Abridged & adapted from an address by Pastor Chris Coleborn to the ERCS on 29 May 2005

Part 3 of 4

[Editor’s note (adapted from author’s own preface to his 2nd lecture from which the 2nd and 3rd part of this article is adapted from): In the first two parts of this article we considered several basic concepts or presuppositions that our Reformed fathers believed God’s Word taught that are foundational for our understanding of divorce and remarriage. The principles highlighted were: Firstly, that the Biblical words used for divorce in both the Old and New Testament clearly point to a dissolution of the marriage bond, and not merely to a separation with the marriage bond still in place. Secondly, that ‘death’ in the Scriptures was understood by our fathers to be more than physical death. There can be covenantal death. There is judicial death, without the sentence carried out. In lawful divorce we believe there has been such a death and therefore the innocent party may remarry as in the case of the physical death of the spouse. Thirdly, we considered something of the exegesis of Matthew 19:9 and concluded, as the overwhelming majority of all reformed scholars conclude, that the meaning of the verse in the original language teaches by the exception clause, the right of the innocent party to remarry with God’s blessing. In this third part, we continue the discussion by considering whether the analogy of marriage to God’s covenant makes remarriage wrong, and then conclude with some pastoral considerations. In the final part, we will consider the voice of our fathers on the subject.]

3. Does the Analogy of Marriage to God’s Covenant Makes Remarriage Wrong?

1. The Argument

A further argument that Biblical divorce is not the dissolution of the marriage bond is the analogy to God's Covenant with His people. It is noted the marriage of a Christian man and woman is a type or shadow of God’s covenant in Christ Jesus with His elect bride, the church. With it being a type of God’s Covenant with His people we fully agree. Scripture in such places as Ephesians 5: 21-33 makes this wonderful truth clear.

However, it is argued that because marriage is a reflection of the covenant of God with His people, and as God never breaks His covenant, therefore the marriage covenant is also unbreakable. It is even spoken in terms that human marriage is unbreakable forever. There can be no divorce because, it is believed, this unbreakableness in God’s covenant must be reflected in unbreakableness in believers’ marriages. Anyone not agreeing with this is seen as denying the unconditional nature of God’s covenant. With this construction we are unable to agree.

2. The Answers to the Argument

Apart from the difficulty we have with defining Biblical divorce merely as no longer sharing bed and board, and defining death narrowly as always physical death, as we have discussed elsewhere, we principally have another difficulty with the grounds offered against remarriage of the innocent party.

We believe that the argument using the analogy of marriage to God’s covenant for rejecting remarriage fails to apply an important principle. The principle is this – the shadow and type of the real thing is never perfect.

Part of understanding Biblical typology,—and it is agreed marriage is a type,—is to understand that the anti-type or shadow never matches up to that which it typifies. In no instance in Scripture is the type ever perfect – all fail in one way or another without affecting the real thing or fulfilment of the type.

That the shadow and type of the real thing is never perfect is important for showing us that the reality of the shadow is found only in God and His work in Christ Jesus. Only in the reality of the Person and work of Christ Jesus do we find the substance of the shadows, wonderfully perfect in every way, magnifying His grace, power and faithfulness. To know this is to be led to trust Him not man, or the things of earth.

An example of the above is that the sacrificial lambs etc. were types of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Yet Hebrews 10:1-10 makes it very clear that these sacrifices just didn’t work the same way as Christ Jesus’ sacrifice. They were not perfect. They could not take away sin. We look to Christ Jesus alone as the propitiation for our sins. The typemust fall short - for the glory and only sufficiency of Christ Jesus require it. So too, in earthly marriages – they just do not work the same way as God’s covenant marriage to His church in Christ Jesus.

