An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
From a prescription of duties towards others, the apostle next proceeds to give directions unto those which concern ourselves, wherein our own persons and walking are concerned. He does this in a prohibition of the two most radical and comprehensive lusts of corrupt nature, namely, uncleanness and covetousness: the first respecting the persons of men in a peculiar manner, the other their conversation or conduct. Acts of moral uncleanness are distinguishable from all other sins which are perpetrated in external acts, in that they are immediately against a man’s self and his own person (see 1 Corinthians 6:18), and therefore is chastity enforced under the means for preserving the same, that is, marriage; while the antidote for covetousness is given, namely, a spirit of contentment. The connection between Hebrews 13:4-6 and 13:1-3 is obvious: unless uncleanness and covetousness be mortified there can be no real love exercised unto the brethren.
As God hath knit the bones and sinews together for the strengthening of our bodies, so He has ordained the joining of man and woman together in wedlock for the strengthening of their lives, for "two are better than one" (Ecclesiastes 4:9); and therefore when God made the woman for the man He said, "I will make him a help meet for him" (Gen. 2:18), showing that man is advantaged by having a wife. That such does not actually prove to be the case in all instances is, for the most part at least, to be attributed unto departure from the Divine precepts thereon. As this is a subject of such vital moment, we deem it expedient to present a fairly comprehensive outline of the teaching of Holy Writ upon it, especially for the benefit of our young readers; though we trust we shall be enabled to include that which will be helpful to older ones too.
It is perhaps a trite remark, yet none the less weighty for having been uttered so often, that with the one exception of personal conversion, marriage is the most momentous of all earthly events in the life of a man or woman. It forms a bond of union which binds them until death. It brings them into such intimate relations that they must either sweeten or embitter each other’s existence. It entails circumstances and consequences which are not less far-reaching than the endless ages of eternity. How essential it is, then, that we should have the blessing of Heaven upon such a solemn yet precious undertaking; and in order to this, how absolutely necessary it is that we be subject to God and to His Word thereon. Far, far better to remain single unto the end of our days, than to enter into the marriage state without the Divine benediction upon it. The records of history and the facts of observation bear abundant testimony to the truth of that remark.
Even those who look no further than the temporal happiness of individuals and the welfare of existing society, are not insensible to the great importance of our domestic relations, which the strongest affections of nature secure, and which even our wants and weaknesses cement. We can form no conception of social virtue or felicity, yea, no conception of human society itself, which has not its foundation in the family. No matter how excellent the constitution and laws of a country may be, or how vast its resources and prosperity, there is no sure basis for social order, or public as well as private virtue, until it be laid in the wise regulation of its families. After all, a nation is but the aggregate of its families, and unless there be good husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, there cannot possibly be good citizens. Therefore the present decay of home life and family discipline threaten the stability of our nation today far more severely than does any foreign hostility.
But the Scriptural view of the relative duties of the members of a Christian household, portrays the prevailing effects in a most alarming manner, as being dishonoring to God, disastrous to the spiritual condition of the churches, and as raising up a most serious obstacle in the way of evangelical progress. Sad beyond words is it to see that professing Christians are themselves largely responsible for the lowering of marital standards, the general disregard of domestic relations, and the rapid disappearance of family discipline. As, then, marriage is the basis of the home or family, it is incumbent on the writer to summon his readers to a serious and prayerful consideration of the revealed will of God on this vital theme. Though we can hardly hope to arrest the awful disease which is now eating out the very vitals of our nation, yet if God is pleased to bless this article to a few individuals our labor will not be in vain.
We will begin by pointing out the exellency of wedlock: "Marriage is honorable:" says our text, and it is so first of all because God Himself has placed special honor upon it. All other ordinances or institutions (except the Sabbath) were appointed of God by the medium of men or angels (Acts 7:35), but marriage was ordained immediately by the Lord Himself—no man or angel brought the first wife to her husband (Gen. 2:22). Thus marriage had more Divine honor put upon it than had all the other Divine institutions, because it was directly solemnized by God Himself. Again; this was the first ordinance God instituted, yea, the first thing He did after man and woman were created, and that, while they were still in their unfallen state. Moreover, the place where their marriage occurred shows the honorableness of this institution: whereas all other institutions (save the Sabbath) were instituted outside of paradise, marriage was solemnized in Eden itself!—intimating how happy they are that marry in the Lord.
