The following is a marriage prayer by Puritan George Swinnock. It comes his masterwork, “The Christian Man’s Calling” and is found in volume 1 of his collected works. Aside from the titles and a bit of formatting on the page, I left it unaltered (and thus some archaic spellings). It is quite beautiful in places and can best be understood when it is read aloud.
A good wish of a Christian couple, wherein are epitomised the mutual duties of husband and wife.
Marriage being a condition which requireth much circumspection, as it is a relation of the sweetest and nearest communion in this world, ordained by our God, both for the increase of his church, and our mutual comfort, and as it is the first relation in nature, and the original of all the rest, upon the wrong management of which the ruin of the other doth frequently follow; we wish in general that our behaviour in it may never be so void of conscience as to turn it into a cross to ourselves or a curse to others, but that our fellowship together may be such that we may both in it have fellowship with the Father, and with Jesus Christ his Son.
Lord, who art the guide of all relations, and the God of all grace, be pleased to grant us affections suitable to our condition, that our whole carriage therein may be as becometh Christians, and such as are married to the Lord Christ ; that as Abraham and Sarah, we may be famous for faith, as Isaac and Rebecca, we may live together in the dearest love ; and that, as that pious pair, Zacharias and Elizabeth, we may walk in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord blameless, and we, walking in company, may walk the more cheerfully in the way which leadeth to everlasting life.
Marriage is a Gift of God
We wish, considering how marriage, though a human conjunction, is of divine institution ; how the Father appointed it, and that in paradise, and the Son hath approved it by his own glorious presence, that the Spirit with its gracious beams may so overshadow our souls, that many Barnabases, many sons of consolation, may be the issue and effect of our conjugal relation.
Oh that we might both reverence this golden relation for his sake whose image and superscription it beareth, and never by our unworthy and unholy conversations deface and defile it ! Those that are honoured by a prince will seek to honour him in their places, if they be ingenuous persons. How different is men’s carriage, answerable to the difference in their conditions ! Lord, since thou hast exalted us, let us never debase thee ; though others whom thou hast lifted up make it their business to cast thee down, and the more helps thou affordest them to sweeten their pilgrimage, the more they abound in profaneness ; yet let thy goodness to us be improved by us for thy glory, and let us be holy as thou, who hast called us to this relation, art holy, in all manner of conversation.
May We Remember our Frailty
We wish that the meditation of each other’s frailty may quicken us to greater fidelity, especially in the immediate concernment of eternity. The next arrow which death shoots may light upon one of us, and our relation will die with us ; though now it shineth pleasantly and refresheth us with its warm rays, yet it will shortly set and never arise more ; and then, oh then, we shall never have the least season to advantage each other’s souls, or to further one another’s salvation.
Oh that this weighty thought might sink so deep into our hearts, that we may pray the more frequently and the more fervently for and with one another, because within a few days we shall never pray more ;
that we may persuade and admonish one another the more seriously and the more affectionately, because -within a few days we shall never do it more ;
that we may in our several places work the work of him that sent us into the world whilst it is day, because the night cometh wherein neither of us can work.
Lord, make us so mindful of our deaths, that we may be the more faithful in our duties ; and whatsoever our hands find to do, in reference to thy praise, and our eternal peace, let us do it with all our might, because there is no knowledge, nor wisdom, nor device, in the grave, whither we are both going.
May We Keep Our Covenant
We wish that the covenant which we have solemnly entered into each with other, before God, angels, and men, may be like that which the Jews entered into with the Lord, Jer. 1. 5, ‘an everlasting covenant never to be forgotten.’ If we forget our God, and deal falsely in his covenant, he will search it out, for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Why should we, as young gallants, enter into bonds, never minding them more till the day of payment be past, and the serjeant of death be ready to arrest us, and haul us to the prison of hell ! Should we, as the harlot, forget the covenant of our God, he would remember it to our loss and ruin ; if it be dangerous to break the covenant of a man, that vengeance from heaven hath often fallen on their heads ; how dreadful is it to break the covenant of a God ! His curse hath broken in upon many a couple for breaking his covenant.
Oh that all our action in this relation might be so answerable to the gospel, that our God may never have cause to complain of us, as once of Israel, ‘ What hast thou to do to take my covenant in thy mouth, seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee ?’ Lord, help us, as persons in debt that are honest, to be so mindful of our bonds, that we may be careful to discharge them in the performance of the conditions, and let the consideration thereof be an impregnable bulwark, to defend us against all the assaults which the flesh or world shall make to draw us from our duties.
