George Swinnock on the Need for Godliness in Marriage.
In Part II, chapter 3 of The Christian Man’s Calling, Swinock argues that married life must be centered upon a right relationship to God in Jesus Christ. He refers to this as “religion”. He shows that marriage apart from Christ will be a sorrow, whether soon or later. And thus, one must make godliness the goal of the marriage. Indeed, the best hope for joy in the marriage is godliness.
First, marriage will be a sorrow without Christ:
Marriage is the sowing of dissension oftentimes, being separated from religion. The houses of such persons are, as one wittily observed, but as fencing schools, wherein the two sexes seem to have met together for nothing to play the prizes and try masteries. The fire of passion reigneth in the man, and the fire of pride rageth in the woman; and the fire of contention between both. It is the want of godliness in this relation which maketh many married persons look on their matrimonial covenant as a dog doth on his chain, and a prisoner on his fetters, snarling and striving to break it in sunder, and set themselves at liberty.
The Christian Man’s Calling, Collected Works of George Swinock, volume 1, 465. And:
They who marry without godliness marry without God. The Spanish proverb hat a truth in it, that there is more required to marriage than two pairs of legs and one pair of sheets.
For those who think that godliness is perhaps not of such great importance for marriage, Swinock presents four arguments: (1) The dignity of marriage: (a) it was given by God, and (b) was instituted before the Fall. (2) Marriage is a fail thing and will be ended by death. (3) Marriage promises must be kept. (4) A marriage will suffer through many sorrows.
I. Consider the dignity of marriage.
A. First, marriage is a divine institute:
We may say, all marriages are made in heaven; it is true in this, as well in other respects, that marriage came down from heaven.
B. Second, marriage came before the Fall:
This relation was instituted in man’s state of innocency. The season speaketh much to the dignity of the action. Man struck a covenant with a woman before he broke his covenant with God. His was married to a wife before he was marred by the wicked one.
C. Application: Thus, then leads to the application: If marriage is based upon such a dignity, then the conduct of our marriage should match the dignity of its beginning.
II. Marriage is a fragile thing.
A. Consider the frailty of marriage: “[D]eath will untie this fast, and this relation will die with thee. That hand which dissolveth the union betwixt thy body and thy soul, will dissolve the union betwixt husband and wife” (467).
B. Here he gives this charge:
Reader, art thou a husband? Consider that within a few days God will take away from thee the delight of thine eyes with a stroke; thy voice ere long will not be, Where is my wife? Or, Call your mother or mistress, to a child or a servant. But, alas! She is dead! And like Abraham’s “Where shall I have a place to bury my dead out of my sight? And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. And then if thou reflectest upon thy carriage toward her, and conversation with her, how thou didst live with her without God, often wrangling, but seldom or never praying together; often contriving how to increase your temporal goods, but never conspiring together how to further your everlasting good, then surely thou wil have cause to cry out, Alas! My poor wife, where art thou housed in the other world? And to mourn and to weep for indeed, and for thyself too. Will she not, thinkest thou, say to thee, when she meets thee at the great day, as Ziphorah to Moses, A bloody husband thou hast been to me?
Reader, if thou art a wife, the next time thou lookest on thy loving husband, consider thyself: This dearly beloved husband of min, in whose company I have had such content and comfort, must ere long be separated from me; those ruddy lips which have so often kissed me will be pale; that countenance which hat so often smiled on me, will be wan and ghastly; those arms which have so often embraced will hang down; that whole body will ere long be food for worms, and crumble into dust; and shall I make it my business only to please his palate and feed his flesh and to live with him as brutes do together, minding nothing but carnal pleasure? Or shall I not rather provoke him to love and good works, meekly persuade him to mind piety, and ot pray with me, and to provide for death and judgment, that we may live together as fellow-heirs and at last meet together in the blessed inheritance?
…Oh it is happy when a dying husband can say to his yoke-fellow, Wife, live, remember our holy conversation and sweet communion with the blessed God, and farewell, till I shall meet thee in heaven.
III. Marriage is a covenant before God.
Third, consider your covenant and engagement each to other, for which God will bring you to judgment. Marriage promises must be performed:
Husbands and wives have engaged themselves each to the other, of which covenants God is a witness, and he keeps the bonds, and therefore it behooves them not to break them. The marriage covenant is called a covenant of God ….
IV. Marriage will cross through many sorrows
Consider the crosses that attend a married condition. Sin at first turned the fruitful earth into briers, and it turneth every estate in brambles. A married condition is comfortable, but yet, like the bee, it hath its sting as well as its honey; as the rose, it hath many prickles as well as some sweetness….[There will be all sorts of pains from one’s spouse, from the children, from finances, from illness.] [H]ow is it possible that these burdens should be borne with any comfort or patience, if married person do not make religion their business in this relation?
Reader, as a prisoner may make his fetters more easy by lining them with soft wool, so mayest thou make the cares and crosses incident to this condition much more easy and tolerable by godliness. Some married person have many afflictions, yet have undergone them with much cheerfulness; but truly piety was the bladder which preserved them from sinking, and kept their heads above water. Grace alone, like the wood whihc Moses cast in the waters of Marah, can make these bitter waters sweet adn pleasant.
….The Christian, by his spiritual alacrity, may lighten his heaviest loads; and through piety, which is his spiritual strength, walk cheerfully under the greatest pressures. I must tell thee it is godliness alone which can teach thee, as a bird in a hedge, to sing and be cheerful in the midst of those thorns and briers, those troubles which in this estate surround thee.