John and Mary have now left father and mother and are experiencing the merging process of married life. Their life together is far different from what they had anticipated. It is far more wonderful, far happier, but also a bit more difficult that they had realized. They are always together now under the same roof, except for short breaks in the day. They make their plans together, go to church together, have their family worship together. They no more go their way as individuals, but share their lives. This new togetherness demands agreement, understanding, consideration, cooperation; it demands a love that they can share only as “one flesh”.
We have had opportunity in the previous articles to speak of the physical- psychological bond that unties two persons in marital union. We have also spoken of the legal bond, whereby God cements them together under the solemn declaration, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” There is a third bond, actually the most important of all for a happy marriage, and that is the spiritual bond that unites the children of God in the Lord. The expression “one flesh” does not refer merely to a physical union, nor even only to a physical, psychical union, but to a complete union of body, soul, and spirit. The couple is married, first of all to God, and thus also spiritually to each other. It is this spiritual bond that makes it possible to speak of the holy marriage state in a world of sin.
No one dare question the fact that marriage was holy as it was instituted by God in paradise. Adam was formed by the Creator from the dust of the earth as a male, Eve was taken from Adam’s rib as a female. Adam had a strong manly body; a large, dexterous hand, capable of hard work. His facial features were masculine. Psychologically he thought, reasoned, desired, planned as a man. Even as the image bearer of God, created in God’s image and likeness to know, to love, and to serve His God, he was entirely masculine. His whole makeup fitted him to father children, and to be a father for them. On the other hand, Eve’s body, her long, flowing hair, her facial features, were those of a woman. Psychologically she was a woman. Spiritually as a friend-servant of God, she was completely female. By God’s creation ordinance Adam was head of the woman and father of the human race; Eve was his helper and the mother of all mankind. No one and nothing can change this creation ordinance of God; do what they will in defiance of God’s laws, man can never be anything but a male, the woman can never be anything but a woman. Eve was exactly what Adam needed to make his life complete in paradise. He needed a companion with whom he could communicate. We can understand that. Adam needed the companionship of sharing. He could not evaluate or enjoy his deepest feelings without communion with the touchstone of a woman. Adam enjoyed the intimate fellowship which he experienced with Eve in the garden.
Without Eve, Adam could never have been the organic and representative head of the human race. Adam was capable of fathering a child, but it is the woman’s unique distinction that only she can give birth to the child. Already in the state of righteousness our parents were aware of this, but even more so after the fall, when they awaited the Savior, Who would be born of woman.
Finally, the marital relationship between Adam and Eve was a picture of their intimate union with God in Christ. They were privileged to experience God’s covenant fellowship in their own intimate relationship. Scripture speaks of the covenant union between God and His church as a marriage, pointing us to God’s eternal faithfulness and unchanging love. In the prophecy of Isaiah, for example, God asks Israel in captivity to produce, if they can, a bill of divorcement whereby He sent them away. Although they were temporarily banished from His land because of their spiritual adultery, God never ceased loving them, never cast them away completely with a divorce, but drew His unfaithful wife back to Him with the power of His undying love. In the prophecy of Hosea, there is also repeated reference to the marriage relationship between God and His Church in Christ. In the New Testament Jesus speaks of the wedding feast of the King’s Son, and the Book of Revelation tells of the culmination of Christ’s union with His Church in that day when He takes His Bride into the wedding chamber to celebrate with her the wedding feast of eternal, covenant life and blessedness in the new creation. The most intimate relationship between one man and one woman is an exclusive relationship, barring all others, yet at the same time an all-inclusive relationship of love and devotion, the like of which there is none other on earth, as a reflection of our communion of life with the living God. In a sense, husband and wife not only reflect that communion of life with God, but live it in their own close oneness of heart and mind, of soul and body, in their daily relationship with one another.
It is true, this holy marriage state as it was instituted in paradise was corrupted by sin. In fact, the marital relationship between Adam and Eve was the first to suffer. Eve must have forgotten her subjection to her husband, for she felt quite confident that she could carry on the conversation with Satan alone, even when that conversation turned toward the forbidden tree. Although she soon realized that she was getting involved in some serious problems, she failed to retrace her steps. She knew that she was minimizing the warning of God when she told Satan that they might die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. Eve must have felt the sting of Satan’s lie when he contradicted God with his defiant. “Ye shall not surely die”. She knew very well that Adam would not allow such blasphemy. Independently she decided that she could eat of the forbidden tree and escape the consequences. It even appealed to her to satisfy this newly aroused craving for the forbidden fruit, especially because she hoped that Satan might be right in proposing that she would become independent, to do as she wished, even as God. Without any further thought about consulting Adam she reached out and ate.
It was only after she had fallen that she realized what a serious breach she had made in their marriage. She was no longer holy; her marriage was no longer holy. Adam could no longer love her as she had broken the covenant with God and allied herself with Satan against God. She realized that she did not love Adam any more as before, since he was righteous and could only condemn her for her indiscretion and sin. What was still worse, Adam’s helper became his adversary. Cunningly she devised, under the instigation of the devil, ways and means to lure her husband into the same evil into which she had fallen. And she succeeded.
The deed was no more than done, or Adam and Eve looked at each other with entirely different eyes. They were no longer motivated by a holy love. Unholy, sexual lust flooded their souls, so that they both rushed off to find cover, devising fig leaves as an improvised cloak for their sin. No wonder that Adam and Eve fled from before the sight of God. Who could no longer justly be their sovereign Friend. Vainly Adam brought up the lame excuse, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” This was true all right, but it was a strong evidence of the breach that had come between them. Not only their holy love was corrupted, their perfect harmony was disrupted. The breach of sin yawned like a great gap between them. Irremediable scars remained. The damage would never be completely undone. Their marriage had suffered disaster.
