MARRIAGE WITHIN THE CHURCH A Sermon by Rev Douglas M. Taylor
April 25, 1997
“Neither shalt thou make marriage with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son” (Deut. 7:3).
Moses, the Divinely appointed leader and governor of the Hebrew nation, was speaking in the name of the Lord when he relayed this Divine commandment to the assembled congregation just prior to their entry into the promised land. In the name of the Lord he was warning them of the grave danger to which they would expose themselves if they were to intermarry with the idolatrous nations round about them in the land “the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” These nations worshiped various idols, so we can readily understand the reason given for not intermarrying with them, namely, “for they will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly” (Deut. 7:4).
There was no hope of these nations’ coming to the worship of the one God, Jehovah. They were utterly and irrevocably devoted to the worship of strange gods and idols. Therefore the Lord commanded through Moses that there was to be absolutely no inter-marriage with them. If once marriages with the idolatrous nations that would surround them on all sides when they entered into the land were allowed to begin, grave national and spiritual consequences would surely ensue, and, worst of all, would grow.
The national consequence of intermarriage was quite obvious. If it became the general rule, the nation would soon disappear. It would lose its independent identity; it would be swallowed up by the surrounding nations. In a later period in the history of the nation, this is exactly what did happen. What are now known as the ten lost tribes of Israel were apparently swallowed up by intermarriage with the surrounding nations when carried into captivity by the Assyrians. This is also what happened to those left behind in Israel at the time of the captivity in Babylon. They intermarried with neighboring peoples and produced the very confused people known as the Samaritans, who were universally despised by the pure Jews. The pure Jews were those who, in marked contrast, refused to intermarry with their Babylonian captors, who in face of considerable hardship and external pressure remained loyal to the Lord and His commandments, including the one set forth in our text. They obeyed and they survived.
And the church survived with them. The spiritual consequences followed inevitably from the national consequences. For, as the Lord said repeatedly to the Hebrews through Moses: “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God; the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 6; see also 14:2, Ex. 19:6). It would never have done for the Israelitish or Jewish nation to have disappeared before the Christian Church could be set up, because the representative of a church would have vanished, causing the vital link between heaven and earth to be sundered.
But despite the very definite prohibition of marriages between the people of the representative church and those who were in idolatrous and heathen worship, they were by no means forbidden to intermarry with the nations who accepted their worship, and who, after being initiated into it, acknowledged Jehovah. This truth is vitally important to know and understand if we are to achieve a balanced view of this matter of marriage within the church. The Jews were never forbidden to intermarry with those who, after instruction, could receive their worship. Dedicated idolaters could never do that, but strangers who sojourned or dwelt with them could. They were called “strangers” or “sojourners.” The law concerning them reads: “And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land . . . . One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you” (Exodus 12:48,49).
The acid test, you see, was whether or not they could come into their doctrine and worship wholeheartedly. If they could, marriage with them was not forbidden; if they could not, it was forbidden in the clearest and strongest terms.
It was only to be expected that the Christian Church in its early integrity observed this law. Some of the stronger denominations still remain faithful to it. Their authority for this stand lies in the passages referred to in the Old Testament, to which they have added this very forthright utterance of Paul in his second letter to the members of the church in Corinth: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (II Corinthians 6, 7)
The same Divine law is given in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, but it is there amplified and explained so that we may understand why it is forbidden to marry those who are devoted to other gods than the one, only God, the Lord Jesus Christ in His glorified, Divine Human.
Before considering those teachings, let us recall something we already know and believe, so that it will be in the forefront of our minds: that is, that this is in very truth a Divine law. It is the voice of the Lord that says, “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them” (text). It was not Moses who thought it up, though he spoke it; it was not the Levites, who served the use of the priesthood in that church, who decided on this law and decreed and proclaimed it from themselves, though many generations of them have since upheld it; it was not the congregation of the church as a whole that decided to impose this law upon itself like some kind of regulation. It was the Lord, in His love and wisdom, who commanded this commanded it, not merely recommended it commanded it from His eternal wish to give the human race, in general and individually, the greatest happiness possible.
So with the New Church. It is not Swedenborg who thought up the deeper explanation of this law, though he delivered it from the Lord; it is not any individual priest or bishop who thought this a useful requirement to introduce into the church organization; it is not even the united voice of the Council of the Clergy that decreed this law, although every member of the priesthood worthy of his sacred trust and use proclaims it from the Lord as clearly and as conscientiously as he can; nor is it the voice of the whole assembly of the church that says it from itself. It is the Lord alone, from His love and wisdom, who says it. He says it for the sake of establishing the New Church, meant by the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation establishing it in the individual and in the world at large. He says it for the sake of our greater and more lasting happiness.
Our obedience to this concept of marriage within the church is, therefore, obedience to the voice of the Lord; it is a willingness to be led by Him. It is innocence which is the essence of heavenly joy and heavenly peace (see HH 288).
