Marriage is founded on the fact that God created man, male and female (Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6). It was not founded merely on the requirements of man's nature, but on the will of God, in regard to the creation of man, and His will in regard to man's replenishing the earth with his race (Gen. 1:27-28). There was also another thing in regard to it, where we enter into the purposes of God, before the foundation of the world, that His Son should have a Bride; and the actual creation of the man and wife was the glorious figure and type of this marvellous event that was coming, that God's Son, who was the Heir, and to be the real Lord of the creation was to have a partner with Himself in His glorious dominion, and that His Bride, the Church (see Eph. 5:31-32). We see this beautifully figured in Gen. 2:18-24: ver. 18, God's thought and purpose; ver. 19-20, creation and Christ's manhood coming in meanwhile; ver. 21, Christ's death and hiding away in the glory, during which time the Bride is being formed and gathered out; ver. 23-24, The final marriage taking place after this present dispensation.
But to return. God saw that it was not good that man should be alone, He therefore made him a helpmeet. The woman was formed out of Adam, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, therefore was she called Woman! Her original place was that of am helpmeet, a companion with Adam in his dominion over the lower creation. He held the first place, the man was not of the woman, but the woman of the man (1 Cor. 11:8), neither was he created for the woman, but the woman for the man (ver. 9). But it was not till after the fall that she fell into the place of utter subjection, and that her husband ruled over her (Gen. 3:16).
Marriage is the highest natural relationship there is. The original institution of God was, that He made Adam and Eve male and female; therefore shall a man leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. Thus before there were fathers and mothers and children, here were the man and his wife joined together.
Adam's word (Gen. 2:23-24) gives the human sanction to God's institution, and he speaks God's word. Therefore (because man was created male and female, and God hath joined them together) shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. Thus God's original institution was monogamy, or for a man to have one wife; God Himself joined them together, and Adam owned God's government by his words.
After the fall the governmental punishment fell upon the woman to have painful travail in childbirth, and to be in subjection to her husband, yet with the joyful promise given in the future, that the Messiah, who was to be born of the woman, should bruise the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15-16).
In Gen. 4, we have the first departure from God's original institution. Cain, the murderer of Abel, having gone forth from the presence of the Lord, with his wife, bears a son who builds a city; one of his descendents, Lamech, marries two wives. Polygamy thus begins. But in connection with it, increased lawlessness and murders. In Gen. 6 there is still further degeneracy; the sons of God of Seth's line (who had kept distinct from Cain's descendants up to this time), married the daughters of men, most likely of Cain's line, taking to them wives whom they chose. It was not only the evil intermingling of the family of God with that of men, but man's choice of his wife taking the place of God's will in the matter. They took unto them wives whom they chose. [Note:—From Job 38:7, and Jude 6, 7, many have thought that this pictures the departure of a certain class of angels from their first estate, and that they were the ones who married the daughters of men; but how this could be according to nature, I do not see, unless they possessed men to do it. This might have happened, I do not deny. But it seems to me, from Gen. 6:2, 3, that the point is the departure of men from God. Man's choice had taken the place of God's will, in regard to marriage.]
The result of this brought on a crisis in God's dealings with men. Increased violence and corruption succeeded, and the judgment of the deluge followed. Alas, what are we then to expect, in some countries of today, where God is more than ever disowned, and marriage laws are on the loosest basis, men marrying whom they like, and dissolving the marriage tie almost when they like! Is not this one of the sad signs of the times, and of the sure speedy approach of Christ in judgment?
Noah and his sons seem to have set a good example, in having each but one wife (Gen. 7:7-13), but wickedness spread rapidly after the flood, and polygamy seems to have been common in Abraham's day, when we find that he—God's man of the day—had more than one wife; Jacob also. Marriage at that time was sanctioned with near relatives, which was forbidden afterwards by the law. On account of the religious necessity of the seed of God being kept separate from the heathen nations, God allowed this (see Gen. 24:3, 4; 28:1, 2; 26:34, 35); and it was not till the time of Moses that there were prohibitions made to being married to near relations. Amram's marriage with Jochebed, his aunt, might seem to go contrary to this thought, but the thing had not yet been forbidden as evil, and so God was forbearing with the thing till the law was given. Fornication and adultery even at this early day were considered sins, as we see in the case of Dinah, Reuben, and Joseph (Gen. 34:7; 35:22 ; 39:9), as a breach against God's original institution.
