Chapter 12: Children in Marriage
Children in Marriage
The second purpose for marriage as mentioned in the Form for the Solemnization of Marriage relates to children. The Form words it like this:
Second, by marriage the human race is to be continued and increased, and, under the blessing of God, husband and wife will be fruitful and multiply. If it pleases God to give them children, they shall nurture these children in the true knowledge and fear of the Lord.
This reference to children comes back in the instruction given to the bridegroom and the bride:
Bridegroom, …work faithfully in your daily calling, that you may support your family…,” and, “Bride, …take proper care of your family and household, and live modestly…
Again, in the prayer the Form proscribes for the young couple, the following petition is laid before God’s throne of grace:
Grant them Your blessing according to the covenant promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If it pleases You to give them children, confirm Your covenant to them and to their seed; and grant that they may nurture these children in the fear of the Lord, to the glory of Your Name, and to the edification of the Church.
This second purpose of marriage as listed in the Form, then, revolves around children. Three questions will need our attention as we consider the place of children in marriage:
a. Are children a blessing?
b. Should we limit the number of children we receive, and if so, how?
c. How do we nurture the children received?
Are children a blessing?
In the beginning
As the Form considers the place of children in relation to marriage, the Form reaches back all the way to Genesis 1. That chapter relates that God created the human race “in His own image”; “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). The very first instruction Scripture records to mankind is this, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). The command is straightforward: the two humans God created were commanded to propagate so that innumerable humans appear on the face of the earth.
We need to notice that the command to “be fruitful and increase in number” does not appear in a void – as if God has no particular reason why Adam and Eve (and their descendents) were to multiply. God had created people “in His image”, a reality true not of eagles or elephants. The point of forming a creating “in His image” was that the man and the woman might image what God was like. The Creator would not stay on earth, for He had created heaven to be His dwelling place. Yet the world was created for God’s glory, and so there should be on earth some representation of what the Lord was like. This privileged task God entrusted to the human race. Through the way people speak and act, they were to reflect to the rest of creation something of what God was like – His righteousness, His goodness, His care for His creatures, etc. Yet there should not, then, be but two individuals on earth who reflect to creation what God is like, but an innumerable multitude spread into every corner of the earth. God, then, commanded the human race to “be fruitful and increase in number” so that God would be glorified through innumerable image-bearers filling the earth.
Before there was time for Adam and Eve to begin increasing in number, the human race fell into sin, and so earned God’s righteous penalty of death. With this fall Adam and Eve –and so all mankind– lost the ability to image what God was like, and reflected instead what the devil was like.
In His great compassion the Lord God was pleased to announce the gospel of redemption through Jesus Christ. He did so through His word to the serpent, spoken in the hearing of Adam and Eve. In that word of redemption, God picked up on the mandate spoken earlier, to “be fruitful and increase in number.” For God told the serpent that He would place “enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis 3:15). He would, in other words, cause His earlier command to the human race to be fruitful to become reality, despite their fall into sin. Yet there is development now in the reason why the woman would have children. The reference is now not primarily to generating more people who would image God (for people have become sinful, and so can no longer image accurately what God is like), but the purpose for having children zeroes in now on the enmity with the serpent. God has declared a war, and in this war God would bring forth soldiers for the battle through children born to the woman. Yet these children would not be simply victims on a battlefield, for God decreed that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. Through children would come the victory! It is as the psalmist put it: “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2).
Admittedly, it would all happen through much struggle. The Lord told the woman that He would “greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you shall give birth to children” (Genesis 3:16). Again, the man is told that God has “cursed the ground…; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). To bring forth and raise, let alone feed and clothe, warriors for the battle God ordained between Himself and the devil would take much pain and anxiety on the part of the older generation. Even so, Adam embraced God’s promise in faith, as is evident from the fact that he “named his wife Eve” – a word related to the Hebrew word for ‘life’, “because she would become the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). More, Adam and Eve obeyed the command to be fruitful; in the intimacy of love1 they came together so that Eve became pregnant (Genesis 4:1).
