Christian Marriage: Preparation
by Dr. David Allen
The following is the fourth in a series of articles taken from sermons preached by Dr. Allen while ministering at Free Grace Baptist Church, Belvedere in 1987. It is hoped that this material will be of use to parents as they encourage their children to think Biblically when choosing a partner for marriage.
"A pretty face is an attraction, but oh how vain to be governed in such a serious undertaking by such a trifle. Earthly goods and social position have their value, yet how base and degrading to suffer them to control such a solemn undertaking. Oh, what watchfulness and prayerfulness is needed in the regulation of our affections." (A.W. Pink)
George Whitefield, writing in his bachelor days to Benjamin Ingham, said, "I often have great inward trials. Pray that I may be kept in all changes and seeming chances of this mortal life. I believe it to be God's will that I should marry... However, I pray God that I may not have a wife till I can live as though I had none."
Marriage is not to be taken in hand unadvisedly, wantonly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God. The Christian is to approach the whole matter of courtship in a reverent and discreet manner, always in the fear of God.
George Whitefield, when writing his proposal of marriage to Miss. Elizabeth Delamotte, wrote, "...I have great reason to believe it is the divine will that I should alter my condition, and have often thought that you [were] the person appointed for me. I shall still wait on God for direction, and heartily entreat Him, that if this motion be not of Him, it may come to nought. I write thus plainly because, I trust, I write not from any other principle but the love of God. I shall make it my business to call on the Lord Jesus, and would advise you to consult both Him and your friends - For in order to obtain a blessing we should call both the Lord Jesus and his disciples to the marriage - I much like the manner of Isaac's marrying with Rebekah, and think no marriage can succeed well unless both parties concerned are like-minded...I think I can call the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to witness that I desire `to take you my sister to wife, not for lust, but uprightly;' and therefore I hope He will mercifully ordain, if it be His blessed will we should be joined together, that we may walk as Zachary and Elizabeth did, in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. I make no great profession to you, because I believe you think me sincere. The passionate expressions which carnal courtiers use, I think, ought to be avoided by those that would marry in the Lord...If you think marriage will be in any way prejudicial to your better part, be so kind as to send me a denial. I would not be a snare to you for the world. You need not be afraid of speaking your mind. I trust, I love you only for God, and desire to be joined to you only by His command and for His sake. With fear and much trembling I write, and shall patiently tarry the Lord's leisure, till He is pleased to incline you, dear Miss Delamotte, to send an answer to, your affectionate brother, friend and servant in Christ, George Whitefield."
This unemotional and businesslike proposal of marriage not surprisingly came to naught. Whitefield's approach was far from being above criticism; there is a coldness and an aloofness which is unbecoming and which we in the twentieth century can look at and smile at. Indeed, were you to read the whole of the cover letter which he at first sent to Miss Delamotte's parents you would smile even more. He says to her parents, "I bless God, if I know anything of my own heart, I am free from that foolish passion which the world calls Love." Hardly a sentiment that would endear him to his prospective parents-in-law! But for all the criticism we can give for this proposal, he sought to be discreet and sober, he sought the advice of trusted friends, he sought even the advice of her parents. He did all in the spirit of prayer and in the fear of God. Writing to her parents in that same letter he says, "I write only because I believe it is the will of God that I should alter my state; but your denial will fully convince me, that your daughter is not the person appointed by God for me. He knows my heart; I would not marry but for Him, and in Him, for ten thousand worlds." He would not take one step in marriage without knowing the guidance of God. We might smile at Whitefield's naive approach but we too should seek the wise counsel of trusted friends. There should be much prayer over the choice of a future marriage partner.
What is Love?
What is love? How are we to recognise if we truly love someone? What is the difference between love and infatuation? Ephesians 5:25 tells us, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it." Love is to be one of the distinguishing features of marriage. Marriage is to portray to the world the unsearchable love of Christ for the church. It is a parable that the world sees, of that oneness that exists between Christ and the church.
