ALL Christians must ever account those two persons, whoever they may have been, highly favoured and blessed, at whose marriage our Divine Saviour was present. To have one distinguished for worldly honour, to have an earthly king at our wedding, we should, most of us, I suppose, count a very high honour. But this bride and bridegroom had with them the King of heaven, they had with them Him by whom all things were made, and by whose power all things are held together, in that boundless universe, that sea of worlds; of which we are able to discern no limits. The Lord of all these vouchsafed to be present as a guest with them, His glories being veiled in the form of man, of a man of low estate, and poor. He came there teaching us to be ever ready, after His example, to rejoice with them that rejoice. He came there full of kindness and favour towards them, willing to exert His Almighty power to bless them and promote their joy.
We, as baptized Christians, are very members of His flesh and bone; can we doubt then, that, if we call Him with our whole heart, He also will come to our weddings, seeing He has shown such love to us, having thus knit us to Himself? But how are we to bid Him to our weddings, how are we to obtain His Divine presence and blessing, at that time of our deepest earthly joy? The Church teaches us in the first place, that we must seek Him by celebrating our marriages in His house, the Lord's house, where He vouchsafes to be present with His holy angels; and before His appointed priests, whom He has commissioned, like His disciples at first, to bless in His name.
To come to church, to present yourself before His priest, is one outward means of seeking Christ's presence and blessing at a marriage. There is yet another way, of a still more sacred and efficacious nature, of which I will not now speak particularly.
But the point on which I would now insist is this, that no outward sign or ordinance, however holy and Divine, has any power or life in it, as a Christian ordinance, unless there be a corresponding faith on the part of those to whom it is applied.
It is indeed one of the most sad and alarming proofs of the grievous and deep-seated corruption of our unhappy country, that some now openly renounce Christ at their marriage, Will not even pretend to bid Him thereto, and delight to be married as heathens. But while we mourn over their blindness and impiety, let us well remember, what I have already said, that it profits men little indeed, to draw near to Him outwardly, by going to His house at the time of marriage; unless the heart be brought near Him by a right faith. But what special faith, it may be asked, is required of us as connected with holy Matrimony, in order that we may really receive therein the blessings bestowed upon believers? For in all the ordinances of the Christian religion, besides that general faith in the articles of the Creed which is always required of us, we are bound especially to exercise our faith upon those particular doctrines or promises which are connected with the Sacraments or ordinances of which we are then receivers. Thus a person who receives Baptism, is specially to believe that he is born again, and that his sins are washed away in that Sacrament; in Confirmation, in like manner, that he does thereby receive the Holy Ghost, to strengthen him; and in the holy Communion one must above all things believe Christ's sacrifice, and real presence, and that the faithful do verily and indeed eat His flesh, and drink His blood, in those holy and awful mysteries.
Somewhat in the same way, when our Blessed Lord cured persons in the days of His flesh, He, for the most part, used to require specially a faith that He had power to heal.
When two blind men were following, seeking the gift of sight, He said, "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" This was the special, the particular faith then required of them. And thus, in holy Matrimony, one who is married as a Christian, is required not only to believe the articles of the Creed in general, but specially to exercise his faith at that time, on that particular divine and mysterious truth which the Holy Spirit teaches us is connected with marriage.
If a person is married, looking upon the services as no more than a proper ceremony appointed by law, he is, one might almost say, married as an unbeliever. To him at least there is nothing peculiarly Christian in marriage But the whole marriage ritual of our Church plainly sets marriage before us in quite a different light from this.
The very intervention of a priest signifies that it is to us a sacred and Divine ordinance; for in all the rites of our holy religion, Christian ministers act not by their own powers or holiness, but as bearing the commission and authority of our God and Saviour. So that it is, in fact, from the Lord we receive the Holy Spirit to regenerate us at Baptism, and to strengthen us at Confirmation; it is from the Lord we receive His own body and blood, as our spiritual meat and drink in the Lord's Supper, and not of course from the officiating minister. And thus in like manner in marriage, when the priest dictates and receives the promises, when he joins the hands, and pronounces the man and woman to be man and wife together, he does this, as though God did it by him. The very words of the Marriage Service show this; for as soon as the priest has joined the right hands of the man and woman, he is directed to say, "Those whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Clearly showing, that when he joined their hands, we are to believe that God joined them by him.