After the law was instituted, special laws were instituted as to marriage; adultery and fornication were distinctly forbidden. Polygamy was still allowed as we see from Deut. 21:15-17. Marriage with those near of kin was also forbidden, and a list in Lev. 18:6-20, and 20:11-21, is given of the relationships forbidden in marriage.
I give the scriptural list:—
A father with a daughter;
A son with a mother;
A step-son with a step-mother;
A brother with a sister—whether on the father's side or mother's side; whether born at home or abroad ;
A grandfather with a grand-daughter;
A son with a step-sister;
A nephew with an aunt on the father's side (a father's sister) ;
A nephew with an aunt on the mother's side (a mother's sister);
A nephew with a father's brother's wife;
An uncle with his niece;
A father-in-law with his daughter-in-law;
A brother-in-law with his sister-in-law ;
A husband with his wife's mother (mother-in-law), Deut. 27:23;
A husband with his wife's daughter (stepdaughter) ;
A husband with his wife's grand-daughter (step-grand-daughter);
Finally, between a brother and his wife's sister during her life-time.
Jacob and Rachel and Leah serve us as an example of a marriage of this kind.
The general prohibition is against marriages betwixt those near of kin, literally, “flesh of his flesh.” There is no prohibition, for instance, of marriages between a grandson and grandmother, etc., but godly souls would judge that the spirit of the word of God was against any marriages betwixt those near of kin, though the letter of the Word might not forbid them.
Marriage with a brother's wife was forbidden, except in the case of the husband dying childless; then there was a special law for the brother to marry his deceased brother's wife, to raise up seed unto his brother.
The Levitical law confirmed this exceptional allowance of marriages with a brother's wife to preserve the Israelite's name from being put out of Israel (see Deut. 25:5-10. It is on this general ground, that though there is no prohibition against marriage with a deceased wife's sister, I should say that the general spirit of the Word was against it, and when the laws of a country are against such marriages, and where the persons about to be married have to swear, or say that there is no lawful impediment against such marriages, they commit a distinct sin in doing so, which would bring them under the governmental judgment of the Lord, unless confessed and owned.
Marriages with Canaanites were absolutely forbidden an Israelite (Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:3-11). Marriages with Ammonites and Moabites had the ban put upon them, of not being allowed to enter the congregation of Jehovah till the tenth generation. In the case of an Edomite or Egyptian, the children could enter the congregation of Jehovah in the third generation. In the case of Mahlon marrying Ruth the Moabitess, she got into the line of blessing through her marriage with Boaz, who became the kinsman to raise up seed to his deceased kinsman's house (see Ruth). The general prohibition to marry with the heathen around them was evidently to keep them a holy people unto Jehovah, and to keep them from the sin of idolatry. This was pressed on them again in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (see Ezra 9; Neh. 13:1-3).
In the case of marriage betwixt two of different races amongst the Gentiles, there is no prohibition in scripture. Moses married an Ethiopian, and God sanctioned it as a thing of the past, done before he took his stand as a leader of God's people, and stood for him against his objectors; but wisdom, remembering God's governmental dealing in dividing men into nations, after the tower of Babel, might advise not; but there is no prohibition. In the case where the laws of a country forbid it, such as a marriage between a white and a black, a Christian would submit to the powers that be, for the Lord's sake, though as a Christian he has perfect liberty; or else leave the country for another where the laws give such liberty.
Polygamy was allowed under the Jewish law, as we see in Deut. 21:15-17. Divorce was also allowed for minor things than that of fornication (comp. Deut. 24:1-4 with Matt. 19:7-8). The husband could give the wife a bill of divorcement and send her away; she might in such a case, after being sent out of the house, marry again; but if her latter husband hated her, and gave her a bill of divorcement, and sent her away, or if he died, she might not be married again to her former husband.