May We Seek God as Our Guide
We wish, since by a married condition we are more remote from our parents’ care, which formerly was our haven, and are launched into the ocean of this world, in which we must expect to be tossed up and down with storms and tempests, that we may be diligent to make God our guide, and Scripture our compass, to prevent our perishing.
They who have trouble in the flesh, had need to live after the Spirit. If it be foul under foot, it will be but ill travelling if it be not fair over-head.
How sad will it be to have storms on our heads, and no cover! to have qualms come over our hearts, and no cordial!
to have afflictions, sickness, nay death, in our house, and to have the God of all consolations, and the Lord of life, far from our house !
Oh that, whatever stony or dirty ways providence may call us to walk in on earth, yet we may so walk by rule, as to enjoy a comfortable sunshine from heaven !
Lord, let us so own thee in prosperity,
that thou mayest own us in adversity ;
let us be so careful to keep good consciences,
that in all estates thou mayest be our comfort,
going before us as our cloud by day,
and pillar of fire by night,
to direct and cheer us in our passage through this wilderness,
till we come to Canaan.
May We Love
We wish that our affections may be as close as our relation ; and since our God hath tied this knot with his own blessed hands betwixt us, we may never so much as in angry thoughts, much less in wrangling deeds, do anything which may tend to loosen it.
We are one flesh,
why should we not have one spirit ?
What a dreadful, doleful spectacle is a house in a flame! What a blessed, blissful sight is a family of love! When bells clash and jangle, how harsh and displeasing is their noise! when they keep tune and time, how harmonious and grateful is their sound !
Oh that our house may be a church, and its name Philadelphia, or brotherly love, and that we especially, who are the chief in it, may be like Jerusalem — compact together, and at unity within ourselves ; that all our thoughts of each other may be sweetened with love, and all our words to each other seasoned with love ; and that in our actions towards each other, love, as a simple of a predominant quality, may give a relish and savour to them all !
Our Redeemer, who hath given us this precept, and set himself for our pattern,
his name is love,
his nature is love,
his sacraments are seals of love,
his Spirit is the earnest of love,
his Scripture is his letter of love,
his providences are all written in the characters of love;
his ordinances are love’s banqueting-house, wherein his banner over us is love.
He hath commanded us, as we are Christians, Eph. v. 1, 2, to be ‘ followers of him as dear children, and to walk in love, as he hath loved us.’ Oh then, what love should we have each to other! how close should we cleave in our affections, who are bound together by God himself, both with the bond of religion and relation, and are provoked to it by such loving precepts, and such a lively pattern ! Surely such cords should not be easily broken.
Love is the bond of perfection, and the perfection of all bonds; it is the perfect bond which will tie all our duties and graces together, without which they will fall asunder. ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant is it for husband and wife to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garment; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore,’ Ps. cxxxiii.
Oh that love may be our strength,
wherewith we may bear one another’s burdens;
that love may be our mantle,
wherewith we may cover one another’s infirmities ;
and that Love, like the fire in Elijah’s trench,
may lick up all the water of opposition which may ever arise between us !
Lord, who art the God of love, let thy Spirit so kindle and increase this heavenly flame in our hearts, that we may be always ascending up unto thee in love of desire, and for thy sake be carried out towards each other, with unfeigned and constant love of delight. Though others, who live always quarrelling, curse their wedding-day more than Job did his birthday, and desire a divorce as earnestly as he did death, let our lives be so sweetened with love, that, from the comfort of it, we long the more for our meeting together in heaven with thyself, and amongst all thy saints.
May We be Faithful in all Things
We wish that faithfulness may be the girdle about both our loins, which may keep us close each to other, and to our duties, notwithstanding all attempts by the flesh and devil to part us asunder. Our interests are the same — we are equal sharers both in gains and losses; neither can rise by the other’s ruin, but we stand and fall together. Oh that what wealth our God hath given us through his providence may never be wasted through our prodigality ; but as those that trade in a joint stock, we may be equally solicitous, and, in the use of lawful means, industrious for its preservation and increase. Why should we be so foolish as to steal from ourselves either goods or good name, when the treasure and honour of both are embarked in the same bottom? Surely it behoves us to join in our diligence; ordinary thieves are unrighteous in wronging others, but we, if unfaithful, are unnatural in robbing ourselves.
