It’s 2017, and so we should remember that there were several, not just one or two, important facets of the project of Reformation undertaken in the sixteenth century. One of these was to exalt the estate of marriage as a high and holy one, and not simply an option for second-class Christians who can’t control themselves. This exaltation runs in parallel with the distinctively Protestant idea of vocation, i.e. the idea that all lawful callings are holy and worthy before God.
Why, in the original Protestant way of thinking, was marriage instituted? John Cotton (1658-1710), in his “A Meet Help, or, A Wedding Sermon,” preached in 1694, gives us some assistance. In his exposition of Genesis 2.18 (“it is not good that the man should be alone”), he says the following:
Quest. 2. In what respect it is not good that the man should be alone?
Sol. 1. In that it doth not answer the end in man’s Creation. As,
The propagation of mankind; had man been or continued alone, how should mankind in a natural way, and regularly have been propagated? and should every man now do so, what would become of the whole world in one Age? God could indeed have Created at first such a number of men as he did of Angels, but it was God’s pleasure to make of one blood, all Nations of men to dwell on all the face of the Earth. Acts 17.26. and in order to the obtaining of that end, it was not good that man should be alone.
His gathering a Church out of mankind, that was God’s end we see, in that it is done, but that could not have been, had mankind not extended beyond one individual.
The Glory of his Mercy and Justice in Sending his Son in the Flesh, born of a woman which would never have been, had the man been alone, or had there been no woman; In these respects it don’t [sic] answer God’s end in man’s Creation, and therefore is not good that the man should be alone.
A few remarks:
- Cotton’s approach to marriage is teleological, that is, it looks toward the end for which man was created.
- Cotton follows the order of nature and grace, or creation and redemption.
- That is to say, marriage has a natural purpose even without consideration of the Fall into sin, and so this is the first or primary answer Cotton gives; and that natural purpose is the begetting and bearing of children. It is not good for man to be alone because God chose that the human race would be propagated by this natural means. God could have instantaneously created all men who were to exist. He did not. Therefore marriage is necessary for the human race to continue in existence. Children, then, should not be considered an afterthought when considering marriage, but should be seen as at its very core.1
- This primary purpose is foundational and underlies the second reason why man should not be alone: the gathering of the church. Again, it is important to emphasize that this purpose is not primary, but rather presupposes the natural, creational purpose of marriage. If grace restores nature, nature must be there first, and so God’s intention to save men presupposes the continued existence of men, which presupposes the institution of marriage.
- The institution of marriage was necessary, given the Fall, for the coming of the Redeemer, the Son of God in the flesh. If God had not instituted marriage in creation, there would have been no Mary, and therefore no Savior.
More on this sermon, perhaps, in a future post.