In contrast with this are the principles of the kingdom of heaven, which the Lord introduced, during His life on the earth. In answer to the Pharisees who asked Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? He answered, Have ye not read that He that made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. The Lord goes back to the terms of God's original institution: He says, Therefore they are no longer two but one flesh; and concludes with the injunction, What God therefore hath joined together, let no man put asunder. The Pharisees then brought up Moses' law, and asked why He allowed wives to be put away, after giving them a writing of divorcement. He said to them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, gave you this precept, but at the beginning it was not so. Whosoever, therefore, shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her which is put away, committeth adultery. Only, therefore, for one cause was divorce sanctioned, and that for the sin of fornication. Marriage was also forbidden with a divorced woman (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-9), and polygamy set aside.
Now this gives great light as to how far we ought to follow human laws on the subject of marriage. If they sanction sin, and divorce for anything less than fornication, the Christian and the Assembly are not to own such acts, as of God, though the divorce is legal. It was legal for a Jew to put away his wife for less causes than fornication, but the Lord's authority comes in, and pronounces such acts to be sin, and as causing the woman to commit fornication. However, a Christian is bound to submit himself to the powers that be, and whenever the laws of the land are not subversive of the authority of the Lord, they are to be obeyed. The magistrates are God's ministers to dispense justice (Rom. 13:1, etc.).
As Adam's word gave the civil sanction to the original institution of marriage, so it is now. God owns the civil sanction of the laws of the land to His institution, though not to subvert it. The Assembly stands, I believe, as God's witness in the matter on His behalf, and represents Him as the One who really joins the man and woman together! Whatsoever therefore, as ruled by the Word of God, it binds on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever it shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Rome has perverted this power to exalt herself, and to act contrary to the Word of God, but the truth of God remains, and the Word of God must ever have a higher authority than the laws of men.
Now if this was all it would be an absolute sin to despise God's ordinances, and not to marry; and, indeed, wherever human regulations have come in, they have always been subversive of moral order, witness the disgraceful state of the convents and nunneries in the middle ages (which were often mere brothels for the priests who had taken the vows of celibacy). We cannot, my reader, despise God's institution of marriage without suffering or running into sin!
Notwithstanding this, however, Christianity has introduced a heavenly life, which, when communicated to the believer, lifts him above the actual necessity of marrying; only even here there needs a special gift of faith to lay hold of the power. It is the life of the heavenly Christ introduced into the believer by the Spirit of God. The believer, therefore, is not only a forgiven and justified man, through believing on Christ who died for his sins and rose for his justification, but, being accounted righteous, and having the life of the risen ascended Christ breathed into him, he has died to sin, and is alive to God in a new condition; he is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwells in him. He is therefore privileged to go forth in the power of this new life, to manifest nothing but Christ, holding the flesh that remains in him as dead by the power of Christ's death.
Now Christ went through this scene unmarried: He now is clearly above this scene of nature. So we, having Himself as our life, and that life communicated by the Holy Ghost, have power given us to walk like Him. Nevertheless, all have not this particular gift (1 Cor. 7:7).
This is why the apostle says, in 1 Cor. 7:1-10, that it is good for a man not to touch a woman, nevertheless to avoid fornication, if a man cannot contain, let every man have his own wife! He says again, I would that all were even as myself; but every one hath his proper gift of God. The apostle's advice, then, to the unmarried, and to the widows, was, it is good for them if they abide unmarried, but if they cannot contain, it is better to marry than to burn with lust.
In regard to the married, the wife was not to depart from her husband; if she did, she was to remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. In the case of marriage with heathens, before conversion, if the unbelieving wife was pleased to dwell with her husband, he was not to put her away; and if a woman had a husband who did not believe, and he was pleased to dwell with her, she was not to leave him. The unbelieving husband was sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the husband, else were the children unclean, but now are they holy. They are set apart for the privileges of Christianity, just like Hebrew children circumcised had the privileges of Judaism. But if the unbelieving husband or wife departed, let them depart. In such a case there was no bondage. Besides, there was the question of the salvation of the unbelieving husband or wife, which was to be considered (1 Cor. 7:10-17).