The institution of man’s marriage is not incorruptible and incapable of failure as God’s marriage to the church is incorruptible and incapable of failure. There are numerous ways in which earthly marriage falls short of the heavenly reality. All these failures of the earthly are consequences of sin from which Christ came to deliver us. All marriages fall short of the perfect, unfailing covenant marriage of the Lord in Christ Jesus to His church. Such marriages fail to meet the perfection of the heavenly.

In human marriages, the husband is imperfect in his love and fails in many ways in his headship. Nor is the husband’s love redemptive and truly effectual to sanctify the wife and present her faultless. The picture works quite differently from the reality without destroying the picture.

So too, with earthly fatherhood - earthly fatherhood is a type of the Fatherhood of God. But all earthly fathers are not unfailing pictures of the Heavenly Father. In numerous ways earthly fathers fail and fall short of the heavenly reality.

Thus, because our marriages are but an earthly shadow of the heavenly reality, a shadow marred by sin and its consequences, the imperfect picture can even end in divorce without denying or destroying the perfect reality. We must look away from the earthly type to the heavenly reality for the unbreakable perfection in which sin and its effects have no place.

Once again, the argument against remarriage using the analogy of God’s covenant with His people proves too much. For example, if we follow the logic of the thinking that man’s marriages were indissoluble, based on the indissolubility of God’s covenant marriage, it must surely lead us to deny even the right of remarriage upon the death of a spouse. For, as God has shown in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, even death cannot break God’s covenant in Christ Jesus with His people! Thus if our earthy marriages are to completely and in the same way reflect God’s covenant marriage to His church, we are forced to conclude by this reasoning that remarriage, even upon the death of a spouse, is not permitted on the grounds that marriage is forever, (appealing to 1 Timothy 3:2 & 12).

Note this too. Our Saviour tells us that in heaven there is no marriage – but that we shall be like the angels – Matthew 22:30. A time will come in history when there shall be an end to human marriages. So the analogy fails once again, for our marriages cannot be seen as eternal, like God’s covenant with us in Jesus – they can and will be dissolved. The picture cannot keep up with the reality and causes us to end up in untenable positions of belief and practice.

God most certainly does bring the marriages of men to an end in time and place, for all orthodox Christians accept that by physical death, the marriage bond is dissolved. God can and does dissolve at times, we believe in the light of Scripture, marriage in this life too. The indissolubility argument I believe cannot stand to be carried to its conclusion. It is a faulty argument. It seems to me to attribute to man a perfection and ability that we do not possess.

God by His own action has made it clear that the earthly, temporal, imperfect type of the heavenly could be changed and fail - though never the heavenly. Whilemen cannot put asunder what God has joined, God, as the designer and governor of marriage, Himself can and does in time and place put them asunder, as the Biblical evidence shows us.

So while marriage is a picture of God's eternal, perfect, unchangeable inviolate covenant established with His people, yet the picture is not inviolate and eternal, it is temporal and imperfect. The distinction must be made between the temporal and the eternal, between the picture and the reality or we end up in an erroneous application of typology.

If we would avoid mistakes in areas such as our subject, we ought not to minimize the importance of sound Biblical distinctions in our thinking. There are other examples where the distinction must be made between the temporal and the eternal, between the earthly and the heavenly or we end up in an erroneous application of typology and Scriptural principles.

One is the taking of human life. Human life is inviolate - it bears the image of the heavenly (Genesis 9:5-6). We may not murder. God Himself however, has made the allowance, because of sin, for capital punishment - something inconsistent with God's intention with regard to human life. The ideal is not carried out in human existence because of sin.

Another is the church on earth. The Church has its visible or organized aspect, but it also has its invisible or spiritual aspect. What we ascribe and understand of the spiritual and heavenly, we do not necessarily do to the organized and earthly. For example, we understand that it is possible to belong to the visible organized aspect of the Church - temporally - but not to belong to the spiritual, which is eternal and unchangeable. We do not accept a perfect church on earth, as it is in heaven.

