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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
T. T. Eaton
From Talks on Getting Married, 1891
"Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go."(Gen. 24:58)
It is not my purpose to dwell on the idyllic beauty of this whole chapter, giving, as it does, such a tender and beautiful insight into the home life of those olden times. It is of marriage, viewed from the standpoint of the wife and of her parents that I wish to speak. It is Abraham's and Bethuel's part in this old wedding, on the one hand, and of Rebecca's part on the other, upon which I would dwell.
Isaac had arrived at manhood and it was time that he should be married and see the sons of the promised line growing up around him. His father would see him married ere his own death, and while his gentle son is yet sunk in melancholy, mourning for his mother, Abraham bestirs himself, for according to the custom of the country, he must take the first step. Whom shall he choose? What shall be the chief points he shall consider in reaching a decision? For nearly half a century he has lived here among this people.
Many and fair are the daughters of the land who have grown up around him. There are daughters of kings, whose alliance would be of the greatest advantage — as men see advantage — to Abraham himself and particularly to Isaac, who is not the equal of his great father, and who therefore shall have more need of help and friendship from these kings, among whom he lives.
There was a powerful temptation to Abraham to strengthen his position in the land by some such alliance. But he knew the one all-important alliance for his son was alliance with God. He knew the influence wives exert over their husbands, especially when they have the gentle and dreamy disposition of Isaac.
What requisites did this wise old patriarch regard in the choice of a daughter-in-law? Not wealth, nor beauty, nor family influence in the land, but, as Lange well says, “spiritual kindred and equality of birth.” These Canaanites are all idolaters, but though in the years since Terah died in Haran, his descendants may not have preserved an entirely pure worship, yet they are worshippers of Jehovah still. Her religious faith and the purity of her blood are the two points which Abraham considers essential in a wife for his son. He has no thought for the size of her dowry or for any worldly advantage whatever.
I would that the parents before me would heed the example of Abraham in this thing. The influence you exert over your children, and more especially over your daughters, in the matter of a choice of their life companion, is rightly very great. But you should use this influence with an eye single to the highest good of your child, here and hereafter. Train her to consider these points for herself, that they may determine her choice as well as your own. Impress her with the great fact that marriage is the most important step, humanly speaking, she can take in life, and that a mistake here is sure to bring disastrous consequences. There are many things that affect our lives over which we have no control, but our marriage is a matter of free choice, and it calls for our highest wisdom.
Now, when a suitor asks for your daughter's hand, what are the chief points you consider? That he is a true worshipper of God, as Abraham considered in regard to his son's wife? Do you care more for character than for wealth or position? Do you care for purity of blood? So far from sneering at "good blood" in men, we should remember that it is of even more importance than training. It ranks next to piety.
Bad training is more easily overcome than bad blood. It is far more important that people should be thoroughbred than horses should be so. The laws of heredity are no mere theories, they are laws of nature, inexorable as death and sternly enforced to the third and fourth generations. Ignoring them does not rob them of their awful power.
But please observe what "good blood" is. I do not consider him of the best blood who can trace the longest line of wealthy and distinguished ancestors. Oh, no. His is the best blood who has the longest line of pure and upright fore fathers. Whether your grandfather was an emperor or whether he was a brick carrier, makes little difference — but whether he was a pure and devout man.
In thinking of good blood pay little heed to high position or great family names. That man has the best blood in his veins who comes of a race of men and women who have been alike stainless in purity and inflexible in truth and honesty. And that man has the vilest blood whose ancestors have been impure and dishonest, though he be descended from kings or is related to every great man in the Nation.
Abraham knew the purity of the blood of Terah's family; knew there were no vices to carry their curse down the line of his descendants; therefore he made no inquiry as to the worldly prosperity of the family or the standing they had acquired. It was unnecessary for Abraham to charge Eleazer in reference to the character and disposition of the wife to be chosen for Isaac. Eleazer's own shrewdness would discover means of testing these. It was needful to give direction only as regards true worship and purity of race; the other things, with Eleazer's wisdom, could be taken for granted.
