Joel Beeke – Marital Love Must Be Superlative

Contrary to characatures, the Puritans had a lot to say about love, and marital love in particular. In our continuing series (post #1, post #2) we take up their teaching that marital love must be superlative.

A husband and wife are to love each other so dearly that both are persuaded that the other is “the only fit and good match that could be found under the sun for them,” William Whately (1583-1639) writes (A Bride-Bush, 8). Because of parental love, a godly parent would not trade his child for another parent’s child, even if that child were better-looking and had more ability or gifts; similarly, a godly husband and wife would not trade each other for a better-looking and more gifted spouse (A Bride-Bush, 8). Whately concludes: “Marriage-love admits of no equal, but placeth the yoke-fellow next of all to the soul of the party loving; it will know none dearer, none so dear” (A Bride-Bush, 9).

Surely, a wife is a man’s best companion and friend. Thomas Gataker (1574–1654) suggested that Adam was truly happy in Eden, but he was not fully happy until God had provided him with a wife, and he was joined to the woman as his closest friend and companion in all of life. Gataker said, “There is no society more near, more entire, more needful, more kindly, more delightful, more comfortable, more constant, more continual, than the society of man and wife” (Certain Sermons, 2:161). He was convinced that a house was “half unfurnished and unfinished, and not fully happy but half happy, though otherwise never so happy,” until it was completed with a wife (Certain Sermons, 2:161).

The Puritan ideal of superlative marital love appears in the poems that Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672) wrote to express her longing for her husband when he traveled away from home. She wrote to him,
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man was lov’d by wife, then thee….
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense. (Quoted in Nichols, Anne Bradstreet, 118)

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Nick Batzig – 7 Ways to Care for Your Wife

In that extremely complex and, at times, hard to understand section of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we come across the comparison between the married and the unmarried (1 Cor. 7). In short, the Apostle insists that marriage is good (and the norm) but that it brings with it a division of attention. Those who are married have a preoccupation with their spouse. Those who are unmarried are free to more fully “care about the things of the Lord” while “the married man cares about…how to please his wife” and “the married woman cares about…how to please her husband.” This forces us to ask question, “What does it look like to biblically care about the needs of my wife?” That is a question that I feel as though I am just beginning to learn how to answer 11 years into marriage. While there is no silver bullet, there are many things that the Scriptures teach us in order to help guide the process of learning to love your spouse. Here are 7 basic, biblical ways that the married man can seek to please his wife:

1. Lead Her in Worship. Whether this occurs one on one or in the context of family worship, a godly husband will seek to “wash his wife with the water of the word” and to lead her “to the throne of grace” that they might together receive grace and mercy to help in time of need. A man who truly loves his wife will want to sing God’s praises with his wife and to encourage her with God’s word. This is the most foundational way that a godly husband can love and serve his wife. Everything else in the marriage is secondary to and will necessary wax and wane commensurate with this all important calling. God has given a believing husband his wife so that he might shepherd her soul to glory.

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Joel Beeke – Marital Love Must Be Spiritual

Continuing with our series on the Puritans’ views of marital love (see introduction) we come to the theme of the spirituality of marital love, that is, that is must be in Christ and in accord with God’s commandments. Love must be rooted in the experience of being equally yoked together spiritually as believers. Richard Baxter (1615–1691) said that husbands and wives have the responsibility “especially to be helpers of each other’s salvation: to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good works: to warn and help each other against sin, and all temptations: to join in God’s worship in the family, and in private: to prepare each other for the approach of death, and comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal” (Practical Works, 4:234).

Although marriage is a universal institution ordained by God for the whole human race regardless of whether they are saved or not, marriage fulfils its deepest purpose and achieves its greatest stability only when grounded in Christian faith and the fear of God. If built on the sandy foundation of physical beauty or exceptional gifts and talents, it can easily be blown away by some storm.

