Generally speaking, a covenant, according to Reformed theology, is a legal relationship between two parties that involves promises and conditions. A covenant, therefore, has three basic elements: parties, promises and conditions. My goal is to expound the Westminster Standards’ teaching on the Covenant of Grace in light of these three basic elements, beginning with the parties.
Identifying the two parties of this covenant is not as straightforward as one might expect, and has been a bone of contention among the Reformed. In his discussion of the contracting parties of the Covenant of Grace, Louis Berkhof readily admits that “it is not easy to determine precisely who the second party is.” All are agreed who the first party is, namely God, but many have found it difficult and confusing as to who is the second party. Is it all of mankind, the visible church, the elect only, Christ and the elect in him or all of the above? According to the Westminster Standards, the answer is multifaceted and is largely dependent upon which perspective of the covenant is being considered.
First, in contrast to the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace is a covenant that God establishes with sinners. WCF 7.3 notes that after the fall and due to man’s inability to secure life, the Lord was pleased to make the Covenant of Grace, “wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved.” WLC 32 says that God’s grace is demonstrated in the Covenant of Grace by his freely providing and offering to sinners a mediator through whom they can receive life and salvation.  Hence, in a general sense, the Covenant of Grace is offered to sinners.  
Second, the Covenant of Grace is made or established with believers and their children, that is, those within the visible church, which includes the elect and the reprobate. Sacraments are for those “within the covenant of grace (WLC 162),” and baptism “is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church (WLC 166).” Thus, baptism, which is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace (WCF 28.1), is not to be administered to unbelievers until “they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him (WLC 166, WSC 95),” while it is to be administered to children of professing believers because they are “within the covenant (WLC 166)” and “members of the visible church (WSC 95).” Since not all baptized and/or professing members of the visible church are saved or of the elect (WLC 61; WCF 28.5-6), it follows that membership of the Covenant of Grace is broader than the elect.  
Third, the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ and the elect in him. WLC 31 says that the Covenant of Grace “was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Consequently, God promises in the Covenant of Grace “to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe (WCF7.3; cf. WLC 32).” And that the grace promised in baptism “is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time (WCF 28.6).” Thus, in one sense, the Covenant of Grace is identified with the elect.
This multifaceted approach to the parties of the Covenant of Grace reflects the Reformed understanding that the Covenant of Grace may be viewed from different perspectives. A number of different contrasting terms have been employed to express this point with one popular being the external/internal distinction. John Ball believed that “externally” the Covenant of Grace is made with every member of the visible church but “savingly, effectually, and in a speciall manner it is made only with them, who are partakers of the benefits promised.” In his work on the covenants written after the Assembly, Samuel Rutherford said that the covenant must be considered in two ways, “As Preached according to the approving and commanding will of God,” and “as it is internally and effectually fulfilled in the elect according to the decree and the Lords will of purpose.” This external/internal distinction, for Rutherford, results in a corresponding two-fold identity of the human party of the Covenant of Grace, namely, the members of the visible church and the elect. Rutherford wrote, “The parties contracters in the Covenant preached, are God, and all within the Visible Church, whether Elect or Reprobate, and their seed, they professing the Gospel…But the parties contracters of the Covenant in the latter respect are, Jer. 31. Heb. 8. only, the house of Judah, the taught of God, the people in whose heart the Law is ingraven.” Thus, from one perspective the Covenant of Grace is made with all those who have made a profession of faith, and their children. All those who come under the “the call and offer of Christ in the Preached Gospel,” and give their consent by making a profession and receiving the seals, along with their children, are “externally in Covenant” and “under the Covenant of Grace.” Yet, from another perspective, that is, of the thing promised and of special promises, the covenant is only established with the elect.

Thanks to our official book sponsor, Reformation Heritage Books, we have a 4-book bundle of Simonetta Carr's Christian Biographies for Young Readers that we are giving away: Martin LutherJohn Calvin, John Knox, and John Owen. Deadline to register is Friday, February 24.