But, alas! The character of young men is not something which Christian parents can take for granted, as Abraham could do in the case of Rebecca; therefore they must inquire into this as of vital importance ere they give their daughters in marriage. That is a requisite which nothing can compensate for. There may come times when, if a young man be upright and honorable, it may be excusable to overlook a lack of piety, or when his piety may be such as to overcome the bad blood in his veins, but there is nothing which can compensate for vices in his own character.
All the wealth of Croesus, the purest blood, the highest position and the greatest genius should weigh nothing with the father if the man who would wed his daughter is of bad habits and depraved character. In the marriage of your children, as in everything else, the words of Christ must be obeyed: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." (Matt. 6:33)
And that your daughters may consider moral worth and character, it is needful that they shall see from their earliest childhood that these are the things you esteem most. If they hear you praising mere worldly success, hear you telling with evident approval of "smartness," hear you talk apologetically of "sowing wild oats," as if you believed God could be mocked, and a man fail to reap just what he has sown, then you cannot hope your girls will regard integrity and purity as essential in the men they will marry. And you may rue with bitter tears your failure in teaching them from their infancy to put a right estimate on the worth of noble character.
When Eleazer has told his business, and Bethuel and Laban have decided that Isaac is a worthy suitor, then is Rebecca called upon for the final decision. It is she who will leave home and kindred to sojourn in Canaan —it may be never again to look upon the faces of these loved ones. It was right for her parents to consider the offer for Rebecca, and that their decision, had they found him unworthy, should be final.
Fathers have opportunities to learn the true character of young men which maidens, shut in from knowledge of evil, cannot have. Fathers may sometimes wish their daughters to marry evil men from selfish motives, but they rarely oppose on the ground of character without good reason for such opposition.
But while it is well for the veto power for unworthy suitors to rest with the parents, yet their consent should always be conditional on that of their daughters. No parent has any right to insist on a daughter's marrying a man against her wishes, though he may rightly forbid her marrying a man who is unworthy. Marriage is too solemn a thing, till death do them part — and the life of a woman depends too much on the choice she will make for any other person to assume the responsibility of deciding for her. Should the marriage prove an unhappy one, while there is life-long grief for the wife, there is life-long remorse for the parents who took the decision out of her hands.
"Wilt thou go with this man?" is the question asked of the young Rebecca as she stood before her relatives. "Wilt thou go with this man?" is the question asked of every young maiden as she stands looking out upon life. And I wish to speak some words of truth and soberness which may influence those who hear me to choose rightly.
First of all, you must remember that marriage is an institution which God has established for his own wise purposes, and, therefore, the chief thing for you to consider is the laws he has established for its government. In this, as in all things else, my young friends, you must think of God first, not of your own pleasure or of the happiness of others, but first of God and afterward of these other rightful things. He has given commandments concerning marriage, and you can as easily disobey Him about getting married as about being baptized or anything else.
God loves you and takes a loving Father's interest in you. He will be pleased to see you well married. He made you to be a help meet for man, and you may be sure you are glorifying Him if, in entering the estate of matrimony, you heed the commandments He has laid upon you; commandments given in infinite wisdom and infinite love. If you are a Christian, you will be anxious to please God and you will know that all his laws work together for your good. But whether you are a Christian, or not, these laws are unchanging. Woe to you if you disregard them.
As you face the question, "Wilt thou go with this man?" the duties and obligations you will take upon yourself are clearly set before you in the Bible:
"And the wife see that she reverence her husband." (Eph. 5:33)
"Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." (Gen. 3:16)
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord." (Col. 3:18)
Reverence first, a fear of offense and of alienation, the wife must see that she reverence the husband. You are to marry no man to whom you cannot look up with conjugal fear. The second point is submission; not absolute and complete, as a servant to his master, but, "as it is fit in the Lord." Whatever other things you may consider, and rightly consider, it is your solemn duty to God to marry no man whom you cannot reverence and whom you are not willing to obey in the Lord.
I know these are old-fashioned doctrines and old-fashioned virtues. I know that much of the teaching of this age is to reverence nothing and obey nobody, and this is called "freedom and progress." But God does not advance thus with any century, nor do His laws make such progress. His wisdom is still infinitely greater than that of the Nineteenth Century, and the penalty for violation of His laws is not relaxed by any dissolving of human government.