Because the Lord has said these things, it is the duty of the priesthood to teach them. In general, it is the sacred duty, use and function of the priesthood to teach the truth and so lead to the good of life (see NJHD 314, 315). This means all the truth that the Lord has revealed; there can be no willful withholding of the Lord’s Word, no hiding His Divine Light under a bushel. The Word must be preached with a view to goodness of life.
Still, priests must not compel anyone (see NJHD 318). There must be a free and rational acceptance of what the Lord says should be done. In the Word, the priest is compared to a watchman, as in these verses in Ezekiel: “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from Me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, and if he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 33:7-9).
Those who are priests, then, have a sacred duty to teach the Word with all its warnings; those who are laymen of the church likewise have a sacred duty to hearken to the Word of the Lord. In this spirit of willingness to be led by the Lord, let us look into the further explanation that the Lord has provided for the New Church.
In the explanation of the internal sense of our text we find this teaching: “That the Israelites were not to contract marriages with the daughters of the Canaanites also had regard to the spiritual laws that good and falsity, and evil and truth, are not to be joined together, for from that comes profanation” (AC 3024:7).
Whatever refers in the sense of the letter to marriage and conjugial love refers in the internal sense to spiritual conjunction, that is, to the heavenly marriage of truth and good, and good and truth. The reason is that conjugial love derives its origin from this marriage of truth and good, and good and truth (see AC 4434). So it is further explained: “If good were conjoined with any other truth than its own it would not subsist at all, but would be rent asunder and so would perish. In the spiritual church the wife represents good and the man represents truth . . . and . . . they not only represent, but also in all their activities correspond to them” (ibid., section 9). In other words: the state of the marriage depends on the good that is with the wife, and the truth (the moral wisdom, the truth in act) with the husband. But if they are discordant if the good and truth do not agree there will be an interior coldness in the marriage.
In the work Conjugial Love, which satisfies the human longing for a spiritual kind of marriage love by setting forth the truths, the Divine doctrine concerning love truly conjugial, there is a whole chapter on the causes of coldness and consequent separations in marriage. We learn that there are external causes and internal causes of this coldness. The external causes, which need not concern us here, are various natural differences (such as differences of education and upbringing, etc.). But the internal causes are all from religion. This is because conjugial love is according to the state of the church (see CL 130). Four different causes of an interior coldness between married partners are enumerated (see CL 238-244).
These are: (1) the rejection of religion by both partners; (2) that one has religion and not the other; (3) that one is of one religion and the other of another; (4) that there is falsity of religion.
The first and the last of these causes do not seem to apply as directly as the second and third; that is, an absence of religion in one of the partners, and a difference of religion between them. Let us see, then, what is said about these two.
As to an absence of religion in one of the partners, this causes an interior coldness because their souls do not agree. In the case of the one who has no religion, it is closed against the reception of conjugial love, while in the case of the other the soul is open. “Hence in the soul there can be no cohabitation,” we read (CL 241). “This coldness is not dissipated except by the reception of a religion that agrees with that of the other, if this be true” (ibid.).
In the case where one is of one religion and the other of another, the interior coldness arises from the fact that “with them, good cannot be conjoined with its correspondent truth. For a wife is the good of the husband’s truth and he is the truth of the wife’s good . . . . Hence from the two souls there cannot come to be one soul; consequently the fountain of that love is closed” (CL 242). The same passage goes on to give an experience of Swedenborg that shows, perhaps more clearly than any passage from the Heavenly Doctrine so far brought forward, why the Lord in His mercy has forbidden marriage outside the church: “I [Swedenborg] was once wandering through the streets of a great city seeking a place of lodging; and I entered a house where dwelt married partners who were of different religions. While I was ignorant of the fact, the angels spoke to me and said, We cannot stay with you in this house, because the married partners are in discordant religion.’ They perceived this from the internal disunion of their souls” (ibid.).
From all this we can appreciate that the statement in our lesson from the Arcana Coelestia is no exaggeration: “Marriages on earth between those who are of different religions are accounted in heaven as heinous, and still more so marriages between those who are of the church and those who are outside the church” (AC 8998).
The Lord’s wise and loving reasons for making this prohibition ought now to be manifest. He wants to give us the greatest happiness not just a partial, incomplete happiness. He wants each individual to enjoy a marriage of love truly conjugial. He wants to give us complete happiness. In love truly conjugial there is the greatest happiness. It is the good from which all other goods are derived.