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As we've seen, the Puritans had a rich understanding of Christian marriage (part 1, part 2, part 3). In this final post, I'd like to show that they also believed marital love must be sexual. Both marital partners should give themselves fully to each other with joy and exuberance in a healthy sexual relationship marked by fidelity. Reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin re-established this aspect of marriage by abandoning medieval Roman Catholic notions that marriage was inferior to celibacy leading to “religious” (clergy, monks, nuns) and “profane” (laity) classes of Christians, that all sexual contact between marital partners was only a necessary evil to propagate the human race, and that any procreative act that involved passion was inherently sinful. This negative view was rooted in the writings of the ancient church fathers, such as Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome, all of whom believed that, even within marriage, sexual intercourse necessarily involved sin (see Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 261).
Puritans preachers taught that the Roman Catholic view was unbiblical, even satanic. They cited Paul, who said that prohibition of marriage is a “doctrine of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Puritan definitions of marriage implied the conjugal act. For example, William Perkins (1558-1602) defines marriage as “the lawful conjunction of the two married persons; that is, of one man and one woman into one flesh” (“Christian Oeconomy,” 419). The Puritans viewed sex within marriage as a gift of God and as an essential, enjoyable part of marriage. William Gouge (1575-1653) said that husbands and wives should cohabit “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully” (Quoted in Ryken, Worldly Saints, 44). “They do err,” added Perkins, “who hold that the secret coming together of man and wife cannot be without sin unless it be done for the procreation of children” (“Christian Oeconomy,” 423).
Perkins went on to say that marital sex is a “due debt” or “due benevolence” (1 Cor. 7:3) that married persons owe to their spouses. That debt must be paid, he says, “with a singular and entire affection one towards another” in three ways: “First, by the right and lawful use of their bodies or of the marriage bed.” Such physical intimacy by “holy usage” should be “a holy and undefiled action (Heb. 13:4)...sanctified by the word and prayer (1 Tim. 4:3–4).” The fruits of God-honoring, enjoyable sex in marriage are the blessing of children, “the preservation of the body in cleanness,” and the reflection of marriage as a type of the bond between Christ and His church. Second, married couples must “cherish one another” intimately (Eph. 5:29) rather than having sex in the impersonal way of an adulterer with a prostitute. Third, a couple should be intimate “by an holy kind of rejoicing and solacing themselves each with [the] other in a mutual declaration of the signs and tokens of love and kindness (Prov. 5:18–19; Song 1:1; Gen. 26:8; Isa. 62:7).” In this context, Perkins particularly mentions kissing (“Christian Oeconomy,” 423-427).
Other Puritans stressed the romantic side of marriage as they compared the love of a husband to God’s love for His people. Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) wrote, “The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves, he dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye and apprehension when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at table, walks with her when he travels and parlies with her in each place where he comes” (The Application of Redemption, 137).
Rightfully so, the emphasis on finding romance within marriage (rather than in extramarital relations, common in the Middle Ages) has been attributed to the Puritans. Herbert W. Richardson wrote that “the rise of romantic marriage and its validation by the Puritans represents a major innovation within the Christian tradition” (Nun, Witch, Playmate: The Americanization of Sex, 69). And C. S. Lewis said, “The conversion of courtly love into romantic monogamous love was largely the work of... Puritan poets” (“Donne and Love Poetry in the Seventeenth Century,” in Seventeenth Century Studies Presented to Sir Herbert Grierson [Oxford University Press, 1938], 75). Thus the Puritans emphasized that marital love, in addition to being spiritual love, must also be sexual love. In this way, they embraced God’s gift of marriage as the superlative or highest form of human love known on earth. Though the Puritans honored the sexuality of marriage, they did not reduce marriage to sex. Rather, they maintained a view of marital love as broad as life itself. Marital love must fill every room of the home and spill out into the world.
In our previous post, we considered the Puritan Christopher Love’s defense of hell-fire preaching from his sermons in Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). In the next two posts we will consider key questions that he asks on hell before considering his position on the controversial doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell. I will proceed by posing Love’s questions then answering them in his words summarized, paraphrased, or quoted. In this manner, this and the next post will take the form almost of a “Love’s catechism on hell.”
Is there a hell? Yes, with the mortality of the soul or annihilation of it denied. This affirms the reality of an immortal soul either in a state of bliss or torment. Regarding hell, there are crucial passages affirming its reality such as Matthew 23:33, which speaks of the “damnation of hell” and 2 Peter 2:3,4, which refers to the damned “cast down to hell.”
