“And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
“What therefore God hath joined together…”
“For 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. Husbands, 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.”
Order of Contents
Mutual Consent to the Institution of Marriage Makes a Couple Married
It is not the confirmatory declaration of the civil magistrate or the Church which makes a couple married (there was no such institutions in Eden up through Gen. 9-12), but rather it is the mutual consent of both parties towards the natural institution of marriage which makes them married, which is normally and appropriately expressed in vows (though not always, as in the case of marriage by common law, Gen. 24:67).
That the Church makes persons married has been the view of Roman Catholicism (which was attended with so many ill effects), which the reformers so strongly protested against. In our day, many people believe it is the civil magistrate that marries a couple, this having equal ill effects when the magistrate then attempts (it believing it has the power) to change the definition of marriage, and consequently confer marriage on persons to whom it was never designed, and to possibly withhold it from persons to whom it is due. Rather than the Church or State having any intrinsic power to make persons married, they only have the authority to recognize and enforce which persons are married (by their entering into that bond through mutual consent) in their jurisdictions, and to declare this if it is beneficial to the public.
A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland 1642
“…because the mutual consent betwixt A. B. and his wife,
being essentially marriage, as the canon law, divines,
and sound casuists acknowledge, it makes A B. a husband,
and also the husband of such a wife, during their lifetime;”
“For a father to give his daughter in marriage to one is an authoritative act of a father; but for the daughter to consent to the choice, is no act of authority, but an act of her private choice.”
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline
Book 3, ch. 1, p. 283
“The man comes from China acknowledging God in all his ways, as Abraham left his country, Gen. 12; if he be an idolater, they should not lodge him, 2 Jn. 10; he comes not as indifferent to be married to this or this church, or to none at all, as a man sins not if he marry none at all, 1 Cor. 7, but if he be a professor that joins to no church, he lives scandalously; therefore the adequate cause of membership, or to this membership, is not mutual consent, as in marriage…”
Book 3, ch. 3
“Mr. Hooker, Mr. Thomas Goodwin, and Mr. Philip Nye [congregationalists] give them [the eldership of a local church] only an authoritative directing power [to ordain new elders], such as parents have in the marriage of their daughter, which is an authority extrinsic, which the magistrate and pastor in their kind have; but the virgin has the only formal and intrinsic power to consent and so to make the marriage, and to dissent so as it shall be no marriage:
In which case the Fraternity only, or Male-church formally [according to congregationalists], intrinsically judges, and may judge, though there were no officers, as the maid may marry, though parents and tutors were dead; and the directive authority of the officers may be wanting [lacking], as the directive authority of the magistrate may be wanting.”
“…for as the woman is independent in regard of intrinsic power of consenting or dissenting in point of marriage, the parents’ directive power of extrinsic commanding, as the judicious [congregationalist] Prefacers say…
How are [ecclesiastical] leaders and overseers [according to congregationalism,] in the same managing of censures, equal in power, and not above those whom they lead and oversee, yea, to whom they are to yield obedience, as Mr. Hooker cites to that purpose the place Heb. 13:17? Are parents equal in power who do command the virgin, whose it is to consent to the marriage?”
John White, a New England Puritan
A Commentary upon the Three First Chapters of the first book of Moses called Genesis (1656), pp. 109-110
“When Adam embraces the woman as bone of his bone, etc., he does not only point backwards at her original, but withal expresses his acceptance of her, as God offered her to be one flesh with him in marriage, by which consent of his the marriage was concluded. Whence, 3. Observe, it is consent that must make the marriage between man and wife. And consent:
1. Of those in whose power the persons to be contracted are, and do remain, especially if they be parents: Now that may be either general, as Jacob was permitted to marry whom he pleased, so it were of his mother’s kindred; Or more particular, to marry such a person, which were fit rather to be a direction by way of advice than a peremptory command. Thus Hagar took a wife for Ishmael (Gen. 21:21), Judah for Er (Gen. 38:6) and Naomi advises Ruth in her match (Ruth 3:1-2). And this is most seasonably performed before the parties’ affections are engaged, lest afterwards they be forced either to consent to the match already made or to suffer a worse inconvenience.
2. The consent must be specially between the persons to be contracted, as in Rebecca’s case, whose parents would not force her beyond her own liking (Gen. 24:57). This consent must be every way free, neither stolen by fraud and false informations, nor purchased by rewards and expectations of outward advancements or other carnal allurement; not forced by terror or importunity, but grounded upon an evident manifestation of the piety and fitness of the persons approved by those whose counsels they ought to embrace. And upon the observation of God’s providence directing the choice, which was the main argument that swayed in the match of Isaac with Rebecca. Upon both these, Adam’s consent seems to be grounded in this place, that the woman was provided for him by God and was the only fit match that was to be found for him amongst the creatures.”