Love is to be reciprocal. In Ephesians 5 the apostle does not lay down that wives are to love their husbands, because he is taking this for granted. The chief feature in that passage is that they are to live in submission to their husbands, and the chief feature of the husband's behaviour is that he is to love his wife. The duty of the wife to love her husband is clearly taught in Titus 2:4. Since husband and wife are to love one another within marriage, it is evident that there must be a caring and loving relationship already in existence before entering upon the married state.
Three Kinds of Love
What, then, is love, and how is it to be recognised? In the Greek language there are three words which are translated into the one English word `love'. Eros is one such word, although not found in the New Testament. From this Greek word we translate the English word `erotic'. Erotic love is that which belongs to the flesh, born of selfish desire, seeking only self- gratification; it is little more than an animal magnetism. It stems from fleshly desires of man's base appetite and it is this erotic love which the world sings about in the sex soaked lyrics of this pop age. This is the `love' which the world glories in, carnal and sensual, and for many marriages this is all that there is from the very outset. Of course, there is a sense in which this natural physical attraction will be present. God has so created man that this physical element will be there. Whitefield's boast that he was "free from that foolish passion that the world calls love" may be referring to this eros element. This point is important because Christians have been guilty of seeking to discount physical attraction altogether. Of course we must not lay as much store by it as the world does, but I do reassure my wife that a pretty face is an attraction. Even although beauty is vain according to Proverbs 31, nevertheless there ought to be some attraction that draws a couple together. Of course this natural, physical element will, for the Christian, come under the sanctifying power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As Christians, surely it is right that we feel more attracted to one person than we do to another?
Phileo is the second Greek word for love. It represents tender affection and fondness. John 21:15, "So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, `Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?'" The Lord is using here the word agapao. "He said to Him, `Yes, Lord; You know that I love you." In his reply, Peter is using the verb phileo. It means `affection' or `fondness'. In verse 16 Jesus again uses agapao and Peter again replies with the phileo verb. The Lord is using one Greek verb for love, but Peter will not use it himself because it expresses the highest form of love that exists. The highest love that Peter will allow himself to express is this phileo love, a fondness and affection for Christ. The Lord asks him the same question a third time in verse 17, and then says to him, "Feed my sheep." When Jesus repeats this question for the last time saying "Do you love Me?", He uses the verb phileo. He descends to Peter's level. This was why Peter was grieved; it appeared to him that the Lord doubted that Peter even had this phileo love for him, and so he replies in verse 17, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love [phileo - am fond of] You." Peter is humbled. This verb phileo is usually translated in the New Testament as `fondness' or `having affection for'; the type of affection a brother has for a brother. Over and above the eros physical element, there will be a longing for each other and for each other's company. There will be an emotional satisfaction derived merely from being in each other's company. If eros speaks of that physical and natural affinity, then phileo speaks of that emotional affinity and oneness.
The Highest Love
Agapao is the third verb for love and is used almost exclusively throughout the New Testament to express God's love towards His Son, the world and the Church. John 3:16, "For God so loved the world": this is the agapao verb. This is the highest form of love that there is. Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." This again is God's love, agapao, which He commends towards us; this unsearchable, amazing and astounding love of God. This is the very nature of God, and agapao is a love which has its source in God. God is agapao. It is deep seated, purposeful, intelligent, a love in which God's entire personality plays a part. This is the same love which husbands are to have for their wives which is spoken of in Ephesians 5. In examining the characteristics of this love we see firstly that "Christ loved the church." This should never cease to amaze us; in spite of her wretchedness, vileness and unworthiness, He loved the Church. In spite of the failings, coldness of heart, and backslidings, He loved the Church. He goes on loving the Church, however much we backslide in the faith; however cold our hearts are, He loves and goes on loving us. A husband is to love his wife in spite of all her defects and failings. This is a vital message for our day when the divorce rate is so high. Secondly, Christ "gave himself for it." Such is His love for the Church that He laid down his life as a sacrifice for her. This agapao love is a sacrificial love which a husband should have for his wife. The highest love that the world can know is this eros and phileo love. There can be natural, physical attraction for each other, and emotional affinity, but the world can go no higher than that. Only the Christian can rise to this agapao level, because it is a love which is based upon and flows out of Christ's love for the Church. When the world so glibly sings and talks about falling in love, it is usually referring to erotic and sensual attraction. On occasions it may go beyond that and encompass emotional attraction, but Christian couples need to have far more than this. They will need the love which sanctifies the first two elements. This will stem from their union in Christ; that sacrificial tender, compassionate, caring love which is prepared to give and to love and ask nothing in return. Falling in love for a Christian is therefore far more than being attracted by a pretty face or handsome appearance.
