MARRIAGE IN RELATION TO THE HOLY TRINITY
On the Friday morning I struggled to write the introduction to this sermon, I wondered outside, and I do mean "wondered," not "wandered," for although I did wander outside to meditate, my wandering led to wonderment as I beheld in the western sky a glorious full moon. There she hung in the dark, clear heavens, silver and full, crowned with a translucent halo that encircled her with beauty, and radiated with a fullness so dazzling that only the blazing brilliance of the soaring sun would eclipse her glory. As I gazed upon this natural wonder, I thought to myself, this is, indeed, God's picture of holy matrimony--"fair as the moon, and clear as the sun." Surely, of all human relationships, Holy Matrimony is the most glorious and transcendent.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, seven times God surveyed the works of His hands and said, "It is good." But on the sixth day, when God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils His immortal spirit, God said, "It is not good"; that is, it is not good for man to be alone.
This is not to say that the human individual, separate from a marriage partner, is not in himself or herself a glorious reflection of the divine image, for indeed each one of us is created in God's image. Like the personalities of the Godhead, we each possess an individual personality with spiritual, physical, moral, emotional, intellectual, and volitional attributes. But we, our individual selves alone, and even Adam and Eve in their pristine innocence, fall short of God's glory in one sense; left to our individual selves we lack the ability to fully express Trinitarian love.
The Godhead is not merely individual but also social; that is, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, although individual and distinct personalities, do not exist independently one from another but rather interdependently One with the Others. And the essence and dynamic of this interdependence among the Trinity is love. The Father, Son, and Spirit love one another completely and purely; indeed, God is . . . ; that is, the Godhead is, Love. Therefore, if God's human offspring would be created fully in God's image, then the human being must possess a social capacity to love. And, indeed, to a greater or lesser extent, wherever real love exists in human relationships, these relationships approximate the Divine pattern of love which exists among the Trinity. Aside from the Christian's experience of God's love through the special grace of salvation, all human beings through common grace participate in Divine Love through three human relationships: kinship, friendship, and courtship.
By kinship we mean love for one's family--familial love--such as a father's love for his son or a mother's love for her daughter, which imitates the love of the Divine Father for the Divine Son. A child's love for his/her parents imitates the love of God the Son for God the Father. Through common grace families participate in Divine love when they love one another, but how exceedingly wonderful is it for that family who loves one another by special grace because they have been born again into the family of God!
The second way in which human beings by common grace participate in Trinitarian love is through their relationships with friends. More properly termed brotherly or "filial" love, love between friends, such as that between David and Jonathan, is a non-sexual love which exists between two individuals regardless of their gender. Filial love, or friendship, usually arises when two individuals have similar or at least compatible character, including personality, interests, belief systems, or experiences which make them mutually attractive one to another, and mutually supportive of one another. This mutual character, attraction, and support among friends demonstrates Divine love because each member of the Trinity possesses essentially the same character as the other members of the Trinity; each member of the Trinity is mutually attracted to the others by Divine Love; and each member supports the others in the establishment and accomplishment of all the Divine purposes. How wonderful is it to have friends! A friend loves at all times, and a friend's wounds are faithful! But if one would have friends and therefore by filial love participate in Divine Love, then he must show himself friendly; friendly people have friends; but remember, there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, and no friend will love you more than that friend who will lay down His life for you, our best Friend, Jesus Christ.
But of all human relationships by common grace in love, courtship or romantic love between a man and a woman, especially in marriage, most powerfully approximates Divine love. Romantic love is the first and highest expression of Divine love, for God ordained the love between a man a woman as the primary expression of love in human history and experience. When in the first chapter of Genesis God said, "Let us make man in our image," the Godhead spoke in the plural. Let "us," plural, make "man," which in the Hebrew is here not merely singular but a collective noun implying plurality, "in our own image; so in the image of God created He them; male and female." Thus the creation of Eve is not an afterthought with God, but rather a narrative necessity to emphasize the supreme importance which the Godhead placed upon the original human pair. God ordained His human image as both male and female so that His creatures might demonstrate the social nature of the love that exists among the Trinity.