Whenever men attempt to alter God's regulations, or to substitute others for them, they invariably do harm. Because a wife is not happy unless she loves her husband is reason enough why the apostle should charge the older women to teach the younger ones to love their husbands, and it is good reason for advising every girl to be very careful about marrying a man she does not truly love. But men have gone farther than that, and, like good-natured Uzzahs, have put out their hands to steady the ark of family life. They have substituted love for that reverence and willingness to submit, which God has required, and talk as if the Bible said simply, “Wives, love your husbands."
Why, the great burden of the thousands of novels which are put into the hands of our girls is that a woman should marry the man she loves, without any reference to reverence or obedience. In common conversation, how often it is said, "You should not marry a man you do not love," and how seldom we hear, "You should not marry a man you do not reverence." To be "true to the man she loves," is considered a noble thing in a woman —it is nobler to be true to the man she reverences.
Suppose the Christians of our land had been true to their daughters and their God in this thing. Suppose that our girls had had it impressed upon them, in conversation, in books, and in all the ways in which marriage is made a subject of thought, that they must marry no man whom they did not reverence. Can you estimate the good that obedience to that one requirement of God would have done in this world? But, instead of that, our girls are taught that they must marry the man they love, without any thought of reverence at all.
The consequence is, they persist in marrying unsuitable men, and often dissipated men, vicious men, worthless men, merely because they love them. And the terrible results which follow, in unhappiness, separations, wretchedness, and even want, they bring on themselves, and the grief which weighs upon the parents' hearts as they stand helpless in their loving pity, are known to all men.
This must all be changed, and that speedily, if our society is not to crumble from the ruin of that foundation of all earthly good—the family. The great number of divorces is not due to marrying originally without love, but to marrying without reverence. Girls must be taught not to think for a moment of marrying a man whose character they cannot revere, and boys must be taught that they cannot hope for noble wives unless they grow up with characters worthy of reverence. Both girls and boys must be taught that their responsibility in marrying is first to God.
It will not do for a girl to say, "I will be happier married to this drunken, vicious man whom I love than I would be married to any man I reverence, or in remaining unmarried." Her own pleasure is no excuse for disobeying God, and besides, she is sadly mistaken in thinking that a marriage solely for love will bring happiness. She must either obey God in her marriage or refuse to marry at all. She is not required to marry a man whom she does not love; she is simply forbidden to marry a man she does not reverence and is not willing to obey in the Lord. With that one restriction she can consult her own wishes.
The ideal marriage is when the wife reveres, loves, and will cheerfully obey in the Lord her husband. That is the lot I hope God will grant to every maiden among us.
To every woman is left these three choices: She may marry a man whom she reverences, she may remain unmarried, or she may marry a man whom she both reverences and loves, and this is the ideal marriage. But to marry without reverence is forbidden to woman, no matter what her motive is, whether for money, or position, or home, or occupation, or from a foolish dread of remaining single, or from the most absorbing love.
"But," one may say, "a woman may be mistaken in a man's character. She may think he is pure, true, brave and God-fearing, and find out after marriage that she was mistaken in her estimate." That is true, but it is only the greater reason for care. A maiden who regards a man's character as the important thing rather than the number and fervor of his protestations of love, and who gives heed to the opinion of her parents, and prays to God for guidance, is by no means likely to be deceived. The danger is, obviously, far less than if she turn her back on God's law and "follow the dictates of her own heart."
One may love very passionately for a while a bad character, whether the badness consists in vice or petty meanness, but when the, "passion shall have spent its wayward force" all the best of the race shall learn to their bitter sorrow that only love which is rooted in reverence is abiding.
The bitter consequences of a disregard of this law are not confined to the poor girl, who, in the thoughtlessness of her youth, and under the teachings of what she has read and heard, marries a man because she loves him, with little thought of his character.
Alas! The sins against this law are also visited upon the third and fourth generations. How many a mother in this city alone is suffering for her sin in marrying a vicious man by seeing her sons go astray from the evil tendencies inherited from their father, and gathered from the example of that father and the associates he has brought around them. I beg you, my friends, be not deceived. God is not mocked; whatsoever a woman sowed; that shall she also reap.