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 13th Topic, ‘The Person & State of Christ’, 11th Question, ‘The Conception & Nativity of Christ’, section 25
“XXV. Although copulation had not take place in that marriage [between Joseph and Mary], it did not cease to be true and ratified (although unconsummated) for not intercourse, but consent makes marriage. Therefore it was perfect as to form (to wit, undivided conjunction of life and unviolated faith, but not as to end (to wit, the procreation of children [Turretin held to the perpetual virginity of Mary], although it was not deficient as to the raising of the offspring).”
Marriage with the Sister of a Deceased Wife is Prohibited
Gibson, James – The Marriage Affinity Question: or, Marriage with the Sister of a Deceased Wife, Fully Discussed, in the Light of History, Ecclesiastical & Civil Law, Scripture, Reason & Expediency Buy (1854) 198 pp.
The last half of Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 24.4, defining the extent of the laws of consanguinity from Leviticus 18, was cut out by the American revisions. The original Confession was right. Gibson’s book is an exhaustive defense of the Biblical (Lev. 18:9) and historic view of the Reformation and puritan era.
On the Warrant for, & History of a Pastoral Benediction upon the Wedded Couple
English-Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 3, ch. 2, pp. 24-5
“As touching matrimonial benediction… through divine institution, it has a necessary use, as we have said. And though the Dr. to make it appear that a pastor’s performing of the same is a thing indifferent, alleges that in Scripture there is nothing commanded thereanent.
Yet plain it is from Scripture itself that matrimonial benediction ought to be given by a pastor, for God has commanded his ministers to bless his people (Num. 6), which by just analogy belongs to the ministers of the Gospel; neither is there any ground for making herein a difference betwixt them and the ministers of the Law, but we must conceive the commandment to t•…e both alike to the blessing of God’s people. Unto which ministerial duty of blessing, because no such limits can be set as may exclude matrimonial blessing, therefore they are bound to the performance of it also. And if further we consider that the duty of blessing was performed by the minister of the Lord, even before the law of Moses (Heb. 6:7), we are yet more confirmed to think that the blessing of the people was not commanded in the Law as a thing peculiar and proper to the Levitical priesthood, but as a moral and perpetual duty, belonging to the Lord’s ministers forever.
Wherefore, notwithstanding of any abuse of matrimonial benediction among Papists, yet forasmuch as it has a necessary use in the Church and may not (as the controverted ceremonies may) be well spared…”
“First, for the marriage blessing, they [congregationalists] applaud the Brownists’ doctrine: they send it from the church to the townhouse, making its solemnization the duty of the magistrate; this is the constant practice of all in New England.
The prime of the Independent ministers now at London have been married by the magistrate, and all that can be obtained of any of them is to be content that a minister in the name of the magistrate, and as his commissioner, may solemnize that holy band.”
Commentary on Malachi 2:16
“Here, however, where God compares polygamy with divorce, he says that polygamy is the worse and more detestable crime; for the husband impurely connects himself with another woman, and then, not only deals unfaithfully with his wife to whom he is bound, but also forcibly detains her: thus his crime is doubled. For if he replies and says that he keeps the wife to whom he is bound, he is yet an adulterer as to the second wife: thus he blends, as they say, holy with profane things; and then to adultery and lasciviousness he adds cruelty, for he holds under his authority a miserable woman, who would prefer death to such a condition; for we know what power jealousy has over women. And when any one introduces a harlot, how can a lawful wife bear such an indignity without being miserably tormented?”
Voet, Gisbert – Section 3, 4th Problem, ‘Whether the joining of hands in the sign of a contract and the entrance of marriage is a divine, sacred or religious ceremony? I respond: None of them.’, p. 471 in Ecclesiastical Politics, vol. 1 (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), Pt 1, Bk. 2, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Things, or Acts & Exercises’, Tract 1, ‘Of Formularies, or Liturgies & Rituals’, ch. 8. ‘Questions on Some Rituals in Particular: on the Laying on of Hands, the [Holy] Kiss, Abstinence from Things Strangled & Blood, the Marriage Rite, Anointing, Shaking the Feet of Dust, Love Feasts, the Rite of Covenanting & of the Washing of Feet.’
