Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
A church within a church, a republic within a republic, a world within a world, is spelled by four letters—Home! If things go right there, they go right everywhere; if things go wrong there, they go wrong everywhere. The doorsill of the dwelling house is the foundation of Church and State. A man never gets higher than his own garret or lower than his own cellar.
In other words, domestic life overarches and undergirds all other life. The highest House of Congress is the domestic circle; the rocking chair in the nursery is higher than a throne. George Washington commanded the forces of the United States, but Mary Washington commanded Mount Vernon. Chrysostom’s mother made his pen for him. If a man should start out and run seventy years in a straight line, he could not get out from under the shadow of his own mantelpiece. I, therefore, talk to you this morning about a matter of infinite and eternal moment when I speak of your home.
THE SOCIAL BALANCE
As individuals we are fragments. God makes the race in part, and then He gradually puts us together. What I lack, you make up; what you lack, I make up; our deficits and surpluses of character being the cogwheels in the great social mechanism. One person has the patience, another has the courage, another has the placidity, another has the enthusiasm; that which is lacking in one is made up by another, or made up by all. Buffaloes in herds, grouse in broods, quail in flocks, the human race in circles. God has most beautifully arranged this. In this way He balances society, this conservative and that radical keeping things even. Every ship must have its mast, cutwater, taffrail, and ballast. Thank God, then, for Princeton and Andover, for the opposites.
I have no more right to blame a man for being different from me than a driving wheel [on a locomotive] has a right to blame the iron shaft that holds it to the center. John Wesley [free will] balances John Calvin‘s Institutes of the Christian Religion [predestination]. A cold thinker [John Knox] gives to Scotland the strong bones of theology; Dr Thomas Guthrie clothes them with a throbbing heart and warm flesh. The difficulty is that we are not satisfied with just the work that God has given us to do. The waterwheel wants to come inside the mill and grind the grist, and the hopper wants to go out and dabble in the water. Our usefulness and the welfare of society depend on our staying in the place that God has put us, or intended we should occupy.
A RELIC OF EDEN
For more compactness and that we may be more useful we are gathered in still smaller circles in the home group. And there you have variety again—brothers, sisters, husband and wife—all different in temperament and taste. It is fortunate that it should be so. If the husband be all impulse, the wife must be all prudence. If one sister be sanguine [cheerful] in her temperament, the other must be lymphatic [colorless]. Mary and Martha are necessities. There will be no dinner for Christ if there be no Martha; there will be no audience for Jesus if there be no Mary. The home organization is most beautifully constructed.
Eden has gone; the bowers are all broken down; the animals that Adam stroked with his hand that morning when they came up to get their names have since shot forth tusk and sting and growled, panther at panther; in midair iron beaks plunge till with clotted wing and eyeless sockets the twain come whirling down from under the sun in blood and fire. Eden has gone, but there is one little fragment left. It floated down on the River Hiddekel out of Paradise. It is the marriage institution. It does not, as at the beginning, take away from man a rib. Now it is an addition of ribs.
THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE
This institution of marriage has been defamed in our day, and influences are abroad trying to turn this earth into a Turkish harem or a great Salt Lake City. While the pulpits have been comparatively silent, novels—their cheapness equaled only by their nastiness—are trying to educate, have taken on themselves to educate, this nation in regard to holy marriage, which makes or breaks for time and eternity.
Oh, this is not a mere question of residence or wardrobe! It is a question charged with gigantic joy or sorrow, with heaven or hell. Alas for this new dispensation of George Sand! Alas for the mingling of the nightshade [poisonous flower] with the marriage garlands! Alas for the venom of adders spit into the tankards! Alas for the white frosts of eternal death that kill the orange blossoms! The gospel of Jesus Christ is to assert what is right and to assert what is wrong.
