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351

ON FAMILY LIFE.

Chapter v. 22–vi. 9.

352

Θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι ὅτι παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἡ κεφαλὴ ὁ Χριστός ἐστιν, κεφαλὴ δὲ γυναικὸς ὁ ἀνήρ, κεφαλὴ δὲ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὁ Θεός.—1 Cor. xi. 3.

“And pure Religion breathing household laws.”

W. Wordsworth.


353

CHAPTER XXV.

CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE.

“Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as the Christ also is the head of the Church, being Himself the saviour of the body. But as the Church is subject to the Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as the Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and without blemish.

“Even so ought husbands also to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Christ also the Church; because we are members of His body. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the Church. Nevertheless do ye also severally love each one his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she fear her husband.”—Eph. v. 22–33.

In mutual subjection the Christian spirit has its sharpest trials and attains its finest temper. “Be subject one to another,” was the last word of the apostle’s instructions respecting the “walk” of the Asian Churches. By its order and subjection the gifts of all the members of Christ’s body are made available for the upbuilding of God’s temple. The inward fellowship of the Spirit becomes a constructive and organizing 354 force, reconstituting human life and framing the world into the kingdom of Christ and God. “In fear of Christ” the loyal Christian man submits himself to the community; not from the dread of human displeasure, but knowing that he must give account to the Head of the Church and the Judge of the last day, if his self-will should weaken the Church’s strength and interrupt her holy work. “For the Lord’s sake” His freemen submit to every ordinance of men. This is such a fear as the servant has of a good master (vi. 5), or the true wife for a loving husband (ver. 33),—not that which “perfect love casts out,” but which it deepens and sanctifies.


Of this subjection to Christ the relationship of marriage furnishes an example and a mirror. St Paul passes on to the new topic without any grammatical pause, verse 22 being simply an extension of the participial clause that forms verse 21: “Being in subjection to one another in fear of Christ—ye wives to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The relation of the two verses is not that of the particular to the general, so much as that of image and object, of type and antitype. Submission to Christ in the Church suggests by analogy that of the wife to her husband in the house. Both have their origin in Christ, in whom all things were created, the Lord of life in its natural as well as in its spiritual and regenerate sphere (Col. i. 15–17). The bond that links husband and wife, lying at the basis of collective human existence, has in turn its ground in the relation of Christ to humanity.

The race springs not from a unit, but from a united pair. The history of mankind began in wedlock. The family is the first institution of society, and the mother 355 of all the rest. It is the life-basis, the primitive cell of the aggregate of cities and bodies politic. In the health and purity of household life lies the moral wealth, the vigour and durability of all civil institutions. The mighty upgrowth of nations and the great achievements of history germinated in the nursery of home and at the mother’s breast. Christian marriage is not an expedient—the last of many that have been tried—for the satisfaction of desire and the continuance of the human species. The Institutor of human life laid down its principle in the first frame of things. Its establishment was a great prophetic mystery (ver. 32). Its law stands registered in the eternal statutes. And the Almighty Father watches over its observance with an awful jealousy. Is it not written: “Fornicators and adulterers God will judge”; and again, “The Lord is an avenger concerning all these things”?

St Paul rightly gives to this subject a conspicuous place in this epistle of Christ and the Church. The corner-stone of the new social order which the gospel was to establish in the world lies here. The entire influence of the Church upon society depends upon right views on the relationship of man and woman and on the ethics of marriage.

In wedlock there are blended most completely the two principles of association amongst moral beings,—viz., authority and love, submission and self-surrender.

I. On the one side, submission to authority.

“Wives, be in subjection, as to the Lord,”—as is fitting in the Lord (Col. iii. 18). Again, in 1 Timothy ii. 11, 12, the apostle writes: “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion,” or (as the word may rather signify) “to act independently of the man.” Were these directions temporary and occasional? 356 Were they due, as one hears it suggested, to the uneducated and undeveloped condition of women in the apostle’s time? Or do they not affirm a law that is deeply seated in nature and in the feminine constitution? The words of 1 Corinthians xi. 2–15 show that, in the apostle’s view of life, this subordination is fundamental. “The head of woman is the man,” as “the head of every man is the Christ” and “the head of Christ is God.” “The woman,” he says, “is of the man,” and “was created because of the man.” Whether these sentences square with our modern conceptions or not, there they stand, and their import is unmistakable.139139   See Dr. Maclaren’s admirable words on this subject in Colossians and Philemon (Expositor’s Bible), pp. 336–40; and Dr. Dale’s Lectures on Ephesians, Lect. xix., “Wives and Husbands.” They teach that in the Divine order of things it is the man’s part to lead and rule, and the woman’s part to be ruled. But the Christian woman will not feel that there is any loss or hardship in this. For in the Christian order, ambition is sin. To obey is better than to rule. She remembers who has said: “I am amongst you as he that serveth.” The children of the world strive for place and power; but “it shall not be so amongst you.”