We believe that such distinctions described above can and ought to be applied to marriage. That which is earthly is liable to the weaknesses, failures and flaws of sinful men, and to a world groaning under the curse. God reaches down to us at this level and makes allowances for our humanity and frailty. Only the heavenly is free from all change and diminution.

Further, we should note that the Scriptures speak of God’s covenant (historically considered) as an old and a new covenant – see for example Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:8 c.f. Jeremiah 31:31. Now, if Almighty God, the faithful covenant God can speak of His covenant as an old one and a new one, and the people involved in it in time and place changed, surely it follows that a marriage between people can be an old one that passes away and a new one commenced when it fulfils the reasons God gives for the old passing away and the new commencing?

Now it is true, those arguing against remarriage after even lawful divorce also believe distinctions must be made between the type and the anti-type, however there seems a complete unwillingness to apply the limitations of the type and its often failure to the divorce and remarriage question.

While we maintain that the Lord permitted divorce under some circumstances we emphasize, especially where the lapse into adultery was an exceptional thing that Christians must ever seek to maintain the picture of God’s marriage in Christ Jesus to His people. Divorce is to be greatly discouraged. Every effort should be made to bring the erring party to repentance, and the other party to forgiveness, so that the marriage bond is kept intact and the cause of God in our midst nurtured. Every effort must be made to remedy the causes and occasions of divorce, and to nurture the high calling we have to show Christ Jesus in our marriages.

But we do conclude, when there are those conditions that God’s Word allows for divorce, it is possible for the innocent party, if they so choose, to believe the earthly marriage covenant is dissolved and to remarry. That God’s covenant with His people never will fail does not mean earthly marriage covenants will not fail.

4. Pastoral Considerations

a. The Matter of ‘Containing’ & ‘Burning’

An important aspect of the remarriage question, one that we must not overlook, is the pastoral aspect. The Great Pastor and Physician of souls Himself recognises that there is this aspect to the subject. In 1 Corinthians 7:9, where we read: "But if they cannot contain let them marry; for it is better to marry than toburn."

The words contain, (that is, self-control, continency) and burn (that is, deep, strong drives and feelings), point us to this pastoral aspect of remarriage. The Lord says, if there are some that are not able to control the deep, powerful feelings that can only properly be satisfied in marriage, but continue to face great battles in this area of their lives, they should marry. The idea is, that if a believer does not have the strength to at all times be fully in control of such longings and desires, they leave themselves open to be prey to the various dangers and sins such burning bring. The remedy is that they should marry – the expression here is a command, not simply permission.

While it is true that to some has been given the ‘gift’ of continency, to most it is not so, thus the Holy Spirit’s command by Paul here in 1 Corinthians 7:9.Remember too, the incident re-marriage and our Saviour’s words as recorded in Matthew19:10-12:

"His disciples say unto him, ‘If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry’. But He said unto them, ‘All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.’"

Scripture recognises that the normal condition of mankind is that they will ordinarily have strong and deep drives and feelings affecting one’s thoughts, will, wishes, and daily life, so that unless directed in the way of the marriage bond, those feelings will dominate that person and cause disabling trouble to that person, if not others and the church. It was our Creator, knowing fully how we are programmed, that saw the loneliness of Adam, and said, as recorded in Genesis 2:18—"…It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."

So, for most men there is a deep longing for companionship, a soul mate, one with whom to share life and receive and give affection, support and care. Most men find deep fulfilment in having one to cherish and protect, provide for and to be a mother for his children. In this helpmeet, the man finds the deep longings of life – of body and soul satisfied.

So too for most women, there is the deep longing for one with whom to share life, to give to him the deep love and affection with which a woman is especially endowed. It is wonderfully fulfilling to most women to have one who deeply cherishes them and find support and care for such rising up in their hearts. Most women find it a powerful drive in them to make a home, be a mother to children and to have one with whom the warmth, protection and comfort of physical love may also be experienced.

