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The Purpose of Marriage

by the Rev. Willard D. Pendleton

For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh . . . What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19: 5, 6)

It is the teaching of our text that marriage is a Divine institution which was ordained by God in the beginning; in this it differs from all other human relationships. So it was that God created man, "male and female created He them," [Genesis 1: 27] and said, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh." [Matthew 19: 5] Marriage, therefore, is not, as many at this day believe, merely a contractual relationship between a man and a woman who of their own free will enter into an agreement to live together; neither is it a relationship which may rightfully be dissolved for any reasons other than those which are prescribed by Divine law. Thus it was that when certain Pharisees inquired of the Lord concerning divorce, He answered them, saying, "What . . . God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." [Matthew 19: 6]

To understand the Pharisees' involvement in the question of divorce, we must know the circumstances which prompted them to inquire of the Lord. Shortly before, Herod the king had put away his wife in order that he might take to himself Herodias, his brother's wife. Like all despots, Herod acted without regard for the law, and his action stirred up a bitter dispute among the people. The point in question was the interpretation of the law of Moses in regard to divorce. It reads: "When a man hath taken a wife . . . and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house." [Deuteronomy 24: 1]

For generations this law had been a matter of dispute among the learned. Some held that it had reference only to adultery; others held that it gave legal sanction for divorce for any cause. We can understand, therefore, why it was that the Pharisees, who sought issue with the Lord, endeavored to implicate Him in what had become the most pressing political issue of the moment. In so doing, they were mindful that for denouncing Herod, John the Baptist had already been put to death. It was then with exceeding cunning that the Pharisees inquired of the Lord concerning the causes of divorce, for if, like John the Baptist, this Man were to incur the wrath of Herod, He too would be put to death. Thus it was that in approaching Him, they asked, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" [Matthew 19: 3] But the Lord answered them, saying, "Have ye not read that . . . for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?" [Matthew 19: 4, 5] So it was that the Pharisees who had sought a direct answer to their question concerning the legality of divorce for any cause, now found themselves implicated in the deeper issue of the law, that is, in the question of original intent.

The Lord's words were, in effect, a judgment. Not only did they strike directly at the polygamous practices upon which the Jewish social system was founded, but they also exposed that spirit of equivocation which interprets the law without regard to its original purpose. To this the Pharisees had but one defense. Did not the laws of Moses supersede all previous formulations of the law? If not, "Why then did Moses command to give a writing of divorcement?" [Matthew 19: 7] Again, the Lord's answer was unexpected. "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning, it was not so." [Matthew 19: 8] In these words the Lord distinguished between that which the Divine wills and that which the Divine permits. To confuse the one with the other is to render the law of no effect.

To see the Divine purpose in anything is to perceive the use which it is intended to perform. This applies not only to all created forms but also to all human relationships. As stated, therefore, marriage is a Divine institution, for it was instituted by God in the beginning in order that the man, whom He created male and female, might become truly man, that is to say, as one person in His sight. Hence the teaching of the Writings that, "[man and woman] were so created that from two they may become as one . . . and when they become one, then, taken together, they are man (homo) in fullness; but without this conjunction, they are two, and each as it were a divided or half person." [Conjugial Love 37] Here then is that cause or that use which is spoken of in the second chapter of Genesis, for which man is to leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife.

As stated in the story of the creation of the woman, therefore, "It is not good that man should be alone"; [Genesis 2: 18] that is to say, it is not good for the male, who is a form of wisdom from the love of growing wise, to love that wisdom in himself; for he who loves wisdom in himself, loves himself on account of it, and if this love remains with the man, it is an evil love and is called the pride of self-intelligence. [Conjugial Love 88] So it was that the Lord God made "an help meet for him"; [Genesis 2: 18] that is, the woman who by virtue of her innate disposition is a being capable of converting her husband's love of himself into love of her. [Conjugial Love 193] It is for this cause, therefore, and for no other, that the man is to leave father and mother, that is, the life of the proprium, and cleave unto his wife. In this way and in no other can the Divine purpose in marriage be fulfilled, which is a heaven from the human race.

It is then the woman whom the Lord God made who is endowed with the capacity, from the Lord, to deliver man from the love of himself. In the woman, and in her alone, the love of the conjugial resides. Hence it is said in the Writings, "That the inspiration or insinuation of [this] love is from the wives into the men is because there is nothing of conjugial love with men," and, if you will believe it, "[not] even of the love of the sex"; [Conjugial Love 161] for the sphere of conjugial love is received by the female of the sex, and through this sex is transferred into the male. [Conjugial Love 223] Such as this love is with the wife, therefore, such it may become with her husband; for although the primary love in man is the love of growing wise, he could never attain to wisdom, that is, to an affection for and the perception of the uses of marriage, were it not for the fact that the love of the conjugial is inspired into the man, by the Lord, through the woman whom the Lord God created as "an help meet for him."