Such subordination implies no inferiority, rather the opposite. A free and sympathetic obedience—which is the true submission—can only subsist between equals. The apostle writes: “Children, obey; ... Servants, obey” (vi. 1, 5); but “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The same word denotes submission within the Church, and within the house. It is here that Christianity, in contrast with Paganism, and notably with Mohammedanism, raises the weaker sex to honour. In soul and destiny it 357 declares the woman to be man, endowed with all rights and powers inherent in humanity. “In Christ Jesus there is no male and female,” any more than there is “Jew and Greek” or “bond and free.” The same sentence which broke down the barriers of Jewish caste, and in course of time abolished slavery, condemned the odious assumptions of masculine pride. It is one of the glories of our faith that it has enfranchised our sisters, and raises them in spiritual calling to the full level of their brothers and husbands. Both sexes are children of God by the same birthright; both receive the same Holy Spirit, according to the prediction quoted by St Peter on the day of Pentecost: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.... Yea, on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour out of my Spirit, saith the Lord” (Acts ii. 17, 18). This one point of headship, of public authority and guidance, is reserved. It is the point on which Christ forbids emulation amongst His people.

Christian courtesy treats the woman as “the glory of the man”; it surrounds her from girlhood to old age with protection and deference. This homage, duly rendered, is a full equivalent for the honour of visible command. When, as it happens not seldom in the partnership of life, the superior wisdom dwells with the weaker vessel, the golden gift of persuasion is not wanting, by which the official ruler is guided, to his own advantage, and his adviser accomplishes more than she could do by any overt leadership. The chivalry of the Middle Ages, from which the refinement of European society takes its rise, was a product of Christianity grafted on the Teutonic nature. Notwithstanding the folly and excess that was mixed with it, there was a beautiful reverence in the old knightly service and 358 championship of women. It humanized the ferocity of barbarous times. It tamed the brute strength of warlike races and taught them honour and gentleness. Its prevalence marked a permanent advance in civilization.

Shall we say that this law of St Paul is that laid down specifically for Christian women? is it not rather a law of nature—the intrinsic propriety of sex, whose dictates are reinforced by the Christian revelation? The apostle takes us back to the creation of mankind for the basis of his principles in dealing with this subject (ver. 31). The new commandments are the old which were in the world from the beginning, though concealed and overgrown with corruption. Notwithstanding the debasement of marriage under the non-Christian systems, the instincts of natural religion taught the wife her place in the house and gave rise to many a graceful and appropriate custom expressive of the honour due from one sex to the other. So the apostle regarded the man’s bared and cropped head and the woman’s flowing tresses as symbols of their relative place in the Divine order (1 Cor. xi. 13–15). These and such distinctions—between the dignities of strength and of beauty—no artificial sentiment and no capricious revolt can set aside, while the world stands. St Paul appeals to the common sense of mankind, to that which “nature itself teaches,” in censuring the forwardness of some Corinthian women who appeared to think that the liberty of the gospel released them from the limitations of their nature.

Some earnest promoters of women’s rights have fallen into the error that Christianity, to which they owe all that is best in their present status, is the obstacle in the way of their further progress. It is an 359 obstacle to claims that are against nature and against the law of God,—claims only tolerable so long as they are exceptional. But the barriers imposed by Christianity, against which these people fret, are their main protection. “The moment Christianity disappears, the law of strength revives; and under that law women can have no hope except that their slavery may be mild and pleasant.” To escape from the “bondage of Christian law” means to go back to the bondage of paganism.

