Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Let every one in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).
All this good advice by a man who never married. He lived on to fifty-eight years of age, in eminent bachelorhood. Indeed, it was better for Paul to remain in single life, because he went on such rapid missionary expeditions that no companion could have endured the hardship. Celibacy in some cases is better. Under such circumstances single persons accomplish what could not be accomplished in the married state.
I have known men who remain unaffianced that they might take care of the children of a deceased brother. What would become of the world without the self-sacrifice and helpfulness of the bachelor uncles and the maiden aunts I cannot imagine!
Among the brightest of heaven will be those who took care of other people’s children. Alas for that household that has not within easy call an Uncle John or an Aunt Mary! I know that caricatures are made and ungallant things said of single persons; but from what I have observed, single persons are quite equal in disposition to their married siblings. Celibacy is exemplified by such men as Thomas Babington Macaulay and Washington Irving in literature and by such women as Florence Nightingale and Dorothea Dix in philanthropy.
Both Jesus and Paul were single. But while Paul remained in the single state, he kept his eyes open and looked off on the calm sea of married life and on the chopped sea of domestic perturbation. He comes forth in my text to say, “Let every one in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband,” implying that the wife ought to be lovable, so there might be something to love, and the man ought to be honorable, so there might be something to reverence.
Fortunately, most married persons are well mated. When the engagement is announced, there may be surprise and seeming incongruity; but as the years pass by, it is demonstrated that the selection was divinely arranged. There may be marked difference of temperament, of appearance, or of circumstances. That is no objection to the match. Sanguine [cheerful] and phlegmatic [flat] temperaments make appropriate union, blonde and brunette, quick and slow, French and German. In the machinery of domestic life there is no more need for the driving wheel than for the brakes. That is the best union generally which has variance.
The best argument in behalf of marriage as a divine institution is that the vast majority of conjugal relationships are the best thing that could have happened. Once in a while there is a resounding exception to the good rule, the attempt being made to marry fire and gunpowder, with the consequent explosion in the divorce courts; but in the vast majority of instances the conjugal relation is a beautiful illustration of what the Psalmist said when he declared, “God sets the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:6).
Taking it for granted, then, that you are well mated, I proceed to give you some prescriptions for domestic tranquility.
A spirit of compromise must be dominant. You must remember that you were twenty or thirty years forming independent habits and having your own way. In the marriage state these habits must be brought into accord, and there may be some ingenuity [adjustment] necessary. Be determined to have your own way, and there will be no peace. Let the rule be: in all matters of moral principle your determination will be iron, and in all unimportant matters, willow.
Whatever you may think of the word compromise in diplomacy, without compromise in the home there is no domestic peace. Many people are willing to compromise, if you will do just as they want you to do.
A little boy and a little girl were fighting over who would ride the tricycle. The little girl said, “I could ride this thing if one of us would get off.” But there is no compromise in that. That is having your own way.
The rule ought to be: in all domestic matters, all social matters, all ecclesiastical matters, all political matters, firm adherence to fundamentals, easy surrender in nonessentials. Be not too proud or too stubborn to give up. Compromise! Compromise!
There must be a spirit of consultation. The home ought to be a cabinet, where all the affairs of the household and all the affairs of business life come under advise and consent. That men ought never to take their business home is an absurd generalization. Ten thousand financial failures would have been avoided if men had consulted their wives.
In the first place, woman are sometimes better at judging a person’s moral character. Before you invite a man into your business as partner, you ought to introduce him to your wife. Hear what she thinks of his capacity and his integrity. After an introduction she may be able to tell you as much about him as it would take you twenty years to learn, by which time it may be too late.
You say to your wife, “Well, what do you think of him?”
She says, “I don’t like him at all.”
You say, “That’s absurd! To form a prejudice against him on so short an acquaintance! I have known him for years, and I have never known any bad against him.”
“Well,” she says, “I don’t know why I have formed that opinion, but I tell you to beware. Put none of your financial interests in that man’s keeping.”