Attempt has been made to take the marriage institution, which was intended for the happiness and elevation of the race, and make it a mere commercial enterprise: an exchange of houses, lands, and equipage; a business partnership of two, stuffed up with the stories of romance and knight-errantry, unfaithfulness, and feminine angelhood. The two after a while have roused up to find that, instead of the paradise they dreamed of, they have nothing but a Van Amburgh‘s menagerie, filled with tigers and wildcats. Twenty thousand divorces in Paris in one year preceded the worst revolution that France ever saw. It was only the first course in that banquet of hell; and I tell you what you know as well as I do, that wrong notions on the subject of Christian marriage are the cause at this day of more moral outrage before God and man than any other cause!
There are some things that I want to bring before you. I know some of you here have had homes set up for many years; and some have just established their home. They have only been in it a few months or a few years. Then, there are those who will, after a while, establish a home, or set up housekeeping, and it is right that I should speak out on these themes.
THE BENEFICENT GUEST
My first counsel to you is: have Jesus in your new home, if it be a new home. Let Him who was a guest at Bethany be in your household. Let the divine blessing drop on your every hope, plan, and expectation. Those young people who begin with God end with heaven. Have on your right hand the engagement ring of the divine affection. If one of you be a Christian, let that one take a Bible and read a few verses in the evening-time, and then kneel down and commend yourselves to Him who “sets the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:6).
I want to tell you that the destroying angel passes by without touching or entering the doorpost sprinkled with “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20; cf Exodus 12:13). Why is it that in some families they never get along, and in others they get along well? I have watched such cases, and have come to a conclusion. In the first instance, nothing, it seemed, went pleasantly; after a while came devastation, domestic disaster, or estrangement. Why? They started wrong! In the other case, though there were hardships and trials, and some things that had to be explained, still things went on pleasantly until the last. Why? They started right!
THE LAW OF FORBEARANCE
My advice to you in your home is to exercise to the last possibility of your nature the law of forbearance. Prayers [family devotions] in the household may not make up for everything. Some of the best people in the world are the hardest to get along with. There are people who stand up in prayer meetings and pray like angels, who at home are uncompromising and cranky. You may not have everything as you want it. Sometimes it will be the duty of the husband, and sometimes of the wife, to yield; but if each stands punctiliously [strictly] on his rights, they will have a Waterloo with no Blucher coming up at nightfall to decide the conflict!
THE LAW OF FORGIVENESS
Never be ashamed to apologize when you have done wrong in domestic affairs. Let that be a law of your household. The best thing I ever heard of my grandfather, whom I never met personally, was this: that once, having unrighteously rebuked one of his children, he himself having lost his patience, and, perhaps, having been misinformed of the child’s doings, discovered his mistake. That evening he gathered all his family together and apologized. “Now I have one explanation to make, and one thing to say. Thomas, this morning, I rebuked you unfairly. I am sorry for it. I rebuked you in the presence of the whole family, and now I ask your forgiveness in their presence.”
It must have taken some courage to do that. It was right, was it not? Never be ashamed to apologize for domestic inaccuracy.
Find out your companion’s weaknesses, and then keep your distance. Do not carry the fire of your temper too near the gunpowder. If the wife be easily fretted by disorder in the household, let the husband be careful where he throws his slippers. If the husband come home from the store with his patience exhausted, do not let the wife unnecessarily cross his temper. If each stands up and demands his rights, I promise they will hear the everlasting sound of the war whoop! Their life will be spent in making up, and marriage will be to them an unmitigated curse.
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)
THE FAMILY CIRCLE
I advise, also, that you make your home your chief pleasure. It is unfortunate when it is otherwise. If the husband spends most of his nights away from home, of choice, and not of necessity, he is not the head of the household; he is only the cashier. If the wife throws the cares of the household in the servant’s lap, and then spend five nights of the week at the opera or the theater, she may clothe her children with satins, laces, and ribbons that would confound a French milliner, but they are orphans.
Oh, it is sad when a child has to say his prayers alone because mother has gone off to the evening entertainment!
In India the inhabitants bring their children and throw them to the crocodiles, and it seems cruel; but the jaws of New York and Brooklyn dissipation are swallowing down more little children today than all the monsters that ever crawled on the banks of the Ganges!