“As unto the Lord” gives the pattern and the principle of the Christian wife’s submission. Not that, as Meyer seems to put it, the husband in virtue of marriage “represents Christ to the wife.” Her relation to the Lord is as full, direct, and personal as his. Indeed, the clause inserted at the end of verse 23 seems expressly designed to guard against this exaggeration. The qualification that Christ is “Himself Saviour of the body,” thrown in between the two sentences comparing the marital headship to that which Christ holds towards the Church, has the effect of limiting the former.140140   In verse 24 St Paul resumes with ἀλλά, the but of opposition and not mere contrast, indicating a case where the claims of husband and Saviour may, conceivably, be in competition. The subjection of the Christian wife to her husband reserves for Christ the first place in the heart and the undiminished rights of Saviourship. St Paul indicates a real, and not unfrequent danger. The husband may eclipse Christ in the wife’s soul, and be counted as her all in all. Her absorption in him may be too complete. Hence the brief guarding clause: “He Himself [and no other] Saviour of the body [to which all believers alike belong].” As the Saviour of the Church, Christ 360 holds an unrivalled and unqualified lordship over every member of the same.

“Nevertheless, as the Church is subject to the Christ, so also wives [should be] to their husbands in everything” (ver. 24). Again, in verse 33: “Let the wife see that she fear her husband”—with the reverent and confiding fear which love makes sweet. As the Christian wife obeys the Lord Christ in the spiritual sphere, in the sphere of marriage she is subject to her husband. The ties that bind her to Christ, bind her more closely to the duties of home. These duties illustrate for her the submissive love that Christ’s people, and herself as one of them, owe to their Divine Head. Her service in the Church, in turn, will send her home with a quickened sense of the sacredness of her domestic calling. It will lighten the yoke of obedience; it will check the discontent that masculine exactions provoke; and will teach her to win by patience and gentleness the power within the house that is her queenly crown.

II. The apostle alludes to submission as the wife’s duty; for she might, possibly, be tempted to think this superseded by the liberty of the children of God. Love he need not enjoin upon her; but he writes: “Husbands, love your wives, even as the Christ also loved the Church and gave up Himself for her” (comp. Col. iii. 18, 19).

The danger of selfishness lies on the masculine side. The man’s nature is more exacting; and the self-forgetfulness and solicitous affection of the woman may blind him to his own want of the truest love. Full of business and with a hundred cares and attractions lying outside the domestic circle, he too readily forms habits of self-absorption and learns to make his wife 361 and home a convenience, from which he takes as his right the comfort they have to give, imparting little of devotion and confidence in return. This lack of love denies the higher rights of marriage; it makes the wife’s submission a joyless constraint. Along with this selfishness and the uneasy conscience attending it, there supervenes sometimes an irritability of temper that chafes over domestic troubles and makes a grievance of the most trifling mishap or inadvertence, ignoring the wife’s patient affection and anxiety to please. Too often in this way husbands grow insensibly into family tyrants, forgetting the days of youth and the kindness of their espousals. “There are many,” says Bengel (on this point unusually caustic), “who out of doors are civil and kind to all; when at home, toward their wives and children, whom they have no need to fear, they freely practise secret bitterness.”

“Love your wives, even as the Christ loved the Church.” What a glory this confers upon the husband’s part in marriage! His devotion pictures, as no other love can, the devotion of Christ to His redeemed people. His love must therefore be a spiritual passion, the love of soul to soul, that partakes of God and of eternity. Of the three Greek words for love,—eros, familiar in Greek poetry and mythology, denoting the flame of sexual passion, is not named in the New Testament; philia, the love of friendship, is tolerably frequent, in its verb at least; but agapé absorbs the former and transcends both. This exquisite word denotes love in its spiritual purity and depth, the love of God and of Christ, and of souls to each other in God. This is the specific Christian affection. It is the attribute of God who “loved the world and gave His Son the Only-begotten,” of “the Christ” who “loved the Church and gave up 362 Himself for her.” Self-devotion, not self-satisfaction, is its note. Its strength and authority it uses as material for sacrifice and instruments of service, not as prerogatives of pride or titles to enjoyment. Let this mind be in you, O husband, toward your wife, which was also in Christ Jesus, who was meek and lowly in heart, counting it His honour to serve and His reward to save and bless.