Please note that, to describe how romantic love relates to Trinitarian love, I use the term "demonstrate" as opposed to the term "reflect." Indeed, like the glorious moon reflects the more glorious sun, romantic love does reflect the image of God. But a reflection is merely passive, and does not really possess or perform that which it reflects. When I gazed upon the moon that Friday morning, I did not gaze upon a static but rather a dynamic phenomenon. Indeed, the moon reflected the sun's light, but she also did more than this. Controlled by the sun's power and moving according to his laws, the moon flew through the heavens with a living radiance which exerted a power so great that it pulled the oceans with it. So also is romantic love; it operates under the sphere and in the power and light of Divine love, but it also actively participates in the Trinity's potency and radiance. How, then, is romantic love, especially marriage, not just a passive reflection of Divine love but also an active demonstration of it?
Romantic love between a man and a woman, according to Paul, should replicate the love that exists between Christ and His church. The nature of that love is fourfold:
- it takes precedence over all other human relationships;
- it requires mutual subordination of individuals one to another by covenant;
- it is procreative in nature, that is, it produces offspring; and finally,
- it involves the adoration of one individual for another.
First, romantic love, like the love between Christ and the church, takes precedence over all other human relationships. When Solomon courted his the Shunamite, his wife to be, his love poetry to her illustrated how Christ courts and woos His bride. Solomon says to his espoused, and through Solomon's words Christ says to His bride,
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. . . .
Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lion's dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse;
thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.
How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments more than all spices!
Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue;
and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,
Spikenard ad saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense;
myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices;
A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!
Indeed, how unsurpassingly beautiful are the words with which the Heavenly Bridegroom woos His earthly Bride to "Come away"! But if the Bride would ride in Solomon's marriage chariot and fly with her Beloved into love's high mountains, she must remember that, if she would be called by His name, she must forsake all others and love Him with a "love Divine, all loves excelling." For as surely as Solomon's purple chariot is paved with love, his wedding bower bed is guarded by the valiant soldiery of Israel; and they all hold swords, being expert in war." The greater Bridegroom, Jesus Christ himself, also warns His bride, the church, that His love does not come in peace, but with a sword that divides all human relationships. Be warned, says He to His bride: I come to set you at variance with your own household, so that your own family shall be your enemies if their love interferes with ours. My sword shall divide "The father . . . against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. If you love another more than you love me, even the child of your own bosom, you are not worthy of my love and cannot be married unto Me." Thus, romantic love, like our love for Christ, must take precedence over all human relationships. And the scriptures imply that this preference for and deference to one's spouse is especially incumbent upon the man.
In imitation of Christ, the bridegroom should leave his father and mother, even as Christ left the divine Father and the heavenly Jerusalem, and cleave unto his bride, even as Christ cleaves unconditionally and eternally to the Church. This implies, as did the original marriage between Adam and Eve, that man should be monogamous; that his love should be focused on one woman. As Solomon adored the Shunamite, so the husband should adore his wife. Though a man may look upon "threescore queens and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number," God ordains that the dove-like eye of only one woman should ravish a man's heart with love's glance. The whore's lips may flatter a man, but they gape wide and dark, and go down to hell. But the lips of a virtuous woman are the scarlet thread which bind a man's affections to Christ. Husbands, love your wives even as Christ has loved the church, and has given himself for it. But surely this holds for the wife as well as the husband, that our marriage bond transcends all other earthly ties.
We should also remember that Solomon, who wrote that most passionate and beautiful Song of Songs, eventually destroyed not only his most wonderful romantic relationship but also his entire kingdom because he loved many women. Romantic love can demonstrate Divine love before marriage if it is pure and singular, but if it violates the purity of Divine love by divided affections, and adulterates its singular focus upon one object of desire, it destroys the Divine pattern and forfeits its participation in Divine love. Love then becomes lust, and therefore becomes evil. If romantic love is to attain its Divine ideal, it must first enter in to a marriage covenant, for God has Divinely ordained marriage as a necessary door through which lovers must enter into His sacred chambers of intimacy, childbearing, and maturity in love.