1 For the phrasing of this sentence, see what was written earlier about the word ‘know’ in Genesis 4:1
In the years that followed, the human race –believers and unbelievers alike– obeyed the command to “be fruitful and increase in number.” One generation brought forth another generation (see Genesis 5), and in the process “men began to increase in number on the earth” (Genesis 6:1). Yet the increase in numbers did not result in more persons on earth who imaged what God was like, nor were there increasingly more soldiers for God’s armies on earth to fight the Evil One; instead, the children born in the days before the flood were God-less and sided with the devil in the great battle. Though God had desired that the human race increase so as to fill the earth, He now determined to “wipe mankind … from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:7). In the flood God did so, leaving only Noah and his family alive.
Given that the human race was so depraved that God had to destroy it, it is striking that after the flood the Lord very deliberately renewed the command of the beginning. After the Lord God “smelled the pleasing aroma” of Noah’s sacrifice (Genesis 8:21), a sacrifice that pointed forward to the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as atonement for sin, He “blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Notice: almighty God had the power to bring forth from the stones of the field persons who could image Him well and serve as soldiers in His battle against the Evil One. In His wisdom, however, He did not choose for that option. Instead, the Lord repeated the identical command He had given in Paradise! Though He knew well that “every inclination of [man’s] heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21), God yet wanted warriors to appear on earth through the process of childbirth. The human race is of one piece, and God determined to save the human race through the birth of children.
And those children, let it be said again, are to be born within marriage. That’s the force of His word in Genesis 2: “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (vs 24) – in that order! First there is to be the leaving and the cleaving, and then the one-flesh-ness that’s necessary for pregnancy and birth. This was the ordinance and plan of God: through the birth of children, His program of redemption on Planet Earth will continue.
Fruitfulness and the Covenant
In His wisdom, the Lord God was pleased to bring about His redeeming work on Earth through one specific nation. He called Abram from Ur and gave him this promise: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you…. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2,3). He repeated the promise some time later, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Genesis 13:16). We recognize in this promise an echo of the command of Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and increase in number.” Yet this time there is no command but a promise. The reason for the difference is that Abram and his wife are already too old to be able to carry out the commission to “be fruitful and increase in number.” More, the Lord God is doing something new. He sets Abram aside to be special to Him, so that the work of redemption God will do through childbearing will be obviously His work.
That’s how it turns out. God laid His claim of love upon Abram and so established with him His covenant of grace. Yet the bond of love God established with Abram was not limited to Abram-the-individual, but included all the children (in the generations) that God would sovereignly entrust to Abram’s care. That’s the force of the word of God to Abram when He changed his name to Abraham – “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). Said God, “I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7). Abraham and his children, then, would receive a special place in the battle against Satan; God would ensure that the children entrusted to Abraham would be warriors in that cosmic conflict.
This promise to Abraham (and in him to Sarah) did not absolve Abraham of responsibility. Precisely because he received a promise, Abraham had to act in obedience with the promise. The result was that “Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age” (Genesis 21:2). With this blessing on their intimacy, the Lord God began to fulfill the promise to Abraham to make him a great nation (Genesis 12:2). This was a pattern God repeated with Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and Jacob (Genesis 28:3,14), so that the point was established that Israel’s existence is very much the result of God’s mighty work. Yet human responsibility remains reality, and so the Lord repeated to Jacob the identical mandate He had given in Paradise and to Noah after the flood. Said God to Jacob: “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 35:11). Jacob and his offspring acted in agreement with this command, so that under God’s blessing the people of Israel in Egypt “were fruitful and increased greatly in number” (Genesis 47:27). In fact, they increased so greatly that they “became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). Notice how much the choice of terms here reminds of God’s initial command in Paradise to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Despite Pharaoh’s efforts to curb their growth, the number of Israelites who left Egypt “were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:37). If there were about 600,000 men, there were at least an equal number of women (see Exodus 1:16), and at a minimum at least twice as many children. A conservative estimate brings us then to at least two and half million Israelites. Over a period of some 400 years, a childless old couple had multiplied –under God’s blessing– to a multitude more numerous than the stars one can count. God Himself saw to it that the command He had given in the beginning was obeyed, so that in turn there would be on earth a host of people joined in battle with God against the forces of darkness. The command of the beginning was obviously not limited to the beginning!