I hope no one will misunderstand me, and think I have argued that women must marry men whom they do not love. Oliver Wendell Holmes has well said that love is only one reason for marrying, while there may be a hundred reasons against it.
I leave the whole question of love just where the Bible leaves it, and I insist that women must not marry men whom they do not reverence, and whom they are not willing to obey in the Lord. The wife is the helpmeet for her husband. She is to submit to him in all things save in matters of conscience. There she is responsible first to God.
If a man should demand of his wife what is contrary to her conscience, it is her duty to refuse, but outside this higher realm she is to submit to him and recognize him as the head of the family, "even as Christ is the head of the church." (Eph. 5:23) If our girls were only taught the obligations assumed in marriage, I am sure there would be less running away with worthless, dissipated men.
A gentleman from the interior of the State recently courted a young lady in this city. He is a man of fine appearance, of agreeable manners, of education, of decided talent, and is successful in business. She knew all this, but ere she would entertain his suit she got her father and brothers to get reliable information as to his personal character. And not till she was thoroughly satisfied that he was a man that she could reverence did she consent to become his wife. Here is a noble example, worthy of the imitation of every maiden in the land.
A character worthy of reverence. What are the qualities which true women honor in men? Truth, bravery, purity and strength — these four — with all they involve. That firm strength of character which is the foundation of all integrity and steadfastness. Who honors a weak-minded, weak-souled man? Truth to God, to his fellow-men and to her is the foundation on which her faith in him can rest.
That purity, which she has a right to demand, shall be as stainless in him as he demands in her, and that bravery which quails not before danger, and heeds neither men's sneers nor their threats. These are what women reverence in men, and these our youths must strive to possess ere they are worthy to ask noble women to become their wives.
There are other things in marriage our Rebeccas should consider thoughtfully. The disposition, aside from the character, has much to do with the peace and happiness of home life. Men of goodness, truth, and courage may vary in disposition. One may be easily annoyed and another moody. One is reticent, and another voluble and diffusive. One is cheerful, another despondent. One is demonstrative to a degree unpleasant to a wife of the opposite temperament; another is reserved, so that a woman who desires voluble affection would suffer greatly from doubts of his love.
Similarity of taste also sweetens life. Congeniality between the loved ones of husband and wife is very desirable. It is of great importance for a maiden to consider whether the circumstances around her after marriage will be such as will promoted - growth in grace and her usefulness in God's service. The great law of the Christian life must ever be the controlling principle: Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
I shall have accomplished my purpose if I impress upon your hearts that in marriage the first obligation is to God, and that all disregard of His law will be sternly punished on you and your children. Men are not commanded to reverence their wives, and yet no man who respects himself will marry a woman he does not honor. If only our women were as careful, what a powerful incentive it would be to urge men to honorable and upright lives; if only every woman would refuse to marry a man whose goodness is not as stainless as he requires hers to be! God forbid that men should ever think less of the character of the wives they choose, and may He hasten the day when husbands must have the same irreproachable characters.
You should no more think of marrying a drunken man than your brother would think of marrying a drunken woman. And you should no more think of receiving attentions from a drunken man than your brother would think of paying attentions to a drunken woman. And do not marry a man in order to reform him, no matter how many promises he may make.
Not one in a hundred of such experiments are successful, and do not be foolish enough to think your case will be the fortunate exception. You can do much, and you ought to do much to reform the vicious and protect the innocent. But this is to be done, not by marrying dissipated men, but by using your great influence against the things that make men dissipated — the drinking customs of society, the saloons and gambling dens among us. I beg that you make most of the opportunity given you.
"Whatsoever ye do, do all for the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31) Loving husbands, reverencing wives, and obedient children make homes which are for God's glory when piety is there also. Our hearts go with Rebecca in her journey to her new home, and we are gladdened across the centuries as we read in conclusion of the beautiful story: "And Isaac loved her, and he was comforted after his mother's death." (Gen. 24:67)
As one whom his mother comforteth, we read, and when that comfort was taken away, only his wife, whom he loved, could make good the loss in the loving heart of Isaac. All that is tender and cheerful in this life of trial and sorrow clusters around the word "comfort" and links the mother and wife, in their loving ministrations, with the Great Comforter, for the sake of whose coming it was expedient for His disciples that Jesus Himself should go away.