Why must there be a hell? Most importantly, because of man’s sin and God’s justice. First, “because of the filthy nature of sin” against an infinite God deserves punishment. Second, Christ did not satisfy justice for the wicked who must come under wrath. Third, the terrors of conscience afflicting sinners at death anticipate the “torments” soon to be encountered. 
What is hell? “Hell is a place of torment, ordained by God for Devils and reprobate sinners, wherein by his Justice he confines them to everlasting punishment; tormenting them both in Body and Soul, being deprived of Gods’ favour, objects of his wrath, under which they must lie to all eternity.”
Where is hell? Scripture does not tell us the exact location of hell, which God did not reveal for his own reasons. Still, he made clear that such a place as hell does exist and it is distinct from and below heaven (Prov. 15:24; Luke 8:13). 
Is there any other place of torment after this life than that of hell? No, specifically, there is no purgatory purifying and preparing those in Christ for heaven. This gives comfort to Christians as they die and warns the wicked who go straight to hell.  
Is God just in damning men eternally who sin temporarily in this life? Yes, for: (1) For  our punishment is not based on the amount of time that we sin but that we sin; (2) We commit our sin, even if for a moment against an infinite God and so deserve infinite punishment; (3) If we lived forever we would sin forever as we will in hell. 
Will most men and women in the world be tormented in hell? Yes, and such a “broad” way of destruction (Matt. 7:14) remains “one of the most dismal Doctrines” that a pastor can preach whether to those living in sin without repentance while rejecting Christ or as hypocritical professors of faith.
How can it be that God would damn the majority of the men and women that he created? Such “questioning” comes from universalists (e.g. Origen) and the Arminians wanting to protect the mercy of God. Love wants to defend God’s mercy in connection  with the following ideas: God’s sovereign right as creator over his creatures;  God sending no man to hell not already regarded as fit for destruction; Whatever “stands with Gods decree doth well stand with his mercy,” for the two cannot clash; That God chooses to save any at all, makes his mercy shine in the “vessels of mercy”; and God shows more mercy saving one man than justice in “damning all the world.” 
Consider these questions and answers well both for your soul and your responses to others who question this clear yet unpalatable doctrine. 
I know many pastors who bought John Owen’s seven-volume “commentary” on Hebrews who had high hopes of reading them while preaching through Hebrews, only to be daunted at the size of the work, the depth of the material, and the breadth of the matter. The temptation is simply to give up. However, C.H. Spurgeon wrote concerning this set, “Out of scores of commendations of this colossal work we select but one. Dr. Chalmers pronounced it ‘a work of gigantic strength as well as gigantic size; and he who hath mastered it is very little short, both in respect to the doctrinal and practical of Christianity, of being an erudite and accomplished theologian.” As we conclude our series on reading Owen (part 1, part 2), below are some thoughts on why and how to use Owen on Hebrews realistically and profitably.
Why Study Owen on Hebrews?
1. These volumes represent Owen at his best. They appeared between 1668-1684. Owen died in 1683. The Hebrews set is permeated with the mature thought and piety of a lifetime of labor in the Lord’s vineyard, and represents the best that Owen had to offer.
2. They contain profound exegesis of Scripture. Among the English Puritans, Owen practically stands in a category by himself as an exegete. This is not limited to his exposition of Hebrews. Owen provides detailed explanations of many passages of Scripture, particularly from the Old Testament, that are extremely valuable. Owen possessed a rare mastery both of Greek and Hebrew that enabled him to expound the Bible with clarity and power.
3. The Hebrews commentary warms the heart while instructing the mind. Owen explores nearly the entire realm of Christian theology in the context of sound exegesis. This is evident on every page of the work, but the preliminary “exercitations” are particularly value. His theological introduction to the epistle to the Hebrews will greatly help those wanting to understand historical argument of the book as well as its theological importance in the Bible as a whole. His treatments of the Messiah, the Jewish Church, and Christ’s Priestly office stir up devotion to Christ and connect the entire Bible under these themes. His Day of Sacred Rest is a needed challenge for today’s church, in which the Sabbath is becoming forgotten. This book also unfolds Owen’s teaching on the relation between the Mosaic covenant and the Covenant of Works more clearly than most other places in his writings. This may add clarity to some contemporary debates over this subject.