Ten or fifteen years pass by. You come home some night and say, “Well, my dear, you were right. That man swindled me out of my last dollar.”
It is not that woman is wiser than man. It is that God has given her that peculiar intuition in regard to human character.
Now, you have no right to go into an enterprise that involves the homestead, or the education of your children, or the fate of your entire family, without consulting your wife. Of course, all this implies that you did not marry a fool. If at the marriage altar you committed suicide, you had better keep all your business affairs in your own heart and head. But let us hope that you have sound common sense presiding in your household.
How much a wife may help a husband’s business affairs was well illustrated in the case where the thrifty wife, over a period of time, saved from her household allowance a certain sum for a rainy day.
One evening, after the passage of some years, the husband came in and said, “Well, I’m going to suspend payment tomorrow. A few dollars would get me through, but I can’t get the few dollars.”
The wife, her eye on her knitting, said, “I wish you would hunt up the definition of the word independence in Webster’s Dictionary. Hunt it up for me.”
He opened the dictionary, found the word independence, and a $100 bill.
“Now,” she said, “find the word gratitude.”
He turned to the word gratitude, and there was another $100 bill.
She asked him to read a verse of a certain chapter of the Bible. He opened to the verse in the Bible, and there was $500.
Before the evening had passed, the man had financial relief to tide him over his disasters. You call that dramatic. I call that beautifully Christian.
In all expenditures there ought to be consultation. Do not dole out money to your wife as though she were a beggar or a hired hand. Let her know how much you have, or how little. Appeal to her intelligent judgement, and she will be content, and your own disposition will not be irritated. As long as you keep a mystery about your business matters, she will wonder why her household allowance is so small. No honorable woman wants to spend more money than the family can afford. Consult with her on this matter. Show her your business expenses, all the money you have for cigars and dinners at Delmonico’s, and how much it takes for the clubhouse and for the political campaign. Then let her present all her domestic expenses. After consulting each other, do your best.
When a man dare not tell his business transactions to his wife, something is wrong. Do you suppose the gigantic forgeries enacted in this country would have taken place if the wife had been consulted? The wife would have said, “Stop! Let us live in one room in the poorest house on the poorest street of the poorest town, and have nothing but dry bread rather than that you should make yourself culpable before God and the law.” In most cases of fraud and embezzlement, the wife has been the most surprised person in the community.
A banker sometime ago misused trust funds, and he went from fraud to fraud, and from knavery to knavery, until it was necessary for him to leave home before daylight. His wife asked, “Where are you going?”
“I am going to New York,” said he, “on the early train.”
“Why, isn’t this sudden?” she asked.
“Oh, no. I expected to go.”
He left the room and went up to the room where his daughters slept, looked on their calm faces for the last time, as he supposed, and started. He was brought back by the constables of an outraged law, and is now in the penitentiary.
Do you suppose that man, with a good wife—an honest wife, a Christian wife, as he had—could have gotten into such a situation if he had consulted her? Consultation is the word—domestic consultation.
There must, in the conjugal state, be no secret from each other. What one knows both must know. It is a bad sign when one partner in the conjugal relation is afraid to have the letters opened or read by the other partner. Surreptitious [kept secret because it would not be approved of] correspondence is always dangerous.
If a man comes to you and says, “I am going to tell you a great privacy, and don’t want you to tell anybody, not even your wife,” say to him, “Well, now, you had better not tell me, for I shall tell her as soon as I get home.”
There must be no secrecy of association. You ought not to be unwilling to tell where you have been and with whom you have been. Sometimes an unwise wife will have a lady confidante whom she makes a depository of privacies which they are pledged to keep between themselves. Beware! Anything that implies that husband and wife are two and not one implies peril, domestic peril, social peril, mighty peril.
In most cases of domestic infelicity exposed in court, the trouble began by the accidental opening of a letter in a series of correspondence never suspected. In the conjugal relations, secrets kept one from another are nitroglycerine under the hearthstone, and the fuse is lit!
