Page images

fidelity barely to be innocent of adulterous commerce; they must maintain a purity of heart undefiled by any lusting after others, and by any lascivious jesting, which discovers at least an appearance of it. Nothing less than this is necessary on the man's part, to keep his marriage vow in violate, and on the woman's “ to shew a chaste conversation.”

A duty equally incumbent on both: and for either to transgress here, is audaciously to rebel against the plain command of the Lord God Almighty, against his benevolent and everlasting ordinance.

To fidelity must be added mutual tender love. For love is the life of marriage; without which it differs as much from the comfortable society the gracious God intended to establish by it, as a state of servitude from one of freedom. When this union was first made in Paradise, it was immediately declared, that the bonds of marriage should prove stronger than the bonds of nature; so that a man should “ forsake even his father and mother," from whom he instrumentally derived his being, “and cleave to his wife.”

From hence it follows, that husbands and wives, though irreproachable, even in their own consciences, in point of conjugal fidelity, are still greatly guilty if they live in indifference, or slight regard to each other. It is true, a failure in point of love does not, as adultery, break the marriage-bond; but then it defeats one principal purpose of its institution. For it was designed to unite the hearts of the married pair as much as their bodies; and to produce the delicious fruit of the most perfect friendship, from the pleasing combination of two persons, whose interests were by this means made invariably the same. But, instead of these advantages, want of love in either of the parties will pervert the state of marriage into the most grievous infelicity and burden of life.

For this reason great stress is laid in God's holy word on this matter. Husbands and wives are not only commanded to preserve the bed undefiled, but to maintain also a most affectionate regard for each other. The precept indeed is immediately addressed to husbands, but the force of it must equally reach to both parties engaged in the nuptial union; “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,” Ephes. v. 28, 29. The quick feeling which every man has of the least injury done to his own body, the invincible aversion to every thing painful to it, the incessant desire of possessing it in health and comfort, form the image here used to represent the strength, the delicacy, and the perpetuity of conjugal affection. And as our bodies do not partake less of our care and love, on account of their weakness, deformity, or disease; or because they prove much more burdensome to us than others of a healthier habit find theirs to be; so no disagreeable qualities, no perverse humours on either side, can justify the other party in withholding the tribute of love. These faults indeed will make it more difficult to behave with proper tenderness and affection; but, though severe trials of our faith and patience, they by no means vacate the obligation of the married state.

This truth is imperatively urged upon the husband in the conclusion of the precept, by directing him to copy the tender love of the Saviour towards his church, in his own behaviour to his wife. As if it had been said, “ You yourself abundantly experience the care of the Lord Jesus Christ over you, and observe it exercised over your fellow-christians; you see how he bears with your negligences and your infirmities,—with many things blameable, and exceedingly distasteful to him: yet he grows not cold to your welfare, nor rejects you from among his children. Shew


therefore the same tenderness one towards another, as the whole church experiences from its head; and never think you are either of you at liberty to yield to moroseness, or to be void of love.'

Further; Christian husbands and wives must not only preserve in violate their mutual engagement of fidelity and love, but their conjugal affection must be spiritual also, both in its foundation, and in its exercise. It must not be built only on beauty: for this is one of the most fleeting things in nature, incapable, even while it lasts, of maintaining its enchanting power. Hence those who come together with rapture, enamoured with each other's form, often grow cold, and soon become distasteful to one another. At least there can be security that this will not sooner or later prove the melancholy event, when the foundation of love is so superficial, so sensual. But

suppose that even good sense, good manners, and the appearance

of a temper formed for the dearest friendship, engage the parties in a married union; even these amiable accomplishments, without divine grace, may leave them in great danger of estrangement from each other: for these excellencies do not subdue either pride, or a love of independence, or of the world. Husbands and wives therefore, who have no better foundation of their love than these charms, with which they were at first struck; by finding more restraint in the married state than was expected, or less reality of amiable tempers, often in fact lose the love they had when they first came together; especially where the bitterness of misfortune produces a change in woridly circumstances. It is too frequent to see the well-bred, the sensible, the sweet-tempered husband or wife, changed by the loss of fortune into a fretful, complaining, irksore companion. Indeed, the reason why this is not the case much oftener, is owing to the providence of God, which keeps men out of those trials they are not strong enough to bear.