I have seen the sorrow of a godless mother on the death of a child she had neglected. She felt not so much grief that the child was dead as guilt that she had neglected it. She said, “If I had only watched over and cared for the child, I know God would not have taken it!”
The tears came not; it was a dry, blistering tempest—a scorching simoon [wind] of the desert. When she wrung her hands, it seemed as if she would twist her fingers from their sockets; when she seized her hair, it seemed as if she had, in wild terror, grasped a coiling serpent with her right hand. No tears! Oh, that is the worst grief!
Comrades of the little one came in and wept over the coffin. Neighbors came in, and the moment they saw the still face of the child, the shower broke. No tears from the mother. God gives tears as the summer rain to the parched soul; but in all the universe the driest and hottest, the most scorching and consuming thing is a mother’s heart if she has neglected her child, when once it is dead. God may forgive her, but she will never forgive herself. The memory will sink the eyes deeper into the sockets, pinch the face, whiten the hair, and eat up the heart with vultures that will not be satisfied, forever plunging deeper their iron beaks.
Oh, you wanderers from your home, go back to your duty! The brightest flowers in all the earth are those that grow in the garden of a Christian household, clambering over the porch of a Christian home.
I advise you also to cultivate sympathy of occupation. Sir James Mackintosh, one of the most eminent and elegant men that ever lived, while standing at the height of his eminence, said to a great company of scholars, “My wife made me.”
The wife ought to be the advising partner in every firm. She ought to be interested in all the losses and gains of shop and store. She ought to have a right—she has a right—to know everything. If a man goes into a business transaction that he dare not tell his wife of, you may depend that he is on the way either to bankruptcy or moral ruin. There may be some things which he does not wish to trouble his wife with; but if he dare not tell her, he is on the road to discomfiture [unease].
On the other hand, the husband ought to be sympathetic with the wife’s occupation. It is no easy thing to keep house. Many a woman that could have endured martyrdom as well as Margaret, the Scotch girl, has actually been worn out by household management. There are a thousand martyrs of the kitchen. It is annoying, after the vexations of the day, around the stove or the table, or in the nursery or parlor, to have your husband say, “You know nothing about trouble. You ought to be in the store half an hour.” Sympathy of occupation!
If the husband’s work cover him with the soot of the furnace or the odors of leather or soap factories, let not the wife be disgusted at the grimy hands or sweaty clothes. Your gains are one, your interests are one, your losses are one; lay hold of the work of life with both hands. Four hands to fight the battles; four eyes to watch for the danger; four shoulders on which to carry the trials. It is a sad thing when the painter has a wife who does not like pictures. It is a sad thing for a pianist when the husband does not like music.
It is a sad thing when a wife is not suited unless her husband has what is called a “genteel business.” As I understand a “genteel business,” it is something to which a man goes at ten o’clock in the morning, and from which he comes home at two or three o’clock in the afternoon, and gets a large amount of money for doing nothing. That is, I believe, a “genteel business”; and many a wife has made the mistake of not being satisfied until the husband has given up tanning hides, turning banisters, or building walls, and put himself in circles where he has nothing to do but smoke cigars, drink wine, and get himself into habits that upset him, going down in the maelstrom, taking his wife and children with him.
There are a good many trains running from earth to destruction. They start all the hours of the day, and all the hours of the night. There are the freight trains; they go slowly and heavily. There are the accommodation trains going on toward destruction; they stop often and let a man get out when he wants to. But genteel idleness is an express train; Satan is the stoker; Death is the engineer; and though one may come out in front of it and swing the red flag of “danger,” or the lantern of God’s Word, it makes one shot into perdition, coming down the embankment with a shout, a wail, and a shriek—crash! Two classes of people are sure of destruction: (1) those who have nothing to do and (2) those who have something to do, but are too lazy or too proud to do it.