Thus, in the first place, our Church requires us to believe, that as God at first brought Eve to Adam, so now, whenever a Christian man and woman are joined together in marriage, it is He who joins them. He Himself makes them one, and forbids that any should ever separate them. Still, all this is no more than a pious Israelite believed before the light of the Gospel shone upon the world. We have not yet come to the special mystery which the Church teaches out of the Gospel concerning Matrimony, and holds forth to us in the marriage service as the then special object of our faith.
But observe how we are again and again, in the course of the Marriage Service, taught that they who are married are made one; after the same manner in which the Church is made one with Christ, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh. This, then, the mystical union of Christ and His Church, is especially the great mystery or Secret of God's love to us, which the Church makes the object of our faith in marriage. In the exhortation at the beginning of the service we are taught, that marriage signifies unto us "the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church." And then, after this, in one of the prayers appointed to be read after we have gone up to the altar, we are taught to exercise this faith, by addressing God as Him "who has consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and His Church." And again, we pray that "the man may love his wife according to God's Word, as Christ did love His spouse the Church; who gave Himself for it, loving and cherishing it even as His own flesh." And in the Scripture lessons appointed to be read at the conclusion of the service, if there be no sermon declaring the duty of man and wife, we find, in the first place, that passage out of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, in which this great mysterious doctrine is set forth by the Holy Ghost, as the chief ground and foundation of the higher sense of duty in this relationship which becomes Christians: "Husbands," saith the Holy Ghost, "love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself."
And, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. Now the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and He is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."
It cannot be doubted then, that the Church, in her Marriage Service, sets forth the great mysterious truth of Christ's marriage and union with His Church, as the chief doctrine which Christians are to believe with regard to Matrimony. Whence it follows, that if this doctrine be not received, the marriage can hardly be said to be really a Christian marriage; at least the true faith of a Christian, touching marriage, is wanting: the right doctrine is indeed taught in the service; but if it be not received, at least implicitly, in the heart, the presence and blessing of our Saviour cannot be looked for with any confidence, for that cannot be obtained without faith.
And, as I have shown already, the faith specially required of those who would seek Christ's presence and blessing on their marriage, is a faith in that mystery which marriage signifies,--the mystical union betwixt Christ and His Church.
It is plain, moreover, from the passage I lately cited out of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, that this faith in Christ's mystical marriage with His Church, is made by the Holy Ghost Himself in Scripture, the very foundation principle, as it were, of the duties which husbands and wives owe one to another, according to Christ's religion. So that, if men do not thoroughly receive this doctrine of "Christ's spiritual marriage with His Church, they are wanting in that particular faith, which is the very stock and root of that cherishing love on the husband's side, and loving reverence on the part of the woman, which the Gospel enjoins on a Christian husband and wife. If a man were called upon to die for his wife's sake, let him only believe this truth, and he could but feel that to withhold even his life, in such a case, would be in practice to act against, if not to deny, his faith in that love wherewith Christ did love His spouse the Church, giving Himself for it, even to die upon the cross.
Or suppose he has much to bear with; suppose he meets with great faults of temper, or a want of engaging qualities; or what would be far worse, of high principle, then again let him remember what the Church was when Christ loved her. She was in darkness and enmity with God; even those who were afterwards her very best members, were "foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another." When she was such as this, He loved her; for her, while in this state, He shed His life-blood on the cross, and then sanctified and cleansed her with the washing of water, by the word, in holy Baptism. Thus, not by menaces or by violence, nor by terror, He won back her who once turned herself from Him, had hated, spurned, and disclaimed Him; thus, by unwearied affection, He brings her to a loving obedience.
Thus do husbands learn from the patience of Christ's love to His Church, how to be patient, forbearing, to their wives, full of tenderness, and ready to love them even unto death. But withdraw this doctrine, presume to hide it from man's eye, where will you find means to teach them the like most needful lesson?
Most needful I call it; for if there be not love and union between man and wife, not only will the house be full of disquiet and strife, but the bonds of social union are broken at the very points whence they take their beginning. For if dissension be in houses, is it reasonable to expect to find peace abroad? And when holy Matrimony is despised, as is, alas! too much the case now, what fruits, of such contempts, can we expect to see, but uncleanness, whoredom, adultery, jealousy, wrath, malice, and murders?