Lord, make us so faithful about the unrighteous mammon, that thou mayest trust us with the true riches; but let us be more tender of each other’s reputation than of the apple of our own eyes, and to imitate thy Majesty in covering and forgiving one another’s infirmities.
Let neither of our bodies be sinks of uncleanness, but temples of holiness ; learn us so to possess our vessels in sanctification and honour, that the very thoughts of dishonesty may be more dreadful to us than death itself. Why should we make thy house Satan’s harlot? Can we imagine that our Saviour, because his bodily presence was once in an unclean stable, will vouchsafe his spiritual presence in an impure body? Do not we expect that our bodies should outshine the sun in glory and purity at the last day? And shall they resemble ditches for dirt and defilement at this day! Oh that we might never, like an adulterer and an adulteress, either in soul or body go a- whoring from thee, but that all the members of our bodies may be instruments of righteousness, and all the faculties of our souls set apart for thy service, that hereafter both soul and body may be satisfied fully with thy salvation.
May We Help One-Another
We wish that, as head and body, we may conspire for each other’s welfare ; and as we are one flesh, so we might have one spirit in seeking its real comfort, and endeavouring its lawful contentment. Domestical burdens will be more tolerable if we put under both our shoulders ; personal hardships will be more acceptable whilst we conjoin in our help ; the potion which is most bitter will go down the better if each drink a part. Oh that, as fellow-commoners, we might always eat of the same dish, whether sour or sweet ; and since we are fellow-travellers, cheer up one another, to make our journey the more pleasant, till we come to rest in the true paradise ! The head and body do not stand out against each other in terms of defiance. Christ and his church do not rise up in arms against each other in a warlike fashion. Lord, help us in our family affairs to live as those that draw in the same yoke, and in all our civil and natural concernments to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
May We Care for One-Another’s Souls
We wish, above all things, that we may, with the greatest faithfulness, be serviceable to each other’s souls; and whilst others conspire together to indulge their flesh, and like Ananias and Sapphira, to tempt God, we may conspire together to live after the Spirit, and with the greatest advantage to exercise ourselves to godliness, that we may both, like the two cherubims, look one to another, and both towards thy mercy-seat. And oh do thou, who fittest between the cherubims, meet us, and commune with us now, that at last we may meet at thy seat of mercy.
Yet a little while and the light is with us ; yet a little while and we may pray together, and we may fast together, and we may read together ; within a few days the shadows of the evening will stretch themselves upon us, and it will be no longer day with us.
Oh that we might be so far from living like those beasts, who mind little save bedding and boarding together, that we may, like angels, always stand in God’s presence, and join in admiring his boundless perfections ! Lord, let us not, like Herod and Herodias, join together against thy saints; nor, as Herod and Pilate, agree together against our Saviour, lest at last we burn together in the unquenchable fire.
But let us take sweet counsel together, and go often to the house of God, and to the throne of grace in company ; and do thou so assist us, that our house now may be a Bethel, none other than the house of God ; and when this fast knot betwixt us shall be untied by the king of terrors, we may be more closely united to the King of saints, in that place where there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, hut all are as angels, Lathing their souls in the rivers of thy pleasures, and warming their hearts in thy bosom and embraces. Oh, if there be such a help in a fit spouse, what a heaven is there in marriage to thy dear Son ! If converse with flesh and blood yield such comfort, what infinite delight, and unconceivable consolation will flow from immediate, uninterrupted, and eternal communion with thy blessed self! Oh, blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the lamb !
Lord, enable us (husband and wife) to shine as the sun and moon, and our children and servants as stars, so gloriously and powerfully with the light of holiness, that our house may be thy lesser heaven, and that when we have finished our courses, by declaring thy glory in our several relations, and shewing forth thy spiritual handiworks in our whole conversations, we may be elevated to those higher orbs, and heavenly mansions, where we shall never set, be eclipsed, or clouded ; where the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun as the light of seven days ; where the crosses and encumbrances of all relations shall be removed, and the true comfort only of them all remain, yea, where the light of all relations shall be swallowed up, as the lesser celestial lights in the sun, in our great relation to God through Christ. For there ‘ the sun shall no more be our light by day, nor the moon our light by night, but the Lord our God, our everlasting light, and our God our glory.’