We are living at a time when few recognize any essential difference between the sexes. All around us we hear the voices of those who maintain that the only real difference is one of biological function. What they fail to perceive is that the biological difference is a manifestation of deeper distinctions which apply to the mind and have their origin in the soul of each of the sexes. Were this not so, man would not be a man, nor a woman a woman. Yet in seeking equal rights and opportunities for women, many have been persuaded that any differentiation between the sexes is both unjustifiable and discriminatory and is not to be tolerated in a democratic society. Deserving as these goals may be from the standpoint of social justice, let us not seek what is just by confusing the issue. To do so is not to elevate woman but to degrade the use for which she was created. There is a world of wisdom in the law of the ancients, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, which teaches that the garment of a man shall not be upon a woman, neither the garment of a woman upon a man, for it is an abomination. [Deuteronomy 22: 5] The garments of the human mind are affections, and as stated in the Writings, "The two affections, that of the woman and that of the man, can be united only as between two, and never in a single person." [Conjugial Love 175]

In the blurring of the distinction between the sexes, therefore, the Divine purpose in creation is obscured. This, however, is not the cause of the spiritual blindness of our age but an effect of the widespread disbelief in a God who created people in His own image and likeness; that is, in a God who created people male and female in order that together they may become man. Thus it is that at this day the Lord has opened the way wherein people may enter with understanding into the relationship between the sexes and, in so doing, perceive that in this relationship, as in no other, the Divine purpose in creation is fulfilled; for the ultimate intent of this relationship is conjugial love; that is, the love of one man and one woman who mutually look to the Lord. The use of this love, we are told, "is . . . more excellent than all the other uses of creation," [Conjugial Love 143] for it is the seminary of the human race and thence of the heavens. [See also Conjugial Love156, 183, 305] This love, therefore, is said to be "the fundamental love of all celestial, spiritual, and thence of natural loves" [Conjugial Love65] and therefore, there are gathered into it "all joys and delights from firsts to lasts." [Conjugial Love 68]

What the Writings present here is an ideal - an ideal so far removed from the thought of the world that few are disposed to believe that such a love exists. [Conjugial Love 58] Deeply imbedded in the human mind, however, there is the recognition that the marital relationship contains within itself the greatest potential for human happiness. Were this not so, men and women would not marry and be given in marriage but would be as the beast of the field. Unlike the beast, however, people are beings who are endowed by his Creator with the ability to look upward; that is, a being who is capable of aspiring to what is spiritual in human relationships. Because he can be affected by truth, he can, if he will, perceive what is good; and to perceive what is good is to perceive the Divine purpose, not only in marriage but in all human relationships.

It is the promise of the Writings that this love which was known to the ancients and was lost is now to be restored. The renewal of this love is the sign of the covenant of the Lord with the New Church. Hence, we are told that none can come into this love "save those who approach the Lord, love the truths of the church, and do its goods." [Conjugial Love 70] To approach the Lord is to seek Him in His Word, for it is as the Word, that is, as the spiritual sense of the Word, that the Lord is revealed at this day. To love the truths of the church is to apply them to life, for what a prrson loves, he or she does in so far as he or she is free to do so. To do the goods of the church is to do those goods which are of use to the neighbor, for what is of use is good and there is no other. From these requisites, it is evident that conjugial love involves far more than a mutual attraction between two persons of the opposite sex, which is commonly referred to as love. What is involved here is the continuing desire on the part of each that in their mutual relations, they may be led by the Lord. Lacking this, when differences arise, as they inevitably do, the love of the person will grow cold. The reason for this is that the love of the person of another, apart from the love of the use of which the person is a form, is like the seed cast upon stony ground which, having no root in itself, withers and dies. [Matthew 13: 5, 6]

It is then the use which marriage is intended to serve that gives meaning and purpose to this institution. Apart from its use, it has no more claim upon the contracting parties than those involved in any other contractual relationship. Either it is of God, or it is of man. If it is of man, it is a purely natural relationship, which may be dissolved by mutual consent; but if it is of God, it involves responsibilities which cannot be dismissed without reference to the Divine law which provides, under certain prescribed conditions, for the dissolution of marriage. These conditions are: adultery, manifest obscenities which fill the home with infamous allurements, and malicious desertion. [Conjugial Love 468] We are told that the reason for these latter two causes is that they make one with adultery? [Ibid.]

In matters as personal and as grievous as these, person may judge of themselves but not of others. Hence, it is said in the Scriptures, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." [Matthew 7: 1] What others do with their lives is not our responsibility, but what we do with our own is written in the book of life. So it is that in reflecting upon the use of marriage, we become involved in the teaching of our text. "For this cause," it is said, "shall a man leave father and mother," that is, the life of self. But if man is to "cleave to his wife," it must first be understood that by the wife is signified the new will which is formed in the understanding when, from being two, both husband and wife will to become as one man. In this process, however, there is a use which is proper to each, the one being feminine, and the other masculine, and each is essential to the other. What we are speaking of here, therefore, are those uses which mark the distinction between the sexes, and unless they are seen, the real use in marriage cannot be understood; but once they are seen, we can understand what the Lord meant when He said to the Pharisees, "What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

-New Church Life 95:133-138

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