Those that were married, likewise, would have trouble in the flesh, particularly in times of necessity or persecution. There was a danger, too, of being occupied with worldly things, and of pleasing the wife rather than the Lord (1 Cor. 7:26-28). The apostle gives full liberty; if the young unmarried woman remained unmarried, it was good, she did not sin. Later on in the Epistles (1 Tim. 5:14) he advises young widows to marry. In either case, man or woman, if they judged it a reproach to their virginity to remain unmarried, it was no sin, let them marry. But if a man stands steadfast in his heart, not having necessity, and has power over his own will, to keep his state of virginity, he does better. He therefore that marries does well. He that does not marry does better.
A wife was bound by the law to her husband as long as he lived. If her husband died, she was free to marry again, only in the Lord. Unequal yokes of all sorts, whether in marriage, business partnerships, or, above all, in matters of worship and God's house, were strictly forbidden (see 2 Cor. 6:14-16). The general thought then is, that the original order of creation is owned, as to marriage, now that Christianity is introduced; only put on the ground of redemption. Still, beyond and above this, a heavenly life has been brought into the world, and has risen out of death, and above all this scene of nature. This blessed heavenly life—the life of God in Christ—is communicated to the believer by the Holy Ghost, who is its power and energy. This is able to lift the believing man above the requirements of nature. The teaching of the apostle Paul (in 1 Cor. 7) is founded on this. Marriage honourable to all, and the bed undefiled (Heb. 13:4). It is in no way to be despised; nevertheless, it is good if a man has power to live above the necessity.
In the case of marriage, the will of God is the supreme matter. Is the wife or husband given me by the Lord's will, or is it my own choice? In the case of the person sought being unconverted, the path is plain: marriage is only sanctioned in the Lord. But the will of the Lord goes beyond this: is the Christian I marry the partner God would have me take, or is he or she the object of my own will or choice? The future path in happiness or misery of the married must greatly depend on this. May the Lord increasingly be glorified in his saints by His will being sought in these matters!
As to the actual character suitable to the married ones, submission is the great mark for the wife, love for the husband (see Eph. 5:22-25; Col. 3:18-19). No doubt wives are reciprocally to love their husbands, as we see in the injunction of Titus 2:4; but who loved first, Christ or the Church?
The honourable place that marriage has in the thoughts of God, is that in Eph. 5:22-23, it is put as an illustration of the union existing between Christ the Head of the Church and His Bride. Christ holds a double relationship towards His Church: 1st, He is the Head; 2nd, He is the Saviour of the body. As the Church, then, is subject to Christ, so should wives be to their own husbands.
The pattern for husbands, as to love, is the Christ's love to the Assembly. He loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. Blessed example for husbands! There is first the giving up Himself in love for His Bride, then the daily care of her, setting her apart and cleansing her by the Word, then the final object of doing so. If such a pattern as this was followed, what blessed households should we have! The Word of God would characterize such households. We should not come into houses and find everything turned upside down, no family prayers, wives perhaps ruling the house, the children unsubject, the husband distracted. Thank God for what He has wrought in many families; but is there not room for a vast improvement in the households of many Christians? Is not Abraham's example to be studied, as the first example we have of family religion in olden days; wherever he went, his household altar of worship was set up, and the Almighty God, his God. was called on.
But not only is the love of husbands towards their wives measured by the standard of the Christ's love to the Church, but by that of man's love to themselves. We love and cherish our own bodies; no man hated his own flesh, so likewise as the man and wife are one flesh, so a man should love his own wife. But even this is connected with the thought of Christ's love to the Church; the Church is His body, we are members of His body, of His flesh, of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but Paul spake concerning Christ and the Church. Oh, how marriage is sanctified by being brought into connection with such a mystery!
