No Universal Law
God has not made any universal law commanding or forbidding marriage and in this regard has left it indifferent to mankind. Yet he does not allow all to marry (for to some it is unlawful), but he has by other general laws or rules directed men to know in what cases it is lawful and in what cases it is a sin. Every man is bound to choose that condition in which he may serve God with the best advantages and which tends most to his spiritual welfare and increase in holiness.
Now there is nothing in marriage itself that makes it commonly inconsistent with these benefits and the fulfilling of these laws. Therefore, it is said that “he who marries his betrothed does well” (1 Cor. 7:38); that is, he does that which of itself is not unlawful and which to some is the most desirable state of life. But there is something in a single life that makes it, especially to preachers and persecuted Christians, to be the most advantageous state of life to these ends of Christianity; therefore, it is said that “he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).
To individual persons it is hard to imagine how it can be either a duty or a sin, except in some unusual cases. For it is a thing of so great moment as to the ordering of our hearts and lives that it is hard to imagine that it should ever be indifferent as a means to our main end, but must either be a very great help or hindrance. If there are any persons whose case may be so equally poised with accidents1 on both sides that to the most judicious man it is not discernible whether a single or married state of life is likely to conduce more to their personal holiness, public usefulness, or the good of others, to such persons marriage, in this circumstance,2 is a thing indifferent.
Some Reasons to Refrain
By these conditions you may know what persons have a call from God to marry and who have not his call or approval. First, if there is the peremptory will or command of parents to children that are under their authority, and no greater matter on the contrary to hinder it, the command of parents signifies the command of God. But if parents do but persuade and not command, though their desires must not be causelessly refused, yet a smaller impediment may preponderate than in the case of a peremptory command.
Second, they are called to marry who have not the gift of continence and cannot by the use of lawful means attain it and have no impediment that makes it unlawful to them to marry. “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9). But here the diverse degrees of the urgent and the hindering causes must be compared, and the weightiest must prevail. For some who have very strong lusts may yet have stronger impediments; and though they cannot keep that chastity in their thoughts as they desire, yet in such a case they must abstain. There is no man but may keep his body in chastity if he will do his part. Yea, and thoughts themselves may be commonly and for the most part kept pure, and wanton imaginations quickly checked, if men are godly and will do what they can. But on the other side, there are some who have a more tamable measure of sexual desire3 and yet have no considerable hindrance, whose duty it may be to marry, as the most certain and successful means against that small degree, as long as there is nothing to forbid it.
Third, another cause that warrants marriage is when upon a wise casting up of all accounts it is apparently most probable that in a married state one may be most serviceable to God and the public good, that there will be in it greater helps and fewer hindrances to the great ends of our lives: the glorifying of God and the saving of ourselves and others. It must be expected that every condition should be more helpful to us in one respect and hinder us more in another respect and that in one we have most helps for a contemplative life and in another we are better furnished for an active, serviceable life. The great skill, therefore, in the discerning of our duties lies in the prudent pondering and comparing of the advantages and disadvantages,4 without the seduction of fantasy, lust, or passion, and in a true discerning which side it is that has the greatest weight.5
In the Interest of God and Salvation
Here it must be carefully observed, first, that the two first reasons for marriages, sexual desire6 and the will of parents, or any such like, have their strength but in subordination to the third, the final cause or interest of God and our salvation. This last reason (from the end) is of itself sufficient without any of the others, but none of the others are sufficient without this. If it is clear that in a married state you have better advantages for the service of God and doing good to others and saving your own souls than you can have in a single state of life, then it is undoubtedly your duty to marry; for our obligation to seek our ultimate end is the most constant, indispensable obligation. Though parents command it not, though you have no physical7 necessity, yet it is a duty if it certainly makes most for your ultimate end.
Every man is bound to choose that condition in which he may serve God with the best advantages and which tends most to his spiritual welfare and increase in holiness.
Second, observe that no pretense of your ultimate end will warrant you to marry when any other accident has first made it a thing unlawful while that accident continues. For we must not do evil that good may come by it. Our salvation is not furthered by sin; though we saw a probability that we might do more good to others if we did but commit such a sin to accomplish it, yet it is not to be done. For our lives and mercies being all in the hand of God, and the successes and acceptance of all our endeavors depending wholly upon him, it can never be a rational way to attain them by willfully offending him by our sin! It is a likely means to public good for able and good men to be magistrates and ministers; yet he that would lie or be perjured or commit any known sin that he may be a magistrate or that he may preach the gospel might better expect a curse on himself and his endeavors than God’s acceptance or his blessing and success. So he that would sin to change his state for the better would find that he changed it for the worse, or if it does good to others, he may expect no good but ruin to himself, if repentance prevent it not.
Third, observe also that if the question is only which state of life it is (married or single) that best conduces to this ultimate end, then any one of the subordinate reasons will prove that we have a call, if there are no greater reasons on the contrary side. In the case you have no bodily8 necessity, the will of parents alone may oblige you, if there is no greater thing against it. Or if parents oblige you not, physical necessity alone may do it. Or if neither of these invite you, a clear probability of the attaining of such an estate or opportunity as may make you more fit to relieve many others or be serviceable to the church, or the blessing of children who may be devoted to God, may warrant your marriage if no greater reasons lie against it. For when the scales are equal, any one of these may turn them.
By this also you may perceive those who have no call to marry and those to whom it is a sin. First, no man has a call to marry who, laying all the advantages and disadvantages9 together, may clearly discern that a married state would be a greater hindrance to his salvation or to his serving or honoring God in the world, and so to disadvantage him as to his ultimate end.
1. Indifferences or non-essentials.
2. In the individual circumstantiated act.
4. Commodities and discommodities.
5. “Unmarried men are the best friends, the best masters, the best servants; but not always the best subjects: for they are light to run away and therefore venturous, &c.” Lord Bacon, “Essay 8.” Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was a prominent English philosopher, writer, and statesman and was generally regarded as one of the founders of the Scientific Revolution. His Essays (1597–1625), informal compositions, were among the earliest examples in English. For a general overview of Bacon’s thought, see Perez Zagorin, Francis Bacon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).
9. Commodities and discommodities
This article is adapted from The Godly Home by Richard Baxter and edited by Randall J. Pederson.
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