4. Owen’s treatment of Hebrews highlights the glory and beauty of new covenant worship. This is a recurring theme throughout the work. For example, his comments on Hebrews 7:1 and 7:7 include a significant treatment of the role of ordained ministers in public worship and of benedictions. His aim throughout is to press us to glorify and enjoy the Triune God more fully and to be excited about worship in light of the new covenant.
How to Use Owen on Hebrews
1. Use the expositions of the Greek text at the beginning of each section. Owen’s theological and practical analyses are so lengthy that, though always profitable, they can overwhelm anyone trying to keep up with him for a weekly sermon series. For example, he wrote 84 pages on Hebrews 1:1-2. However, his analyses of the original text of Hebrews rival most commentaries in skill and precision. In addition, Owen began each chapter of Hebrews with an insightful survey of the scope of the chapter. This will help you put together the general flow of the book.
2. Skim through lengthy sections, giving attention to discussions that will likely expand doctrines and applications that will be most relevant to you. The "Summary of Doctrinal and Practical Observations" at the end of volume two was designed to assist you in doing this. Verse by verse and section-by-section, it lays out what you will find treated in connection to every part of the epistle. This will enable you to plan ahead for subjects that may be more helpful to you than others.
3. Read and digest a little at a time. In spite of what the size of the work suggests, Owen is dense and brief. I have often profited more from five pages of Owen than from five volumes by other writers on the same subject.
4. Plan ahead in your reading. Preaching requires more than the fruit of weekly preparation. Every sermon reflects who the preacher is as a man and betrays the extent of his growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ in his life as a whole. The preacher’s prayerful reading beyond his weekly sermon preparation in large measure determines how profitable he will be in his weekly labors. Look at your text well in advance and begin digesting your material prayerfully and early.
5. Use the Scripture index in volume seven. The value of the Hebrews set is not limited to preaching through Hebrews. For example, when preparing a sermon on Haggai 2:6-7 (on the “shaking” of heaven and earth) I gained more profit from Owen’s exposition of this passage in Hebrews than from most commentaries on Haggai. While I was in seminary, our Hebrew professor required Owen’s exposition of Isaiah 7:10-16 (the “virgin birth” prophesy) for an exegesis paper. Passages in the index with blocks of text next to them likely mark full-scale treatments of those passages. Use them well.
Those disciplined enough to work through all seven volumes of Owen on Hebrews will bring forth fruit from it even to old age. However, even if you cannot read these volumes from cover to cover, then do not allow them to collect dust on the shelves. If you do not own this set, save up until you can afford it, or sell something else in order to get it. However, there is no virtue in owning Owen unless you make a plan to read him. “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23).
[This post was edited from a published article with Banner of Truth. Used with permission.]
Being a Reformed pastor among Reformed pastors, and being Anglican, has its good-humored moments. At some point in the discussion, you need to address the relationship between our respective confessions, the Westminster Confession and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Depending on the person, I will gently point out that the WCF was to serve the Church of England, or that if you are English-speaking in ancestry, you were Anglican once. It can bring a smile or a scramble to claim Scots, French, German, or Dutch ancestry instead!
Our year long study of the Sermons of the Great Ejection demonstrated the old taxonomy of Anglican v. Puritan must be consigned to the dustbin of history. The number of conscientious Anglican Puritans who did conform to the 1662 Act of Uniformity suggests that the issue of the Ejection was not an issue of Anglican Reformation theology, but of Anglican Church polity.
Central to any consideration of the difference between the theology and polity between the English Reformed must be the relationship of the Westminster Assembly and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. The defense of the Articles, the Assembly’s commission by Parliament, was suddenly changed on Thursday, 11 October 1643. Provoked by the arrival of the Scottish Commissioners who, as the price for Scottish support against the king, insisted on the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant, with its call for the uniformity of church polity. Because the work of revision was never completed, some have assumed that the work was of no consequence. Far from establishing nothing, the Thirty-Nine Articles provided the understanding of the central doctrines of the Reformation and offer a clear understanding of the Reformed nature of those articles. The Thirty-Nine Articles, arising ninety years earlier among the most enduring statements of the Reformation, is like them the product of a brilliant theological mind, Thomas Cranmer. 
