Albert Chapman, Buntingford
Sir Alan Herbert, who championed the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937, wrote a book in the 1930's entitled Holy Deadlock, as part of his campaign for the reform of our matrimonial law. Featured in this book is the parson's daughter, who made her marriage vows before the state and not before God. We commence at this point because this article discusses Christian marriage and not just marriage in general. The standards of non-Christians differ, and so do the laws of England, on this subject of marriage and divorce. By the Divorce Reform Act 1969, we have arrived at the position in English law that the sole ground of divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
The Christian concept of marriage is the uniting of a man and a woman for life, Gen. 2. 24; Mark 10. 7-9, There will be no marriage in the life hereafter, Luke 20. 35, and for the Christian there can now be no divorce here below, Mark 10. 9-12. In the Old Testament, we see by reason of the hardness of men's hearts that God tolerated polygamy and divorce; they are against His will and He never blesses them. Polygamy is not practised in the Western world, being regarded as unchristian and detracting from the dignity of women. Again, for the Christian it is chastity before marriage and fidelity within it.
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul deals with the practice of Christian marriage. The first section of the chapter, vv. 1-11, can be subdivided into three parts: vv. 1-5, the marriage relationship; vv. 6-9, the unmarried state; w. 10-11, the permanence of marriage.
The power to procreate is God-given, and takes place within the marriage, for God said, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth", Gen. 1. 28. Again, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge", Heb. 13. 4. In the second section 1 Cor. 7, 6-9. Paul is tendering some advice to the church, his judgments being owned of God and included in the inspired Word. It was a period of trial and persecution, and he suggested that they remain unmarried. Scripture does not teach celibacy (as our other quotations show), but it is unwise under certain conditions to expose wife and children to these privations. Yet in advocating abstinence, Paul writes that if the single members of the church are liable to enter into temptation, "it is better to marry than to burn".
The permanence of marriage is found in verses 10-11. This is not Paul's practical judgment as in the previous section, but a restatement of the words of the Lord in Mark 10. 11, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery". Marriage is intended to be the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
Some Christians, experiencing matrimonial troubles, have sought justification for their action in the excepting clause of Matthew 19, 9. The Lord expressed Himself clearly and precisely when He used the word "fornication", and the writer is confident that He did not use it for the mere sake of variety without regard to the difference in meaning between the words "fornication" and "adultery". In the passage, the Lord was being tempted by the Pharisees, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?". He made it clear that divorce was tolerated because of the hardness of their hearts, although from the beginning this was not so. His answer was a fearless condemnation of Herod, and did not depend on different rabbinic interpretations of Moses given by Hillel and Shammai. He showed that the provisions of the Mosaic law on this subject were not final; they were transitional and not eternal.
In Western marriages, confetti and the cake are much in evidence, but in the Eastern marriage it is the tokens of the bride's virginity. In Matthew 19. 9, the Lord was referring to the woman in Deuteronomy 22 who played the harlot in her father's house, v. 14. It is on this ground that the Lord permitted an annulment of a marriage, but this is quite different from the breaking up by divorce of an established marriage partnership. Divorce on any other ground whatsoever is a defiance of God's law.
The Christian marriage is the proper foundation of family life. The correct and proper basis of such a marriage is a joint devotion to the Lord. Marriages founded on infatuation, physical attraction, social prestige or for convenience, cannot provide the basis. There is tremendous joy, satisfaction and blessing in a family that is yielded and consecrated to God. Marriage is set forth in the Word of God as an illustration of the relationship between God and His people, between Christ and the Church. Adultery breaks up and mars a marriage, and when God's people turn aside from the Word of God this is far worse than infidelity in marriage - it is spiritual adultery.