Common Grace, 3.49

Common Grace, 3.49 June 27, 2023

This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace

The Old Testament establishes marriage as one man/one woman, where the woman leaves the home. There was no paperwork–family, rather than government, “sanctified” the marriage. As family weakened, government stepped in. This is fine–Mosaic law need not govern today in matters of marriage.

“Those who imagine that the stipulations of the Mosaic law are God’s ordinances for all nations, all peoples, and all ages are utterly mistake… The Mosaic law was intended for ancient Israel and Israel alone. For us, and for all times, only the general, sacred principles on which this law was based are valid.” (403)

Conversely, it would be wrong for government to modify marriage and ignore the family. this makes marriage merely mechanical and ignores organic reality. In this case “Marriage has become an official contract, and all that remains is the association between two members of the civil community.” (403) This assumes that only the government is involved and that it has the sole decision-making authority here.

By contrast, we must acknowledge all aspects of marriage. More, marriage is inherently religious–it unites us to each other and to God. Yet government is moving away from this truth and becoming more secular, leaving religion for the private world alone. In the past the government had a role, but largely left marriage to the church. Then the French Revolution came along, where the state took over.

All the foregoing as about family and state, but what about church and state? Where do they fit into this discussion?

The covenant of grace unites marriage and church, which is why we do the infant baptism thing. Which, Kuyper is clear, is not to say that grace is genetic! But church membership is, as it is organic rather than mechanical, which is why children of believers are members. [And I’ll forego pointing out Kuyper’s inconsistency here, but just know that my Baptist sensibilities are aware of it.]

The covenant of grace links particular grace and common grace–though marriage remains on the “common grace” side of things. The point here is that only the church gets to define this web of gracious relationships–not the state. Likewise the church can’t define the place of marriage relative to the state.

Some reject all this and still want God’s blessing through a church marriage (not even counting those who just have aesthetic motivations). The problem at the bottom of such a request is the assumption that marriage is just about two people’s individual preference. This is the “religious meaning” of marriage–and it is important! But we should not forget the “ecclesiastical meaning of marriage” where the marriage is tied organically to the church as well.

More on this in the next chapter.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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