The Thirty-Nine Articles are strongly reformed in nature and form part of the threefold collection of historical formularies (1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer which included The Ordinal) subscribed by godly Anglicans around the world. In explaining the call made to all biblically faithful Anglicans in the Jerusalem Declaration of the Global Anglican Future Conference, Chair Nicholas Okoh writes,
Authentic Anglicanism is a particular expression of Christian corporate life which seeks to honor the Lord Jesus Christ by nurturing faith, and also encouraging obedience to the teaching of God’s written word, meaning the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It embraces the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (published in the year 1571) and the Book of Common Prayer (the two versions of 1552 and 1662), both texts being read according to their plain and historical sense, and being accepted as faithful expressions of the teaching of Scripture, which provides the standard for Anglican theology and practice (The Way, the Truth and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future, p. 18). 
The Thirty-Nine Articles should always be included with the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards
Thomas Watson's description of the believer's preparation to receive the Lord's Supper was an adaptation of the various "Exhortations" of preparation in the 1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer. John Owen was to write later, “I embrace the doctrine of the Church of England, as declared in the Thirty-nine Articles, and other approved public writings of the most famous bishops and other divines thereof” (Works, 14:196). Every Puritan before 11 October 1643 had learned The Thirty-Nine Articles, kept orders of worship by means of Cranmer’s 1552 Book of Common Prayer, and had been examined in its Catechism.
To understand English Reformed Puritanism is to understand the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
In this Reformation 500 year it is time to revisit them in the series to follow!
John Knox’s position on the Lord’s Supper is most formally set forth in his 1550 A Summary, According to Holy Scriptures, of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Works, 3:71-75.) This short work of only 3 pages is nonetheless full in its contents and provides real insight into Knox’s views. In addition to this work, material to outline Knox’s position on the Lord’s Supper will be drawn from the 1556 Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, &c., Used in the English Congregation at Geneva, the 1560 Scots Confession, the 1560 First Book of Discipline and the 1564 Book of Common Order: or the Form of Prayers, and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc., Approved and Received by the Church of Scotland.
The Importance of the Supper
The first and obvious point to draw from Knox is that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is ordained of God. The Lord’s Supper is not a human invention, it is “a holy action, ordained of God.” (Works, 3:73.) Thus the Lord’s Supper is of divine origin, and warrant, and of great importance for the wellbeing of the Church. This carries with it an important corollary. As the Lord’s Supper is “instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ” it is therefore “commanded to be used of all those that will be reputed members of his body.” (Scots Confession in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:201.) The Lord’s Supper is not something that is optional in the Christian life, it is a command of Christ. And if the sacrament is refused, this in effect is to refuse to be a member of Christ’s body. To neglect the Lord’s Supper is to neglect the Christ who says to us, “take, eat” (See Works, 4:172). This is an emphasis that needs to be understood carefully and pastorally, but, which nonetheless needs to be heard.
The Presence of Christ
The second point we can consider from Knox relates to the presence of Christ in the Supper. Knox insisted that Christ was present in the Supper. In the well-known words of the Scots Confession Knox could state: “we utterly damn the vanity of those that affirm sacraments to be nothing else but naked and bare signs … whosoever slanders us, as that we affirmed or believed sacraments to be only naked and bare signs, [they] do injury unto us and speak against a manifest truth” (Scots Confession in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:201-202).
Rather than being a mere memorial, Knox could state that “we confess and undoubtedly believe that the faithful, in the right use of the Lord’s table do eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus … we affirm that the faithful in the right use of the Lord’s table have such conjunction with Jesus Christ as the natural man cannot apprehend” (Scots Confession in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:202). Thus, “in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us (John 6) that He becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls” (Scots Confession in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:201).