This applies to the individual marriage within the church. But it also has a most profound bearing on the future growth of the church (the Lord’s kingdom) on earth. The church as an organization exists for the sake of extending the Lord’s kingdom, extending both widely and deeply the realm where the Lord is King, encouraging the reception of the good and truth that make His kingdom. In the light of that, let us consider this most heartening and inspiring teaching, again from the work Conjugial Love: “The offspring born of two who are in love truly conjugial derive from their parents the conjugial of good and truth, from which they have an inclination and a faculty, if a son for perceiving the things that are of wisdom, and if a daughter for loving what wisdom teaches” (CL 202). What a wonderful prospect this opens up for the real growth of the Lord’s kingdom, for a deepening reception of those qualities that make heaven and the church! What a hope this raises for the deeper reception of the Heavenly Doctrine in heart and life as well as mind! Can we not see here the great use performed by marriage within the church, in that it increases the possibility of marriages of love truly conjugial, with the consequent improvement in the hereditary inclinations of the offspring of those marriages? Can we not see here the surest way to rectify the perverse and twisted inclinations that have been handed down through the ages in a great accumulation of tendencies to evil? Can we not see what a boon the Heavenly Doctrine is to the whole human race if only it is accepted and practiced, beginning with ourselves?
Obviously marriages outside the church to those who are completely devoted to some other god or some other end that they love above all else destroys or at least delays the fulfilment of that beautiful hope. Such marriages may indeed enjoy conjunctions of the lower mind, but they do not conjoin souls. Consequently, those in them, we read, “know nothing of the loveliness and joyousness, still less of the felicity and blessedness, of love truly conjugial” (CL 244).
Besides this, they create practical problems for the individual marriage and for the church organization. In the individual marriage, at the best there is perforce a lack of sharing in the inmost things, the most precious of all and this can only make the heart ache. At the worst, there are disagreements, resentments, and even a striving for dominion. Moreover, the risk is increased that the children will be lost to the church and the Lord’s kingdom.
What, then, shall we do about this Divine teaching?
One thing is certain: We cannot ignore it, or neglect it, or try to get around it. We cannot do these things without grave spiritual danger and harm to the church in ourselves and in the world.
In the first place, we must continue to instruct the people of the church, especially our young people, in what is involved in marriage in the New Church. We must continue to hold out the ideal presented by the Lord in the Writings as something that is not just desirable but actually attainable in the Lord’s strength. We must make it possible to see how neglect of this commandment is not a little matter.
Second, we must encourage those of marriageable age to seek their partners within the church; or, if this is not possible, encourage them to choose only those who are “sojourners,” not idolaters, that is, those who can be instructed and can come to accept the New Church doctrine and worship and so acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ. In their efforts to interest their future partner in the doctrine, let them remember that the New Church partner has far more strength than he or she realizes for the Lord is in the true things of faith.
Third, let us strive to find those in the community who are “sojourners” those who are willing to be instructed, so that we may enlarge the choice available to our young people.
Fourth, let us continue our efforts to have as many of our young people as possible attend the Academy of the New Church through college age, where in addition to becoming educated under the auspices of the church, they will also find themselves in the company of many who are the offspring of parents who have been striving after love truly conjugial, young people who are most likely to have inherited an inclination to perceive and love the things of wisdom.
Fifth, we must help and encourage those who married before they knew about what the Lord wishes in the matter, and who have found that their partner does not share their religion. We must encourage them to interest their partner in the Heavenly Doctrine, so that their souls also may be conjoined. The more clearly we visualize the ideal that the Lord places before us for our greatest happiness, the more willing will we be to try, and the more persistent will our efforts become.
In summary, then: the Lord teaches that marriage within the church is not only the ideal that we must all strive to make real, but it is also the greatest blessing and the surest way of having the Lord’s kingdom come on earth. Consequently, marriage to one who is quite unwilling to be instructed, one who is devoted absolutely to some other god, necessarily an imaginary god, is forbidden by the Lord for the sake or our happiness, both temporal and eternal. But marriage with one who is willing to receive the teaching and worship of the church is not forbidden. Amen.
Lessons: Deuteronomy 7:1-6, Revelation 22:12-17, AC 8998
8998. In regard to this, the case is that those who have been born within the church, and from infancy have been imbued with the principles of the truth of the church, ought not to contract marriages with those who are outside of the church, and have thus been imbued with such things as are not of the church. The reason is that there is no conjunction between them in the spiritual world, for everyone in that world is in consociation according to his good and the truth thence derived: and as there is no conjunction between such in the spiritual world, neither ought there to be any conjunction on earth. For regarded in themselves marriages are conjunctions of dispositions and of minds, the spiritual life of which is from the truths and goods of faith and charity. On this account, moreover, marriages on earth between those who are of a different religion are accounted in heaven as heinous, and still more so marriages between those who are outside of the church. This also was the reason why the Jewish and Israelitish nation was forbidden to commit whoredom with them.
This appears still more evidently from the origin of conjugial love, which is from the marriage of good and truth. When conjugial love descends from this source, it is heaven itself in man. This is destroyed when two consorts are of unlike heart from unlike faith.