Thanks, very helpful for me on judging such situations.
See my edit above. Substantial.
Very helpful and instructive. Thank you.
I’ve come to deeply appreciate and admire this as I read Calvin’s commentaries through the years. There are commentators who seem to deal with things from a merely doctrinaire angle, but Calvin seems to try every view through to its orthopractic conclusion. “If this view is followed to its conclusion, what does it actually look like lived out in the church? And does that outcome comport to what else we know of the whole counsel of Scripture?”
This point touches on the thing which I find the most difficult to digest about the “permanence” view of marriage laid forth by the opponents you refer to. Paul teaches us that if there’s any kind of man who ought to be married, it’s the man who has desire for sexual intimacy – which is to say most of us. For a Christian man to then pursue marriage is therefore to pursue obedience to what God has prescribed for his own purity (among all the other good things). In other words, the spiritual thing for us to do to with those desires for intimacy is not to suppress them or look to God to provide us with some inward, Spirit-empowered sef-control to celibacy. Rather, the spiritual thing to do is actually a very simple, flesh and blood conclusion: Go get married, man.
Notice I said flesh and blood. That may sound crass to certain readers, for we know that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, right? But I don’t think it’s crass to refer to marriage as a flesh and blood thing. Sex and fruitfulness is about as flesh and blood as it gets. I’ve often considered how from the early church and onward, self-aggrandizing "spiritual’ men go to such great lengths to juxtapose that which is “fleshly and human” against that which is spiritual. Look at the apostles’ warnings against the Gnostics and the ascetics – those forbidding marriage; forbidding foods; relegating the physical realm to be evil and sub-spiritual. The apostles make it clear to us that this is not the Christian life. God actually uses something as earthy as marriage and sex for his people to bring glory to him, and keep themselves unstained from the world.
So anyway, a Christian man glorifies God when he pursues marriage as the rightful answer to his sexual desires. What strikes me odd in the permanence view then is that the only hope that is given to the Christian man whose wife then sinfully abandons him is the notion that God will now give this man some new Spirit-filled empowerment of celibacy which he didn’t have before, and was the very reason why he got married. This notion carries with it an appearance of spirituality, doesn’t it? Moreover, it can be supported with all sorts of cliché statements about how the Spirit empowers us for the tasks that God puts before us, etc.
While I certainly don’t deny that God absolutely empowers his people for the lot that he prescribes them, the problem I find is that the entire notion seems to be unsupported from Scripture. I can’t draw a clean line from “if you lack the (exceedingly rare) gift of celibacy and burn with lust, go get married,” to “but if your wife abandons you, don’t worry, God will give you the gift of celibacy so you can endure to the end of your days.” They may make an allusion to Matthew 19:12, saying that God has given them this lot, but I don’t see it.
What I suspect instead – as you would seem to confirm in your pastoral experience – is that these very men will continue to burn for intimacy, while indulging secret sins of pornography and masturbation. In a tragic irony, they may even do this while continuing to affirm the permanence view itself intellectually. This then results in an unbreakable loop in the conscience, with guilt pressing in on all sides, with no hope that he might escape this body of death. There is no hope of assurance of his salvation, and no rest in his spirit. He will be perpetually lost in his conscience, with no place to set his foot.
Such a man does, indeed, need to be called to repentance of his lust. But if the permanence view is in fact false, then those who persuaded him to it will also bear shame. Let us tremble to remember that not many of us should become teachers (James 3:1).
Just added this to another post, but wanted a record of it here. It’s in response to a newcomer pointing out the difficulty of the innocent party being banned from marrying rather than burning when he or she is denied remarriage:
Yes, as you say, in this case the innocent party is “free” to marry rather than to burn. Calvin makes your point quite clearly and it is so very obvious.
I’m sympathetic to those today who see the horrors of marriage outside and inside the church and think something drastic needs to be done, so they say “no remarriage ever.” But one thing I didn’t mention before is the heavy work needed making judgments about each spouse in the divorce when they are believers in the church. The Westminster Standards say they ought not to be left to their private judgements, but rather the officers of the church should make the judgments.
But if, as I’ve often said, pastoral care and church discipline (other than when a teenager hacks a grandmother to death with a knife during Sunday morning worship in full view of the children and their mothers–if you get my meaning) are absent in the ministry of our congregations (read our “Elders Reformed”), and that’s our churches’ steady state economy, it’s like starting a hundred car freight train up from a dead stop by trying to go forward right away to all of a sudden weigh the facts in a breaking or broken marriage and judge who is innocent and who guilty. Say the couple begins to date and one or the other of them was divorced sometime in the past before they joined the church, it is necessary for the officers to judge who WAS guilty so the determination may be made whether the divorced party in this new relationship is free to remarry.
It’s my suspicion one of the greatest utilities to holding to “no remarriage ever” is allowing one to give a very wide (indeed, an absolute) berth to the whole entire mess. “No remarriage ever” allows one to simply state the position and that is that.