Marriage – God’s Gift
Marriage was God’s gift to a perfect world. He had said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’, even when that man was without sin and living in holy communion with God. God in kindness saw fit to make a companion for Adam – another human being, not identical to him, but corresponding to him. God said further: ‘I will make him an help meet for him’ (Gen. 2:18) – a help suitable for him. After a brief description of how Eve was formed, we are told: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh’ (Gen. 2:24). This is the product of divine, not human wisdom.
Genesis 2:24 is quoted at least four times in the New Testament; so it is clear that the principle revealed here – marriage is between one man and one woman – is to regulate this ordinance for all time. Certainly the ordinance was perverted, even by good men, in Old Testament times when they took more than one wife. Calvin, commenting on the verse just quoted, draws a parallel with Christ’s reference to unscriptural divorce: ‘Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so’ (Matt. 19:8). After Calvin has applied the words, ‘but from the beginning it was not so’, to the situation where a man has taken more than one wife, he adds, ‘There is no doubt that polygamy is a corruption of legitimate marriage’. Marriage is between a man and a woman.
The same teaching appears in other New Testament verses, such as: ‘To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband’ (1 Cor. 7:2). Again the point is being made: marriage always involves one man and one woman. And the man and woman so united are clear of the sin of fornication within this relationship. The ordinance of marriage gives rise to many blessings for the parties in a particular marriage. There is also the blessing identified by The Westminster Confession of Faith: ‘the increase of mankind with legitimate issue’ (24:2). But those who are married are to take care that their affection for someone else does not outstrip their affection for their spouse; if lust is a problem, let them go to the throne of grace to seek help from God so that they may keep their affection within proper bounds. Adultery is always forbidden, and we have just noted Paul’s teaching about marriage as a means of avoiding fornication.
When God had finished his work of creation, he ‘saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good’. And we can be sure that marriage, given to mankind before the Fall, came into this category of ‘very good’. Marriages in every generation since the Fall have had their problems, but these problems are the result of sin in either the husband or the wife – or very possibly in both, though not necessarily in the same degree. Yet marriage remains a real blessing, certainly when both parties enter into this God-given relationship with sincere respect for each other, and genuine love. Particularly when both parties fear God, marriage ought to be a great blessing for them both; yet even then the poison of sin may make particular marriages less than ideal.
We may also note that, when God would choose a human relationship to use as an illustration for the holy and precious bond between Christ and his people, he made use of marriage. We might turn to Psalm 45, the Song of Solomon or Ephesians 5 to find the comparison brought out at greater or lesser length. Accordingly we should be all the more confident in regarding marriage as an ordinance which God has instituted and which is to be preserved in the form in which he gave it; it is not be tampered with in any way.
Yet mankind has tampered with marriage, and still does – through polygamy, unscriptural divorce, and what is in many ways the moral issue of the moment: same-sex ‘marriage’. Yet, same-sex ‘marriage’ is not marriage, for marriage was defined by God at the time of creation, and divine definitions cannot be changed by rebellious human beings. They may attempt to do so, but the results of such attempts have no validity.
In Paul’s longest reference to unnatural relationships he emphasises how one grave departure from God’s law led to another. He speaks of those who,
professing themselves to be wise . . . became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient [things which ought not to be done] – Romans 1:22-28.
Serious sins in society never appear suddenly. Rather, when God’s restraining grace is withheld, one serious sin leads to another. That is what has happened in Western society over several decades. God has been increasingly ignored, as has his revelation in Scripture. Of course, lying behind this ignoring of Scripture is the determination on the part of large swathes of the church to reject Scripture’s absolute authority, though it has been given to mankind by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and so is completely without error. The United Kingdom, in particular, has had a rich heritage of widespread acceptance of God’s authority as he spoke through Scripture. Now that has been largely eroded and so, as in the days of the Judges, ‘every man [does] that which [is] right in his own eyes’, without regard to the commandments which God has revealed for our good.
The Lord still calls, as he did in Jeremiah’s time, ‘Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls’ (Jer. 6:16). In echoing these words we are not advocating what is old-fashioned; the ‘old paths’ are those revealed in Scripture and they therefore have eternal validity. What is more, these paths are ‘good’; they are good for us as individuals and are good for whatever nation we belong to. And if we listen, not only to God’s law, but also to the gospel, we will indeed find eternal rest for our souls. The sad fact is that the response today is identical to that of Jeremiah’s time: ‘We will not walk therein’. In spite of what God has declared in Scripture, the vast majority of people are determined to follow their own ideas away from God.
Our situation is extremely serious. And the desire of those who fear God, and even of those who have a regard for outward morality, is that he would prevent, for instance, the passing of legislation which would legalise same-sex ‘marriage’. How appropriate that there would be earnest prayer to that end! But supposing God were, in his great kindness, to hear prayer and prevent such legislation passing, we would be left in a situation where we are vulnerable to other forms of spiritual and moral declension.
What Britain needs, and every other part of the world, is the spread of the pure gospel, accompanied by the irresistible power of the Holy Spirit. How appropriate to pray earnestly, by God’s grace, for a great outpouring of the Spirit throughout the world! In desperate times, Jeremiah cried, ‘Ah Lord God, behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee’ (Jer. 32:17). May God grant us such trust in his great power, as we cry to him!
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the August 2013 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.
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