11 October 2010

The High and Holy Calling of Marriage

From the beginning, when God created man in His Image—male and female, the woman for the man—the divine institution and sacred estate of marriage has been an icon of Christ and His Bride, the Church. All manner of attacks against marriage, therefore, whether outright adultery or otherwise, are implicit attacks against Christ and His Gospel. By the same token, Luther’s defense and praise of holy marriage is really a confession of faith in Christ Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom. Building on the teaching of vocation and office in his explanations of the Fourth and Fifth Commandments, Luther’s catechesis on the Sixth Commandment addresses not only the faithfulness and love of husband and wife for each other, but the high and holy esteem with which all people ought to regard marriage. The following excerpts are from his Large Catechism (McCain edition); the numbers in parentheses indicate the paragraphs of the LC.

"Among us there is such a shameful mess and the very dregs of all vice and lewdness. Therefore, this commandment is directed against all kinds of unchastity, whatever it may be called. Not only is the outward act of adultery forbidden, but also every kind of cause, motive, and means of adultery. Then the heart, the lips, and the whole body may be chaste and offer no opportunity, help, or persuasion toward inchastity. Not only this, but we must also resist temptation, offer protection, and rescue honor wherever there is danger and need. We must give help and counsel, so as to maintain our neighbor’s honor" (202–204).

"But this commandment is aimed directly at the state of marriage and gives us an opportunity to speak about it. First, understand and mark well how gloriously God honors and praises this estate. For by His commandment He both approves and guards it. He has approved it above in the Fourth Commandment. But here He has hedged it about and protected it. Therefore, He also wishes us to honor it and to maintain and govern it as a divine and blessed estate because, in the first place, He has instituted it before all others" (206–207).

"I have always taught that this estate should not be despised nor held in disrepute, as is done by the blind world and our false Church leaders. Marriage should be regarded as it is in God’s Word, where it is adorned and sanctified. It is not only placed on an equality with other estates, but it comes first and surpasses them all—emperor, princes, bishops, or whoever they please. For both Church and civil estates must humble themselves and be found in this estate" (209).

"In the second place, you must know also that marriage is not only an honorable but also a necessary state. In general and in all conditions it is solemnly commanded by God that men and women, who were created for marriage, shall be found in this estate. Yet there are some exceptions (although few) whom God has especially set apart. They are not fit for the married estate. Or there are individuals whom He has released by a high, supernatural gift so that they can maintain chastity without this estate" (211).

"Now, I speak of this in order that the young may be guided so that they desire the married estate and know that it is a blessed estate and pleases God. For in this way, over time we might cause married life to be restored to honor. There might be less of the filthy, loose, disorderly ends that now run riot the world over in open prostitution and other shameful vices arising from disregard for married life. Therefore, it is the duty of parents and the government to see to it that our youth are brought up with discipline and respectability. When they have become mature, parents and government should provide for them to marry in the fear of God and honorably. God would not fail to add His blessing and grace, so that people would have joy and happiness from marriage" (217–218).

"Let me now say in conclusion what this commandment demands: Everyone should live chaste in thought, word, and deed in his condition—that is, especially in the estate of marriage. But also everyone should love and value the spouse God gave to him. For where marital chastity is to be maintained, man and wife must by all means live together in love and harmony. Then one may cherish the other from the heart and with complete faithfulness" (219). (Concordia, CPH, 2006)

(This was prepared as a contribution to Women United for the Book of Concord, a website hosted by my adult adopted daughter, Myrtle, and our mutual good friend, Brigitte Mueller. Their goal is simply to promote the reading and learning of the Lutheran Confessions. They have directed their efforts and encouragements especially toward other women, that the hands which rock the cradle might also be encouraged and equipped to hand over the good confession of Christ to their sons and daughters.)

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