Marriage alone, of the Sacraments of the Church, existed as an ordinance of nature before it was exalted into a Sacrament of Grace. For its institution we must go back to Eden and to the days of man's innocency, when "He that made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh" (S. Matt. xix. 4, 5). When marriage was instituted, sin had not yet gained its entrance into the world, and the hour of man's temptation was still before him. Perhaps it was partly in view of the coming assault of Satan, under which God would not leave his creature destitute of the comfort of human sympathy, that He said: "It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an help-meet for him." At least we know that our Blessed Lord, the Second Adam, in that garden which became the sad counterpart of Eden, craved such human sympathy from His Apostles, and taking with Him three of their number as representatives of that Church, which as on the morrow should be formed from His side while He slumbered on the Cross, He said to them, "Tarry ye here and watch with Me." We know also how in our Lord's conflict in Gethsemane this yearning for sympathy was disappointed, and led to the sad rebuke, "Could ye not watch with Me one hour?"
But the temptation which resulted in man's fall was to be met by him, not as in solitude, and destitute of human support and companionship, but in the courage of that mutual sympathy which it is so much the purpose of marriage to provide. It was the order of God's Providence first to make a help-meet for Adam in the woman taken from his side, before Satan was permitted to come and put him to the test.
And yet what God mercifully gave as a help, a safeguard and a blessing, was through the folly of the man turned by the adversary into the occasion, not only of Adam's fall, but that of his whole posterity.
Eve, who might and should have been a helpmeet to Adam, became instead his tempter, and Adam hearkening to the voice of his wife when he should have acted as her protector, and caused her to hearken to God, became partaker of her sin. Fidelity to the marriage relation would, in the hour of temptation, have barred the doors against the entrance of sin. Unfaithfulness to its mutual responsibilities, in the presence of temptation threw the gates wide open and made the curse of sin as wide spread as the human race. It is as true to-day as it was when marriage was instituted, that the true relation of man to woman, which is the very foundation of domestic and social virtues, and the strongest earthly barrier against sin, may be perverted into the most fatal weapon which the device of the evil one employs against the souls of men. Truly then in the clause "Lead us not into temptation," we have a prayer which the married, and those intending marriage, would do well to use with special reference to an estate, which in its purity, may be so great a blessing, and in its abuse the source of such wide spread evil.
In the Gospel our Lord has taken up marriage, which He gave at the beginning as an ordinance of nature, and has exalted it into a Sacrament of grace. It is truly a Sacrament, not only as being a figure of the mystical union between Christ and His Church, but also because it really imparts, in the blessing of the Church, a special grace to enable the man and the woman to fulfil the duties and the responsibilities of the estate upon which they have entered. As thus lifted up and spiritualized, the Sacrament of marriage loses none of the import suggested by the petition "Lead us not into temptation."
This is emphatically brought out in the Marriage Office of the English Church, where, among the causes for which marriage was ordained, it is expressly said that it was "for a remedy against sin." Grace is therein given to enable persons, who else might be overcome by the power of earthly passion, to- "keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's Body." And all this is further implied in that "mutual society, help and comfort" which, as the same Office says, the married "ought to have one for another, both in prosperity and adversity," for we certainly cannot think that these benefits have reference only to worldly things.
But that marriage may truly confer these mutual benefits, and afford that defence against sin which was a part of God's purpose in its institution, it must be holy. It must be in the Lord, and not merely in the flesh. Here at the very outset we encounter a temptation which is, alas, the rock upon which too many a soul has been shipwrecked. Well had it been, in many a case known to every Priest who has had any experience in dealing with souls, if the petition, "Lead us not into temptation," had been faithfully and earnestly prayed, while as yet the affections had not been allowed to become captivated, while the will was still free, and temptation only such as by the grace of God could be easily resisted. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers," says the Apostle. Yet how many a young girl, once pure minded, conscientious, at peace with God, and happy in that glorious liberty which belongs to God's children, has allowed her heart to be captivated, and her life ensnared into a union upon which it were a mockery to ask God's blessing. How can that marriage be called a sacrament of Christ and His Church, where there is community in everything except what concerns Jesus Christ and the Church, His Spouse, which He purchased with His own Blood!