Blessing and Curse
The covenant God established with the people of Israel had (as all covenants do) two sides, a promise and an obligation. The promise included blessings on obedience and curses on disobedience. In the wisdom of God, children received a place in both the blessings and the curses. Said God:
“Worship the LORD your God, and His blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land” (Exodus 23:25,26). Elsewhere: “If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands …, I will look on you in favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep My covenant with you” (Leviticus 26:3,9). Again: “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today…, all these blessing will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: … The fruit of your womb will be blessed…. The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity – in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock…” (Deuteronomy 28:1,2,4,11; see Deuteronomy 7:13,14).
On the other hand,
“But if you will not listen to Me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject My decrees and abhor My laws and fail to carry out all My commands and so violate My covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on your sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life…. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children…” (Leviticus 26:14-16,22). And: “if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all His commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: …The fruit of your womb will be cursed…. You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her…. Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand…. Because of the suffering that you enemies will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you…” (Deuteronomy 28:18,30,32,53).
This two-fold emphasis comes back in the words of the prophets in Israel’s later history. In response to the people’s sins, the Holy Spirit moves Hosea to say this:
“Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites…: ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land…. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also rejected you as My priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. [The people] will eat but not have enough; they will engage in prostitution but not increase, because they have deserted the LORD….” (Hosea 4:1,6,10). “Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird – no birth, no pregnancy, no conception. Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one…. Given them, O LORD – what will You give them? Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry…. Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring” (Hosea 9:11-16).
Conversely, when the Lord promises restoration through the atoning work of the coming Mediator, He gave Israel this promise:
“I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams” (Isaiah 44:3,4).
The reference to grass speaks here of luxuriant growth, lush in abundance. For God’s intent that the earth be filled with persons who image what God is like remains unchanged, as does His purpose to place on earth many warriors to fight the fight of faith.
Privilege of Parenting
All of it together gave to Israel the distinct sense that children were blessings God was pleased in mercy to bestow upon His faithful children. They were blessings every bit as much as new birth in the barn was a blessing and a rich harvest in the field was a blessing. In fact, children are more than a blessing to God’s covenant people; they are a wonderful heritage – God’s children entrusted into the care of Godly parents. The psalmist understood that there was no greater privilege God could entrust to His people on earth than the gift of children. “Praise the LORD,” the psalmist commands. Why? “He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children” (Psalm 113:9). More: “sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3-5). These children are warriors God has placed on earth in His battle with the devil, and given that the victory is most certainly for the Lord, the man who has God’s children –God’s soldiers– entrusted to his care will not be ashamed. On the contrary: “Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in His ways…. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD” (Psalm 128).
Children in the New Testament
No wonder, then, that the Lord Jesus Christ responded as He did when mothers brought children to Him. The children the mothers brought were not little Moabites or little Romans, but –inasmuch as Jesus labored in Israel– these children were covenant infants, persons whom God in His providence had placed on His side in the cosmic struggle against the devil. That mothers in Israel should bring their little covenant children to Jesus –the One whom God had sent to engage Satan head on and definitively defeat him on the cross was distinctly the right thing to do. “Let the little children come to Me,” He corrected His disciples, “and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). ‘Such as these’ – and the reference is not to children verses adults (as if children belong to the kingdom of God while adults do not), but the reference is to these (half dozen or so) children the mothers brought to Jesus while yonder throughout Israel were countless other covenant children who equally needed the Savoir, that Commander God had sent who would crush the head of the serpent. So Jesus “took [these covenant] children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). What encouragement for mothers to continue to bear children, and raise them as warriors in God’s kingdom!
After His triumph on the cross, the ascended Savior poured out His Holy Spirit. Peter on the day of Pentecost explained the significance of the Spirit’s coming: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). Even the little ones of Israel will receive the Spirit God has poured out, because covenant children belong to Him and they have a function to fulfill in the fight against darkness. They too must image again something of what God is like. God’s promise of redemption is not for adults only, nor is it indiscriminately for all children; “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:39). It is in the New Testament as it was in the old: the children God entrusts to believing parents are not like the children given to an unbelieving neighbor, for these children belong to Him (see 1 Corinthians 7:14) – and that’s why He gives these covenant children of His believing parents.