But this “real presence” of Christ was spiritual and not physical, for Knox clearly stated that “this union and conjunction which we have with the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the right use of the sacraments is wrought by operation of the Holy Ghost, who by true faith carries us above all things that are visible, carnal and earthly, and makes us to feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ which was once broken and shed for us which is now in heaven” (Scots Confession in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:201) Thus, for Knox, Christ was received “spiritually” in the same manner as “the Fathers of the Old Testament” received Christ. Knox here is referencing Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 10:3-4 “And [they] did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (Works, 3:75). Therefore “if men would well weigh, how that Christ, ordaining this Holy Sacrament of his body and blood, spoke these words sacramentally, doubtless they would never so grossly and foolishly understand them” (Works, 3:75). As such, rather than thinking of “eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood” carnally the Scripture understood this phrase to mean a “spiritually nourishing [of] our souls with the graces and benefits of Jesus Christ” (“The Confession of Faith of the English Congregation in Geneva” in Works, 4:172).
In the Lord’s Supper, then, Jesus Christ is really, but spiritually present as believers really, but spiritually, feed on his body and blood. Knox’s teaching here on the presence of Christ in the Supper is echoed later in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 170 which states that: “…the body and blood of Christ… are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord's supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.”

We are pleased to announce the publication of Danny Hyde's newest book, Content Yet Contending: Jude (EP Books). For our friends in the U.K., you may obtain it directly from the EP Books. For those of us on this side of the pond, you may purchase it from the Alliance's own bookstore, Reformed Resources, or from our official book sponsor, Reformation Heritage Book

Thanks to our friends at Reformation Heritage Books we have a two-book bundle of The Lord's Prayer for His People and Pentecostal Outpourings.

USA mailing addresses only. One entry per household. Deadline to register is Friday, February 10.

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Contrary to characatures, the Puritans had a lot to say about love, and marital love in particular. In our continuing series (post #1, post #2) we take up their teaching that marital love must be superlative.
A husband and wife are to love each other so dearly that both are persuaded that the other is “the only fit and good match that could be found under the sun for them,” William Whately (1583-1639) writes (A Bride-Bush, 8). Because of parental love, a godly parent would not trade his child for another parent’s child, even if that child were better-looking and had more ability or gifts; similarly, a godly husband and wife would not trade each other for a better-looking and more gifted spouse (A Bride-Bush, 8). Whately concludes: “Marriage-love admits of no equal, but placeth the yoke-fellow next of all to the soul of the party loving; it will know none dearer, none so dear” (A Bride-Bush, 9).
Surely, a wife is a man’s best companion and friend. Thomas Gataker (1574–1654) suggested that Adam was truly happy in Eden, but he was not fully happy until God had provided him with a wife, and he was joined to the woman as his closest friend and companion in all of life. Gataker said, “There is no society more near, more entire, more needful, more kindly, more delightful, more comfortable, more constant, more continual, than the society of man and wife” (Certain Sermons, 2:161). He was convinced that a house was “half unfurnished and unfinished, and not fully happy but half happy, though otherwise never so happy,” until it was completed with a wife (Certain Sermons, 2:161).
The Puritan ideal of superlative marital love appears in the poems that Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672) wrote to express her longing for her husband when he traveled away from home. She wrote to him,
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man was lov’d by wife, then thee….
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense. (Quoted in Nichols, Anne Bradstreet, 118)
In another poetic letter, Bradstreet compared her longing for her husband to that of a deer racing through the woods with ears alert to the sound of her mate. She signed it, “Thy loving love and dearest dear” (Nichols, Anne Bradstreet, 122-123).
Husband and wife are to love each other with a strong, fervent, and steady love, not with a love that waxes and wanes with the tide of beauty, dress, or riches, or fluctuates with the emotions and lusts of the flesh. This love, wrote Isaac Ambrose (1604-1664), is “loving and tender-hearted pouring out of their hearts, with much affectionate dearness, into each other’s bosoms” (Ambrose, Works, 130). It is an entire love, a fulsome love, a love that pours itself out between spouses constantly and without reservation in a variety of expressions, gestures, looks, and actions. This love, Daniel Rogers (1573-1652) wrote, is not “raised suddenly in a pang of affection, ebbing and flowing…but a habitual and settled love planted in them by God, whereby in a constant, equal, and cheerful consent of spirit they carry themselves [towards] each other” (Rogers, Matrimonial Honour, 137-138). Robert Bolton (1572-1631) therefore defined this duty of mutual love as “a drawing into action, and keeping in exercise, the habit of conjugal affection and matrimonial love” (Bolton, General Directions, 265, emphasis added). If this mutual love is eclipsed for but a day or even an hour, said Richard Baxter (1615-1691), the husband and wife are “as a bone out of joint; there is no ease, no order, no work well done till they are restored and set in joint again” (Baxter, Practical Works, 1:431).
