The Christian Professor

John Angell James, 1837


When Jehovah had proceeded so far in the work of creation, as to have produced the mineral, vegetable, and irrational beings, he saw that there yet needed a rational and presiding mind to govern the whole—to be his representative in his own world, and to act as the High Priest of this new and beautiful temple of nature, in offering up on their behalf, as well as his own, the praise of all creatures to their omnipotent Parent. "And God created man in his own image." Still, however, the last finishing stroke of grace was even yet to be added; and God created woman, to be the companion of man. "The Lord God saw that it was not good that the man should be alone"—even then, when all the beauties of paradise as yet unsoiled, bloomed and glowed around him, to please his eye; even then, when all its melodies and harmonies sent their music through the ear to his soul; even then, when he fed on fruits which no worm had ever corrupted, nor frost had ever shriveled; even then, when he needed none to wipe the tear from his eye, or the sweat from his brow; even then, when he needed none to counsel him, for he was wise; even then, when he needed none to comfort him, for he was happy; even then, when he needed none none to calm the perturbations of his conscience, for he was innocent; even then, when he needed none to lighten his care, for he was at ease; even then, when he needed none to minister to him in sickness, for he was a stranger to its malady; even then, when he needed none to bear up his head sinking in death, for he was not yet mortal—even then, said his Maker, and who knew the being he had made—it is not good for the man to be alone! And he made a wife for him, out of his own body, and married them himself in the garden of Eden; and blessed them, and said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

What an honor, and a necessity did this attach to marriage. It is an institute of God, and an institute of the paradisaic state. And it still survives the fall, the gracious provision of a God, intent in his unmerited bounty upon the comfort of his apostate creatures—for the solace of man, amidst the cares, the labors, and the sorrows of his earthly pilgrimage. And while marriage is designed for his comfort in his terrestrial sojourn, it is also intended to help as well as support him, in his journey to the skies. Marriage itself, is the type of that closer union, into which his soul is brought to Christ by faith—its tender sympathies, its jealous affections, and its loving ingenuities—are all designed by God to sustain by vigilance, and counsel, and prayer, the interests of his immortal spirit.

The marriage of human beings, is a union of minds as well as bodies, and a union intended to keep up true religion in the world, as well as population; first, by promoting the piety of the parties themselves; next, the piety of their children, and through them of mankind in general. Every family seems to be a miniature both of the church, and of the nation, where the piety of the one, and the subjection of the other, shall be seen in its simplest and its purest form, and from which as it springs, the greater communities shall be fed. But how are these ends to be accomplished, if piety is not a part of the character and conduct of those who enter into the marriage compact? That people who are not pious themselves, should disregard this, and not choose or wish a holy companion in the journey of life, is not to be wondered at—but to be expected. But that professors of religion should neglect it, is a matter both of surprise and regret.

This brings me to the subject of the present chapter—THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TO MARRY ONLY SUCH AS ARE DECIDEDLY PIOUS. This duty is so obvious, and involves so much of their comfort in future life, that it might have been supposed the general performance of it would render any admonition on the subject unnecessary. Observation, however, confirms the fact that there is scarcely any branch of Christian obligation more neglected; a circumstance which renders it incumbent on the ministers of religion, and the pastors of churches to call the attention of their hearers to this subject.*

* The importance of the subject, and the great neglect of it, must be my apology for again dwelling upon it, after having already introduced it into some of my former publications. On this account, I had determined to pass it over in this work; but on reconsidering the matter, I came to the conclusion that it is so entirely in place here, and concerns so large a number of professors, it ought not to be omitted; and I have therefore devoted this chapter to it, where it will be read by many who never saw my other books.

Let us hear the law of Christ, as delivered by the pen of the apostle—"A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, but only in the Lord." 1 Cor. 7:39. To marry in the Lord, must mean, marrying one who is a Christian, at least by profession. This rule, it is true, is by the Apostle applied to the case of widows; but the same reason exists for applying it to all unmarried people. The other passage usually quoted on the subject, "do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers," 2 Cor. 6:14, refers perhaps specifically to the fellowship of the church—but still by fair inference may be extended to marriage. This is the law, then, that no Christian should marry any one who is not also a Christian; or who is not upon good grounds supposed to be such. I say it is the law; not merely advice, or counsel—but command, and as binding on our conscience as any other precept of the New Testament. We have no more right to attempt to annul or evade this command, than we have any other of Christ's laws. Permit me to bring before you, the evils resulting from a neglect of this rule, and marrying an unbeliever—or one who is not decidedly pious.