Shall believing parents, then, receive children grudgingly?? Surely, there is no task in God’s kingdom more privileged than being entrusted with the care of God’s little children-by-covenant! The words of Psalm 127 remain so true: “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him” (vs 3). In fact, it’s this perspective that drives Paul to write his instruction to Timothy. “It was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner,” wrote Paul, “but women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Timothy 2:14,15). No, this is not a theology of salvation-through-works, specifically the work of childbearing. Rather, Paul is hooking onto the Lord’s word directly after the fall into sin when He said that the offspring of the woman would destroy the offspring of the serpent. Salvation would come through the offspring of the woman, and that implies childbearing! In faith countless women of the Old Testament gave birth to children as they traveled through the various stages of redemptive history, and in so doing they worked toward the coming the Savior of the world – the Son of God born of the woman Mary. These parents-of-faith knew that “sons are a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3), that children were a blessing (Psalm 128). But that’s true not just of the Old Testament, and that’s why Paul frames his words in 1 Timothy 2:15 in the future tense; “women will be saved through childbearing.” Therein he states that the woman’s ‘labor of faith’ (let the reader understand) did not cease with the coming of Jesus Christ. In the Lord’s continuing church gathering work between His ascension into heaven and His return on the last day, the godly woman still in faith brings forth children – covenant seed who are heirs of the promises of God in Jesus Christ. Through these covenant children first of all (yes, even more than through mission) the Lord builds His church in the world. It is not by accident that the verse following directly upon Paul’s statement about women being saved through bearing children is about office bearers in the church! “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). Any young man who sets his heart on being an overseer has earlier been born of a woman. More, what generates a young man to set his heart on being an overseer? Surely, the godliness of his mother, the zeal with which she sets herself to the bearing and rearing of her child(ren) forms an unmistakable encouragement for the offspring to be actively involved in the Savior’s church gathering work. That’s to say that for the mother (and the father) there is no greater privilege in God’s kingdom than to be entrusted with the care of God’s little ones – the future of His church.
The command to “be fruitful and increase in number” was, then, first given in Paradise and has been repeated over and over again in the years and centuries that followed. Never has the Lord withdrawn this instruction. On the contrary, in the New Testament dispensation parenthood remains so very much a privilege. Well, then, does the Form remind those who marry today of God’s command in Genesis 1, and lay before the young couple the will of the Lord: “under the blessing of God, husband and wife will be fruitful and multiply.”
The question now arises whether this position is realistic in today’s world. Has that command from Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” not been completed? We’re told that the earth doesn’t have the capacity to handle a larger population; it’s full, and suffers the scars of past abuse. Our attention is also directed to the millions who live in extreme poverty and we’re told that our moral obligation is to help them instead of bringing forth more users of earth’s limited supplies. We’re told too that raising children is extremely costly, and to do a respectable job one cannot in our culture afford more than two children. Further, should both parents not be able to receive the fulfillment of employment? And ought one not, also for the children’s sake, to maintain a decent lifestyle – and that requires two incomes? Is it not only fair and proper that one complete one’s education and do one’s traveling and bring down the house payments to a doable level before one begins a family? These and so many other arguments pommel the God-fearing couple, and encourage them to think in terms of limiting family size or to delay starting the family.
Faith speaks a different language. Nowhere has the Lord withdrawn the commission of Genesis 1:28; instead, He has in numerous places repeated it. He taught His covenant people in the Old and New Testament to confess that “sons are a heritage from the LORD, children are a reward from Him…. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3,5). Even a child in Israel knew that no soldier worth his salt went into battle with but two arrows or four in his quiver; for the sake of his life he went instead with as many arrows as the commander had available for him. When the Lord declares blessed that man who has his quiver full of children, He tells us that the number of children should not be limited to two or four. Instead, we need to be open to God filling the quiver – and He determines when it’s full. Again, if children are a blessing even as crops are a blessing, it is for us to respond to receiving children in the same way as we respond to a good crop – with gratitude. Inasmuch as we do not decline God’s other blessings, it will not do to decline this blessing. As to the struggle it takes to bring children into the world, the toil it takes to feed and clothe them, and the energy it takes to raise them, the believer trusts the Lord to supply. If He could create the world out of nothing, if He could supply for more than 2 million Israelites in Goshen and later in the desert, He certainly is able to supply today what godly parents need to raise His children to His glory. Receiving children is not first of all a matter of logistics, but is first of all a matter of faith.
