A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell
9 min read
9 min read
That we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.Ephesians 1:12
It is wholly right and proper for a bride and bridegroom to welcome their wedding day with a sense of triumph. All the difficulties, obstacles, impediments, doubts and suspicions have at last been — I shall not say, thrown to the winds, for that would be to make too light of them — but honestly faced and overcome. Both parties have now won the most important battle of their lives. You have just said to one another ‘I will’, and with those words you have declared your voluntary assent and turned a critical point in your lives. You know full well all the doubts and suspicions with which a lifelong partnership between two persons is faced. But you have defied these doubts and suspicions with a cheerful confidence, and by your free assent, you have conquered a new land to live in. Every wedding is an occasion of joy, joy that human beings can do such great things, that they have been granted the freedom and the power to take the rudder of their lives into their own hands. The children of earth are rightly proud when they are allowed a hand in shaping their own destinies. And it is right that a bride and bridegroom should have this pride on their wedding day. It would be wrong to speak too lightly and irresponsibly about God’s will and providence. To begin with, there can be no question that it is your own very human wills which are at work here, which are celebrating their triumph. The course you are embarking upon is one you have chosen for yourselves. It is not in the first place something religious, but something quite secular. And so you alone must bear the responsibility for what you are doing, it cannot be taken from you. It is you, the bride and bridegroom, who as a married couple must bear the whole responsibility for the success of your married life, with all the happiness it will bring. Unless you can boldly say to-day: ‘This is our resolve, our love, our way’, you are taking refuge in a false piety. ‘Iron and steel may pass away, but our love shall abide forever.’ You hope to find in another that earthly bliss in which, to quote a mediaeval song, the one is the comfort of the other both in body and in soul. Such a hope has its proper place in God’s eyes as well as man’s.
You have both been abundantly blessed in your lives up till now, and you have every reason to be thankful. The beauties and joys of life have almost overwhelmed you, success has always come your way, and you have been surrounded by the love of your friends. Your path has always been smoothed out before you. Amid all the changes and chances of life you have always been able to count on the support of both your families and your friends. Everyone has been generous to you, and now you have found each other, and have at last been led to the goal of your desires. Such a life, as you know full well, can never be created or entered upon in our own power. It is given to some and denied to others. That is what we mean by divine providence. As you rejoice to-day that you have reached your goal, so you will be grateful that God’s will and God’s way have brought you hither. As you take full responsibility upon your own shoulders for what you are doing to-day, so with equal confidence you may place it all in the hands of God.
God has sealed your ‘I will’ with his own. He has crowned your assent with his. He has bestowed upon you this triumph and rejoicing and pride. He is thus making you the instruments of his will and purpose both for yourselves and for others. In his unfathomable condescension, God veritably gives his Yea to yours. But in so doing he creates out of your love something that did not exist before — the holy estate of matrimony.
God is guiding your marriage. Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power. For it is God’s holy ordinance, by means of which he wills to perpetuate the human race until the end of time. In your love you see your two selves as solitary figures in the world; in marriage, you see yourselves as links in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and go to his glory and calls into his kingdom. In your love, you see only the heaven of your bliss, through marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and to mankind. Your love is your own private possession; marriage is more than a private affair, it is an estate, an office. As the crown makes the king, and not just his determination to rule, so marriage and not just your love for each other makes you husband and wife in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and received it a second time from the hand of the parson, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As God is infinitely higher than man, so the sanctity, the privilege and the promise of marriage are higher than the sanctity, the privilege and promise of love. It is not your love which sustains the marriage, but from now on the marriage that sustains your love.
God makes your marriage indissoluble. ‘Those whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ God is joining you together: it is his act, not yours. Do not confound your love with God. God makes your marriage indissoluble, he protects it from every danger from within and without. What a blessed thing it is to know that no power on earth, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together. Knowing that, we may say with all confidence, what God has joined together man cannot put asunder. No need now to be troubled with those anxious fears so inseparable from love. You can say to each other now without a shadow of doubt: ‘We can never lose each other now. By the will of God we belong to each other till death us do part.’