We must appreciate then, from God’s Word as well as experience, that it is completely contrary to our created nature to expect most people who have married for the above reasons to ‘kill’ such drives should their spouses prove untrue and they find themselves divorced and once again single and alone. Often, from having experienced the satisfaction of such drives and aspirations, such drives are all the more strong and demanding – having been powerfully awakened by marriage.

True, some who find themselves now divorced and alone, through no fault of their own, may be able to suppress their feelings and drives or sublimate them in various ways. It they choose not to remarry, and find they are able to ‘contain’ themselves, that is their perfect liberty and right.

However, it seems to me it is an infringement on the liberty God has given, as well as contrary to a healthy Christian life, to condemn all who, through no fault of their own, after a divorce to remain unmarried and alone until the day they die. It seems an injustice that the innocent must bear the same ‘punishment’ as the guilty if the innocent cannot remarry.

This pastoral aspect of the subject of remarriage has been recognised by our fathers too. Calvin in Deuteronomy discusses this pastoral aspect. He clearly believes that we should not cruelly penalize the one who has been faithful to the marriage bond. They must be able to have a remedy to their loneliness by remarriage. He writes:

"If (a man) were constrained to put (his wife) away, must he be punished for the offence of another? What reason was in that? Should he not have open wrong done him? Especially considering that our Lord Jesus Christ in that text adds, (Matthew 19:11 & 1 Corinthians 7:11), "That all have not the gift of continency and that such as have not received it have the remedy of marriage and that they ought to use it." When our Lord Jesus Christ pronounced this, think we that His meaning was that the poor wretched man, who has lived blameless… should be left in despair? Nay, if he sees filthiness he must, whether he will yes or no, cast forth such uncleanness, except he will infect himself therewith and be accounted a party in such wickedness. Now if a man discharge his duty in this way, think we that God bars him of all right, and that he leave him in such trouble and anguish as he may not know what is to become of him, but must remain unprovided of all remedy? It was therefore an over gross folly in men not to know that our lord Jesus Christ leaves a man in free liberty to marry again, when his mate has violated the faith of marriage. As much is to be said in the behalf of the woman …"

The Reformed fathers’ concern on this pastoral aspect of remarriage is typically addressed in the First Book of Discipline of the Reformed Church of Scotland, Chapter 13, ‘Of Marriage’, section 7, where the matter of remarriage is considered, states,

"… if they cannot live continently, and if the necessity be such as that they fear further offence of God, we cannot forbid them to use the remedy ordained of God."

Martin Bucer, writing on the remarriage of those suffering divorce, and of how such marriages were lawful, explains why the early fathers could not outlaw them:

"For these words of our Saviour, and of the Holy Ghost, stood in their way; all cannot receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. Every one hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner, another after that. It is better to marry than to burn. I will that younger widows marry; and the like."

I have observed the most tragic and serious pastoral problems with those who find themselves in such a state, especially those who have as the innocent party suffered divorce when they are still young and healthy, and with so much of life still ahead of them, not to mention the children involved who may stand in real need of a godly father or mother.

b. The Matter of Liberty of Conscience

There is another aspect arising out of these pastoral ramifications. I personally do not feel it is given sufficient weight in the consideration of the subject. It is that of liberty of conscience and our freedom in Christ Jesus and His ways.

Most of our fathers in the faith throughout the ages have believed that it can be demonstrated clearly from Scripture the right of the innocent party to remarriage after divorce for sexual immorality. It has been the historic testimony, with little exception, of the reformed and Biblical faith in all ages. To my knowledge, only one denomination of reformed persuasion has ever made no remarriage a term of church membership. It therefore concerns me that a strong, dogmatic view of a small minority of the reformed faith in history who are against the remarriage of the innocent party in a divorce for adultery would bind the consciences of the majority of their fellow believers in Christ Jesus.