There must be a spirit of forbearance. In the weeks, the months, the years that you were planning for each other’s conquest, only the more genial side of your nature was observable, but now you are off guard, and the faults are all known the one to the other. You are aware of your imperfections, unless you are one of those conceited people who are quickly observant of faults in others, but oblivious to faults in yourself; and now having found out all of each other’s imperfections, forbear.
If the one be given to too much precision, and the other disorderly in habits; if the one be spendthrift and the other thrifty; if the one be loquacious [talkative], and the other reticent [reserved], forbear. Especially, if you both have inflammable tempers, do not both get mad at once. Take turn about! William Cowper put it well when he said:
The kindest and the happiest pair
Will find occasion to forbear;
And something every day they live
To pity, and perhaps forgive. ~William Cowper (1782)
Providing you are both Christian, there must be no interfering with each other’s spiritual sentiments. If you are a Baptist and your wife a Pedo-Baptist, do not go to splashing water into each other’s face! If you are a Presbyterian and your husband is a Methodist, when he shouts “Hallelujah!” do not get nervous.
If you have strong denominational proclivities, one of you had better go to one church, and the other to another. Or, surrendering some of your intensity on that subject, come to some such church as the Brooklyn Tabernacle, where, while we adhere to the fundamentals of the gospel, we do not care a rye straw for some of the infinitesimal differences between Evangelical denominations—putting one drop of water on the brow, if that is enough baptism; if not, then plunging the candidate clear out of sight, if that is preferred. Not caring whether you believe you have been foreordained to be saved or not, if only you are saved. Nor whether you believe in the perseverance of the saints or not, if only you will persevere. Nor whether you prefer prayer by Episcopal liturgy or extemporaneous supplication, if only you will pray.
Do not let there be any spiritual contests across the breakfast table or the tea table. It makes little difference from what direction you come toward the riven heart of Christ, if you only come up to the riven heart. Yet, I know in many families there is constant picking at opposing beliefs and attempted proselytizing. If you, the father, fight for Episcopacy, and you, the mother, fight for Presbyterianism, your children will compromise the matter and be Nothingarians!
You need to cultivate each other’s spiritual welfare. This is a profoundly agitating thought to every fair-minded man and woman. You live together on earth; you want to live together forever. You do not want ten, or twenty, or fifty years to end your association; you want to take your companion into the kingdom of God with you. If this subject is irritating in the household, it is that you do not understand Christian strategy.
Every Christian companion may take his or her companion into glory. How? Ask God, and He will tell you how. Perhaps by occasional inspirational remark. Perhaps by earnest prayer. Perhaps by a consistent life. More probably by all these things combined. Paul put it forcefully when he said, “How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? How do you know, O man, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16).
Generally, when in my congregation I find a family, as I often do, in which the wife is a Christian, and the husband is not, I say frankly to him: “Now you have got to come in. You might just as well try to swim up against Niagara rapids as against the tide of spiritual influence that, in this church, is going to surge you into the kingdom of God. You must come in. You know that your wife is right in this matter of faith. She may be quick-tempered, and you may sometimes lose your patience with her; but you know she is better than you are, and you know when she dies, she will go as straight to heaven as a shot to a target.
“And, if today, on the way home, a vehicle should dash down the street, and she should fall lifeless, with no opportunity for last words, you might have a doubt about what would become of you, and a doubt about what would become of the children, but you would have no doubt about her eternal destiny. Somewhere under the flush of her cheek, or under the pallor of her brow is the Lord’s mark. She is your wife, but she is God’s child, and you are not jealous of that relationship. You only wish that you yourself were a son of the Lord Almighty. Come and have the matter settled. If I die before you, I will not forget in the next world how you stood together here, but I will expect both of you. You must come.
“I say it in all Christian love and emphasis, as a brother talks to a brother. You must come. You have been united so long, you cannot afford to have death divorce you. How long it is since you began the struggle of life together! You have helped each other on the road, and what you have done for each other God only knows. There have been tedious sicknesses, and anxious watching, and here and there a grave, short but very deep; and though the blossoms of the marriage day may have scattered, and the lips that pronounced you one may have gone into dust, you have through all these years been to each other true as steel.