Infatuation and Love
What, then, is the difference between infatuation and true love? Romantic infatuation is almost exclusively based on physical attraction. The person who is infatuated is deprived of judgment and reason. In fact the word infatuation means, "to turn to folly and inspire with foolish passion." Romantic infatuation is something that most people experience at some point, and therefore they have the problem of knowing the difference between love and infatuation. I would suggest that infatuation and love differ in four main points.
Firstly, romantic infatuation may happen suddenly and without warning, whereas love grows and produces a growing relationship between the couple.
Secondly, romantic infatuation arises from a few characteristics of the other person. The one infatuated knows only a few characteristics of that person and on the basis of those characteristics, which are often connected with physical appearance, they are infatuated. On the other hand, love makes an appraisal of the total personality of the other person. Feelings of love grow out of a maturing relationship with the other person which appraises the whole personality, not merely a few characteristics.
Thirdly, an infatuated person sustains a mental picture of the object of infatuation, a mental image based largely on idealisation. A few characteristics of the person are dwelt upon and a tremendous fantasy picture of the person's whole character is built upon it. The fantasy image will vanish when they learn about the other's faults, weaknesses and sinfulness; whereas one who truly loves another will constantly check their ideas of that person against the growing awareness of their whole character.
Fourthly, an infatuated person tends to have a false sense of security about the romance. It is based upon wishful thinking and there is a compulsive need for reassurance in the relationship, whereas a person who knows true love tends to have a true sense of security in their relationship, based upon a growing trust, affection and mutual concern.
I would therefore advise all young people who feel that they may love someone to give their relationship the test of time and preferably the test of separation. True love between a man and a woman will stand the test of time and separation, whereas infatuation will not stand up to this test. Much watchfulness and prayer are essential.
Finding a Partner
How is the Christian to choose a marriage partner? We have already established that a Christian is only to marry another Christian. In Proverbs 18:22 we read, "He who finds a wife, finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord." Proverbs 12:4: "An excellent wife is the crown of her husband." Proverbs 19:14: "A prudent wife is from the Lord." Such a partner must be sought from the Lord. In finding a suitable marriage partner there must be prayer and seeking. The reason why many Christians find difficulty in this area is that they do not pray and they do not seek. A quotation from Martin Tupper's proverbial philosophy: "Seek a good wife of thy God, for she is the best gift of His providence, yet ask not in bold confidence that which He has not promised. Thou knowest not His good will. Be thy prayer then submissive thereunto, and leave thy petition to His mercy, assured that He will deal well with thee. If thou art to have a wife of thy youth she is now living on the earth, therefore think of her and pray for her." With his finger, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in the newly opened Crystal Palace in London, oblivious to all that was taking place in that opening ceremony guided the eyes of Miss Susannah Thompson to those last two lines from this philosophy and asked her the question, "Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?" This was the first time they had sat together.
The Need for Prayer
In all probability the person whom you may marry is now living on the earth. Are you praying for that person? You may say, "But I don't know their name," but the Lord does. Do not wait until you meet that person; pray now as you will pray then for them. Pray for their sanctification and their walk in holiness. Pray that the Lord in His own time will so arrange His providential dealings that the two of you shall be brought together. And when you do meet with someone whom you feel may be a suitable marriage partner, then follow Whitefield's sound advice. "I shall make it my business to call on the Lord Jesus and would advise you to consult both Him and your friends, for in order to obtain a blessing we should call both the Lord Jesus and His disciples to the marriage."
Much watchfulness and prayer is needed in the regulation of our affections. Pray now for the one whom you are to marry, if indeed you do marry. Pray that your affections may always be regulated by the fear of God, so that when you do meet that person to whom you are attracted, God Himself might unite your hearts in indissoluble and true affection that will grow apace and ripen into the deepest love. Pray now that you might be prepared for that moment.