Marital love replicates Trinitarian love in that they both require subordination to the terms of a covenant; that is, as the Love of the Trinity is bound by the everlasting covenant, so also is the love between a husband and wife to be bound by the marriage covenant. In love the Godhead binds themselves in an everlasting covenant of love which requires a mutual subordination of each to the other. In His incarnation, the Son is subordinate to the Father and the Spirit in His incarnation, having submitted to become a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death. The Son subordinated Himself to be subject to the Father's will and the Spirit's work throughout His earthly life, and even in the agony of Gethsemane and the shame of the cross, He prayed "not my will, but thine," surrendering His will through the Eternal Spirit to offer Himself without spot as a sacrifice to the Almighty Father. But the Father too is subordinate to the Son and the Spirit in the everlasting covenant, manifesting His eternal glory through the Spirit only in His Son's radiant face and delivering all judgement into His hand. Likewise is the Spirit covenantally bound to do the will of the Father and Son, faithfully executing His terms of the covenant by bestowing the elective and redemptive graces of the Father and the Son upon the elect. And thus if a husband and wife would demonstrate the Trinitarian pattern, there must be a mutual subordination of love in the marriage covenant.
And what is the marriage ceremony but a playing out upon an earthly stage of the eternal covenant? Like the Heavenly Bridegroom, the earthly bridegroom woos the virgin whom he loves. Like the heavenly Father, the earthly father brings the bride to the son, and gives her to him. Robed in her spotless gown, the bride typifies the virginal purity of the heavenly saints who are clothed, as it were, in clean white linen; the bride's veil bespeaks her dependence on bridegroom's to unveil her eyes so that she may clearly see him, and he her. The golden circles on their fingers illustrate that pure and eternal love which has neither beginning nor end, and their vows before God and man bind them by a covenant one to another before heaven and on earth.
I take thee to be my lawful wedded spouse, from henceforth and forever, forsaking all others, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, care for, and honor till death do us part. But, today, how thoughtlessly do men and women utter the words of this sacred covenant and carelessly enter into its golden bonds. But what saith the voice of heaven when earthly voices make so bold a covenant as to imitate heaven? "When thou vowest a vow, slack not to pay it; for the LORD will surely require it of thee; better were it for thee not to have vowed, than to vow and not pay." And what can separate the Trinity from its love one for another–
. . . neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come.
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall separate . . .
. . . the Godhead from their love One for Another, for it is bound by an eternal covenant, ordered in all things and sure. So also it should be between man and woman, "What God joins together let nothing or no one put asunder." The Trinity loves One Another and has subordinated their will one to another, making them one by covenant, and so let us as husbands and wives subordinate our will by the marriage covenant one to another that the love which is in the Godhead may be in us. And one more thing should be added here.
Even if a husband and wife enter into a marriage covenant, remain faithful to one another, and thereby through common grace participate to some extent in Divine love, if neither or only one of them is married to Christ by faith, then the love that exists in their marriage will never experience the fullness of Divine love and the ultimate glory of marriage. How could a marriage between unbelievers, or a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, fully participate in Divine love, for love in its fullest expression can be experienced only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit whose first fruit is love? And is not this unequal yoking and the subsequent lack of love in such marriages the obvious cause of our 50% divorce rate in this nation? Undoubtedly, marriages fail and divorce courts are full because young men and women attempt to build their homes upon sand. Sexual promiscuity before marriage almost guarantees sexual promiscuity after marriage and therefore marriage's destruction, and even that marriage which is not cursed by pre-marital or extra-marital promiscuity, if it is built upon the sand, is probably destined to a great fall when the rains, winds, and floods of modern life blow and beat upon it.
Two are better than one, so covenant with a mortal man or woman in marriage if you will, but the better choice is to covenant with God, binding your marriage covenant to His covenant of grace so that you, your spouse, and Christ may weave a threefold cord of Divine and marital love that will not be quickly broken.
Another way in which marital love participates by common grace in Trinitarian love is through its procreational nature, that is its ability to propagate offspring. In fact the first commandment God gives to human beings involves sexuality and the begetting of children: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." This first commandment derives from God's having created both "male and female" in His own image. God's image in us includes, in some mysterious way, our physiological likeness to Christ as "prototypical man," and our moral likeness to God as unfallen or redeemed creatures. However, in the context of Genesis 1, neither Christ's incarnate physical image nor God's moral image is primarily in view. No, the context suggests God's creatorial image stamped upon humanity, and how strongly the subsequent command enforces this interpretation--"Be fruitful and multiply"!