Calvin raises this aspect when he writes:

"Now when Christ excepts the cause of adultery, it is to set the man in the case at free choice and liberty to marry again. For what a thing were it to bar a man from a new match; if he have offered his promise faithfully, and lived in the fear of God, and not been unfaithful towards his wife, if he be constrained to put her away? Must he be punished for the offense of another? What reason were in that? Should he not have open wrong done him?"

It appears to me that it is a sentence of bondage and ‘imprisonment’ for a young man or woman, who perhaps through no fault of their own, find themselves suddenly bereft of a spouse and maybe even the opportunity to have children. It condemns them to be ‘eunuchs’ all their remaining days, when our Saviour says in Matthew 19:11 that some cannot abide in that single state.

Certainly, if a believer’s conscience leads them to conclude from their understanding of Scripture that a divorced person should not remarry except on the death of their past spouse, it is proper they stand by their conscience – as Romans 14:23 teaches us.

It is a believer’s right if they were to suffer divorce not to remarry. But it is another thing entirely to bind one’s own conscience on the consciences of others. Should we not be very careful of making this matter ‘binding’ when the overwhelming testimony of the true church of all ages on the Biblical understanding of the Scriptures, is that the Lord does give the liberty for the innocent party to remarry. We must have a care that our liberty in Christ Jesus is not taken away, and the danger of our becoming enslaved to the doctrines and commandments of men arises. Churches are liable to do this, as we well know from history and present day practices.

… to be Continued

1 Thus Herman Hoeksema argues, The Unbreakable Bond Of Marriage, op cit, page 10-11. See also Prof. D. Engelsma's article in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, op cit., April, 1992, Vol. XXV, No 2, Page 120-121, and also Vol. XXVII, No 1, Page 9. Recently these sentiments are expressed in correspondence found in Agenda of Synod 2005 of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, Contact Committee Report, Page 11 etc.

2 For a full discussion of typology see such works as Fairbairn, Patrick, The Typology Of Scripture, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1967.

3 Some interesting points on marriage and its relationship to typology is made by Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology Of Scripture, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1967, page 255.

4 That is, self-control, continency > egkrateuontai - ????ate???ta?

5 That is, deep, strong drives and feelings > purousthai – p????s?a?

6 Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Vol IV, Page 126, commenting upon I Corinthians 7:9. (gamesatosan – ?aµ?s?t?sa? – first aorist [ingressive] active imperative)

7 Sermons From Deuteronomy by John Calvin, Banner of Truth Trust, Facsimile Reprint from 1583 by Henry Middleton, Edinburgh, 1987, Pages 836 ff.

8 Bucer, Martin, Taken out of the Second Book entitled, Of the Kingdom of Christ; written by MARTIN BUCER to EDWARD the Sixth, King of England. Chapter XXIII

9 My understanding of Christian liberty is summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XX.

10 John Calvin, Sermons On Deuteronomy, op cit., Page 834 ff.


Henry Smith on Marriage

From Thomas, I. D. E., The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations

On Choosing a wife:

"First, he must choose his love, and then he must love his choice."

"Look not for better within than thou seest without, for every one seemeth better than she is; if the face be vanity, the heart is pride."

On the Relationship between Husband & Wife:

"The wife was made of the husband’s rib; not of his head, for Paul calleth the husband the wife’s head, not of the foot, for he must not set her at his foot. The servant is appointed to serve, and the wife to help. If she must not match with the head, nor stoop at the foot, where shall he set her then? He must set her at his heart, and therefore she which should lie in his bosom was made in his bosom."

On Handling Quarrels:

"Knowing once a couple which were both choleric, and yet never fell out, l asked the man how they did order the matter that their infirmity did not make them discord? He answered me, When her fit is upon her, I yield to her, as Abraham did to Sarah; and when my fit is upon me, she yields to me: and so we never strive together, but asunder."

On the Antitype:

"We read in Scripture of three marriages of Christ.
The first was when Christ and our nature met together.
The second is, when Christ and our soul join together.
The third is, the union of Christ and His church."

represent. W