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January 22, 2011

Advice for Marrying and Marriage from the Reformers

Martin Luther, Preaching on Marriage

"How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! I am reluctant to do it because I am afraid if I once get really involved in the subject it will make a lot of work for me and for others. ... I would much prefer neither to look into the matter nor to hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly....

In order that we may not proceed as blindly, but rather conduct ourselves in a Christian manner, hold fast first of all to this, that man and woman are the work of God. Keep a tight rein on your heart and your lips; do not criticize His work, or call that evil which He himself has called good. He knows better than you yourself what is good and to your benefit, as he says in Genesis 1 [2:18], "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." There you see that He calls the woman good, a helper. If you deem it otherwise, it is certainly your own fault, you neither understand nor believe God's word and work. See, with this statement of God one stops the mouths of all those who criticise and censure marriage.

For this reason young men should be on their guard when they read pagan books and hear the common complaints about marriage, lest they inhale poison. For the estate of marriage does not set well with the devil, because it is God's good will and work. This is why the devil has contrived to have so much shouted and written in the world against the institution of marriage, to frighten men away from this godly life and entangle them in a web of fornication and secret sins. Indeed, it seems to me that even Solomon, although he amply censures evil women, was speaking against just such blasphemers when he said in Proverbs 18 [:22], "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord." What is this good thing and this favour? Let us see.

The world says of marriage, "Brief is the joy, lasting the bitterness." Let them say what they please; what God wills and creates is bound to be a laughingstock to them. The kind of joy and pleasure they have outside of wedlock they will be most acutely aware of, I suspect, in their consciences. To recognise the estate of marriage is something quite different from merely being married. He who is married but does not recognise the estate of marriage cannot continue in wedlock without bitterness, drudgery, and anguish; he will inevitably complain and blaspheme like the pagans and blind, irrational men. But he who recognises the estate of marriage will find therein delight, love, and joy without end; as Solomon says, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing," etc.

Now the ones who recognise the estate of marriage are those who firmly believe that God himself instituted it, brought husband and wife together, and ordained that they should beget children and care for them. For this they have God's word, Genesis 1 [:28], and they can be certain that he does not lie. They can therefore also be certain that the estate of marriage and everything that goes with it in the way of conduct, works, and suffering is pleasing to God. Now tell me, how can the heart have greater good, joy, and delight than in God, when one is certain that his estate, conduct, and work is pleasing to God?

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, "Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise."

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, "O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers. or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labour, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight."

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. This is also how to comfort and encourage a woman in the pangs of childbirth, not by repeating St Margaret legends and other silly old wives' tales, but by speaking thus, "Dear Grete, remember that you are a woman, and that this work of God in you is pleasing to him. Trust joyfully in his will, and let him have his way with you. Work with all your might to bring forth the child. Should it mean your death, then depart happily, for you will die in a noble deed and in subservience to God. If you were not a woman you should now wish to be one for the sake of this very work alone, that you might thus gloriously suffer and even die in the performance of God's work and will. For here you have the word of God, who so created you and implanted within you this extremity." Tell me, is not this indeed (as Solomon says) "to obtain favour from the Lord," even in the midst of such extremity?"

John Calvin's Writing on Marrying and Marriage

(On what he looked for in a wife...)

"Always keep in mind what I seek to find in her, for I am none of those insane lovers who embrace also the vices of those with whom they are in love, where they are smitten at first with a fine figure. This is the only beauty that allures me: if she is chaste, if not too fussy or fastidious, if economical, if patient, if there is hope that she will be interested in my health."
(In a letter to a new convert...)
"...I might wish that you were a little more sparing in your approval of celibacy. (Please pardon my naivete, in that I do not hesitate to tell you freely what I do not like.)

I see that your advice is not without a reasonable basis. Those who are involved in marriage are less free for the Lord’s work, and it is expedient for those who want to consecrate themselves altogether to the Lord to be free of this hindrance. Then too, continence itself lends not a little dignity to the holy ministry. Lastly, you do not use pressure or tyranny to force celibacy upon those who hold ecclesiastical office, but you counsel with them simply and convince them of what you judge to be in the best interests of the church.

And yet, although I confess that marriage brings with it many different impediments, and that it is desirable for the servants of Christ to be free of these, nevertheless I do no concede that the impediments are of a sort to call them away from their duty. I would argue, on the contrary, that celibacy has its own disadvantages, and that these are considerable and not all of one type. I am not speaking yet of the difficulty of sexual continence. I say that celibate men are distracted by no slighter and fewer distractions than married men..."

John Knox

Brethren, you are ordained of God to rule your own houses in his true fear, and according to his word. Within your houses, I say, in some cases, you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants, and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have instructed them in God’s true knowledge, how you have studied to plant virtue in them, and [to] repress vice. And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least.

Martin Bucer

Now the proper and ultimate end of marriage is not copulation, or children...but the full and proper and main end of marriage is the communicating of all duties both divine and human, each to other with utmost benevolence and affection.
There should be the most intimate unity in marriage in accord with its divine institution.
Therefore, let Christians be mindful of the purpose of the institution of marriage, and let them remember that to regard for any reason as unlawful what is commended by God’s voice as good—as indeed we read that marriage is so commended—is to impugn the goodness of God.
Let us notice here also the commendation of the wonderful dignity of marriage: God is its author, and he it is who unites those who come together in marriage. What way of life, what regimen of the holiest of monks and nuns enjoys such an encomium? Therefore, let husbands and wives nourish their confidence on this truth, that God has joined them together. Though they complain when any adversity befalls them, he cannot possibly abandon them in the estate in which he himself has placed them, provided they depend upon him. Moreover, let them nourish also their love on this truth, for if God has joined them together in such a way that they become one person and cleave to each other after leaving their parents, the husband should obviously be happy with whatever wife the Lord has assigned him, and love her as his own flesh. The wife in turn must honor her husband for the Lord’s sake, whatever kind of man he may be, because God has given him to her. Each of them, indeed, ought not to doubt that whatever he or she does for the other partner is done for the Lord.

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