No man, I think, can have laboured any length of time, as a Christian minister, without, being convinced, that here is the very fountain of a vast share of the wickedness that is done amongst us. Men have no belief in the sanctity of marriage, and hence arise fornications, faithless desertions, murders of children, neglect and cruelty, and many other crimes wherewith this sinful land is daily provoking the vengeance of Almighty God.
And for this state of things, for all these evils, there appears to be no remedy but to preach the truth concerning these things, as it is in Jesus, as it is set forth in the Bible, and has ever been taught by the Church.
I cannot, therefore, but think it a very serious evil, a subject of sorrow, shame, and alarm, that many of the ministers of our Church have, of late years, taken upon themselves to mutilate her Marriage Service. I have seen, not long since, in an Office book used in a parish church, every single word in the Marriage Service that referred in any way to this doctrine carefully struck out, as though it had been something new, false, and unscriptural, as though the Epistle to the Ephesians had been no part of the canon of Holy Scripture.
May God have mercy on us, and vouchsafe to us, in His good time, a correction of these abuses, and a restoration to the full light of Gospel truth; and grant that Christ may be once more bidden to the weddings of us all!
To promote, as far as in us lies, such a reformation, we should bear in mind that, as a right faith in the mystery of Christ's marriage with His Church, is the true source of Christian marriage love; so also it is only when those that are married strive their best to fulfil these duties, that they can arrive at a true and enlightened faith in this great mystery, wherein God is set before us, framing the Church out of the wounded and bleeding side of His beloved Son, even as He at first made Eve out of the rib of Adam; that mystery wherein we are shown to be one with our Divine Saviour, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh.
If any one, I say, would know this great doctrine, let him set his heart to do the will; for ho that will do the will, he shall know the doctrine: and the declared will of God is this, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it."
And if Christian wives, again, would know how to obtain an insight into this divine mystery, their way to heavenly wisdom must be also by obedience to the command which the Holy Ghost has addressed to them. "As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands, in every thing." It is no true knowledge of divine mysteries that is attained, while plain duties are neglected. Christ will not reveal Himself nor His union to His Church, nor in any way vouchsafe His presence unto them, who live in disobedience to His plain commands; least of all to them who violate and destroy the bond of love and union, (by which He seeks, above all things, to knit us all together,) in the very place where even nature makes it the strongest.
But here some may object, that it must be wrong thus to say, in this way, that the divine mystery of Christ's union with His Church, can only he rightly and spiritually understood by those who faithfully discharge the duties of a married life. For thus unmarried men and women would be excluded from this needful wisdom, would be shut out from all means of studying the depths of this divine mystery, which concerns all Christians. I answer, they are not excluded; because they have a spiritual marriage. I would never presume to commend, nay, God forbid that I should defend those who bind themselves with vows, which, whether public, or secret, may become a snare or a sin, to those who presume to entangle themselves with them. But this, I believe, Holy Scripture does teach us, that while any Christian man or woman chooses to live a single life in humility, self-denial, and devotion, that therein he "may attend upon the Lord without distraction;" such a one will find in the deep union of his soul to Christ, not a representation, but a full embodying of all that Scripture teaches concerning that mystical union "which is between Christ and His Church." Every earnest act of devotion, every good work, every victory over himself, and above all, every reception of Christ's Body and Blood, as it brings him closer to his Lord, so does it make him feel how entirely the whole body of the faithful, the whole Church of Christ, is knit in holy marriage to her Lord and God.
This is the reward, the crown of virgin souls. Yet it is a reward and crown from which the married are not shut out. For if they bid Christ to their marriage, if they not only do this, but also strive to keep Him present with them in their homes; by ways of holiness and love, by a meek submission on the part of the wife, such as the Church owes to Christ; and by a love on the husband's part, imitating that boundless and most tender love of the Saviour for the body of His redeemed; such persons learn in married life to rise, as it were, through their devoted love and union one with another, to a still more devoted and entire love to God, and union with Him. For God has not encompassed us with the bands of relationship, affection, and marriage, to chain us to earth; but in order that our homes should be schools in which, by the continual practice of kindness and affection, we should become so rooted and grounded in love, that we may be enabled to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; and so learn to love Him, who first loved us.