Some of these affect YOURSELVES.

Your COMFORT is materially involved. A difference of taste or pursuit in minor matters is not conducive to happiness. "How can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" This applies to all things—but most of all to the transcendently important affair of true religion. One's beliefs is a subject continually recurring, entering into all the arrangements of the family, which can never be put aside, except by the professor's consenting, for the sake of peace, to give up or conceal his religion, and becoming an apostate. You will not merely be left to pursue your own course, without sympathy or fellowship from your dearest earthly friend. But by consistently supporting your beliefs, you will perhaps provoke distaste, dislike, ill-will, strife, and alienation of your mate.

How many have had to choose between apostasy or domestic peace. Dreadful alternative! And where they have had grace to give up their comfort instead of their godliness, they have not only died a martyr's death—but lived a life of martyrdom. What have not many wives endured from impious husbands, not merely in being the silent but horrified witnesses of their sins—but in being the victims of their wrath. Many a man has been the murderer of his wife—without being hanged for it! But where things do not come to this pitch, and the want of religion does not affect in the smallest degree the exercise of marital love—yet think of the pain of being obliged to consider that good wife, or kind husband—an enemy of God! If they are in sickness, to have the dreadful thought come into the mind, that they are about to die—and are unprepared for the change from time to eternity. Oh! can you imagine the anguish of a wife, occupying "the dreadful post of observation darker every hour," watching the slow progress of disease in a dying husband, anxious to catch from his departing spirit, some few words to sustain her hope that he is going to heaven, and then forever after to be haunted with the recollection, that "he died as an unsaved man!" Will you hazard this?

Think of the influence of such a connection on your PIETY. We all need helps, not hindrances in the walk of faith. With every advantage in our favor—how slow is our progress heavenward! And how much are we likely to be impeded by a companion who is ever seeking to draw or drag us back? Can we rise with such a weight—or walk with such a clog? How is our devotion withered by the constant companionship of one who has no sympathy with us in our spiritual feelings or tastes? You will often be hindered and prevented from attending the means of grace; required to do things against which your conscience revolts; and will sometimes give way for peace, in matters which bring guilt and distress into your minds.

Even your SALVATION may be brought into peril. Many cases have occurred in which people ran well until they were married. I have known such, and have seen them from that time commence a backward, deteriorating course. Apostasy has in myriads of instances commenced at the altar. Instead of taking their companion with them to heaven, as they imagined they would, these ungodly companions took them to perdition! How insidious is the influence of a husband or a wife in decoying the other from the paths of godliness—and into the ways of the world! And in some cases how systematic, persevering, and successful they have been! There is the silent influence of example, which alone is powerful; then there are concealed temptations to little departures from consistency, until, by degrees, the poor victim is caught in the snare, and gives up all spiritual piety, and godly observances.

I now call upon you to consider the consequences of such a marriage upon the CHILDREN, if there should be any. Will they be brought up for God, and for eternity? Suppose the converted party should labor for the salvation of the family, and labor the more for being left alone in the work—what a counteraction comes from the unsaved party! The hearts of the children are by nature corrupt, and have already a bias towards evil example. How will they shield themselves from a mother's pious remarks, by a father's impious example? O, with what heart-breaking anguish, has many a pious mother seen her children led away from her side as she was walking with God, and to heaven—by the hand of her own husband, and their own father! With what a mixture of delicacy and distress have I heard some mothers and wives allude to this sad circumstance. Some of the worst families have been those which one of the parents were pious, and the other was an unbeliever.

Dwell upon the effects of such unions to the CHURCH OF CHRIST. These are inscribed in dark characters upon the page of sacred history. These mixed marriages were the cause which corrupted the antediluvian church, and became the source of that universal depravity which brought the flood upon the earth. "The sons of God," i.e. the professors of religion in the line of Seth, "saw the daughters of men," i.e. the descendants of Cain, who made no profession of true religion, "that they were fair, and they took wives of all that they chose." Gen. 6:2.

In subsequent times the crimes of idolatry flowed in continually upon the Jewish church through the channel of unholy marriages. "And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, and they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, AND SERVED THEIR GODS." "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgot the Lord their God, and SERVED BALAAM AND THE GROVES."

Solomon's history has a fearful relevance in reference to this subject, and shows that the strongest mind, and the most splendid piety and zeal may be corrupted by ungodly wives.

