Marriage possesses the unique feature of being an institution established by God from the very beginning of human history. God's authority is, therefore, behind the prominent place it occupies in man's social life. The first marriage was ordained in the Garden of Eden for the increase of Adam's comfort and the consummation of his bliss.
Adam was created in sinless perfection, and was surrounded in Eden with everything he needed for his satisfaction and delight. The whole scene, animate and inanimate, was subject to his will and pleasure; but he himself was alone, and the isolation made inevitable by his supremacy was a drawback to his perfect felicity. “And Jehovah Elohim said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helpmate, his like (or counterpart).”
Accordingly, the woman was formed by Divine handiwork, not from the dust of the ground as Adam had been, but out of Adam himself, so that literally the woman was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Eve was the Creator's provision for Adam. Discerning the incompleteness of Adam in his solitude, God provided for him a consort designed exactly to meet his deficiencies. Accordingly, in their marriage the two became one flesh, each being the complement of the other.
The marriage of Adam is the prototype of the marriage of all his sons. In every case of true matrimony, God arranges the union. Divine wisdom observes the moment when the loneliness of the man is no longer good for him, and He provides a bride who is the complement of his nature with its personal characteristics. Adam had no choice of brides; there was but the one that would suit him, and she was prepared of God especially for him. Adam had no rivals for the possession of Eve. Nor can such a thing be imagined in Eden, where each of the two found in the other everything required to complete their enjoyment and to perfect their capacities. There was no alternative that either could have chosen or found.
The primitive marriage in Eden was remarkably simple and exclusive. Two only shared the delights of the occasion. And this mutual reserve is a character marriage still retains. In matrimony two hearts, two lives become one exclusively in each other. At every wedding a new little world is formed with a total population of two numerically, but administratively of one only. How happy the new experience, and how momentous!
Instituted before the Fall
It is a fact of the highest significance that the marriage relationship was established between Adam and Eve while they were still in a state of innocence. At the time of their union, sin had not entered the world, nor its just penalty, death, incurred. But the entrance of sin through their disobedience did not set aside the holy character of marriage which its divine origin and sanction had originally imparted to it.
This, indeed, was the ground upon which the Lord Jesus long afterwards vindicated the primeval institution and affirmed the abiding sanctity of marriage. It was not a relationship introduced by the law of Moses, for instance; but wedlock was God's purpose for man from the very start of his history. So the Lord in replying to the cavils of the Pharisees, said to them, “Have ye not read that He Who made them, from the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt. 19:4). And had they not also read in the same connection, “And the two (man and wife) shall be one flesh”?
It is true that, having been united in wedded bonds, Adam and Eve jointly disobeyed the commandment of the Lord, and fell into and under sin. Nevertheless, the holy and divinely-sanctioned character of marriage which it received in the state of sinlessness remained after the entrance of sin. God had made the single pair, and He made them the one for the other exclusively. As our Lord said, God had joined them together by bonds that are indissoluble by man. This character of permanence attaches to marriage still, as it ever has done. In every union under divine superintendence, God binds together the two hearts and lives by a tie that none can sever.
The Human Credentials of Marriage
Another aspect of the marriage tie may now be considered. As a relationship established by God in the original circumstances of man's creation, it possesses a pure and holy character. It is obvious, however, that in Eden there were necessarily no human witnesses to the first marriage contract. But with the multiplication of the human species, there arose the necessity that each matrimonial alliance should have a propriety in the eyes of men generally, and should receive public confirmation and approval.
From the days of Noah, God set up among men forms of government for the maintenance of civil order and social well-being. The “powers that be” in the community are ordained of God, and their regulations are to be recognised and obeyed by the Christian (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13, 14). It is seemly, therefore, that Christian marriage should conform to the requirements of the law of the land. Indeed, it is expressly enjoined upon the believer to “be subject unto the higher powers,” and to submit “to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake.” Where this is done in the case of marriage, the act of union is formally and legally recognised, and its validity established in the eyes of all men.
The Invocation of God's Blessing
The ceremony of marriage required by civil laws to bestow a wedded status upon the persons concerned is altogether distinct from the spiritual union of husband and wife which results from the exercise of God's own will and guidance upon the hearts of the same two persons. The latter is the most serious and yet the most happy side of the undertaking. For this reason, the married couple, realising the solemn nature of the initial step they have taken in the united life to which they have committed themselves, seek the fellowship and prayers of the assembly of God on their behalf. Thereby, they openly confess that in their new relationship, their joint desire is to receive divine help that they may walk together in the fear of the Lord, in obedience to His word, and in the furtherance of the glory of His name.