They, therefore, greatly err, who, either from worldliness or fanaticism, look upon Christian marriage as a state of life in which souls are necessarily riveted to the earth. It is true that St. Paul says, that "he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife;" "the married woman careth for the things of the world, that she may please her husband." His meaning is, that often it is so; yet with Christian husbands and wives, this need not, this ought not to be. It will be so indeed, if their love for one another be carnal or worldly, if it be founded upon any motives that are sensual and secular; then, though it endure, it still rivets them to the earth. But it is far otherwise when the wife is subject unto her husband, as unto the Lord, as obeying her Saviour, in the person of her earthly head; or when the husband strives ever to love and cherish his wife, as Christ did love the Church; while he keeps the pattern of that deep and boundless love before him, and is ever aiming to copy it, then his heart will, in the exercise of tender affection to his wife on earth, be still raised to his Saviour in heaven, and thus filled with love to all the fellow-members of Christ's body below.
Even St. Chrysostom, great as was his admiration for the monastic life, which was seen in his days only in its purity, free as yet from the abuses which in later times have often defaced it; even St. Chrysostom declares, [S. Chrysostom on the Ephesians, Homily xx. p. 332, Oxford Translation.] that they that thus marry, are not much inferior to them that live in celibacy; and again, in another place, the same Father brings forward the patriarchs as proofs that it was possible for men, with wives and children, to be as dead to the world, as those who live unmarried for the Lord's sake. [Ibid. Homily xxi. p. 343.]
Nay, let married Christians only hold fast the faith in the mystery of holy Matrimony as a living faith; let them, I mean, ever keep impressed on their hearts, that their marriage is a representation of the unity between Christ and His Church; let their love and union to one another be suitable to this faith, and the Lord, whom they have thus bidden to their wedding, will abide with them to their lives' end.
One thing more would I add, that one most effectual outward means of securing Christ's presence at our weddings, and at the entering upon our married life, is in these days sadly neglected by almost all. I mean the receiving the Holy Communion at the time of the marriage, a practice which our Church recommends in a rubric at the end of the Communion Service, and which, until her children's frowardness had become so very great, she used positively to enjoin. For in the Holy Communion we are quite sure we have, if we have faith, Christ specially and really present with us. This then is the surest way to bid Him to our weddings, to invite Him in our households.
And in this way, by receiving Christ's body and blood at our weddings, we should best exercise and strengthen our faith in the mystery of His marriage-love to the Church. For in that most holy Sacrament, we see Him, as it were, nourishing His Church with His own flesh and the precious blood which He shed for her redemption, and thus making her more and more one with Him, and Himself one with her.
"Who can venture to say how much of the dishonour done to holy Matrimony, with all its consequent evils and sins, may spring from our neglect of this one precept of the Church?
God of His mercy grant that it may speedily be otherwise with some at least amongst us; that there may be found a few at least who will desire thus, in obedience to the recommendation of the Church, to seek Christ's presence at their marriage; and to set forth the solemn symbol of His incorporation with the Church.
They who would thus begin their married life, would begin it well, begin it, having the Lord with them; and if they would persevere in seeking His continued presence with them, by frequent prayers together, both at home and in Church, by studying His holy Word one with the other, and by frequently receiving together His body and blood, and above all, by endeavouring to guide and encourage each other in the ways of His holy laws, then He would never cease to be with them and to bless them.
Daily increasing love, and mutual confidence, and fulfilled hope, would be then an earnest of the better happiness He has in store for them in a brighter world than this; even in the darkness and bitterness of separation He would be with them, to sustain the one that was left with resignation and hope, and with an assurance of close communion even now, through Him, with the other from whom he seems to be separated.
And then, at the last, as they have bidden Christ to their marriage on earth, and desired Him to tarry as their constant guest in their earthly home which He blessed; so will He give them a place at His marriage feast, in robes washed and made white in His blood, and receive them to dwell for ever with Him in the blessed mansions of His Father's house.
As they have bidden Him to bless their nuptial joy on earth, so will He call them to enter into His joy, the joy of their Lord, on that His bridal-day, when He shall present unto Himself His Church, not as now, defaced with sins, and wounded with divisions, but, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, holy and blameless, His beloved, in whom His soul will then find full and unclouded delight.