See also how the marriage of Ahab is recorded—"And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him." (1 Kings 16:30-33) "There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited." (1 Kings 21:25)

Read the language of Ezra, chapter 9, and also the admonitory words of Nehemiah, 13:23-27.

"In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but the language of each people. And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?"

If we come forward to the CHRISTIAN CHURCH, we may safely affirm that few circumstances have had a greater influence in deteriorating piety in the hearts of professors, or in corrupting the communion of saints, than a neglect of the Christian rule of marriage. The pious party has not only had the tone of religion lowered in their own minds—but have been anxious, and in innumerable cases have succeeded, to introduce the unsaved spouse into the church, which by the operation of this two-fold mischief has been grievously injured, in its piety and purity.

On all these grounds, such marriages are injurious and should be avoided. Perhaps female believers more frequently violate this rule, than men; which may be accounted for in great measure by the circumstance, that they are the chosen, and not the choosing party. An offer of marriage, where the individual who makes it is even in some tolerable degree respectable, and desirable, is a compliment, so far as it goes, which of itself is apt to entangle a female's heart, at any rate her vanity, and to produce a hesitancy, even where her conscience dictates the propriety of an immediate refusal. This hesitancy is greatly increased, of course, when the offer comes from one who is in every respect desirable, with the solitary exception of a lack of piety. How many have been induced by the prospect of an advantageous settlement in life, to overlook this one great defect, and to balance the lack of piety, by wealth and worldly respectability; and of these how large a proportion have repented of their sins, and lived to envy the woman, who though struggling with poverty, was blessed and happy with a pious husband.

It is of great consequence that the mind should be previously fortified against this danger by a deep inwrought conviction of the obligation of the Christian's rule of marriage, and the unlawfulness of violating it. We must not, in any case, have to seek our weapons—when we need them to use. If we have then to discuss the propriety of an act gainful in itself, when the temptation to perform it is pressing upon us, we are almost sure to be overcome. The heart is a bad judge in all cases—but especially in a love affair, or the prospect of a gainful marriage. Young people who are professors, should begin life with this, as one of their maxims, and which they should feel no more at liberty to set aside than they do any other of the precepts of religion, that no inducement should be strong enough to lead a Christian to marry an impious person.

When a marriage connection has been formed while both parties were in an unconverted state, a subsequent change in the religious views and feelings of either of them is not a sufficient ground for dissolving the marriage, except by the abandonment of the other; but where the engagement was entered into while both parties were professors, and one of them, before marriage, throws off religion, the other is not only authorized by the word of God to terminate the connection—but is required to do so.

The excuses by which many attempt to justify their neglect of the Christian law, are often specious—but never valid. Sometimes the hopeful appearances of the individual whom a professor wishes to marry, are pleaded. In some cases these appearances are hypocritically assumed purposely to deceive; in others they are a real yielding to the persuasion of affection, and an actual intention to alter the conduct—but far enough off from true religion. Even piety appears lovely in those we love, and may be imitated as far as it can be without the reality, for their sake. The godliness which is seen for the first time in a person, when he desires to gain the heart of a true Christian, should be always looked upon with great caution, and even suspicion. When we wish to think an object of our regard to be a Christian, a very little evidence will suffice to produce conviction. If the individual whom the person wishes to marry, be not eminent in piety—it is a presumption, though certainly not a proof, that he is quite undecided in his religious character.

It is not, I believe, an uncommon case for Christians to marry unconverted people under the idea and hope of converting them. Is marriage, then, one of the means of grace? Has the plan usually succeeded where it has been tried? Alas! how often has the conversion been of another kind, and the professor has been led back to the world? We must give up all excuses, then, and admit that it is the duty of a professor, to marry only in the Lord. But if it were not, and it was left to his own option, would it not be for his happiness to choose a pious companion; one who could help him in his Christian course, and enter into his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows, concerning the subject that lies nearest to his heart; one who would aid him to bring up his children in the fear of God, and who would not thwart him in his plans for their eternal interests; one that would cooperate with him in all his efforts to glorify God, to bless his family, and to extend the church; one that would soothe him in sickness, sadness, and death, with the words of consolation, Christian experience, and prayer; one whom he would be in no fear of losing in the dark valley of the shadow of death; one whom he hoped to dwell with as an angel spirit in heaven, after having dwelt with her as an angel in the flesh on earth? O, who that has tasted the sweet and holy influence which religion imparts to the fellowship of a holy couple, their mingled love and piety, would willingly forego this sacred and solemn delight?