It should further be noted how childlessness and bereavement and enemies taking the children away was in the Old Testament God’s punishment on covenant disobedience. There was a time not many decades ago that our culture was distinctly Christian; witness the countless church buildings throughout the western world. Yet now in Canada alone more than 100,000 children are killed each year. These abortions undeniably provoke the wrath of the Creator, a wrath that God will demonstrate in His time and manner. At the same time, this lovelessness for children is itself a punishment from God on the apostasy of the land. If Christians, now, take on board the arguments heard in society against having (several) children, or adopt the arguments raised to delay the arrival of children, we are using opinions that have a place in bringing God’s judgment over the nation. By using those same arguments, we inadvertently may end up sharing the judgment in our own homes.
What the alternative is? We need to live by faith. That includes that we accept the command God has given about fruitfulness, and accept also His declaration that children are a blessing He bestows upon His people. It includes too that we embrace in faith the reality of God’s faithfulness in supplying our homes with the “daily bread” (Matthew 6:10) we need to feed, clothe, educate and raise the children God entrusts to us. In a world of hostility against God, the task is not easy. But the couple that marries in faith entrusts this problem to God in the conviction that He will provide. God has put us on this earth not for our pleasure, but for His glory.
The word of the Holy Spirit through Paul is telling: “I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Timothy 5:14). That instruction is not culturally conditioned, but Scripturally normative for all times.
All that’s said above does not mean that there is no room for speaking about family planning. On the contrary, speaking about family planning is imperative. That’s true in first instance because so much is said about the topic in our times, and contraceptives are readily available for all who wish to use them. Those who marry are invariably children of their times, we are simply naïve to think that Christians never avail themselves of contraceptives in order to delay and/or limit their children.
The second reason that family planning needs to be discussed is that the Lord God definitely does address this issue. He did not create humans to act thoughtlessly in any area of life, and that includes all that comes with the intimacy of marriage. On the contrary, it is part and parcel of our being created in His image that we can plan and think, and so make decisions driven by kindness, goodness, self-emptying, etc – and so reflect something of what God is like. This has implications also in relation to childbearing.
Perhaps the most common of contraceptives is the pill. Let me say upfront that I am not a doctor, and so do not write from a position of expertise on this topic. Yet information is readily available that argues strongly against the use of the pill. The arguments against its use relate to how the pill works as well as to its side effects, both medical and marital.
The pill works by either 1) preventing ovulation, 2) preventing the sperm from reaching the egg, or 3) preventing (if the first two fail so that the woman conceives) the tiny baby from attaching to the lining of the uterus so that in turn the baby dies. The later, of course, is abortion, and the possibility that abortion is involved makes the use of the pill impossible for those who take seriously God’s command not to murder (Exodus 20:13).
The medical side effects of the pill are multiple, including suppression of the immune system, depression, inability to conceive once the pill’s use is ended, and greatly increased risk of developing breast or cervical cancer. Given that the Lord would have us look well after our bodies (temples of the Holy Spirit as they are), such side effects also argue strongly against the use of the pill. The skeptic is urged to avail himself/herself of the information readily available in the public domain.
There are other contraceptives available beside the pill. Yet because the pill is publicly encouraged and easily used, even while public knowledge of its medical side effects is suppressed, I consider a specific warning against its use to be in place.
Other contraceptives are also readily available, though not as easily used, and not as medically dangerous. Yet in my judgment the marital problems coming from the use of contraceptives are, taken on the whole, even more damaging than the medical problems.
The Lord God has ordained that sexual intimacy receive a place within holy wedlock. More, He has given the gift of intimacy as a means of communication, of giving oneself to the other in love. God did not intend sexual intimacy to be an expression of lust, but of self-emptying for the benefit of the other. Furthermore, the Lord has laid a direct link between this intimate expression of love and His blessing of children. For the godly couple, this link to the blessing of children adds its own special luster to the moments of intimacy.
