Essay / Culture

The Secret of Marriage (for Paul and Charity)

If the old-fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense–love as distinct from “being in love”–is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by… the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God… “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it. –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Being in love, says C. S. Lewis, is the explosion that starts a marriage. But after that startup, the engine of marriage is run by the steady supply of fuel, and that fuel is a quieter, less volatile love. Of course you need both for a marriage, and on this wedding day, we have a conspicuous display of both varieties of love. Paul and Charity stand before us today as a young couple who are head over heels in love with each other: Giddy, transfigured by the delight they take in each other, and a little bit silly. All of us are dressed up, surrounded by flowers and candles and music and color, partly because we enjoy celebrating that beautiful explosion of young love. We came to see the fireworks: Ooh. Aah.

But Paul and Charity also stand before us as young people who are making wise plans for a long, fruitful, and faithful life together. They are good students who have done their homework: They have studied marriage in the word of God, they have studied marriage in their own families, and they have studied marriage in the lives of their friends and counselors. They know the blessings of family life. They also know where the hidden dangers are. They are here with serious intentions, to make solemn promises to each other in the sight of God and as many of the most important witnesses they could possibly gather into one room. A word to the witnesses, especially those of you here at the front of the sanctuary: your duty is to remind this couple of the things they have promised each other here today. Whenever you are with them, make it clear by your conduct that you are expecting them to live up to these promises from now on.

So we have the explosion and the fuel; the blessed foolishness of falling in love, plus the sober wisdom of good planning; the initial excitement and the firm resolve. But Paul and Charity, you know that while both of these are necessary, they are not sufficient. For the high calling of Christian marriage, neither the thrill of being in love, nor the wise planning that you’re putting in place, will be enough to sustain this life-long union. That is why Lewis went on to say that you will need “the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.”

That grace of God is the invisible reality that makes marriage what it is. It is possible to look at a marriage as something made by humans. After all, we have a wedding license issued by the state. The two of you fell in love; Paul made the decision to propose; Charity accepted. She and her support staff planned the ceremony. But in, with, and under all of this human activity, the grace of God is at work bringing a new thing into the world. God has made a new entity, not out of nothing, but by putting two already existing things together with a deep and abiding unity that constitutes them as one real new thing rather than as a jumble or aggregate of constituent parts. These two are now one. We can no longer know either of them without taking the other into account. No more standing alone on the B-I-B-L-E: this family stands together alone on the B-I-B-L-E. And the new thing created here today is the work of God the Father almighty, the one true creator. As the Psalm says, “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” This was true of each of you before, and now it is also true of the one thing you are together. You were already God’s creatures, plural, but you are now also his singular creature.

Reflecting on the power of architecture, someone has said that we make our buildings, and then our buildings make us. The spaces we create have a daily influence on our state of mind as we move around inside them. This wonderful church space we are in was constructed by builders, and now it gives us some feeling of nobility and reverence just to be inside of it. In a similar way, we make our marriages, and then they make us. Insofar as this God-created marriage is yours to make, make it well, for it will keep making you as the years go by.

Marriage is a gift of God, although you could overlook this and consider it merely a human gift. After all, your mothers just now gave you to be wed. Above all, in this wedding ceremony you pledge to give yourselves to each other. That sounds like a lot of human gift-giving. But it is God who gives you to each other, just as it is God who gave you to yourselves. And it is this gift of God that you will rely on when your own resources for giving are exhausted. When you cannot give any more to each other, God will continue giving to you through each other, and he will continue giving you to each other.

As a couple, this new family has much to give to the world, in their nursing and medical work, in their volunteer work, in the ministry to friends, in their Christian service, and maybe in their giving of grandchildren to their parents. This union will be a source of service and blessing to the world around it, precisely because these two have been given so much, and have been forgiven so much. They will minister grace because they know where to go to find more of it to help in time of need.

Paul and Charity, you have been chosen by God, and he has prepared in advance good works for you to walk in (Eph. 2:10) and garments to clothe yourself in. Colossians exhorts all of us, and on this day we especially exhort you, to put on kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. And the bond of your unity as man and wife will be love, as you forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you. The bond of your unity will be love, as the peace of Christ rules in your hearts. The bond of your unity will be love, as the word of Christ dwells richly in you, and you teach and admonish one another, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. The bond of your unity will be love, as everything you do in word and deed will be in the name of Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:12-17).

Paul and Charity, you have the explosion that starts a marriage and you have wisely stocked the fuel you need to sustain it. As you have prayed for and received the grace of God for this union, he has provided love as the bond of your unity. Let us praise him for this blessing!

Congregation, the words of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” are printed in your programs. Please stand with me and sing.

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