We are not however to suppose that religion is the only thing to be thought of as a suitable prerequisite for the formation of this union between Christians. There must be a general suitableness in age, rank, education, temper, and taste. It would be an extravagant enthusiasm to imagine that religion, because it is the first thing, is everything, and that anyone who presents himself should be accepted, provided he can make good his pretensions to the character of a Christian. Christianity does not level distinctions, and annihilate dissimilarities. Nor does it convert old age into youth, deformity into beauty, ignorance into knowledge, nor absolute clownishness into elegance. Nor does it offer an amalgamation to make these things blend in a harmonious and agreeable compound. Religion is offended by all unseemly things, as well as all unholy ones. Under the law, an ox and an donkey were not to be yoked together in ploughing; nor linen and woolen to be woven into the same texture for garments. And, under the gospel, we are to do nothing unlovely or of bad report, in the way of incongruous marriage mixtures. They are an offence against the dignity, if not a violation of the sanctity, of the institute of matrimony.

Much less is it allowable to professors to treat the preliminary course with fickleness, or levity. The very steps to the altar of marriage are sacred, and no one should act the flirt, the teaser, or the traitor, there. A darker stain, short of gross and palpable immorality, can scarcely rest upon the character of a professor, than faithlessness to his engagements as a lover. To desert a female, after he has engaged her affections, is a hateful compound of many vices in one; it is a cruelty which has sent many a lovely girl to her grave or a madhouse; and, where it has not gone so far as this, has withered that peace, which he once cherished with his smiles—it is a treachery of the basest kind; a cold, heartless, and often remorseless baseness of mind which should never once be named among Christians. Nor ought only this extreme of the act to be avoided—but all approaches to it also; all those attentions which, though unaccompanied by direct proposals, indicate a preference, and may be fairly construed into an intention, should be carefully abstained from, if nothing ulterior be contemplated. It is wrong for anyone to charm the affections of another, and then to defend himself after he has left, by the excuse, that he never made any proposals, nor even a declaration of attachment.

It may be asked, "How are we to know the suitableness of a person for such a union with us, without being with them, and paying attentions which cannot be mistaken; and if we are not at liberty to withdraw after we have once committed ourselves, how perilous a thing is marriage?" To this I reply, hold your heart in abeyance, until suitable inquiry, and silent, unnoticed observation have been made. All trifling with the affection of another, is most dishonorable in everyone, and especially in a Christian—and yet this is too often done, and the credit of the Christian profession has been materially injured by it. If anything of importance, anything likely to affect the future happiness of the parties, should come out during the progress of the acquaintance, which was, in the commencement of it, concealed by either of them, such as liability to serious bodily or mental disease, or deranged worldly circumstances, or insincerity of religious profession, in that case no blame can attach to the one that withdraws. Nor is any censure merited in those cases where the connection is dissolved by mutual consent. Much reproach has been brought upon some young professors by rash, precipitate, offers to unsuitable people, from whom it has become, at length, almost absolutely necessary they should withdraw. Nor can some be cleared from the reproach of imprudently marrying before they had a rational prospect of supporting a family. Expenses increased faster than they were able to meet them. Debts were contracted, means resorted to for liquidating them, forbidden by every principle of honor—and disgrace soon followed. It pains me to think of the instances which I have witnessed of young people, once bidding fair to be respectable and respected, not only in the world but in the church also, ruined as to their prospects and reputation, by an imprudent marriage. It is, then, an absolute sin, for anyone to marry without the rational prospect of supporting a family.

It is also a great discredit to young professors, especially while living at home, to form any acquaintance, and carry it on without the knowledge, and especially against the wishes of their parents. I admit there are exceptions to this general rule—but they rarely occur. Disobedience to parental authority in this matter, where the children are under age, and in most cases where they are beyond it—is a deep blot upon a Christian profession. The social and domestic virtues should always shine forth with peculiar luster in the character of a Christian. A union for life is so serious a matter, so deeply involving not only our own and our companion's comfort—but our piety also; so powerfully affecting, perhaps, the welfare for both worlds of a family; so greatly influencing the church of Christ, and the cause of true religion in the world—that it cannot be treated with too much solemnity, or approached, even in its preliminary steps, with too much caution. Nor is there anything next to our own salvation, which should be made the subject of so much earnest prayer to God—for direction and guidance.