On a Christian Marrying a Romanist
The French Reformed Churches
The Synod of Rochel, 1581
ed. John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata… (), Synod of Rochel, 1581, ch. 3, p. 140
“XLVIII. None of our Members in Communion with us, shall assist at their Weddings or Wedding-Feasts, who that they may marry a Popish Wife, do revolt from the Reformed Religion. But as for those who have a long while ago left the Profession of our Religion, or have been ever Papists, it’s left to the prudence of the Faithful to consider what will be most expedient for them; and if they go, let them take heed of approving the Evil in those Meetings, and that they bear no part in the Dances, and other Dissolutions which are commonly found and committed at them.”
A Christian & Reformed Wedding Service
Fentiman, Travis – ‘A Christian Wedding Service’ 2 pp.
Need help planning a Christian wedding service? Here is a Christ exalting, beautiful and simple wedding service according to historic reformed principles.
Dod, John & Cleaver, Robert – ‘Duties of Husband & Wife’ (1603) 20 paragraphs, being excerpts from A Plain and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandments
Some of the best marital advice there is, from a standard English Puritan treatment of the ten commandments.
Witherspoon, John – 3 Letters on Marriage in Works, vol. 7
McCurley, Rob – ‘Biblical Marriage’ (2010) 55 pp. being notes to 4 linked hour-long audio messages
Here are blueprints for a godly and spiritually fulfilling marriage, from a seasoned pastor. These warm audio messages and notes are filled with Biblical wisdom, to guide you into the richest blessings of the Lord. They are helpful for premarital counseling and any stage in marriage, whether one needs an encouraging check-up, or a wholesale turn around.
What if I Married Poorly?
John Witherspoon, The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon, vol. 7 ed. H. Rondel Rumburg (1801; Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2006), ‘Letters on Marriage’, Letter 3, pp. 202-3 Different edition, pp. 244-45
“On the whole, I think that the calamities of the married state are generally to be imputed to the persons themselves in the following proportion: Three-fourths to the man for want [lack] of care and judgment in the choice, and one-fourth to the woman on the same score.
Suppose a man had bought a farm, and after a year or two would, in conversation with his neighbor, make heavy complaints how much he had been disappointed. I imagine his friend might say to him:
‘Did you not see this land before you bought it?’
‘Oh yes, I saw it often.’
‘Do you not understand soils?’
‘I think I do tolerably.’
‘Did you not examine it with care?’
‘Not so much as I should have done; standing at a certain place it looked admirably well; the fences too were new, and looked exceedingly neat; the house had been just painted a stone color with paneling; the windows were large and elegant; but I neglected entirely to examine the sufficiency of the materials or the disposition of the apartments. There were in the month of April two beautiful springs, but since I have lived here they had been dry every year before the middle of June.’
‘Did you not inquire of those who had lived on the place of the permanency of the springs?’
‘No, indeed, I omitted it.’
‘Had you the full measure you were promised?’
‘Yes, every acre.’
‘Was the right complete and valid?’
‘Yes, yes, perfectly good; no man in America can take it from me.’
‘Were you obliged to take it up in part of a bad debt?’
‘No, nothing like it. I took such a fancy for it all at once that I pestered the man from week to week to let me have it.’
‘Why really then,’ says his friend, ‘I think you had better keep your complaints to yourself. Cursing and fretfulness will never turn stones into earth or sand into loam [good soil]; but I can assure you that frugality, industry and good culture will make a bad farm very tolerable, and an indifferent one truly good.’”
We no longer endorse the position in the Alcorn booklet below, as further empirical, scientific evidence and specificity has come to light regarding the effects of the ‘Pill’. We hope to update this section with that data in the not too distant future.
Kayser, Phillip – ‘Conception Control: Avoiding Antinomianism & Legalism’ (2017)
This is the best and most in-depth, Biblical treatment available. Kayser argues against those who argue for no conception control at all. While affirming that children are blessings from the Lord and that generally speaking we ought to aim for large families, yet certain forms of birth control for certain reasons and in certain degrees are morally lawful. Kayser rightly makes clear that hormonal birth control involves an abortive, back-up function. You will learn a lot from Scripture and medicine in reading this booklet which will richly repay your time.
The birth control pill works in three ways: (1) by inhibiting ovulation, (2) thickening the cervical mucus, and (3) thinning and shriveling the lining of the uterus to the point that it is unable or less able to facilitate the implantation of the newly-fertilized egg.
This third effect of “The Pill” is abortive. Alcorn’s short and very readable book is heavily documented with scientific journals and is Biblically accurate.
“…yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not He make one?… And wherefore one? That He might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.”