LOVE AND AFFECTION
I have one more word of advice to give to those who would have a happy home: love each other. When your behavior in the domestic circle becomes a mere matter of calculation; when the caress you give is merely the result of deliberate study of the position you occupy, Happiness lies stark dead on the hearthstone. When the husband’s position as head of the household is maintained by loud voice, strong arm, and fiery temper, the republic of domestic bliss has become a despotism that neither God nor man will abide.
Oh, you who promised to love each other at the altar, how dare you commit perjury!
Let no shadow of suspicion come on your affection. It is easier to kill that flower than it is to make it live again. The blast from hell that puts out that light leaves you in “the blackness of darkness forever” (cf Jude 13).
A HOUSE NOT A HOME
Here are a man and wife; they agree in nothing else, but they agree they will have a home. They will have a splendid house; they think that if they have a house, they will have a home. Architects make the plan, and the contractor, carpenters, and craftsmen execute it; the house to cost $100,000. It is done. The carpets are spread, lights are hoisted, curtains are hung, cards of invitation are sent out. The horses in gold-plated harness prance at the gate; guests come in and take their places; the flute sounds; the dancers go up and down; and with one grand whirl is celebrated the wealth, the fashion, and the mirth of the great town wheel with the pictured walls.
Ha! This is Happiness? Float it on the smoking viands; sound it in the music; whirl it in the dance; cast it on the snow of sculpture; sound it up the brilliant stairway; flash it in chandeliers! Happiness, indeed! Let us build on the center of the parlor floor a throne to Happiness; let all the guests, when they come in, bring their flowers, pearls, and diamonds, and throw them on this pyramid, and let it be a throne; and then let Happiness, the Queen, mount the throne, and we will stand around and, all chalices lifted, we will say, “Drink, O Queen! Live forever!”
The guests depart, the flutes are breathless, the last clash of the impatient hoofs is heard in the distance, and the twain of the household come back to see the Queen of Happiness on the throne amid the parlor floor. But as they come back, the flowers have faded, the sweet odors have become the smell of a charnel house [cemetery vault], and instead of the Queen of Happiness there sits there the gaunt form of Anguish, with bitten lip and sunken eye, and ashes in her hair.
The romp and joyous step of the dancers who have left seems rumbling yet, like jarring thunders that quake the floor and rattle the glasses of the feast, rim to rim. The spilled wine on the floor turns into blood. The wreaths of plush have become wriggling reptiles. Terrors catch tangled in the canopy that overhangs the couch. A strong gust of wind comes through the hall, the drawing room, and the bedroom; all the lights go out. And from the lips of the wineglass come the words: “Happiness is not in us!” And the arches respond, “It is not in us!” And the silenced instruments of music, thrummed on by invisible fingers, answer, “Happiness is not in us!” And the frozen lips of Anguish break open, and, seated on the throne of wilted flowers, she strikes her bony hands together, and groans, “It is not in me!”
HAPPINESS IN POVERTY
That very night a clerk with a salary of a $1,000 a year—only $1,000—goes to his home, set up three months ago, after the wedding. Love meets him at the door; Love sits with him at the table; Love talks over the work of the day. Love takes down the Bible, and reads of Him who came our souls to save. The couple kneel, and while they are kneeling—right in that plain room, on that plain carpet—the angels of God build a throne, not of flowers that perish and fade away, but of garlands of heaven, wreath on top of wreath, amaranth on amaranth, until the throne is done.
Then the harps of God sound, and suddenly there appears one who mounts the throne, with eye so bright and brow so fair that the two know it is Christian Love. They kneel at the throne; and, putting one hand on each head, Love blesses them and says, “Happiness is with me!”
That throne of celestial bloom withers not with the passing years; and the queen leaves not the throne till one day the couple, stricken in years, find themselves called away. The queen bounds from the throne and says, “Follow me, and I will show you the way to the realm of everlasting Love.”
And so they go up to sing songs of love, to walk on pavements of love, to live together in mansions of love, and to rejoice forever in the truth that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away”(Song of Solomon 2:13).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
*Adapted from “Matrimonial Discords,” 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.