In the city in which I am staying, the editor of one of the daily papers has expressed great concern as to the laxity with which the marriage relationship is treated, and he has appealed to the leaders of religious thought in the city to state what in their view is wrong in this matter, and how it can be rectified. This sad feature of modern life is not confined to one city or country, it is stamped upon every country where western civilization prevails.
Various reasons are given for this state of things—the war with its inevitable loosening of morals, the love of pleasure, the shirking of the responsibilities that marriage entails, and many others; but in reality all these are but different symptoms of the same condition, and only those who reverently read and understand their Bibles can rightly interpret these signs of the tunes. The cause of the crowded divorce courts is that the fear of God is swiftly departing from the people. Marriage is the first and chiefest of God’s institutions for the regulation and blessing of men in this natural life; but if God is not revered His institutions will not be respected. And if men and women enter this relationship with no fear of God before their eyes, if they enter it to please themselves alone, they will break it without compunction for the same reason. It is a sign of the times.
The Bible tells us of a wilful king who will exercise great authority in the earth (Dan. 11:36). Amongst other sinister features of his rule will be these, “He shall regard not the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women.” I take that to mean that he will banish religion and marriage from his realm, the two things that make decent life possible in the world. His reign shall be brief, for swift destruction shall fall upon him and his corrupt kingdom from God, to make way for the righteous reign of Christ. The drift today is in the direction of that impious kingdom, and civilized society is being prepared to willingly accept and obey the will of this coming antichrist.
Nothing is helping towards this great apostasy more than the way the Bible is being treated. It is being discredited in divinity colleges and from the pulpits of professedly Christian churches; it is being banished from schools and neglected in homes. Men chafe at the restraint it imposes upon them, and are refusing its authority, hence ungodliness and worldly lusts prevail more and more, and there are none more to blame for this than those whose “little knowledge” has made them audacious enough to sit in the critic’s chair and reject every part of that sacred Book that does not square with their notions.
But of the Christian it is said, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” The presence of the children of God in the world preserves it from utter corruption, and will do so until they are taken out of it at the coming of the Lord for them (see 1 Thess. 4:15-17). The world does not understand how much it owes to those who live in the fear of God in the midst of it, but it is necessary that these should be very watchful lest they lose their saltness. Subjection to the will of God as it is given to us in the Holy Scriptures will keep the Christian as he should be in every walk of life, and enable him to be an example to others and a check upon the increasing ungodliness. It is to help in this that I desire to write briefly on marriage.
Except for a brief reference to divorce in the sermon on the mount, the first definite teaching as to marriage in the New Testament comes from the Lord’s own lips in Matthew 19. But He only gives emphasis to that which God ordained at the beginning. He sweeps aside the theory of evolution, the popular folly of the day, and puts His imprimatur upon the second chapter of Genesis, saying; “Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female” (v. 4). This was the crowning act of God’s creative work, the result of His own counsels, and accomplished for the great good of man. The consideration of this would make the relationship thus created exceedingly sacred to all who fear the Lord. Hear, in this connection, the word in 1 Corinthians 11:12, “For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” From God Himself the relationship originated. It is His own special design and work.
Up to the time of a man’s marriage the chief relationship in which he stands is that of a son, and his responsibility is towards his parents, but when he marries he leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife. Henceforward she becomes his chief care, for he and she are no more twain but one flesh.
Every right-minded man will look upon his wife as the only woman in the world for him, he will desire no other; and that not because he has chosen her for his wife, but because God has joined them together. He will look upon her as the very woman that God made for him; he will treat her as God’s gift to him, and more, he will treat her as himself, for they twain have become one flesh; and that by no mere ordinance of man, but by God’s own act and decree, hence “what God hath joined together let not man put asunder.”
In the law there was a compromise made between God’s order and the hardness of men’s hearts; and so under the law men were permitted to divorce their wives; but all that was set aside by the Lord’s coming into the world. He came to establish a kingdom in which the will of God would be done, and so He sweeps out of the way the provision that Moses had made because of the hardness of men’s hearts, and in so doing astonished His disciples. God had said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him.” The disciples say, “If the case of the man with his wife be so, it is not good to marry.” But that was merely because they saw the high place in which the Lord set this relationship in His kingdom, without knowing the grace that reigns in that kingdom to enable all who are in it to fulfil every relationship according to God.
There can be no question as to the sacred character of the marriage tie or that it is God’s gift to those who enter into it, for 1 Timothy 4:4 states that it is to be received with thanksgiving, and we give thanks for a gift, and if it is God’s gift it must be sacred. And further it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. Men are not as Adam was in innocence, they are ignorant, and sin has hardened their hearts. Grace is needed to soften and mould us, and we need direction from God, and dependence upon Him—these we find in the Word of God and prayer. God is acknowledged in the relationship in this way and so His blessing is secured and He is glorified. The Scriptures do not suppose that the Word of God and prayer will be lacking when those who believe and know the truth enter into this relationship; but it does give warning as to things that might hinder prayer.
What an important passage is 1 Peter 3:1-7. The wife is exhorted to live before God, adorned with a meek and quiet spirit which is in His sight of great price, and such living will result in spiritual blessing to the husband, even if he be disobedient to the Word. The husband must dwell with the wife according to knowledge, surely knowledge of the relationship as ordained of God, and the one who so dwells with his wife will treat her not as an inferior, but as needing love and care, because she is the weaker vessel. Husband and wife are heirs together of the grace of life, they look to One source for all that life means, and are equally and together dependent upon that source, and so should pray together.
But it is in the Ephesian epistle that marriage is put on the highest plane, and there we learn that when God instituted it at the first He had Christ and the church in view. It was to be a figure of that which is so much greater. Ephesians 5:22-33 scarcely requires any explanation, but it should be noted that in bringing the blessed truth of Christ and His church before the saints the Holy Spirit says much about the marriage tie. The wife will find her joy in submitting to her husband, as the church to Christ, and the husband will find his delight in loving his wife as Christ the church. What a standard is this! Who can tell the depth of Christ’s love to the church or the minuteness and persistence of His care for her?—so ought men to love their own wives, nourishing and cherishing them as Christ the church. And remember there is not an exhortation in Scripture that may not be carried out. It may be impossible with men, but it is possible with God, and His grace is equal to all our need.
If every Christian marriage were entered upon and maintained according to the truth thus revealed to us, what a pattern Christians would be to the world. God grant that His children may not be conformed to the world in this matter, but subject to the Word of God, doing the will of God, possessing their vessels in sanctification and honour unto the coming of the Lord.