"God’s crowning creative act was the making of woman. At the close of each creative day it is formally recorded that ‘God saw what He had made, that it was good.’ But when Adam was made, it is explicitly recorded that ‘God saw it was not good that the man should be alone.’ As to man the creative work lacked completeness, until, as all animals and even plants had their mates, there should be found for Adam also an help, meet for him—his counterpart and companion. Not till this want was met did God see the work of the last creative day also to be good.
"This is the first great Scripture lesson on family life, and it should be well learned... The Divine institution of marriage teaches that the ideal state of both man and woman is not in separation but in union, that each is meant and fitted for the other; and that God’s ideal is such union, based on a pure and holy love, enduring for life, exclusive of all rivalry or other partnership, and incapable of alienation or unfaithfulness because it is a union in the Lord—a holy wedlock of soul and spirit in mutual sympathy and affection" (A.T. Pierson).
As God the Father honored the institution of marriage, so also did God the Son. First, by His being "born of a woman" (Gal. 4:4). Second, by His miracles, for the first supernatural sign that He wrought was at the marriage of Cana in Galilee (John 2:9), where He turned the water into wine, thereby intimating that if Christ be present at your wedding (i.e., if you "marry in the Lord") your life shall be a joyous or blessed one. Third, by His parables, for He compared the kingdom of God unto a marriage (Matthew 22:2) and holiness to a "wedding garment" (Matthew 22:11). So also in His teaching: when the Pharisees sought to ensnare Him on the subject of divorce, He set His imprimatur on the original constitution, adding "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:4-6).
The institution of marriage has been still further honored by the Holy Spirit, for He has used it as a figure of the union which exists between Christ and the Church. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Eph. 5:31, 32). The relation which obtains between the Redeemer and the redeemed is likened, again and again, unto that which exists between a wedded man and woman: Christ is the "Husband" (Isa. 54:5), the Church is the "Wife" (Rev. 21:9). "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you" (Jer. 3:14). Thus, each person of the blessed Trinity has set His seal upon the honorableness of the marriage state.
There is no doubt that in true marriage each party helps the other equally, and in view of what has been pointed out above, any who venture to hold or teach any other doctrine or philosophy join issue with the Most High. This does not lay down a hard and fast rule that every man and woman is obliged to enter into matrimony: there may be good and wise reasons for abiding alone, adequate motives for remaining in the single state—physical and moral, domestic and social. Nevertheless, a single life should be regarded as abnormal and exceptional, rather than ideal. Any teaching that leads men and women to think of the marriage bond as the sign of bondage, and the sacrifice of all independence, to construe wifehood and motherhood as drudgery and interference with woman’s higher destiny, any public sentiment to cultivate celebacy as more desirable and honorable, or to substitute anything else for marriage and home, not only invades God’s ordinance, but opens the door to nameless crimes and threatens the very foundations of society.
Now it is clear that marriage must have particular reasons for the appointment of it. Three are given in Scripture. First, for the propagation of children. This is its obvious and normal purpose: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him: male and female created He them" (Gen. 1:27)—not both males or both females, but one male and one female; and to make the design of this unmistakably plain God said, "Be fruitful and multiply." For this reason marriage is called "matrimony," which signifies motherage, because it results in virgins becoming mothers. Therefore it is desirable that marriage be entered into at an early age, before the prime of life be passed: twice in Scripture we read of "the wife of thy youth" (Prov. 5:18; Malachi 2:15). We have pointed out that the propagation of children is the "normal" end of marriage; yet there are special seasons of acute "distress" when 1 Corinthians 7:29 holds good.
Second, marriage is designed as a preventive of immorality: "To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2). If any were exempted it might be supposed that kings would be given dispensation—be-cause of the lack of a successor to the throne should his wife be barren; yet the king is expressly forbidden a plurality of wives (Deut. 17:17), showing that the endangering of a monarchy is not sufficient to countervail the sin of adultery. For this cause a whore is termed a "strange woman" (Prov. 2:16), showing that she should be a stranger to us; and children born out of marriage are called "bastards," which (under the Law) were excluded from the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:2).
The third purpose of marriage is for the avoiding of the inconveniences of solitude, signified in the "it is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18: as though the Lord had said, This life would be irksome and miserable for man if no wife be given him for a companion: "Woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:10). Someone has said, "like a turtle which has lost his mate, like one leg when the other is cut off, like one wing when the other is clipped, so had man been if woman had not been given to him." Therefore for mutual society and comfort God united man and woman that the cares and fears of this life might be eased by the cheer and help of each other.
