We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
The Confession’s chapter on marriage is a very practical one. There is not so much about the institution of marriage; nor the theological basis for marriage. To read a little about the institution or theological basis for marriage see my marriage sermon or marriage prayer.
One Spouse; Many Purposes
The first two sections in this chapter assert that there should be one spouse, but that there are many purposes. It is stated bluntly and plainly: ‘Marriage is to be between one man and one woman; neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time’ (pg. 101). Although there are numerous examples of characters in Scripture going against this ‘one spouse’ policy, the Scriptural exhortations certainly uphold it. In the account of the first marriage ever to happen it is in the singular. Genesis tells us ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.’ (2:24). Malachi laments those in Israel who moved on to other wives, ‘Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.’ (2:15). Jesus himself proclaims:
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matt. 19:5-6)
This union with a single spouse, though, achieves many different purposes. Only three are specified in the Confession:
- Mutual Help: According to Genesis 2:18, the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” One purpose in marriage is the mutual help offered between spouses.
- Procreation: Earlier in Genesis (1:28) we read that God commanded Adam and Eve “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”. Marriage is the relationship within which to have children and to see them grow and develop.
- Aid holiness: Another purpose is to aid holiness in those who struggle with sexual temptation. Paul unashamedly speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 7. He writes ‘But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband… if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.’ (vv. 2, 9)
One Pool; Many Exceptions
The Confession then continues to explain that there is only one pool to pick a spouse from, but that there are many exceptions from this pool. While it is lawful for all sorts of people to marry (Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, etc) ‘it is the duty of Christians to marry in the Lord’ (pg. 101). This is the one pool which a Christian may choose from, Christians. Again, it is Paul who gives this counsel in Scripture – Christians are free to marry, only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). However, there are a number of exceptions to this one pool. There are two stated explicitly in the Confession
- Ensure they are a true Christian: Paul gives this counsel in 1 Cor. 7:39 as noted above, and again in 2 Cor. 6:14ff. As the Confession states it, marry only ‘such as profess the true religion, should not marry with infidels, or idolaters; neither should such as are godly, be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresy.’ (pg. 101)
- Ensure they are not too closely related: This has become almost a social norm now, and there are few cultures who promote incest, but still it must be stated. ‘Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity, forbidden in the Word; nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful, by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.’ (pg. 102). Leviticus 18 sets out the degrees of consanguinity or affinity that are forbidden.
For further reading on marriage see My Top Five Books on Marriage…