God establishes an ordinance in which you can live together as man and wife. ‘Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them’ (Colossians 3.18,19). With your love, you are founding a home. That needs an ordinance, and this ordinance is so important that God establishes it himself, for without it life would be reduced to chaos. You may order your home as you like, save in one particular: the woman must be subject to her husband, and the husband must love his wife. In this way God gives to man and woman the glory peculiar to each. It is the glory of the woman to serve the man and to be a ‘help meet’ for him, as the creation story calls it. And it is the glory of the man to love his wife with all his heart. He ‘will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife’, he will ‘love her as his own flesh”. A woman who seeks to dominate her husband dishonours not only him but herself as well, just as the man who does not love his wife as he should dishonours himself as well as her, and both dishonour the glory of God which is meant to rest upon the estate of matrimony. There is something wrong with a world in which the woman’s ambition is to be like a man, and in which the man regards the woman as the toy of his lust for power and freedom. It is a sign of social disintegration when the woman’s service is thought to be degrading, and when the man who is faithful to his wife is looked upon as a weakling or a fool.
The place God has assigned for the woman is the husband’s home. Most people have forgotten nowadays what a home can mean, though some of us have come to realize it as never before. It is a kingdom of its own in the midst of the world, a haven of refuge amid the turmoil of our age, nay more, a sanctuary. It is not founded on the shifting sands of private and public life, but has its peace in God. For it is God who gave it its special meaning and dignity, its nature and privilege, its destiny and worth. It is an ordinance God has established in the world, the place where peace, quietness, joy, love, purity, continence, respect, obedience, tradition, and, to crown them all, happiness may dwell, whatever else may pass away in the world. It is the woman’s calling and her joy to build up this world within the world for her husband, and to make it the scene of her activity. How happy she is when she realizes what a noble and rich destiny and task is hers. Not novelty, but permanence, not change, but constancy, not noisiness, but peace, not words, but deeds, not peremptoriness, but persuasion, and all these things inspired and sustained by her love for her husband — such is the woman’s kingdom. In the Book of Proverbs, we read: ‘The heart of her husband trusteth in her. And he shall have no lack of gain. She doeth him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She riseth also while it is yet night. And giveth meat to her household. And their task is to their maidens. … She spreadeth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. … Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laugheth at the time to come. … Her children rise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her, saying. Many daughters have done virtuously, But thou excellest them all.’ Again and again, the Bible praises, as the supreme happiness which earth affords, the fortune of a man who finds a true, or as the Bible itself calls her, a ‘virtuous’ or ‘wise’ woman. ‘Her price is far above rubies.’ ‘A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband.’ But the Bible can speak just as frankly of the woe which the perverse or ‘foolish’ woman can bring upon her husband and her home.
The Bible goes on to call the man the head of the woman, adding also ‘even as Christ is the Head of the Church’. Something of the divine splendour is here reflected in our earthly relationships, and this reflection is something we should recognize and honour. The dignity ascribed to the man lies not in any quality of his own, but in the office conferred upon him by his marriage. The woman should see her husband arrayed in this dignity. But for him it is his supreme responsibility. As the head, it is he who is responsible for his wife, for their marriage, and for their home. On him falls the care and protection of the family. He represents it to the outside world, he is its mainstay and comfort; he is the master of the house, who exhorts, helps, comforts, and stands as their priest before God. It is good thing, for it is a divine ordinance when the woman honours the man for his office’s sake, and when the man properly discharges the duties of his office. The man and woman who acknowledge and observe the ordinance of God are ‘wise’, but those who think they can replace it by another of their own devising are ‘foolish’.
God has laid upon marriage both a blessing and a burden.
The blessing is the promise of children. God allows man to cooperate with him in the work of creation and preservation. But it is always God himself who blesses marriage with children. ‘Children are a gift that cometh of the Lord’ (Psalm 127), and they should be acknowledged as such. It is from God that parents receive their children, and it is to him that they should lead them. Hence parents exercise an authority over their children which is derived from God. Luther says that God invests parents with a chain of gold, and Scripture annexes to the fifth commandment the promise of long life on earth. But since men live on earth, God has given them a lasting reminder that this earth stands under the curse of sin and is not itself the ultimate reality. Over the destiny of woman and of man lies the dark shadow of the wrath of God. The woman must bear her children in pain, and in providing for his family the man must reap many thorns and thistles and labour in the sweat of his brow. This burden should drive both man and wife to call on God and should remind them of their eternal destiny in his kingdom. Earthly society is but the beginning of that eternal society, the earthly home the image of the heavenly, the earthly family the symbol of the Fatherhood of God over men, who are all his children.
God intends you to found your marriage on Christ. ‘Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God.’ In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but take one another as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.
From the first day of your marriage until the last your rule must be: ‘Receive one another … to the praise of God.’
Such is the word of God for your marriage. Thank him for it, thank him for bringing you thus far. Ask him to establish your marriage, to confirm and hallow it and preserve it to the end. With this your marriage will be ‘to the praise of his glory’. Amen.