Such love is nurtured by guarding each other’s honor and reputation instead of complaining and grumbling against each other. William Secker (d. c. 1681) put it this way: “Who would trample upon a jewel because it is fallen in the dirt? Or throw away a heap of wheat for a little chaff? Or despise a golden wedge because it retains some dross? These roses [i.e., wives] have some prickles. Now husbands should spread a mantle of charity over their wives’ infirmities” (Secker, “The Wedding Ring, A Sermon,” 263).
A husband must do his best to see that no one know his wife’s faults but himself and God. He should be unwilling to voice them to anyone but God, to pray that she may be pardoned for them and reformed from them. Likewise, a wife must do her best to keep her husband’s struggles and sins to herself, as matters of prayer and not gossip. Neither spouse should be surprised by the sins of the other, for each of them is well aware of their own sins. Can it be helpful to uncover faults in public and fling mud in each other’s face? Will this help a husband reform or a wife to repent? And which is more displayed in such a case, the spouse’s faults and weaknesses or the gossip’s unkindness, indiscretion, backbiting, and folly? Does not the family dog behave better than this when it barks at strangers but not at members of the family? (A Bride Bush, 78)
Moreover, if ill speech behind the back of an enemy is a sin, how much more grievous is ill speech behind the back of a spouse, who should be to us as our own flesh? Whateley said, “To hear a husband largely declaiming against his wife, and…aggravating her sins, as if he took delight in nothing so much as in branding her forehead with the black mark of infamy is a testimony of so much hatred, where there should be most love, and of so bitter unkindness, where nature itself requires most tender kindness, that no speeches almost can sound more harsh in the ears of wise men. So again for the woman to be clattering amongst her gossips what a foolish husband she has…and to be…making proclamation of his faults, as if she feared nothing but that they should not be known to people…is a most irksome and hateful folly and untrustworthiness” (A Bride Bush, 77, emphasis added).
Love for each other must strive to cover sins much as bandages cover sores, so they may heal. George Swinnock (1627-1673) advised that “to procure a quiet life, the husband must be deaf, and the wife blind. Sure it is, the man must not bear to declare it abroad, nor the wife see to say it among her gossips whatever is amiss at home, if they would live in peace” (Works, 1:476). A breach between a husband and wife is half reconciled when it is kept indoors where love and prayers can be repeatedly administered to it; but if it is announced outdoors in the ears of others, it will be like a festering sore that can hardly be healed (Works, 1:476).
The common practice of publishing each other’s faults must therefore be put far away from every spouse; for it is a treacherous evil and looks more like the hatred one might show to an enemy than the love demanded in a marriage. “What mutual love can there be in such?” asked William Gouge (1575-1653). “Howsoever their hands have been joined together, surely their hearts were never united, so that it had been better [if] they had never known one another, unless the Lord do afterwards knit their hearts and unite their affections more nearly and firmly together” (Of Domestical Duties, 182). In extreme cases, it may be necessary to acquaint a close and trusted friend with the faults of one’s spouse for the purpose of prayer and sound counsel. But that is far different than publishing little flaws and idiosyncrasies to any company and for no other purpose than murmuring, complaining, and gossiping. “Know therefore, and practice this duty, O husbands and wives,” concluded Whateley, “spit not in each other’s faces, disclose not each other’s faults, but conceal, hide, bury and cover them so much as truth and equity will allow” (A Bride Bush, 79–80).
Superlative love requires a steady effort to be pleasing to each other. According to Whateley, this “pleasingness” is “a disposition of the will and earnest desire of the heart to give all content [satisfaction] to each other, so far as they may possibly do it, without sinning against God” (A Bride Bush, 54). If husband and wife perform this duty, which 1 Corinthians 7:33–34 commends, with all diligence and faithfulness, then they will experience a great harvest of blessings to the whole family. No good or happiness can be enjoyed by that couple who live as enemies on the field when they are companions in one house and bed. Whateley advises, “Next to the pleasing of God, make your main business to please each other” (A Bride Bush, 59).