On the Wife's Part, Submission
In Ephesians 5:22-33, there is given to those who are married much advice, embodying the leading principles which should govern their new and peculiar relations to one another.
The injunction laid upon the wife in this passage is that of submission to her husband: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” This habit of feminine subjection is unpopular in this twentieth century, nevertheless the Christian wife is exhorted by the highest authority to practise it; and, however unfashionable in worldly society such obedience may be, she cannot escape her responsibility to render it as unto the Lord to Whom she is accountable for her conduct.
But the submission thus solemnly enjoined is not the blind mechanical obedience of a slave to the owner, such, for instance, as that of an Israelite to an Egyptian taskmaster. Rather is it the glad subjection which springs involuntarily from a passionate devotion to the loved one, a ready submission to the will of the beloved man, needing no compulsion, nor even prompting.
“As unto the Lord”
To a believing woman there is one authority from which there is no appeal. Hence the apostle brings the Lord Himself before the wife in the matter of her submission in her married relationship. She must submit to her own husband “as unto the Lord.”
The Lord Jesus is the pattern to all His own of that perfect obedience which is well-pleasing to God. “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” Though continually accompanied by sorrow and suffering in the course of His subjection, it was a joy to Him to obey. Our Lord ever delighted to do the will of Him Who sent Him. Love to His Father was the mainspring of everything He did as the obedient Servant. In like manner, the believing wife should in her love, devotedly fulfil the “law” of her husband.
But the injunction here is coupled with the name of the Lord, not so much as the pattern of obedience, as the One from Whom her husband's authority is derived. She is to submit to her husband “as unto the Lord.” She is exhorted to recognize the Lord Jesus behind her husband as the directing, governing authority in family life. As the “head of the woman is the man,” so the Head of every man is Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). Thus the godly decisions of the husband will express the will of the Lord for her, and to these she will render obedience with all readiness and cheerfulness. “As the church is subject unto Christ”, so will the devout Christian wife be subject to her own husband in everything (verse 24).
On the Husband's Part, Affection
As the distinguishing feature of the wife's conduct should be subjection, so that of the husband's should be love. “Husbands, love your wives.” The form in the original tongue of both exhortations to the married pair indicates that the act enjoined is to be constant and characteristic. Both the submission of the wife and the love of the husband must be a continuous habit, not an occasional occurrence.
In these guiding principles of piety in the two pillars of the home, it is significant that love is particularly enjoined upon the husband, and not, as might almost have been expected, upon the more tender and susceptible partner, the wife. The husband, therefore, needs, in entering upon his new responsibilities, to consider this distinction carefully in order to grasp the special force of the exhortation addressed to him.
It is clear that, while the wife should regard her husband as the fountain of authority in the affairs of the household and in the conduct of their joint lives, the husband in the exercise of that authority should express his advice and judgment to her in the terms of love and endearment befitting a channel of the divine will. The real unity of married life will be most fittingly displayed by this blending of authority and affection. The authority of the husband will be conveyed by the expressions of his love, and the obedience of the wife will be prompted by the impulses of her affection.
Christ's Love for the Church the Husband's Model
In this passage, the husband is instructed to regard the intimate relation of Christ to His church upon which the apostle dwells, as the model of his own relation to his wife. Two features of this relation may be mentioned specially in this connection, viz.: (1) Christ's self-sacrifice, and (2) Christ's devoted care.
In the first place, the husband is to practise his love in the form of entire self-surrender in order to secure his wife's highest welfare, for, “Christ also loved the church, and delivered Himself up for it.” The blessed Lord surrendered up Himself altogether, without reserve, to promote the best interests of His church. And this whole-hearted sacrifice to ensure the present blessing and future glory of the church of His choice is set up as the model for the husband's imitation.
In the ideal marriage of scripture, therefore, the wife becomes the enthralling object of her spouse's affection and devotion to a degree which deepens in intensity as the years pass. Self is set aside in the home-life, and he that is married is solicitous in everyday matters how he may please his wife rather than himself. And while he may forget his own little lordship in the absorbing self-sacrifice of his love, he finds that his wife does not forget his authority over her nor omit her ready obedience to him, just because he is so lavish in his love toward her.
But, secondly, the husband's love should be manifested by a continual care for the well-being of his wife. This pleasant duty is impressed upon him by the present service of the love of Christ in sanctifying and cleansing the church with the washing of water by the word (ver. 26). Whatever the behaviour of the church towards her Lord, Christ is faithful and unremitting in the activities of His love that she may be purified from everything that is inconsistent with her new status as His chosen bride and the sharer of His coming glories.