There must, of course, be a seeking. What qualities is a Christian man to look for in a wife? John Calvin, not romantic by nature, left it to his friends to find a help meet for him. He was too busy preaching! Therefore he wrote to William Farel on the matter and reminded him what to look for. "Remember what I desire above all to find in a help meet. I am not, thou knowest, one of those lovers who adore even the defects of the woman they are enamoured. The only beauty that can please my heart is one that is gentle, chaste, modest, economical, patient and careful of her husband's health." Such a person was found in the form of Idelette Stordeur. What a tremendous marriage that turned out to be! What then are the marks by which a godly and fit marriage partner may be identified?
The Virtuous Woman
Proverbs 31 contains a portrait of a virtuous woman. If these virtues are to be found in a woman, then a woman should also be able to find them in the man. The three qualities that stand out in this chapter are as follows.
Firstly, her reputation. Prov. 31:10, "Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies." Verse 30, "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised." Such a woman is from the Lord and so rare is this treasure that the challenge is given: "Who can find a virtuous woman?" They are not found everywhere, they have to be sought with great diligence and prayed for. Abraham had to send to a distant land to find such a virtuous woman for his son. The first priority is not beauty, for this is a vain thing. The first priority is godly reputation. Prov. 22:1, "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches." There must be that godly consistency and holiness of life. After his marriage Whitefield wrote to Gilbert Tennent, saying; "I married...one who was a widow, of about thirty-six years of age, and has been a housekeeper for many years; neither rich in fortune nor beautiful as to her person, but, I believe, a true child of God, and would not, I think, attempt to hinder me in his work for the world." The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that one who is godly will be adorned with good works (1 Tim 2:10). Charles Bridges writes, "Let virtue, not beauty, be the primary object. Set against the vanity of beauty the true happiness connected with a woman that feareth the Lord; here is the solid basis for happiness." Bishop Beverage said, "If I choose her for her beauty, I shall love her no longer than while that continues, and then farewell at once both duty and delight. But if I love her for her virtues, then when all other sandy foundations fail, yet will my happiness and love remain entire."
Secondly, consider her clothing. Prov. 31:25, "Strength and honour are her clothing." How many are deluded and deceived by this vainglorious appearance that we have pressed before us continually in this age, where beauty and dress are all that behold the eye? 1 Peter 3:3, "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, and of wearing gold, or of putting on apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."
Thirdly, consider her conversation. Prov. 31:26, "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness." 1 Peter 3:2, "...when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear." This shows a mouth which opens in wisdom and a tongue which is full of the law of kindness. The virtuous woman has not only the law of grace in her heart, but also wisdom in her mouth and kindness upon her tongue. Her conversation is seasoned with grace. The unmarried person who seeks a marriage partner is to seek the conversation of one who is wise and kind, chaste and godly. Beware of that unmarried person who cannot speak of Christ and His unsearchable love. Keep well clear of entanglements with such people, whatever their profession of faith might be. Whether they have been baptised or not, beware of those who have carnal and worldly conversation. Seek out a partner whose conversation is pure and wholesome, godly and full of Christ.
The successful marriage is not one in which two ideally matched people find each other and live happily ever after from day one. No matter how carefully one selects a partner, married life is not a perfect thing. If people realised this from the outset, there would be far less trouble within marriage. The most godly couple have their failings, but two such people work on through the years to build that relationship that is aligned with the Biblical ideal. To create that ideal is the work of a life time.
Susannah Thompson, Spurgeon's bride, wrote: "The wedding day was fixed for January 8, 1856, and I think 'til it came and passed I lived in a dream-land of excitement and emotion, the atmosphere of which was unfriendly to the remembrance of any definite incident. Our feet were on the threshold of the gate which stands at the entry of the new and untrodden pathway of married life, but it was with a deep and tender gladness that the travellers clasped each other's hands and then placed them both in that of the master, and thus set out on their married journey assured that He would be their guide even unto death."
Copyright © Family Matters 1997