In the world God created, the Lord also placed the possibility of contraceptives. In His providence, He has let these contraceptives be discovered and made readily available in our scientifically advanced times. Scripture says that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4,5), and that includes contraceptives. However, we need to be keenly aware that the Lord God uses the contraceptives so readily available in our society as a means to bring His curse of “no birth, no pregnancy, no conception” (Hosea 9:11) upon our godless society. This observation in itself needs to ring warning bells in relation to the Christian using the contraceptives God makes available. Does a (young) couple do well to break the link God has placed between intimacy and pregnancy? Is that an action of faith or an action of selfishness? At the end of the day this is a spiritual question. Where this question is answered unspiritually, the impact on the marriage relation will invariably be negative. Conversely, where this question is answered in a Scripturally pleasing manner, the impact on the marriage will be positive.
To be granted the privilege of parenting another of God’s covenant children is an enormous blessing. Their identity as children of God dictates that these children grow up in homes that reflect what God is like. God has shown us what love is, in that He gave up His only Son for the salvation of the undeserving (1 John 4:9,10). Similarly, the Son of God on earth “did not come to be served, but serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). This same attitude needs to characterize the atmosphere of the home in which the Lord places His covenant children. And that’s to say that parents of such a covenant child are to have their actions and attitude driven not by the sinful nature but by the Holy Spirit – so that they bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in every part of their lives. Sexual intimacy then, too, needs to be driven by faith, and hence be characterized by love for the other, kindness, patience, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23). Separating the link between intimacy and potential pregnancy removes one mechanism the Lord has created to promote kindness and patience and self-control.
In love for his wife, the eager husband (for the buck stops with him; he’s the head) may well need to deny himself precisely because it is not wise to make his wife pregnant at this time, or even give her cause to fear pregnancy. I use the phrase ‘at this time’ deliberately, because the Lord God has created the woman in such a way that there’s a window for potential pregnancy once a month. What is irresponsible this month is not necessarily irresponsible next month.
Yet to know whether it is wise to make her pregnant at this time (or give her cause to fear pregnancy) requires conversation between husband and wife. The conversation needs to be about the needs of the existing family and about coping with those needs. The conversation needs to be about trusting in God to supply one’s needs, and about whether one is acting responsibly in the specific circumstances in which God places you. The conversation demands that one be open with the other and each understand the other too. The conversation requires an open Bible and drives the couple to pray for God’s guidance and wisdom. It’s conversation wherein the husband as head shall have to give wise leadership to his wife as he seeks to care for her well, and conversation wherein the wife shall need to show that she entrusts herself to his care and leadership. I suspect there is no conversation in marriage that brings together so fully all the various aspects of what marriage is about than such a conversation in the bedroom where each carries the other in love. And where the husband –he is ultimately responsible before God– needs to conclude that it is not wise to give his beloved cause to fear pregnancy at this point in time (on grounds of sickness or exhaustion or emotional stress, etc) he makes his love for her most clear by denying the self. How valuable such action is for the struggling spouse!
Again, the same conversation may have its catalyst not just in the question of whether it is wise now to become pregnant, but can have its catalyst also in the question of how tired one is or in the question of what one has experienced in the course of the day. Let the husband be open with his wife about how the pictures he saw during the day or how the secretary he met has affected him, and how he needs his wife’s confirmation. Let the wife be open with her husband about her tiredness and her hopes and her frustrations. It is ongoing talk that makes the two understand each other and be the “one flesh” –oneness in being and heart and spirit– that leads to that communication of love in the mystique of sexual intimacy – be it through giving oneself or through denying oneself. This sort of love and understanding and self-sacrifice in the bedroom resonates through the entire home, and provides a safe haven for the little ones of God’s covenant to live and mature.
In relation to pregnancy, the Lord God has built into His handiwork a means whereby a couple can know whether she is able to conceive or not. Changes occur in the woman’s body at her time of ovulation, and one is able to learn to detect when these changes occur. An international organization called WOOMB (acronym for World Organisation of the Ovulation Method Billings) runs a website that supplies the necessary information.