Let us next consider the choice of our mate. First, the one selected for our life’s partner must be outside those degrees of near kinship prohibited by the Divine law: Leviticus 18:6-17. Second, the Christian must wed a fellow Christian. From earliest times God has commanded that "the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be numbered among the nations" (Num. 23:9). His law unto Israel in connection with the Canaanites, was, "Neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son" (Deut. 7:3 and cf. Joshua 23:12). How much more, then, must God require the separation of those who are His people by a spiritual and heavenly tie than those who occupied only a fleshly and earthly relation to Him. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor. 6:14) is the clarion order to His saints of this dispensation. Partnership of any kind of one who is born again with one in a state of nature is here prohibited, as is evident from the terms used in the next verse—"fellowship, communion, concord, part, agreement."
There are but two families in this world: the children of God and the children of the Devil (1 John 3:10). If, then, a daughter of God marries a son of the Evil one she becomes a daughter-in-law to Satan! If a son of God marries a daughter of Satan, he becomes a son-in-law to the Devil! By such an infamous step an affinity is formed between one belonging to the most High and one belonging to His arch-enemy. "Strong language!" yes, but not too strong. O the dishonor done to Christ by such a union; O the bitter reaping from such a sowing. In every case it is the poor believer who suffers. Read the inspired histories of Samson, Solomon, and Ahab, and see what followed their unholy alliances in wedlock. As well might an athlete attach to himself a heavy weight and then expect to win a race, as for one to progress spiritually after marrying a worldling.
Should any Christian reader be inclined or expect to become betrothed, the first question for him or her to carefully weigh in the Lord’s presence is, Will this union be with an unbeliever? For if you are really cognizant of and heart and soul be impressed with the tremendous difference which God, in His grace, has put between you and those who are—however attractive in the flesh—yet in their sins, then you should have no difficulty in rejecting every suggestion and proposal of making common cause with such. You are "the righteousness of God" in Christ, but unbelievers are "unrighteous"; you are "light in the Lord," but they are darkness; you have been translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, but unbelievers are under the power of Belial; you are a son of peace, whereas all unbelievers are "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3); therefore "be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean; and I will receive you" (2 Cor. 6:17).
The danger of forming such an alliance is before marriage, or even betrothal, neither of which could be seriously entertained by any real Christian unless the sweetness of fellowship with the Lord had been lost. The affections must first be withdrawn from Christ before we can find delight in social intimacy with those who are alienated from God, and whose interests are confined to this world. The child of God who is "keeping his heart with all diligence" will not, cannot, have a joy in intimacies with the unregenerate. Alas, how often is the seeking or the accepting of close friendship with unbelievers the first step to open departure from Christ. The path which the Christian is called upon to tread is indeed a narrow one, but if he attempts to widen it, or leave it for a broader road, it must be in contravention of the Word of God, and to his or her own irreparable damage and loss.
Third, "married . . . only in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39) goes much further than prohibiting an unbeliever for a mate. Even among the children of God there are many who would not be suitable to each other in such a tie. A pretty face is an attraction, but O how vain to be governed in such a serious undertaking by such a trifle. Earthly goods and social position have their value here, yet how base and degrading to suffer them to control such a solemn undertaking. O what watchfulness and prayerfulness is needed in the regulation of our affections! Who fully understands the temperament that will match mine? that will be able to bear patiently with my faults, be a corrective to my tendencies, and a real help in my desire to live for Christ in this world? How many make a fair show at the start, but turn out wretchedly. Who can shield me from a host of evils which beset the unwary, but God my Father?
"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband" (Prov. 12:4): a pious and competent wife is the most valuable of all God’s temporal blessings: she is the special gift of His grace. "A prudent wife is from the Lord" (Prov. 19:14), and He requires to be definitely and diligently sought unto: see Genesis 24:12. It is not sufficient to have the approval of trusted friends and parents, valuable and even needful as that (generally) is for our happiness; for though they are concerned for our welfare, yet their wisdom is not sufficiently far-reaching. The One who appointed the ordinance must needs be given the first place in it if we are to have His blessing on it. Now prayer is never intended to be a substitute for the proper discharge of our responsibilities: we are ever required to use care and discretion, and must never act hurriedly and rashly. Our better judgment is to regulate our emotion: in the body the head is placed over the heart, and not the heart over the head!
"Whoso findeth a wife (a real one) findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord" (Prov. 18:22): "findeth" implies a definite quest. To direct us therein the Holy Spirit has supplied two rules or qualifications. First, godliness, because our partner must be like Christ’s Spouse, pure and holy. Second, fitness, "a help, meet for him" (Gen. 2:18), showing that a wife cannot be a "help" unless she be "meet," and for that she must have much in common with her mate. If her huband be a laboring man, it would be madness for him to choose a lazy woman; if he be a learned man, a woman with no love of knowledge would be quite unsuited. Marriage is called a "yoke," and two cannot pull together if all the burden is to fall upon one—as it would if one weak and sickly was the partner chosen.
