This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
Having surveyed the history of marriage in the previous chapter, Kuyper notes that the competing perspectives (modern and Christian) agree on how marriage has changed over time. The point of disagreement comes when we ask what marriage should look like now. The anthropology of marriage doesn’t prove whether marriage is just animal instinct as refined by civilization. the fact that marriage is in the rocky situation it’s in now doesn’t tell us what it used to be, or what it should be. We could assume that it was good and has gotten worse, or that it was good and is getting better.
To figure out which of these it is, we can either look at the “original condition” of marriage, or we can look at the effects of civilization “left to itself” on marriage–either elevating it or lowering it.
First, if marriage “evolved” from a lower state of affairs, then the higher the civilization develops the more noble and elevated and pure the state of marriage should be. And yet we see the opposite. The elevated and educated cities are cesspits and the ignorant countryside is healthy. [Even in Kuyper’s day this wasn’t fully true, and as someone who was raised in the countryside/moved to the city/is now back in the countryside, I can assure you that it’s certainly not true in our day.] Instead, marriage is protected from elsewhere–a source outside of and above civilization.
Second, Scripture is clear about the original state of marriage. This is our earliest record: that marriage was made good, is fallen, and is preserved by common grace. It propagates itself and appeals to our conscience. This tells us we need to be clear about one way of speaking about “Christian marriage.” In this sense, marriage is for everyone, not just for Christians. We must be careful not to turn marriage into a sacrament.
Because marriage was created before the Fall, it is part of nature rather than part of grace. We see that it’s part of creation by:
- The creation of one man and one woman;
- The two being created separately, but from one another (unlike the animals);
- The woman came from the man to leave the household, even before sin.
Marriage in its full shape pre-dates the fall. As such, it does not belong to the church. This means that “Christian marriage” must have a broader meaning. To put it otherwise, if marriage had to do with eternal life there’d be marriage in heaven. But there isn’t–heaven is one big family, not many families together.
That marriage is temporary and doesn’t extend beyond this life doesn’t mean we denigrate marriage–it is central to this world (though singleness may of course happen at times). Even with this centrality, marriage is still fallen, so when we see places where it’s healthy that’s the result of common grace at work. Christianity, as we’ll see in the next chapter, nudges it above that.