The Spiritual Duties of the Husband

Marital love should be profoundly spiritual because, as William Gouge (1575-1653) observed, Christian marriage should conform to the pattern of Christ and His church. As Christ loves His church, so the husband must love his wife. He is to love her absolutely (v. 25), purposefully (v. 26), realistically (v. 27), and sacrificially (vv. 28–29). He must exercise a “true, free, pure, exceeding, constant love” to his wife, nourishing and cherishing her as Christ does His gathered people (v. 29) (Of Domestical Duties, 31).

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Raymond Ortlund, Jr. – The Importance of Recapturing Biblical Marriage

Marriage and the Gospel

Reclaiming the biblical meaning of marriage in our culture today matters because the darkness of our generation is deep and profound. And if we lose the biblical meaning of marriage the darkness will become complete.

Marriage bespeaks the gospel itself. So to be clear about marriage, and to live out in our marriages (imperfectly but visibly) something of the dying love of Christ for his bride and her joyful surrender to him—this is vital. People who will never go to church and may never hear the gospel will see the gospel in our marriages and the light will shine, even in this generation.

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Raymond Ortlund, Jr. – The Sacredness of Sexual Intimacy

More Than Allowable

Sexual intimacy in marriage is not only allowable, it is sacred. The Bible says in chapter eight of the Song of Solomon that the passion, intensity, and intimacy in marriage is the very flame of the Lord.

God is not embarrassed by this. God is not ashamed of this. God is not feeling regret about this. It is a gift from above, and greatly sweetens and refreshes a marriage.

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Joel Beeke – The Puritans on Marital Love: Introduction

Edward Taylor (c. 1642–1729), a pastor, physician, and poet of Puritan New England, wrote, “A curious knot God made in Paradise…. It was the true-love knot, more sweet than spice” (“Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children,” in The Poems of Edward Taylor, ed. Donald E. Stanford, abridged ed. [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963], 344). The writings of the Puritans are sprinkled with declarations of the sweetness of marital love. By “sweet” and “sweetness” they meant to describe “a pleasant or gratifying experience, possession or state; something that delights or deeply satisfies” (Webster’s Dictionary). They delighted in the love of God and in every form of love commanded by God among mankind. In particular, they rejoiced in the love shared by husband and wife, and called married couples to love each other romantically, wholeheartedly, and perseveringly.

This may come as a shock to twenty-first-century minds; not many people today would use “Puritan” and “love” in the same sentence. Though evangelicals have become much more aware of the positive heritage of the Puritans, thanks to scholars such as J. I. Packer and his book, A Quest for Godliness, and literature produced by publishing houses such as Banner of Truth Trust and Reformation Heritage Books, the common cultural perception of the Puritans remains negative, a perception informed only by what the Puritans opposed. One prominent dictionary defines the noun “Puritan” first as “a member of a Protestant group in England and New England in the 16th and 17th centuries that opposed many customs of the Church of England,” and second, “a person who follows strict moral rules and who believes that pleasure is wrong.” We are quick to overlook that fact that perhaps the most well-known sentence ever written by the Puritans is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 1).

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Erik Raymond – A Tip for Husbands

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Being a pastor I get to talk to a lot of husbands. They want to have a good, healthy, happy marriage. Many of them are angling for a way to gain an advantage and show their wife that they love and care about her. But in my experience guys can run a little low on creativity and surprise. Doing the same things over and over again are nice and reassuring, but it can also be stale and kind of predictable. Here’s an idea that I’ve seen work well, and it’s easy. Consider it some garlic in your meatloaf.

Write some notes. That’s it. Write some notes to your wife.

(Now, I should clarify that I am advocating here for actual words on actual paper written by your actual hand. Texts, emails, and other electronic communication have their place, but they are different from what I am suggesting here.)

Here are some reasons why:

It shows you care. This makes sense, right? Your wife finds a note, and it stops her in her tracks. She pauses, picks it up, and reads it. You just injected your love, appreciation, and care for her. Interrupting your wife’s day with a pop-up ad of your appreciation and love is not a bad idea.

It’s personal. When you write out a note, you are doing so with your personal words in your personal handwriting. There is something unique and special about seeing and reading the words of the one whom we love. Take some time and (legibly) write out a note.

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Geoffrey Kirkland – Husband: Pray for Your Wife!