From verse 26 we gather that Christ is the husband’s model, not only in the rule of self-devotion, but in the end toward which that devotion is directed: “that He might sanctify the Church,—that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle,—that she might be holy and without blemish.” The perfection of the wife’s character will be to the religious husband one of the dearest objects in life. He will desire for her that which is highest and best, as for himself. He is put in charge of a soul more precious to him than any other, over which he has an influence incomparably great. This care he cannot delegate to any priest or father-confessor. The peril of such delegation and the grievous mischiefs that arise when there is no spiritual confidence between husband and wife, when through unbelief or superstition the head of the house hands over his priesthood to another man, are painfully shown by the experience of Roman Catholic countries. The irreligion of laymen, the carelessness and unworthiness of fathers and husbands are responsible for the baneful influences of the confessional. The apostle bade the Corinthian wives, who were eager for religious knowledge, to “ask their husbands at home” (1 Cor. xiv. 35). Christian husbands should take more account of their office than they do; they should not be strangers to the spiritual trials and experiences of the heart so 363 near to them. It might lead them to walk more worthily and to seek higher religious attainments, if they considered that the shepherding of at least one soul devolves upon themselves, that they are unworthy of the name of husband without such care for the welfare of the soul linked to their own as Christ bears toward His bride the Church. Those who have no father or husband to look to, or who look in vain to this quarter for spiritual help, St Paul refers, beside the light and comfort of Scripture and the public ministry and fellowship of the Church, to the “aged women” who are the natural guides and exemplars of the younger in their own sex (Titus ii. 3–5).

The selfishness of the stronger sex, supported by the force of habit and social usage, was hard to subdue in the Greek Christian Churches. Through some eight verses St Paul labours this one point. In verse 28 he adduces another reason, added to the example of Christ, for the love enjoined. “So ought men indeed to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” The “So” gathers its force from the previous example. In loving us Christ does not love something foreign and, as it were, outside of Himself. “We are members of His body” (ver. 30). It is the love of the Head to the members, of the Son of man to the sons of men, whose race-life is founded in Him. Jesus Christ laid it down as the highest law, under that of love to God: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” His love to us followed this rule. His life was wrapped up in ours. By such community of life self-love is transfigured, and exalted into the purest self-forgetting.

Thus it is with true marriage. The wedding of a human pair makes each the other’s property. They 364 are “one flesh” (ver. 31); and so long as the flesh endures there remains this consciousness of union, whose violation is deadly sin. As the Church is not her own, nor Christ His own since He became man with men, so the husband and wife are no longer independent and self-complete personalities, but incorporated into a new existence common to both. Their love must correspond to this fact. If the man loves himself, if he values his own limbs and tends and guards from injury his bodily frame (ver. 29), he must do the same equally by his wife; for her life and limbs are as a part of his own. This the apostle lays down as an obvious duty. Nature teaches the obligation, by every manly instinct.

The saying the apostle quotes in verse 31 dates from the origin of the human family; it is taken from the lips of the first husband and father of the race, while as yet unstained by sin (Gen. ii. 23, 24). Christ infers from it the singleness and indelibility of the marriage covenant. But this doctrine, natural as it is, was not inferred by natural religion. The cultivated Greek took a wife for the production of children. Her rights put no restriction upon his appetite. Love was not in the marriage contract. If she received the maintenance due to her rank and the mistress-ship of the house, and was the mother of his lawful children, she had all that a free-born woman could demand. The slave-woman had no rights. Her body was at her owner’s disposal. Nothing in Christianity appeared more novel and more severe, in comparison with the dissolute morals of the time, than the Christian view of marriage. Even Christ’s Jewish disciples seemed to think the state of wedlock intolerable under the condition He imposed. This want of reverence and 365 constancy between the sexes was a main cause of the degeneracy of the age. All virtues disappear with this one. Roman manliness and uprightness, Greek courtesy and courage, filial piety, civic worth, loyalty in friendship—the qualities that once in a high degree adorned the classic nations, were now rare amongst men. In the most exalted ranks infamous vices flourished; and purity of life was a cause for odium and suspicion.

Amidst this seething mass of corruption the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus created new hearts and new homes. It kindled a pure fire on the desecrated hearth. It taught man and woman a chaste love; and their alliances were formed “in sanctification and honour, not in the passion of lust as it is with the Gentiles who know not God” (1 Thess. iv. 3–6). Every Christian house, thus based on an honourable and religious union, became the centre of a leaven that wrought upon the corrupt society around. It held forth an example of wedded loyalty and domestic joy beautiful and strange in that loveless Pagan world. Children grew up trained in pure and gentle manners. From that hour the hope of a better day began. The influence of the new ideal, filtrating everywhere into the surrounding heathenism and assimilating even before it converted the hostile world, raised society, though gradually and with many relapses, from the extreme debasement of the age of the Cæsars. Never subsequently have the morals of civilized mankind sunk to a level quite so low. The Christian conception of love and marriage opened a new era for mankind.


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