing the earthThe purposes of marriage are stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith. "Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness." After companionship, the main purpose of marriage is for the procreation of children. "And God blessed them and God said unto them, `Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth."' The propagation of children is fundamental in marriage. Marriage was not merely instituted to provide companionship for the man, but that out of this new relationship, children should be born. One of the first questions I would ask any couple seeking to be married is this, "When do you propose to have children?" Marriage is called `matrimony' which comes from a Latin word `mater', or mother. Matrimony is the making of mothers. Therefore it is desirable that women marry during their child-bearing years. Twice in the Scriptures we read of "the wife of thy youth." This is not without significance. It therefore follows that no Christian couple should contemplate marriage without at least the desire for children. It is true that genetic abnormalities may render the couple infertile, or make child-bearing exceedingly dangerous, but apart from that the mandate of Genesis 1:27 is that the husband and wife seek to be fruitful and multiply, and that must be contemplated by all Christian couples who are considering marriage. I am not referring to those Christian couples who marry later in life, beyond the years of child-bearing.
PurityAnother purpose of marriage is sanctification. Marriage was ordained as a "remedy against sin and to avoid fornication, that such persons that have not the gift of continency, might marry and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body." Marriage is a means to our sanctification. The Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 7:2 says: "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." In verse 9 he continues, "But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." Marriage is a preventative against fornication. When a young couple are unable to exercise self-restraint and control in their physical attractions to each other, they are to marry. This is not material fire or the fire of hell but the burning lust of physical attraction. When they are in great danger of being drawn into the commission of fornication, they are to marry. God has provided marriage as a preventative to fornication and a means to sanctification. In 1 Cor. 10:13 we read the words: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." The Apostle is not afraid to take these sensitive issues head-on.
In 1 Cor. 1:1-7 Paul is answering a question which the Corinthians had evidently asked him: "Are Christian couples to continue normal physical relationships within marriage?" There were those in the Corinthian church who were advising to abstain from physical relationships because they held the view that marriage was a concession to our sinfulness, and a less holy state than celibacy. This led to the conclusion that it was the height of spirituality for married persons to forego all physical intimacy. The Apostle condems such false spirituality. He clearly states that there is no sin in getting married. Paul goes on to state in 1 Cor. 7 that any abstention must be mutually agreed, it must be temporary, and above all it must have a spiritual objective. 1 Cor. 7:5: "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." God has ordained marriage for our holiness.
1 Tim. 5:14-15: "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan." The Apostle is here addressing himself to the problem of the young widow in the church, and he advises her to get married and bear children and assume her divinely-ordained role in rearing those children. The alternative was that the young widow would waste her time in idle gossip, and this would give occasion for the adversary to speak reproachfully. It is clear in verse 14 that marriage for the younger widow avoids giving occasion to Satan.
So then, the purpose of marriage is three-fold. It is for mutual help and comfort, for the propagation of children, and as a preventative against all unclean thoughts and desires.
The mystery of marriage: Christ and His BrideWhat of the mystery of marriage? In a very real but mysterious sense, marriage enables us to comprehend a little of that relationship which exists between Christ and His church. Marriage is the metaphor which reveals the depths of this profound mystery. The love, unity and oneness that exist between Christ and the church can only be understood a little by looking at marriage. Our marriages must be a visible expression of that oneness that exists between Christ and the church. There should be no disharmony, discord or divisions within that marriage, just as there should not be within the church. Marriage is to mirror that intense sacrificial love of the Lord for His bride. It is to mirror the unity and oneness of which our Lord spoke: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." This is the unity of two individuals becoming `one flesh'. The apostle says: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
What is this great mystery? The mystery is of the union of Christ with the church. Who can comprehend that mystery? It is marriage alone that enables us to understand this amazing and mysterious union and oneness that exists between Christ the bridegroom and the church, His bride. It is for that reason we read in Isaiah 54:5-6, "For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused." What an astonishing thought; the Maker of the earth is the Husband of the church. The Creator of the universe, the Holy One of Israel, chooses the church as a woman forsaken, as His bride. What mystery this is! Who can fathom its depths? God himself has entered into a relationship with the church that is even closer than that of husbands and wives. God's only begotten Son plunged himself into the dreadful darkness and awful anguish of Calvary in order to save his rebellious people, gathered from among all nations. He dwells in their hearts through his Spirit and at last presents them, these utterly undeserving ones, to Himself as His own bride with whom he becomes united in such intimate fellowship that no earthly metaphor can ever do justice to it. This great mystery is actually reflected here on earth between a husband and a wife, and Christian marriages are to be a living parable and dramatic presentation to the world of the oneness that exists between Christ and His church.
Two People, One LifeThe nature of this oneness is that the bride shares the husband's life. Two separate individuals are brought together and they live one life. They should not both be going their separate ways within marriage, but both should be submitting themselves one to the other in the fear of God, the husband loving the wife as his own flesh and the wife submitting to her husband. In Col. 3:4 we read "..Christ, who is our life". The church and Christ are not two but one, for we are members of His body, flesh of His bones, sharers of His life.
When the bride marries a husband, she takes his name. He bestows his name on her and they share the same life and the same name. When a person is converted he takes the name of Christ and becomes a member of the true church, being called a Christian. The Lord Jesus Christ bestows His own name on the church.
The bride also shares the husband's dignity and position in life. It doesn't matter who the bride was before the marriage; the moment she enters the marriage relationship, she is one with her husband. The church was as a woman forsaken, but now is the bride of Christ. The church shares His dignity. Our Lord said in John 17:22-23, "The glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as Thou has loved me." It is an astonishing thing that God the Father loves us just as He loves His Son. Eph. 2:4-6: "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." He has bedecked the church with His glory and His dignity. In human marriage the two shall be one flesh, having a shared life, name, glory and dignity. There is a unity and oneness in the relationship. The bride's whole life is in the husband. Marriage is to be an illustration of the apostle's teaching about love in 1 Cor. 13. The greatest advertisement for the power of the gospel is the Christian home, and that which will commend the gospel to this decadent age is the Christian marriage, and that is why Satan is attacking it with relentless force. We need to prayerfully sit down and take out the word of God and put our marriages right. Let us bring our marriages to the bar of Holy Scripture.
Copyright © Family Matters 1996