And, beloved reader, where this truth is owned and acted on (viz., Christ owned as Head of His body, and His Church one with Him by the Holy Ghost), is not this the place where Christ manifests His presence in the midst of the Assembly? The Assembly is Christ's body. Redemption having been accomplished, and the Christ having taken His seat at the right hand of God, the Holy Ghost has been sent down, baptizing all believers into one body, and building them together to be God's habitation. Ought not Christians, then, to be gathered on this simple ground, bearing witness to the Christ, who is thus forming and gathering out the Church to be His bride, when He takes the kingdom on His return. When thus gathered they have the power and presence of the Lord in the midst, to bind and loose. [Matt. 18:15-20]. Ought not such a position to be owned by Christians seeking the marriage relationship. Ought they not to seek the Assembly's prayers on their future married life?
I would just add a word, that obedience is the part of the child, just as submission to the husband is the part of the wife, and love that of the husband. But it is obedience in the Lord, thus showing that all these relationships are put on redemption ground. It is not merely because the fifth commandment said so, though that has its governmental blessing. Obedience flows out from the new place into which Christian children are put, as well as their parents. By baptism into Christ they are put externally on Christian ground; this of course applies to all children of professing Christian parents, whether converted or not.
There is a governmental blessing attached to married couples, continuing in faith, and holiness and sobriety as to the woman in child-birth (1 Tim. 2:15). Supposing a wife had an unbelieving husband, who would not obey the Word (1 Pet. 3:1-6), the Word shows a way how he might be won without the Word, by the general deportment of the wife, whilst the husband beheld her chaste conversation coupled with fear. Dress, or plaiting of the hair, was not the way to win them; the hidden man of the heart, in that which was not corruptible; the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which was in the sight of God of so great a price; this was what would leave its mark. The example of Sarah with Abraham is brought forward in connection with this, who called him lord. Peter likewise exhorts the husbands to dwell with their wives, according to knowledge, giving them honour, as unto the weaker vessels, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that their prayers be not hindered. Thus prayer and the Word are evidently to mark the relationship going on between husband and wife.
The examples of Noah and his family saved, figuratively, through the baptism of the deluge (Gen. 7:1—comp. with 1 Pet. 3:20), and that of the Israelitish households, each being sheltered by the blood of the lamb, and thus set apart from the Egyptian households, have a voice to us today as to the position of privilege and blessing Christian parents have, in connection with their children, in separation from the world (Ex. 12). Moses insisted on the wives and children of the Israelites taking the three days' journey into the wilderness, through the Red Sea, as well as the men, when Pharaoh wanted to keep the former behind (Ex. 10:8-10; 15) Abraham and Joshua are likewise fine examples of parents taking their proper places in regard to their children, and bringing them up for the Lord; as Joshua said, As for me and my house we will serve the Lord (Gen. 18:17-19; Josh. 24:15). Abraham had his family altar of worship in Canaan wherever he went!
In the case of Isaac and Rebekah we have an example of the wisdom of getting, first, the consent of the parents in regard to a marriage. In their after life we see the evil of partiality towards children, Isaac loving Esau, and Rebekah Jacob (Gen. 24, 25:28). In the case of the mothers of the kings of Judah being mentioned, we have an example of the importance of a mother's godliness, and the influence they have in the bringing up of their children (see 2 Kings 14:2; 15:2, 33; 18:2).
On the other hand, we have sad examples of the evils of polygamy, as seen in Jacob's family, and David's, and Solomon's. Sad examples of the evil of unequal yokes, in Judah's family (Gen. 37), and later on in Jehoshaphat's family (2 Chron. 18:1; 19:1-3; 21:1-6); also in the cases of Mahlon and Chilion, the sons of Naomi (see Ruth 1).
May the Lord use this little paper to give a ray of light on this important subject of marriage. More important as the spirit of lawlessness increases, especially so in lands where the law allows divorce for the slightest occasions. The consequence is that all true scriptural government, whether in the nation or family, is turned upside down.
I send this paper out, not as exhausting this subject, but as believing in its importance specially for my younger brethren and fellow-labourers, and not being without encouragement in the sense that the Lord led me to write it, and of having His approval. In days of increasing corruption it is important to have God's principles of truth before us, so that we who are His may be kept from the downward stream of lawlessness and corruption that are setting in on every side.
From the pamphlet Marriage by A. P. Cecil. London: G. Morrish, [no date].