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There just might be some news that would toweringly soar far above any other news you could receive today. That news is that you have, at this present instant, a Great High Priest who intercedes for you before God’s heavenly throne. At this moment, wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, and however you may feel, if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you have a Surety in heaven who pleads His own merits before God the Father on your behalf. Jesus, right now, prays for you. In fact, He does not stop praying for you. He loves you and brings you incessantly before the Father’s throne in prayer. Dear Christian, this is what your bridegroom does for you!

So husband, strive to emulate this by praying for your wife. Just as your Savior brings you before the Father, so you should bring your wife before the Father frequently. Just as your Savior intercedes for you out of fervent love, so you can intercede on behalf of your bride before the Father with a heart overflowing in love.

Husband, do you pray for your wife? Not just a few words here or there. But do you really pour out your soul to God in desperate pleadings, fervent cries, and intercessory petitions on behalf of your most treasured possession on earth, your bride? If God were to affirmatively answer all of your prayers right now, at this instant, how much would really change in your marriage, or in your wife’s life?

Pray with frequency for your wife. Seek the Lord early for your bride. Prayerfully lead her to the throne before she even brings herself to the throne of grace. Beg God for strength to equip her to stand strong in almighty grace and to ward off the devil’s wily schemes. Seek the Lord that she may grow in grace, in wisdom, in love, in patience, in holy zeal, and in evangelistic opportunities.

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Geoffrey Kirkland – Husbands: Learn Your Wives!

Affectionate african couple talking on couch
Affectionate african couple talking on couch

Husbands must live with their lives in an understanding way (1 Pet 3:7). The Greek phrase for “an understanding way” literally could be translated, ‘according to knowledge.’ Every husband must dwell together with his wife in such a way that he knows her — very well. That means, quite practically, that husbands must date (and continue to date!) their wives. The wedding ceremony doesn’t mean the work of learning one another has ceased. Rather, it only has launched!

What does it look like for husbands to learn their wives?

First, learn her intentionally. This means that the husband must actually try and remember that he must be deliberate and proactive in reaching her heart and learning more about her. Because, naturally, this won’t happen automatically. Men can so quickly fall into laziness and apathy which can be utterly catastrophic for a thriving and holy marriage relationship. Thus, the man must strive to ask questions, pursue her as much after the wedding as he did to win her before they were even dating. Second, husbands must learn her emotionally. Women change as different seasons of life come and go. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just life. Seasons and life and families change. So husbands have the wonderful privilege of knowing and learning and seeking to learn how their wives are doing on the inside. This allows the husbands to shepherd and love their wives well.

Third, learn her repeatedly. It’s not a one-shot endeavor. Rather, this is an ongoing pursuit. It’s relentless. It’s undying. It’s a continual desire to ask questions and more questions and dialogue together and ask good, heart searching questions regularly. Again, this is to remain throughout the entirety of one’s marriage. Fourth, learn her studiously. Husbands can tend to study theology more than their wives. Husbands can tend to study their work and hobbies and sports teams more than their wives. And this ought not to be. Every husband must study his bride. He should be constantly asking and learning. Constantly inquiring and seeking to know why she thinks and speaks and does and reacts and lives the way she does. This comes with time. It’s not a quick, drive-thru, get it done easily and quickly endeavor. This studying of the wife is a life-long pursuit.

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John Piper – Love Her More, Love Her Less: Living for God’s Glory in Marriage

My main point is simple: If your marriage is going to make God look glorious, then you must find more satisfaction in God than in your marriage.

The assumption behind the topic and behind the main point is that God is ultimate and marriage is not. God is the most important reality in the universe. Marriage is less important — far less important, infinitely less important. God is unimaginably great and infinitely valuable and unsurpassed in beauty. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).

Therefore, God is absolute reality. We are not. The universe is not. Marriage is not. We are derivative. The universe is of secondary importance, along with everything in it. The human race is not the ultimate reality nor the ultimate value nor the ultimate measuring rod of what is good or what is true or what is beautiful. God is. God is the one ultimate absolute in existence. Everything else exists by him and for him.

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