“Now, today, I am going to remarry you for heaven [that is, as believers in the redeemed congregation]. This is the bridal day of your soul’s peace. Here is the marriage altar. Kneel side by side, take the oath of eternal fidelity, clasp hands in a covenant never to be broken. I pronounce you one on earth, I pronounce you one for eternity. What God by His grace has joined together, let not earth or hell put asunder. Hark! I hear a humming in the air—an anthem—a wedding march—organs celestial played on by fingers seraphic.”
I do not think I ever read anything more beautiful or sadder than Cotton Mather’s description of the departure of his wife from earth to heaven:
The black day arrives. I had never seen so black a day in all the time of my pilgrimage. The desire of my eyes is this day to be taken from me at a stroke. Her death is lingering and painful. All the forenoon of this day she was in the pangs of death, and sensible until the last minute or two before her final expiration. I cannot remember the discourse that passed between us, only her devout soul was full of satisfaction about her going to a state of blessedness with the Lord Jesus Christ. As far as my distress would permit, I studied to confirm her satisfaction and consolation.
When I saw to what a point of resignation I was called of the Lord, I resolved, with His help, to glorify Him. So, two hours before she expired, I knelt by her bedside and took into my hands that dear hand, the dearest in the world, and solemnly and sincerely gave her up to the Lord. I gently put her out of my hands and laid away her hand, resolved that I would not touch it again. She afterward told me that she signed and sealed my act of resignation, and though before that she had called for me continually, after it she never asked for me anymore. She conversed much until near two in the afternoon. The last sensible word she spoke was to her weeping father: “Heaven, Heaven will make amends for all!”
Now let us be faithful in this relation of which I have been speaking. Do you want to know what the Lord thinks of it?
Read Isaiah, where He says, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). There is a wedding coming that will eclipse all the princely and imperial weddings the world has ever seen.
It was a great day when Napoleon took Josephine; it was a great day when Henry VIII led Anne Boleyn over the cloth of gold on the street, the cloth of gold reaching up to the palace; it was a great day when the King of Spain took Mercedes; but there will be a greater time when the Lord shall take His Bride, the Church, to Himself.
Long time ago they were affianced, but she has been down in the wilderness. He has written her again and again, and the day of marriage is fixed. She has sent word to Him. He has sent word to her. But, oh, was there ever such a difference in estate! The King on the one side, the Bride of the wilderness, poor and persecuted, on the other. The wealth of the universe on the one side, the obscurity of the ages on the other. The pomp of heaven on the one side, the poverty of earth on the other. But He will endow her with all His wealth, and raise her to sit with Him on a throne forever.
Come, you bridal morn of the ages! Come! and there shall be the rumbling of great wheels, great chariot wheels down the sky, and there shall be riders ahead and mounted cavalry behind, the conquerors of heaven on white horses. Clear the way! A thousand trumpets blare. “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming. Go you out to meet Him” (Matthew 25:6).
Then the charioteers shall rein in their bounding steeds of fire, and the King shall dismount from the chariot, and He shall take by the hand the Bride of the wilderness, all the crowded galleries of the universe, the spectators. Ring all the wedding bells of heaven. The King lifts the Bride into the chariot and cries, “Drive on! drive up!” and the clouds shall spread their cloth of gold for the procession, and the twain shall go through the gates triumphant, up the streets, and then step into the palace at the banquet, where ten thousand potentates, principalities, and dominations, cherubic and archangelic, with ten thousand gleaming and uplifted chalices, shall celebrate the day when the King of heaven and earth brings home His Bride from the wilderness!
“Make haste, my beloved. Be like a roe or a young hart on the mountains of spices” (Song of Solomon 8:14).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
*Adapted from “Husbands and Wives,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], The Wedding Ring: A Series of Discourses for Husbands and Wives and Those Contemplating Matrimony (New York: Louis Klopsch, 1896). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.