God came to them, not with the rumblings of the thunder of judgment, as at Sinai; but with the call of grace, calling them unto Himself. God came in Christ, as the only One Who is able to keep covenant forever. God took them by the hand, as it were, and led them as repentant sinners to the cross of Jesus, where they met each other face to face, confessed their sin to God and to each other, and found mercy. In Christ their marriage was once more restored as a holy state rooted in the eternal love of God Who keeps covenant forever. The spiritual bond was restored in Christ, even in a richer sense than they could have experienced that in paradise. This same spiritual bond unites all true children of God in the Lord.
This does not mean, that there is no real marriage among sinners in the world. Although the spiritual bond is lacking, the natural, physical bond, as well as the legal bond still remains. Our Confession speaks of “glimmerings of natural light”, even after the fall. We read in Canons III, IV, article 4, “There remain, however, in man after the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” This article goes on to say, that man renders the natural light wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, so that he is inexcusable before God. But the sinner does possess sufficient natural light that he can live in the intimate union of husband and wife, and even desires such a union.
The point I want to make is, that the creation ordinance continues, so that marriage as an institution of God carries on. Therefore, amid all the sexual corruption, immorality both within and outside of marriage, abortions, divorces, remarriages, there is still a possibility for a decent and comparatively ‘happy’ marriage in the world. Many married people do live together all their lives. Many husbands are good to their wives, knowing that gentleness and understanding are to their own advantage. Many wives do respect their husbands, care for their needs, and are content to provide a home for their family. Married couples may be highly respected in the community. BUT the one essential ingredient for a truly happy marriage is lacking, the spiritual bond that unites two hearts in Christ. The grace of God does not rest on that home. An unbelieving couple that gains the whole world, yet loses their souls, ends up in hell. The husband will not thank his wife for being a good wife, the wife will not thank her husband for being a good provider, nor will the children thank their parents for having brought them to that horrible place of torment. The curse of the Lord rests upon the mansion of the ungodly rich; His blessing abides in the hovel of the godly poor.
May this be a warning to anyone who contemplates a mixed marriage, that is, one who is thinking of marrying an unbeliever or a person of contrary convictions. A life time is a long time to repent of the foolishness of youth.
In the world, sex is a dirty word. Most people cannot hear or use the word without lustful thoughts and desires flooding the soul. Some minds are so filthy that their conversation is saturated with vile and suggestive expressions. There was a time when the word ‘sex’ was taboo, even considered an improper word to be spoken aloud. Sexual intercourse between married people was referred to with a hand hiding the mouth. Women were embarrassed to admit that they were pregnant, and went into hiding during the last weeks of their pregnancy. All this has changed, in a sense for the better. Children need no longer learn about sex in back allies and from smutty novels secreted in the bedroom. Yet there is a danger that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, where the private life of the wedded pair is paraded before the public. The completely exclusive, yet at the same time the completely inclusive union of married couples is experienced only in the realm of grace.
The believing husband readily accepts his position as provider for his wife and family, conscious of the fact, that God is their Great Provider. The wife assumes her position as subject to her husband in all things, even as the church is subject to Christ. She considers his wants and needs, as a faithful wife in obedience to her husband. Love does not demand, but gives. Love is not selfish, but is kind, considerate, devoted. Although both the husband and the wife see each others faults and weaknesses better than anyone else sees them, although they often must bear with one another, often must meet at the cross to forgive each other, yet the bond of love that unites them in the Lord binds their hearts and souls together in a growing need for each other. This has a sanctifying influence on their outlook on life and their regard for each other. Dreams of an expensive home, new cars, vacations at regular intervals, campers, boats, and many other luxuries fade into the background. The husband loves his wife as his own body, so that he would be willing to die for her, if that were necessary. The wife realizes that her husband’s life is her life, his calling her calling, his concerns her concerns, his welfare and peace of mind her contentment. Even as he would die for her, she lives for him. Their life is a giving of each other, even as God gives Himself to us, to the extent that He brings us into His very heart, into His life, into intimate communion of life with Him, reflecting His glory.
In a holy marriage state, also the sexual relationships of man and woman are sanctified in the Lord. It is the expression of their intimate union, as one flesh. Two hearts beat as one, two minds function as one, two wills channeled as one, two lives molded into one. It is that intimate union that gives expression to their unique love for one another, as a picture of Christ’s love for His Church, the love of the Bridegroom for His Bride. The need for each other reflects their need for Christ, the Head of their home, the Fountain of every blessing. Their comfort in each other is by the comfort of the Spirit. Their longing expresses the longing of Christ for the salvation of His Church, and the longing of the Church for her perfect union with her Lord. Marriage in its full reality is living the love of God, experiencing together His covenant faithfulness and His abiding love.
What is even more amazing than that, (which in itself is an amazing gift of God’s goodness), is the fact, that God uses the sexual union of husband and wife to bring forth the covenant seed, the church of tomorrow. Covenant parents want children, in order to serve unto the gathering of God’s Church and the coming of His kingdom. They also want to experience in their own lives the grace of God that makes them heirs of salvation, even in their generations, as God has said, “I will be your God and the God of your seed forever.” They await the day when they will stand together before the great White Throne to declare: “See us, Lord, and the children which Thou hast given us. FOR WE ARE THINE!”
In anticipation the church of all ages sings:
“Blest the man that fears Jehovah,
Walking ever in His ways;
By thy toil thou shalt be prospered
And be happy all thy days.”
“In thy wife thou shalt have gladness.
She shall fill thy house with good,
Happy in her loving service
And the joys of motherhood.”
Psalter number 360