Sad indeed are the vows which seal a marriage union in which one soul has surrendered all that makes life worth living; in which earthly affection is gratified, worldly prospects are considered, social position is made, wealth and the means of self gratification are purchased, and Christ and His Church are betrayed in the marriage kiss. Many such a union had never been, but that the prayer was not said in time, "Lead us not into temptation."
Again, on the very threshold of the married estate there are temptations, against which this petition and the watchfulness it implies, are especially needed; temptations which, without prayer, may be found as terrible and disastrous in their consequences, as they are insidious and plausible in their approach. The passion with which they are concerned is that which in its assault is the most blinding, as it is in its over mastering stress the most binding. The Sacrament of Marriage does indeed recognize this passion, but only as it is held under control, sanctified and brought into subjection to the will of God.
"Christian teaching," says Döllinger, "does not recognize in marriage love any involuntary feeling, depriving man of his liberty of will and action; such a sentiment the Apostles would have called by a very different name. The marriage love which they hold to be a duty in Christians, is a free and conscious direction of the will, grounded on high religious motives--a feeling under their own control, not an unbridled passion--a feeling which can be made as pure and enduring as love of friends, children or country. In this sense S. Paul exhorts husbands to love their wives." [First Age of the Church.]
Tertullian in speaking of Christian marriages says: "Words cannot be found to describe the happiness of that marriage, in which the Church joins together, which the oblation confirms, the benediction seals, the Angels proclaim when sealed, and the Father ratifies." Yet if any word can be found more nearly than others to describe the happiness of such a union, surely we must have it in that dearest word of English speech, Home. Home with all that it implies of unclouded faith, holy hope, pure and exalted love; home, with its unselfish devotion, its tender solicitude, its blessed nurture of childhood, its prayerful guardianship of youth, its protection against the very knowledge of many a form of sin, this may, in some degree at least, stand for the blessedness of that marriage which Christ Himself has blessed. And Home we might almost define, at least as far as many of the more terrible forms of sin are concerned, as the answer to the prayer, "Lead us not into temptation."
Yet home, the true Christian home, can be built on no other foundation than the union in Christ of one man and one woman, a union holy, inviolable, lifelong.
Alas, that we must turn from such a picture as this to its sad and darkened counterpart.
Where do we find such fearful inroads of the powers of darkness, and such rapid and wide spread moral devastation, as that which ensues upon the neglect of those fundamental principles upon which the Christian home is reared, and upon which alone it can exist? The entrance is gained for impurity first, but the whole horde of fleshly and diabolical sins pours quickly through the breach.
Such is the order in which the Apostle names them, "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness," in the van, and afterwards, "idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, and such like" (Gal. v. 19-21).
Of no class of sins is it so true as of that class to which the sanctity of Holy Marriage, and the purity of the Christian home are directly opposed, that the danger is in dallying with temptation, in listening to the suggestion of possible sin, in leaving on the latch the door that ought to be bolted and barred. Can anyone doubt that a very large number of those divorces which, in the very face of the law of God, are so readily granted, arise from the fact that the possibility of divorce is known beforehand, and deliberately reckoned upon as a means of escape from the marriage contract, should that contract become irksome. Looseness of legislation in regard to the Marriage tie is itself a chief cause of those wretched and unhappy alliances, which can hardly be better described than as the deliberate entrance into temptation, temptation involving not only those who make the alliance, but their children, not unlikely, and their children's children. How can we better employ this petition, than as a prayer that God will enable the Church in this land, faithfully and courageously to maintain the indissolubility of the Marriage tie?
A sound law when it is inforced quickly creates a wholesome sentiment which does much to remove the occasions of temptation, and in the light of which the violation of the law is seen to be as unnatural, as it is to every Christian sense repugnant. Our modern society is exposed to temptations, many of which would hardly be known were marriage recognized as the holy and indissoluble bond which it is, the mystery of Christ and His Church, and were it "entered into not unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God."