The affection of Christian husbands and wives must be established upon a firmer basis. The husband must love his wife, not only for the charms of her person, the sweetness of her manners, or even the affection he knows she bears him; but, above all, because their supreme Benefactor, the Lord of heaven and earth hath said, “Husbands, love your

wives.” The Christian wife must also love her husband principally in obedience to the divine will; not on account of the superiority of his understanding, the applause he receives, the honour of his condition, or the cordiality of his affections towards herself. For if conjugal love be not secured by conscience towards God, a thousand various incidents may make that union miserable which was happy before. Some sudden storm of contention may arise, violent enough to tear up natural affection by the roots. Some bitter expressions may escape in the heat of passion, which shall eat in secret as a canker, and destroy all confidence and peace.

Husbands and wives, on the contrary, in whose hearts

the love and authority of God reign, will be united together by the common object of their highest adoration and all-sufficient happiness; they will find their affection, like the law of their God, which has bound them in so close an alliance, constant and unalterable.

And as the ground of affection between Christian husbands and wives must be spiritual, so must the various exercises of it too. To be solicitous to procure a comfortable provision for your wife; to abhor the thoughts of leaving her in distress or dependence, when your diligence or frugality may prevent it, is what every married man must feel, who is not sunk beneath the level of humanity. On the other hand, for the wife to express her love to her husband, by a diligent discreet management of his family, by cheerfully joining in every thing for their common good, and by studying to make his life and home agreeable to him, is an expression of affection which may subsist in a heart altogether void of the least savour of Christianity. Mutual and earnest endeavours to be pleasing to each other, are often found, where the parties can see and hear each other do a thousand things in open defiance of God's authority: and where, instead of disapproving silence, and meek remonstrance, on either side, they remain perfectly well satisfied with each other. A most perfidious kind of love is this, though every where prevalent; a ruinous confederacy against the cause of God and truth, in which they encourage and strengthen one another, and are the principal instruments of each other's everlasting condemnation.

In a manner totally different from this must the affection, which Christian husbands and wives bear towards each other, shew itself. They must be most concerned for each other's spiritual welfare: they must be kind and tender-hearted inspectors of each other's conduct, meekly pointing out errors, and with love admonishing for faults, which otherwise would have escaped notice. They must converse together of the power, the glory, the mightiness of God's kingdom, to kindle and increase their mutual love towards him. They must prompt each other to holy vigilance, and a frequent use of the means of grace: they must associate chiefly with that sort of company

which tends to increase carefulness for the soul, faith in Jesus,


love to God, and all the graces of a Christian life. As the nuptial union gives each of the parties much influence, which may prove either greatly serviceable or terribly hurtful to each other's everlasting interests, they must look upon themselves as bound in conscience to use it all, against the corruptions of the heart, against pride and unbelief, and worldly lust.

In this manner, with unspeakable advantage and delight, Christian husbands and wives prove the spiritual nature of their conjugal affection; and then they will be sure to find it equally constant in youth and age, sickness and health, indigence and plenty, lasting as their abode together in this world, and redounding to their advancement in glory in that which is eternal.

Now real Christians are the only persons capable of dwelling together in the mutual exercise of such spiritual and permanent affection; because they alone confess their own innate depravity in the sight of God; and, under this humbling sense of themselves, use the means of grace aright. They alone are constant and persevering in prayer, for daily remission of each other's sins; for the Holy Ghost to help each other's infirmities, and to grant daily supplies of strength against occurring temptations.

These humble exercises of heart prove a fruitful source of mutual endearment. They deeply impress each party with a sense that they are connected by ties far more noble even than those of wedlock: that they are children of one heavenly Father, servants of one gracious Lord, members of one body, and heirs of one glorious kingdom. The lively sense of these inestimable privileges, and of a common interest in them, has power to unite, even at the first interview, those who were strangers to each other's persons. Judge then how much more effectual it will be, when increased and enlightened by daily prayer, to prevent coldness and alienation of love, in those who are already united in fervent affection!

Again; it is satiety which often proves the bane of conjugal affection. The parties by long acquaintance grow insipid to each other; the husband grows more reserved, or the wife loses her vivacity; in either case disregard ensues. But the spiritual course in which believers in Jesus are engaged, prevents this satiety: the infinite grandeur

« PreviousContinue »