Guided by the lofty standard of Christ's concern for His church, the husband studies to promote the welfare of his wife, as his own body (ver. 28). He helps her, first of all in her spiritual life, in the exercises of worship and prayer and service in the home. He lightens her labours in household affairs, shoulders her burdens of family responsibility, shields her from anxieties and fears, comforts her in hours of sorrow, and ministers help to her weakness without telling her so. Neither will he forget to note her acts of devotion to himself in response to his love, nor to praise her many excellences, as the scripture enjoins (Prov. 31:28, 29) if he should be so negligent as to need this injunction.
Making a New Home
Another feature of pious marriage life made prominent in this passage is that matrimonial union involves the establishment of a new household. The apostle says, “Because of this a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be united to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh” (ver. 31). By entrance into the marriage relationship, two parental homes are vacated, and a new Christian home set up by the married pair.
The advantages and far-reaching influence of a truly pious dwelling-place cannot easily be over-rated. As a national feature, home life is not cultivated on scriptural lines now to the degree that it was formerly. Families thoroughly united in the bonds of piety and walking together in the fear of the Lord are not found so frequently as they should be.
It is a striking testimony to the value in the divine estimation of the home that in the scriptural history of man, family life is given precedence to national life. A great part of the Book of Genesis is devoted to the record of family life set apart in the world as a witness for the living and true God against the corrupting influence of idolatry; while national history begins in the Book of Exodus.
This form of effective witness for God is sorely needed today. And it devolves upon the newly-married couple to organize a home which shall in its primary purpose be entirely controlled by the will of the Lord. Under such management, the home will become a centre from which the light of God's truth will shine upon the darkness and ungodliness of the surrounding world. Its occupants will be recognized as the servants of Christ.
A home is not to be confused with a house. An architect plans the house, but love and order construct the home. It is important that in the new Christian home an agreed policy between husband and wife should predominate; “and they two shall be one flesh.” Particularly in things God-ward concerted action should prevail. The former spiritual habits and activities hitherto practised by each need not cease, only they may now be prayerfully pursued with the enhanced energy that concord and consultation supply to Christian service. The two happy persons will unite as they never could before in “labour for and with the Lord.” And the former effect for good and blessing will not diminish, but will rather be increased by the intimate wedded union of two hearts devoted to the Lord.
The shepherd in our Lord's parable sought in solitary places for the sheep which was lost, and his success in finding it was a joy to him. But in the loneliness of the wilderness this joy was restricted. He wanted some hearts to share his joy. And “when he cometh home”, he called his friends together, saying, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost”.
Home is the sphere of joy, especially of private and personal joy. The joys of married life are more than doubled in intensity just because they are shared by the two who have become one, and who are now everything to one another. Small matters bring great joys in the intimacies of home life, in which strangers may not meddle.
The daily offering of praise and thanksgiving to God, no longer strictly personal to each, has fresh fervour to which each contributes from a grateful heart. The joint prayers of husband and wife are the more powerful in their intercession, seeing they are offered from the hearts of those whom God has joined together. These devotional exercises carry with them their own peculiar and almost inexpressible joys, which are all the sweeter to the taste because they are shared together in the new home.
In service to the Lord each is strengthened by the other, and what otherwise might be lacking in either is supplied. New forms of service become possible through joint desires and efforts. When an Apollos needed instruction in the things of the Lord, the house of Aquila and Priscilla was opened to receive him; and the husband and wife united in expounding the way of God to him more perfectly (Acts 18:24-28).
They agreed to use the convenience of their house for the spiritual benefit of one who, though not lacking in zeal and ability, was immature in the faith. And the pious pair had the joy of finding that the hospitality and the Christian atmosphere of their home was turned to good account in the after-life of Apollos. The newly-married might well seek to emulate the home service of Aquila, of Gaius, and of Lydia, as recorded in the New Testament. It will be a new form of service for them, and is well within their reach.
New homes are so bright and fresh and joyous that it may seem churlish to suggest that some day sorrow will be an uninvited visitor. But it must be so. Tribulation of some sort is inevitable in every household; but if the Lord is there, the inmates will have His peace. Dark thunder-clouds may steal across the bright blue above, but the believer knows that the sun still shines in the heavens, and that the rainbow is in the rain.
Moreover, in married life there are two hearts to bear one sorrow, and each striving to take the greater share of grief and loss. The strong man shields his partner from the impending stroke, and the loving wife hides in her bosom many a pang lest her dear man should have still more to bear. But sharing is better than concealment. Men and women are made strong in hours of sorrow by sympathy; and there is no sympathy so choice and so effective as that which dwells in the Christian home-life.