Now for the benefit of our younger readers, let us point out some of the marks by which a godly and fit mate may be identified. First, the reputation: a good man commonly has a good name (Prov. 22:1), none can accuse him of open sins. Second, the countenance: our looks reveal our characters, and therefore Scripture speaks of "proud looks" and "wanton looks,"—"the show of their countenance doth witness against them" (Isa. 3:9). Third, the speech, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh:" "the heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips" (Prov. 16:23); "She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness" (Prov. 31:26). Fourth, the apparel: a modest woman is known by the modesty of her attire. If the clothing be vulgar or showy the heart is vain. Fifth, the company kept: birds of a feather flock together—a person may be known by his or her associates.
A word of warning is, perhaps, not quite needless. No matter how carefully and prayerfully one’s partner be selected, he will not find marriage a perfect thing. Not that God did not make it perfect, but man has fallen since, and the fall has marred everything. The apple may still be sweet, but it has a worm inside. The rose has not lost its fragrance, but thorns grow with it. Willingly or unwillingly, everywhere we must read the ruin which sin has brought in. Then let us not dream of those faultless people which a diseased fancy can picture and novelists portray. The most godly men and women have their failings; and though such be easy to bear when there is genuine love, yet they have to be borne.
A few brief remarks now on the home-life of the wedded couple. Light and help will be obtained here if it be borne in mind that marriage pictures forth the relation between Christ and His Church. This, then, involves three things. First, the attitude and actions of husband and wife are to be regulated by love, for that is the cementing tie between Lord Jesus and His Spouse: a holy love, sacrificial love, an enduring love which naught can sever. There is nothing like love to make the wheels of home life run smoothly. The husband sustains to his mate the same relation as does the Redeemer to the redeemed, and hence the exhortation, "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church" (Eph. 5:25): with a hearty and constant love, ever seeking her good, ministering to her needs, protecting and providing for her, bearing with her infirmities: thus "giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" (1 Pet. 3:7).
Second, the headship of the husband. "The head of the woman is the man" (1 Cor. 11:3); "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church" (Eph. 5:23). Unless this Divine appointment be duly heeded there is sure to be confusion. The household must have a leader, and God has committed its rule unto the husband, holding him responsible for its orderly management; and serious will be the loss if he shirks his duty and turns the reins of government over to his wife. But this does not mean that Scripture gives him license to be a domestic tyrant, treating his wife as a servant: his dominion is to be exercised in love toward the one who is his consort. "Likewise ye husbands dwell with them" (1 Pet. 3:7): seek their society after the day’s labor is over. That Divine injunction plainly condemns those who leave their wives and go abroad on the pretext of a "call from God."
Third, the subjection of the wife. "Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:22): there is only one exception to be made in the application of this rule, namely when he commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands. "For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands" (1 Pet. 3:5): alas, how little of this spiritual "adornment" is evident today! "Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, so long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement" (1 Pet. 3:6): willing and loving subjection to the husband, out of respect for the authority of God, is what characterizes the daughters of Sarah. Where the wife refuses to submit to her husband, the children are sure to defy their parents—sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.
We have space for only one other matter, which it is deeply important for young husbands to heed. "Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house" (Prov. 24:27). The point here is that the husband is not to think of owning his own house before he can afford it. As Matthew Henry says, "This is a rule of providence in the management of household affairs. We must prefer necessities before luxuries, and not lay that out for show which should be expended for the support of the family." Alas, in this degenerate age so many young couples want to start where their parents ended, and then feel they must imitate their godless neighbors in various extravagancies. Never go into debt or purchase on the "credit system:" "Owe no man anything" (Rom. 13:8)!
And now for a final word on our text. "Marriage is honorable in all" who are called thereunto, no class of persons being precluded. This clearly gives the lie to the pernicious teaching of Rome concerning the celibacy of the clergy, as does also 1 Timothy 3:2, etc. "And the bed undefiled" not only signifies fidelity to the marriage vow (1 Thess. 4:4), but that the conjugal act of intercourse is not polluting: in their unfallen state Adam and Eve were bidden to "multiply;" yet moderation and sobriety is to obtain here, as in all things. We do not believe in what is termed "birth control," but we do earnestly urge self-control, especially by the husband, "But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." This is a most solemn warning against unfaithfulness: those who live and die impenitently in these sins will eternally perish (Eph. 5:5).