The Lord would have a husband and wife be open with each other, helping each other in all things that belong to this life and the life to come (as the Form has it). As the couple considers whether it is responsible to become pregnant tonight, they do well to read the signs of the woman’s body and include the significance of those signs in their activities. Again, sharing and understanding the signs requires conversation – something so imperative for every part of marriage.
On average a woman has a brief period of fertility once in 28 days. The question whether or not to have another child, then, can be answered each month anew. Instead of making a once-off decision to have no more children (and hence perhaps undergoing surgery to ensure no further pregnancies), a couple does better to confront the question each month anew. This is very much in keeping with Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount, where He spoke about the Father’s care for the birds and the flowers, and then adds, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33,34). If in matters of food and drink we have enough with the concerns of one day, surely the application to pregnancy –given the woman’s monthly cycle– is that each month’s concern is sufficient. One can be tired today, or not have the health (whether physical or mental) for another pregnancy at this point in time, but under God’s blessing that can change next month or next year. Here is where we need to work with the responsibility God has created us with, both in terms of not making2 a wife pregnant too quickly nor in terms of resisting another covenant child unnecessarily.
2 NOTE: the formulation is deliberate. I repeat that the responsibility to care for the wife belongs ultimately with the husband as the head.
The Lord God has revealed that His act of entrusting His children-by-covenant to particular parents is a profound blessing. That reality will prompt the man and woman of faith to act responsibly toward the children already received, and ensure that these children are well cared for. This reality will also prompt the man and woman of faith to act responsibly in relation to possible further children – if God would bless with that further gift. Indeed, where the Lord gives the energy and opportunity, the Christian couple may look forward with eagerness to the privilege of another child, and act accordingly in the intimacy of marriage. Irrespective of how many children God in wisdom and mercy may give, the God-fearing couple will generate in their home an atmosphere where the fruits of the Spirit obviously abound. And the God-fearing couple is well aware that the presence of those fruits in the bedroom will spill over into the living room of the family.
Nurturing the Children
With the topic of nurturing the children God in His wisdom entrusts to a man and his wife, we move somewhat away from the heart of the subject of marriage. A discussion on the Form for the Baptism of Infants would be the ideal forum to discuss this matter in more detail.
The Solemnization of Marriage ascribes the task of parenting to both the father and the mother. In the paragraph on the purpose of marriage, the Form puts it this way: “If it pleases God to give them children, they shall nurture these children in the true knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
That the mother has a task in nurturing her children is evident from God’s command in Genesis 3. It is she who will bring for the children (vs 15), and so be “the mother of all the living” (vs 20). It is self-evident that she is not to discard the child she bears, but to nurture it in every sense of the word. So the instruction of God to Israel applies specifically to the mother: “These commandments which I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6,7). So the apostle would have “the younger women to love their husbands and children…, to be busy at home…, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:3-5). In the nature of the case, training God’s covenant children cannot be given to those who do not know God. Instead, it is full-time work for the Christian mother.
The matter is equally so for the Christian father. While it is the mother who bears the children, this mother has been earlier joined to a man as his helper. This man has been made her head, and is (by God’s intent) the father of the child she bears. He, then, is ultimately responsible also for the child and its nurturing. So the Lord God could say of Abraham that “he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD” (Genesis 18:19). God hold not Sarah but Abraham primarily responsible for the child’s instruction! So the instruction of Deuteronomy 6 as quoted above applies just as much to the father; he too is to “impress [God’s commands] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (vs 6,7). And Asaph can promise to pass on “what our fathers have told us” (Psalm 78:3). The Holy Spirit has Paul instructs “fathers … not [to] exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The father’s task in nurturing the children goes far beyond the financial; he first of all is responsible for showing God’s little ones through word and deed what their Father in heaven is really like. It is a matter that requires the full attention of the conscientious Christian father.
Father and mother cannot work in isolation from each other. God has made the two into “one flesh,” that wonderful unity of being and of mind and of spirit and of body. As they bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in their relation together, they shall also consult much with each other about how the children are doing in the service of the Lord, and what specific instruction and guidance the little ones (or not so little anymore!) now need. This nurturing of the children enriches the marriage, compels the Godly couple to converse together more than ever, and drives them repeatedly on their knees before God in prayer. Under the blessing of the Lord, they shall experience in their relation together how much children really are a blessing.