God's word says that, in marriage, two shall become one flesh, and this applies not only to the loving unity which should exist between a husband and a wife, but also to the miracle of childbirth which springs from their union; these two--father and mother--shall be one flesh--that is, the child. As Christians are twice begotten in the image of God, once by creation and once by regeneration, so also a Christian marriage should produce children that are twice born. To the godly mother and father who train up their children in the way they should go, God promises that, when the children are old, they will not depart from this path. The children of the virtuous woman will rise up and call her blessed, and the wise son will keep his father's law as the apple of his eye and wear it as a ring upon his finger. But the foolish child despises his father's word and is the heaviness of his mother. And what makes a foolish son or daughter? Usually, a foolish father or mother.
That father or mother is foolish who does not rear a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, for, except by the intervention of sovereign grace that can make the child twice born, parental negligence will make the child thrice dead--spiritually, physically, and eternally. Weak parents entertain the delusion that a strong love for their child inhibits firm discipline, but Solomon says that such parents actually hate their child. The rod and reproof give wisdom, but parents who neglect discipline, whether it be the daily disciplines of grace in the home, the weekly discipline of worship in God's house, or the loving discipline of the tender voice and the firm rod, will raise a child who will despise his father and bring his mother to shame. Remember that foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.
And what of the parent, adding folly to folly, who meddles with sin? Adam and Eve may be created in God's image and David may slay his tens of thousands, but the parent who falls into sin will beget children in his own image, not God's, and the sword shall never depart from his house. The parent who mocks at sin shall not only provoke his children to wrath, but shall also bring God's wrath down upon the head of his children and grandchildren, for our God "is a jealous God who will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children unto to the third and fourth generations."
Dear parent, love your children as God loves them; discipline them as God disciplines his own, and one day your children will rise up and call you and your God blessed. Though they may wander like prodigals into the strange country, far from the father's house and outside Jerusalem's gates, the promise of God stands sure; the greater Father will bring them to their senses and cause them to say, "I will return to my father's house from whence I came." Let us therefore circumcise our sons and espouse our daughters to Christ, and offer up the firstfruits of our loins to God. Let the love of the Godhead dwell richly in our marriages, and we shall bear children who rise up and call us and our God blessed.
Finally, marital love is a love of mutual adoration. The old song says, "We belong to a mutual admiration society." But marital love, if it replicates Divine love, must transcend admiration and even infatuation, and enter the celestial sphere of adoration. The biblical language which most powerfully and beautifully illustrates this truth is found in the Song of Songs. Solomon speaks adoringly of his bride,
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove's eyes within thy locks:
thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.
Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely:
thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks.
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armory,
whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
Thy two breasts are like two young rose that are twins, which feed among the lilies. . . .
Thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim;
thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.
Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple . . .
Thy stature is like to a palm tree. . . .
Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.
And with equal adoration the Bride speaks of her bridegroom,
My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.
His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.
His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.
His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers:
his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh.
His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl:
his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.
His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold:
his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
No poetry in the history of humankind excels Solomon's expression of the mutual adoration which existed between himself and the Shunamite, and no love upon earth excels that which exists between a Godly man and woman. We know that Solomon's beautiful language and the passionate love which it represented point to an even higher love, the love between Christ and His bride. But that transcendent truth in no way lessens the earthly responsibility that a Godly marriage should not only reflect, but also participate in the very love that exists among the Godhead. Divine Love is the river of water of life, where three crystal fountains meet--the love of the Father, the Love of the Son, and the Love of the Holy Ghost forge together into a mighty river of love which flows from the Divine throne into the hearts of a Godly husband and wife. Heaven's River of Love has been twice poured out into their hearts, making the one a spring shut up, and the other a fountain sealed. Out of their bellies this river of living water will flow, and make their marriage like Solomon's garden, a fruitful Eden where Heaven's wind blows and stirs the sweet fragrances of grace by which they will adore not only their Savior, but also one another. So let us adore our Godly wives, as Christ adores the church.
O, Trinity, make our hearts like seas,
Filled by that river flowing from Thee
The crystal Fountain from above,
A wellspring of Thrice Holy Love.